Indigenous Peoples' Day at the University of Michigan — II

Posted by patwari on January 21, 2018 · 16 mins read


The Indigenous Peoples' Day teach-in, held on October 12, 2017, was organized and moderated by Richard Reinhardt and Christine Chalifoux at the Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop (RIW) on Religion in the Pre-Modern Atlantic at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in coordination with the organizers of the Indigenous Peoples' Day March of Indignation. Professors Gregory Dowd and Michael Witgen gave us a history of indigenous people and colonization in Michigan and the Midwest. Mallory Whiteduck talked About Indigenous forms of resistance, and Salman Hussain talked about solidarity. These presentations were followed by an open conversation, particularly addressing the March of Indignation that took place on campus, organized by student and community groups. Following is a report on the teach-in that occurred three days after the march.

Previously: Indigenous Peoples' Day at the University of Michigan — I

ConceptRichard Reinhardt (9/22/2017)

Early in September, over a very nice dinner on Salman's porch, I asked him what was going on with the May Day Collective, which led demonstrations and direct actions in Ann Arbor on May Day this year. One of the things Salman told me was that the collective had been thinking of organizing a direct action in relation to Indigenous Peoples' Day, but that they wanted a better idea of the history of indigenous people and colonization in Michigan, in general, and Ann Arbor, in particular, if there was any information to be learned. We realized that we simply weren't aware of the history, but we assumed there was a history and wanted to know what it was in the way of an ongoing ethical-political education. I brought this issue to my co-organizers, Christine Chalifoux and Hayley Bowman, shortly after, at one of our regular organizational meetings for the RIW on Religion in the Pre-Modern Atlantic. Christine and Hayley agreed that it would be a good idea to host such a panel and that, if we did, such a panel would ideally be crafted to draw together some combination of scholars and community members (local historians and activists), in keeping with the RIW's stated mission, to share knowledge and stimulate conversation.

Meanwhile, other Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti-based activists were planning to engage in an as yet undisclosed public demonstration and direct action on Indigenous People's Day itself. We decided that the panel could take place after the planned action, to create conversation, and to shed light on historical context after the action itself. At this point, we set a date, and we decided to reach out to potential panelists, knowing that some would likely be available and the others would not. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Interdisciplinary Group (NAISIG) was on the top of our list, so we reached out to them for co-sponsorships, invited any of their members who might have relevant material to present to do so, and they suggested a few names of faculty members for the panel (Profs Gregory Dowd and Michael Witgen). At the same time, Salman reached out to some people involved in planning the action, as well as community organizations (including the Michigan Indigenous Action Collective and No More Michigan). At this venue, we are certainly open to other potential contributors.

Potential Questions and Points of Engagement:

These are some loose threads that panelists might consider taking up...

  • Any topic related to the history of indigenous people in Michigan and Ann Arbor -- best would probably be if we could get a broad overview and one or two short micro-histories
  • We would be interested in hearing descriptions, interpretations, analyses of and/or interventions into current activist tactics around indigenous issues, especially as it applies to the display of indigenous ritual, culture, etc. (in the activism around the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example)
  • We would be interested in hearing what social and political issues dominate the landscape of indigenous organizing and activism in Michigan and Ann Arbor now
  • We would like to have input about the action that (by the time of the panel) will have taken place on Indigenous People's Day, the impetuses and goals that animated that action, and the tactics, outcomes, strategies, symbols, etc. that those who organized it intended to enact

Ideally, all of this is geared toward a lay audience who would like to learn more.



Teach-in — Report by Patwari (10/13/2017)


Professor Witgen started us out on the history of colonization with a discussion of the 1785 Land Ordinance (which would become the Northwest Ordinance) that facilitated massive land grabs, and then re-sales (with government subsidies) for the purpose of white settlement, allowing for 5,000 white men to claim a recognized territory and 60,000 white people to claim a state. The Treaty at the Foot of Little Rapids, known as the Treaty of Fort Meigs (1817), is an important marker for Michigan history and marked the ceding of 3.7 million acres of Native territory, most of it in the Ohio River Valley affecting Ojibwe, Huron, Senaca, Ottawa, and Shawnee nations, among others. The Treaty was not primarily a land deal for Michigan, but it connected Michigan with settlements in Ohio and on the Mississippi river. It also allowed for the construction of a federal road which encouraged settlement in Michigan. This treaty was also a way to divide and disempower the Huron. Lewis Cass, the governor of Michigan at the time and later the US Secretary of War, was the architect of the “Indian Removal” strategy. He claimed expertise on native peoples and asserted that, as they could not be civilized, their removal was necessary. Following the treaty, the pace of land appropriation picked up enormously: whereas Michigan in 1805 was populated largely by Indigenous peoples, in just three decades virtually all of land was expropriated for white settlement.

Professor Dowd's presentation focused on fishing and gaming laws and their relationship to Native territories, and the hunting rights accorded to Indigenous people through various treaties. These continue to go unhonored as Indigenous people are arrested for hunting violations in contravention of those treaties.

The organizers of the March of Indignation distributed copies of the zine (see below) that listed the various ways in which the University fails to honor the treaties.



Below are the revised and edited comments delivered by Mallory Whiteduck and Salman A. Hussain.


Mallory Whiteduck, Temporality and Place in Indigenous Resistances


Participating in the March of Indignation created space for me to reflect on its existence within the broader scope of contemporary and historical Native American resistances. The March of Indignation combined traditional direct-action methods of resistance, including scripting protest chants and pamphleteering, with traditional Anishinabe ceremonial presences, like smudging and singing. The meeting of these two traditions begged the question: What makes Anishinabe resistance? At least part of the answer, in my view, is located in two of the consummate topics that humankind continually returns to: time and place.

Anishinabe live by the Seven Generations principle. The belief that the actions Anishinabe take today affect the lives of our kin seven generations in the future both compel and mitigate resistances. Living by the Seven Generation principle means that the end goals do not exclusively pertain to the people currently performing the activism. Included in our fight are the rights of people not living in the current historical moment.

The shape that Indigenous resistances take—and we saw this in the March that focused on education and ceremony—are often subtle and humble forms that center land or place and also include other-than-human beings. Direct-action resistances, like the March, are certainly common, but ordinary, everyday acts of resistance where Anishinabe and other Native American people exercise political power that ensures the continuance of our nations, language and culture are more common. The work of language revitalization, for example, is often performed at kitchen tables by Indigenous people who are unpaid or minimally paid, but who do it out of a place of love for the people, the language and the culture. The March of Indignation was strengthened by its combination of modes of resistance, both Anishinabe-centered temporality and form, and traditional resistance tactics.


Salman A. Hussain, The weight of imperial history

Last year, the Indigenous Peoples' Day went unmarked on this campus; our “March of Indignation” was a way to undo that silence. On behalf of the organizers of the March of Indignation, I thank the students and community activists who lent material support, organizing labor, and their bodies to the march.

Some of us study colonialism and imperialism in a site elsewhere. We do it sitting right here, in the U.S. Academy, in a classroom in this university, often failing to connect what's in our heads with what's beneath our feet, even as we discuss the imperial provenance of our academic disciplines and fields. We just heard presentations on Indigenous history right here in Michigan area, one of which ended with a call to own the history of Indigenous dispossession if one is a citizen of the United States and acknowledging that Indigenous dispossession is what the United States was built on. Let me follow up on that call, and take the measure of its weight for an Imperial citizen to get at what solidarity may look like.

I speak as a student activist who focuses on solidarity initiatives, as an individual who formed his political and intellectual commitments through a particular history, trajectory, and experiences, as a student of and from a postcolonial space, and as a Muslim migrant to the U.S.

I study working-class Pakistani migrants to the Arabian Gulf. The urban residential racial segregation in the US intersects with the Aramco-established oil fields and segregated settlements in Saudi Arabia circa 1930s in which South Asian migrants labor. I study these working class South Asian migrants as a migrant myself, based in the US in the aftermath of the Special Registration and the Muslim Ban, in the crosshairs of the security state that locks up brown and black bodies and operates torture camps like Gitmo that litter the globe, and amongst calls for internment camps for U.S. Muslims like the ones for Japanese Americans during World War 2, at the time called “concentration camps” — more widely associated with the Nazis— and successors of Andrew Jackson's invention to incarcerate, exclude, and remove Native Americans.

I hail from Pakistan. The same areas of Pakistan that were bombed by the British colonial state in the early 20th century—namely Waziristan and the Tribal Areas—have been bombed regularly by the Pakistani state itself and the U.S. state regularly since the beginning of the 21st century. I'm from the Punjab Province, the province that today dominates both the state and the Military of Pakistan which bombs the Tribal areas within its borders. This dominance was set up by the colonial regime and its racecraft that constructed the people of Punjab as “martial” and war-like, and as a result, filled the imperial army with Punjabis who helped put down the India-wide revolt in 1857 and rebellions elsewhere across the sprawling British empire. The Brits thought of Punjabis—specifically, Sikhs and Muslims —as warlike and fanatics. Beard and a turban were regarded as visual clues to their martial abilities. Does that ring a bell in contemporary American ears?

“Stereotypes” have hybrid lineages and long histories. They have material consequences that stretch through time and space.

Europeans made sense of the two Indians they encountered in different continents in connection with one another. Not only that, as Nabil Matar's work shows they also racialized Native Americans through their encounter with Moors and Turks—Muslims—and sexual practices that they ascribed from one to the other. They understood one through the other. The British, for example, described American Indians as descendants of North African Muslims with similar cultural practices and values. They thought of both Muslims and Native Americans as “sodomites” engaged in rampant homosexuality.

U.S. racism has a global history. It is the history of the Imperial frontier, of colonial violence. The race war of the American frontier is ongoing. US Military, the sacral object of U.S. nationalism, the tip of the settler-colonial spear, imagines its imperial wars as “Indian Wars”. From Vietnam in the 1970s to Iraq in the 90s, from Columbia to Afghanistan to Philippines, they referred to the invaded territory as Indian Country—the “they” here ranges from the grunts to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell in the mid 1990s. Geronimo was their code-name for Osama b Laden.

The imperial frontier continues to live and expand. We need to acknowledge the global histories of racism that we find directly in front of us. Our political and ethical commitments need to carry the full weight of this global imperial history of the U.S. settler state. Our solidarity needs to be deep, as this history is. The imperial drone goes everywhere. The solidarity political work that we do right here locally, and concretely, needs to extend outside the colonized vision of the “domestic.” It must involve doing labor for each other, and to center others' voices through our own labor. Something of what I've outlined here was, I feel, the spirit animating the organizing of this march.