Tag Archives: land

Prison abolition meets food justice

In her article, “Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice and the New Jim Crow,” Leah Penniman draws connections between the incarceration of black people, police violence, and the systematic use of hunger and malnutrition as a weapon wielded against black communities, pointing to the importance of food and land:

If we are to create a society that values black life, we cannot ignore the role of food and land. I believe that black people’s collective experience with slavery and sharecropping has created an aversion to the land and a sense that the land itself is an oppressor. The truth is that without good land and good food we cannot be truly free. The Freedom Food Alliance represents one important voice among many insisting that the senseless deaths of our black brothers and sisters by all forms of violence—police shooting, diet-related illness, economic marginalization—must end.

Penniman shows how these connections are being made by grassroots organizations that link the fight for food justice with the fight against the prison-industrial-complex and the new Jim Crow.  Penniman profiles folks like Jalal Sabur of the Freedom Food Alliance, a prison abolitionist who helped connect farmers, prisoners, and their families together in networks of self-reliance and resistance.

I won’t bother summarizing or excerpting more: read the article!  It’s short, accessible, and shows how these groups are drawing lessons and inspiration from past movements, and bringing together struggles and alternatives that often remain separate.

Kwetlal Against Colonialism: A Summary

This is Corey Snelgrove’s summary of his MA Thesis, drawing connections between environmentalism, colonization, and what he calls “settler stewardship”–settlers’ ways of knowing and relating to the land perpetuate and reify settler colonialism. All of this is grounded on Lekwungen Territory, in “Victoria” where he did his MA, and he also gestures towards productive alternatives where settlers are taking leadership from indigenous peoples and supporting indigenous relationships to land, worked through his participation in the Community Toolshed here:
“This orientation marks a difference between the Tool Shed and settler stewardship, and this difference is shared by many of those participating in the Tool Shed. For example, discussions with Community Tool Shed participants reveals a recognition of the entanglement between colonization and the environment. Participants also recognize the different role for non-Lekwungen peoples than Lekwungen peoples in engagements with the land, such as removal of invasive species versus the harvesting of camas. Additionally, participants do not seek to absolve themselves from colonization. Rather, they often trace their involvement to their implication in colonization.”

notes on a bioregional decolonization

Really thought-provoking and nuanced perspective on decolonizing bioregionalism: “For every thread in the fabric of colonialism, there is a story of resistance to be told. For every lie told by the civilizers, there is a truth to be told. For every place that has been decimated through industry and agriculture, there is still possible a good way to live there; and this way is kept alive in the stories of that particular place, the Indigenous Knowledge so viciously and systematically attacked by the colonizers. And each of us as an individual is a living story, connected to place(s) and ancestors, whose stories formed the world we live in today. Our identities are not static. Our stories evolve and our cultures evolve, as Cascadia herself rises in fire and falls into the sea. All of our stories need to be told, and in a way that empowers us in our responsibilities, not as a set of evasions or “settler moves to innocence5.” Telling our stories as our identities moves us beyond the dualism of guilt or innocence, denying neither, while illuminating our responsibilities as individuals and as Peoples in this life. (I reject the guilt-ridden associations of the word “responsibility” and embrace response-ability as the antidote to resignation and disempowerment)”

Míle Gaiscíoch


The lands and waters of the Northeast Pacific Rim are a colony.  This was not always so.  Colonization began in the late 18th century and has continued unabated to the present day, as the centralization of power continues to be concentrated into a disembodied abstraction called Capital.  Prior to colonization, power was balanced throughout the many Nations here, each with their own decentralized network of autonomous clans, bands, villages, and families.  At that time, the epistemological separation between the Land and the People was contradictory to the cultures here, and it was exactly this division that the colonizers came here to enact in order to replace laws of relationship and reciprocity with resource extraction to feed the growth of Capital.  This process has turned living communities into dead commodities through the imposition of a culture of occupation1, and despite the many successful acts of defense and restoration…

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Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. Spaces between us : queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

I skipped over a chapter in this summary and I found myself quoting Morgensen extensively as I tried to summarize, because so many of his claims were quite complicated and nuanced.  I’m still digesting this book; I might be able to say more about what I actually think about it later…

Morgensen’s book tracks what he calls “the biopolitics of settler colonialism” in queer movements.  He shows that the biopolitics of settler colonialism structures Native and non-Native queer movements, and their interrelationship.  Colonialism is always there; it structures desires and relationships, and it tends to remain naturalized in settler society: the targeting of indigenous communities for death seems natural, necessary, or already-accomplished.  In the intro, he advances three claims:

1)   “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society.

2)   Within broad transnational alliances (focused here in the United States), Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities.

3)   Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations (ix).

Thinking settler colonialism ‘biopolitically’ means “reading ‘modern sexuality’ as the array of discourses, procedures, and institutions that arose in metropolitan and colonial societies to distinguish and link primitive and civilized gender and sexuality, while defining racial, national, gendered, and sexual subjects and populations in biopolitical relationship.  The colonization of indigenous peoples was a “proviing ground for the biopolitics of settler colonialism,” which, he argues, “defines modern sexuality as ‘contact’ between queered indigeneity and its transcendence by settler sexuality” (23).  In short, settler colonial biopower affects all modern sexualities (32).  Heteropatriarchal settler colonialism sought “both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34).  He argues that the sovereign power of death and the relegation of indigenous people to a state of exception worked in tandem with “a modern and siciplinary education of desire that produced normative subjects of life” (34-5).  European sexualities fostered misogynist hierarchies and ‘queered’ indigenous peoples, interpreting transgressions of heteropatriarchy not only as abnormality in individuals, but as symptoms of a flawed society, requiring heteropatriarchal interventions and discipline (36-7).  This is part of a shift from the singling out of individuals (the regime of sovereignty) towards their subjection “with their communities to military attack, containment, or removal” (38).  Thus residential and reserve schools “used disciplinary education to try to break Native communities, languages, and cultural knowledges” without the need for “brute violence” (39).  This is part of the “deadly logic of regulation,” which never precluded overt and extreme violence, but nonetheless represents a distinct and pervasive aspect of colonialism (40-1)

So what are the implications of biopolitical settler colonialism for settlers?  Morgensen situates the subjugation of indigenous peoples as “proving ground” for the sexual regulation of settler societies and modern sexuality more generally.  Colonial settler subjectivity was still in formation, not yet naturalized: “far from reflecting the finality of conquest, this period was one of tense negotiations of active and contested settlement.  Any iteration of modern sexuality in this time that placed Native people in the past knew itself to be a contingent claim that remained open to challenge” (42).

Method and ‘conversations’

Morgensen combines metatheory, textual exegesis, ethnography, document analysis, and history to analyze non-Native and Native queer movements.  He interprets these movements as “conversations.”  These conversations aren’t (usually) literal; the term orients us to power-laden relationships produced in and through settler colonialism, so they aren’t necessarily unsettling or anticolonial; they can involve appropriations and other interactions that reproduce or naturalize settler colonialism.  This idea of conversation conditions the way Morgensen interprets narratives, “interpreting U.S. queer politics across the national differences of Native peoples and sovereignties” as a way to displace settler colonialism (xi).  He follows Andrea Smith in reading (Native) activists as theorists who challenge settler colonialism.  These conversations can also be about disruption or contestation, “where interlocutors’ competing claims tell more in their differences with one another than any single narrative can tell alone” (xi).  “This book explains non-Native queer modernities as forming within the friction of conversations with discrepant Native queer modernities denaturalizing settler colonialism.  Neither chosen nor denied, these conversations are not utopian; but they nevertheless form creative zones of contact and transformation whose outcomes are not preordained.  Interreferential moments in conversation show that the meaning of non-native or Native queer subjectivity appeared by engaging relational claims” (28).  In the end, more than a study of conversation, this book is a kind of conversation, as well as an effort to transform those in which it arose and that it examines” (28).

He aligns his work with settler colonial studies, which he positions alongside recent currents in Native studies that have focused on indigenous decolonization (2).  He explains that he interprets “non-Native and Native queer modernities as forming within the intimate relationships of conversation, in which their friction produced a multiplicity of narratives for textual and ethnographic interpretation, while mapping genealogies wherein their differences became interreferential amid the persistent and transforming power of settler colonialism.  M positions his book and his ethnographic method in relation to these conversations, by “shifting my ethnography of queer spaces where I lived to studying their formation in relation to the spaces they elided: those formed by Native queer and Two-Spirit activists” (13).  In the 1990s he encountered different, Native spaces “only by moving outside normatively white queer politics to attend to Native queer activists space, including women of colour feminist spaces where Native queer women were providing leadership” (14).  He is keen to point out that he is not framing Native activism and theory as a “discovery:” “Instead, I cite Native queer activist texts as a distinctive body of critical theory to which queer non-Natives already were intellectually and politically accountable, and to which my now-comparative and historical study of non-Native queer politics offered a response” (14).

Morgensen also engages with literary and theoretical texts to work through multiple interpretations, teasing out the political implications of competing interpretations, raising questions about how to read the intended audience of a piece and putting writing in historical context.  At several points in the book, this close attention to texts seemed tedious to me, as if Morgensen has spent a long time parsing these texts and so feels a need to write about them.  However, upon reviewing the book, I can see how he situates their importance in the book.  He explains that the book “explains narrative relationships among queer subjects by situating them within ethnographic and historical accounts of U.S. queer politics” (12).  So these close readings of narratives and identity are required, so that they can then be situated in the context of movements.  In his discussion of the Radical Faeries, for example, his reading of Native writing and activism allows him to show that the indigenous people begin answers in other places and arrive at different conclusions than dominant settler discourses (155), they tend to avoid generalizations or universalizations of their indigeneity, and when they do articulate transnational spiritualities, Morgensen insists that it is “neither primordial nor authenticating, but historicizing” (156).  This emphasis of history over and against autheniticity/primordiality is an important theme in Moregensen’s text; it could be read as a methodological (and ethical) axiom in this context.

In this way, he explains that his work is not really an ethnography of Native or non-Native peope, but rather “on the genealogies of settler colonialism that produce non-Native and Native queer modernities in relationship.  I examine non-Native tales of Native truth—anthropological or popular, romantic or objectivist, colonial or anticolonial—as claims conditioned by the persistent power of settler colonialism.  I comparate them to Native narratives that address non-Natives without beginning or ending in non-Native logics (16).

Settler colonialism

Morgensen’s analysis is based on the insight that settler colonialism is ongoing, and that it conditions and produces relations between settlers and indigenous peoples, even and especially when those relations seem absent: “Settler societies engender a normative relationality between the designations “Native” and “settler” that imbues histories of intermingling, interdependence, or the attempted erasure of indigeneity as a marker of national difference.  The distinction between “Native” and “settler” informs all power in settler societies and their relations with societies worldwide” (1).

Because settler colonialism is a ‘structure’ rather than an ‘event,’ it’s ongoing and it calls for “a sustained denaturalizing critique” (2).  He extends this to queer subjectivity, explaining that “queer will refer to statuses produced by the heteropatriarchal power of what supremacist settler colonialism” (2).  This isn’t a claim that all queer identities are equivalent (or equally conditioned by whiteness and colonialism) but he is arguing that “queer politics produces a settler homonationalism that will persist unless settler colonialism is challenged directly as a condition of queer modernity” (so settler colonialism is a condition—however differential and uneven—of all queer modernities).  Settler colonialism produces “non-Native queer modernities,” in which “modern queers appear definitively not Native—separated from, yet in perpetual (negative) relationship to, the original peoples of the lands where they live (3).  Settler colonialism “is naturalized whenever conquest or displacement of Native peoples is ignored or appears necessary or complete, and whenever subjects are defined by settler desires to possess Native land, history, or culture.  Settler colonialism thus must be denaturalized not only in social and political spaces but also in definitions and experiences of subjectivity” (16).  “Settler colonialism is present precisely when it appears not to be, given that its normative function is to appear inevitable and final.  Its naturalization follows both the seeming material finality of settler soecity and discourses that fram settlers as “those who come after” rather than as living in relationship to Native peoples in a colonial situation” (42).  This is why Morgensen is so focused on desire and narratives of settler subjects: because these give him some clues about the intentions and motivations of settlers, and he locates these spaces as important sites of intervention.  He says settler colonialism is naturalized in two ways here: (1) in the seeming disappearance of indigenous peoples from a settled landscape and (2) through the incorporation of indigeneity into and as settler subjectivity (18).

Non-white settlers?

Morgensen argues that settler colonialism produces non-white people “are located distinctly from the settler status inherited by the representatives of Anglo whiteness—even if they might accede to that status if the interpretation of their racialization changes” (18-9).  He cites Bonita Lawrence’s critique of antiracism as a call on non-Native people of colour in white settler societies “to ask themselves how their histories of racial subjugation and antiracist resistance might be compatible with settler colonial elimination of Native peoples and their sovereignty” (19).  He suggests that the differential positions of people of colour within settler colonialism can also be understood as an effect of settler colonialism: “the control of non-Native peoples of colour reproduced their collective subjection for economic and social roles within a normativiely non-Native multiracial and transnational settler society (43).  But people of colour and their struggles can also naturalize colonialism if “the experience of subjection or the struggle for liberation among non-Native people of colour naturalizes the erasure of Native people as inevitable, necessary, or complete or has Native people’s subjection as its effect” (43).

He points back to white settlers and the normalization of whiteness even in anti-colonial solidarity movements: “white radicals often fail to note the racial specificity of their settler colonial inheritance.  If they project their experience into theorizing the responsibility of non-Natives to demonstrate Indigenous solidarity, they may reproduce white supremacy by not considering how people of colour negotiate settler colonialism—perhaps within Indigenous solidarity that white people will not share (20).

He articulates a shift away from asking “who is a settler?” and instead asks “how subjects are produced by social processes: ‘who under what conditions, inherits the power to represent or enact settler colonialism?’” (20)… “the teleological binary Native/settler is perpetually complicated by the nonbinary relations of diverse non-Natives and Native peoples across commonalities and differences” (22).

Beyond identity politics and including diverse voices

Although he wants to challenge and unsettle queer theory and its whiteness and settler colonial heritage, he insists that “the problem is not that white, class-privileged, national inheritors of settler colonialism have been central to queer accounts.  The problem is that all conclusions drawn from such accounts fail to explain not only all who are excluded from them but also all who are included: because the only possible explanation of queerness under white-supremacist settler colonialism is one that also interrogates that condition.  Queer studies must examine settler colonialism as a condition of its own work” (25-6).

Primitivity and (queer) appropriations

A major argument in the book is that non-Native subjects [in this case, queer folks] appropriate indigeneity and reinforce settler colonialism: “white settlers adapt indigeneity’s putative opposition to civilization through “Indian impersonation,” which performs opposition to settler rule as well as the authority to claim it for themselves as settler subjects.  In both accounts, settlers supplant and incorporate indigeneity to attain settler subjectivity” (17).  He argues that the colonial demand on settlers to replace indigenous peoples “incites white settler desires to be intimate with the Native authenticity that their modernity presumably replaces.  Indigenity’s civilizational replacement thus is complementary to the settler pursuit of primitivism” (17).  “Settler citizens in the United States are at once civilizationists and primitivists” (27).  “Modern sexuality comes into existence when the heteropatriarchal advancement of white settlers appears to vanquish sexual primitivity, which white settlers nevertheless adopt as their own history” (1).  By this he means that white settler sexuality emerged in colonial relationship with indigenous sexualities, as more civilized and coming after.  Indigenous sexuality is something in the past and it is universalized as the past of ‘all of us;’ this is what he means by settlers adopting primitivism as their own history.  He points to “a settler colonial logic that disappears indigeneity so that it can be recalled by modern non-Natives as a relationship to Native culture and land that might reconcile them to inheriting conquest.  Thus ‘non-Native’ signifies not a racial or ethnic identity but a location within settler colonialism” (3).

In particular, Morgensen focuses on the way in which Native people are produced within settler discourses through the anthropological concept of ‘berdache,’ which anthropologists used to describe indigenous people who would now be understood as Two-Spirit.  By linking their own identities with berdache as a transhistorical form of sexuality, settlers position their identities as part of an eternal and sacred form of sexuality, and reconcile their position as settlers, Morgensen argues.  In the intro, he focuses on the writings of Judy Grahn, a lesbian feminist writer who was among the first to make this move.  He argues that “positing an indigenous embrace for queer exiles from a white settler society lets her imagine switching allegiances to play “Indians” against her own people… white Americans associate marginality and resistance with the Indian as an internal antagonist to settler society, which then lets them impersonate indigeneity when they launch social critiques that reconcile them to settler society.  He generalizes this through his ethnography: “I recurrently heard participants tell that Native American societies historically honored people like themselves with social esteem and spiritual gifts” (12).  Even though Grahn and other settlers readily admit that indigenous societies are still functioning and resisting settler colonialism, “her story displaces that intimacy with occupation by investing in emptied Native land as a past and present home” (6).  He is pointing to a pattern whereby settlers narrate their exile from white settler society and then take comfort in imagining their own “indigenized emplacement” (6).  Morgensen also points to distance as an important part of this relationship: settlers don’t have much actual interaction with indigenous peoples, but they often desire this interaction/appropriation/indigenization as a path towards cathartic healing and reconciliation.

If his critiques of particular groups or writings seem harsh, it’s because they can easily be read as a simple attack or critique of their complicity with colonialism.  But he repeatedly explains that he’s actually more intent on showing how all of these appropriations are more like symptoms of a broader problem: “if white sexual minorities traversed their primitivity in order to claim national whiteness, they followed a normative path to citizenship for white settler subjects” (45).  He links this to the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and other forms “when modern sexuality discourses taught white men to tap and control their inheritance of primitivity” (45).  It’s this ‘normative path’ that he wants to trace, and his ethnographies function more like examples of the way in which people get caught up in these paths, as ways to reconcile/erase their relation to colonialism (45).  In terms of settler appropriations of berdache in particular, M argues that it “allowed white subjects in a settler society, led by white men, to answer their settler colonial inheritance by accepting Native roots as theirs to possess and replace” (48).

The Radical Faeries

Morgensen has a full chapter on his ethnographic work on the Radical Faeries, and they’re woven into other chapters, as well.  This chapter was of particular interest to me because he’s focusing not only on the appropriation of berdache and indigenous ritual in white queer sexuality, but also on settler desires to possess and live on settled land.  He explains his longstanding links with them through queer networks, and his eventual acceptance of an invitation to engage with them as an ethnographer: “my ethical responsibility to experience and understand the situated practices in which I participated on their own terms complicated the relative simplicity of distanced criticism and generated, in its place, the critically reflexive account I provide here” (128).

He summarizes his ethnographic account:

“My ethnographic account portrays the way Radical Faeries produce queer subjects by creatively deploying rurality and mobility in the context of settlement.  Notably, this resolves racialized exclusions of white queers from sexual modernity by claiming roots in Native authenticity that appear to resolve contradictions in their non-Native inheritance of settlement” (129).

He locates the Radical Faeries within a broader genealogy of settlers who have sought to “enact self-exile from privilege” as part of a revolutionary opposition to racism, capitalism, and imperialism.  This rejection is materialized by “relocating to homes based in democratic socialism, anarchism, or counterculturalism” (131).  So what?  “Belief that removing U.S. gay men or lesbians to spaces coded as communal, antiauthoritarian, or premodern would interrupt their power was the very means by which such practices fostered modernist sexual politics animated by colonial discourses” (131).  Again, the problem here is not anarchism or antiauthoritarianism as such, but the way in which these ideas and practices are deployed to naturalize settler colonialism, in a way that is assumed to nullify privilege and/or oppose dominant systems (131).  They imagined themselves as “allies to people of colour and colonized people worldwide, but their desire to also emulate or even embody the oppressed whom they knew they were not translated into their ruralist, naturist, and primitivist projects” (132).  The Faeries’ founder emphasized “gay shamanism” and although Morgensen acknowledges critiques of normative whiteness, anti-intellectualism, and appropriation, he suggests that these were rare and failed to shift RF practice (133).  In particular, Morgensen is interested in the ways in which RF practices shape desires through enactment of their practices, creating a “performative map” that Radical Faeries can then take with them (134).

He’s not only critical of the appropriation of indigenous spirituality, but also of the reclamation of paganism and European spiritualities, a move that is often seen within anticolonial settler movements as a viable way to avoid colonial appropriation.  Again, this is because his prime concern isn’t with the unethical practice of appropriation as such, but with the way it function in the broader colonial context of settler colonialism: “neo-paganism itself is reinvented by them to gain a relationship to Native land and culture that does not feel like the conquest that they know they inherit” (136).  He locates the most thorough naturalization of Native culture in the practice of ‘heart circle,’ which foregrounds “emotional speech, deep listening, and collective conversation” as something central to Radical Faerie subjectivity (136).  These and other practices, such as memorialization of people who had died of aids, “created radical faerie community in an indigenized relation to settled land that simultaneously healed the trauma of epidemic and the inheritance of conquest for non-Native gay men” (139).  Unlike straight back-to-the-landers, Radical Faeries suggested that the land they acquired and their ties to indigeniety “were a birthright of being gay” (139).  He’s critical of the multicultural aspirations of the RFs, where they express desire to live in a multiracial space “while deflecting responsibility for forming a white space that produces the absence they regret” (147).

Reading indigenous people against settler narratives

Morgensen doesn’t just criticize settler narratives as colonial from his own position as a settler, he also narrates their unsettlement by interpreting indigenous writing and activism.  I think this is what he means by ‘conversations’ between Native and non-Native politics.  Whereas Judy Grahn looks to Native traditions to incorporate into her own identity, he points to narratives about indigenous queer subjectivity by Gay American Indians (GAI) as an alternative.  These narratives “do not divulge information about historical gender roles in Native societies, and non-Natives are not invited to identify with Native histories” (8).  Moreover, “No contributor argued that Native gays and lesbians represent the original nature of all sexual minorities” (8).

Morgensen argues that Radical Faerie encounters with Native Two-Spirit activists transformed some of their practices and ways of thinking.  First of all, he suggests that RFs initially had an appropriative mentality about this relationship: RFs tend to ask or assume that Native or Two Spirit people will “interact precisely as a difference that Radical Faeries desire” (152).  Instead, Native people invoked friendship as a way to affirm “how non-Nativeas have supported them while still holding them [non-Natives] accountable to work for indigenous decolonization” (153).  This interaction “brough Radical Faeries to admit their non-Native locations in a settler society and to hold themselves responsible to Native people as critics of colonialism” (153).  However, he’s careful to emphasize that these encounters did not fundamentally transform Radical Faerie culture.  Instead, these encounters “appear to be signs of a potential epistemic shift, in relation to which present and future accounts may ask to what extent a responsibility to Native work for decolonization leads to troubling colonial desires for queerness, modernity, or indigeneity or to denaturalizing the relationship of Radical Faeries to settlement” (159).  They are interpreted as “moments in larger conversations articulating non-Native and Native queer subjects within the power relations of ongoing settler colonialism” (159).


Morgensen is also intent to show how the power of relations produced by settler colonialism can be and have been destabilized and unsettled, or ‘displaced.’  He follows Foucault and Butler in suggesting that “power is the very condition of agentive action—a transformative context for its repetition and potential destabilization” (3).  Analytically, the task of critique then requires “close reading to ascertain which forms of creativity might produce decolonizing ends” (3).

In terms of useful responses, he insists that “even antiracist and anticolonial work by queers of colour may become compatible with settler projects,” and suggests that “displacing any such effects can start by locating U.S. queer modernities in the biopolitics of settler colonialism that still impose non-Native, normatively white, and settler relationships on Native peoples, and by efforts of Native queer and Two-Spirit people to denaturalize settler colonialism” (49).

He thus locates the primary (perhaps the only) agency in unsettling colonialism in organizing efforts among indigenous people.  In terms of queer politics, he points to the recalling of “subjugated knwoeldges of embodiment, desire, kingship, and peoplehood in modes of language, memory, and reliatnality that were discrepant from colonial modern definitions of sexuality and gender” (51).  He insists here that indigenous activism is not simply reactive to or derivative from settler colonialism; on the contrary, “settler colonialism is a relationship between something that may attempt totalization and all that it attempts (forever incompletely) to suppress” (51).

Morgensen suggests that “non-Native queers can evaluate their work by the degree to which it troubles settler colonialism while being held accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit activists and allied critics” (226).  Here he implicitly positions himself as someone to whom non-Native queers might be accountable, since he repeatedly positions his work as an non-Native allied work in conversation with Native decolonization.  But is the reverse true?  Is Morgensen accountable to non-Native queer activists, who are trying to figure out their own relation to colonialism, or how to challenge it?  Has he interrogated the (often invisible) power relations accorded to him as an academic critic, and what it might mean to write in a way that’s relevant and accessible to non-academics?  I’m not invoking this as an imperative or an obligation, but as a question that seems to arise logically from his standpoint.  He says that he wants to challenge and unsettle non-Native queer activism, but it’s unclear whether the people he criticizes (like the Radical Faeries) are actually his audience in this book.  Instead, the book puts him more into conversation with other academics who are steeped in at least some of the literature related to queer theory, postcolonialism, Native studies, ethnography and post-structuralism.

In his conclusion, Morgensen briefly offers the notion of groundlessness as a way to unsettle settler desires for indigenous land: “critically engaging histories of colonial, national, and racist violence and their survival has engendered mobile and transformative modes of decolonization for queers of colour in diaspora.  Such work links to Indigenous queer decolonization of Indigenous nations by acting from within mobile alliances.  I invoke groundlessness to invite new theory to displace settler imaginaries among queer non-Natives.  By detaching from their colonial desires to belong to stolen land, the settler state, or their projections into global possibilities, queer non-Natives can release imaginaries of indigeneity that formed to resolve the contradictions of settlers possessing stolen land and Native peoples’ pasts and futures.” (227).  He returns here to the idea of “conversations as the spaces between non-Naïve and Native queer people that shift when made accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit people’s pursuit of decolonization for their nations (227).  He locates the problem in the distance produced by settler colonialism: “Queer non-Natives in the late-twentieth-century United States regularly found everyday speech, activist agendas, and historical and anthropological writing that invited them to form a relationship with indigeneity at a sustained distance” (229).  “Native history was easy to consume, prepackaged in settler narratives; yet no degree of consumption placed non_Natives in greater relationship with queer Native people, or indeed any Native people, across the distances of geography, community, and politics that already divided them (228).

He concludes by explaining that even though this book focuses on denaturalizing settler colonialism, that’s not an end in itself: “it would be all too easy for non-Natives to merely unthink their relationship to settler colonialism rather than act in relationship to others in struggle” (230).  At the same time, he worries that solidarity efforts will be conditioned by the colonial desires he names.  These are “desires of non-Native queers to find theselves in Native religion, to form multiracial, global movements that incorporate Native people, or to define Native truth: they desire to be even closer to Native people than adopting Native culture as their own history satisfies.  I fear that their desires will perform the coloniality that initiated them if they include, or join, Native people after being motivated to adopt Native culture as queer history” (229).

It follows that “all normative modes through which non-Native and Native queer people appear to be in onversation must be disrupted for dialogue to occur from the decolonizing stakes fo Native queer and Two-Pspirit activists.  My experience has taught me that if this disruption occurs, it might follow non-Native queers first critiquing settler colonialism in the power-laden conversations that already constrain them.  Their critical work will mark them as accountable to Native queer and Two-Spirit activism, and they may be drawn into collaborations with Native people who work with them in the fraught spaces of a settler colonial society.  Such ollaborations must be sufficient for non-Native queers who wish to act as allies to Native decolonization struggles.  NO greater proximity to Native cultural space is necessary, nor necessarily helpful for them to desire” (229).

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements

Katz, Sandor – The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.  White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2006.

I was really impressed with this book.  Katz discusses a huge variety of ‘alternative’ food movements, struggles, and practices and contrasts them to the contemporary status quo of industrial agriculture.

A constant theme, discussed from numerous angles, is the way the state and capitalism work together to produce contemporary industrial agriculture, creating regulations and restrictions that are often reactions to health and safety disasters caused by large-scale industrial agriculture itself.  These regulations tend to further disadvantage food production and processing that are small-scale, traditional, ecological, non-scientific, and local.  So not only has industrial agriculture disconnected us from food and land with disastrous economic, social, and environmental consequences, but many forms of reconnection are made difficult or impossible through policies, laws, and regulations.

Another constant in this book is Katz’s generous interpretations and non-dogmatic style, in a way that doesn’t lapse into liberal pluralism.  Katz’s own radicalism comes through in this book, and it’s clear how he lives out some of what he’s writing about “the food-related political activism that I feel most passionate about is an extension of this sensual pursuit in that it seeks to revive local production and exchange, and to redevelop community food sovereignty” (xvi).  His vision also privileges autonomy and prefiguration: “It’s important to hold social institutions accountable because they exert so much power, but ultimately no institution can bestow upon us the worlds we dream.  Nothing is more revolutionary than actively seeking to embody and manifest the ideals we hold” (xviii).  He is critical of colonialism, the state, capitalism, heteronormativity, and private property—but he doesn’t condense this into an ideology: he is able to highlight the value and promise of what people are doing, sometimes pointing out the limitations and contradictions, without being dismissive.  He also continually wards off moralism, explaining, for example, that while the global food systems is oppressive and food transportation is totally unsustainable, he still loves pineapples and lychees.  The analytical point is that it’s a question of degrees, not absolutes: “The scandal of our contemporary food system is that not just a few exotic luxuries but virtually everthing—including the most basic and mundane staples—is transported such vast distances, traveling thousiands of miles from producers to consumers” (6).

The book is organized into ten different themes: localization, seed saving, land preservation and reclamation, slow food, raw food, healing food, invasive species, vegetarianism and humane meat, wildcrafting and dumpstering, and water politics.

I was reading this book for it’s ‘method,’ which proved to be trickier than many academic books, which basically just spell out their methodology, often in its own little chapter or section.  Katz, like most non-academic writers, doesn’t cite certain claims and he doesn’t feel the need to explain his method as academics do.  In a way, this is refreshing: he does explain, in a more general way, what allowed him to write this book and learn what he has learned.  That is the real uniqueness of this book: he draws on two years of traveling and visiting with all kinds of alternative foodies, and his much longer-standing personal experience and practice with alternative food and farming.  He visited food co-ops, farmers’ markets, community spaces, and farms (xv).  He draws on statistics, history, economic arguments, and (most importantly) his own experiences and travels to contrast the industrial food system to alternative practices.  Katz mixes his own experiences with statistics and history to contextualize the practices he is talking about, and explain their significance, promise, difficulties, and so on.  In the academy, he would probably say he’s mixing ethnography, auto-ethnography, history, political economy, and a bit of statistics.  His historical, economic, and statistical claims are drawn from secondary sources, and most of his ‘original’ research (the insights not drawn from other books and reports) is generated from his own travels and experience.  He often cites his statistics (often drawing on USDA stats, for example) but doesn’t feel the need to cite other (often contested) claims.


Summaries of important chapters

Below I summarized Chapters 1 and 3 because they’re most relevant to my own work, but every chapter is worth reading and they’re all interconnected by themes and struggles.  In particular, I would go back to chapters 2 (on seed saving), 4 slow food) 6 (food and healing) and 7 (plant prohibitions).

Chap 1 – Local and Seasonal Food vs. Constant Convenience Consumerism

Katz starts with an economic argument: traditional local food systems recirculate money locally, creating a multiplier effect: “a dollar spent on a local grower’s produce will continue to circulate locally and multiply its benefits through economic stimulation” (1).  In contrast, the global industrial system transfers wealth to middle-men: “Rather than paying for food itself, we are paying for an elaborate system for getting it to the right place, at the right time, in the right processed form, and in the right package” (2).  He suggests that arguments about ‘feeding the world’ abstract from communities, constituting food production as a problem for technicians and specialists (3).

He takes on some of the primary arguments in favour of conventional agriculture: that it’s more efficient and produces higher yields.  The problem comes down to how efficiency is conceived and measured, he says.  Whereas industrial agriculture’s efficiency is measured in terms of production per unit of labour (and other things are externalized), it is not more efficient in terms of production per unit of land: small-scale intensive ecological agriculture tends to produce much higher (and diverse) yields per acre of land (4).

Another argument is the celebration of cheap food in the US.  It’s true, but “Food is this cheap in our country because the people whose labour is involved are paid virtually nothing, and many of food’s true costs are hidden” (4).  The environmental externalities are too huge to calculate, but it’s clear that industrial food is dependent upon huge amounts of energy for production and transportation (5).

He also discusses ‘free trade’ here, arguing that it’s actually forced trade.  He links US subsidies to the dumping of surpluses on poorer countries (9).  “Globalization contributes to world hunger rather than alleviating it… large-scale global food producers undersell local producers, thereby undermining community food security and creating dependence” (10).  In contrast, actual free trade between people is constrained by powerful economic actors, because large retailers demand and reproduce oligopolies and monopolies (11).

He discusses CSAs as alternatives to all this, as a way to link local consumers and producers directly (11).  CSAs allow farmers to make decisions based on what’s best for the farm as a whole, knowing they’re supported, rather than catering to demands of retailers (12).

He discusses food regulations that make it difficult to do local production and sale of food.  Regulations around sanitation and hygiene tend to require large, expensive facilities, which automatically exclude small-scale, non-professional producers.  They abstract from scale, he argues, creating universal regulations that end up privileging large-scale producers.  But the problem in the first place (e.g. E coli from cider) was produced by scale in the first place: large-scale operations designed to maximize profit ended up creating unsafe production facilities (14).

He’s also critical of organic labeling: “What something isn’t (full of chemicals) doesn’t tell us much about what that thing is.  Whether a food is “organic” or not, the same food-chain questions of origin, distance traveled, and connection apply” (18).  Organic has nothing to do (necessarily) with community-based food production, and it has become corporatized (19): “‘organic’ has changed from an ethic of holistic thinking and eco-integration to a law subject to lobbying and loopholes” (22); it speaks to the distance between farmer and eater.

He discusses privilege, foregrounding the question: “how can we work to undermine the structures that give me privilege in the first place?” (23).  In terms of class, he points out how poor communities often don’t have access to healthy food, pointing to efforts to improve access (food justice), such as the People’s Grocery, a mobile grocery store (23).

He discusses localization and seasonality on a more personal level, arguing that it requires us to adjust expectations and orient to what’s growing here right now: “we can learn to love what grows abundantly and easily around us” (28).  He discusses Cuba here (28-9) as well as the practice of growing your own food: “the seasonality of food—the fact that most fruits and vegetables come into season for a very limited period—makes it all the more special.  The luscious, fleeting ripeness becomes something to anticipate, something to savor, something to eat more of while you can, something to preserve for future enjoyment, something to remember, and something to look forward to again when the cycle repeats itself” (31).  He discusses examples from his own life here, and the continual disconnect that people often have from what’s in season if they don’t actually garden themselves (32).  This isn’t just about cultivating your own little garden in solitude: “Bring  a spirit of solidarity and outreach into your gardening practice by sharing your bounty, sharing your skills, and building community around the rewards and challenges of small-scale local food production” (34).


Chap 3 – Holding our Ground: Land and Labor Struggles

Katz begins this chapter with access to land, linking lack of access to historical oppression: “The histories of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, colonialism, and many other forms of oppression are long sagas in which people have been systematically torn from the specific ecological niches that previously sustained them, the unique places that are the basis of culture and its glorious diversity” (79) and with a clear attack on private property: “The earth is our mother.  We all come from the mother, and to her we shall return.  We are of the earth; it is absurd to imagine that we can “own” it, even in small pieces (79).  Analytically, he continually returns to the idea that “real estate determines culture” in this chapter:

Real estate determines culture when indigenous peoples, carrying on age-old subsistence lifestyles connected to the land where they live, are supplanted by land ownership.  Real estate determines culture when productive small farms are forced to sell their land because their modest agricultural learning’s cannot keep pace with rising property-tax rates and competing demands for cgolf courses, malls, and subdivisions.  Real estate determines culture when urban community gardens, which brough vitality and activity to their neighbourhoods, are doomed by their successes and auctionied off to the highest bidder” (80).

Katz discusses enclosures in Europe and North America, before moving onto “movements struggling to retain and reclaim land for growing food” (81).  He starts with indigenous peoples in North America, focusing on Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project (81).  As context he discusses the allotment act in the U.S.: the forced subdivision and sale of indigenous territories.  The White Earth Reservation was divided into 80-acre parcels, which had no connection to traditional land tenure.  Furthermore, when property owners couldn’t pay their taxes, the state confiscated the property (82).  Katz (and in Katz’s interpretation, LaDuke), want to ensure settlers that the struggle for indigenous land and territory is not a threat to settlers: “there is plenty of land for us all,” he writes, “and existing native claims amount to less than one-third of the U.S. landmass” (83).  At the same time, he does (very briefly) discuss settler obligations: “For thos of us more recently transplanted ot this land and seeking to develop deeper connection to it, our actions must respect the lives and lands of the earlier inhabitants.  How can we value native foods without supporting the land claims of native people?” (83).

He also discusses the landless peasant movement (MST) in Brazil and its successful reclamation of 20 million acres for 350,000 families (84) and the Zapatistas (86).  Historically, the US has attempted to encourage land concentration, propping up dictoators and supporting coups in Latin America to discourage land reform (85).

After reviewing these global examples, he refocuses on North America, and the U.S. in particular.  Each day, 9000 acres are taken out of food production: some is paved for suburbs, some becomes expensive estates, and some is left fallow (87).  The only kind of farm that has consistently grown in the U.S. are those with 2000+ acres: “The globalized food commodity system rewards economies, of scale, and the U.S. program of agricultural subsidies reinforces this by providing cash incentives—corporate welfare—for large-scale, industrial style production” (87).  Housing and retailing often provide a better return on land investment than farms, so they are consistently destroyed.  He discusses a case study here, where Michael Ableman tried to fight the closure of Fairview Gardens (88-9).  Ableman couldn’t afford to buy the farm, but was able to organize a land trust to create the Center for Urban Agriculture and buy the farm (90).

Katz also discusses the question of intergenerational farming, noting the aging population of farmers.  He points to WWOOFing and other apprenticeship programs that link prospective farmers to farmers with farmland (91).  The best way to create a next generation of farmers, he says, is to make farming viable.  He points to the Salatins as an example of a thriving family farm.

In an important section, he discusses racism in the rural US, pointing out that 97% of farms are operated by white people, discussing the history of slavery, emancipation, and sharecropping that produced continuing dependence and poverty (93-4).  The USDA has historically denied African-American farmers access to credit due to racism, and attempts at financial restitution have largely failed, despite a successful lawsuit against the USDA (94-5).  He also discusses queer farming and rural living, which tends to be excluded from agrarian visions that privilege the heterosexual nuclear family (95).  At the same time, “queers have often been the first in the family to escape the farm, and the countryside, in search of other queers and queer culture in cities” (95).  Unfortunately, he concludes this chapter without saying much about any actual practices that would address heteronormativity and racism in farming: “any postmodern rural renaissance in the United States needs to be expansive, embracing multiculturalism and evolving identities.  If we want to get real about community-based food production, we have to encourage more folks to get involves in it—all kinds of people—and embrace whomever chooses to follow that calling and that path” (96).

The chapter moves onto urban food production, where he discusses soil contamination and soil remediation (96-7), Victory Gardens in the U.S. and urban farming in Cuba (97), and other examples to foreground the promise and significance of urban farming and gardening.  Often these gardens are just a way of growing food for oneself and others, and it’s rare that urban farms can generate income if land payments are factored in; however, some are viable: “by partnering with nonprofit organizations, public agencies, generous benefactors, land trusts, or land outside the city, some urban farms have been able to generate income to fairly compensate the farmers” (98).  Other urban gardens are hosted by schools and housing developments (99).  He also briefly discusses permaculture (100) and urban farm animals (101).  He also covers the legacy of guerrilla gardening and points out that it often results in established community gardens (106).  He focuses in on a struggle to save a community garden in New York, linking it again to real estate and land values: “developers like large, continuous areas to work with, an housing is a more tangible good than gardens and is more likely to bring financial gain to the owners of the properties… gardens are regarded as an inefficient use of land once more lucrative opportunities develop” (107).  The gardeners organized petitions, lawsuits, rallies and direct action.  Eventually the City was pressured into negotiations, and a celebrity bought the land and donated it to a public land trust (109).  He also discusses a large farm in LA that served poor immigrant communities in 14 acres of garden plots, which was partially bulldozed and the struggle was ongoing as the book went to press (109-112).

Finally, he discusses struggles around farm labour.  He points to pesticide poisoning and other forms of exploitation faced by farm workers (113-4).  He discusses boycotts and fairtrade as tactics to address exploitative conditions, while highlighting the limits of fair trade: though fair trade projects create on a limited scale a more benevolent model of trade, they do not really alter or challenge a global trading system that favors big players and disempowers small growers and farm workers… our consumption of luxury imports—‘fair trade’ or not—encourages dependency on global trade rather than food security and food sovereignty (115).

Settler Colonial Food Movements?

Check out this short essay by Scott Morgensen on settler desires for indigenous lands… he implicates permaculture, New Age spirituality, and other “alternative” settler cultures in the desire to appropriate indigenous land and cultures.  He also gets challenged by another settler who replies to his post, arguing for the importance of connecting to land and place. Morgensen’s clarification: “If you practice your life in a directly accountable relationship to the Indigenous nation whose stolen land you occupy, then your effort to learn and live an indigenous relationship to that land may be in line with the work of Indigenous decolonization. You would only know if this is so if the people whose stolen lands you occupy tell you so. You can’t determine this for yourself, because you are the colonizer.”

I’ve been working through these issues myself, especially now that I’m back in school researching food sovereignty and other alternative food movements in North America. I haven’t gone very far yet, but what’s immediately clear is the intense lack of writing and thinking about the relationship between settler food movements and colonialism. There’s some writing about indigenous food sovereignty, and ‘food justice’ tends to address institutional racism, but very little (actually pretty much nothing) that I’ve read has sought to address the challenge that Morgensen is raising here to settler alternative cultures, including alternative food movements.

With that in mind, if you do know about any alternative settler food movements that are seeking to practice indigenous solidarity and support decolonization struggles, please let me know!  Over the next couple of years, I’m hoping to talk to people doing this work, and try to contribute to conversations between anti-colonial movements, alternative food movements, and other social justice movements.  In my conversations so far, as soon as I mention colonialism, most people tell me about an indigenous food sovereignty project they’ve heard about.  There’s a consistent slippage in relation to food movements, where any mention of colonialism means immediately talking about indigenous food movements.  It’s not that I think those initiatives are unimportant, but part of the reason I’ve chosen to focus on settler food movements is because I consider myself a part of some of these movements, and I’m also part of colonialism as a settler.  In starker terms, colonialism seems to be conceived as an “Indian problem” when it’s considered in the context of food and farming.

I think there are two, complementary questions here:

  1. How is farming and food–both industrial and alternative–tied up with colonialism?  How do contemporary food movements participate and reinforce settler colonialism in North America and how can this be unsettled?
  2. How and where is this already happening?  Where are examples of conscious attempts within the settler food movement to build meaningful alliances with indigenous peoples?  What shape have these efforts taken?