Race, Ethnicity, Indigenous Peoples and Politics

L01 - Race and Decolonization

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 08:30am to 10:00am | Location:

Paper One: Since the 1990s, scholars have increasingly sought to re-consider how political theory is complicit in processes of colonization and imperialism. Initially, this led theorists like Arneil (1996), Mehta (1999), and Tully (1993) to excavate canonical thinkers’ relations to empire. More recently, these efforts have been accompanied with calls for the decolonization/de-parochialization of the field’s canon and methods (Chroat, 2021; Williams, 2020). Although laudable, efforts to re-contextualize and engage with noncanonical thinkers have typically positioned the imperial state as the “basic structure” for organizing political life and/or social analysis (Táíwò, 2019). As a result, such efforts tend to ignore/obscure the radical potential of different modes of knowing and relating that precede and exceed the imperial state (Getachew & Mantena, 2021). This paper seeks to address this methodological ‘statism’ by offering a dual-pronged approach capable of both critiquing imperial state formations and engaging with different modes of thinking and relating. Drawing on notions like “thinking-with” (Vimalassery, Hu Pegues, & Goldstein, 2016) and “fugitive planning” (Harney & Moten, 2013), I specifically offer the notion of reading-to-conspire as a form of political praxis. Derived from com—meaning ‘with’—and spirare—which means ‘to breathe’—reading-to-conspire asks theorists to take seriously those modes of thinking and relating that precede and/or exceed the death-dealing regimes of empire. However, this is done not to ‘discover’ new concepts or frameworks that can be applied universally, but as a practice of solidarity that seeks to “realize questions and capacities that have been there all along” (Karuka, 2019, xv). Paper Two: Shalene Wuttunee Jobin, a member of the Beaver Mountain House (Edmonton) Cree, published their PhD dissertation entitled Upholding Indigenous Economic Relationships: Nehiyawak [Cree People] Narratives in 2023 with UBC Press. I ran into this book at the Vancouver Art Gallery in October of the same year and read it cover to cover in days, often returning to specific passages in the weeks that followed. Jobin’s book offers a profound epistemology that seeks understanding not only through what might be called all-disciplinarity (my understanding of mâmawi-hitêyihtamowin or “thinking about all”) but also through a deeply moralistic framework that, again as I understand it, requires the pursuit of miyo-wîcihitowin (“good relationships”). There’s more: Nehiyawak epistemology is inescapably grounded and, quite literally, landbound. The implication of this framing is that there is no knowing without land as it defines/makes possible all life (people included), all space, all time, and all possibilities. For me, coming to terms with this epistemology landed like a new moon (had I been writing this now in Beaver Mountain House – my birthplace – it would be ihkopîwipîsim or the “frost moon” which signals for lodges to prepare for winter). For more than 15 years, I’ve been swimming in the currents of non-Nehiyawak thinking about democracy which is usually not tied to land nor how land creates knowing but rather to a republic of the mind that is divorced from land and framed by extractive Anglocentric/US-American logics. Sometimes this republic touches ground when an empirical study is done but more often than not it floats in the often paywalled and linguistically inaccessible ethers of papers and technical presentations. What I would very much like to explore at this workshop is how Nehiyawak framing promotes or encourages a land-first, and ethics second, approach to the philosophy of democracy. There is a fruitful tension here between thinking about the particular (the land/s you are on and the ethics the land implores/requires) but also in trying to access all knowledge about democracy which, of course, is tied to peoples globally and the stories they leave behind. The conclusion I’ve reached, so far, is that Nehiyawak framing leads to a digital humanities (big digital data collection and structuring, artificial intelligence, etc) approach to pursuing all knowledge on democracy but in a moralistic manner. For example, if one were given permission to conduct this study on Nehiyawak land or through a Nehiyawak process, data should then only be gathered through methods that build or maintain miyo-wîcihitowin (“good relationships”) between peoples and their artefacts. Further, that data has to be stored somewhere – let’s say in the case of this example’s that’s Nehiyawak land. And that data must be somehow accessed by AI which exists only by grace of other lands that have their own ethical requirements. In short, if we have permission to pursue an understanding of democracy through Nehiyawak framing, I do think this fundamentally changes how the majority studies the philosophy of democracy because it puts lands and their ethical requirements before the floating republic of the mind.

Brydon Kramer (University of Victoria)
Jean-Paul Gagnon (University of Canberra)