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thoughts on names & questions about appropriation (LaDuke)

caleb.eckert's picture

Some thoughts on Winona LaDuke (whom I want to hear more from in the near future)…

Winona LaDuke speaks with resonance, but also raises some vital questions. As she reminds us, language and names are powerful. To reclaim a name is to reclaim a right to history and identity. It is not McKinley, it is Denali. In northern Arizona, they are not the San Francisco Peaks, they are Dook'o'oosłííd, and Nuva'tukya'ovi, and Dził Tso—Dilzhe’e, and Tsii Bina—Aa'ku, and many others. In March, a facilitator with a map of the topography of southern Arizona mentioned that there is a mountain named Squaw Tits in the Growlers Range, just north of the restricted access boundary—the region used by the Department of Defense to bomb the desert as to train fighter pilots. I don’t know that mountain’s specific naming came from, but its name certainly reflects the same colonialist infection that spreads across the land, to another mountain in Alberta with the same name. Names and words do matter. Their normalization is a symptom of something more pervasive.

LaDuke also talks about “recovering traditions” Here’s where some of Eli Clare’s strings from “Meditations on Natural Worlds, Disabled Bodies, and a Politics of Cure” hum in harmony. It is not that recovery or restoration is about going back to a romanticized past, but about revitalizing and reclaiming action and identity, partly through redefining “normal” and partly through acting on it.

This idea seems to circle back to appropriation—cultural or otherwise—that we (particularly me) have been brushing/grating up against. LaDuke writes, “…those teachings are not about the process of going back…[They are] about recovering that which the Creator gave us as instructions, and then walking that path” (p. 173). What might that “recovering” look like for those of us whose present have so much to do with white-male-colonist-industrial societies, with institutions that twist belief into justifying the dividing and conquering of the world, with the very institutions that appropriated land from others? How do we as people—people who are affected and affecting power structures but not solely defined by them—fruitfully go beyond those institutions without forgetting or ignoring the immense damage they are responsible for?