Wakanda Forever: Using Indigenous Futurisms to Survive the Present

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It started with a tweet. A simple linguistic shift put forward by Damien Lee (@damienlee). Moving from saying Canada or even “…in what is now Canada,” to, “…in what is currently Canada,” in order to “open possibilities for imagining futurities beyond the settler state.”

I read the tweet right before teaching my Contemporary Indigenous Education course, and decided to model (and make explicit) my own language choices for my students. I used “in what is currently the United States/Canada/Mexico” throughout the class period, and told the class why. From that class on, as well as in their weekly discussion posts, my students have used the same phrasing. My course is made up predominantly of non-Natives, and there’s something so powerful for me in that small act. It gave me the power to imagine an otherwise.

Because, let’s be real. The world is a hot mess right now. Things are awful. I don’t need to do a rundown of how awful, you all live in the same world and consume the same daily barrage of news that I do. But it’s been hard to keep going, keep fighting, keep learning, and keep growing when the world seems to be crumbling around us.

So in the last few weeks, I’ve clung to this idea of being able to imagine something different, and I’ve turned to indigenous futurisms to get me through. What are indigenous futurisms? The term was first coined by Anishinaabe scholar Grace Dillon in the early 2000’s, who has continued to do amazing work in the field). Native author (and Nebula award nominated!) Rebecca Roanhorse defines the term for us in Uncanny Magazine:

Indigenous Futurisms is a term meant to encourage Native, First Nations, and other Indigenous authors and creators to speak back to the colonial tropes of science fiction—those that celebrate the rugged individual, the conquest of foreign worlds, the taming of the final frontier. Indigenous Futurism asks us to reject these colonial ideas and instead re-imagine space, both outer and inner, from another perspective. One that makes room for stories that celebrate relationship and connection to community, coexistence, and sharing of land and technology, the honoring of caretakers and protectors.

Indigenous Futurism also advocates for the sovereign. It dares to let Indigenous creators define themselves and their world not just as speaking back to colonialism, but as existing in their own right. That is not to say that the past is ignored, but rather that it is folded into the present, which is folded into the future—a philosophical wormhole that renders the very definitions of time and space fluid in the imagination.

These pieces of indigenous art, writing, film, whatever it may be posit a future where our indigenous ways of knowing, being, and relating allow us to re-imagine, re-create, and exist–while also looking to the past and the present simultaneously. Anishinaabe scholar, artist, and game designer Elizabeth LePensee told me that the most important aspect of Indigenous Futurisms which most people misunderstand is that, “it’s about past/present/future–the hyperpresent now. That we look seven generations before, and seven generations ahead.” While western science fiction tends to think solely the future, Indigenous futurisms, “reflects all spacetimelines and sees how they are all connected.”  Exploring the hyperpresent now through these works has given me respite, validation, energy, and yes, hope.

I’m so tired. I’ve been fighting a million things behind the scenes and feeling stalled with my writing and work, and trying to figure out how to jump back into blogging when the last few months have been posts about heavy, hard, uncomfortable truths. I needed something to push me out of the dark and back into the writing that has brought me so much joy and power.

Enter Wakanda.

<I don’t think there are any real Black Panther spoilers here but I am going to talk about some minor plot points and the fact that Wakanda is a setting in the movie, so do with that what you will>

I went to see Black Panther by myself on Thursday after an especially long week, and as the lights came up I found myself sitting there in the theater with tears in my eyes. As I said on twitter, the idea of an indigenous place untouched by colonization was hella overwhelming and just beautiful.

In Wakanda, modernity, technology, and tradition live side by side. They’re not seen as antithetical, or put in opposition. As Native folks our indigenous knowledges have always been seen by colonizers as “folk knowledge” or standing in the way of progress and “true scientific” knowledge. That is, unless indigenous knowledges affirm western scientific “discoveries” (see this recent article by Smithsonian Magazine). So seeing, actually *seeing* on the massive IMAX screen a place that thrived and developed without western intervention, an indigenous nation that was allowed to keep and harness its incredibly valuable natural resources (in this case Vibranium) and wasn’t mined and exported to the West, where a young black woman is the scientific genius behind Wakanda’s technology, where a bustling outdoor market has levitating buses and woven baskets, and where ancestral tradition at Warrior Falls determines who gets to wear a superhero suit? Mind blowing.

warrior falls

We had Wakandas on Turtle Island prior to colonization. Recently one was “discovered” in what is currently Guatemala–more than 60,000 structures hidden to western scientists (but obviously known to indigenous folks) in the deep jungle for thousands of years. We had Cahokia. We had Teotihuacan. and on and on. But popular culture doesn’t allow us to see those cities, those places where indigenous knowledge and technologies allowed for sustainable, complex, and modern living. Instead, we see, over and over, the time period of the height of colonization. We get the Revenant, Hostiles, Dances with Wolves, The Lone Ranger. We get narratives of tipis on the Plains, one small historic sliver and window into our existence. So to be able to see the result of what one of those pre-contact cities and societies could have become without colonial interference is wild. Yes it’s a comic book movie. Yes it’s fantasy. But that imagination is powerful.


There are plenty of things that we could critique about Black Panther, but I don’t want to do that here. I just want to think about what it means to see and to imagine Wakanda.

(An important point to think through too, perhaps in another post, is that Wakanda means God/Creator for Osage, Otoe, and Ponca tribes. I don’t know enough about the Marvel universe to know the origin of the term in Black Panther context, but it’s an aside I’d be remiss to leave out.)

So for the next few posts, or for as long as I feel up to it, I’m going to be showcasing some cool work being done in Indigenous futurisms. A disclaimer, I’m new to this conversation. Definitely not claiming expertise, but just wanting to bring us all along together into a space (both figurative and maybe literally space as in the sky) where we can start to challenge the norms that place us as indigenous peoples in the past, as historic or extinct, and as antithetical to the future. I believe very strongly that indigenous knowledges can save the world. But it requires a dramatic reimagining, and the ability to dream. That’s what I want and need right now, and I know some of you probably do too.

So we push onward looking back into the future.



(and thanks for all the support and love for the last few months as things have been quiet around here)

The Problematics of Disingenuous Public Apologies

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In the weeks since I wrote my Native Harvey Weinsteins post, I’ve been learning hard lessons about Indian Country and men I thought I trusted and knew. My inbox has been filled with stories upon stories of men I have shared space with, men I have promoted on my social media and in my talks, men I have held up as shining examples as the good ones. I mourned hero after hero. I unfollowed and blocked men I called friends. I offered words of support and healing to women I don’t know, as I tried to process what I was learning. I know I let some people down who felt I could do more, but I was struggling to keep up with the flow of emails and support the women–and myself–who were having to relive moments they tried to tuck away forever. I also watched men I specifically mentioned, and others who we all know about, make broad general apologies on their Facebook pages, or share the post and without realizing it was literally about them. I watched as one in particular continues to be praised and profiled and held up as an indigenous feminist role model, which has only increased in the last few weeks. Only four Native men I know reached out to me directly to check in after the post. There is still so much work to do, and I’m not done fighting.

Not all learning is easy. I have always adopted a philosophy on the blog of “consenting to learn in public”–being willing to own up to my missteps and learning, allowing others to see that vulnerability and hopefully be willing to change and grow themselves. In the days after my post, I put up an open letter/public apology to Native women by Kyle Mays, a friend, someone I cared about and have given a platform several times on this blog. I was recently approached by a woman who came to me with the support of several other women who have witnessed and experienced problematic behavior from Kyle. They have seen that recent behavior has not changed since the public apology, and felt that the continued presence of the post was allowing the behavior to continue. As soon as I was contacted, I immediately deleted the post, but they and I felt it needed to be addressed more comprehensively.

So I’m deeply embarrassed, I’m hurt, I feel used, and I feel awful thinking that I allowed my blog and my platform to be manipulated in a way that continued to harm women. For my role in that, I’m truly sorry. This is extremely hard for me to write, and I’m typing with shaking hands and feeling sick. This is personal, and painful. I’m so appreciative that these women reached out to me, and their note to me confirmed some hard truths I myself was grappling with. While I’m trying not to blame myself, I do take responsibility for not being more critical in my reading of the initial guest post, and for leaving it up even after my own recent experiences led me to question its authenticity.

In what follows, you’ll find a response written by a community of women who asked to remain anonymous. Below that, you’ll find the original post.


The Problematics of Disingenuous Public Apologies

Public apologies are a colonial tactic often intended to silence a community without genuine intentions for actionable follow-through. Whatever rhetoric a person can spin, there are warning signs to be aware of when a person seeks to dominate a conversation for their own

Look for:

  • Public apologies rather than direct apologies to the people hurt.
  • Blanket statements which seek to diminish personal responsibility.
  • Generalizations which create confusion between reality and fiction.
  • Speaking on behalf of an entire community or group.
  • Excusing actions by putting the blame on society rather than taking personal
  • Continuing to reinforce a particular discourse while denouncing that discourse (e.g. in
    the case of toxic masculinity, continuing to refer to intimacy as “fucking”).
  • Not recognizing the role of power dynamics (e.g. assuming that students are acting
    consensually when they are, in fact, not in an equal position).
  • Shrugging off serious issues (e.g. referring to a person being suicidal with no follow-up
    about how they are now).


  • Praise the people who have endured despite the poor choices of another person.
  • Relieve yourself by not blaming yourself for the actions of another person.
  • Continue to speak up and share experiences.
  • Be aware that toxicity can happen through texts and social media as well as at speaking
    events, conferences, and gatherings.
  • Offer meaningful support to people who have been harmed by toxic actions (e.g.
    listening, assuring, addressing suicidal thoughts, offering resources).
  • Do not allow problematic people who need to work on themselves access to community
    members, students, or colleagues.
  • Remember that Aunties talk.

Hopefully, together, we can turn the conversation away from accolades for a self-serving public apology and instead focus on praising and supporting people who continue to process the problematic choices of another person.

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The Native Harvey Weinsteins

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CW: Sexual harassment and assault.

Additional note: this is written from my female cis-hetero perspective. There are so many more layers and stories from our LGBT relatives. But those aren’t my stories, and I don’t want to misrepresent them. I can only speak to and from my experiences. As always, if you’d like to write a guest post, send me an email. 

We all know the stories. We hold the stories.

I, like most women, read the recent Harvey Weinstein expose with dreaded recognition. I heard in the voices and the stories of the women he abused the voices and stories of my own friends. I heard my own voice and my own stories. I had to read it in small parts. Flipping back to other tabs, answering emails, clicking back. I read with my stomach clenched, my thoughts full of fear and anger. Power and vulnerability. Protection of power. Patriarchy. Consequences for victims but never abusers. The cycle repeats.

For years I’ve been thinking of how to approach this topic on the blog. It’s something that comes up so much in my friend circles, constant sessions of story swapping and commiserating and “omg him too?!” that happen whenever a table full of Native women get together. But there’s the fear of retribution, the fear of embarrassment, and the fear of airing the community’s dirty laundry. We struggle so much to be more than stereotypes. There’s a fear that if we talk about these issues, we fall back on any progress we’ve made.

But the stories nag at me. I think about my friends’ strong, beautiful faces and bodies, and I think about the shit they’ve been put through by some of your faves in Indian Country. The men we uphold as examples, as our “famous Indians,” our important leaders to be admired. The ones who have “made it.” The actors, the musicians, the athletes, the activists, the writers, the DJs, the politicians, the government workers, the business owners, the motivational speakers, the professors. I’ve heard so many stories. From heartbreaking, terrifying stories, to mundane, run-of-the-mill sexual harassment stories–the ones that should be horrifying but happen so often we’ve become numb.

The women’s whisper network in Indian Country is strong. We look out for each other. I’ve been pulled into offices by female mentors to be told who to stay away from and never be alone with at the next NAISA. I’ve been texted by friends who see where I’m going to be speaking to warn me about particular men at that institution. I got an email from a female follower once after I went after a prominent male Native on twitter to warn me that he was dangerous irl as well. We have elaborate dances we do to avoid abusers at conferences, at powwows, at Indian Markets, and at community events. We dip and dodge and sometimes still have to stand cautiously next to or end up on a conference call with the ones who hurt us or hurt our loved ones. We offer weak smiles and nods because we don’t want others to know in the moment. But we know who the womanizers are. We know which ones harm women. Yet we can’t speak up.

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The Pokanoket Encampment in Bristol, RI

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pokanoket land
On August 20th, a group of Native people and their supporters started an encampment on land currently owned by Brown University. I’ve been uncharactaristically quiet on social media about the encampment, but behind the scenes I’ve been information gathering and trying to terse out what’s really going on here. So this post is context and personal thoughts, as well as to share the statement recently put out by the Native American Indigenous Studies Initiative at Brown (of which I am a part).

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Dances with Dragons: Dothraki and Hollywood Western Aesthetic

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Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 5.40.57 PM


Sunday on Game of Thrones we finally got the Dany dragon battle we’ve been waiting for, and it was glorious. I do have some…questions on the battle strategy (which @miamckenzie breaks down as well here and here), but overall it was a rousing scene full of fire and tension and badassery and…well, a lot of references that made me as a Native person cringe.

There are certain tropes that abound when we talk about Native portrayals in film. Inescapable aesthetics and scenes that have been so deeply solidified in folks’ minds thanks to Hollywood Westerns. I just finished re-watching the documentary Reel Injun with my students this summer, so these ideas are fresh in my mind. Reel Injun does an incredible job breaking down where these stereotypes and tropes come from, how they grew in conjunction with the invention of film and political movements of each era, and how they still deeply affect Native film portrayals today. The film is available on Netflix, so I recommend watching if you’ve got an hour. It’s entertaining and funny too.

But one of the tropes used over and over again in Hollywood westerns is the “Indian ambush.” Innocent white folks, either camped with their covered wagons or traveling through the canyons of the West, attacked by brutal savages.

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Valentino didn’t learn anything.

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Valentino box

A couple days ago I went to a TJ Maxx in Massachusetts, and my sister and I were oo-ing and ahh-ing over some  gorgeous studded Valentino heels. I grabbed the box to look at the price tag (way out of my budget), but then flipped it over, and saw this.

That’s a headdress. A sacred headdress. Again.

I literally have no more words to talk about the ways these warbonnets have been commodified, separated from the cultures from which they come, and appropriated in advertising, costuming, whatever. I, literally, have been writing about this phenomenon for seven years. SEVEN YEARS! In internet years that’s truly forever.

So to recap, in 2011, I wrote a piece called “But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress.” I wrote it out of frustration with the (then) burgeoning trend of non-Native people wearing headdresses at music festivals. Now, all these years later I should probably revisit it, but the arguments still (pretty much) stand. After that, I wrote well over 15 different posts about various celebrities and designers wearing headdresses. Drew Barrymore, Amy Poehler, Tom Ford, Khloe Kardashian, Karlie Kloss, and on and on. That doesn’t include the music festivals, the offensive parties, the advertising campaigns, or the fashion collections. Hundreds of examples. So at this point, I always have a very hard time allowing anyone to use the ignorance defense. Even international brands like Valentino–you should know better…ESPECIALLY in this case.

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The New Wild West: An interview with Ryan McMahon of Indian & Cowboy

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Photo courtesy of Ryan McMahon

[This post originally appeared on Bello Collective, a newsletter & publication about audio storytelling and the podcast industry.]

By Guest Contributor Liza Yeager 

(AK Note: Liza is one of my incredible students from this semester in my “History and Resistance in Native Representations” class. This is her final project for the course. She is a podcast, radio, and audio story aficionado, interning for NPR Story Lab (as the first ever intern!), and starting her own audio story network called Now Here This, which I highly recommend checking out and listening to a few of the student-produced stories.)

Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian, writer, and media maker based out of Treaty #1 territory in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. That’s how he introduces himself. But Ryan is so much busier than that introduction makes him sound.

Ryan hosts two podcasts, Red Man Laughing and Stories From The Land. He also runs Makoons Media Group, and he’s the founder and director of a whole podcast network, Indian & Cowboy. Indian & Cowboy is the world’s only listener-supported Indigenous podcast network, home to eight Native-hosted shows. When I connected with Ryan, he was on tour with Stories From The Land, producing live storytelling shows and workshops in Indigenous communities around Canada. We talked about that tour, the potential of Indigenous podcasting, and how frustrating it is when mainstream networks won’t hit retweet.

Liza: How did you get started with podcasting?

Ryan: Well, I’ve always loved radio. And, you know, I’m not going to say that I listened to NPR every Saturday with my Poppy. It’s not like that. But I grew up listening to radio. At our cabin on the lake for the summers when we would hang out there, or if we were camping, there was always a radio on.

I have a BFA in theater, and when I left theater school, I moved to Toronto to chase my dreams as an actor. At one of these Indigenous arts communities parties I went to, there was this woman named Elaine Bomberry. Up here in Canada she’s an OG of Indigenous arts and culture, and she was running a radio show. I was a twenty-one year old university graduate, thought I was pretty hot stuff. They were looking for volunteers at the radio station, and Elaine cornered me at one of these parties and said, “You should really consider coming to volunteer.” I was such an asshole. I said, “Um, Elaine. Excuse me. I, um, I have a degree in theater. I am an actor. I have no interest in radio.”

And here I am twenty years later. Running a podcasting company. So, I just love it. I love it so much. I’ve been podcasting since 2009. I’ve watched it grow, I’ve watched it crash, I’ve watched it regrow. And we’re just in this really beautiful time right now.

Indian & Cowboy podcasts cover wine & sci-fi, Indigenous filmmaking, strength and healing, and more.

What about audio specifically is useful for you as an Indigenous media maker?

I just think the medium is so exciting. It’s relatively inexpensive to produce; it’s a flexible creative medium that allows us to be publishers, you know? At the end of the day, legacy media does not belong to Indigenous people or people of color. We don’t own these places.

Once in awhile we’re lucky enough if one of us gets hired. And then the one person who gets hired ends up doing all, like, the tragic, sad Indigenous stories. We talk about the diabetes or the poverty or the murder. But we’re never able to celebrate our lives; we’re never able to tell our stories, our reality, reflect our dreams and our hopes.

And, you know, audio and podcasting and creative storytelling are really beautiful mediums to do that.

But maybe more importantly, one of the reasons we chose audio was political. Almost every Indigenous community has a radio station. That is one thing we have. We use radio as sort of our beacon to the world. We call bingo on the radio; we break up with our wives on the radio; we put morning announcements up on the radio; we listen to old-school country on the radio. So all of our content is available to Indigenous and community or campus radio for free. It was a political decision to try to feed into that system.

On the Stories From The Land tour, Ryan has been producing storytelling shows and workshops in Indigenous communities around Canada. He’ll publish a new season of SFTL starting in February. (Photos by Ryan McMahon)

You’re on tour now with Stories From The Land. Could you explain a little bit about the tour and maybe share some standout memories from the last few months?

It’s a live storytelling project and we go from Indigenous community to Indigenous community to invite youth and elders together to remind each other to remember who we are, or who we were, an effort to return to that. And you know, not in a romantic-loincloth-campfire kind of sense, but really looking at Indigenous worldviews and laws and governance and a way that we once lived, using storytelling to remind us of that and to consider how we may live under those auspices today. And it’s been incredible. Last night I just completed show number 25. It’s all a blur. I’m out of underwear; I have no socks. I am sick of breakfast sandwiches at the various fast food joints; I can’t drink any more bad coffee; my boots have a hole in them. I’ve experienced all four seasons while on this trip and I’ve heard some incredible stories.

In Six Nations, which is Mohawk territory, I did a podcasting workshop with a group of young people there. And as I started doing podcasting 101 with them and making a list of gear and things that you need, I started to see these young people look around the table at each other, kind of sideways. And I started paying attention to them, and a note was passed across the table like old-school seventh grade. And I thought, what the heck is going on. And so I just asked, I said, “What’s happening, what’s going on?” And they said, “You know, we didn’t want to interrupt you but we are so excited by this. We’d never heard of — well, we’d heard of podcasting but we didn’t know what podcasting entailed, and it’s so easy. We want to start a Mohawk language podcast.” And I was like, “Holy shit, stop stop stop.” So, we’re working on it. Now we are working on a Mohawk language podcast. Like, this is revolutionary. This is the revolution, is Indigenous people returning to themselves

So my dream, much like in the United States with The Moth or any of these live storytelling shows, is to fill theaters with Indigenous voices and Indigenous stories. It’s time America looks in the mirror to look at its history and to hear from Indigenous people who, by the way, are clearly still here. And a live storytelling show featuring Indigenous voices would be a profound moment for either of our countries.

Indian & Cowboy has been up and running for a few years now. What’s been challenging?

I want to quit every day. It’s so hard. We’re fighting for listeners; we’re trying to attract good, ethical investors that can invest a little bit of money into the company. And it’s a struggle.

The podcasting space is a very white dude-bro kind of space — and a bunch of dudes can turn on some microphones and talk some shit but that’s not what podcasting is to me. The potential of podcasting is so much greater than that.

And, yeah, it’s hard because even where you get these panels once in a while at a podcasting festival or a conference where it’s like “podcasters of color” or “minorities in podcasting,” there are never Indigenous people on those panels, ever. And, you’re holding your conference in Indigenous territories all the time. So there’s a fundamental disconnect there.

That’s where I’ve reached out to the mainstream to say look, you don’t have to give a shit, but we’re trying really hard here. You know, can you just fucking retweet this for me?

Like, you just held a fucking conference on minorities in podcasting. Here’s our website. We just put out something awesome; we just celebrated ten Indigenous women’s voices in podcasting. You know, Radiotopia, can you just retweet? No, you can’t? That’s how frustrating it is. By the way — I don’t know anyone from Radiotopia. I’m sure they’re nice.

But, we’re in a little invisible part of the internet where Indian & Cowboy lives and, again, we’re so far so good. We’re really happy with our work and our output. But I see the potential and I see where this could go and I’m encouraged and frustrated at the same time.

When you think about the potential, what does that look or sound like?

Really it’s about resurgence. If you’re Indigenous, everything you do is political. And we just need to get over that hump. We’re really close. There’s this giant boulder we’re holding. Is that Camus? Is it Sisyphus? Those guys are asked to push this boulder up a hill? Well, it’s the same metaphor with colonialism. We’re holding this giant boulder. And, you know, there’s a whole bunch of us holding it. And our ancestors before us, they were holding it. And every once in a while the boulder rolls backwards, and it kills a few of us. And then we gotta push it back up to where we were. Eventually we hope to push it over the top of this hill, and then the boulder of colonialism rolls back down and we’re free. And that’s how the creative space feels.

We’ve been doing creative work for the last 200 years. We’ve survived at the hands of genocide. We’ve lost our land, our young people are killing themselves in record numbers, our women are five times more likely to go missing our murdered, and yet we fight on, every day. Right?

Like, we’re so close to breaking through in so many ways. And in some respects we are; we have some artists that have broken through. But even those breakthrough artists, relatively speaking, they’re not known or respected or valued the way they should be. And that’s where we call on our allies, that’s where we call on these mainstream spaces. And I’ll just go back to it, like, Gimlet or Radiotopia, those that have the tools to invest in these stories, to invest in this energy, they should be! Because there’s great reward waiting for everyone that supports Indigenous peoples resurgence.

But yeah, the future of it looks political. It looks like a celebration. It’s loud, it’s nuanced, it empowers those in our community that have been disempowered the longest: Indigenous women and two-spirit people. It empowers our entire community; it tells the world who we are. And it tells us who we are. I think at its best, podcasting can do all those things.

And that’s why it’s Indian & Cowboy. It’s the new Wild West. The internet and this medium is the new Wild West for us, except, there’s no — John Wayne is dead, if you will.

It’s so exciting to hear about what you’re doing. Also, I’ve really appreciated having Indian & Cowboy podcasts on my listening cycle this year.

Don’t tell people about the ones you like, ’cause once everyone starts liking it then podcasts change. When they really get lots of traction, the hosts change and the sounds change a little bit. I don’t know, it’s weird. So don’t tell too many people about us.

Just kidding, tell everyone about us.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

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Buzzfeed’s Another Round and #NoDAPL

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Just a quick post to let ya’ll know that I was on Another Round on Buzzfeed again, and had a lovely conversation with Heben (she’s back!). In addition to talking Standing Rock and #NoDAPL, we played a game where I had to identify Pilgrim names. I failed. But shout out to Godbert Godbertson. Listen here, and enjoy!

Two quick clarifications for things I said, cause I want to be accountable: I’ve been really, really trying to cut out ableist language, and I caught that I said “crazy” at the end of the episode. Serious apologies. I usually say “wild” these days. Also, I made a comment about Nixon being a good president for Natives. Just wanted to clarify: He was a big proponent of self-determination for Natives, ended the termination policies of the previous administrations, and his administration ushered in a new era in Federal Indian policy that was largely good for Natives. BUT he also was president during Wounded Knee and was responsible for the large military response to that siege, and overall was not a fan of the American Indian Movement and was responsible for the heavy surveillance and monitoring of folks involved in AIM. Just wanted to be clear about that. Also, as always, remember I don’t speak for all Natives on anything, and the words in the episode are based on my experience and perspective. If I said anything else that might be problematic, please feel free to let me know.

Thanks again to Another Round, it’s really a lovely episode to get to hear some of the protectors on the ground and their perspectives in addition to my hotel room rambling. The Pod Squad are masterful editors–they took a long conversation and made it coherent and beautiful.

Link to the episode here!

For those of you looking for resources or ways to support the movement, check out my update post here.

Dear little one on your Birthday: A letter to a future Native warrior

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Today one of my best friends, who we affectionately call Bean, is having her first child. A baby girl. Last night I watched on live streams as unarmed Native protectors were mercilessly attacked by militarized police. I kept thinking about my new little niece, and the world we are leaving for her. This letter is to her, on her birthday. 

Dear Baby Bean,

Today you are being brought into this world, to a proud mama and dad who gave to you fierce genes–legacies of strength and resistance. Your San Carlos Apache, Hawaiian, and Mexican ancestors were fighters, resisting colonialism, federal policies of genocide and erasure, and filling their hearts and souls with love. Love for you, the answer to their prayers, the result of their love and survival. Years and years ago at Stanford your mama helped transform me from a shy and quiet girl from the suburbs into a loud, unafraid warrior. As co-chairs of the Native student group we sat in meetings with campus officials together and I watched her as she fought for our community, and I learned to do the same. She sat in my office in grad school and made me practice yelling bad words at her so I would start standing up for myself, even though I would collapse into giggles each time. Your mama has fought for her Native people at every turn, in the classroom, on her campuses, in healthcare, and now in the courtroom. I think about her when I think about you, and what power you already carry within your tiny heart.

Last night, I watched and was scared as men and women who are also fighting for our Native people, and for our water and our land, were hurt by men and women who are supposed to protect us. These brave water protectors stood on a bridge in the cold, saying prayers for the officers behind scary masks and big trucks. The officers sprayed water on them, even though it was freezing. They used weapons that are normally reserved for war. This morning I saw the news listing the attack as a “riot,” and reports saying many things that were completely untrue. We watched last night, little one, as they sprayed the protectors. We watched as they used those weapons. The protectors didn’t start fires. The protectors sang and prayed. We saw.

But I want you to know that last night songs were sung for you. Prayers were said for you. Our elders, your elders, knew you were coming. They asked Creator to protect you, and bless your journey. Because I’m sorry little one, with your eyes just opening to this big and new world, but this fight is now yours too. But I don’t want you to worry. I want you to concentrate on learning to breathe, to eat, to cry, to laugh, and to love. The rest will come later. The fight will come later.

You share a birthday with my Gram, and that makes me happy. She is 90 today. She grew up in rural Oklahoma on Cherokee allotment land, attended Chilocco Indian School, and somehow ended up in Southern California married to an Armenian and raising three Cherokee-Armenian kids. She has taught me a lot, about generosity, love, sewing, cooking, the importance of family, and the importance of remembering. So I will remember her journey for you, and the journey of the others that have come before her and after her. I will remember this fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the ways our people have come together in ways like never before. I’ll whisper Mni Wiconi–water is life–and I’ll remember for you.

Your Auntie Adrienne just came back from Standing Rock, my second trip. I have felt the power and joy of camp, the intensity of direct actions, and the sometimes overwhelming sadness that a big company and the US government can be so cruel. I have been changed from this fight, and know that forever into the future I will be ready to stand in ways I haven’t before. Our world is in a hard time right now, love, and it will continue to get harder. But there are people like me, and so many others that will not rest until things are better–for you, and all the little ones like you.

As you grow up, I promise to protect you. I promise to continue to fight as hard as I possibly can to ensure a future for you. To protect your water, your sacred land, and your sovereignty. Whatever your future gender identity or who you choose to love, I will make sure you can be who you are meant to be. I want you to turn on the TV or open the newspaper on your fancy-soon-to-be-invented-daily-news-device and see yourself reflected. The true you, in your complexities and complications, the multitudes you contain. and I’m sorry, Baby Bean, that we couldn’t fix this world for you before you arrived. You deserve an earth with clean water, fresh air, and a world that recognizes and honors your place and contributions as an Indigenous person. These are your lands, the lands of your ancestors, and you deserve to walk on them, pray on them, and learn from them without struggle or fear.

After I can protect you no more, I know that you will take up this fight. You will fight to protect the water for your daughters and granddaughters, and you will think of them when times become hard and it feels easy to lose hope, just as we have done for you. So whether you follow your mama into the courtroom, your dad into the world of education, your Auntie into the world of academia and activism, your innumerable Stanford Aunties and Uncles into their diverse careers, or you find your own path, your existence is our future. That’s a lot of weight to heap on you on your first day with us, but whatever you choose and wherever you go know this: You, like every Native born into this world, are a victory against colonialism and attempted genocide. You are the resistance. You are hope made flesh.

You, Baby Bean, give me hope.

With all my heart,

Your Auntie



I’ll write more about what happened last night and my recent trip to Standing Rock soon. I’m still processing. But if you want to help, from my last post, but even more necessary now:

So now, what can you do?

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#NoDAPL: Updates, resources, and reflections

In Long form essays by Adrienne K.12 Comments


On October 27, 2016 I sat in my office in Providence and watched on my computer as my unarmed friends were pepper sprayed, beaten, shot with rubber bullets and bean bags, and arrested. I sat glued to the choppy Facebook live streams, constantly refreshing the page and searching for others who were able to get a signal when one would drop. I live-tweeted the streams, desperately trying to get folks online to tune in and see what was happening. I retweeted and signal boosted, I even called the White House. Before I knew it, I looked at the clock and realized it had been over five hours.

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