Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land: A Trickster Methodology for Decolonizing Environmental Ethics and Indigenous Futures

Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land: A Trickster Methodology for Decolonizing Environmental Ethics and Indigenous Futures

by Brian Burkhart


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Land is key to the operations of coloniality, but the power of the land is also the key anticolonial force that grounds Indigenous liberation. This work is an attempt to articulate the nature of land as a material, conceptual, and ontological foundation for Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and valuing. As a foundation of valuing, land forms the framework for a conceptualization of Indigenous environmental ethics as an anticolonial force for sovereign Indigenous futures. This text is an important contribution in the efforts to Indigenize Western philosophy, particularly in the context of settler colonialism in the United States. It breaks significant ground in articulating Indigenous ways of knowing and valuing to Western philosophy—not as artifact that Western philosophy can incorporate into its canon, but rather as a force of anticolonial Indigenous liberation. Ultimately, Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land shines light on a possible road for epistemically, ontologically, and morally sovereign Indigenous futures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611863307
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 09/01/2019
Series: American Indian Studies Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 357
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Brian Burkhart is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma where he mentors PhD students studying Native American and Indigenous philosophy. He was an Associate Professor and Director of American Indian studies at California State University, Northridge, from 2010 to 2018. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma but was born and raised in the Navajo Nation of Arizona. Burkhart was one of the early members of the American Philosophical Association’s Native American and Indigenous Philosophy committee and was chair of that committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a Southern powwow singer and Cherokee hymn singer.

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Philosophical Colonizing of People and Land

Welcome to Settler Colonialism. The first rule of Settler Colonialism is: you do not talk about Settler Colonialism.

— Iktomi

The power of Western coloniality, highlighted by the genocidal removal of Indigenous people from their lands as the foundational act of creating the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, is centered in land. It is no wonder, then, that given the manner in which coloniality must continually reposition itself philosophically and historically in order to cover up this genocidal relationship to Indigenous people because of their relationship to this desired land, deep philosophical reflection on the relationship between people and land is so underemphasized in Western philosophy. Environmental philosophy, specifically in the form of environmental ethics and more recently environmental justice, has only just become part of the Western philosophical landscape, and presently still exists in the far reaches of the periphery. Further, environmental philosophy is, as I will argue, structured around the coloniality of power in a similar manner to Western philosophy more generally. The Western philosophers who have reflected on land and place in relationship to meaning and being, and so on, are so scarce that they appear to be from another philosophical planet. This chapter attempts to show why land has this philosophical position in Western philosophy by articulating the manner in which coloniality operates on the land through concepts of temporality and subjectivity.

The reasons that Western philosophy virtually ignores discussions of land are multiple. One reason is that philosophy seeks the highest level of abstraction and universality, where land, just like race and gender, is seen as concrete and particular. Any reflection on land, race or gender serves as a distraction, at the very least, from the goal of reaching the highest level of abstraction and universality. The creation of the philosophical lacunae regarding land, as well as race and gender, arises most perspicuously through the process of coloniality, or in what Anibal Quijano calls the coloniality of power (2000). Coloniality of power describes the foundational framework of the modern world-system through the creation of race and racial hierarchies that structure modern economies, philosophies, and cultures. As Quijano makes clear, the development of what Immanuel Wallerstein calls the "modern world-system" of global capitalism that centers wealth and power in western Europe and North America cannot be understood apart from the creation of modern coloniality that arises from these same regions. Western Europe and North America, collectively constructed as the West, become the center of global capitalism through the coloniality of power which allows the West to impose the coloniality of power as the foundational structure of the modern world-system or what it essentially constructed as a planetary system of power. The realization of this modern world-system through coloniality structures (for non-Western people) the internal (to each other) and external (to the West) relationships. A relationship to land is also realized through the manifestation of this modern world-system. As will become clear, the manifestation of this world-system as structured through the coloniality of power arises out of a cosmic reconfiguring of the foundational reality that exists in people (the nature of subjectivity) and the land (the nature of space and place).

The notion of the West and even the notion of Europe were constructed with a purpose. Before there was the West, before there was Europe, there were only Spain, Great Britain, Portugal, France, and so on. Coloniality is "a mode" through which "Europeans could develop their sense of European-ness" (Smith 1999, 22). As Quijano shows, the creation of Europe and even American national identity (conceptualized later as the West) goes hand in hand with the creation of non-Western identities such as Africa, Asia, and Oceania. These non-Western identities are further structured in relation to Indigenous "savages." For example, the East ("Orient") only exists as the inferior other to the West ("Occidental") in relationship to more inferior "Indian" and "black" others through the hierarchy of the coloniality of power (Quijano 2000, 540). Enrique Dussel marks this creation point as the "birth of modernity, when ... Europe could constitute itself as unified ego exploring, conquering, colonizing an alterity that gave back its image of itself" (1993, 66). Quijano puts the result of this birth as this:

The incorporation of such diverse and heterogeneous cultural histories into a single world dominated by Europe signified a cultural and intellectual intersubjective configuration equivalent to the articulation of all forms of labor control around capital, a configuration that established world capitalism. In effect, all of the experiences, histories, resources, and cultural products ended up in one global cultural order revolving around European or Western hegemony. Europe's hegemony over the new model of global power concentrated all forms of the control of subjectivity, culture, and especially knowledge and the production of knowledge under its hegemony. (2000, 540)

To see how the coloniality of power structures Western philosophy through its relationship to non-Western people and land (particularly Indigenous peoples) requires deeper examination of the concentration of power on the nature of subjectivity, culture, and knowledge. In particular, it is necessary to see how coloniality reconfigures the way people are able to conceptualize being and knowing in relationship to subjectivity itself as well as the earth around them, the land. The way Western philosophical coloniality manifests itself onto the land is deeply connected to the manner in which Western philosophical coloniality creates and maintains a subjectivity of domination.

Colonizers exercised diverse methods for reshaping the non-Western and Indigenous peoples' subjective as well as intersubjective relationships. One method is through a contradictory process of colonial logic that magically transforms the coloniality of power into the illusion of actual Western knowledge and progress. For example, while claiming that Indigenous people were the most backward and primitive examples of humanity, the colonizers expropriated the most powerful discoveries of these same peoples that were most apt to extend their power and profit while at the same time claiming them for their own — as Western discoveries, as Western knowledge. As Maori philosopher Linda Tuhuwai Smith puts it, "Indigenous ... forms of knowledge" are "regarded as 'new discoveries' by Western science. These discoveries were commodified as property belonging to the cultural archive and body of knowledge of the West" (1999, 61). At the same time, the colonizers did as much as they could to eradicate Indigenous forms of knowledge and knowledge production. Quijano gives an example: "repression in this field [eradicating Indigenous symbolic forms of knowledge production] was most violent, profound, and long lasting among the Indians of Ibero-American, who were condemned to be an illiterate peasant subculture stripped of their objectified intellectual legacy" (2000, 541). Linda Martín Alcoff continues Quijano's thought by noting that claiming "there were no pre-Colombian books or forms of writing" is maintained by "raid[ing] and burning in heaps" any codices that could be found (2007, 87–88). The magical transformation of the coloniality of power into the illusion of something other than simple power happens at the level of federal Indian law in the United States. Lawmakers and judges claim the right to purchase Indian land while at the same time claiming that Indian people are mere animals who roam the land and have no legal title to it. Another method to transform Indigenous subjectivity and intersubjectivity while at the same time hiding the source of this transformation in the coloniality of power is to replace, by force as necessary, the existing culture and knowledge system with the culture and knowledge system of the dominant culture in whatever manner best suited the reproduction of that domination. Most often this replacement took the form of the culture and knowledge systems of Christianity. In particular, since the Doctrine of Discovery (that all Indigenous property, including land and person, belong to the first representative of Christendom) was initially and then later functionally a Christian doctrine, the more Indigenous people were Christianized, the more they would, hopefully, support their enslaved and landless place in Christendom.

Another method by which colonizers reshape Indigenous subjectivity and intersubjectivity is through the narrative of colonial difference. This is not actual alterity but rather the constructed oppositional "other" that builds and maintains the ego of Western coloniality. This is the "other," from Dussel quoted above, that constitutes the European ego, existing as a mirror to reflect the European ego back upon itself. Indigeneity then is essentially tied to coloniality at every level in which narratives are created and maintained by the colonial state and modern settler state (ethnographies, histories, and so on) (Pagden 1987). The articulation of Indian difference is ideologically charged and structured. Narrating the colonial difference has the function of maintaining colonial order through the defining and knowing of Indian difference as a mirror of the ego of Western coloniality (Said 1978, 1994).

The Indian "other" is manufactured, in part, for the purpose of creating a salvatory ego centered in Europe that can innocently colonize a backward and savage other who if violently resists is seen as victimizing the original colonizers. Civilizing the savages or saving the heathens does not change the nature of Western ego, the subjectivity of domination. The path of continued domination, after civilizing and saving, threatens to reveal the bad faith of the civilizing and saving mission of colonization in the underlying reality of the mere coloniality of power. One response to this is to continually reposition the target of salvation: from religious salvation of Christianity to political salvation of Western civilization to economic salvation of global capitalism. This serves at one level to hide a form of what Enrique Dussel calls "the developmentalism fallacy," specifically through the denial that the states of being unsaved, uncivilized, and poor for non-Western subjectivities are dialectically connected to the states of being saved, civilized, and wealthy for Western subjectivities (1993, 67-68).

The civilizing mission of colonization is also a fallacy in the sense that it equivocates between notions of value in the first place. There is more hidden than just the dialectic connection of Western and Indigenous subjectivities. There is a trajectory of a subtler meaning to concepts of coloniality (civilization, freedom, and so on) from 1492 through the notions of freedom and liberty of the Enlightenment to the present. From the civilizing mission of colonization in America to Kant's freedom from immaturity through rationality to the bringing of freedom to the Iraqi citizens in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there is an equivocation between the way the Western subject thinks of the concepts of coloniality for himself and the way they are applied to those missionized. What freedom and civilization mean for Iraqis and Indians is really Western freedom and the coloniality of power. What George W. Bush meant when he proposed to save the Iraqi people by giving them freedom was to force them into global free enterprise, to be controlled by global capitalism and the coloniality of power. The real meaning of being savage, uncivilized, unfree, and so on is then determined by Eurocentrism, but not in the sense of Eurocentric values and so on, but simply in being European. It is, then, to lie outside of the scope of the coloniality of power and later global capitalism that truly marks the meaning of uncivilized and unfree. As Quijano puts it, the "coloniality of power" implies "the hegemony of Eurocentrism as epistemological perspective. ... In the context of coloniality of power, ... their new, assigned identities were also subjected to the Eurocentric hegemony as a way of knowing" (quoted in Mignolo 2000, 54). In other words, Eurocentrism is the epistemological perspective of modern Western philosophy. It is not an epistemological perspective that is then applied Eurocentrically to non-Western peoples; Eurocentrism is the epistemological perspective by which the concepts of being civilized, free, and so on are determined. Eurocentrism is also not used to define subjectivity, value, and so forth; Eurocentrism is subjectivity, value, and so forth. What is meant by freedom for the civilized is then the freedom to dominate through the coloniality of power, and freedom for the savage is the freedom to be dominated by the coloniality of power just like freedom for the Iraqi people is the freedom of free enterprise, to have their resources placed, through no choice of their own, on the open market to be purchased by the highest bidder.

The Ego Conquiro of Modern Philosophical Subjectivity

Modern Western philosophy seeks freedom from bondage, or what Kant calls "Ausgang" (a way out) from "unmündig" (a state of being unfree). It seeks, for humanity, a way out of doubt, a way out of immaturity. It seeks to actualize something, some sense of itself, of subjectivity, of humanity, and of European-ness. Kant defines the project of philosophy during his time as "the exodus of humanity by its own effort from a state of guilty immaturity" (1784). Freeing humanity from its self-imposed exile of immaturity actualizes the true, independent, mature humanity of modern civilization. Humanity is supposed to gain this independence, according to modern philosophy, through human subjectivity in the form of human reason. The underlying reality of this freedom is that independence is ultimately understood and dialectically engaged with actualizing dependence. There is a core of irrationality, then, at the center of the supposed rationality that is to free humanity from immaturity.

Enrique Dussel details in numerous works and on numerous grounds the coloniality of Western philosophy in the works of Kant, Hegel, and Descartes. Of Kant's claim that immaturity is a guilty state brought on by laziness and cowardice, Dussel asks, "Should all of these [colonized] subjects be considered to reside in a state of guilty immaturity?" (1993, 68). It is not with these thinkers, however, that Dussel finds the foundation of philosophical coloniality. They are but a mere second and third wave, continuing philosophically what has already become culturally established as the coloniality of power. Dussel discovers a prototype of the Cartesian ego cogito in the Spanish-Portuguese ego conquiro (I conquer) that carries coloniality to the Americas, and a prototype of Kant's immaturity in the turditatum (Latin meaning backward, slow, or stupid) that applies to American Indians in the sixteenth-century Spanish Valladolid (Dussel 2000). It is in the development of coloniality in the sixteenth century that Dussel finds the true roots of modern Western philosophy. It is in "the conquest of Mexico," he writes, that we find "the first sphere of the modern ego" (Dussel 2000, 471). Although gestating for some time, the modern European ego was "born" when it was in a position to place itself against an "other," and to transcend itself by creating and conquering that other (Dussel 1993, 66).

Ginés de Sepúlveda, Aristotelian student of the Renaissance philosopher Pietro Pomponazzi, exemplifies the ego conquiro in his contribution to the Valladolid (a debate regarding the ontological status of Indigenous peoples in the Americas) in 1550, where he argues that the dominant culture grants the blessings of civilization to the fundamental backward (turditatum) Indians. He describes Indians as a new kind of barbarian, one that is not merely a heathen barbarian but a barbarian "with respect to our rules of reason." Reworking Aristotle's view of natural slavery (Aristotle claims that it is "in conformity with natural law that those honorable, intelligent, virtuous, and human men dominate all those who lack these qualities") onto a global scale, Sepúlveda claims that it is "in conformity with natural law that barbaric people be subjected to the empire of princes and nations that are more cultured and humane" (quoted in Dussel 2013, 11). Here Dussel sees expressed a form of the tautology equivocally embedded in the concepts of Western civilization and modernity: If you are not one of us (either European or at least supportive of the coloniality of power), you are against what is right and true. The tautology is constructed for Dussel through the

equating of superiority with identity and that identity with truth and justice themselves. Europe and the West are then a priori superior. It is then simple logical consistency that requires whatever is discovered of Indigenous reality to be redefined in relationship to this superiority, and whatever is thought to exist in European reality must be confirmed to exist in oppositional superiority to Indigenous reality. All this happens as a matter of mere logic as defined by epistemological principle and concepts of subjectivity. As Dussel puts it, "the content of other cultures, for being different from [Europe], is declared non-human" (2013, 11). Sepúlveda, for his part, puts it most succinctly when he claims that it would be wrong to exercise violence against the people of America if they were found to worship "the true God," who of course is European and Christian (Dussel 2013, 12). Thus, the lack of civilization and humanity is not in relation to a rational ideal but rather simply in relation to being European and Christian. The equation of European and rational serves to expose the irrational core of the "rationality" that is supposed to bring Europe out of its guilty state of immaturity. The movement out of immaturity is then not achieved by rationality but simply by being European or approximating European subjectivity and culture. Sepúlveda gives philosophical merit to Eurocentrism and the religious claim of the Doctrine of Discovery initiated in the fifteenth century in numerous papal bulls–culminating in the Inter Caetera of 1493, which gave all the Indigenous land of the Americas to Spain and Portugal by right of discovery. This philosophical articulation also initiates through the ego conquiro a zero-point of subjectivity that becomes solidified in the ego cogito, which then serves as another layer of concealment of the Eurocentrism of modern philosophical subjectivity.


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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction xi

Part 1 The Coloniality of Western Philosophy and Indigenous Resistance through the Land

Chapter 1 Philosophical Colonizing of People and Land 3

Chapter 2 Indigenizing Native Studies: Beyond the Delocality of Academic Discourse 59

Chapter 3 Refragmenting Philosophy through the Land: What Black Elk and Iktomi Can Teach Us about Locality 93

Part 2 Indigenizing Morality Through The Land: Decolonizing Environmental Thought And Indigenous Futures

Interlude 165

Chapter 4 Everything Is Sacred: Iktomi Lessons in Ethics without Value and Value without Anthropocentrism 177

Chapter 5 The Metaphysics of Morality in Locality: The Always Already Being in Motion of Kinship 223

Chapter 6 The Naturalness of Morality in Locality: Relationships, Reciprocity, and Respect 271

Bibliography 307

Index 319

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