Brandi Bird, I Am Still Too Much: “Post-Contact”

During the fall of 2020, graduate students in the Ryerson University English Department’s Literatures and Modernity program worked on digital criticism projects that reflected on Indigenous literature in Canada and the US feminist forms of testimony. This post originally appeared on graduate student Samantha Baran’s Medium bog.

Brandi Bird’s poetry collection, I Am Still Too Muchexplores the effect of colonial influence on Indigenous space: the geographical space of Indigenous homelands that is a part of Indigenous identity. The identity of the Indigenous individual exists within the geographical space and the embodied space of the Indigenous identity in Bird’s work, each space being a claimed land that encompasses the Indigenous identity. Her poem “Post-Contact” probes how the post-colonial space of Canada affects Indigenous identity. Bird’s attention to geographical space in her poem becomes a symbol for how settler colonialism taints and injures the Indigenous body and identity.

Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Sovereignty in Canada

Canada is a settler-colonialist society. Global Social Theory defines settler colonialism as follows: “… the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty”. There are three ways of identifying settler colonialism within a society:

1) Settler colonizers permanently occupy and remain within Indigenous lands and assert sovereignty.

2) Settler colonialism works as a structure, not an event. Settler colonizers maintain sovereignty through ongoing elimination of Indigenous populations and by exercising juridical control over Indigenous lands.

3) Settler colonialist society has the goal of ending colonial structures and imbalances in power between the coloniser and colonized as a means of ending settler colonialism. The ending of colonial difference and settler colonialism can be falsely achieved via a supreme, unchallenged settler state and people.

Terra nullius — “the perception that lands in long-term use by Indigenous peoples are empty and unused” ­– describes the ability of colonizers to take and reform Indigenous lands and label these lands as their private property. The investment of identity and materials that settler colonialists continue to impart upon these lands empowers settler colonialists to defend their property from Indigenous peoples who now, after being stripped of their land, are seen as the enemy.

Settler colonialism removes the Indigenous identity from Indigenous geographical space and seeks to make Indigenous peoples the Other who threatens the new geopolitical space created under settler-colonial sovereignty.

Settler Colonialism and Geopolitical Space in “Post-Contact”

Bird alludes to the effects of settler colonialism on Indigenous land in her poem “Post-Contact” that is a part of her poetry collection, I Am Still Too Much. Bird not only recognizes the geopolitical implications of settler colonialism in her poem, but she also addresses the destruction that the claiming of Indigenous land has on the environment. The destruction of the Indigenous environment in turn becomes a destruction of Indigenous peoples’ relationality to their land that is a part of their identity, making the geopolitical actions of settler colonialism a part of the destruction of Indigenous identity.

“Post-Contact” places the reader within the geopolitical environment of “Alberta” (Bird 3). Bird begins her poem:

Delta Athabasca, family of tributaries,

a lineage. Another body of water bridging

the boneblack of royal Alberta, nation

to nation. (Bird 1–4).

Bird’s poem immediately situates the reader within the environment of the Peace-Athabasca Delta area. She describes the flow of tributaries, or rivers and streams, that branch across the land while maintaining their “lineage”, their connection, to the main body of water, “Delta Athabasca”. This opening sentence before the punctuated stop of the period recognizes a body of water in geopolitical conflict. Today, the Peace-Athabasca Delta is advertised by the Canadian government as a camping area where people can enjoy the wetlands and wildlife. There is no mention of Indigenous presence or original ownership of the land. The land is terra nullius: ownership by Indigenous peoples has been replaced by settler-colonial sovereignty.

“Another body of water” after the punctuated stop recalls the colonialization of the land and the current geopolitical conflict. Bird alludes to the Atlantic Ocean that allowed for the “bridging” of Canada and England “nation / to nation”. The images of the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Atlantic infuse Bird’s poem with colonial overtones. She evokes the image of the historical colonialism a part of the land in order to justify the settler-colonial present: Bird infuses a history into the water. The image of connecting tributaries is an allusion to the land’s connection to a colonial past. The “royal Alberta” that Bird speaks of is key, for the political context of the adjective “royal” connotes the remaining monarchical sovereignty and monarchical past inherent in the land. Bird shows how colonial presence of England is still felt and remains infused in the land in order to justify the land as settler-colonial property and a part of settler-colonial identity.

Bird recognizes the geopolitical implications of this land and also illuminates the destruction of Indigenous identity and sovereignty under settler-colonial sovereignty. She calls the land “boneblack royal Alberta”. Boneblack, also referred to as bone char or bone charcoal, is a form of charcoal produced by heating bone in the presence of a limited amount of air. It is used to remove colour impurities from liquids. Bird describes the ruling of Alberta as tainted and impure by referring to how the colonial and settler-colonial rule of Alberta works to remove what settler-colonials revere to as impure: Indigenous identity and sovereignty. She describes the settler-colonial land of Alberta as being “boneblack” to demonstrate how settler-colonial rule enforces an ethnic cleansing of the land to remove the impurity that is Indigenous people. The fact that boneblack is used to remove colour impurities from liquids attests to the removal of the non-white, or coloured, Other, Indigenous peoples, from the wetlands of Alberta as a way to purify and claim the land as settler-colonial property.

The image of the land shifts at the centre of the poem to reveal how the land as settler-colonial property has been cleansed of the Other to become a tool for settler-colonial capitalist motives. Bird writes:

… Fire of synapses, of industry

pulsing in the necks of caribou, moose, women

who wash their hair by the tar pits. (Bird 5–7)

Bird not only demonstrates the capitalistic motives of “industry” present on Indigenous land, but reveals how settler-colonial sovereignty of the land has destroyed the environment a part of Indigenous identity. The Alberta oil sands are an example of how settler-colonial capitalist enterprise has destroyed Indigenous presence in Alberta and removed the geographical space from Indigenous identity. Indigenous opposition to the oil sands can be felt through the geopolitical conflict that is the Canadian Tar Sands Resistance: an Indigenous force that opposes the expansion of the oil sands and makes public the effects of the oil sands on Indigenous communities. Bird demonstrates this geopolitical conflict and the dichotomy between Indigenous resistance and connection to the land and settler colonialists’ desire to exploit the land for “industry”. She writes how “industry” is “pulsing in the necks” of animals and Indigenous peoples who resist the impacts of industry. The motives of industry closely and persistently pressure the natural environment of which Indigenous peoples are a part.

The dichotomy is shown with the image of the “women / who wash their hair by the tar pits”, revealing that Indigenous people still attempt to connect to and maintain an identity with the wetland environment but are closely pressured by industrial forces. The proximity of the natural and industrial reveals the impeaching settler-colonial forces and how these forces exploit the wetlands of the Peace-Delta Athabasca. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, the oil sands “… are licensed to divert 652 million cubic meters of fresh water each year, 80% from the Athabasca river”. National Geographic even describes the Alberta oil sands as “the world’s most destructive oil operation”.

Conclusion

Bird’s “Post-Contact” is an epiphany for readers about the effects of settler-colonial industry and sovereignty on Indigenous geographical space and Indigenous identity. Her poem realizes how settler-colonial sovereignty eliminates Indigenous sovereignty of geographical space and eliminates Indigenous identity by placing Indigenous peoples in opposition to geopolitical settler-colonial spaces, effectively making them the Other. “Post-Contact” is a poem about Indigenous resistance to the effects of settler-colonial industry on the environment that is a part of Indigenous identity. The poem captures the settler-colonial moment and refuses to allow settler-colonialism to operate by way of its third method: the elimination of Indigenous resistance to form a state free from political imbalance and conflict. Bird makes this conflict the forefront of her poem and positions Indigenous peoples and settler-colonialists in a dichotic relationship as a form of resistance against this complete elimination of Indigenous identity.

Samantha Baran

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Kin Web Series

Hello from the field, literally and figuratively. I am writing from my territories where I’ve been hunkered down with a manuscript (and healing) for the last month. And, if you can’t tell by the delicate #aesthetic pumpkins in one of the following photos, which confirm my assent into the auntie circle, I’ve been feeling festive this fall. This post already feels like an homage to LiveJournal, non? Remember LiveJournal? Remember DeadJournal? I think I still have one of both out there (but I’ll leave that for the internet historians).

The Indigenous Digital Humanities (IDH) Lab has been hard at work connecting the early networks that will comprise its System, Hubs, and Constellations. We are particularly excited to finally announce our first set of collaborators and community partnerships that help will define our first Hub. But before I move on, it occurs to me that you, dear reader, might be wondering what all these words mean in this context: Hub? Constellation? IDH?! Let me elaborate.

What is IDH?

The IDH Lab is situated in the Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) and the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University. IDH is a Digital Humanities (DH) Lab for all the Others. IDH operates through and understanding that Indigenous digital visual cultures, new media, and Indigenous technologies have under-represented the perspectives of queer and trans folks, #MeToo era feminists, and other knowledge producers who don’t fit the perfect image of the resurgent and “traditional” NDN performed for a non-Indigenous spectatorship. This is a Lab for NDNs who know that representation of Indigenous peoples in the future isn’t enough. This is a Lab for NDNs who only ever seem to be represented in the future, as if we don’t exist in the present. This is a Lab for NDNs who aren’t gamers, but still want to collaborate beyond physical and virtual boundaries in digital media and tech.

The tendency in DH scholarship when approaching Indigenous perspectives is to retroactively place Indigenous new media and digital art practices from the 1990s into contemporary understandings of DH histories, and/or call for increased representations of Indigenous peoples in the disseminations of the field. The problem with the former is that early new media and digital makers, creators, and historians—and later generations of Indigenous peoples who carried forward the legacy of their methodological frameworks—defined their movements by their refusal of the colonial temporality infused into early digital spaces, technologies, and histories. Further, these spaces were forged alongside international visual art institutions and, therefore, aligned with art industries in the development and dissemination of their work (as opposed to a community of DH practitioners). Amending histories in DH to retroactively include Indigenous new media practitioners and digital artists, and/or positioning Indigenous digital creators and makers not as producers of moments in DH history but as objects of study within already established discourses of DH, is settler temporal, not Indigenous temporal, DH scholarship.

Historically, DH discourse has been deeply rooted in exclusionary tech-speak and protocols, and has facilitated the emergence of a field-wide postmodern abstraction naturalized within the discourses of DH that can make practitioners, at times, cagily inattentive to the material dimensions of the field. In the image of capitalist and colonizing tech industries—driven by systems of extraction that perpetuate domination over the land, and a production over people model that exploits human labour—feminist DH scholars have argued that the men-dominated fields of technology and research about technology have been coded with masculinist computational methods.

The IDH Lab addresses the colonial underpinning of DH scholarship and DH technologies as ultimately STEMing from a multi-pronged system of coloniality that operates through modes of patriarchy and masculinism, that evolved alongside Western expansion and Enlightenment, and afforded Man, alone, the divine right of God to produce knowledge and its co-related human centricity. Yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, this Lab is a posthumanist Lab and it considers the technologies we work with to be animate and potential kin.

DH can also provide a limitless utopia for an emerging, multi-generational movement of Indigenous creators and makers working in digital visual cultures and with technologies, who feel pushed out of the ever-precarious fields that compose fine art and often put profit over people. And these movements are pointing to the multiple knowledges, methods, and materials that they require to weave together a sense of self and people, when they were forced out of community and ceremony. DH can encompass the fluid and multimedia methods that our collaborators work within: networks of writers, artists, makers, content creators, and more! DH can provide a place for the Others, all we who have been without a disciplinary home because our bodies are too much.

This is a Lab that will be built and led by Indigenous makers and creators. This is a Lab that will not be led by the interests of extractive industries that exploit Indigenous makers, creators, and (world)builders. This is a Lab for de-centralizing modes of power in the technologies we infuse our ontologies with. This is a Lab for appendages, pleasure machines, feminist AI and a whole world of sapphic ecologies and possible technologies. This is a Lab for the future, including the future of tech. Importantly, this Lab follows in the footsteps of our big siblings and kin, queer and trans DH, to meet Indigenous digital humanists in the technologies they are working in.

What is the IDH CHART?

What can we say? Lesbians get things done. From Mary Daly to Alex Piezecki, queer ecologies have informed queer networks and technologies. Consider, won’t you, the numerous hookup apps that have been built for gay men that emulate the cruising subcultures that have been developing in back alleys, mall bathrooms, and parks for decades. But, imo, there has never been a successful and safe version of these hookup apps for lesbians, queers, and trans folks. One short lived dream of developing such a digital space was OurChart.com, made in the image of THE CHART: a fictional lesbian network contained in the mind of The L Word‘s token bisexual character Alex Piezecki.

In retrospect, The L Word approached Latinx, Black, bisexual, and trans storylines in appalling violent manners and likely informed my own normalization of intimate violence within lesbian communities. But, for a few blissfully ignorant years around 2005, which is coincidentally when I was “coming out” (and before I knew how bogus that concept was to me personally or that I am not, in fact, a lesbian), The L Word was a cultural reset.

THE CHART was a nebulous of romantic relationships between bisexual women, queers, and lesbians that started as a drawing on a chalk board in Alice’s office, who depicted a wild web of arrows and names all circulating around figures, such as resident player and toxic masc Shane. An emulation of a galaxy or a spider’s web of intimate connection, THE CHART represented a lesbian ecology that matched those I recognized from my own communities at the time. THE CHART represented temporaries of sapphic refusal, built outside of a cis-centric and masculist ordering of the world that felt so constraining to me as a youth living in Regina, SK. Damian Bellino and Anne Rodeman called THE CHART a visual and digital representation of “the complex relationships within a chosen queer family.” Life would come to imitate art when the series’ creator Ilene Chaiken launched OurChart.com: an advertiser supported social networking site for lesbians and their networks.

The IDH CHART uses the language of THE CHART—System, Hub, and Constellation—to acknowledge a legacy of queer ecologies that have influenced the ethics and practices of DH practitioners who will work with IDH. The IDH CHART is made in the image of queer ecologies like THE CHART, which have been and continue to be important to Indigenous peoples who have not yet seen themselves extensively represented in Indigenous visual cultures, literatures about the present, and film and television. At its ideal, THE CHART shows how networks should not be performed for institutions and spectatorships; they should be intimate and defined through shared and specific temporalities. And, if we can take anything from the pitfalls of an identity-based movement like lesbian communities, that flattened difference in the early 2000s and thereby reinforced modes of power, THE CHART shows that intimate networks should never be monetized and aligned with the never ceasing tick of capitalism.

Hub 1: Digital Imaging

We are excited to be in the process of building our first constellations of collaborators around our first Hub: Digital Imaging. Last week, IDH was lucky to be asked to pitch a web series that our newly formed production collective has been developing at ImagineNative Industry Days. ImagineNative is the largest international Indigenous film festival and digital media space, and is hub of activity each October for Indigenous creative communities internationally. Before I get into Digital Imagining and the web series, I want to discuss the above drawing of our IDH CHART that will represent our evolving network of collaborative creators and makers.

THE CHART is not the only instance of intimately made objects that represent queer ecologies of refusal. During the 1990s riot grrrl zine movement, young women defined the temporality of their movements by handwriting zines, photo copying them, and handing them out at punk shows. There has been an enduring legacy to zine culture and queer zine fairs are still held yearly in metropolises across Canada and the US. In fact, I started my own writing practice and creative networks when tabling queer fairs with my now defunct zine distro Critical Sass Press.

The early video monologues of Thirza Cuthand, IDH collaborator, feel similar to a perzine—a zine about the personal experiences of its author—dealing with the isolation of living in Saskatoon as an NDN lesbian in the late 1990s. There was something empowering about the DIY/zine culture that was percolating throughout lesbian feminist spaces in the 1990s, at least partially influenced by a legacy of third-wave and riot grrrl feminism. This affect is reinforced at the end of Thirza Cuthand’s short film Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory when Hole plays over credits that are scribbled on loose-leaf paper and then taken away one at a time by hand. The credits end with Cuthand closing her hot pink binder with a sticker on the outside the reads “dyke visibility.”

Cuthand was isolated in her room, using new media as a means of sending her post-reality monologues into the world, hoping and praying for connection. These are the forms of intimacies and legacies that IDH references with our early handwritten webs representing our ever evolving networks and collaborations that represent an intimate network of collaborative kin. In the image of the feminist and queer ecologies that influenced IDH networks, the IDH CHART will grow organically, through forms of kinship, over time, and represent real, sustainable relationships between friends, collaborators, and creative networks of IDH makers and creators.

While representation alone should not be a final goal of NDN temporalities, media can provide an initial imaginary for NDN futures, one grounded in processes of communal- and self-transformation, defined through accessible modes of expression, and devised through collaborative methods. Representation in digital visual cultures will be the foundations of the Lab’s early research disseminations wherein we will collaborate with with filmmakers, artists, and curators to produce digital visual cultures that represent diverse and contemporary Two-Spirit and Indigenous queer and trans peoples through four media initiatives.

The first Digital Imaging initiative is Kin, a web series generously funded by ImagineNative and APTN and directed by Cree- Métis director and artist Thirza Cuthand and Métis director Justin Ducharme. The first season will air on the APTN streaming service. The Lab will be home to a production collective that will work towards increased representation of Indigenous queer, trans, and Two-Spirit peoples in media through Kin and future projects.

The second Digital Imaging initiative is @IndigiTikTok, a TikTok channel by and for Indigenous youth, developed by Dene community researcher and University of Denver Ph.D. student Charlie Amáyá Scott. If you haven’t read the charter for the platform yet, you can read it here. Channel takeovers will happen bi-weekly, so take the opportunity to follow now! If you’d like to keep up with what we will be working on over the next several years, also follow our Instagram (@idh_rucdh) and Twitter account (@idh_rucdh).

—Lindsay Nixon

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@IndigiTikTok Platform Charter

IndigiTikTok Meeting in September 2020

In the summer and fall of 2020, Charlie Amáyá Scott worked with Lindsay Nixon and the Centre for Digital Humanities at Ryerson University to develop @IndigiTikTok: a TikTok account led by Indigenous content creators. IndigiTikTok will launch on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 12, 2020, with a takeover by founder and creator Charlie Amáyá Scott.

Charlie Amáyá Scott is a Diné (Navajo) scholar born and raised within the central part of the Navajo Nation. Charlie reflects, analyzes, and critiques what it means to be Queer, Trans, and Diné in the 21st century on their personal blog, dineaesthetics.com and other social media sites such as InstagramTwitter, and TikTok. Their English pronouns are they/them and she/her.

Enlisting the consultation of a community of Indigenous content creators—Charitie Ropati, Lane Yazzie, Cante Zephier, and Pauly Denetclaw—Scott devised the following platform charter for @IndigiTikTok.

Document’s Purpose: To develop a standard of ethics that ensures content creators are not affirming anti-Black racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, classism, xenophobia, etc. In addition, outline the intentions, goals, and future of this multi-platform digital channel. 

Mission: Provide a digital platform that highlights Indigenous representation rooted in authenticity, humor, healing, and joy.

Below is an outline of the goals of this platform. 

  1. This digital platform is committed to expressing the immense complexity of what it means to be Native American, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples in the 21st century. 
  2. Content created for this platform is meant to celebrate the life of this complexity and is not intended to be educational.
  3. Integrated throughout the content and this platform are intentions of refusals against colonialism and understandings of what “traditional” means for Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples. 
  4. Overall, this digital platform will challenge the colonizing narratives written out for many Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples and be a medium to reclaim our voices. 

Outlined are the ethics that will guide the expectations of this platform. 

  • This is a platform by Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples, for Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples.
  • This is not a platform for the monolith.
  • This is not a platform for us solely to answer your questions about dream catchers or beaded earrings.
  • This is for all the youths who wanted to be a part of edgy queer Tumblr, but didn’t have internet access on their Rez.
  • This is a platform to show future generations who we really were, and who we have the potential to be.
  • This is a platform to share what we, Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples, look like when we experience joy.
  • This is one place where we, Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples, can make work for ourselves, and to heal ourselves.
  • This platform is for the instigators, the troublemakers, and the tricksters.
  • This platform challenges and advances notions of tradition. This is a platform for Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples who are made to feel non-traditional. 
  • This is a platform of people like us.
  • This platform is sexy! This is a platform for sex and body positivity. Let us experience happiness and euphoria.
  • This platform doesn’t care about the comments or trolls. 
  • This is a platform for the shadow-banned.
  • This platform is not for the blue checkmark Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples.
  • This platform is not for Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples who fit into normative colonizing beauty conventions.
  • This is not a platform for fatphobes, or homophobic and transphobic cisgender and straight people.
  • This is not a platform for AAVE, the “savage” discourse, or other forms of anti-Blackness within Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous communities. 
  • This is not a platform that entertains misogyny, classism, xenophobia, and/or other forms of colonizing violence. 
  • Yet, also this platform encourages shutting off your phone, taking distance from social media when needed, and knowing, in the love of your community, that everything will be okay.

Thinking ahead

  • This is a platform meant for supporting, healing, and mitigating literal and lateral violence against Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples on TikTok and other social media networks. 
  • This platform desires to cultivate a digital community across the globe that encourages Native Americans, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and/or Indigenous Peoples to be able to express who they are without appealing to a colonizing gaze through humor and joy. 
  • This platform is for generations now, and the generations to come.
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