|L to R: Andy Smith, me, Dian's book, Dian Million, Jennifer Denetdale after Dian's book panel at Critical Ethnic Studies Association conference in Chicago, 2013|
Hard to say goodbye to friends at the Critical Ethnic Studies Conference here in Chicago, but good to be heading home.
So much to process. So much work to do. So many good human beings out there doing it!
Throughout the last few days, I have talked to many people who are teaching Bad Indians right now, all over the country.
Did I just write that? yes, I did. People are teaching Bad Indians in universities around this country, and in Canada.
Pause again, while the skeletons in museums get up and dance.
Hearing from these professors, what they see happening in the book on both literary and theoretical levels, responses from students, is heartening, exciting. I’m so proud of those Ancestors whose stories are being told, whose actions and words are changing colonial mythologies and re-writing histories and taking root in a new generation. Thank you, colleagues, for trusting this book to be included in your classrooms.
And along with the news from classrooms, something that I did not anticipate: the problematics of being an Indian professor who has survived violence but now must teach about it. Teaching the book is often a trigger, particularly for women.
Of course it is. But I could not see this until Jennifer Denetdale brought it to my attention. I had completely denied this possible and quite reasonable reaction in all of my imaginings about Bad Indians in the world.
I worried about critics. I worried about student reaction to having their knowledge about history and the U.S. Government being mercilessly challenged. I worried about family responses. I worried about Catholic Natives for whom the book might seem sacrilegious or disrespectful. But curiously (especially as a Native woman who has survived violence and sexual violation), it never crossed my mind to worry about something that now seems obvious: It is hard enough for Native professors to claim authority in the classroom, for many reasons; who wants, on top of that, to feel vulnerable and fragile, in front of one's students? to cry in front of them, or to get angry?
And yet, as Jennifer repeatedly told me, the book must be taught.
In many conversations over the past few days, my colleagues and I faced this dilemma head on, with an honesty and passion and frustration that I can only appreciate and thank them for giving me. We’ve decided to talk more about it, via email, and perhaps plan a pedagogy panel about teaching texts in which violence (especially against women and children) is portrayed and demands an intimacy from us in order to be discussed with students.
There is, it seems, something about Bad Indians that brings old memories to the surface in a way that violence portrayed in fiction or even autobiographical poetry does not, particularly for Indian women. I am still sitting with this knowledge and information, and it will take a long time for me to unpack my own feelings about this. My initial response was horror. And shock. And forehead-smacking: my own response to trauma has always been to internalize it, compartmentalize it into writing, where I am in control, where I decide what gets said or unsaid, written or unwritten – or at least, I can pretend I control that (as I’ve said before, writers often have no idea what we are unleashing from our depths until the words are already out there - and sometimes, this is a way of protecting ourselves from even more trauma). I honestly feel horrified that I have “done” this to my colleagues, to the dear and brilliant Indian women teaching this book. What kind of person would do that?
Here I am, caught between being an author, and a loving community member.
But the book had to be written, and those stories had to be told, and as my colleagues at CESA have told me, they want to teach them. They just feel unprepared for the way it hits them in the middle of the gut, in the middle of the classroom.
We need to talk about this. And we did, and we will continue that conversation via email and phone and skype. We have thrown some ideas around: a panel about the pedagogical aspects of teaching about violence that hits home. Sharing techniques. How to teach our truths brilliantly and yet not forget self-care. How, as Dian Million says her new book Therapeutic Nations which we celebrated at the conference, not to get trapped in “the place where Indigenous women are posed as the abject victimized subjects of our present neoliberal states.” How to walk into our classrooms in our Indian bodies claiming our experiences fully, and teach the truth about violence in our communities without being swallowed up by grief or casting a false, pathetic image of what survival looks like.
This is a fierce charge.
I think I’m glad that Bad Indians is a good place to start this conversation. That little hesitation in my voice exists because it seems, in some ways, a frightening place to be, to have positioned myself. And yet, as always, I am sure about the ways the Ancestors are guiding me. I feel sure that I am feeling my way along this path in ways that, as I said during our panel on Sovereign Erotics, are reaching toward balance and away from fear. It’s a felt knowledge, as Million says: something not always honored by others as real knowledge.
My first task is to finish reading Therapeutic Nations. And then, I am certain, entering into a conversation with other Native professors and scholars that will change and clarify and re-charge how we do what it is we do.