Do you live on Turtle Island or in the New World?
This colloquy will investigate the northeastern landscape and the various relationships human beings have had with it over time. It will also look at relationships between peoples on that land, especially in the last 500 years.
The colloquy begins with a few premises. First, there has never been a time since the retreat of the glacier 12,000-15,000 years ago, where the northeast has not had human inhabitants. The woods here grew in a relationship with people, so there never was a “forest primeval” into which people moved. Related to this, humans have always had their hands on this land, and the forest that grew here was the outcome of this “conversation,” as were the original peoples. Finally, humans never do anything with their hands without having an idea in their heads, and they rarely have an idea which drives their hands which they don’t try to communicate to others. We tell stories in other words, about the land, and about our relationship with it, and over time this process creates the narrative ecosystems which we inhabit, just like we inhabit the land.
A story is like a tree, and these narrative ecosystems are like a forest. They are where we live and where we encounter one another. Through this lens, we will look at the shape of the forested ecosystem through time. We will use this investigation to think and speak creatively about our current and future relationship with this forested landscape as well.
To facilitate this conversation, we will read Walking Toward Moosalamoo: A Natural History of Terra Nullius, by Hans Carlson – a portion of the book for each of the four weeks. Participants will also be provided with a short, annotated bibliography of optional additional reading on various topics covered in the book. Readings will be the foundation of our conversation, but the goal will be to think beyond the texts in our conversations as well.
Do you live on Turtle Island or in the New World?
The stories we tell about the land where we live inform the ways we live there, and so stories are worth thinking about carefully. This is underlying premise of Walking Toward Moosalamoo which will be the basic text for the colloquy. You are free to read as you like, but for the sake of discussions, we will deal with the book in four chunks. Those are – roughly – week 1, pages 1-91; week 2, pages 93-206; week 3, 207-301, week 4, pages 302- 383.
In the first week or two of the colloquy, I’d also like you to watch this video of Robin Kimmerer speaking on “We the People”: Expanding the Circle of Citizenship. Robin is both Potawatomi and a western-trained botanist who teaches at SUNY ESF. This is a wonderfully concise statement on the confluence of language, the earth, and political and legal rights.
This will be the assigned work for the course, but I want to give some context to this reading as well. Below are a few of my favorite audio and video resources. These are optional, but I think listening and watching a few of them will broaden our perspective and make the discussions more interesting. I may well add more to the list for you, depending on how and where our conversation goes over the four weeks.
King is a novelist, comedian, and academic and one of my favorite interpretive voices who writes and speaks to Native people, but in a way accessible to non-Native audience. He will make you laugh, but he will also hit you between the eyes. These five lectures touch on a number of topics, but at the bottom is the power of the stories we tell about ourselves and each other. They do not touch on the stories we tell about the land – not much anyway – but they relate. These are audio only, so you can listen while you do other things.
2. Project 562 – Matika Wilbur – http://www.project562.com/
Wilbur is a photographer and member of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes of Washington. Project 562’s goal it to develop a body of imagery and cultural representations of Native Peoples to counteract the relentlessly insipid, one-dimensional stereotypes circulating in mainstream media, historical textbooks and the culture industry. To create positive indigenous role models to do justice to the richness and diversity and lived experiences of Indian Country.
3. Agriculture and Politics – Vandana Shiva and Brian Donahue
Shiva, an activist from a Himalayan region of India, is a leading voice for organic farming, seed saving, and the deep political connection between farming and freedom. Donahue is a farmer and academic here in New England, who writes and teaches about the same connections. These are two very different cultural perspectives on the subject, but I think they go together. Both are grappling with the ways we speak and use the earth to make our livings.
4. Our Own Backyard – the Penobscot and Their River.
There are a number of good resources for understanding our backyard, but this is a good entrance into a Native Land issue near at hand. The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory traverses the landscape of deal-making and deal-breaking which has historically defined tribal-state relations in Maine.
Sign me up!