English 876: Week 11-Indigenous Resistance
Discussion Question: This past week we looked at various land-based forms of indigenous resistance, beginning with the occupancy of Alcatraz Island in 1969 and moving out from there: AIM at Wounded Knee, Standing Rock, current First Nations struggles in Vancouver, BC., over massive pipeline projects, and our own regional issues with Enbridge Line 5, Enbridge Line 3, the Bayou Bridge, among many others. There is an emergent awareness among environmental groups of the significance of the “front line communities” within these struggles, as well as their increased vulnerability to the inevitable hazards of pollution and malfunction. Dig in to a specific campaign, tactic or intervention where indigenous rights, resistance and presence play significant roles. You might also think of other tactical, political and spiritual ways of addressing these modes of cultural resilience and resistance, such as water-walking, indigenous law regarding rights of nonhuman agents, indigenous language, treaty law, education, sovereignty, humor, food, forms of representation and forms of storytelling as you consider this culturally vital question.
The first place I would like to begin this consideration with with the term "occupancy." One of the places I have heard this term used in very specific was in relation to the hospitality community at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In academic hospitality training "occupancies" are the proportion of a set of accommodations or areas that are actively in use. The term is also commonly used in civic discussion to indicate currently used dwellings. So, when Richard Oakes and the other Indigenous protesters "occupied" Alcatraz, they were putting the space to "use" for the first time since the prison itself closed. Just like in Hospitality rhetoric, prisons are concerned with the percentage of "occupancies" in relation to available space. And yet, despite the space renaming entirely unused since the facilities closure in 1963, it was never considered to be "unused" by the federal government. Never considered, as so many properties were, available by the agreement of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, the land was not in any way being used. It was UNOCCUPIED.
The real reason I find this terminology important is because of the other context in which the term "occupy" is often employed. That of control and invasion by a foreign power. Given the descriptions of the Coast Guard blockade, and the Mayday radio call of the lone guard station of the island, who shouted "The Indians have landed" into his radio when the group made landfall, changes the tone of the situation entirely. Treated, as they so often have been throughout history, as an invading force, an occupying foreign group, it is only surprising to me that the movement ended peacefully ultimately. Given the history of how the United States has dealt with Indigenous groups who occupied, in the civic sense, a space that was desirable for us, the specific context of how the "occupation" of Alcatraz id described invited armed conflict.
And yet I wonder about how the ways I am allowing the Euro-centric nature of my language effect my perception, and analysis of the word in use, and the events in question. Does the origin of the word in Latin, meaning to "seize" influence how the term resonates with European descendants differently than it does with Indigenous peoples? Given the history of active displacement, murder, rape, and many more atrocities, I wonder about this particular linguistic difference, and yet find myself too ignorant to be able to find an answer out there, with my cursory internet searches turning little up. I will investigate my fellows blog posts to see if information makes itself known.
To return to the prompt, I wanted to investigate the very recent decision to lease Oil and Gas drilling rights, near the Ruby Mountains in Elko, Nevada. The Te-Moak tribe of Western Shoshone have called this area home for tens of thousands of years, and refer to the area of the "Duka-Doyamountains," and much of the land is both adjoning and, some, directly withing the South Fork Band reservation. Concerns over the impact that these drilling campaigns will have on the wildlife, considering the large number of drilling accidents in our nations history and the current administrations work to deregulate various types of drilling, makes the auctioning of these land sites a seriously controversial one. Fermina Stevens, Chairperson representing the Elko Band on the Te-Moak tribal council from 2000-2003, has specific concerns about tribal access to these lands. The federal government have already limited tribal reservations in the area to less than 14,000 acres, which in comparison to the nearly 934,244 acres the government is hoping to lease for drilling, makes the gathering of various resources, needed for prayer and various tribal traditions. Most important to this situation is the fact that the Nevada Board of Land Management claims that it has consulted the various tribal groups in the area, which has proven to be untrue. While the situation is more complicated than my brief summary here can helpfully indicate, I think that it is important to consider the implications that yet another incursion onto tribal lands for the sake of drilling might have. The Te-Moak are a tribe that have fought with the Nevadan government before, but it seems there is less direct attention being payed to this event. While I am unsure if social media interventions have been useful to Indigenous protest movements in the past, I fear without any outside influence this is a fight that cannot be won.
I hope that the Social Justice Center at UNLV, as well as the universities American Indian Alliance, can join with Indigenous groups, to draw public attention to this issues. Given the damage done to other mining sites taken from the tribe and Occupied by mining conglomerates the stakes to tribal land is a high as it has ever been.