Andrea Riley-Mukavetz, Bowling Green State University
(Published April 20, 2016)
Editor's Note: This piece is available in two forms, audio and text.
Boozhoo! Andrea Riley Mukavetz nindishinikaaz. 1 I would like to recognize the indigenous people of the land: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi—the People of the Three Fires.2 This land is beautiful land. As Shawn Wilson says, “I come to you with a good heart” (7).
Initially, I presented this story with my dear friends Malea Powell, Daisy Levy, Marilee Brooks-Gillies, and Franny Howes at the inaugural Cultural Rhetorics Conference. Our panel, Research is Ceremony, and the Long, Slow Fall into Cultural Rhetorics was a story circle. Quoting the abstract, we offered stories by “five speakers who constellate their individual and collective stories, theories, and research ceremonies for coming to the practice of cultural rhetorics. Ultimately, the participants in this session aim to make visible the labor of doing cultural rhetorics scholarship and building a cultural rhetorics approach to knowledge making while dwelling in paracolonial spaces.” Like all stories, the one I am about to tell you is a partial one. In advance, I thank you for your patience and understanding.
Section 1: Working in Anger
Pump ya fists like this
Holler if ya hear me
Pump pump if you’re pissed
I’m sitting with a student in a coffee shop. I think we’ve all been here before. This is one of the aspects of my job that I really like: I’m meeting with this fierce, young man to talk about how to apply to grad school. I believe that the universe finds a way to help people find each other when we need each other the most. This student, like many, is a gift. We’re telling stories about getting into trouble. We’re sharing experiences about what it’s like to have to make ourselves visible; what it’s like to pass and be spies, and learning to understand when you have to speak up or, for me lately, regretting the not speaking up. He tells me a story about how he has to correct his fraternity brothers’ use of language. You see, they throw around a lot of gender derogatory words. He says, “I know I make them feel bad. Sometimes, that’s the only thing I have.” I get what he is saying, completely. I’ve been there, many times. I tell him this. Then, gently, and hesitantly, I say, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to speak up without embarrassing folks.” We both agree that to shame—to embarrass—to yell can feel good, but that good feeling is fleeting; we then have to deal with the embodied and relational consequences.
The following section requires audience participation. When I first presented this story, folks in the audience cackled, waved their hands, and whoo-whoo-ed. Now, dear listeners, I ask you to do the same if you’re feeling what I am saying.
- Your students come to you in pain, hurting, or unconvinced they can do the work they love. They prefer to use the euro-centric making practices and scholarly texts that have helped them succeed. Holler if you hear me
- You are in constant need of a reality check or the “I’m not crazy, right?” Holler if you hear me
- As if they just realized it, one of your colleagues or peers or students has told you that you are really smart. Holler if you hear me
- Someone finally believes the thing you’ve been saying all along after it is said by a person from a dominant background who does not reference the members of the underrepresented scholarly community who already said it. Holler if you hear me
- On an almost daily basis, you fantasize about burning it all to the ground and walking away. Holler if you hear me
- You hesitate from this said burning because your responsibility is to continue the work of your scholarly elders who had to put up with a lot more shit than you. Holler if you hear me
Section 2: Working from Anger
You want your pain/productive/don’t understand the/release/of fire
- Kim Shuck
This is a ceremony of remembering how to practice All Our Relations and what it feels like, and —looks like, to practice working from and working with anger. I understand that many folks believe anger to be productive—that it allows for invention, for responsiveness to cultural history, that —it can be a form of self-realization and self-actualization. I share this story deeply aware of how multiple cultural communities theorize anger but also invested in mapping what it looks like and —feels like to practice and produce in, with, and from anger. I need to remind myself. I need to remember so I can speak it—so it can live beyond just my body.
Sometimes, the spaces we occupy are really good at getting us to forget. I’m interested in exploring how anger impacts embodiment and relationality. As a cultural rhetorics scholar, my scholarly practice is relational accountability. As Shawn Wilson reminds us, “relationships do not merely shape reality, they are reality” (7). So then, as a way to be a good relative, I need to understand and take responsibility for how anger impacts my relationship to the world. And, how it functions while I make and share knowledge. I hope that this exploration will reveal something about negotiating multiple cultural communities, including institutional and dominant spaces, and about how paracolonial practices impact the ways in which we make and share knowledge.
What working from anger looks like:
- anger influences how it all begins
- we can locate it on our journey
- it starts a practice
- it helps us track a relationship between places or spaces
- we make things out of it
- anger separates and removes
It's writing and rewriting quotes from respected scholars in your field because you can’t move past their voices to speak your own words. It’s not going to community events because you can’t even stand to be around yourself. It feels like sleeping with your shoes on because you can’t even bring yourself to put your feet to the ground even though you know that connection with the land will make you feel better. It feels like you just don’t deserve to heal.
What working with anger looks like:
- anger accompanies
- you work alongside it
- it marks you and your work and your relationships
- you are responsible for it
- it is responsible for you
- it is a material to work with
It’s beginning and ending with deconstruction even though you know there are other options (see Mignolo, Smith, Wilson). It’s like, spending all day reading about #BlackLivesMatter, #TamirRice, Walking With Our Sisters, #Charleston, #FreeCeCe, and the indigenous grandmothers standing at the front lines fighting against Keystone. You can’t help but think of that Adrienne Rich quote, “any woman’s death diminishes me.” (##). You look at your clock and realize you teach in thirty minutes. You’re in between tears and throwing things. You desire to be that teacher who can spontaneously change her lesson plans and address these issues with her students in meaningful ways. But you can’t. You’ve always been a mess. You’ve always felt too deeply. Already, you tread lightly in your classroom. You make sure to not take up too much space. You are afraid of how your students perceive you.
Section 3: Story Time 3
[deconstruction] provides words…but it does not prevent someone from dying
- Linda Tuhiwai Smith
The difference between poetry and rhetoric/is being ready to kill/yourself/instead of your children
- Audre Lorde
I’m back in the coffee shop. This time, I’m meeting with an Assistant Professor from another department. As a junior faculty member learning about the cultural community she works in and for, I’ve been on a number of academic blind dates in the past three years. This time, we’re talking about how it feels to be so far away from our communities—the loneliness and isolation.
Holler if you hear me.
I say to her: “Sometimes, I just miss hearing the languages of my people around me; their faces in the supermarket.” She nods with me. I’ve been taught to find my people: to seek them out and tend to them. It’s important to not suffer in silence or isolate yourself. But, what do we do when our community is so far away? When they are struggling to survive?
I cannot stop thinking about all of the indigenous women who have been murdered or kidnapped.4 I take their names down. I search pages for them, read updates, and send prayers and blessings to their community. I watch videos of indigenous men cutting their hair and honoring it to these missing and murdered women. Here are their names. Speak them with me—please. 5
- Loretta Saunders. On February 26, 2014, Loretta’s body was found dumped alongside a Canadian highway. Loretta was working on her thesis about missing and murdered indigenous women. She was pregnant.
- Louise Veillard. On May 29, 2014, Louise’s body was found in the North Saskatchewan River. Her death was deemed non-criminal.
- Tina Fountaine. On August 17, 2014, Tina’s body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River. Tina was only 15 years old. She had been put into a group home after her father was murdered.
- Faye Kara Grandjambe. On September 27, 2014, Faye was found dead in a Yellowknife alley. The coroner could not determine the cause of death.
- Misty Upham. On October 16, 2014, Misty was found dead near the White River in Auburn, Washington. Misty was a famous actress. Misty died with blunt force injuries and the cause of death was ruled “undetermined.” It took the police eleven days to find her.
This is just a small list,—nowhere near extensive. I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good relative—how to make and create while knowing that people are dying, going missing, or going without water. I don’t know if I will ever figure it out but I think it has to do with the practice of carrying stories.
I started thinking about carrying stories while doing oral history work with a group of urban, native women. As a graduate student, I found myself carrying their stories while in the institution and looking to these stories to answer my questions. For me, to carry stories means to consider how to be attentive to the materials we use to practice and make knowledge; that our knowledge lives in our bodies and is affected by what bodies experience; that sometimes, we have to wait for the knowledge—it will come to us when we are ready. To carry stories is a way to practice relational accountability.
So then, I carry the lived experiences of indigenous American women with me as I move through multiple spaces. I write with and for them. I work alongside them. They accompany me. I am responsible to and for them.
When I hear about another missing indigenous woman, I try hard to fight the urge of burning it all to the ground, leaving academia, and doing something else. I try to take a moment and listen to that tingling, choked up feeling deep, deep inside my chest located between my muscular and circulatory systems. I dwell with it. It does not feel good. But, I take responsibility for it.
Section 4: Practicing All Our Relations
This is what the elders teach…That our actions in this life can heal our ancestors on the other side, that this corporeal knowing does not hold us, that we can remember histories and futures through and in spite of the body we wear
- Cherríe Moraga
All Our Relations, as a teaching, a theory, a rhetorical practice, a story, is not new. It’s old, like the land. Personally, I am not interested in discovering the new or homesteading the subjects of study that I am in relation to. As Malea Powell acknowledges, “the rules of scholarly discourse…require us to write ourselves into this frontier story” (3).” Instead, I’m set on understanding who and what has come before me and listening to the stories and teachings they have left to be learned from in service of the future—of survival. I believe this is key to cultural rhetorics practice, especially for those invested in the ongoing effort to delink from the colonial matrix of power (see Mignolo; Powell, “Stories Take Place”). To practice All Our Relations is to move away from the model of individuality and into the communal, the collective, and relational. It is an understanding of “who” your relatives are whether they are the retired substance abuse counselor, the native faculty member who is always there, or the 19th century intellectual who writes about shared ancestral land. I want to apologize if I make this sound easy. It’s not. It’s messy to live and love within a system of interconnecting constellations while negotiating an additional system that profits off of what appear to be strict categories. It takes practice, time, and understanding. Sometimes, you’ll fuck it up. But, that’s okay. We all make mistakes. We are all learning--remembering. This is what it looks like:
It’s skipping your writing day to have a cup of coffee with an elder. It’s asking your students to develop a language of love as critique. It’s holding the space for them and practicing understanding because you know how hard it is to bring oneself to do this work. Even though it’s painful as hell, you buy as many Ojibwe language books as possible. You ask your mother to speak to your daughter in Chaldean. You try to hold on to as many words as possible and speak them with her--together. It’s visiting the North Woods, walking the beach of Grand Traverse Bay, and making sure to bring your medicine. It’s bringing in the knowledge of intellects outside of academia and treating them like the theorists because they are.
Section 5: Giveaway
There’s no such thing as a one way land bridge
- Joy Harjo
So, I’ve done this thing where I reference or allude to the work of indigenous, decolonial, and cultural rhetorics scholars. At times, I spoke their names. At times, I did not, but their names are in the transcript. To continue practicing All Our Relations and being a good relative, I am going to speak the names of my works cited page and acknowledgements. I speak these names to sustain relationships with them—to remember the stories that I carry with, for, and about them—to offer you, dear listener, opportunities to form relationships with them.
Miigwetch to Daisy Levy, Malea Powell, Phil Bratta, Maria Novotny, Tim Dougherty, Gail MacKay, Franny Howes, Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Greg O’Connor, and Nicole Jackson for your stories, support, and feedback during the drafting, revision, and recording process.
Thank you, dear listeners. Miigwetch—thank you for listening.
- 1. I am learning the Ojibwe language as an adult. I apologize for any errors or misunderstandings. These mistakes are mine and mine alone.
- 2. I encourage you to look up the indigenous people of the land that you live, work, or dwell on.
- 3. This title is a small reference to Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life.
- 4. If you want more information about this important issue, please consult Walking With Our Sisters, an indigenous woman-run grassroots organization.
- 5. There has been a long history of Black women being killed and murdered after encounters with the police. When I initially presented this story, the #Sayhername movement had not officially begun. I would like to recognize the constellated #Sayhername movement alongside this practice of recognizing the missing and murdered indigenous women. You can learn more about the #Sayhername movement from the African American Policy Forum website. To honor those six killed women who encouraged the movement, I offer their names here: Sandra Bland, Mya Hall, Alexia Christian, Meagan Hockaday, and Natasha McKenna.
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