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Honoring Native Peoplehood by Dismantling the Coloniality of Power in Academic Writing and Collective Rematriation of Native Land

Sidney S. Wegener, Actors' Equity Association

Cueponcaxochitl D. Moreno Sandoval, California State University, Stanislaus

Nicole Blalock, California State University, Northridge

In spring of 2021, Sidney, a graduate scholar of lesbian history, reached out to Cueponcaxochitl and Nicole after they had published a piece which was edited by her on exerting Native sovereignty in the face of erasure of Native peoples from the 2020 elections. In drafting their history thesis, “The Emergence of Lesbianism From Women's Penal Institutions: Incarcerated Women-Loving Women, Interracial Coupling, and Women's Blues Music, 1895-1935,” Sidney was presented with feedback not unlike that which has been handed to Native scholars across the academy: that attention to Native Lands and Peoples would distract readers from the point of her writing. The advisor suggested relocating Native Land acknowledgments to the footnotes of the thesis, reflecting an unwillingness to center Native Land in writing history. Sidney found this feedback to be lacking in understanding of the importance of purposefully disrupting the reader’s attention as a method of decolonizing historical academic writing by making Native Land consciously and immediately visible to readers. Sidney felt strongly that acknowledging historical institutions as unwelcome establishments on Native Land was an important step towards decolonizing her writing and the way in which she engaged in academic thought sharing as a white scholar. However, both Cueponcaxochitl and Nicole reminded Sidney that acknowledging Native Land in her thesis was one step of many toward rematriation—that is, a gender-fluid methodology of honoring Native Land, sovereignty and ancestral knowledge. They encouraged her to consider action-oriented steps in establishing relational accountability with the Peoples and the Lands in which she lived. As we continue this dialogue centered on rematriation and LANDBACK, Nicole, Cueponcaxochitl, and Sidney expand on this instance of resistance to colonization among scholars.

We write to you, dear reader, from the intersection of interdisciplinary American Indian/Native American/Indigenous Studies and Queer History with other fields, on the ethical imperative of moving away from pro forma and performative recitations of Native Land acknowledgement and into action. Action which calls for centering Native Land in scholarly writing and knowledge (re)production. Action which uplifts the First Peoples of the land settler institutions occupy. Action which disrupts the epistemological hierarchies and deliberately increases awareness about Native Studies (and by extension, Ethnic Studies) as transformative academic disciplines that can change the world. Rather than placing Native sovereignty at the bottom of a top-down measurement of value, we offer the opportunity to conceptualize academic disciplines as if sitting around a circle, in the middle of a fire of knowledge (re)production.

The focus of our conversation is not only honoring Native Land by decolonizing the academy through methods of rematriation but extends to taking LANDBACK action reaching towards Native sovereignty as the foremost stewards of the Land. We, Cueponcaxochitl, Nicole, and Sidney, come together as sister co-authors to dialogue with each other, with scholars, and with you, reader. We spark this conversation with you recognizing our positionalities as contributors to the colonization of the lands we live, study, and work upon. As an intergenerational sisterhood, we are of European descent, Native, and Xicanx. We are cis gender, gender fluid, parents, childless aunties, earth tenders, queer, lezbian, scholars, students, listeners, kin.

In the writing of this piece, Cueponcaxochitl, Sidney, and Nicole met consistently to discuss Sidney’s decision to subversively include Native Land acknowledgements in her thesis despite initially encountering resistance by her advisor, who recommended relegating Native presence to the footnotes. Instead, throughout their thesis, Sidney identifies cities and institutions by the Native people who originally stewarded, and continue to steward, the Land: for example, “In 1913, Dr. Margaret Otis, a resident psychologist at the New Jersey State Home for Girls in Trenton, established on Lenape Native land, wrote,” (Wegener, 1). In writing or conducting land acknowledgements, one must accompany these acknowledgements with actionable items. Sidney stepped past passive acknowledgement to disallow Native Peoples to be reduced to a footnote and included actionable items to #HonorNativeLand and participate in the LANDBACK movement in her thesis and 2021graduation keynote speech.[2]

Our dialogue began with Sidney’s outreach and flows through an exploration of rematriation in the academy, discomfort in scholarly practices, and centering Native Peoplehood and sovereignty through land acknowledgments and LANDBACK (#landback) action.[3] Native American Studies introduce us to place-based methodologies of relationality to the earth as caretakers and life-giving beings whose rights are denigrated by imperialist capitalist white supremacist and heteropatriarchal forces. Valuing Native scholarship calibrates our positionalities in relationship to the Native Nations and the Lands to which we are responsible as guests who must honor ancestral knowledge systems. In the context of academic linear understandings of history, ancestry, and gender, reaching for rematriation of land and scholarly knowledge (re)production calls us to (re)center our perspectives in spherical thinking, and illuminating Native Peoplehood and sovereignty in conversations about critical aspects of life.

Writing to create a space in the academy and beyond for understanding why everyone should care about creating a circle of knowledge (re)production offers an opportunity for rematriation of land and thought sharing to scholars and ourselves as authors. Rematriation is not the opposite of patriarchy, but a gender-fluid form of relational accountability which exists and occurs outside of the hierarchy of white supremacy and gender binary.[4] In the context of abstract academic linear writing, reaching for rematriation of land and scholarly knowledge (re)production calls us to (re)center our perspectives on illuminating Native Peoplehood. Rematriation does not rest at one end of the line with patriarchy at the other but, rather, creates non-linear spaces outside of cisheteropatriarchy and white supremacy. Shifting away from top-down structures of knowledge (re)production and towards spherical structures opens spaces for scholarly conversations which rematriate academic relationships with Land and the Native Peoples who steward it.

One small way to acknowledge Native Peoplehood and engage in exerting Native sovereignty is to move in the discomfort of re-thinking business as usual by taking on actions as a responsibility that uninvited guests like ourselves carry on Native Land. One of our teachers, Eve Tuck, reminds us that rematriating the land as a LANDBACK movement advances the sovereignty of Native Peoples. Let us turn to Sogorea Te’ Land Trust as one example of Urban Indigenous communities re-claiming Native culture, communal well-being, and climate justice. How might we learn from another example of free transfer of land from Yale Union to the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation? What larger ramifications might unfold as we move towards the rematriation of the land both in the collective consciousness and in the physical aspects of shifting power? To date, more than 19,000 real renters have contributed to the real rent program as guests occupying Duwamish Territories to the Duwamish Tribe. Efforts such as organizing and participating in a real rent program, supporting Native businesses and cultural revitalization efforts, standing in solidarity with Native Peoples when their traditional territories are threatened by ‘development’ efforts, and actively promoting #landback to Native Nations. Collectively these movements, and our quest to nurture a world where many worlds fit, includes the relational accountability we exert in academia and beyond, dear reader, and towards liberation of Native Peoples.

As we rematriate academic writing through a gender-fluid approach to scholarship we actively engage with discomfort by challenging white supremacist and patriarchal epistemological hierarchies which understand the world based on a binary logic. This approach to scholarship is uncomfortable as is most action which disrupts the power dynamics of traditional academic business status. Discomfort is a universal and everyday experience in life which academic spaces and scholars are not exempt from. We all seek comfort in our bodies, minds, and environments as we move through life, even if that sense of comfort is false and unsustainable. Structures of white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy perpetuate a false sense of comfort in an academy intended to benefit those of hierarchical authority. Abolitionist academic practices are, generally, uncomfortable because they subversively decode academic linear understandings born of exclusionary colonialist thinking. However, commitment to discomfort and abolitionist practices in the academy allows for a restructuring of academic knowledge (re)production. Moreover, these practices work toward rematriation and displaces the binary of scholarly thought sharing. Separating, categorizing, and ordering are false comforts that influence our lives in all spaces. What happens when we dare to step out of this false sense of authority and into discomfort? How might actively practicing/embracing discomfort in the academy benefit all those who navigate scholarly spaces? Why adopt abolitionist academic practices in our writing, thought sharing, and knowledge (re)production? Why rematriate the academy? A critical point brought to light through Sidney’s experience as a lesbian historian is that writing and research do not have to be about Indigenous Studies in order to center Native sovereignty and Land. Acknowledging Native Lands and taking LANDBACK action toward centering Native sovereignty in all aspects of knowledge (re)production is for the highest good of all life forms.

We encourage you, reader, to continue to embrace these questions and the discomfort of disrupting colonial systemic oppression in radical love and courage. Sit in the circle with us. Uplift Native voices. Wonder what it would be like to rematriate academic language and the land together and dignify Native Peoples and territories in the process.


[1] Each author contributed equally to this blog. We also disrupt the expectation of hierarchy and order of author names in the blog itself. Sitting in a circle of writing is integral to our writing praxis and ordering of author names is only given to fit into the restrictions of the form which this discussion takes place to share with all our dear readers.

[2] The LANDBACK movement is organized and powered by the NDN Collective.

[3] #landback is a hashtag used on social media platforms which has garnered over 112,00 posts on digital networks such as Instagram. The hashtag has been utilized by widely followed Native and Indigenous content creators and educators, such as Thomás Lopez Jr. (@landbackbaddie), a Two Spirit Indigenous activist, artist, and educator.

[4] Imagine a line with a dot at each end drawn on a piece of paper laying flat on a table. Above the line on the paper, picture a ball placed on the table. This is how one may visualize the concept of rematriation as an entity separate from binary systems.