with the voices of
Kanyon Coyote Woman Sayers-Roods (Mutsun-Ohlone, California Native)
Mary Jean Robertson (Cherokee)
SissySlays, the Indigecunt (Paiute Two-Spirit from the Walker River Paiute Reservation)
and Snowflake Towers (Yoeme, Mayan)
as heard/arranged by Jess Dorrance (descendant of Polish, Scottish, Irish, and English settlers, born and raised in Tkaronto (Toronto, Canada), the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples, and now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples)
It’s a rainy winter San Francisco Sunday and we are at the Polish Club in the Mission and we have been asked to listen. There are rows of maroon chairs in a circle. Hanging above on a dusty black wire a disco ball, a deflated green balloon, a cluster of four fake leaves. A series of paintings line the walls. AVery Serious Lady, AWhite Political Man, A Military General. “Join the Polish NationalAlliance,” a sign tells me (I decline).
And then, there is music and two dancers. Bright tangerine and blue bubble gum glitter capes. The sun and the sky. It is a soft early morning wake up dance. A brush off and a self-wrap. Soft gaze and open palms finding loose unison.
Keith says, “This is a talking listening circle.” (This is Winter Circle X.) “There are four people who were invited to speak and then there’s everyone else who is here. And you are very welcome to be here. It’s not prescribed what’s going to happen.”
Is an attempt at poetic listening. It is part of what I heard with my white ears and settler psoas. With my F1 student visa and deep lez heart.
I was asked to respond to what was offered and here are some questions I am sitting with:
What does it mean for me (for you) to listen into a present future archive riven with settler colonial violence?
How can I stand in myself on the page without centering myself?
I have been thinking lately about what scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang call an ethics of incommensurability. To forge solidarities with projects of unsettling, they argue, we must
recognize what is distinct, what is sovereign in fights for decolonization. We must build collaborations from what cannot be aligned and allied between different struggles for justice.1
I have been thinking lately, too, about scholar Christina Sharpe’s call to practice an ethics of care (as in repair, maintenance, attention) for Black life in the ongoing wake slavery and the weather of anti-Black violence and, as she writes, the ditto ditto of the archives of a past that is not yet past. (She addresses this call to a “we” I am not a part of; I hear it nonetheless.)2
What follows are quotes but the quotes are not exact. The line breaks the spacing the omissions the selections reflect how what was offered hit my body my senses of timing my desire to slow what happened down. (A risky dance between absent present voices on the page.)
There is ethical significance in mediation. My listening produces things too. Who (what) trained my ears and yours? How can we listen and care towards unsettling?
—Jess Dorrance, Unceded Ohlone Territory (Oakland, CA), December 18, 2018
1 Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012), 1-40.
2 Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
Listening to Kanyon Coyote Woman Sayers-Roods (Mutsun-Ohlone, California Native)
Right here, right now
we are in Ramaytush Ohlone territory.
Can I hear you say Ramaytush?
And right here, in san francisco, the village site is known as Yelamu. Can you say Yelamu?
You just said two Indigenous words local to this territory.
Spoken before english before spanish.
This is one step towards decolonization.
This is one step in acknowledging Indigenous protocol.
I come from a matrilineal society. My mother and my grandmother believe that when song ceremony and dancing stops
so does the earth.
This is a grandmother song:
(There is a song. Can you hear it?)
ON GENOCIDE (98%)
Listening to Mary Jean Robertson (Cherokee)
In california there was such a genocide that 98% of the people no longer exist.
And that is a huge loss
of language culture joy.
And if you don’t know what “federally recognized” means
it’s a process whereby the united states government takes control and dominion over the sovereignty of land-based tribes with treaties
and other constructive agreements.
And because we, the Cherokee, are the largest federally recognized tribe there are more Cherokees living in california
than california Native communities.
Which, I don’t know
I don’t think that makes us settler-colonists but here
maybe it does
(our numbers overwhelm).
How do we
as dominant cultures
make sure that the original people have a voice place vision
that can be shared with all of us?
Listening to SissySlays (Indigecunt of the Bay Area, Paiute Two-Spirit from the Walker River Paiute Reservation)
Everyone kind of believes that there’s no conflict and turmoil here.
That everything’s been buried and everything’s over and that all these things have ended.
But all the struggle all the trauma everything’s still been passed down to the existing generations.
Everything’s still here.
Even though I’m Indigenous, I’m not native everywhere. Being indigenous is such a big group of people.
There’s no way to just typify all Indigenous people.
Cause even the way
they go about their similarities are different.
We all have room
to decolonize something in our lives.
Think about the question you’re gonna ask before you ask it. Cause intentions are great but y’know
impact is a thing.
Listening to Kanyon, reprise
That’s one thing with decolonization work.
We don’t capitalize or enterprise or profit off of interactions. It’s about establishing
It’s about recognizing that
our radius of awareness needs to be larger than our radius of impact.
The dawes act of 1887 ripped apart california.
Taking away land from Native peoples.
The 1850s is when the u.s. government put out a bond
for 1.4 million dollars.
5 dollars a head 50 cents a scalp.
So all these misnomers with how Native peoples are talked about. The Natives scalped?
the Natives scalped back.
All of us have Indigenous lineages. From any country that you came from
your ancestors had their earth-based practices that are indigenous to those lands. That’s the calling. To reengage.
I don’t want to be representative of my whole culture.
You’re representative of every single tribe that ever existed
when you’re Native.
What tribe are you, though? You don’t look Native.
We are the creators of our own reality. What makes it to look?
My uncle, who’s Native, did not want
to play the Indian in cowboys n Indians cause guess who always lost? He himself didn’t want to identify as himself because he
would always lose.
And when you’re finally
taking Native studies you almost get a heart attack your mind is blown all of the lies you’ve been taught what is
the education institution it’s an industrial method.
I’m sitting here like da fuck?
Dangerous information spreads like wildfire.
There are many groups and bands and families within these territories that identify as Ohlone and local to these territories.
THERE ARE MANY.
Listening to Snowflake Towers (Yoeme, Mayan)
The way that I was taught is to go and ask.
where I’m going to go to, like, THE STUD
or something. And just, like,
go to a party and dance.
And then there’s actual dancing where I am praying.
I was raised to ask permission from the people of the land. Otherwise, if you don’t get permission, you don’t dance.
Like, somebody asked me one time, what happens if they say no?
Well, then I don’t dance. Like, period.
And I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.
Because it means that I had the opportunity to practice who I am. Not just my family’s culture but also my ancestors’ culture.
It does a million things.
That whole 526 almost 527 years of history.
That my family has survived from.
It means that I’m still here I’m not gone I’m still fighting I’m part of the Yaqui nation I’m Yoeme.
We are one of the only tribes to never be defeated by the u.s. mexican or spanish governments.
And we’re still fighting. Hey,
I grew up in california and we had to do that
I refused. Because I knew
that there were actual Ohlones that were alive.
I knew that these missions
were not the starting point of history.
I’m carrying a lot just being me.
May the Creator of my people bless and forgive you all.
(In our culture, it is the same
thing to bless and to forgive.)
HOW THIS BODY SPEAKS (YOU HAVE NO IDEA)
Listening to SissySlays, reprise
So I’ve had different people who are non-Indigenous try talk to me about
my body language before.
And I’m just like— you have no idea
how this body speaks.
For me as a Two-Spirit there’s ways where even other people in
the LGBT community also like to talk about my body language.
As a Two-Spirit growing up.
My family is very just like.
This is another thing—
not every Native person is just like a natural born medicine man called down onto the earth.
We don’t all just have Extremely Spiritually Secure And Insightful Elders.
We’re also just people. We’re people that have been here but
we’re still just people. We’re sensitive. We want to be loved. We want
to give love. We hurt we hurt other people.
We feel bad about it we don’t know what to do. We feel pain we want to feel happiness.
So growing up on the reservation, machismo culture is a huge thing.
Especially in non-white communities because The Men are the ones that are supposed to be representative. It’s always the men
that represent an entire group of people. Men define each other men define other non-men. So growing up I didn’t really come across
as one or the other. And nobody wants to talk about Two-Spirits on the reservation.
It took me leaving to find out that my tribe
was holding back my legacy from me in an effort to protect me.
But not really.
Cause you’re just like passing
down the trauma.
At some point one of our generations has to be like okay, we can’t keep passing this down to the kids. Like, these kids.
Y’know what I mean?
People want to be in touch with their spiritual sides. I grew up with an uncle who was like
just that medicine man uncle that thinks he knows everything.
He’s got all these local herbs that he’s like smudgin all the time.
He’s like Oh I’m doing so much for this person cause they’re going through this and that.
You should be recognizing me.
You should be passing down my legacy to the tribe.
There are things that all people deserve.
But, like, I’m not striving to be equal to white people. Cause I’m just, like, why would I want that?
Whiteness isn’t culture, so why would I want to equate my worth to that?
The thing about decolonization is
now that we’re acknowledging we fucked up come back with some humility and be like we fucked up. How can we do better?
How can we work with you to help make this work?
Cause we can’t send you all back.
It’s funny that natives are always called like
magical or earth spirits and all this. But at the same time no one actually wants to listen to the things we say.
When Native people share information appreciate it. Cause it’s not something that anyone’s entitled to. Cause it’s like
we live this.
THE FACT THAT WE’RE HERE (HUGE)
Listening to Snowflake Towers, reprise
I know we’re kind of jumping around and stuff.
But I think this is all really useful information for people. And it’s healing for me. So thank y’all for being here
for my therapy session.
is from the jungle in chiapas, mexico which borders guatemala.
It’s Mayan. It’s on the opposite side of the Yucatán so we’re touching the Pacific Ocean. And
being Chiapas Mayan is different
than all the other Mayans. Like, we’re all
Mayan but, like, we are a little more junglely people.
If you’ve ever heard of the Zapatistas
that’s my people. We took back our land, our rivers all of that because
they were trying to take away our corn.
So part of being Two-Spirit is knowing that
if you’re from belize, guatemala, honduras, the north part
of el salvador, chiapas, yucatán, campeche, tabasco. If you’re from any of those regions and you’re brown you’re Mayan.
We are still part of the same people.
I say this because right now my people and the children of my people are dying at the border. And they’re still being persecuted.
Because they are not seen.
Our Indigeneity is being taken away.
Part of what I’m trying to say here is that. Again going back to everybody thinking that a Native has to look and dress and act like a Lakota, right?
We’re not all like that. We’re so different. Brown mexicans are Indigenous.
They just had their language taken away from them
and their spirituality taken away from them and they were forced to be catholics and some of their families forced themselves
to be catholics forced themselves to have spanish last names because they didn’t want to be killed anymore.
Even white mexicans.
The light skinned mexicans. The white latinos.
The reason why their blood line is whiter
is because the spaniards didn’t bring women with them. And were very rapey.
And we were constantly and constantly raped.
When the spanish came they killed off they didn’t understand Two-Spirit. They killed anybody that dressed male so there was a lot of Two-Spirit men that were murdered and cis men that were murdered because
they were dressed as men.
And they would save the women to basically just rape them and
it was the Two-Spirit women that
when the men were being killed they would hide the men and they
would give their clothing to protect all the people who were male presenting and it was the Two-Spirit women that if it wasn’t for them
I wouldn’t be here my people would have been wiped out they led the war parties they took care of the kids they
were the ones that were still there.
This is the history
that the catholic church and the mexican government have tried to take away
for a very long time.
I am so proud to be who I am
to have that lineage.
I’m literally alive my language my culture is preserved because
of the Two-Spirit women in my genealogy in my people’s genealogy. So I just want to bring that in.
So if you see somebody. And they’re mexican. And they’re brown.
Stop looking at them with that american mentality that we are not from here.
Decolonize your mind on how you see them and see them as Indigenous people to Turtle Island
who got a lot taken from them.
AND THE FACT
THAT THEY’RE HERE IS HUGE.
WINTER PROCESSING (WE GOT COUSINS)
Listening to Mary, reprise
First of all, I want to thank the parents in the room for bringing their children. It is
so Indigenous to always include the children in a meeting and a space.
I want to thank Keith for doing a winter ceremony
that is actually about what we consider to be winter processing.
Because it’s a time of year when we reflect when we hibernate when we have to entertain children in the dark.
The best way to do that is with storytelling. And every child when you read them a story will be able to tell you
when you get it wrong.
So every child knows how to tell the story over and over again. Especially if it’s around a campfire and it’s their grandfather telling them a very special story they are supposed to remember.
This is the honor and respect of oral history. And what we’re asking is to say
this has meaning in our contemporary society.
Because right now, the court says that the Hopi tradition of at least thousands of years
of sacred mountain practice San Francisco Peaks
has no validity.
It’s alright to use effluviant to do snow machines for a ski route for the public good. Because the public owns the land.
There is an economic benefit.
But the Hopi just have their religion and it doesn’t matter and it’s
not as important.
IF WE CAN’T EVEN SAY that there’s a value other than economic
to a sacred peak like San Francisco Peaks which is sacred to 22 separate
Yeah, I’m an angry Indian.
(And that’s okayyyy. We have so much to be mad about.)
And I have to say that John Trudell said a long while ago— We all come from tribes.
And it’s because we have been so separated from our Indigeneity That we can’t see someone else’s Indigeneity.
So our responsibility
as human beings is to reconnect
with our own ancestral roots. And to bring that connection—not that dismissal but that connection— to a relationship with other Indigenous people.
Cause I think that’s where we have the total disconnect. Where we’re no longer responsible
for the healing of the planet. The healing of the earth.
All of the original instructions are about responsibility to
what we live on.
To our kindom.
The animal kindom. The plant kindom. Take out that G.
We got cousins everywhere.