Saturday, April 19, 2008

Native American and Indigenous Studies Conference

Last week I went to Athens, Georgia to present a paper at the NAIS conference. I wanted to spend the least amount of time away from my son, so I arrived Friday afternoon missing a day and a half of the conference. There was plenty of conference left to blow my mind.

Andrea Smith read a paper that nailed me to the wall. I'm going to write about it from memory because I cannot find my notes, please know any mistakes in understanding are mine. Using Audra Simpson's theory of "ethnographic refusal" she said that when we as indigenous scholars refuse to be containers of truth we become unintelligible to the academy. She said we have to be revealed as containers of truth and do not have rhetorical agency, it is not our ideas that are valuable but ourselves as indigenous truth-tellers and when we refuse that role and theorize we cannot be understood. She got a big laugh when she asked, "Does Foucault tell the truth about French people?"

She said that we struggle for inclusion, and that if they only knew how nice we were they would let us in. That becomes our job, berating them for not including us. I felt like she was singing my life with her words.

Before I left I had lunch with my advisor and he was telling me about the proposed description for an indigenous studies faculty position. There are NO indigenous faculty at UCSD. There are few students. The description had to include California as a focus of research and I found it limiting. I was also troubled by the inference, that Andrea Smith made clear to me, that the scholar will be the "container of truth." My advisor is excellent and I was able to talk to him about all of this for over an hour when I came back from the conference, and the job description is proposed only and will change. Still, coming home from this amazing conference has been a letdown, the mirror Andrea Smith held up showed me how isolated I often am.

I decided to take a History seminar this term. I have never worked with this professor but I have met him, he is on the committee for several of my cohort members. The seminar is Race, Colonialism and Nationalism and there are a lot of basic texts I wanted to read before I qualify in the fall. The writing requirement is not heavy, it is enough to allow me to write towards finishing up my literature review for my dissertation prospectus which is my main task this term. Wednesday we were reading Lisa Lowe's Immigrant Acts. She is a professor at UCSD in literature, I know she is brilliant, we read most of her book as undergraduates and in some ways I felt the trauma of that time, always struggling with ethnic studies to recognize indigeneity.

In the class discussion I told myself to be quiet, not critical, even if Lowe assumes colonialism began in the Phillipines. If you have met me or listened to the podcast you know that I was not able to remain quiet for long. I gave her book respect and then said, what if she wrote this book with the assumption that this is a settler society? The three times she mentions Native Americans she includes them in the food group laundry list, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans. I also mentioned that in her book Homebound, Yen Le Espiritu does what Lowe does not and connects colonialism here to the Phillipines and Vietnam.

The class was interested, then the professor talked back to my critique, I guess I did not smooth the way as well as I hoped, saying that Lowe is one of his best friends and one of the smartest people he knows and by that time I was in my safe place.

For three years I have not seen my sister, Chris Finley, my dear friend from our glory days at University of Oregon. She is a graduate student at University of Michigan and presented an excellent paper. Here is a picture of us, taken by Audra Simpson in between panels.

Lani, Me, Chris

we conference by a simpson

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