by Abaki Beck
Happy Valentine’s Day! Our reading this week is “Refusal to forgive: Indigenous women’s love and rage” by Rachel Flowers. Love, rage, and a thought provoking essay on Indigenous activism: what a way to spend the holiday.
Indigenous movements, particularly indigenous women’s activism, are often discussed in terms of love and allyship with settlers. In this text, Flowers pushes against and complicates this notion. She makes two key arguments: that anger has transformative power when born out of love for your people (which she argues is the case with Indigenous peoples), and that only recognizing Indigenous women’s activism through a lens of love is dismissive of very valid and real feelings of anger, and that this tendency centers settler yearnings for forgiveness.
Relying on Indigenous forgiveness and support of settlers, which is often done in activist spaces, recreates systems of domination within spaces of supposed solidarity. She argues that settlers must themselves work to de-center western narratives and knowledge and recognize the privilege of being able to chose when to “show up” in solidarity (versus experiencing daily threats to your survival). Indigenous activists, she argues, should be able to use their energy to love and support their own communities. Flowers argues that only by de-centering western narratives and avoiding a reliance by settlers on the work and forgiveness of Indigenous people can we work towards imagining new futures. Otherwise, the resistance of Indigenous people risks being used to serve settler shame, not their own communities.
One specific example she discusses in the article is activism around Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in Canada (MMIW). The protests are often framed in terms of love. While there are indeed feelings of love in remembrance of these women, Flowers argues that we must not remove anger from this discussion - which survivors of personal and systemic violence no doubt feel and are entitled to. Instead, she argues we should view Indigenous anger (at violence, colonialism, et cetera) as borne from love for our communities. This love is a love for family, community, and land; a reclamation and celebration of cultural traditions. She views anger and resentment as evidence of “ongoing harm and a desire for freedom.” Too often, the anger of women of color is dismissed as divisive and threatening; we do not listen to where that anger is coming from.
Though the text is a heady academic text (references to Foucault abound), it describes a pervasive and damaging issues often found within activist or academic circles: allies searching for love and forgiveness from those they have privilege over. For example, I was at a #NoDAPL solidarity rally in Montana, and after the invited speakers were finished, there was an open mic. The majority of speakers who came up were young white people - describing the almost “spiritual” experience they had at the Sacred Stone Camp, on the verge of tears, happy that they had been accepted by Native Americans. This is not an exaggeration; this is not allyship. It is not up to Indigenous people to love and forgive you because you sometimes show up for protests or donate money. It is not the job of Indigenous people to listen to you crying about how you were moved to dance as you heard the drum beating at the Sacred Stone Camp (again, not an exaggeration).
It is a difficult text to work through, but brings up thought-provoking and challenging questions to ruminate on for both Indigenous peoples and settlers (or arrivants). In practical terms, how do Indigenous people engage with settlers in organizing circles in a way that centers our own knowledge and communities, and not the shame of the settler? Like Flowers argues, this doesn’t mean that love has no place in anti-racist or anti-colonial organizing. However, for marginalized peoples, this love should be focused on our own communities, and simultaneously, our anger towards violence against us should not be chastised or dismissed. We do not owe you the energy of our love or forgiveness; but this should not dissuade you for fighting against settler-colonialism.
POC Online Classroom strives to make readings and resources that celebrate the intellectual tradition and knowledge production of marginalized communities more accessible. Rad Reading is a series that highlight texts to read and writers to support! We will post every Tuesday.