FBI asks about Dakota activist’s controversial speech

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Waziyatawin, a professor of indigenous history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who used to go by the name Angela Cavender Wilson, told students that it’s time for American Indians to abandon symbolic demonstrations. Truth-telling efforts haven’t achieved anything, she said, according to a recording of the speech obtained by the Winona Post. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/01/07/indian-activist-fbi/

Cara Baldwin This is really an important case in point -not only  in relation to contemporary debates about the proper extent of  free speech – but to the notions of occupation and commons – with threads that relate to epic land-disputes elsewhere.

Chris Chen My sense is that scholars and activists who are part of these struggles are coming up against the limits of the various dominant anti-racist strategies in play for decades now: spiritual witnessing, consciousness raising, pleas for the recognition or tolerance of cultural difference, “speaking truth to power as though power didn’t know what it was doing,” etc.

These strategies presuppose that racist material dispossession and pervasive violence, an entire infrastructural political economy of racism, can somehow be remedied by symbolic rituals of inclusion and greater cultural appreciation (if liberal multicultural curricula at schools are any indication–this has been largely confined to dance, dress, and cuisine). I think that this culturalization of anti-racist thought and practice has been a disaster, projecting political agency outward, away from these communities.

Waziyatawin’s speech seems like a fairly modest proposal to reconsider more militant forms of direct action. In a post-911 US, I guess this means a visit from the FBI.

I should clarify that by projecting political agency outward away from these communities I mean performing cultural identity and difference for a potentially sympathetic audience of white liberals. The possibility of militant political action initiated by communities of color has become unimaginable in liberal political discourse which understands racism as a failure of cultural understanding.

Not only does this assert a depoliticized and profoundly disciplinary concept of shared cultural identities, it aggressively severs racism from political economy, and conceals the extent to which austerity, xenophobic scapegoating, and racist violence are mutually reinforcing.

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