Breaking out of the Temporal Prison: On Native Cultural Production in the Era of Late Colonialism

This article is part of a continuum of writing that takes as its primary focus the autoethnographic, phenomenological, and structural investigation of Nativeness within the context of north american settler colonialism, coloniality, late-capitalist postmodernity, and the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system.  By Nativeness I here mean that general category, or sense of being, which brings together the diverse array of Native life, Native experience, Native self-understanding, their ontological, epistemological, and existential dimensions, questions of juridicality and ideology, both individuated and collective, and other elements as an assemblage that we may speak about as a subject of analysis.

In essence, the fundamental question that I seek, if perhaps not answer, but to problematize, is that which asks, “what does it mean to be Native?” I say problematize and not answer precisely because of the diverse considerations that must be made when setting out upon this terrain.  One could, if one wished, attempt to produce a singular response to this question by following one particular line of reference to its conclusion.  To be Native for example could be followed with the answer “to be Native is to be the subject of north american settler colonialism” if one were to pursue their answer strictly through the lens of canadian and american regimes of state power and governmentality.  One could just as easily answer the question through recourse to loci of temporality, sociality, relationality and kinship, community, race and racialization, and many others.  However, the fact is that a single-minded pursuit of any one of these dimensions will only ever be able to provide a partial answer to that which one is seeking.

Indeed, I quite intentionally wish to invoke the notion of parallax in relation to Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology in such investigations.  Reading Althusser through Fredric Jameson, such a theory of ideology leans heavily on Lacan’s distinction between the Real and reality, and is one in which, contra older Marxist approaches to the concept, ideology does not “reflect” the real world but “represents” the “imaginary relationship of individuals” to the “real world”. The thing that ideology (mis)represents is itself already one step removed from the Real. In this, Althusser follows the Lacanian understanding of the imaginary order, which is also itself at one step removed from the Real. Different ideologies are just different representations of our social and imaginary “reality,” not a representation of the Real itself (Althusser 2014; Jameson 1991).

For Slavoj Žižek, taking this concept of ideology and speaking of parallax (a concept which he borrows from Kant), the latter becomes “the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible” (2006: 4). Žižek emphasizes that, the two points are “two sides of the same phenomenon,” and as two sides “can never meet” (2006: 4).  Chickasaw critical and queer theorist Jodi Byrd, who likens Žižekian parallax to “Haksuba” (“cacophony” in Chickasaw), describes it as a being like a Möbius Strip: at first there appear to be two sides, but as you traverse it there is only one sides that feeds back upon itself (2011: 29).

The parallax differential generates certain shifts, one might even call them “dialectical shifts.” For Žižek there are three primary ones: ontological difference as ultimate parallax, which conditions our access to reality; scientific parallax, which considers the gap between phenomenological and “scientific” explanations; and political parallax, which hinders the creation of common ground through which one can mobilize political resistances (2006: 10). In order to approach the Real, one has to shift perspective between alternative loci of view and approximate the Real in the gap.  As Žižek explains, truth:

Is not the “real” state of things, that is, the “direct” view of the object without perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes perspectival distortion.  The site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond their perspectival distortions, but the very gap, passage, which separates one perspective from another, the gap [emphasis mine] … which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable [emphasis original] (2006: 281).

However, for us this perspective of Žižek, a Marxist proponent of eurocentric universality par excellence (Ciccariello-Maher 2017), may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.  Byrd, speaking through both analogy and metaphor of planetary-solar parallax in the transit of Venus across the surface of the sun , writes:

the distortive parallactic effect created in the stretch between Venus and the sun serves to antagonize further the perspectival parallax by revealing a sticky edge of the Real, partial though it may be.  And that distortive parallactic effects distorts even the distortion of the viewing locations by partially making visible that “Real” to be apprehended (2011: 30).

Indeed, as I myself have written:

I am also not such a Lacanian as to believe that the Real is located within some zone of fundamental irretrievability, locked beyond the ideo-symbolic order. Nothing presents a more pressing moment of the rupture of the Real into the ideological and Symbolic than the raw material physically of the anti-Native violence inflicted on our bodies, peoples, nations, territories, and other-than-human kin that fundamentally animates and gives life to the settler colonial order of things. Indeed, even the threat of such a rupture hangs in the air at all possible moments and conjunctures within the spatial and temporal worlds of the settler (Robinson 2020).

However, the ultimate point here is not merely one of abstract theoretical debate about the dialectical processes, their distortions, their tidal comings and goings, of modernity/coloniality and how they discursively underwrite both postcolonial and critical theories (the latter of which is also an extended subject of my writing [Robinson 2019]), but rather that ultimately any one perspectival attempt to render a simple solution of what it means to be Native is bound to be distorted, that is, limited, in its approach.  Thus, the lesson is that one must not only activate, but constantly move between, multiple sites of viewing, and in doing so also account for the distortion of transit in order to apprehend and appreciate “the Real in the gap.”

My intention in this article is continue farther down my own path of unearthing, activating, and alternating between these distinct viewing locations.  And as such, let us begin with what it means to be Native, or what it means for me, to be Native here.

Being Native (Here)

As I have described elsewhere, while I consider here to be home, it was not here that I was raised.  And while it may be a site where I came to be, it is but one.  Though I spent much time in the Great Lakes region in my younger days, it was always alongside my mother’s immediate and extended family.  While the reservation of our nation in northern Wisconsin was in many ways a shelter from the outside world of the world of the settler (setting aside its role in colonial governmentality as a carceral site of biopolitical and affective immiseration for Native people) even the times spent in the city of Milwaukee were always spent in the company of other Natives.  Thus, it was only truly when I moved to southern Ontario as a young adult, and spent many formative years within this locale, and the attendant efforts I made to integrate myself within the mixed urban Indigenous population that is ordinarily resident here, and, more so, experienced daily exposure to quotidian canadian life (that is, the quotidian daily life of exposure to the canadian settler populace) that I came to experience something that I believe to be the onto-temporal deadness and displacement of Nativeness.

This is something that I believe is related to, but distinct from, the quotidian experience of anti-Native racism, or perhaps more correctly anti-Native violence, that is all too common an occurrence for Native peoples within the geospatial boundaries of the northern bloc of settler colonialism; whether or not they meet some stereotyped and mechanical visual qualification schema for recognition of status as an Indian, Métis or Inuit[1], in part because Nativeness, or Indigeneity, “as a category of analysis,” writes J. Kēhaulani Kauanui “is distinct from race, ethnicity, and nationality—even as it entails elements of all three of these” (2016).  That experience is one made manifest daily, in all of its attendant horrors, by way of attempting to be Native and attempting to live life under the juridical, philosophical, mathematical, cultural, and political machinery of a state and civil apparatus that, fundamentally, is premised on a logic of your elimination.  That is to say: it may be ineluctably related to, but not wholly reducible to, I believe, the logics of structural genocide that biopolitically annihilate Native peoples at the level of the cognition, and the technologies of governance deployed by the modern settler-colonial state apparatus through which these logics function.

Rather, I believe that this onto-temporal deadening and dislocation of Nativeness is a kind of fundamental outsideness, or exteriority, or, to use Nicolas Juárez’s terminology in his critique of Hegel, “off-the-map-ness.” (2014) [2]  Here mixed and overlapping notions of Indianness, Nativeness, Indigeneity, Aboriginality, and Savageness function within an affective register that flows in part from the structuring mechanisms of elimination and which precondition the possibility of setter antipathy towards Native people in the realm of everyday life in the sense that Henri Lefebvre described as that zone of intersection and interrelation between “illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control” (2014: 52).  That this exists a priori to the Native experience of such within the northern bloc, premised as it is on the structural logics of settler colonialism, and thus is external to (and indeed dominates in the register of governmentality) both individual and collective embodied Native life,  is something that then generally confronts Native people in the moment of interaction with the settler.

The Onto-Temporal Dislocation of Nativeness

For myself recently, during my first true teaching experience, a winter 2019 course entitled Contemporary Issues in Indigenous Communities in Canada within the nascent Indigenous Studies programme at the University of Waterloo, the expression of, and confrontation with, this off-the-map-ness washed itself over me much more than I would have anticipated. It did not arise from me, however, nor did it issue forth from the text which I had chosen to assign to the class.  Rather, it was expressed by my students themselves.  Emerging from this experience there are two instances worth mentioning; the first being the written and spoken appreciation from students I received at the end of the term in April 2019, while the second came largely in the form of one the class requirements I had deployed for the course, an online discussion forum.

In terms of the first, as the term reached its endpoint, especially during the last two lectures in the first week of April, a number of students either approached me in person or sent me emails to thank for me the course, for the materials I had assigned, for the way I had taught, and for what they had gained and grown from over the length of the course. This, of course, was quite incredibly affirmative for me, most especially coming as it did at the end of my first experience leading a classroom setting, rather than being a student participant in one.  I had never taught before in a classroom setting where I had to create the syllabus, choose and assign the text, formulate the exams and assignments etc.  I would not denigrate or belittle that experience.  Nor do I intend here to speak ill of my students, the course, or the programme, as what I experienced, and indeed what my students themselves experienced, was symptomatic of the structural issues at hand rather than any kind of generalizable individual failing.

Rather, what did, in all of this however, pique my interest was when a number of students who were expressing their gratitude to me also explicitly indicated to me just how much they did not know about Natives peoples within the northern bloc prior to taking that course with me.  In particular, what resonated with them was something we had discussed earlier in the course, which was the idea that for many members of the setter population Native people are lost in time, or lost out of time, in the sense that the ongoing existence of Native people is often forgotten, even as living Native peoples have always resisted settler colonialism, often militantly so.  Many of these students related to me how all prior knowledge they had of Native peoples, often only from high school, but also often from university courses, was of a people who were or had been.  Native people had been here before settlers.  Natives were subjected to cruel and unusual hardships; that Natives were dispossessed of their territories and sovereignties (though often, my students related to me, these issues were discussed much more euphemistically, as is quite often the case within settler-colonial classrooms).  But, because of the coding and overcoding of the settler imagination from the ideological apparatus of the school, for many of my students it had never crossed their minds that Native people are.  This was especially so for my students, who were the majority, who were from geographic regions of the country and provinces where everyday proximity to Native peoples was not a regular part of their lives.  This was the case doubly so for my students who, like myself, were immigrants to North America for the purposes of post-secondary education, and so did not even have the bare minimum of knowledge about Native peoples that could be gleaned from a standard settler-colonial school setting.

This was also reflected in that other portion of the class that I mentioned: the online discussion forums.  I had assigned my students a portion of their overall grade based on posting a number of reflection pieces to a series of online discussion boards I had created for the class.  They were to choose ten of the twelve weeks and their attendant readings and write a reflection or discussion of the materials.  When I came to reviewing them, which also gave me a much wider “data” set to reflect upon versus the verbal and emailed discussions with students about their feelings about the course, I read that many more of students had been through a social process of enculturation that left Native peoples by the wayside, in the past, never in the present, and never with a future. For myself, as a Native North America person, as an immigrant, and as a scholar, this shocked me perhaps more than it should have, especially, as I thought, in the wake of what I had taken to be a relatively socially and culturally wide recognition of the facts of the residential schools, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and (relatively) recent canadian government apologies for the horrors of those institutions inflicted upon Native children and youth, and of their lasting effects. Our own institution, the University of Waterloo, has been publicly and openly engaged in a process of so-called Indigenization.  While I am somewhat cynical about the process and its intentions and pretensions, it is something that I felt was quite visible to the student body.  Likewise, the physical location of the classroom was not but a 30-second walk down a hallway from the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre.

For whom could such an Indigenization process and nearby and regularly staffed Indigenous Centre be for if not for living and present Native peoples?  Students are of course but one segment within the myriad social strata of canadian society, however these experiences are not the source of my suspicions of Native onto-temporal deadness and dislocation, but rather were indicative of them.  Nativeness, in this regard, would appear to be a highly pregnant absent presence within the psychic and physical lives of the average settler citizen of the northern bloc.

The point however is that these twinned experiences in my first teaching experience demonstrated to me, in this one microcosm of a larger settler-colonial whole, that we, as living Native peoples, exist (and persist) within the confines of a settler state and surrounded by a settler population for whom everyday discourse in civil and popular society, ideology, and culture codes and overcodes our bodies, lives, communities and nations as past, as were, as had been, much as in Jodi Byrd’s close reading of de Tocqueville on the removal of the Choctaw (2011: 37). Even though Byrd’s reading was of events that happened in a previous time, and which took place on the other side of the dividing line between the northern bloc’s two constituent elements, the discursive and affective conditions of settler colonialism are quite the same: Native peoples are firmly located, locked even, within the temporal past, rendering impossible presence within the present. As before, the Native is a ghost that haunts the margins of a settler-colonial state and society that, try as it must, attempts to forget and not notice.

The Deracination of Native Life

Within the hypersurface of the settler-colonial present Natives are often thus, in my lived experience, treated as a kind of time traveller when we are encountered in the day-to-day lives of the settler.  We are not supposed to be present in the present, we are thus beings who do not belong, and when we are found out, our presence in the now uncovered, the settler’s conception of what is, and of their world, is disrupted and destabilized.  “How did these Indians get here?”  “I did not even think that those people existed anymore.”  These are, I imagine, the thoughts that must begin to run through the minds of many settlers within the moment of this kind of encounter.  I am of course not meaning to imply that members of the settler population believe that Indians literally stepped out of some kind of H. G. Wells-Esque time machine or temporal vortex.  However, given the philosophical, juridical, and political a priori banishment of the Native out of the settler-colonial time stream, a metaphorical time machine is often sought as the raison dêtre for Native presence within the present-now.

This results in what I have come to consider as a kind of temporal dysphoria on the part of Native peoples themselves.  The discourse of modernity/coloniality is that we no longer exist, or that we should not exist, and where we continue to be, it is as, to resurrect a myth of imperial anthropology’s ripe past, the remnants of a dying people, soon to meet our end in the sands of time and be blown away as mere dust on the wind. Or like “tears in rain,” to recall Rutger Hauer’s dying monologue in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner, about the slow obliteration of memory by time.  For us, as Native people, this means that we must always be navigating this when outside of our own sociality and communal spaces.  An effect of this is that we, in our quotidian struggles to force our way onto the stage of the present and proclaim our present existence, is a submission, intentional or unintentional, to a kind of performance of Nativeness that does not exceed what is allowed by the ideological apparatus of settler society, by which I means those kinds of performative acts and utterances of Nativeness that have been made acceptable within modernist and liberal canadian multiculturalism. One can think of common-place examples in such acts as beading or “traditional” drumming and singing, the making and wearing of moccasins or mukluks, sage smudging, or the mass collective gathering of the pow wow.

Indeed, to borrow from Frank Wilderson, these acts of performativity generally, in my experience, do not often engender “a renewed commitment to practice” (2009: 119), even if they perhaps perform a commitment to renewal.  This is because these practices become lost against an intersection of grammar (articulation) and ghosts (memory) coded and overcoded by “the syntax and morphology of structural violence” (119), within the sea of which they are often just acts simply reaching for a vision of Native survival.  As such, these performative acts of a kind of a survivalist come revivalist Nativeness are rendered sterile and nontransgressive within the worlding of the settler, through Nicolas Juárez’s grammar of civilization (2014).

This ultimately deracinating aspect of the grammar of civilization is one that Juárez makes clear, noting:

I am inclined to understand this specific process as a “mining of our spirit” that serves to hollow out the integrity of traditions and lifeways to the point at which they become unable to be claimed as indigenous. Examples in this are most explicitly seen in the mass commodification of dream catchers, headdresses, sage burning as an act of cleansing, and the appropriation of Native American artwork by the fashion industry (2014).

Further, for Juárez, this immediately ties back into what I have referred to in previous writings as the Native as a Being-out-of-Time.  He says:

This application of civilization is most important in the understanding that proclamations of ownership are firstly met with surprise that Indians even exist and are secondly pushed aside as so old that there is no way any indigenous group can claim it (2014).

Additionally, I share the worry expressed by Juárez when he discusses the ultimate impact that this “mining of the spirit” has for us as Indigenous peoples, right down to the core of our very identities, on which he states:

there is no longer indigenous culture that can be used as a safe haven away from the ravishes of capitalism, but must rather be understood in the context of a commodification of cultural accouchements so extreme that “Native American culture” becomes “tribal style.” This “mining” serves not only to sever Indigenous Peoples from any spiritual connection to any tradition or lifeway available to them, but works in tangent with other facets of civilization in which the lifeway and the tradition of the Native no longer belongs to them because they are no longer Native, but have been emptied into a blank referent transposed onto the Settler, ensuring that any cultural production of the Indian is always already the Settler’s to use and do with as they please (2014).

Setting aside though the circulation and consumption of this kind of Native survivalist cultural production and performativity within the modern/colonial/capitalist political economy and regime of signification, what is most important in my assessment, however, is that these performances are tied to visions of an often imagined past, and one that also is deeply tied to the agglutinating process described by Gerald Vizenor that shifts a complex array of highly diverse Native North American nations into the modernist data point of the Indian (or, the aboriginal, being inclusive of Métis and Inuit kin) (1994). It is a raw simulacrum of Nativeness precisely because it is a performative and productive re-enactment of a pan-Indian past that never really was.  It is thus a simulation of the past, and of what it means to be Native.  Not all Natives beaded, not all Natives smudged with sage, not all Indians wore moccasins or mukluks, and most certainly not all Indians engaged in the practice of the pow wow, ceremonial or otherwise.

The Tradition Industrial Complex

There is certainly nothing wrong with contemporary cultural innovation.  Cultural movement and innovation, even syncretism and hybridity, are the signs of confronting colonial death with vibrant and lived Native life that asserts its evolving aliveness.  Only dead people are stagnant, unmoving.  Thus I do not mean here to suggest that such latter-day Native practices of beading, moccasin making, smudging, or pow wows are in and of themselves negative manifestations of the settler-colonial experience, as much as their widespread contemporary adoption are held to be “indigenous” practices, as I do indeed believe that they can quite so be the opposite, given the correct situational context and the intentionality that drives such practices.

However, what concerns me is precisely that these practices, in so far as I have come to experience them over the course of my own diasporic Native life, rather than root themselves in a renewed commitment to a living Nativeness within the present moment instead present quite the opposite configuration; a stagnant, unliving Nativeness, and, even more so, a simulated Nativeness.  I have come to occasionally refer to this kind of cultural production as the traditionalist industrial complex.  Again, I do not mean to imply here that what we might call tradition is itself a bad thing, as, in so far as we may walk with Juárez towards the telos of his argument, “tradition,” the ability to cling to a memory of something from before and beyond the total subsumption of Native life within the world of the settler, has been, and can be, not only a considerable source of strength, but indeed can be an inspiration for an alternative to this world beyond the mere desire for its ending.

Most clearly this can be seen in the basis for the contemporary theoretical as well as methodological-pedagogical-praxiological commitment to Native “resurgence,”  as witnessed, for example, the critique of Frantz Fanon’s perspective on the traditional culture of the colonized by Yellowknives Dene scholar Glen Coulthard.  Fanon, of course, argued in texts such as Black Skin White Masks (1967) and A Dying Colonialism (1965), that traditional culture may play a role in breaking the colonized from the colonial dialectic of misrecognition (a de-linking, to think in the contemporary parlance of Samir Amin [1985], Aníbal Quijano [2000], and Walter Mignolo [2007]), however for him there was also decidedly much less willingness to explore or concede the role that tradition might play in shaping alternatives.  While drawing significantly from Fanon, Coulthard argues against this, laying out instead the possibility of a substantive and generative relationship between Native practices of self-affirmation (resurgence) and the construction of alternatives to settler coloniality and the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system (2014).  There are numerous other theorists and practitioners who are currently working on precisely this question; Leanne Simpson (2017) and Taiaiake Alfred (2005) to name but two.

Thus, I am here quite mindful of the thinking of the late Mark Fisher, and would note that in these times of creeping political reaction, ressentiment, and revanchism, when the march of cultural and political innovation, even political alternatives, within the mainstream of settler-colonial society has stagnated, one keen ideo-political function of Native traditionalism with regards to the projects of decolonization and decoloniality is to keep insisting that there is a future, both as a time and as a space, beyond the settler-colonial postmodernity’s seemingly terminal temporality.  Indeed, as Fisher keenly noted, “When the present has given up on the future, we must listen for the relics of the future in the unactiviated potentials of the past” (2013: 53).  This is something that Native traditional can constructively enact for Native people seeking to de-link themselves from the subsuming hegemony of the colonial order of things.

However, the question remains as to whether or not this is the kind of “tradition” that is invoked and evoked in the kind of daily practice of an allowable performative Nativeness that I have been here addressing?  Do they represent movement (a fleeing, or escape) out of and to a space beyond the grip of settler coloniality?  Or to these indicate the presence of a Nativeness that, much more than being the results of the processes of colonization are actively coded by the colonial signification regime?  For myself, in my own lived experience, the answer leans much more towards the latter than the former.  While that potential remains sometimes hidden, oftentimes unactivated, the traditionalist industrial complex, I believe, produces a spectre of Nativeness that emerges from, rather than is directed against, the death logics of settler coloniality.

That said, I do believe that an implicit recognition of this aspect of what is often passed off to be Native tradition within the regimes of settler-colonial signification.  Or, perhaps, rather there are strains and attempts towards such a recognition.  A basic perusal of ongoing discourse within Native online spaces (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, now Tik Tok and others) will lead one quite quickly to the present critique of pan-Indianism, of the mashing of diverse and truly quite distinct Native practices, beliefs, traditions, etc. into a single thing that we might call “Native.”  My perspective on this phenomenon is decidedly less mainstream, as cultural mixing, syncretism, and innovation is, in my assessment, the inevitable result of the meetings of Native people moved and mixed by colonialism, particularly within current urban settings.  The blending of Native peoples from coast to coast and everywhere in-between, in friendships, movements, organizations, family units, etc. within these new geospatial settings that are, quite importantly, permanent (that is: not transient; not temporary) does, in its course, bring together diverse Native experiences and traditions together.  Perhaps what this process represents is a kind of ethnogenic event unfolding before us.  Indeed, this process can result in the emergence of something new.  Here I am quite inclined to follow my sister in considering the emergence of a new Urban Native Nation or Nations.

Indeed, this would not mark the first time that processes of blending have resulted in the emergence of something new, but which remains fundamentally Native.  One could look to the historical, sociological, and anthropological experiences of the many post-contact Native Nations within North America: the Métis, the Comanche, the Seminole, the Lumbee, to name but a few.  Beyond the narrow and constricted disciplinary boundaries of Native Studies and what criteria appear to at times arbitrarily define its subject/object of study, but nonetheless still located within the territorial expanse of this continent, one can also find parallel processes and parallel arguments within the works of certain proponents of Black nationality, namely those associated with the notion of New Afrikanism, such as Edward Onaci (2020) and Akinyele Omowale Umoja (2013).  Scholars and theorists such as these argue that within the slave’s quarters on the plantation, in the forests, swamps, and hillsides of the escapees, as well as the in the lives of the freed, a new, but still fundamentally African, cultural matrix emerged, which borrowed, mixed, and modified already existing Indigenous West and West-Central African traditions, and which, as Umoja argues, “must be considered as a significant and foundational factor in the identity, social life, and political culture, including insurgent resistance, of Black people in the United States” (2013: 5).

These processes of emergence, of the reconfiguration of the Indigenous cultural matrix, do not merely represent a factor of the colonization process.  They do, of course, but in a purely mechanical sense that does not truly represent the fullness of the experience.  Rather, they represent the drive of living Indigenous peoples, both North American and African, to not only assert their autonomous existence beyond those immediate moments of capture, elimination, dispossession, and enslavement, but their active, alive, and moving resistances to such moments, logics, and structures in the present, and to dream the future beyond them.

Thus, I do not set about moralizing with regards to this process.  However, as much as I understand this emerging syncretic element, I do also understand the other side of the argument, the argument from the position of tradition.  As I mentioned, I do believe that contained within the critique of pan-Indianism, even if one may perhaps have to perform a certain degree of discursive archaeology to uncover it, is a kernel of truth regarding the production of late-colonial Nativeness within the tradition industrial complex.  That kernel is the simulation of Nativeness against the living vitality of a Nativeness that exists on its own terms, for its own sake.

The Native as Haunting

By this I am referring to the deployment within late-colonial mainstream Native cultural production of a simulated and mythological past as a mirror for how which we should exist as Native today, and consequently how we should navigate the relations of power under which we currently live.  In this I am significantly inspired by the thinking of African Diaspora scholar Louis Chude-Sokei and their critical invocation of the use of a mythological Africa in the musical imagery of roots reggae music (which was so much the music of my island youth, as it is today).  Here I cannot help but think of the kinds of performances and productions of Nativeness that I am attempting to address as the generation of a trauma-born nostalgic, recursive mythology, shaped by the settler-colonial politico-cultural affective geography of the northern bloc (2011). It is an idea of Nativeness which is relentlessly, I might even say militantly, celebrated for its supposed pre-colonial anteriority (2011: 80), but which requires for its grounding a non-historical rigidity; in other words: stagnation, or non-life.

This is, I believe, a specifically aesthetic non-historical stagnation that in many ways is in excess of the conceptualization of pastiche as culturally constitutive of postmodernity as theorized by Fredric Jameson (1991) and Mark Fisher (2009).  For Jameson, the Marxist theory of postmodernity par excellence:

Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language.  But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives … [devoid] of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists (1991: 17)

It is, in short, the “imitation of dead style” (18).  Fisher builds upon this by way of also borrowing Jacques Derrida’s notion of hauntology (2006) to speak of a kind of cultural hauntological aesthetic.  Hauntology here is sometimes simply reduced to feelings, experiences, and notions of nostalgia, both for what was, as well as what could have been (and indeed Fisher links a certain sense of hauntology to Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s notion of the slow cancellation of the future [2011]), but it is also a longing for worlds which manifest as “persistences, repetitions, prefigurations (2014: 28).  Fisher also acutely recognizes that there is a deep ache associated with such a longing, a kind of hauntological melancholia, which is sown deep into the dystopic landscape of 21st century late-capitalism (2014).  Here, in our settler-colonial present, we can perhaps think of the aching desire for escape, of flight from the structural logics of a world premised on our disappearance.  Fisher is clear to distinguish his hauntological melancholia from the postcolonial melancholia of Paul Gilroy (2005), which is a melancholia of both avoidance and production, of reviving the promise and process of multicultural democratization.  And I think here also we must distinguish such a postcolonial affective condition from what I might call a decolonial melancholia, that ache based on refusal as theorized by Audra Simpson (2014), for flight away from, for self-determination, for what was lost, but also the longing for what may be (re)built.  It is a spectre, much as the one conjured by Marx and Engels to haunt the Europe of the mid-19th century,  one whose potential coming threatens to destabilize the present colonial order of things.

And in this I do believe that, to some degree, there is certainly a hauntological and pastiched dimension to late-colonial Native cultural production, in sense of aching for something that was.  And indeed, while there is cultural continuity in more ways than I feel the need to account for in this writing, there is also a sense of how continuities with the past have also been shattered by the violent thrust of the settler-colonial regime.  And such a shattering, a breaking, a cutting, of such links was explicitly part of the colonial drive to eliminate the Native, if not physically in the sense of genocide, than, as J. Kēhaulani Kauanui so well describes, as Native through the combined effects of “spatial removal, mass killings, and biocultural assimilation” (2016).  As Juárez notes, the violence of settler colonialism is a violence that not only destroys/ed Native bodies, but also “silenced languages, burned books, obliterated people, erased history, and shattered families,” an amalgamation of processes by which “Natives are wretched out of their living cosmos and thrown into the dead world of the Indian Savage” (2014).

But longing, or desire, itself is also inflected by and through the regimes of the settler that have subsumed Native life.  Thus, desire for decolonial escape quite often not only rests on constantly engaging and reviving the past, at least not in a way that is constitutive of constructing a new future, but rather in a way that is necromantic and necrophagic, disallowing the possibility of innovation, and of finding new, and more contemporarily genuine, ways of existing as Native for the sake of being Native on its own terms.

The Native as Simulation

This is, I would argue, because that image of the past that more often than not activates such desires, aches, and longings, as I said already, is actually a vision of something that never actually was, to begin with; a vision of an imagined pan-Indian prior.  This, I believe, shifts the question beyond Jamesonian and Fisherian discussions of pastiche and hauntological revivalism—because there is nothing to actually revive when it comes to these kinds of pan-Indianist imaginaries—and into a terrain best discussed in Baudrillardian terms of simulacra and simulation.  In particular, thinking of Baudrillard’s successive phase precession of the sign order, this kind of pan-Indian non-historical performativity of Nativeness appears, at the very least, to be a kind of third-order simulacrum, where the image (sage smudging, beading, pow wows, mukluk making, etc.) appears to be a representation of a profound reality, in this case, the prior of conquest, but which actually masks the truth that it, in fact, does not represent anything real at all (1994: 6).

Further, what engagement in these practices of performative acceptable Indigeneity also mean for us as Native peoples is that our expression of Nativeness is ineluctably tied to the cognition and signification of the settler.  This is at least in part because the terms of this simulated mythology of the Indian past are set through the worlding of the settler.  I do not suggest that this means that every single Native person living today in this country wakes up in the morning and declares to themselves “today I am going to meet the expectations of the settler for what it means for me to be a Native,” but rather that that is what is practically rendered in the zone of these practical engagements with the modern and liberal world of the settler. In a sense, it is perhaps a non-political form of what Coulthard so forthrightly criticizes and urges us to turn away from, which is the practice of seeking recognition of ourselves from the settler (2014).

Following Juárez, it is also within and through this zone of acceptability that we discipline ourselves in the commodification drive of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system.  We sell our beading and moccasins for money.  We dance and sing for money.  And this even more deeply drives us into the dead-end dialectic of recognition with the settler, as the capitalist marketplace floats to the service those producible, commodifiable expressions of Native culture most palatable to the consumptive palate of the settler, and even as, perhaps even especially in light of, many Native people having grown openly critical of the tidal wave of fake Native imagery that buries us under the weight of patterns on clothing, of capitalist branding and sign-value, and of curios to be bought and sold at any stop along the highways that now crisscross our territories.  To the degree that we do not turn away from these things though, we begin to shift this dramaturgy of a kind of pan-Indian, non-historical Native simulation further down the processional sign order, from third-order simulacrum to fourth-order, where the performance of Nativeness not only masks the fact that there is no reality being reflected in its image, but where it reflects only other signs, in this instance the sign of Nativeness as rendered within settler coloniality and liberal-multicultural capitalist modernity.

Within modernist and colonial liberal capitalism what it is to be Native has been so deracinated by the machinery of elimination and dispossession that it is hard today to even think of these performances as truly Native.  Rather they exist for the consumption of the settler and exist for the settler to do with them as they so please.  They have become part of the liberal colonizing assemblage that is the mosaic of canadian multiculturalism or the american melting pot.  These things may be made by Natives, or worn by Natives, or sung by Natives, or performed by Natives, but they belong to, in the final instance, Canada, or the United States.  This is the terminal point of Juárez’s grammar of civilization (2014).


What is not allowable, though, are those expressions of Nativeness that express a living presence of the Native within the current moment, and which evince a desire for a decolonial face in the future-anterior.  This is the truly weird Native that exists beyond the temporal bounds of the settler’s world-building project.  Here, in concluding, I want to invoke the sense of survivance, rather than mere survivalism or revivalism, as meant by Vizenor.  He writes:

The character of survivance creates a sense of native presence and actuality over absence, nihility, and victimry.

Native survivance is an active sense of presence over absence, deracination, and oblivion; survivance is the continuance of stories, not of mere reaction, however pertinent. Survivance is greater than the right of a survivable name.

Survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, detractions, obtrusions, the unbearable sentiments of tragedy, the legacy of victimry (2009: 85).

Survivance is more than just surviving, more than just reviving images of the past, even as survivance may contain within it “the continuance of stories,” in an endless precession of signs within settler-coloniality.  Survivance is about active presence, about asserting vitality, about that thing of which I spoke earlier as the confrontation of the settler’s death world with the lived life of existing, resisting Native peoples.  Survivance cannot be precorporated or recuperated with the ideo-political complex of the settler’s world-building project precisely because it is, in its ultimate instance, an enactment of refusal, or choosing to turn away from the recognition and signification regime of that world.  Survivance cannot be operationalized and commodified within the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system as consumable cultural accoutrement because below, outside, and without such logics.  Survivance is living Nativeness that exists for its own sake, in its own temporality, its own spatiality.  it is the opposite of onto-temporal dislocation and deadness.

That bears repeating: survivance is living Nativeness.  To live life as Native, without concern for regimes of recognition, to not concern oneself or ourselves with the imputations of stagnation and atemporality of the settler, is, in itself, a fundamentally, not only resurgent, but insurgent decolonial act.  Truly living Natives, not the temporally and ontologically dead Natives that exist within the multicultural imagination of modernity/coloniality, are the weird monsters waiting to rupture and destabilize this project of world-creation that the settler has wrought.  Natives who are Native within their own cognition of themselves, absent the machinery of the settler-colonial state and the settler populace writ large, who do not seek a Lacanian reflection in the mirror of that society do not belong, and thus take the fundamental outsideness, exteriority, or off-the-mapness of Native Being and deploy it towards their own decolonial ends.  They cannot belong in the death-world of the settler, lest they, to paraphrase Joy Harjo (2008), break into its story by force, warclub in hand, and leave it with the smoke of grief rising by their side, the world of Man dead beside them.  In this sense, a Nativeness for its own sake, a decolonial Nativeness that defies the onto-temporal streaming of the settler, which rejects its displacement from the movement of time itself into the zone of a Being-out-of-Settler-Time, is truly monstrous.


[1] My critique of the reduction of Indigeneity/Nativeness to a purely visual racial schema, in-light of the algorithmic way in which settler-colonial state power and governmentality actually cognate “the Indian” or “the aboriginal,” and how recognition of that should shift our understanding of the violence of structural genocide (the logic of elimination), was the subject of an earlier piece of writing.

[2] My theorization of Native ontological exteriority, of the Native as a being-out-of-time and a ­being-out-of-space, was also the subject of an earlier piece of writing.


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