Violence and settler colonialism: Jennifer Nez Denetdale, ‘”No Explanation, No Resolution, and No Answers”: Border Town Violence and Navajo Resistance to Settler Colonialism’, Wicazo Sa Review, 31, 1, 2016, pp. 111-131
Excerpt: Dakota Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s scholarship has been influential in shaping Indigenous studies for at least four decades. She has steadfastly criticized how scholarship in Native studies has been hijacked by American exceptionalism so that the historical treatment of Indigenous peoples and our present dilemmas continue to be erased, sanitized, and denied as the United States poses to the rest of the world as a multicultural nation that treats all of its citizens equally across race, class, and gender. Against scholarship that sustains such U.S. claims, Cook-Lynn insists that our responsibility as scholars is “to the tribal nations that have survived terrible wars, that have signed solemn treaties with our enemies, that possess vast resources, the rivers people live by, the lands where our relatives are buried. This legacy is our constituency.” As a Diné woman who struggles with academia precisely because of the kinds of challenges that Elizabeth Cook-Lynn speaks of, I take her writing to be inspiring first for my own efforts to sustain the criticism of American imperialism that is founded on the genocide and disappearance of Indigenous peoples and second as sources that can be built on to move the conversation in ways that are productive and regenerative.
Cook-Lynn’s insistence that Indigenous scholarship must be devoted to the support of tribal nations, sovereignty, and self-determination has been taken up in various ways and sometimes in ways that have limited our definitions of what sovereignty and self-determination mean. By limitations, I mean that Indigenous studies has been slow to take up the historical and lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in what is marked as urban and non-reservation or non-tribal lands. Because of land dispossession, the processes of capitalism, and ethnic cleansing, Indigenous peoples’ defining experiences have included displacement, relocation, and migration into urban spaces. Yet discursive practices connected to federal Indian policies have cast Indigenous peoples who reside in urban spaces and off legally recognized Indian lands as somehow less “traditional” and as instead “modern” or “progressive.” Although Native people’s experiences in urban spaces and border towns have been studied, there remains much to understand about how land dispossession and U.S. policies of ethnic cleansing have shaped the contours of movement from U.S.-designated tribal lands to urban spaces and border towns and how Indigenous people are endlessly cast as the outsiders and aliens in formerly recognized Indigenous spaces.
This essay, then, presents Diné historical and lived experiences in towns that border the Navajo Nation, with a focus on Gallup and Farmington, New Mexico, but with the recognition that other towns like Winslow, Holbrook, Flagstaff, and Page, Arizona, also have histories of violence against Navajos that have everything to do with the United States as a settler nation whose thirst for Indigenous land and resources remains unabated. A history of Navajo and Native protest against the violence in border towns momentarily disrupts and unsettles, and concessions are made. Very few studies have been undertaken of border town violence, even though this violence is pervasive and a feature of Native life in these communities. Further, most of the understanding of border town violence pathologizes Navajos as both the victims and perpetrators from a health risk perspective. This violence against Navajos is evident across decades and usually is only remarked on when the violence appears extraordinary or spectacular. For the most part, settlers remain innocent in the narratives that are created about their relationships with Navajos in border towns.
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