Environmental Justice and Paradigms of Survival: Unearthing Toxic Entanglements through Ecofeminist Visions and Indigenous Thought
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in the Department of English and Comparative Literatures of the College of Arts & Sciences by
July 1, 2014
B.A. English—Englisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen/Louisiana State University (2006) M.A. Comparative Literature—Interdepartmental Program in Comparative Literature, Louisiana State University (2010)
Committee Chair: Myriam J. A. Chancy, PhD Abstract
Women’s and Indigenous contributions and approaches to mitigating eco-devastation have long played a minor role in literary studies and beyond, thus I introduce the term “ecomentaries” to describe those visual, written, symbolic, and metaphorical texts engaged with the documentation of environmental injustices. I argue that the unearthing and scrutiny of toxic entanglements in ecomentaries, particularly those conceptualized by minority women writers and activists, provide a key method through which to untangle or deconstruct norms of imperial colonization, while promoting ethical treatment of the natural world. Through the analysis of three key sites of consternation and resistance—(un)tangled legacies connecting water as lifeline and commodity between Sarah Baartman and Michiko Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven , (un)tangled bodies and species justice in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats , and (un)tangled places in the struggle for Indigenous land rights by the Mirarr Aboriginal people of Australia’s Northern Territory—this dissertation uncovers the relevance of Indigenous thought to humanist and ecofeminist projects in cultural studies.
ii Copyright © Julie Berthoud-Jury, 2014
Writing this dissertation would not have been possible without the infinite support and encouragement of Myriam J. A. Chancy, who never fails to amaze me with her brilliant mind, intellectual curiosity, and generous spirit. Her tireless effort, commitment, and understanding have made this endeavor possible. Professors Marion Rohrleitner and Jennifer Glaser always posed helpful and challenging questions, and offered wonderful feedback and support at various points in the writing process.
I would like to thank the Comparative Literature Program at Louisiana State University for its supportive environment; these thanks are especially extended to Greg Stone and Jeff Humphries. Thank you to Jane Chandler and Melissa Brocato for support, advice, and employment. I would also like to thank the Department of English for its important role in my success at LSU. My particular thanks to Solimar Otero, Irvin Peckham, John May, WGSGO, and the German Program, especially John Pizer and Thomas DiNapoli. At University of Cincinnati, I am indebted to the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the Taft Center for Research, and the Graduate Summer Mentoring program. Special thanks extend to Mary Benedetti, Joyce Malek, Devore Nixon, Adrian Parr, Stu Watts at Universität Tübingen, Kim Foster, and Kim Heindel.
A project like this cannot possibly be completed without many friends standing in the wings and offering support. I would like to thank brilliant energizers and great friends who are dear to my heart, Tam Le and Bobby Dupree, Kate Polak, Rebecca Hügler, Stacy and Doug Ennis, and Jeremy Märtig. I am grateful to Milton Romero, Bibi Reisdorf, Marie Büsch, Kilian Kleemann, Louise Head, Mame Fatou Niang and JB, Garret Cummins, and Lisa Weiss.
I cannot thank my loving parents enough. I am grateful to my mom, Ingeborg, my dad, Hans- Rudolf, my amazing sister, Michelle, and my extended family, Erna, Michael, Horst, and Erich, whose commitment to me both in this project and in life has been nothing but unconditional. A heartfelt thank you to Janet and Tim, and my brothers, Tyler, Alex, and Michael. Laurel Patterson, thank you for always being there.
To my best friends Bay and Mini, to June, Nola, Riley, Mikhail, and Bear, who are my family, my inspiration, and so much more, and who are present in all of the ensuing pages. You remind me to take breaks, to persevere, to snuggle, and to play.
Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to Eric. He has supported me in every possible way and has worn many hats throughout this process: consultant and critic, coach and caretaker. I thank him with all my heart for being a true partner and cannot wait for our next adventure together!
This thesis is dedicated to my mother, Ingeborg, and women everywhere who with uncompromised compassion are creating a more just world. And to Bay, who graciously reminds me every day that animals are the gentler souls treading this earth, and that knowledge comes in many forms.
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing… — Mary Oliver iv Table of Contents
Dissertation Abstract ii
Chapter One Framing Theories of Toxic Entanglements: The Ecofeminist 32 Paradigm of Survival, Environmental Violence, and Indigenous/ Posthumanist Directions
Chapter Two (Un)Tangled Legacies: Politics of Common Access, 86 Sarah Baartman, and Restoration in Michiko Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven
Chapter Three (Un)Tangled Bodies: Transnational Mediascapes, 160 Environmental Justice, and the Consumption of ‘Meats’ in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats
Chapter Four (Un)Tangled Places: Mapping Mirrar Resistance through 207 Ecocide, Indigenous Methods, and Alternative Media Interventions
Works Cited 265
It’s not politicians or Chiefs who will make change in our communities—it is the artists. — Maria Campbell
We need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of land, a new narrative that would imagine another way. —Linda Hogan, Dwellings
Recently, in September 2013, after a violent fall storm, I took my blue-merle border collie, Bay, out for a walk on the Ohio River Trail near Cincinnati, in the US Midwest. Off the trail, on the banks of the Little Miami River, we stumbled upon an array of crushed, sun-bleached beer and soda cans, broken glass shimmering emerald green in puddles of faint autumn sunlight, and frayed plastic bags and bottles muddied by the storm waters. The bags were entangled in the nearby brushes, agitatedly rustling in the cool northern winds. Long-lasting refuse is not a new phenomenon and is all too familiar to stir public outcry in this corner of the world, where an unregulated, laissez-faire approach dominates public perception. After repeatedly noticing an oily shimmer on the water’s surface collecting in the small rock pools on the beach last year, I decided to no longer let Bay do what she perhaps enjoys most on our walks—swim in the river. This experience led me to wonder, why is there no public outrage about river pollution? How did pollution become so normalized in the United States? Is this a new way of restricting and controlling human interactions with nature, and if so, to whose benefit? What makes people conscious of and sensitive to environmental concerns? And finally, what does this kind of eco-consciousness teach us about ourselves and our environment? These are some of the preliminary questions I had as I embarked on this critical research journey. The purpose of the brief vignette is twofold: first, as introduction, I provide information about my
1 relationship to the place or “geographical space” (Basso 107) from which I am speaking as a non-Indigenous scholar writing about environmental degradation. I not only situate myself in the land and my cultural knowledge about the land, but I also provide my perceptions about the condition of my local environment. Second, the vignette reflects the effects of a changing environment: how the risks of environmental pollution are impacting and restricting everyday life and how toxic eco-devastation has become normalized and even internalized in various geographies. I provide this information to reflect an Indigenous critical practice of framing the discourse in concert with Indigenous beliefs that are organically interwoven throughout my larger study.
Margaret Kovach notes in Indigenous Methodologies (2009) how she was introduced to the concept of employing a prologue within Indigenous research by Maori scholar, Graham
Smith. “Within Indigenous writing,” she suggests, “a prologue structures space for introductions while serving a bridging function for non-Indigenous readers” (3). This decolonizing methodology of using personal narrative alongside a critical reflexive lens deeply echoes feminist practice and methodology. It calls for understanding one’s own active role as scholar in the research process in ways that do not reinscribe interests of the privileged through unpacking intersections of identities and interrogating one’s own investment. Thus, both “awareness of the self in creating knowledge” (Kovach 33) and the responsibility to produce and promote inclusive methods sensitive to the power relations in research and fieldwork are contiguous feminist and
Indigenous practices that assist in creating transparency, exposing bias, and helping produce respectful knowledge across multiple divides (of power, geopolitical and institutional locations, axis of difference, etc.). Specifically, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s personal and exploratory narrative writing, which works to destabilize and challenge hegemonies and to encourage thinking outside
2 of established categories and boundaries, not only has had a profound effect on my thinking about rigid theoretical norms in Anglo-American academic discourse, but also on my commitment to studying feminist minority women’s discourse and tracing their struggles to fight racist, sexist, classist, and speciesist oppressions. Feminism and Indigenous thought are compatible frameworks that promote a relational ethics of compassion and care and fight interlocking oppressions, in recognition that one form of oppression “parallels and reinforces other forms of oppression. These multiple systems—are not merely linked, mutually reinforcing systems of oppression,” Greta Gaard notes, “they are different faces of the same system”
(“Ecofeminism on the Wing” 20). Along these lines of oppression and eco-devastation, the story of toxic entanglements goes beyond skin-deep assumptions to reveal that something as small as carelessly discarded six-pack plastic rings on the Ohio River can wash up on shores elsewhere, increasing the birth defect rates in newborn children, rendering bodies of water undrinkable and unsanitary across oceans, or impacting the future of a species, such as the albatross. Thus, the underlying premise of this study suggests that putting feminist and Indigenous frameworks in conversation amounts to advancing mutual understanding and a shared spirit of responsibility needed to mitigate the harmful entanglements of transnational eco-devastation.
Oceans of Plastic The task to construct visibility of these often underreported entanglements is the difficult and enduring challenge Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and activists alike face in an effort to gain media attention and public decision making for both resistance and “anti-pollution advocacy” (Pezzullo 6). An example of one such artistic act of resistance took place in May
2010, in the bustling metropolis of Vancouver BC, where an eye-catching and culture-jamming guerilla installation, initiated by the activist grassroots movement Plastic Pollution Coalition 1,
1 In collaboration with the advertising agency Rethink. 3 exemplified a locally staged protest that garnered global attention and made big waves on the social media scene, even though the stunt only lasted for a few hours. On a typical day, the sculpted stationary artwork elegantly curves out from the ground arching backwards into two rolling tides with two porpoises surfing on the cresting waves (see Appendix A). Giant, plastic six-pack rings entangling the two porpoises disrupted the narrative of flow to suggest that the smaller of the two sculpted porpoise was inexorably gliding into a treacherous plastic ring ensnarement at snout and head; meanwhile the body and fin of the other dolphin were already helplessly strangled in the insidious plastic tentacles of human waste. The guerilla display as an articulation of resistance against environmental pollution and interlinked animal suffering both sought to inspire people to take action and became a form of witnessing to the larger public, raising awareness for behaviors that contribute to environmental and health degradation. Taina
Uitto, a young dynamic woman in her midthirties, who resides in British Columbia and is the director of the installation project, declares: “You can only really reach a limited number [of people] in one day, so the real intention of this stunt was to produce a vid[eo] that will surf the waves of the net in perpetuity and hopefully entangle and choke a few disposable behaviours”
(Uitto). In this way, the artwork comes to tell the story of many toxic entanglements (real and tropic, temporal and physical, disassembled, and forgotten), as well as the challenge of producing and representing subtle yet visible socio-environmental justice interconnections between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of people. This representational work is challenging because, as Rob Nixon points out, time, geography, and contemporary media
(focused on the spectacular) can render the violence of toxic entanglements invisible and decouple it from its causes. Nixon refers to this kind of violence as “slow violence” because environmental catastrophes, such as climate change or oil spills, usually “escalate gradually,”
4 “out of public sight,” and with “deferred consequences” both in temporal and geographical terms, rendering it difficult to specify the onset or cause of a crisis. As such, Nixon notes, these characteristics are not conducive to media’s insatiable hunger for “instantaneous” spectacles, which leads to a low priority status in coverage of other issues and translates into minimum or no publicity through regular media outlets. Thus, the guerilla stunt is an important artistic intervention, compelling for the tangled stories it elucidates, gripping for the gaps of entanglement it intrepidly seeks to fill and imaginative and resourceful in the way the entanglements are represented and recorded, including their perpetuation on social mediascapes 2, where I first encountered the story of this particular guerilla display. Guerilla activism possesses heft because it is provocative, divisive, and ephemeral by nature; it usually entails hijacking 3 culturally salient iconographies or socially contested sites and spaces for brief amounts of time in spontaneous, surprise performances as an avenue to articulate and enact political messages, often acting as mouthpieces for media-marginalized issues.4
If pollution and exploitation are rendering more and more places dilapidated and uninhabitable for “creaturely” 5 bodies, due to practices of landscape commodification or uncontrolled waste dumping, then, the exposure and ingestion of toxins are transforming the bodies themselves into uninhabitable places. 6 This is not occurring in geographic isolation, but
2 Arjun Appadurai employs the term “mediascape” to describe the role of media (print and digital) in the “global cultural flows” of globalization. Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." Public Culture 2.2 (Spring 1990): 1-6. 3 My use of the verb “hijacking” is adopted from Vandana Shiva’s study titled, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (2000) as well as Adrian Parr’s Hijacking Sustainability (2009). 4 The examples for this creative type of resistance are abundant. For instance, the city of Seattle made a guerilla activist bike lane permanent. 5 The idea of the creaturely body is borrowed from Anat Pick’s work titled, Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (2011), in which the author argues that powerlessness is the point of departure for ethical thinking. I employ “creaturely” as a term to refer to both human and animal bodies. 6 Matthew J. C. Cella’s article, “The Ecosomatic Paradigm in Literature: Merging Disability Studies with Ecocriticism,” steered my interest toward questions of what makes spaces and bodies “habitable” or “uninhabitable” in ecological discourses. 5 rather this crisis has wider implications on a transnational 7 scale for all species. That is, not only does the guerilla protest effectively call attention to the publicly ignored issue of stifled and expiring wildlife species due to plastic debris floating and polluting oceans and atmospheres— for instance, every year on Midway Island, albatrosses mistakenly feed five tons of plastic to their chicks 8—the installation indirectly hints at the invisible stranglehold with which
“empire”—constituted by social, political, and corporate engines 9—reigns over creaturely bodies both externally and internally through toxic contaminants and pollution leading to prevalent cross-species suffering. 10 11 For example, a two-year study commissioned by the Environmental
Working Group to determine the chemical body burden carried by five US environmental justice minority women leaders unveiled that the women were polluted with a staggering number of up to 48 toxic chemicals, putting them at heightened risk of breast cancer, skin rashes, kidney and liver problems, miscarriages and other reproductive problems, and decreased immune health. 12
7 Transnational “normally refers to the extensive economic and cultural exchanges between and among nation-states as a result of forced and chosen displacements that produce the increased mobilization of bodies and good through globalization” (Chancy, From Sugar to Revolution 53). 8 According to a report published by Greenpeace in 2006, “at least 267 different species are known to have suffered” from ingesting or becoming entangled in marine plastic debris, including eighty-six percent of all sea turtles species, forty-four percent of all seabirds, and forty-three percent of all marine mammals, among them the albatross (“Plastic Debris”). 9 See the epigraph in chapter 2 by Ruth L. Ozeki. 10 See my discussion of Chad Lavin’s article “Factory Farms in a Consumer Society” about the internalization of toxic pollution in chapter 3. 11 Among the research published by the mid-1990s to document these important connections was a wave of ecofeminist work that “pointed to the role of pesticides, endocrine-disruptors, phthalates, PCBs, dioxins, and other toxic chemicals in affecting cancers and reproductive health for humans and animals alike” (Gaard, “Reproductive Technology” 117). According to Gaard, some of this research included Liane Clorfene-Casten’s Breast Cancer: Poisons, Profits and Prevention (1996), Theo Colborn’s Our Stolen Future (1996), Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment (1997), and Lois Gibbs’s Dying from Dioxin (1996). 12 According to the Environmental Working Group, the participants in the study included Beverly Wright, sociology professor and activist in New Orleans, working to protect citizens from pollution in “Cancer Alley” (eighty-five- mile corridor of oil refineries and petrochemical plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge); Jennifer Hill- Kelley, policy analyst at Oneida Nation near Green Bay, Wisconsin, fighting water contamination by paper mills in order to restore traditional fishing; Suzie Canales, activist in Corpus Christi, Texas, defending her community from oil refinery pollution; Jean Salone, activist in Corpus Christi, Texas, and key witness in the conviction of Citgo Petroleum Corp., the first US refinery to be convicted in a federal criminal trial for Clean Air Act violations; and Vivian Chang, community organizer located in Oakland, California, leading environmental justice efforts for Asian Americans—women who tirelessly work to remove environmental waste from their communities. 6 All women, despite being from different geographic areas and coming from distinct cultural backgrounds (Hispanic, Native American/Oneida Nation, African American, and Asian
American), were contaminated with the rocket fuel component perchlorate, flame retardants,
Teflon chemicals, synthetic fragrances, and with the plastics ingredient bisphenol A (Jacob), marking plastic as a pervasive agent in cross-species bodily pollution as the connection between animals and women. 13 Although plastic has emerged from a long history of an inferior, cheaply made oil byproduct to boast an industrial success story par excellence (as the sparkling gem of
Anglo-American household products), its conundrum lies in the troubles facing the peripheries that are suffocating in the oceans of plastic waste beyond the prospering center with its insatiable hunger for plastic conveniences. In this scheme, affluent nations 14 appear as double colonizer by colonizing less affluent and desirable spaces and indirectly colonizing the bodies that inhabit these spaces. Thus, comprehensive independent investigations into invisible pollutants, such as the study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, are instrumental in foregrounding the intricate links between environmental and social justice issues in the context of “the complicated relationships among poverty, race, illness, and pollution,” including an emphasis on “how the effects of soil and water contamination and toxic waste tend to be felt most severely by poor communities, which are disproportionately composed of color” (Alison Kafer qtd. in Cella).
To say that race and class manifest themselves in the disproportionate burden of environmental and human health risk associated with industrial production is not new. The environmental justice movement in the United States was, as many theorists suggest, conceived during the summer of 1982 in Warren County, North Carolina, where community members
13 Recent research also confirms earlier findings that toxins found in plastic can cause birth defects and developmental problems in children. 14 I locate the perpetrators of this violence predominantly in the global North among European countries, the United States, as well as the rising economic superpowers, including China and Russia. 7 joined together to protest the selection of Warren county as a site for the construction of a toxic waste landfill “against the wishes of local citizens, who felt that the predominantly black, poor, and rural Warren County was chosen for political, not ecological, reasons” (Pezzullo 13;
Bullard). Pezzullo describes the wider social impact and consequences this local resistance movement had in the following manner:
Warren County’s story brought heightened awareness on an international level
that suggested patterns of environmental degradation had been—and continued to
be—predicated upon social discrimination over ecological considerations. In
particular, Warren County’s story helped set the stage for activists who were
fighting what became known as “environmental racism”: “racial discrimination in
environmental policymaking, the enforcement of regulations and laws,
the…targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities, the official
sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our
communities [i.e., those of people of color], and the history of excluding people
of color from leadership of the environmental movement.” (13)
Consistent in its underpinnings of racial configurations, the concept of environmental racism is widely acknowledged across social and cultural contexts. For example, Winona LaDuke reports in her work, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), about a Seneca social worker who created the term “ethnostress” in her practice on the Cattaraugus reservation to describe the feeling of powerlessness in the face of structural inequalities prevalent on
Indigenous reservations. Referencing “ethnostress,” LaDuke elaborates,
[t]hat’s what you feel when you wake up in the morning and you are still Indian,
and you still have to deal with stuff about being Indian—poverty, racism, death,
8 the government, and strip-mining. You can’t just hit the tennis courts, have lunch,
and forget about it. You will still have to go home. (90) 15
Consequently, LaDuke’s statement calls attention to the double-edged challenges she faces as the result of her Indian-ness: as the number and risks connected to Native Indian disenfranchisement from the land along race and color lines increases, LaDuke must continually speak to the real-life dilemmas that confront Indigenous communities on a local and transnational scale, while trying to capture the complexities of her Indigenous identity. In doing so, LaDuke explores the unquestioned assumptions that underpin oppressive relationships between colonizer and colonized (L. Smith). She advises that both the annihilation of colonization and the ongoing trauma of its legacy must be defined as issues of environmental and social injustice, because they are not only stifling Indigenous identity, but also impeding on a broader canvas the advancement of people of color. 16 According to Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Indigenous “projects,” sets of various
Indigenous methodologies and practices, loosely follow and employ Indigenous principles and parameters as coordinates and create sustainable communities, diagnose Indigenous trauma, and approach healing as a process for restoring degenerative relationships. L. Smith envisions the possibility for Indigenous peoples to claim space for articulation of their own stories of how eco- devastation affects their communities and to recast what it means to be Indigenous and a minority in her important work, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
(2012), which I will discuss in more detail in chapter 1, where I argue that articulations of resistance effectively take place via L. Smith’s projects of decolonization.
15 Winona LaDuke maintains that “most statistics place reservations in the Third World economically, something that the energy and mining corporations understood when they negotiated leases on Native lands. Land- and natural resource-rich, the Northern Cheyenne continue to live in immense material poverty” (90). 16 While the term “people of color” is sometimes used as an umbrella term to refer to diverse groups of racial minorities, it is problematic because it elides differences and fails to effectively communicate information about these groups as a whole or individually runs the risk of reproducing homogenizing discourse. Whenever possible, I will refer to the specific identity label preferred by the respective minority group. 9 If home is generally thought of as a place to reconnect, recharge, and heal, then many racial minorities are deprived of this sense of home place because the social and geographical spaces they inhabit are disproportionately the undesired parts of the metropolis in close vicinity to landfills, waste dumps, power plants, oil refineries, highways, industrial smoke stacks, and factories. For example, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control published in
2013, more than 5 million people of color—among them large numbers of African Americans,
Hispanics, and Indigenous peoples—live within 150 meters of a major US highway. Moreover, environmental scientists at the University of Minnesota published a nationwide study in April
2014, showing that people of color are exposed to forty-six percent more of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide, or NO 2, which is created by combustion in vehicles and power plants, than white 17 people (Clark). Remarkably, the analysis of the results shows that “the exposure gap between races was far larger than the gap between income brackets” (Lurie). 18 So while economic status plays less of a role, race is a principal factor for determining who receives toxins based on the location of home. 19 In this way, when productively read together, the narrative of the minority women leaders I recounted earlier becomes a vital and discernible subtext for the
Vancouver guerilla protest to highlight both the significance of racialized and gendered interspecies embodiment and “emplacement” (Cella)—a term I use to acknowledge how the
“[p]roduction of space is a mutually central matter in how homophobia, misogyny, and
17 I will be using the term “white” to denote “the conscious or unconscious promotion and advancement of the beliefs, practices, values and ideals of Euro American White culture, especially when those cultural values are represented as normal” (Pierce qtd. in Harper 3). 18 According to Lurie, “NO 2 is associated with increased heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and preterm births, and is one of six ‘criteria pollutants’ that the Environmental Protection Agency regulates in accordance with the Clean Air Act.” 19 One critical aspect among others that had contributed to the racial clustering of minority groups in rather rural areas is that the descendants of these minority groups, many of them of African American descent, often moved to these places and established these ancestral homes when they were not wanted in any other parts of the community. See George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness for an accurate recounting of urban development and racist practices tied to urbanization. 10 environmental racism play out in the material world” (Estok 73)—in the context of environmental justice studies.
The goals of environmental justice activism, Bunyan Bryant states, are “served when people can realize their highest potential, without experiencing ‘isms’ [classism, racism, etc.]”
(Environmental Justice 6). While raising awareness and fostering public engagement are important components in the fight for justice, the examination of the various interlocking processes that sanction violence against bodies is a call by environmental justice academic and activist Robert D. Bullard. Stressing the importance of a practice of democracy, Bullard notes how
[t]he goal of an environmental justice framework is to make environmental
protection more democratic. More important, it brings to the surface the ethical
and political questions of ‘who get what, why, and in what amount.’ Who pays
for, and who benefits from, technological expansion? ( Unequal Protection 11)
Similarly, and even more forcefully, environmental justice activist and writer Lois Marie Gibbs specifies the questioning of the “who” and “why” in a section well worth quoting in its entirety:
We can’t shut down the sources of dioxin [i.e., toxic pollution] without finding
the courage to change the way government works. To begin this process of
change, we have to create a national debate, community by community, on the
nature of our government and society. We have to explore how people became
powerless as the corporations became powerful. We have to discuss why our
government protects the right to pollute more than it protects our health. We have
to figure out how to speak honestly and act collectively to rebuild our democracy.
(Gibbs, Dying from Dioxin , xxi, emphasis added)
11 Because discrimination and civil rights are often not the first issue raised in discussions about waste dumping, climate change, or toxic bodily pollution received by people of color, the questions Gibbs raises are integral to the principal aims of this project, which are to empower people and to rebuild democracy as part of recovery and healing. Moreover, the history of grassroots mobilization and legislature in favor of protecting citizen’s health from pollution teaches that public protest, in conjunction with public opinion, is what delivers progress, not one in isolation from the other. 20
I begin with the display of guerilla activism in tandem with the story of the environmental justice minority women leaders because attending to the interrelations of these texts that I refer to as “ecomentaries” 21 to describe those visual, written, symbolic, and metaphorical texts engaged with the documentation of environmental injustices helps me foreground some of the fundamental concerns of my study: its need for an interconnected environmental justice approach that attends to the needs of human and nonhuman life forms; its focus on increasing visibility about the harmful effects of toxins and pollution; and its emphasis on creative works to promote justice through a variety of different venues (text, visual, oral,
20 Drawing on a local example, in 1980, the Cincinnati Post published a series of articles reporting Cincinnati as the cancer capital of the United States, as the city had the highest per capita cancer death rate in the country (Buchanan). Following a series of hearings instigated by a city council member to investigate the matter, the need for federal and state toxic chemical right-to-know standards became evident. Despite seemingly unsurmountable opposition from powerful Cincinnati-based corporations, such as Procter & Gamble, and the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, a strong right-to-know ordinance was passed in Cincinnati that later became the model for laws in other major Ohio cities. The passing of this important law was made possible by the tireless efforts of grassroots organizations, such as Ohio Citizen Action, who worked with their allies “in neighborhoods, firefighters, and labor unions” during the “contentious two-year campaign” (Buchanan). After the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, public scrutiny and questioning of corporate waste practices in the United States furthermore propelled the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), an initiative on the federal level that requires industries to publically disclose their use of toxins. Even though introduced three decades earlier, these campaigns continue to deliver tangible outcomes, such as emission reductions, regulated disposal of hazardous waste materials, and increased efforts to educate the public about health risks associated with environmental pollution, which highlight the integral role of a growing grassroots movement. As Sarah Buchanan, former executive director of Ohio Citizen Action, likes to point out ,“Since the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was established in the late 1980’s, the yearly reporting of toxic chemical pollution has become the most potent tool we have for getting companies to reduce their pollution.” In a climate that consistently erodes citizen rights and promotes the deregulation of government and state control in corporate matters, political activism plays a vital role in democratic decision making and the protection of minorities from hazardous pollution. 21 My original concept. 12 traditional, social media, and film). The deep entanglements 22 —the dialectic of place and body, or emplacement and embodiment (materiality)—and the dialectic of environment and empire
(ideology)—form the basis for what I call the paradigm of toxic entanglements. 23 Toxic entanglements stand for an array of symbolic and non-symbolic entanglements present on earth, in principal the pervasive transnational effects of neo-liberalism 24 as seen in the tangled material conditions of global food and water shortage, cross-species bodily pollution, and co-opted
Indigenous land rights, issues that demand immediate attention and that activists seek to mitigate through transnational dialogue and activism on Indigenous food sovereignty, species justice, and
Indigenous ownership of the land. I wish to engage with these toxic entanglements and, in doing so, ally myself with those critical theorists and activists who see the need for transforming these neo-colonial relationships in the movement toward justice for women 25 , peasants, and
My primary contention is that the unearthing and scrutiny of toxic entanglements in ecomentaries, particularly those conceptualized by minority women writers and activists, provide a key method through which to untangle or deconstruct norms of imperial colonization, while promoting ethical treatment of the natural world. Many of these women are finding creative and resilient ways for agricultural models to work in harmony with natural systems, for saving
22 In my development of the term “toxic entanglements,” I am indebted to Marti Kheel, who in Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective (2008) discusses the entanglements of male violence, sexism, and the killing and eating of animals. My concept of “entanglements” thus derives from her idea that different kinds of entanglements are not disparate but connected. 23 My original concept. 24 Neo-liberalism, defined by David Harvey (2005) as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (2), further situates this project. 25 As Patricia Hill Collins suggests in Black Feminist Thought (2010), Black feminist viewpoints are not exclusive to Black women, but must have Black women at their center as agents of production and as subjects of discourse (33- 37). Similarly, even though men are also structurally affected by neo-liberal inequalities, my analysis uses a feminist Indigenous lens to focus on those groups who tend to have the least political allies based on their race, gender, class, species, and sex, to render their subjectivities empowered and visible. 13 biodiversity, curbing dependence on fossil fuels, and creating localized economies showing the inherent immeasurable tenacity Indigenous knowledge possess for delivering sustainable pasts and futures (Patel “Misanthopocene”). I chose literature written by women activists to address the relative lacunae of discussions involving voices from the global South and Indigenous peoples, as these disenfranchised groups receive the most toxins, and because they offer some of the most vital responses to environmental justice in contemporary literature and activist writing and text production. The paradigm of toxic entanglements dismantles violence inflicted through the privileging of certain types of knowledges (i.e., dominant Anglo-American epistemologies), reexamines “the grand narrative that has only belonged to the most privileged male writers in the past” (Linda Hogan, “Earthing History” xv), and captures the representational challenges created by the deep, “invisible” 26 entanglement between environmental violence, social injustice, and the specific challenges women face in shaping habitable, non-anthropocentric futures.
“Earth Democracy” as Nonviolent Resistance
Roland Barthes predicts the unitary triumph of plastic, as well as its power to mold everything “even life itself” to fit its logic. In an essay titled “Plastic” written in 1957 from his essay collection Mythologies (1972), he writes with uncanny vision,
Plastic is wholly swallowed up in the fact of being used: ultimately, objects will
be invented for the sole pleasure of using them. The hierarchy of substance is
abolished: a single one replaces them all: the whole world can be plasticized, and
even life itself” (99).
“The hierarchy of substance is abolished: a single one replaces them all” resembles today’s industrial monopolies, where one conglomerate swallows the other competitors and increases
26 Nixon contends that slow violence is characterized by its “relative invisibility” and thus calls for an engagement of the “representational, narrative, and strategic challenges” posed by it (2). 14 prices on rice, or one expensive Monsanto-patented seed replaces the diversity of thousands of other free seeds, or several watch stations are substituted by a singular, panoptic watchtower—as strategies to internalize the “industrial logic” (Lavin 83). As a singular hegemonic and narrow definition of development, predicated on neo-liberal theory that well-being is best advanced by privileging commercial, private property rights and liberalizing markets, replacing all other ideologies, plastic, then, becomes a rich signpost for a mind-set of devaluation as it is a system that values only what it can commodify or plasticize.
In this mind-set, living organisms—humans, animals, and nature—get molded into objects that are leveled and recast “for the sole pleasure of using them,” literally and metaphorically plasticized (read: toxically entangled and polluted) from the inside-out for profits and with complete disregard for suffering, questions of sentience, as well as for disastrous transnational, long-term effects on ecosystems (e.g. water usage in meat production). The same mind-set is responsible for the destruction caused by resource extraction, such as uranium mining, as this mind-set, a perverse system of economic valuation, measures progress only through economic terms, which, according to Shiva, “hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature” (“Economic Growth”). Bankrupting peasants and farmers, as discussed by
Shiva and Patel, creates growth as does the high-speed plunder of natural resources. Vandana
Shiva explains that economic “growth” measures
the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities. Thus nature’s
amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction.
The peasants of the world, who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women
who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either.
A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and
15 sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not
contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of
Destruction and disease create growth, while the contributions made by women, peasants, and Indigenous peoples are reduced to invisibility. Shiva writes, “While being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust” and does not reflect a meaningful valuation; it is a soulless valuation, kin to an abstract realm that has lost touch with reality and is ultimately dispirited.
Moreover, as Shiva writes elsewhere, this kind of growth-at-all-costs policy has invoked a climate, energy, and food crisis that Shiva calls a triple threat to life on earth. It has undermined human rights efforts to compensate victims of industrial pollution because, as Shiva argues, corporate globalization “is based on new enclosures of the commons, enclosures which are based on exclusion and are based on violence” ( Earth Democracy 2). Even though the following can be said of all three crises, Shiva points out that “[t]he food crisis reflects a deeper crisis—the creation of ‘redundant’ or disposable people and, alongside them, the potential for violence and social and political instability” ( Soil Not Oil 2).
In general, powerful transnational and national economic actors gravitate around incentive-driven agriculture transformation through commodity speculation that depresses prices and suffocates the viability of traditional native agriculture. The poorest regions are those highly dependent on the export of agricultural products, so-called food staples or soft commodities, ranging from grains and corn to sugar and coffee that are vulnerable to fluctuating food prices.
As expansive deregulation opened the gateway for private equity funds to invest in agriculture while maintaining the ability to speculate on food prices, prices spiked at record heights in recent years, exacerbating the disastrous effects of the global food crisis and drastically amplifying
16 existing inequalities. 27 The global economic pressures derived from a cash economy result in a variety of disastrous consequences, because in order to keep up with the stringent demands for market and economic expansion, as well as their own day-to-day survival, peasants get trapped.
Lacking alternative choices, peasants are forced to push the extraction of natural resources to a maximum at the expense of environmental stress and destruction, whilst the valuable goods are exported to wealthier countries at unreasonably low prices. The regions that most depend on international flows of finance then see capital flow dwindle, which intensifies the weakened possibilities for improved infrastructure and hampers the already depressed economy, forcing it to limp along, handicapped. The other aspect of the shortsighted goal for quick profits irreversibly degrades and depletes land, water, and forest resources. Through overutilization, the landscape is gutted of its capacity to sustain and becomes unusable. For instance, deforestation for fuel leads to soil erosion that propels the washing away of important nutrients the land needs in order to regenerate. The common consequences for deforestation and other overuses are acidification and desertification that render the land inhabitable and unusable for the local population (Shiva, Staying Alive ).
Arguing that the climate, energy, and food crisis need to be responded to collaboratively and holistically, Shiva writes, “We can and must respond creatively to the triple crisis and simultaneously overcome dehumanization, economic inequality, and ecological catastrophe”
27 In his article “Goldman Bankers Get Rich Betting on Food Prices as Millions Starve,” journalist Tom Bawden sheds light on the specificities of the correlation of large-scale investments and price shocks. As he observes, bank and investment companies usually deny any links between cash investments and food prices, but Bawden, along with countless theorists (e.g., De Schueller, Patel), insists, “[T]he influx of cash into food has increased demand so much that it has inevitably pushed up the prices.” More specifically, he writes, “[I]nstitutions such as Goldman have channeled more than $200bn of cash into the [food market trade] area. This investment has coincided with a significant and sustained rise in global food prices.” Highlighting the priorities of finance trading, Bawden refers to the case of Swiss trading giant Glencore, which made headlines in 2012 when “its head of agriculture proclaimed that the US drought will be ‘good for Glencore.’” In other words, Glencore confirmed the preeminent standing of economic relations in which profit trumps humanitarian and ecological crisis. After garnering heavy criticism from activists and grassroots organizations, Barclays was among the first banks to announce it would cease speculation on food; however, it remains unclear whether the bank will offer these investment services to its clients in the future (Bawden). 17 (Soil Not Oil 3). Similarly, my study emphasizes the importance of a balanced, holistic approach, yet due to the limited scope of the project, it primarily focuses on the significance of place in the larger debate of the transnational effects of eco-devastation. I contend that the antidote to toxic entanglements, in other words the paradigm for survival in direction of healing, is found in the important relationship to place (land), because as Kovach maintains, “[p]lace links present with past and our personal self with kinship groups” (61). Shiva’s extensive work guides my understanding of nonviolent resistance through a land-based approach located in sustainable agricultural practices, as a model of democratic, creative energy that is “refusing to be uprooted, refusing to be turned into disposable people, offering another paradigm and worldview—of power and wealth, of nature and culture” ( Soil Not Oil 3). She further suggests that “the most creative and necessary work that humans do is to work with the soil as co-producers of nature,” and thus urges for an “Earth Democracy,” which she defines as “both an ancient worldview and an emergent political movement for peace, justice, and sustainability” ( Earth Democracy 1).
This paradigm relies on equitable shared resources that do not rely on the unnecessary movement of goods and capital. Thus, it challenges the mind-set of devaluation to dispute its mechanisms that range from a politically charged desire to render oceans, forests, and mountains, first extractive spaces, to an inability to imagine these spaces as protection-worthy sites of respectful political, economic, physical, and cultural engagement. Using these foundations, I believe that the ecomentaries that are presented in my study show support for this nonviolent strategy and provide case studies to show how the tactics look when they are enacted in the landscape.
18 Counternarratives, 28 as contributions to the process of restoring and healing, are needed to account for the experience of those who are affected by toxic entanglements, those omitted from the hegemonic narratives of progress as cultural histories, knowledges, and traditions
(conducive to identity and community building) are increasingly infiltrated by capitalist consumer logic (premised on consumption, profits, brand loyalty, and fragmentation) that replaces cultural “knowings” 29 with hypersensationalized and hypersanitized, fragmented media pieces and advertisings that come to form the totality of hegemonic stories of progress. As cultural histories and knowledges are intricately interlaced with sense of place, grounding peoples in their lands, identities, and values, the infiltration is a way of uprooting people from their lands—where their communal and social networks are based—which makes them especially vulnerable to hegemonic exploitation and displacement. In what ways are minority groups resisting the effects of global expansion and changing ecologies? Which creative paths do women choose to give voice to issues with low visibility? Who inhabits polluted (inhabitable) spaces, and who is denied access to resourceful (habitable) spaces, such as the commons? Also, what do industrial compounds and toxins represent in the polluted bodies? And finally, who is producing knowledge, and how is it linked to the authorization of violence?
My dissertation attempts to disentangle and answer these questions by examining a range of ecomentaries by contemporary women of color writers and writer-activists. Spanning texts from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, this study is situated in a period that has been shaped by heightened processes of globalization and depletion of the commons, dominant
28 My use of the term counternarrative here may bring to mind issues of subaltern speech with regard to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's work. Not all counternarratives will be regarded as such, and I will speak about Spivak in chapter 2. 29 “Knowings” is a term Kovach uses to describe a type of deeply intuitive knowledge associated with Indigenous philosophies on space and time, metaphysics, and an energy source known as the sacred. More specifically, according to Kovach, this “energy reveals itself as knowings stored deep within a collective unconscious and surfaces through dreams, prayer, ceremonial ritual, and happenings” (57; emphasis added). 19 and shrill media spectacles 30 , and expanding power of national and transnational corporations, as well as rising movements of intervention and change. In responding to these contexts, the ecomentaries assist in deepening our understanding and inspiring lasting change. As unjust and unhealthy economic (growth) systems are slowly eating away landscapes through privatization and degradation, this project claims space for articulations of resistance as a contribution to movements that seek justice in directions of intervention and healing. It contributes to revisionist history that includes articulations of resistance and stories of physical and cultural survival as exemplified in my study by movements such as the Via Campesina and the intervention of the
Mirarr. My project examines the intersection of literary and nonliterary narratives with social, economic, and historical contexts to contribute to a nuanced understanding of how the exploitation of nature is linked to the exploitation of people, in particular women and other marginalized groups. The ecomentary genres and metagenres I address are diverse—the polemic, the essay, the docu-fiction, the nonfictional, multimodal collage. These writer-activists, from geographically wide-ranging locations in North America, Asia, and Oceania, underscore the
Indigenous voices that will be centralized throughout this study to address the unequal burden of environmental degradation on isolated local and overspilling transnational scales predominantly affecting the global South. Using the transnational effects of eco-devastation as guiding rails, the trajectory of this study opens into broad geographical terrain to permit a holistic understanding of the causes and effects of social devaluation and environmental degradation and the interrelatedness of some struggles despite geographical distance.
Through their contestation with established discourses and relations of power (including knowledge production), writer-activists—to paraphrase Nixon—assist in amplifying
30 Nixon argues for the need to reconceptualize violence, as violence is often only registered as such if it adheres to explosive, sensational, visual spectacles (3). 20 media-marginalized issues to boost the visibility of the environmentally dispossessed, to engage in intellectual dialogue with decolonizing methodologies and alternative epistemologies, and to dismantle exploitive human-nature relationships through reexamining the dominant rationalist knowledge systems derived from Western European continental thought. The result of productively reading these texts together is a form of literature that provides a useful space of interrogation in emerging discussions regarding dangers of contemporary neo-liberal deregulation, the rhetoric of expendable species, and uneven 31 burdens of environmental pollution.
I have attempted to follow a specific protocol in the use of capitalization in terms like
“Indigenous” and “Aboriginal.” Many Indigenous theorists like Linda Tuhiwai Smith and
Margaret Kovach have specified the use of this terminology. I have capitalized the terms
“Indigenous,” and “Aboriginal” and use both terms as a general reference to Indigenous communities, even as I acknowledge that the latter is a colonial term. Smith notes how
“Indigenous,” “Aboriginal,” and “Native Peoples,” or “First Nations,” are problematic terms because they tend to collectivize and elide “many distinct populations whose experiences under imperialism have been vastly different” (6). “Indigenous peoples” is a term focusing on the international struggle of colonized peoples, enabling “the collective voices of colonized people to be expressed strategically in the international arena.” The plural “s” in “peoples” is not only significant because of the right of peoples to self-determination, but, according to Smith, “it is also used as a way of recognizing that there are real differences between different indigenous peoples” (7). I ally myself with those theorists and activists who align themselves with Franke
Wilmer’s assertion, as quoted by Smith, that “Indigenous peoples represent the unfinished
31 I use the imagery of the adjective “uneven” to denote the uneven or unequal burden of pollution as low-income communities are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. 21 business of decolonization” (7). On the basis of acknowledging the specificities and differences between different peoples, I use terms like “Mirarr” and “Cree,” which are names by which
Indigenous communities refer to themselves and are specific to particular regions and states.
This project is a sustained quarrel with imperial knowledge systems 32 and is, thus, located where a number of discourses merge, converge, and diverge to advance the thinking and understanding about the relationship between literature, animals/humans, and culture. On the basis of acknowledging three distinct issues that each inform one of my subsequent chapters— food sovereignty, species justice, and Indigenous ownership of land—while providing a thematic and theoretical common thread, this dissertation project engages with colonial notions of national identity, legacies of ecological destruction, and the way in which discursive modes operate to reduce these complex issues into false dichotomies. Such a project, however, was difficult to conceive without attention to its numerous predications and the various debates in the fields of cultural studies, environmental feminism, postcolonial studies, animal studies, and Aboriginal studies that inform it. I have attempted, therefore, to work at the intersections of these debates in terms of their relevance to this project and consider them through a kaleidoscope of varying angles and perspectives in terms of gender, sexuality, race, and speciesism in order to contribute to the expansion of the field and its multiple horizons for current liberatory theories in the fields of social eco-justice.
At one level, my interest in such a project stems from my own scholarly awakening as a consequence of a feminist theory seminar 33 I enrolled in during my first year of graduate studies.
I was enthralled by the field’s emphasis on theory and practice, illustrated through its rigorous fostering of feminist activist pedagogical impulses applicable to teaching in the undergraduate
32 This phrase alludes to a phrase Anne McClintock employs with reference to her work Imperial Leather . She writes, “In many respects, the book [ Imperial Leather ] is a sustained quarrel with the project of imperialism….” (4). 33 Women’s and Gender Studies 7150, Spring 2008. 22 classroom. Feminist theory presented itself as a host of different currents and directions (Marxist feminism, ecofeminism, and cross-cultural feminism) and alliances, most prominently queer studies. The possibilities for critical engagement seemed vast and endless. Not until a few years later, however, a graduate seminar on postcolonial literature and theory titled “Postcolonial
Anxieties: Unpacking Europe/Unyoking Africa” 34 led by Prof. Myriam J. A. Chancy, radically changed my perception about the realities of interlocking oppressions. In the context of a long history of brutal imperial domination by European colonizers, conveyed in the vibrant prose of
Things Fall Apart , complicity in oppression acquired a new meaning for me. As I have noted in a self-reflective piece written as part of the seminar,
Every time I explain that I am from Germany faces light up. People outside the
academy become nostalgic and tell me that their ancestors are from Ireland,
France, or Germany. People inside the academy become positively interested and
ask me about my research interests. Being from Europe I am imagined to be
among the “enlightened” ones.
In essence, here, I write about a moment of deep realization that I am part of the colonizer culture, part of an engrained system, a recognition of my privilege, as well as my complicity, and retrace my own colonization of being and knowing back to identify education as an ideologically contested site:
I am a student of colonial ideologies; then: passively colonized/now: actively
deconstructing. I am an emerging scholar. I wonder how tainted my education is.
How tainted with Eurocentric and neo-colonialist ideologies. My education is
both, indeed. 35
34 Comparative Literature 7120, Spring 2009. 35 I would like to note that my exploratory narrative is an emulation of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s writings. 23 As a way out of the dilemma, my reflection suggests the strategy of actively destabilizing the center and unlearning colonial paradigms. Of course, the solution is not as simple; nonetheless, the critical engagement with the course material not only gave me a first set of tools to dismantle the master’s house 36 , it also instilled in me the quiet grasp that struggles for liberation and justice do transcend the role of the individual. They are fights for a greater common good (to borrow
Arundhati Roy’s monograph title, The Greater Common Good ) well worth fighting for, as it is those who act that bring about lasting change and justice. Today, I have a more nuanced understanding of the Anglo-American lust for homogeneity and control, but dismantling its inherent complexities continues to be challenging work.
Listening to the stories of my elders introduced me to worlds so far removed from contemporary German life, they were difficult to imagine as a child. War, an abstract unimaginable concept, the suffering intangible in light of modern-day safety and conveniences in
1990s Germany, the stories of displacement always fragmented—fragments I never entirely pieced together. As my maternal grandmother was the eldest of four young siblings, the role of the caretaker fell to her. Fleeing Soviet invasion during WWII, my great grandmother fled with her children westwards, reaching Dresden in February 1945, a few days before the bombing of the city. They were seeking refuge in the city center when the three-day air strike reduced the city of Dresden to rubble, claiming the lives of more than 22,000 victims. During the telling of this particular story, my grandmother usually gasps in disbelief: “All the women and all the children! They [US Army Air Forces and British Royal Air Force] knew the city was filled with refugees fleeing from the Soviets.” My grandmother solemnly shakes her head, “Nonetheless, they bombed the city center where most refugees were huddled together . . . where all the women and all the children were seeking refuge!” In these gloomy stories of war, the greatest moments
36 With this phrasing, I allude to Audre Lorde’s writing. 24 of despair seemed to also evoke moments of spirited, genuine compassion, such as farmers, strangers, and soldiers secretly giving food to the uprooted and displaced women, children, and elderly, even though the official political and military orders dictated to starve the German population. As my grandmother and her siblings typically like to emphasize (even though they themselves, as children, barely had anything to eat), continuously living on the brink of starvation, they often shared the little scraps of food they did find with their pet rabbits, a minor but significant detail among other similar stories, documenting the empathy and compassion for animals that interlaces the family record.
My family histories instilled in me sensitivity toward records of suffering and injustice, as well as resistance and perseverance. A story that always stayed with me was that of an elderly family acquaintance and animal welfare activist, who described to me how she broke her foot, jumping out of a second-floor window as she was trying to escape from a Polish soldier seeking to rape her. My maternal great grandfather lost his practice as a physician after refusing to sympathize with the Nazi regime. My grandfather, forced into war as a young soldier, was captured by the Soviets and deported to a labor camp in Siberia. Miraculously, he not only escaped from the camp, but through the help and goodwill of countless individuals, families, and farmers, he managed to make his way back 3,500 miles (5,600 km) to southern Germany, where he and my grandmother later reunited in the small town they had first met. I retell these histories because they help situate my cultural knowledge, my ancestors’ ties to the land, as well as encapsulate and thematically foreground the historical experience of displacement, and the legacies of resistance and healing as universal experiences across space and time—across space time. These historical inscriptions form a collective memory for survival. They teach the importance of storytelling, the significance of empathy and compassion, and awareness of how
25 ideologies shape perceptions, include and exclude, privileging certain groups and certain knowledges.
My study, therefore, actively seeks to contribute to the growing interdisciplinary field that studies global justice movements and to be a respectful, supportive ally to decolonizing efforts of multiple communities, primarily Indigenous communities, in contributing to empowerment, self-determination, as well as healing by boosting the visibility of these—in
Anglo-American academic circles still often marginalized and foreclosed possibilities for— alternative epistemes and ontologies. Western continental academia is defined through a history, through institutional practices and specific paradigms and approaches that privilege Western
European or Western continental knowledge over all other forms of research and inquiry. As a student of German education, and as someone who operates within an Anglo-American academic system, the format of my project adheres to Western continental academic rules, yet in its methodology and critical inquiry it follows the postmodern practices of reflexivity, dialogue and collaboration, and transdisciplinarity in a feminist, decolonizing effort to bringing to the center Indigenous values and approaches. In its attempt to be non-phallogocentric, the project contributes to the dissection and analysis of how “human societies have constructed themselves in hierarchical relation to other societies, both human and non-human” (Huggan and Tiffin). In other words, this project is interested in examining the postcolonial condition of gendered and anthropocentric oppression ( speciesism ) in transnational contexts in relation to the ecological crisis and examining how this relationship is channeled in literary texts. As a project that subscribes itself to a decolonizing agenda, the following selection of texts was steered by an interest in literary and visual productions that, rather than speak for the subaltern subject, speak with the subject to amplify the voices of “those who have been victimized by neoliberal
26 globalization, be they indigenous peoples, landless peasants, impoverished women, squatter settlers, sweatshop workers or undocumented immigrants” (Boaventura de Sousa Santos 30).
In recognition of how environmental injustices are prone to escalating beyond national borders, this project is “self-consciously ‘global’” (Marciniak, Imre, and O'Healy 2) and committed to the examination of the transnational effects of neo-liberal policies; thus, I chose to focus on geographically widespread sites of resistance including South Africa, Japan, Australia, the United States, and in minor key, India and Turkey, among others, because they offer different responses to eco-devastation, while highlighting parallel realities of environmental struggles in these different geopolitical places. Interdisciplinary in thought and methodology, chapter 1 bring together different strands of academic theory to delineate a framework receptive to the unearthing of toxic entanglements. As the titles of my chapters suggest, I identify three key sites of consternation and resistance: (un)tangled legacies, (un)tangled bodies, and (un)tangled places.
These sites require close analysis because their entangling teaches us about the condition of oppression and paths for liberation. In the subsequent chapters, each ecomentary is treated as an example for a particular paradigm of survival based on Indigenous, women’s, and peasant knowledges rooted in these specific geographic location: spiritual dream worlds (Ishimure, Lake of Heaven /Japan), cross-alliance solidarity (Ozeki, My Year of Meats /United States and Japan), and self-controlled representation and meaning making (the Mirarr/Australia). These paradigms then each intersect with toxic entanglements in two or more ways as each ecomentary untangles access to commons (Baartman/South Africa), hydroelectric damming (Ishimure/Japan), factory farming (Ozeki/United States), land right claims (The Mirarr/Australia). The study is in principal framed by two nonfiction ecomentaries including one real-life account of resistance
27 (Baartman/South Africa and the Mirarr/Australia), and complemented by two fictional ecomentaries (Ishimure/Japan/1997 and Ozeki/United States/Japan/1991).
Chapter 1, “(Un)Tangled Theories: Framing Theories of Toxic Entanglements:
Paradigms of Survival, Environmental Violence, and Indigenous/ Posthumanist 37 Directions,” untangles genealogies of feminist and ecofeminist critical theory, as well as examines its relationship to postcolonial ecocriticism, Indigenous epistemologies, and animal studies as inquiry into establishing a loose framework of what these different critical theories can offer one another to advance research in these fields and to put us on a more just path toward global eco- justice. As part of my discussion, I introduce Hélène Cixous’s concept of the “ immonde ” and propose an “ethics of the unknown” as advanced by the German philosopher David Richard
Precht and, in so doing, further contribute to the ecofeminist paradigm for survival. The goal is to stake out a theoretical framework that speaks to the experience and needs of women, peasants 38 , Indigenous peoples, as well as species justice—all those who are bearing the brunt of the social and environmental crisis.
In the next chapter, “(Un)Tangled Legacies: Politics of Common Access, Sarah Baartman and Restoration in Michiko Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven ,” I argue that retracing the genealogies of
South Africa’s first environmental protection vessel unravels how the ship’s trajectory is intimately entwined with the nation’s complex history of post-apartheid trauma and investment in Anglo-American neo-liberal colonization, a toxic amalgamation of ideologies permitting the high-speed plunder of the nation state’s resources. In this context, I show how these locally and
37 Posthumanist theorists grapple with “the question of the animal” and propose that to arrive at a posthumanist condition, it is necessary to see all species on a continuum of being. As a form of theory, it claims to overcome anthropocentrism by removing privilege or ethical consideration granted to the human subject over other beings. Transhumanism is more concerned with the biotechnological side of interacting organisms. 38 “Peasants” is a critical term I employ to refer to this coherent social group as a class, while recognizing the power that arises from these movements as they are able to effectively organize and resist the status quo.
28 transnationally produced ideologies connect on a global scale to reason and justify attritional practices of forest stripping, megadam industrialization, seed privatization, and petro conquest, and how faced with this kind of parochialism and waning possibilities for the environmentally dispossessed, particularly those located in the global South, writer-activists such as Arundhati
Roy, Michiko Ishimure, and Vandana Shiva use their visibility as public intellectuals to bring to the forefront these marginalized issues, while refusing to subordinate the interwoven questions of environmental and social justice to the priorities of modern industrialization (Nixon). Ishimure’s novel, Lake of Heaven (translated 2008; the original Japanese edition, Tenko , 1997), set in the aftermath of a flooded village in the Japanese mountains due to a dam, exemplifies the struggles of those displaced by new imperialistic technology and how healing arises through Indigenous spiritual practices and rituals. Through the imagery she evokes, Ishimure seeks to create a web- like connection between land and water; humans, animals, and nature—a larger tableau of interconnectedness that serves as safety net and refuge for the culturally, politically, and economically alienated.
“(Un)Tangled Bodies: Transnational Mediascapes, Environmental Justice, and the
Consumption of ‘Meats’” argues that Ruth Ozeki’s novel My Year of Meats serves as a cautionary tale that reveals the limitations of profitable exploitation, while documenting how uneven transnational pollution across the Pacific US-Japanese Rim becomes the common denominator, violently entangling human and nonhuman life forms, as the pollution permeates the lives of those who lack the political and social alliances to protect themselves from the assaults. I suggest that Ozeki implicitly promotes an Indigenous relational model of existence as her work attempts to bridge human and nonhuman spheres, two domains that Ozeki alludes are interconnected: the women in the novel are treated like animals (deemed as “available meat”),
29 and animals are knowingly and unknowingly fed the same hormones women are given. My analysis engages in a vigorous cross-species examination to carve out the links between carnivorism and subjectivity, as both women and animals are subject to discursive and representational modes that reduce their complex lives to docile bodies with mere fleshy existences that adhere to a dominant patriarchal norm. These bodies are regarded through a normative prism, which renders them as “meats” and all the various connotations that “meats” come to occupy. Ozeki traces the violence this normativity implicates and proposes culturally transformative and subversive uses to which the erosion of boundaries might be put and how transnational cross-cultural solidarity can be an effective way to respond to bodily toxic intrusions.
After analyzing literary representations and nonfictional text production as site of neo- liberal contestation, I turn to a real-life account of resistance in chapter 4, “(Un)Tangled Places and Stories: Mapping Mirarr Resistance through Ecocide, Indigenous Methods, and Alternative
Media Interventions,” set in the context of the modern Australian settler nation-state. Faced with the peril of mining on their lands despite their opposition, the Mirarr Aboriginal people of
Australia’s Northern Territory, a small group of traditional owners at Kakadu National Park, recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression impoverishing their people, culture, and land, was the myth of native land rights and government responsibility to protect their citizens from multinational mining interests; thus, the Mirarr dedicated their community power to dismantling these myths. Through their systematic approach of campaigning, mobilizing, and speaking out, including creating strategic alliances and effectively using media, under the auspices of accountability to the community (a poignant principle in Indigenous thought), the
Mirarr not only successfully disrupted and destabilized neo-colonial notions of Aboriginality and
30 land ownership in Australian, but they also changed power dynamics, and ultimately revised history. I contend that the Mirarr contestation serves as pivotal paradigm of public pedagogy for successful tactics of survival that takes into account the importance of a relational worldview to advance the protection of humans, nonhumans, and the environment.
My hope is that by demonstrating how environmental emergencies are entangled with socio-political emergencies, these artists deploy in a transnational fashion, a way to negotiate issues of difference, ecology, and self-determination. Foregrounded in place, my discussion of these ecomentaries aims to give a sense of how socio-environmental problems and responses have developed over time, to present what kind of remedies have been imagined in different communities, and more broadly, to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the roots, as well as the opportunities and possibilities these crises present us with by examining questions regarding the politics of neo-liberal colonialism and contestations voiced in Indigenous decolonization. My discussion of these contestations are not comprehensive, as my knowledge and understanding of these contestations can only be partial due to the limited scope of this study. In doing so, the project aims at untangling toxic relations in order to contribute to the many audacious voices and visions of political, spiritual, and ecological transformation—as I firmly believe that the time has come to acknowledge our sense of interconnection. 39
39 My call to recognize our interconnection is inspired by Winona LaDuke’s call to recognize all our relations, as well as our complicity and responsibility, in her monograph titled All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life . 31 CHAPTER 1
FRAMING THEORY :DECOLONIZING TOXIC ENTANGLEMENTS
I am, I am In wisdom I walk In beauty may I walk . . . In beauty it is restored. The light, the dawn. It is morning. —Luci Tapahonso
And so it was because of our little bird that stories became once more, an important part of all our lives, the lives of all the whanau. And although the stories all had different voices, and came from different times and places and understandings, though some were shown, enacted or written rather than told, each one was like a puzzle piece which tongued or grooved neatly to another. And this train of stories defined our lives, curving out from points on the spiral in ever-widening circles from which neither beginnings nor ending could be defined. —Patricia Grace, Potiki
Imperialism frames 40 the experiences of all creatures by entangling their being with imperial modes of knowledge(s). What we need, then, as part of the decolonization project is the kind of “stories” Patricia Grace alludes to in the epigraph above, when she argues for the epistemological power and cultural importance of storytelling. Frameworks, methodologies, teachings, and stories that have different origins, different premises, different understandings and paradigms, and different forms of dissemination, yet share the common vision of social and environmental justice, interspecies liberation, and choose to privilege silenced and marginalized voices. Stories assist us in learning how to navigate a world that privileges certain bodies (Cella), certain knowledge(s), and certain ways of being . If the act of understanding foregrounds active listening to the stories being told, then, whose stories are we listening to? Who gets “airtime” and
Linda Tuhiwai Smith famously begins the first chapter of Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples with the words, “Imperialism frames the Indigenous experience” (20). I extend Smith’s framing to include nonhuman beings. 32 who “underwrites” the messages being conveyed? Who controls which stories we listen to if we are not controlling them ourselves? This chapter is informed by my quest to dismantle the colonizing mechanisms of knowledge production via Foucault’s concepts of the limits of the human hubris and to find organic, coalescing stories of decolonization that reflect Indigenous principles and champion anthropocentric worldviews.
The Limits of Knowledge and the Effects of “Scattered Hegemonies”
In The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1970), Michel Foucault excavates the process of European knowledge production and recording by examining the emergence of the life sciences in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe alongside Europe’s pre-modern investment in difference and purifications, “marked by measurements, counts, and timings, and tracked by new forms of visibility, documentation, and accounting, all in order to make scientific knowledge possible” (Rouse 143). Foucault’s genealogy reveals how through naming things, the being of things was defined and a self-validated, universal science of order was developed and systematically institutionalized. In his work Making Natural Knowledge:
Constructivism and the History of Science (1998), Jan Golinski captures how this new order not only affected the knowledge but also the potential knowers: “[A]s disciplinary practices were instituted in the sciences, they subjected both the things that were to be known and the potential knowers to new forms of discipline” (72). Unbendingly demarcating visible and fixed boundaries between individuals, varieties, species, genera, and classes became the founding principle of modern sciences and a requirement to arrive at a maintainable information structure that permeated the visible natural object for its transcription into language. The earlier focus on the rich life of the being , showcased through careful illustrations, organic coherence of form and content, and exploration of physical and mystical dimensions of its existence, abruptly shifted to a rigid focus on verbal containment, shrinkage to facts, and degradation through filtration, 33 limitation, and universalization based on common visible denominators. The intrinsic uniqueness of a thing or being began to fade as it was increasingly tied to a universal category and later to economic value. For example, this period witnessed the rise of analogizing animals with people of color in scientific, racist discourses as common practice and as a means to propagate the inferiority of non-white bodies under the umbrella of scientific research to justify the exploitation and colonization of other countries’ natural resources and peoples. This new order that controlled the being of things by setting forth that entities do not come into being until they are documented and recorded though language, while maintaining that language and discourse are the features that distinguish humans from all other beings, marked the birth of modern scientific discourse and its vexed relationship with the natural environment.
Foucault writes that before this new order had been introduced “[L]ife itself did not exist.
All that existed was living beings, which were viewed through a grid of knowledge constituted by natural history” (128). Life had certainly existed prior; however, Foucault’s larger point is that “life” as a unified object of knowledge was not constituted until then. All beings (human, animal, and natural organisms) existed in their own right and on their own terms, at most, tainted by religious dogma. With the newly established order of things, as dictated by Western European life sciences, humanist thought not only boosted itself and secured the role of the gateway keeper of knowledge and power in the Anglo-American hemisphere and beyond because it governed the knowledge production parameters, moreover, it confirmed human standing as masters of nature and its nonhuman inhabitants. The inherent anthropocentrism of this mind-set is reflected in the rigid set of rules that regulate how and under which circumstances different entities (humans and nonhumans) come into being , both physically and metaphysically, and where these beings are warranted existence in logocentric hierarchies.
34 Interestingly, Foucault concedes that the new order was entirely deliberate, that is, “any effort to establish an order in nature and to discover general categories within it, whether they be real and prescribed by obvious distinctions or a matter of convenience and quite simply a pattern produced by our imagination” (147). Citing C. Bonnet, Foucault then concludes that “our divisions into species and classes ‘are purely nominal’; they represent no more than ‘means relative to our needs and to the limitations of our knowledge’” (147). To escape charges of solipsism, scrutinizing the limitations of our knowledge, as well as analyzing its incisive contours, are tantamount to the larger argument of this project in its attempt to challenge unequal power relationships through the destabilization of hegemonic epistemologies and ontologies.
Foucault’s words emphasize the arbitrariness of the categories and divisions that were drawn, which underscores how both the recording of history, as well as the production of knowledge, are essentially highly subjective, arbitrary, and deliberate. In a Western continental context, both serve as tools in the thoroughly contested political realm of securing an unequal status quo based on Foucault’s observation that “knowledge is power.”
Toxic entanglements transcend all boundaries (bodily, spatial, temporal, geographical) and are deeply rooted in the Anglo-American neo-liberal institutionalization of knowledge production and knowledge legitimization, which is characterized by a disregard for knowledge production 41 that does not adhere to colonialist, capitalist, patriarchal paradigms. 42 In this sense, toxic entanglements are intrinsically linked to the practices of “scattered hegemonies,” a term I borrow from Grewal and Kaplan, to describe what they call, “the effects of mobile capital as well
41 Theorists, such as Linda T. Smith, Kovach, Shiva, hooks, Freire, among others, identify education as a site for liberation. 42 In an effort to dismantle the hegemonic ways knowledge is produced, Spivak examines paradigms, such as the production of knowledge in Western Europe in relation with colonialism. Spivak employs the term “worlding” to signify the dynamics of logocentrism as the basis on which knowledge from and about the world is created and disseminated. The introduction of the term and its definition is an attempt to dismantle the obscure ways epistemes are passed down as all-encompassing truths. 35 as the multiple subjectivities that replace the European unitary subject” (7). It is a system that resists transformation and continues to favor itself as it permits capitalist, multinational corporations to bargain for maximum profits, encouraging the limitless flow of transnational migration and capital by brushing away borders 43 and plundering natural resources, thereby ousting everyone but, mostly, those who are already disenfranchised, those with already limited access to power. (Neo)colonialism is intertwined with hegemonic ideologies that work to mask these imperialistic gestures in a modern disguise. The effects of imperialistic globalization and capitalist expansion are manifold and well documented, ranging from job displacement and the
“feminization” of poverty to a devastating impact of transnational corporate commerce on local and Indigenous ecosystems (Young qtd. in Huggan, 2004) to name a few social and environmental urgencies. If scattered hegemonies provide the infrastructure for unequal power dynamics that are ruled by global monetary and political interests, then toxic entanglements give an account of the tangled stories linking the exploitation of nature to the exploitation of humans, mainly marginalized and disenfranchised groups, and vice versa, as well as investigate how the capitalist logic is now operating inside and through the body of consumers and consumed. 44 It elucidates the often invisible links and relations between polluters, pollutant, and polluted. Such comes to be epitomized of all things—perhaps surprisingly—by plastic, including plastic’s long history of patenting; the petrochemical industry’s cooking up a razzle-dazzle of risky synthetic materials; the commercialization of the commons for filling the plastic bottle with water; the lax regulations overseeing the alchemy of profits and community/minority-polluting toxins 45 ; the
43 It is important to note that capital, of course, moves a lot more smoothly across borders than people, especially regarding undocumented migration. 44 A note on terminology: the “consumer” consists of the Western unitary subject that has choices and a voice. The “consumed” are those creatures who are exploited and marginalized, cast to the peripheries, including women, peasants, Indigenous, as well as animals and other living beings. 45 I allude to Patricia J. Williams’s The Alchemy of Race and Rights as environmental justice is closely intertwined with both race and rights. 36 expansive islands of plastic debris drifting in the oceans, covering the ocean floor near populated areas with sunken plastics; and the slow “dyings 46 ” caused by toxic pollution, through ingestion and exposure.
Ancient Stories Carried in New Frames
In my quest to find and create a comprehensive theoretical framework that is sufficiently attuned to respond to the complex, multilayered challenges we face in light of interconnected social and environmental urgencies, I sought answers in literary works and foundational texts.
Artists—especially writers and activists—had long before productively recognized the need to see disparate issues and ecologies as connected as they swiftly and without hesitation carved out spaces to give voice to theses interlaced urgencies.47 Nevertheless, the voices of marginalized groups and minority writers are often unheard, as they often struggle to get published, rendering their accounts sparse. Sifting through the heavy apparatus of critical theory was often a daunting and overwhelming task, usually leaving me dissatisfied as I grappled with the theoretical situation contained therein.
Often the texts acknowledged the centrality of social constructs, yet elided the contributions of women, the accounts of Indigenous peoples, or the necessity for non- anthropocentric frames. 48 Later, then, I realized that it is the very dissatisfactions I experienced— the stories that were untold or incomplete 49 —which staked out the parameters I had to unearth
46 This phrase is adapted from Nixon, who refers to “the long dyings” in his monograph, Slow Violence (2). 47 For example, Michiko Ishimure’s Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow to be discussed in chapter 2, or Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring credited as the first environmental scientific work exposing the dangers of toxic pollution and use of pesticides in the United States. I do not discuss Silent Spring in this study, as critical literature is plentiful and readily available. 48 See Gaard, Estok, and Oppermann for a timely critique regarding the lack of non-anthropocentric analytical frames. 49 Reading Myriam J. A. Chancy’s introduction From Sugar to Revolution: Women's Visions of Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic (2013) helped me articulate the struggles I was encountering as I tried to weave the different strands of theoretical thought together. 37 and analyze within other frames of theory to find productive entry points for fruitful conversations.
In what follows, I engage in a sustained wrestling with theoretical questions of representation, agency, and epistemologies across a variety of fields in literary criticism and theory. It is an exploration of what different fields of Anglo-American and non-Anglo-American critical literary inquiry have to offer one another, why they are, at times, unbridgeable, and in what ways they empower and complement each other. My goal is to stake out a theoretical framework that speaks to the experience and needs of women, peasants, and Indigenous peoples, as well as species justice—all those who are bearing the brunt of the social and environmental crisis. I introduce La Via Campesina (Spanish la vía campesina , the Peasant Way), an international peasant movement, “which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle- scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia,
Africa, America, and Europe,” (qtd. in Patel “Stop”)50 as a model that helps me foreground the pillars I seek in my investigation, as the movement is at the heart of mitigating some of these urgent interconnected crises. To date, La Via Campesina is a coalition of over 164 organizations, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, as well as advocating for food sovereignty. Food sovereignty hands the rights back to peasants to define their own food systems and to establish dignified and lasting livelihoods. Typically, the organization assists in fighting large-scale industrial farming projects that transform local peasants and farmers into employees and rural laborers. In the following, I identify five important parameters the movement offers for critical engagement. First, La Via Campensina operates on a transnational canvas in recognition of the powerful influence of economic actors. Second, the movement promotes local efforts and campaigns that are created, decided upon, and carried out by local participants rather than
50 Raj Patel regularly writes about the achievements of La Via Campesina on his blog, rajpatel.org. 38 faceless (multinational) corporations and bureaucracies. Third, the organization has an expressed feminist agenda with a separate women’s assembly (which, for example, announced the Women of Via Campesina International Manifesto during the IV Women's Assembly in Jakarta, June
2013). Fourth, Indigenous and native communities are central actors in the justice struggles, and the first summit draft included the demand of respect for traditional knowledge and insistence on agro-ecological science. Lastly, the acknowledgment of a need for and improvement of animal welfare is a focal concern.
This rise of grassroots activism for food sovereignty and sustenance living, like La Via
Campesina, requires environmental theorists to foreground cultural and political questions about democracy, land, history, and ethics. For example, which critical frameworks attend to the specific needs of rural and peasant women, who comprise the majority of farmers, and who are, despite stemming rural exodus, consistently denied the right to an education and financial credit to purchase land and machinery, and who need to find ever-new ways to mitigate the acidification of land and oceans for their survival? Which theory accounts for the history of
Indigenous struggles to reclaim their land? To fight off wealthy investors who want to sell every parcel of essence that can be commodified, disregarding and annihilating the cultural and spiritual importance of the land and its people? In what ways are narratives taking into consideration that animals are sentient beings that deserve an existence in dignity and free from harm and abuse, and acknowledges that nature carries meaning and demands respectful, ethical treatment as a source of life?
Ecofeminist Interdisciplinary Genealogies
The point of departure in my search to answer these questions is postcolonial feminist theory, which was also the starting point of my own personal education biography I briefly sketched out in the introduction. Feminist theory examines oppression based on gender, 39 sexuality, and race, which Chandra Talpade Mohanty refers to as the “holy trinity” of US academia, alluding to the charge of tokenism, which has had a stranglehold on academic politics for decades. Important debates in the 1980s and 1990s ranged from the examination of the relationship between the category “woman” and “body” including the risks of creating essentialist categories based on the body (Cixous; Grosz; Riley; Bordo), over the boosted visibility of diversity within the movement codified through Black feminism (Hill Collins; hooks; Boyce-Davies), to current conversations about multicultural feminism (Shohat; Spivak).
While the tenets and genealogies of my investigation are undeniably rooted in US feminism, international feminist ecocriticism provides a more comprehensive and conducive platform that allows me to branch out into the territories inflicted with the human-nature entanglements I seek to examine. In doing so, my project takes its cue from the multiple feminist and Indigenous voices, the earlier writers, thinkers, and environmentalists, who were at the forefront of eco- theorizing with its widespread influence on art, education, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, philosophy, animal studies, environmental studies, ecocriticism, queer theory, and gender studies. 51 I argue that understanding the vexed relationship ecofeminism has had with other branches of theory and even within its field is indicative and can teach us about other omitted and marginalized genealogies of thought and action, as well as the importance of strengthening a nonstagnant, flexible field that is responsive to its environment and takes its cue from social and environmental catastrophes, while tending to its activist impulses—in a word, a field that allows itself to be shaped by and as a response to narratives of toxic entanglement.
It is impossible to speak about feminist ecocriticism or ecofeminism without noting the different terms used with regards to this branch in the environmental humanities/critical literary studies. What adds to the confusion is that scholars often use the terms “ecofeminism” and
51 My list is adapted from Gaard. 40 “feminist ecocriticism,” “queer ecology,” and “feminist environmentalism” interchangeably and in contrary ways, making it difficult to fully understand the meaning of the terms. While the focus of my work is not to correct the historical record of ecofeminist thought 52 , I do want to contribute to increasing visibility of the disregarded accomplishments, trailblazing efforts, and visionary ideas of countless ecofeminists, as this body of work has been historically marginalized, appropriated, and omitted (the same is true for other marginalized groups, such as
Indigenous theorizing.). In the collection International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism
(2013), the editors (among them critics and activists), Greta Gaard, Simon C. Estok, and Serpil
Oppermann, survey the current state of feminist ecocriticism to illustrate the importance of feminist views, methods, and interpretations in the environmental humanities. They advocate for a reinvigorated ecofeminism, a feminist ecocriticism that attends to diversity and international perspectives. As part of the survey, Gaard excavates the genealogies of ecofeminist thought, setting the record straight that ecocriticism in North America has its roots in traditional literary studies of Anglo-American male nature writers, such as Thoreau and Emerson, and in feminist literary criticism. 53 The early works read environmental literature through a feminist lens, establishing the importance of feminist perspectives on the field of literary ecocriticism in the
1970s. As Gaard notes, over the course of the next decade, feminist literary critics formulated the term ecofeminism; it was subsequently widely used to signify the intersection of feminism and the environment, and gained much traction in the early 1990s. Its integral role was further reflected in the inaugural issue of the scholarly journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies of
Literature and Environment (1993), which included three essays on women environmental
52 On the problems related to the elision of ecofeminist contributions to ecocriticism and an insightful discussion of the roots of ecofeminist criticism, see Gaard 2002; 2010; 2011. 53 Feminist ecocriticism then developed from “second- and third-wave feminist literary criticism, women's environmental writing and social change activisms, and eco-cultural critique” (Gaard, Estok, and Oppermann). 41 writers and feminist perspectives on environmental literature (Gaard). Cheryl Glotfelty and
Harold Fromm’s The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (1996) is often regarded as seminal work that helped cement the field’s foundation. Yet as Gaard is quick to point out, with this first anthology, “feminist perspectives were repositioned from foundational
‘ecotheory’ to the more marginal status of ‘readings,’” (4) and from there on its inclusion and visibility dropped in critical theory, sidelining ecofeminism considerably. Simultaneously, by the end of the decade, “ecofeminism was critiqued as essentialist and effectively discarded” (Gaard
“Revisited” 1) because it had a tendency to rest on the analogy that essentialized the role of women as nurturers, like nature as mother. Feminists, who had formerly produced within the framework of ecofeminism, decided to rename their approach in an attempt to disassociate from the critique of essentialism this branch of cultural feminism was plagued with (“Revisited” 27), and, consequently, several former ecofeminists disavowed any debt to ecofeminism (Gaard,
Opperman, Estok). 54
It is noteworthy that concurrent to these events, feminist postcolonial theorists and ecocritics had begun to explore the connections between the dynamics of globalization and economic imperialism, the social crisis, and how they interface with the global environmental crises. Ursula K. Heise outlines the parameters of these new configurations and “discoveries” 55 with regard to literary studies in her article, "Ecocriticism and the Transnational Turn in
American Studies" (2008). She writes,
[Ecocriticism] [a]s a movement that focuses on the way in which technological
and ecological risks are unevenly distributed and tend disproportionately to affect
women and minority communities . . . this new force has led to stimulating new
54 See Gaard, Estok, and Opperman for a detailed discussion. 55 Gaard ironically refers to these findings as “discoveries.” 42 attempts to link environmentalist thought to feminism, critical race theory, and
postcolonial theories. (7)
Ecofeminists had been at the forefront of articulating several of these toxic entanglements already in the early 1980s, but, ironically, these early pioneers experienced the very silencing by the academic community, including feminist circles and publishers, which ecofeminists were fighting to eradicate with regard to the separation of ecological issues from feminism(s) (Gaard
“Ecofeminism Revisited”). Following the disassociation with ecofeminism, together with the subsequent dropping of the term, publications in the field of ecocriticism increased, as well as the marginalizing and backgrounding of their substantial ecofeminist roots. 56 Numerous works that were considered foundations in ecocriticism have been dismantled by Gaard for their complicity in such, including Lawrence Buell’s The Future of Environmental Criticism (2005) and Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism (2004). After sustained multivocal criticism leveled at the monolithic white Anglo-American male approach perpetuated in countless works, the new century, then, witnessed a new turn of events. These events consisted of an unprecedented diversity in publications centered on ethnic and racial issues, as well as a recent upsurge in international and cross-cultural studies and publications in combination with ethnic and
Indigenous perspectives covering issues of food sovereignty, the saving of the commons including rainforests in Brazil, the legacies of lingering nuclear waste, and the victimization of women who engage in interspecies care, a growing problem in Taiwan, and, as the authors contend, a problem inextricably tied to misogyny.
Although numerous scholars continue to use the term ecofeminism, presumably as a nod to Gaard’s call in 2010 for strengthening ecofeminism through “recuperating the large history of feminist ecocriticism and the contributors of ecofeminist literary criticism within ecocritical
56 For a more detailed analysis, see Gaard 2002; 2010; 2011. 43 thinking” (“New Directions” 644), many publications have sought to use renamed terms, such as
“feminist ecocriticism” or “feminist environmentalism.” These varying terms give testament to the field’s internal and external struggles, fissures, ruptures, and marginalizations. More unison within the field would be desirable, yet its survival (despite a whirlwind history of various appropriations and muffling) speaks to its strengths, its ability to reinvigorate itself, and its continued impact on the humanities, and documents its essential purpose in critical literary circles and beyond. Ecofeminism is much underappreciated like weeds 57 ; it grows wildly, is nurturing for soil, air, and wildlife, and, despite being discounted and severed, it has the resistance and tenacious creativity to grow ever-newer vines.
The Role of Transnational Feminism
In keeping with the vine metaphor to emphasize the field’s interweaving nature, I contend that in heightened processes of globalization, it is integral the branch of ecofeminism stay closely rooted in the tradition of transnational/postcolonial feminism as the disregard for knowledge production that does not adhere to patriarchal paradigms, such as the marginalizing through
Anglo-American male production, is intrinsically linked to the practices of “scattered hegemonies” and the perturbing forces at work to unsettle on a transnational scale. For this reason, feminist postcolonialists, like Jacqui Alexander, Gloria Anzaldúa, Inderpal Grewal,
Caren Kaplan, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Gayatri Spivak, argue for the critical need to move beyond the confining frame of a single nation. Transnationalism is inextricably connected to feminist ecocriticism, but not necessarily vice versa due to local specificities. Nonetheless, the environmental crisis is yet another cog in the wheel of global, interlocking oppressions and toxic entanglements. The transnational nature of this oppression, which belongs to an ingrained
57 The metaphor of the weed is borrowed from Linda Hogan (xv), who reflects in her foreword to International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism how her inferior status growing up as an American Indian resembled the undesired standing of weeds 44 system, requires tackling on a variety of levels and in different locales—geographically, politically, and socio-historically—across borders. A concept transcending several borders is that of the “ immonde ” as articulated by Hélène Cixous; this concept will help me productively think through a variety of (transnational) human-animal connections presented in my discussion of
Ruth L. Ozeki’s My Year of Meats in chapter 3. As for the aforementioned feminists, they introduce different ways of understanding transnational feminist positionalities and practices and how transnationally operating hegemonies can be countered. For instance, Grewal and Kaplan explain that “[w]ithout the analysis of scattered hegemonies gendered relations in feminist movements will remain isolated and prone to reproducing the universalizing gestures of dominant Western cultures” (17).
In her influential essay "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial
Discourses" (2003), Chandra Talpade Mohanty cautions Western/First World feminist theorists against the “homogenization and systematization of the oppression of women in the third world," as this uncritical reflection will produce unequal relationships between women of the global
North and those of the global South. Mohanty suggests that gender categories, as well as the gendered oppression, experienced by women do not develop identically and are not universal as often implied in the discourse of Western feminist scholarship rather they need to be situated geo-politically as both are products of multiple contingent factors, such as social, political, and historical struggles. Speaking about “patriarchy” or “women” without amply contextualizing these categories or examining them in their specific geo-historic milieus renders the concrete, heterogenic, and complex lives of subjects inadequately. Thus, in order to untangle and eradicate hegemonic relationships, Mohanty’s caveat is pivotal as it enables the finding of new non- colonizing ways of representation in transnational contexts. Ignoring the situational specificities
45 and the geo-socio-historic context conceals the concrete, heterogenic, and complex lives and identities of women and bears the danger of speaking of women as a monolithic, homogeneous category. Further, Mohanty writes,
Feminist work that blurs this distinction (which is, interestingly enough, often
present in certain Western feminists’ self-representation) eventually ends up
constructing monolithic images of “Third World women” by ignoring the
complex and mobile relationships between their historical materiality on the level
of specific oppressions and political choices, on the one hand, and their general
discursive representations, on the other. (37)
Stripping Third World women of their complex subjectivities leads to a self-created and maintained self-eminence of First World women, thereby objectifying Third World 58 women in the process. Elitism has led to ambivalent currents and relations in feminist, ecocritical, and other critical movements alike. Rob Nixon suggests in his article “Environmentalism and
Postcolonialism” (2005) that the shifting contexts, as well as the subsequent reevaluation and readjustments, in the field of feminism are similar to the evolving dynamics within ecocriticism.
In reference to feminism, he writes that “[i]n recent years, we have witnessed a . . . decentering in environmentalism, one that has begun to shift the terms of the decisive debates away from issues like purity preservation. . . .” (143). Moreover, Nixon laments the lack of attention to and discussion of ecocriticism produced and circulated beyond US borders; this disregard is symptomatic of prevailing hegemonic thinking in academia, which still heavily favors writing from the center. During the past two decades, a handful of writer-activists from the global South
58 Thus, the term “Third World” to describe women residing in formerly colonized and/or neo-colonized nations is not used as a blanket term that erases all specificity; rather, I employ it in concert with other theorists to illustrate the continued dependence the First World has created to mask the continued exploitation of those who are considered Other in society (Chancy, Framing Silence 33). 46 have gained attention in the global North/Western hemisphere, most notably, Arundhati Roy,
Wangari Maathai, and Vandana Shiva. Apart from these visible mainstream writers, whose writings are channeled to the global North, little non-Anglo-American environmental work permeates the nonporous fabric of the mainstream and academic discourse of the global North.
Further complicating women’s participation in public discourse is because women in the global
South are usually subsumed under male-identified nationalisms that curb women’s visibility, knowledge, and production.
My investigation suggests that feminism is not sufficiently attuned to account for the gendered colonial, geopolitical, and nationalist situatedness of rural women’s struggles, or those of peasant, Indigenous, landless, and small farmers. Although ecofeminism recently incorporated a growing number of these marginalized voices in its survey, the field’s theoretical grappling is not prepared to map out the oppressive transnational forces with the same attention to the situational nuances as transnational postcolonial feminists like Mohanty demand. 59 As a result, I turn to postcolonial theory. However, the deeper I delve into the literature and theory, the more I recognize the degree to which postcolonialism has been traditionally overshadowed by nationalist liberation struggles that subsume women under patriarchal leadership. 60
Anthropocentrism and “The Question of the Animal”
It is important to note that, within the last decade, postcolonial criticism has been criticized for being “resolutely human-centered (anthropocentric); committed first and foremost to the struggle for social justice,” disregarding “life-centered (eco- or biocentric) issues and concerns” (Huggan 702), whereas “[c]onversely, recent evidence can be cited of a ‘postcolonial
59 Looking back at Foucault’s argument regarding his denial of the existence of categories seems to contradict Mohanty and others’ points that categorical proliferation is imperative, yet Foucault himself acknowledges that while categories are arbitrary, they nonetheless have material consequences for life as it’s lived. 60 Among many notable exceptions are Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie's Half of a Yellow Sun , Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed and The Green Belt Movement , Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter , and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1998). 47 turn’ in environmental criticism and philosophy that combats the tendencies of some Green movements toward Anglo-American liberal universalism and ‘[white] middle-class nature- protection elitism” (Pepper 246 qtd. in Huggan 702). The same is true for animal studies and posthumanist studies, which tend to omit the humanitarian dimensions of these crises.
Nevertheless, the divisive debates regarding animal rights, biopolitics, and strong posthumanist influences open thresholds for new interspecies justice possibilities and intersubjectivities.
Acknowledging my own biased passion for species justice, I struggle with the irreconcilable foundations of the theories through which I have sifted. One such particular challenging Anglo-
American philosophical legacy is that of Derrida, who suggests that the act of thinking (thought) predicates the need for language to have subjectivity. However, an animal cannot possess subjectivity because it does not possess the ability to speak; it does not have language in philosophical debates in animal studies. 61 It is an ethical conundrum. As a consequence of animals being denied subjectivity and autonomy, they are not granted protection under the law, a problematic issue my analysis of Ruth L. Ozeki’s My Year of Meats alludes to in terms of the limited legal protection, and subsequent exploitation of farm animals in chapter 3. 62
The longstanding history of pitting animal and environmental welfare concerns against human rights issues under the umbrella of Western European humanism has driven a wedge between these turfs, suggesting they are inherently irreconcilable and need to be considered separately. I attribute this thinking to the Anglo-American mind-set that operates under both humanist assumptions and an anthropocentric order that are invested in maintaining the status quo by deeming all things as disconnected and separated with the (hu)man at the center of power with everything else falling by its wayside. In response to resistance regarding the inclusion of
61 It is well documented that different species have their own kind of communication and language, but it does not constitute human language, therefore this dimension is ignored. 62 The caveat is that the legal system is a human/social construct/institution and by nature, anthropocentric. 48 ecofeminist, nonhuman liberation in the humanities discourse, Estok develops the “ecophobia hypothesis” in his article entitled “The Ecophobia Hypothesis: Re-membering the Feminist Body of Ecocriticism,” and suggests reading through “ecophobia” as a paradigm of environmental responses in ecocritical theory. He contends that
Though the term “ecophobia” may be new to ecocriticism, the phenomenon it
references has a long history: humanity has long feared the agency of nature and
non-human things. What are at stake here are human beliefs in our own agency,
autonomy, and superiority. (Estok 75)
Because decentering all Othered beings (women, Indigenous groups, peasants, and animals), as well as their epistemologies and ontologies from the center of power, secures the preeminent standing of man. This skewed paradigm that operates as dominant cultural epistemology contributes to the destruction of nature, which dispossesses countless groups—mainly disenfranchised groups—of their formerly sustainable homelands, and consequently deprives them of an existence with dignity because these dynamics ultimately revoke all possibility to live life to its fullest potential.
This chapter suggests that the way out of this dilemma resides in acknowledging the important contribution of alternative knowledge systems. These systems, which have had varying contact with Anglo-American hegemonies but generally prefer to resist its subjugation, have the ability to destabilize oppressive structures, render them porous, seep through the holes, immerse and soak the archaic foundations, and flush out the remnants of dominant colonizing structures in order to write back to the master narrative for justice and inclusiveness. Alternative epistemologies and ontologies combined as a unified holistic approach have the most potential to reconcile and achieve balance due to their all-encompassing focus on the delicate
49 interdependence and well-being of all ecologies—including human and nonhuman worlds, as the approach emphasizes individual responsibility toward a collective, holistic whole (human worlds, animal worlds, and natural worlds) rather than an individual advancement of a limited few (humans) (Kovach; Gunn; Smith; Wildcat; Shiva). Keeping with this spirit, Paula Allen
Gunn writes in The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
When I was small, my mother often told me that animals, insects, and plants are
to be treated with the kind of respect one customarily accords to high-status
adults. “Life is a circle, and everything has its place in it,” she would say. That’s
how I met the sacred hoop, which has been an integral part of my life. (1)
By and large, the call to examine the myriad of species interconnections is not a new idea, but rather springs out of a long tradition of Indigenous epistemology that has always seen all things as interconnected. Our planet hinges on a delicate equilibrium of interacting, interconnected ecologies, therefore anything that unbalances one entity ultimately affects the remaining entities in some shape or form, sometimes in more subtle and less discernible and retraceable ways than at other times. Slowly but noticeably, there is a growing realization that a mind-set that insists on individualism and separating all living beings through separative discourse and practices is unsustainable, and the call to recognize these vital interconnections is gaining momentum as a way to restore polluted communities and heal debilitated individuals.
Put differently, the separative function Foucault identifies in my earlier discussion of his work is a knowledge discourse that undermines the “actual” natural structures I am articulating in this study. Thus, to bridge some of these gaps, I am showing how some concepts in animal studies and in feminist transnational theory, separately, will serve in my project.
50 Understanding Sentience and Suffering
Today, there is still a struggle to overcome residue of the Cartesian mind/body split, which is firmly stapled to the backbone of Anglo-American thought. These entrenching, hegemony-laden perceptions resurface in the way that not only humans but animals alike are viewed as pure necessities, with bodies that can be commodified and equated to objects or machines that plug in as industrial production units. Arguably, Peter Singer's work Animal
Liberation (1975), which elicited tremendous public outcry after its publication, boosted (ethical) awareness about the worsening plight of animals, and sparked activism across ranks and social justice movements, can be considered a foundational text in animal studies. More than two decades later, and in response to “failure to situate non-humans ethically” (Plumwood, 2001 8), continued anthropocentrism, and “those forms of institutionalised speciesism that continue to be used to rationalise the exploitation of animals” (Plumwood, 2001 8), critical animal studies strengthened its position in academic studies for a more sustained, vigorous engagement with the question of the animal and species justice. Especially during the last decade, the field has taken a distinct posthumanist turn, while still heavily indebted to ethical and philosophical debates— among them ethics based on the concept of “vulnerability” (Pick; Weil), ethics based on sentience and suffering (Bentham 63 ; Derrida 64 ; Diamond 65 ; Wolfe), “entangled empathy”
63 In 1780, referencing the French Code Noir due to the limited degree of legal protection it afforded to slaves in the French West Indies, Jeremy Bentham writes in his work titled Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation : Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things [original emphasis]. . . . The day has been, I grieve it to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated . . . upon the same footing as . . . animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum , are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse? . . . [T]he question is not, Can they reason ? nor, Can they talk ? but, Can they suffer ? (311) 51 (Gruen), moral rights (Singer 66 ; Reagan), philosophical indistinction (Agamben; Calarco), the feminist care tradition (Adams; Donovan; Kheel), all bodies as potential prey and meat
(Plumwood; Calarco; Adams), and biopolitics (Agamben). 67 Different strands and schools of thought within the animal studies framework, including animal justice and animal ethics philosophy, display a convergence in wanting to achieve some level of judicial and moral status for animals. For example, Gary Francione distinguishes between two movements within the debate of animal sentience and welfare: one movement seeks regulation of animals by using industries while failing to effectively challenge the property status of animals, which resonates with the issue of the commons and how the environment is subject to unregulated destruction, and the second movement calls to abolish animal exploitation by eradicating the property status of animals all together (Francione; Wolfe, Before the Law ).
Linking the human with the nonhuman is a slippery terrain that greatly complicates the order of things (in the Foucauldian sense), not least because of the long history of denying marginalized human groups “full standing as human beings on the grounds that they were not fully human, that they were ‘like animals’” (Calarco). 68 Within the confines of humanism, treating humans “like animals,” in other words, equating humans with the animalistic and nonhuman has exposed human groups to a myriad of unspeakable perverse atrocities (basically all forms of exploitation, torture, violent death, including, but not limited to, slavery, lynching,
64 Derrida brings forth a philosophical critique of the human/animal binary; referring to animals as “it” simply reinforces their generic nature. 65 Cora Diamond theorizes about vulnerability, passivity, mortality; “the capacity to be harmed”; compassion. 66 Peter Singer’s utilitarian calculus calls for a calculating based on which actions maximize the most beneficial outcome for the greatest number of species groups. 67 It should be noted that many of these theorists do not rigidly subscribe to one standpoint or another and that overlap is common between various positions. 68 In her article, “Racing Sex—Sexing Race: The Invention of the Black Feminine Body,” Kaila Adia Story writes, African bodies and European female bodies were compared to apes and other mammals to determine their moral worth and degree of humanity. ‘Experiment’ and ‘discovery’ by European naturalists and anatomists deemed European women’s bodies dangerous and suspicious due to the fact that they had anatomy unlike males; African bodies were hypersexual and ultimately non-human because of their polarization to whiteness. African bodies’ social, scientific, and cultural location was that of animals . . . . (28/29) 52 rape, genocide, trafficking, and regular abuse) at the hands of fellow humans. Notably, by the same token, the view that human history has reverted to a “like animals” approach to devalue human groups and by analogy the nonhuman, most animal rights activists and theorists ask to grant rights to animals and boost their legal standing in as much as animals resemble humans centered on a “like us” (us = human) approach by taking into account the reactivity to pain (i.e., suffering), which then is extended, by some, to a subjectivity equal to that of humans (Tom
Regan is a prominent animal right’s philosopher and proponent of this approach.). These earlier calls to grant rights to animals in as much as they resemble humans, based on a “like us” approach, have been criticized because this mode collapses and dissolves the specificity of the lives of animals and fails to see animals and humans on their own terms (free and independent of human notions of subjectivity and agency). Most posthumanists stay in the middle ground, which is not so much contested in terms of the position it provides animals; the contestation here is the avoidance of dealing with continued human subalterity.
To negotiate the lack of non-anthropocentric frameworks that account for animal being, I draw on Indigenous thought, which not only promotes the ethical treatment of all living beings, but also offers a significant tradition of articulating rich animal life. Indigenous traditions resemble the kind of tradition Foucault describes as the Euro-continental norm prior to life science’s implementation of separative discourse and subsequent loss of the continental tradition.
Indigenous thought, predicated on a relational mind-set and grounded in the idea that “divisions do not lead to comprehension” (Gunn, Sacred Hoop 153), has always rejected separative mind-sets that discount the lives of other organisms and elements (e.g., rocks). Rather, in
Indigenous short stories, songs, prayers, and writings, animals are often perceived as guardian spirits, kindred souls that connect people to the land, or as elusive sources of knowledge. Similar
53 to how place-names communicate elaborate information about a place, animals are regarded as intelligent beings that can teach us about our environment. For example, employing the metaphor of the weed, Linda Hogan (“Earthing History” xv) reflects in her foreword to International
Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism how her inferior and disadvantaged status of growing up as Native American resembled the undesired standing of weeds. She writes, “Humility and humiliation dwell within those of us at the bottom of a colonialist hierarchy that keeps us in our place. I was fortunate in having the wisdom to know there was an inviolable trust between the human and the rest of nature.” Left with narrow choices and little education, Hogan describes how she returned to school at an older age, noting the difficulties that come with studying for those with limited educational backgrounds. “But I was fortunate,” she explains. Crediting specifically animals and plants as providing her with a “powerful education,” she declares,
What I lacked was more than compensated for by my early years growing wild, at
home with the creature brilliance of animals and plants, those who communicated
great intelligences in their own ways. It was a powerful education and guided me
later as a writer whose works focus primarily on environment and women. Not all
the disenfranchised have had that gift. (xv)
The complex lives of animals are viewed with respect and a humble curiosity and are mirrored in words, like “creature brilliance,” and descriptions like, communicating “great intelligence in their own ways.” With these articulations Hogan opens up a path often foreclosed in Anglo-
American thought that considers animals and plants as pieces to a larger puzzle and values them in their own right as skillful and resourceful creatures. Hogan’s phrasing of this insight and experience as a “gift” reflects the integral role species justice plays in attaining liberation for disenfranchised groups in Indigenous thought. The affection and care for creatures finds
54 expression through subtle hints in the ecomentaries I have chosen. For example, in Lake of
Heaven Michiko Ishimure writes, “there is something loveable about insects” (166 and further discussed in chapter 2), while Ruby Langford Ginibi (further discussed in chapter 4) relishes in the sense of belonging she experiences through her bond with the animals at the farm. After returning home from a six-month stay with her ill aunt Mary, she describes her joyful encounter and deep reconnection with her creaturely companions this way:
I went out the side to the cowyard. There was my yellow cow Daisy and my black
one Hobby, they were my favorites. There was a fawn one called Pansy and a red
one, Strawberry, they came to be patted too. The cows made it feel like home
again and even though it was hard work, milking—and constant—I realised I’d
missed the animals and tried not to think about them. I laid my head in their hides
and breathed in. (22/23)
Langford Ginibi’s admittance of how she missed the animals, not only shows the deep emotional attachment she feels towards the animals on the farm, but also presents how animals figure as links that help restore mental and spiritual health by connecting the human soul to other living entities in the land.
In animal studies, subjectivity and the question of whether it applies to the nonhuman is becoming a widely contested thought in animal studies because a “like us” approach situates the animal in an anthropocentric framework, in which animality is leveled to compete with humans based on human values. This is a crucial and uncomfortable objection for most humanists, as it impinges on the central predicament of our human existence: who are we as humans? What relegates other forms of existence to a lower order on the “Humanism ladder” (Cixous) while elevating human existence to the highest order? Are critical non-anthropocentric frameworks
55 available? Struggles for social justice are based on identity politics, but can animal rights’ struggles be attained by fighting alongside human struggles for liberation? Do humans have the right or the responsibility to speak on behalf of animal “interests” and the environment? How can we find ways that allow us, humans, to resume responsibility without reproducing anthropocentric dynamics? Here, I align myself with the thought of Calarco. He aptly summarizes his position in the following excerpt:
Many different queer struggles, feminist groups, indigenous peoples, anti-racism
and decolonization struggles, alter-globalization activists, radical
environmentalists, and so on, have argued that radical movements for social
justice should not be about who is human and who isn’t human. . . . Rather than
playing the old game of determining human propriety and then stretching it to
include or exclude this being or that being, these groups are asking us to push
back against that game and eventually exit it altogether. (“Interview”)
The proposition that we have arrived at the threshold to posthumanism or transhumanism has been met with suspicion, perhaps because it hinges on provisions that have only tentatively been explored and because the step will not miraculously resolve some of the tensions that arrive from humanist thought. Humanism centers on the human as its core, whereas in the vein of poststructuralism/posthumanism, the goal is to deconstruct the center to the extent that the center can no longer hold, and new avenues of being and knowing are explored. Some of these newer avenues explore our interconnections with Otherness and technologies, such as what Shameem
Black proposes in her work titled Fiction across Borders: Imagining the Lives of Others in Late-
Twentieth-Century Novels (2009). “Significant otherness” is a phrase, as Black points out, that invokes many kinds of possible encounters that, according to posthumanist theorist Donna
56 Haraway, are “accountable both to their disparate inherited histories and to their barely possible but absolutely necessary joint futures” (7). Haraway writes that “taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others” (181). Our partial connection with others is undeniable and is to be brought into the project’s focus as cyborgs and other “prosthetic kinds of subjectivity” are intriguing concepts that capture the very real connections between humans, nonhumans, and technology that offer endless possibilities for a variety of border crossings. “Prosthetic kind of subjectivity” is a term borrowed from Wolfe, who maintains that
[W]e might observe that the blunt theoretical instrument of humanism, which
divides the world of the living along the axis of “the human” and everything else,
actively prevents our understanding, for instance, . . . that a blind person and a
guide dog form a third, prosthetic kind of subjectivity whose experience of the
world cannot well be explained by reference to the traditional hierarchy of human
vs. animal, which belies the complex forms of communication, trust, and mutual
dependence entailed in such a hybrid relationship.” ( posthumanities )
The most important conclusion I draw from Wolfe’s texts consists of the observation that, as
Wolfe points out, “all things exist, yet they do not exist equally”; there are different degrees of humanity (xiv), as well as unwarranted distinctions between members of different species; also, there are posthumanist forms of prosthetic coevolution (xv). To what extent do we question our own humanity and animality, our moral obligations to nonhuman beings in order to move away from assumptions about animal Otherness? According to Matthew Calarco, author of
Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida , “most authors and
57 activists working in the field of animal studies share the conviction that the ‘question of the animal’ should be seen as one of the central issues in contemporary critical discourse” (1). If the
“human” is dead and the “animal,” too, we need new frameworks that resituate both us and our environment in an epistemological and ontological context.
In order to discharge some of the tensions that dawn from the attempt to reconcile human liberation with animal liberation, I place Indigenous feminist authors and theorists in conversation with animal ethics theorists. In this exchange, it becomes apparent how it behooves us to resort to a humble and respectful “ethics of the unknowable.” “Ethics of the unknowable” is a paradigm advanced by the German philosopher Richard Precht in his treatise of the social and legal status of animals in Germany entitled Noah’s Erbe: Vom Recht der Tiere und den Grenzen des Menschen (Translation: Noah’s Legacy: About the Rights of Animals and the Limits of the
Human ) published in 1997. The underlying premise of the proposed ethics is that the human- animal distinction is a site of contestation and anxiety because it sharply cuts to the core of our understanding about who we are as humans. The knowledge about ourselves is a construct in itself, a system, an organizing principle of our society based on what we try to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. Including disenfranchised voices or animal welfare concerns threatens the preeminence of human status for those with privileged standing in society that is based on identity categories or political alliances. There are different ways of knowing, and this project embraces the heterogeneity of silenced knowledge(s) that it attempts to bring to the fore.
Interestingly, “knowing” is a verb that reemerges in Grace’s novel Potiki over and over as way to signal that she is reclaiming the episteme and genealogy of her community, which is strongly tied to sustaining the clan in concert with nature and through communal gardening practice. Her work suggests that, in order to arrive at an understanding of the ethics of the
58 unknowable, it is imperative to submit to a humble and respectful approach that openly concedes human knowledge is a construct with limitations. Collectively, we can only imagine all the connections and unknowns that eclipse human as well as nonhuman existence. “An ethics of the unknowable” takes these stipulations into consideration and puts us on a path to opportunity— opportunity for reevaluating systems of knowledge and for questioning the grounds on which certain knowledge(s) and ways of being are valued over others as a path to arrive at a more fair and just world. In doing so, I argue that the “question of the animal” serves as a compelling model for humans to reevaluate and rethink human being in the world. Focusing on the question of the animal helps decenter the human to shift the balance and focus on the natural world as promoted in a relational Indigenous ethics. What is the essence of “being”? Who or what deserves protection under the law (social construct/contract)? This strategy disrupts ideas about human exceptionalism. It challenges anthropocentrism and forces reevaluation on multiple fronts—relationships with fellow human beings, as well as relationships with other creatures, to animals, the natural world, the environment—relation and sense of self. This is particularly powerful because it defies what we think we know about ourselves as humans. Recognizing the limitations of human knowledge forces humans to move away from assumptions about human exceptionalism, ontology, and animality. The anxiety of the unknown and unknowable is used to transgress thresholds, arriving on a pathway toward a philosophy of humility and respect that unyokes the natural world (mastery of nature) and forces an unlearning of isolationist views to replace them with a relational ethics as promoted by Indigenous knowledges. To purge the mind and the body from toxic entanglements parallels the idea of speaking from a site of aporia , a state of confusion and tumult, who humans are and who animals are (Calarco). According to
Calarco, “This is a much more modest approach to thinking about animals, and it is one that
59 proceeds with a keen awareness of the pitfalls of creating clean and distinct ontological and ethical lines between human beings and animals” (“Made of Meat”).
Indigenous Knowledges as Pathway to Sustainable Futures
Thus, in my ethical, ontological, and epistemological grappling, colonialist legacies and the patriarchal, neo-liberalist-capitalist mind-set with its rhizomatic—to borrow Deleuze and
Guattari’s concept—roots in the white, male, European continental life science discourse emerge as oppressive powers confronting us with diffused and deferred urgencies that require transcending the dualism of this narrow mind-set, as well as shifting epistemologies and reevaluating the understanding of the human (this is where the question of the animal comes in) because as bell hooks contends, “Colonialism means that we must always rethink everything”
(Senegalese filmaker Ousmane Sembene qtd. in Black Looks 2). Thus, epistemologically speaking, my study proposes that the solution for recovery from patriarchal capitalist
“maldevelopment,” 69 is found in decolonizing, Indigenous relationships to the land, because as
Indigenous theorist Margaret Kovach points out, “Indigenous epistemologies live within a relational web, and all aspects of them must be understood from that vantage point” (57). This mind-set that carefully takes into account the causes and effects of actions with respect to different dimensions across time and space, as well as forms of human and nonhuman life, is comprehensive in scope and fit for rigorous inquiry, as it has been in the making for thousands of years to meet the challenges of social and environmental injustices. This is not a stagnant mind- set but rather a dynamic, fluctuating set of methods and approaches that change over time and receive their strength through multiplicities and cross-border alliances (Thus, this set of approaches is a feature among others for my paradigm for survival.). Moreover, I strongly
69 A term Shiva employs to describe the negative effects of pervasive dominant ideologies that disregard the well-being of those who lack political allies. 60 believe and agree with Vandana Shiva that women residing in economically and environmentally depressed regions are in possession of a particular kind of knowledge for survival and nonviolent resistance that shapes the crux of the framework I propose.
Shiva argues that disenfranchised women bear a particular kind of knowledge that resists colonial subjugation and embraces life-sustaining principles for a greater common good, as they have been the pioneers surviving despite environmental degradation and limited possibilities. I agree with her that the knowledge of postcolonial women situates them in a distinct position to articulate paradigms for survival. As Shiva mostly aptly puts it,
In contemporary times, Third World women, whose mind have not yet been
dispossessed or colonized, are in a privileged position to make visible the
invisible oppositional categories that they are the custodians of. . . .
Marginalisation has thus become a source for healing the diseased mainstream of
patriarchal development. Those facing the biggest threat offer the best promise for
survival because they have two kinds of knowledge that are not accessible to
dominant and privileged groups. First, they have the knowledge of what it means
to be the victims of progress, to be the ones who bear the costs and burdens.
Second, they have the holistic and ecological knowledge of what the production
and protection of life is about. (46/47)
The previous excerpt intends to illustrate how marginalized groups, mainly women who exist on the peripheries of society, are an integral part of envisioning and attaining a transformed world that leads to ecological recovery. Marginalized women who are not yet under the yoke of internalized ideologies of exclusivity and hierarchy can be actors and leaders in “creating new intellectual ecological paradigms” as they hone skills to successfully mitigate changing ecologies
61 and global expansion in concert with nature. Their knowledge resembles a mosaic of a vast multitude of intricate shapes and forms, ranging from work in textiles to full-length novels, as these women cannot afford to be narrow in their vision. As disenfranchised women are denied most privileges, they are acutely aware of having to live without the safety net of social and economic stability and without the shelter from violence. Thus, they solely depend on finding creative ways for their survival, such as founding collectives to stop gang violence in Namibia, or ongoing activist mobilization since 2000 to avert private takeover of municipal water supply in Bolivia, or protecting the Porcupine caribou populations threatened by oil exploration and drilling in The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, or bringing attention to the fact that there is no word for radiation in Navajo, and that, therefore, Navajo landowners were not informed about the radiation and pollution uranium mining on Navajo land caused by third parties leasing the land ( Birthing Justice 29; Eco Amazons ). The unique contribution of these women to finding responses to eco-devastation is the bringing together and coalescing of different approaches to struggle, intervention, and survival and different strands of thought for resolution and healing that are viable in various contexts, landscapes, and geographies to make possible a sustainable livelihood for human and animal groups who are alienated and displaced due to economic pressures and physical landscape alterations.
The indigenous relationship to the land is significant and unique because it distances itself from human centeredness and in lieu thereof, encourages life-sustaining principles and paradigms regarding the interconnectedness of all life on the planet. As Winona LaDuke writes,
Grassroots and land-based struggles characterize most of Native
environmentalism. We are nations of people with distinct land areas, and our
leadership and direction emerge from the land up. Our commitment and tenacity
62 spring from our deep connection to the land. This relationship to land and water is
continuously reaffirmed through prayer, deed, and our way of being—
minobimaatisiiwin , the “good life.” ( All Our Relations 4)
The connection between the knowledge of marginalized women Shiva addresses and traditional
Indigenous thought is the holistic, woman-focused approach that centers on social responsibility, the “centrality of powerful women to social well-being,” and the “complementary nature of all life forms” (Gunn, Sacred Hoop 3). Whereas, in Anglo-American patriarchal modes of thought, women’s knowledge competes and is dominated by powerful and privileged actors; Indigenous methods and knowledges foster and nourish life-affirming voices that proactively seek remedies for restoration and protection. Paula Allen Gunn may have written The Sacred Hoop in 1986, but her collection of essays remains more visionary and pertinent than ever, especially with regards to the toxic entanglements of environmental destruction. She notes,
Traditional tribal lifestyles are more often gynocratic than not, and they are never
patriarchal. These features make understanding tribal cultures essential to all
responsible activists who seek life-affirming social change that can result in a real
decrease in human and planetary destruction and in a real increase in quality of
life for all inhabitants of planet earth. (2)
Because the stories, values, practices, and ways of knowing are so deeply imbricated in the fabric of emplacement and land, they have the power to resist and defy the gravitas of toxic entanglements, which operate through uprooting and rendering “beings” into objects through replacing cultural artifacts with capitalist consumer logic. According to Kovach, Indigenous knowledge(s) are situated knowledges “bound to place” and flourish based on the “ancestral interrelationships found in place” (37). She continues, “Energy reveals itself as knowings stored
63 deep within a collective unconscious and surfaces through dreams prayer, ceremonial ritual, and happenings” (57). This is why it is important to join the struggle of peasants, farmers, nomads, and other disenfranchised groups to secure their traditional, ancestral lands, so these intricate relationships can be restored.
A prevalent notion across a range of Indigenous writings, relevant to animal welfare, and epitomizing the larger argument of my project, is the visceral Indigenous attitude toward new and old knowledges, aptly expressed in a conversation between Kovach and Michael Hart, in which Hart suggests that “the (k)new ways needed on this planet are actually old.” Kovach comments that “[Hart’s] literal play in the English language helps it to breathe,” as his assertion effectively expresses in a nutshell that remedies to current social and ecological devastation can be found in the ‘known ways’ inside Indigenous thought and methods. It is notable that the verb
‘know’/’knew’ frequently surfaces in Indigenous critiques of Anglo-American life sciences. For example, in her writing against life sciences, Hogan refers to a poem called “The Teachings of
My Grandmother” by Jimmie Durham, a Cherokee writer who uses the same kind of semantics regarding the verb “knew” as Hart does in his word play. The reason for the routine challenging of the life sciences is the result of a view that “compassion and care are qualities that do not lend themselves to the world of intellectual thought” (“Different Yields”), effectively exemplified by the excerpted poem by Durham, which inevitably signals a superior level of inclusive Indigenous knowledge in comparison to Anglo-American consciousness:
In a magazine too expensive to buy I read about
How, the scientific devices of great complexity,
U.S. scientists have discovered that if a rat
Is placed in a cage in which it has previously
64 Been given an electrical shock, it starts crying.
I told my grandmother about that and she said,
“We probably knew that would be true.” (“Different Yields”)
Indigenous thinkers, scholars, writers, and activists know their knowings to come from intimate, visceral relationships with the natural world that have stood the test of time. Paradigms of survival make it a point to transcend rigid patriarchal borders to encompass the experiences of those silenced, including nonhuman life forms—animals, plants, and other natural organisms. By virtue of being a paradigm of survival shaped by those Indigenous peoples who “survived
European colonization and cognitive imperialism” (Battiste xvi) and those who are usually not heard, it is a paradigm that acknowledges the value of the voices on the peripheries. It avoids the pitfall of nostalgic and romanticized notions because it acknowledges the harsh-lived realities, while simultaneously expanding the capacity to imagine alternative ways of being. Indigenous peoples are not essentially closer to nature, but traditional Indigenous epistemologies call for a more respectful engagement with the natural world than many other non-Indigenous epistemologies.
For example, in recognition of the intimate link between issues of social justice and human rights to the environment (Huggan, “Greening” 703) writers and activists, such as
Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva, bring center stage Indigenous knowledge as they strive to dismantle corporate endeavors devised to supplant disenfranchised groups from their homelands.
If Roy cautions of the dangers of severing “'the link [and]—the understanding—between human beings and the planet they live on . . . the intelligence that connects eggs to hens, milk to cows, food to forests, water to rivers, air to life and the earth to human existence” ( The Cost of Living
101), then, Patricia Grace unpacks the interconnected paradigm for survival when she describes
65 how the destruction of the land leads to the near destruction of the fabric that holds together the community, culture, and people of a small M ori clan in her novel Potiki . Anglo-American modes of thinking ignore that others are bearing the brunt of destruction and exploitation, which signals that Anglo-American hegemony remains intact in many realms of social and political life.
However, Grace also pokes holes in Anglo-American preeminence by showing how strength can arise from a situation of adversity, pollution, and destruction, and how healing and empowerment are very real outcomes that defy hegemonic structures.
Healing as Direction and Process
Healing as direction and process surfaces is in countless Indigenous works (e.g., works by LaDuke and Gunn), including the work of Indigenous theorist Linda Tuhiwai Smith. For example, in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2012), she briefly discusses the conceptualization of the Indigenous research agenda. According to her, the agenda chart employs the metaphor of ocean tides. She explains that
From a Pacific peoples’ perspective the sea is a giver of life, it sets time and
conveys movement. Within the greater ebb and flow of the ocean are smaller
localized environments which have enabled Pacific peoples to develop enduring
relationships to the sea. . . . The tides represent movement, change, process, life,
inward and outward flows of ideas, reflections and actions. The four directions
named here—decolonization, healing, transformation and mobilization—
represent processes. They are not goals or ends in themselves. They are processes
which connect, inform and clarify the tensions between the local, the regional and
the global. . . . Four major tides are represented in the chart as survival, recovery,
development, and self-determination. They are the conditions and states of being
through which indigenous communities are moving. (120/121) 66 Smith goes on to note that elements such as healing, spirituality, and recovery can be “at odds with the research terminology of Western science, much too politically interested rather than neutral and objective,” even though, as she quips, research is supposedly steered by the desire to
“benefit mankind,” which “conveys a strong sense of social responsibility” (120).
Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies are not a unified theory, even though their various expressions and manifestations “refer to a tradition that is unified and coherent on its own terms” for each distinct group of Indigenous peoples and their beliefs and practices (Gunn,
Sacred Hoop 4). In this way, Indigenous theory is not a theory in the Anglo-American sense as it does not privilege one theory over another theory, one philosophical paradigm over another paradigm, or one worldview over another worldview (“He Whakam rama”). These ways of knowing rightfully resist colonization by Anglo-American imperial modes; therefore, as Smith points out, Indigenous knowledge and analysis are generally “acquired organically and outside of the academy” (5). It is a genuine interest in the land and its people that informs Indigenous research. L. Smith maintains that Indigenous writers, activists, and consultants are engaged in research that does not adhere to Anglo-American concepts of knowledge production. She asserts,
They search and record, they select and interpret, they organize and re-present,
they make claims on the basis of what they assemble. This is research. The
process they use can also be called methodologies. The specific tools they use to
gain information can also be called methods. Everything they are trying to do is
informed by theory, regardless of whether they can talk about that theory
Unperturbed by colonial systems of education, Indigenous theorists and scholars are voicing their ideas, outlining their theoretical underpinnings and their influences, and sketching the
67 contours of their genealogy and knowledges. Rather than having Eurocentric thinkers and historians write their story or misrepresent and appropriate their epistemologies and ontologies,
Indigenous scholars are committed to the initiative of claiming their stakes in academic grounds through “proactive development of indigenous theorizing by ourselves” (G. Smith).
In her work Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming (2005), LaDuke addresses the various ways dominant culture has disrupted and appropriated Indigenous culture in the past and present by naming and claiming important and meaningful sites of Indigenous history, culture, and spirituality, and she discusses how Indigenous communities are continuously denied redress, reparation, and dignity. In one particularly telling essay, LaDuke masterfully paints a comprehensive picture that connects the open wounds of the present-day
“environmental disaster of toxic tailings, ponds, cyanide, and a hole in the earth a mile wide and
1,000 feet deep . . . what’s left of the Homestake Gold Mine”—as a continuation of the unresolved wounds of the massacre inflicted upon the Lakota Sioux in He Sapa or Cante
Ognaka , the Heart of Everything That Is, what the Lakota refer to as the Black Hills (88). With regards to the current environmental disaster, LaDuke emphasizes that in 2001, South Dakota’s leading senator, Tom Daschle, freed Barrick Gold Mining Company (Canada) from its responsibilities of the environmental cleanup of the mine estimated at $50 million. In response,
LaDuke quotes attorney Edward Lazarus quipping, “It reaffirms an unsurprising truth: This country deals far more generously with foreign corporations that buy [US] land than with the native peoples from whom we took it” (quoted in LaDuke 88). Part of recovering Indigenous heritage and autonomy is “re-membering” 70 how land was taken from Indigenous peoples through deception and misleading treaties, leading to the demise of countless Indigenous
70 Absolon and Willet spell re-membering with a hyphen in reference to their mothers being dis-membered from their tribal affiliation through the Canadian government after they both respectively married men of European descent. Later the women were re-membered into their tribal affiliations. 68 communities across North America. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, writes,
It is estimated that prior to colonization, the indigenous population within the
territory that now constitutes the United States numbered several million, and
represented diverse cultures and societies speaking hundreds of languages and
dialects. After the arrival of Europeans, the indigenous population suffered
significant decline due to the effects of disease, war, enslavement and forced
relocations. (“Addendum” 5)
Further modes of subjugation involved misrepresentation, the annihilation of the buffalo along with the scorching of other natural resources, as well as massacres and genocides as tactics to break the spirit of Indigenous peoples (LaDuke; Gunn; Smith; Battiste; hooks).
According to LaDuke, prior to Anglo-European settlement in the Black Hills around
1804, the Lakota lived in self-autonomous and self-sustaining ways until first colonial encounters. Over the years, several treaties were established to curb the rights and visibility of
Indigenous nations and to allow settlers and miners almost unfettered access to mining pits on the Black Hills. After gold was discovered in Montana in 1874, large mining towns were established around the Black Hills in the subsequent year, and two years later the Black Hills Act of 1877 was passed, which officially took away the land from the Lakota and established reservations, promising food rations to sustain the Lakota until their farming was developed enough to support them. LaDuke writes that during this time,
The Lakota and neighboring nations experienced a radical degradation: from a
nomadic, self-sufficient way of life companioned by the buffalo nation, to
confinement on shrinking reservations with the destitution of meager rations
69 supplemented by gardens and chokecherry harvests. The destruction of the great
buffalo herds by the military and game hunters was another form of the scorched
earth policy the U.S. government had always used against Indigenous Americans.
The food allocations for the Indigenous population were irregular and ever-dwindling and in 13 years, “more than one-third of the Lakota perished from disease and starvation” (97).
The somber historical event that has etched itself deep into the memory of land and people as cultural trauma is the Wounded Knee Massacre, its notoriety “unrivaled in Native
American history” (LaDuke 102). On December 29, 1890, more than 300 Lakota were killed by the troops of the Seventh Cavalry under the command of Colonel John Forsyth (88). Concerned they would not find enough food to sustain themselves through the bleak winter and aware that they were surrounded by the military, the Lakota of Chief Big Foot’s band had agreed to be herded into the US military encampment at Wounded Knee to receive food rations (99). Instead of receiving food, the unarmed women, children, and men were ambushed and brutally massacred as they tried to flee from their attackers. After the slaughter, eyewitnesses and photographs document how flocks of soldiers and civilians swarmed over the killing field to take photographs of themselves and to strip the Lakota dead of valuables and clothing. As the uncritical government failed to launch an investigation into the massacre and the media distorted the events at Wounded Knee, LaDuke points out that General Miles was one of few critical voices condemning the killings and demanding compensation for the victims. Nonetheless, the
Army proceeded to award “23 medals of honor to soldiers who participated in the Massacre”
(102). It has been repeatedly suggested that the medals of honor be revoked, but to this date, not a single medal has been rescinded. To make matters worse, several artifacts of the Massacre have
70 been curated by private museums and exhibited in non-Indigenous museums, further fueling rifts between non-Indigenous institutions and Indigenous nations, who are requesting the return of the belongings, including clothing and cradleboards, because these artifacts still contain spirits that cannot rest until they are returned. Furthermore, LaDuke suggests that some of these artifacts have gone missing from museum collections. The Lakota demand the return of the Black Hills and have consistently demanded restitution to the survivors of the Massacre, requests which have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears in various state administrations and the government, which makes the healing process difficult. LaDuke concludes that “In many ways, Wounded Knee and the
Black Hills, intertwined, remain central and symbolic of all that is wrong with an unreconciled past” (112)—an unreconciled past that extends well into the present and continues to exert dominance through the power of history and various contested (hi)stories. Thus, I go to great lengths then in revisiting and retelling the events at Wounded Knee, not only to remember the trauma of an atrocity that is alluded to in one form or another in countless US Indigenous writings, but I do so to take a stand in accepting and acknowledging the Indigenous account of events “as valid interpretations of what has taken place” as integral part of Indigenous decolonizing methodology. This is necessary because as L. Smith reminds us, “the need to tell our stories remains the powerful imperative of a powerful form of resistance” (36). She argues that, “ Coming to know the past has been part of the critical pedagogy of decolonization. To hold alternative histories is to hold alternative knowledges,” and then adds, “The pedagogical implication of this access to alternative knowledges is that they can form the basis of alternative ways of doing things” (36). In other words, by meticulously revisiting and reexamining memories, histories, and realities through an Indigenous lens, the process of reclaiming time, landscapes, and identities can begin to heal old wounds.
71 In a different approach to decolonization and healing, Marie Battiste seeks to redress the encroachment of patriarchal and capitalistic atrocities on Indigenous bodies and the land by giving voice to the perspectives of Indigenous people and their grappling with (de)colonization in the edited collection Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (2000). These essays spring from the International Summer Institute on the cultural restoration of oppressed Indigenous peoples, which took place in 1996 at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, to honor Rigaberto Menchu Tum (Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1992), Chief Ted Moses, and
Erica-Irene Daes, leaders in Indigenous human rights initiatives. Participants from Australia,
New Zealand, South America, Europe, and North America gathered in sessions over ten days to analyze the systematic oppression of Indigenous peoples, seek remedies for the “colonization of the mind,” and dialogue in a focused talking circle about ways of healing “nations, peoples, communities, and selves by restoring Indigenous ecologies, consciousness, and languages and by creating bridges between Indigenous and Eurocentric knowledge” (xvii). According to Battiste, the Medicine Wheel processes of the northern Plains was employed to organize the sessions around four related themes: “mapping colonialism, diagnosing colonialism, healing colonized
Indigenous peoples, and imagining postcolonial visions” (xviii), a roadmap analogue to the processes of decolonization, healing, transformation, and mobilization that Smith outlines in the
Indigenous research agenda chart. These four themes or processes are recurrent in Indigenous theorizing, highlighting the proximity and commonality of Indigenous thoughts across a wide range of perspectives, geographies, and disciplines that emerge from common practices and visions closely interconnecting “being” with “knowing” and “doing”/theory with praxis. The urgency to find resolutions and act for change is palatable in Battiste’s words. She declares,
72 The voices of these victims of empire, once predominantly silenced in the social
sciences, have been not only resisting colonization in thought and actions but also
attempting to restore Indigenous knowledge and heritage. By harmonizing
Indigenous knowledge with Eurocentric knowledge, they are attempting to heal
their people, restore their inherent dignity, and apply fundamental human rights to
their communities. They are ready to imagine and unfold postcolonial orders and
Significantly, Indigenous thought not only focuses on strong postcolonial visions to advance rights of Indigenous peoples and to remedy the structural legacies of the history of colonialism and its trauma, it also emphasizes the need to create “bridges between Indigenous and
Eurocentric knowledge,” (xvii) despite a long history of yoking Indigenous nations under Anglo-
European imperial forces, which are responsible for impoverishing and annihilating Indigenous communities worldwide. There are stern structural inequalities and impediments for Indigenous communities and individuals affecting the exercise of their individual and collective rights
(Anaya 5), self-determination for tribal communities, federal recognition of “clusters of Indian peoples who before remained ‘hidden’ throughout the United States, increased funding for the realization of tribal sovereignty, and the reburial of remains carted away to storage in countless bins in museums or universities” (Gunn, Sacred Hoop x). It is remarkable that despite this history of deep-seated unequal power dynamics and the reluctance of government and state officials and legislature to advance toward reconciliation and addressing the issues at stake,
Indigenous thought is presenting itself conciliatory, willing to build bridges to Eurocentric knowledge. Nevertheless, today Indigenous scholarship and researchers continue to be marginalized in academia as “Tribal knowledges are not referenced as legitimate sources of
73 knowledge” based on “a worldview that is only comfortable with the ‘facts,’ as defined by academically established experts and disciplines” (Kovach). North American and European continental academia is the locus where monocultural (to borrow Vandana Shiva’s concept and book title, Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology ) theories are produced, reproduced, and privileged as “selected” knowledge about the history of colonization and colonizing processes is imparted.
Principles of Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous ways of knowing and methods do not fit the mold of Anglo-American expectations because these knowledges are not universal and thus collide with Anglo-American desire for universal application (37). Kovach contends that “Pan-Indigenous approaches risk homogenizing the knowledges and practices of distinct Indigenous influences,” (35) because as
Meyer notes, “Indigenous knowledges can never be standardized, for they are in relation to place and person” (56). Kovach continues that “any attempt to weld Indigenous methods to existing bodies of Western knowledge, result[s] in confused efforts and methodological floundering”
(36). Although not universal, these knowledges are portable to other sites—workable for a variety of sites of struggle as Indigenous thought is critical, flexible, and “engaged with other theoretical positionings (i.e., it is not an isolationist theory)” (Kovach). For example, in their article, “Aboriginal Research: Berry Picking and Hunting in the 21 st Century,” the authors Kathy
Absolon and Cam Willett employ berry picking and hunting as paradigms for traditional practices that require a knowledge set of seeking skills that are portable and transformable to contemporary contexts (5). The theorists write,
Aboriginal peoples have a history of studying all things around us that we interact
with and relate to such as the earth, animals, plants, water, air, and the sun. The
seeking of knowledge is usually solution-focused and has an underlying purpose 74 of survival. . . . We understood that we are all related and that our actions affect
our environment; that the mere observance of a thing changes it. Therefore, we
must care for our environment in order to care for ourselves. (7)
Absolon and Willett go on to note that each of the vastly different and diverse Indigenous nations
“retained, recorded and recounted its own cultural histories” through oral traditions of songs, storytelling, ceremony, teachings, and rituals (8). They assert, “These histories reflect the names of places, people and elements of creation, a spirit that is alive in the land. They were then and remain today etched in the memories of their people and the land” (8). My discussion of Michiko
Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven in chapter 2 offers an example of how these deep inscriptions in the memory of a group of displaced Japanese mountain villagers becomes a spiritual roadmap that helps reconnect the people to the land and to all other forms of life. Similarly, Paula Allen Gunn insists that “[American Indians] are the land” ( Sacred Hoop 119; emphasis added). In this spirit,
Kovach suggests we keep the importance of a balanced approach in mind: “Michael Hart reminds us that there is a web of interconnection that forms our way of knowing. He acknowledges the epistemological interrelationship between people, place, language, and animals, and how they influence our coming to know. ‘Place is key but it is only one component’” (62). While the relationship between people and land is fundamental to the principle of Shiva’s proposed “Earth Democracy,” in which people till and tend the earth as caretakers and producers of food and crops, Indigenous theorizing seeks to maintain a holistic balance among all components of this relational mode of thinking and acting.
In her analysis of Indigenous research and methodologies as related to the decolonizing agenda that shapes Indigenous frameworks, L. Smith locates the imperatives of Indigenous research “inside the struggles of the 1970s,” describing them as “clear and straightforward: the
75 survival of peoples, cultures and languages; the struggle to become self-determining, the need to take back control of our destinies” (143). Following these imperatives, L. Smith identifies and discusses a number of “projects” to carve out a complex Indigenous research framework and program. Some projects or project aspects are deeply anchored in Indigenous thought and practice, while others follow and employ Indigenous principles and parameters as coordinates more loosely. Thus, Smith concludes that “it is not claimed that the projects are entirely indigenous, or that they have been created by indigenous researchers;” rather, some have grown out of social science methodologies and others encourage multidisciplinary approaches (143). In no particular order, she outlines the projects, remarking that “within an indigenous framework, methodological debates are ones concerned with the broader politics and strategic goals of indigenous research” (144). Her list includes the following projects:
1. Claiming (e.g., establishing claims to territory)
2. Testimonies (testimonio) (e.g., a way to communicate “extremely painful events”
3. Storytelling (e.g., a practice to pass down beliefs, alternative ways of knowing, and to
4. Celebrating survival—survivance (e.g., resisting colonialism)
5. Remembering (e.g., practice as way to heal from trauma of colonialism)
6. Indigenizing and indigenist processes (two dimensions: e.g., the first dimension
involves non-Indigenous activists and academics: “focus on landscapes, themes, and
stories of the indigenous world, and disconnecting of many . . . cultural ties between
the settler society and its metropolitan homeland” (147); the second “aspect is more
76 of an Indigenous project:” it centers and privileges Indigenous voices and identities
7. Intervening (e.g., action directed at changing institutions, not at changing Indigenous
peoples to fit the structures )
8. Revitalizing and regenerating (e.g., revitalizing languages)
9. Connecting (e.g., “connecting people to their traditional lands through the restoration
of specific rituals and practices”  or “connecting is about establishing good
10. Reading (e.g., critical literacy skills to understand processes of colonialism)
11. Writing and theory making (e.g., Indigenous publishing)
12. Representing (e.g., self-representation, decision making, and self-determination)
13. Gendering (e.g. articulating colonial gender relations)
14. Envisioning (e.g., Cajete talks about “vision making as knowledge making” )
15. Reframing (e.g., taking control, Indigenous meaning making, significance of
16. Restoring (e.g., healing spiritually, emotionally, physically, and materially)
17. Returning (e.g., returning lands, artifacts, and ancestral sites)
18. Democratizing and indigenist governance (e.g., developing twenty-first-century
governance approaches that are embedded in an Indigenous value system)
19. Networking (e.g., as form of resistance through establishing trust)
20. Naming (e.g., retaining control over meanings )
21. Protecting (e.g., “protecting peoples, communities, languages, customs, beliefs, art
and ideas, natural resources,” and Indigenous cultural production )
77 22. Creating (e.g., both Indigenous creativity and imagination)
23. Negotiating (e.g., negotiating terms for settlements )
24. Discovering the beauty of our knowledge (e.g., integration of Indigenous knowledge
in curriculum; environmental management and biodiversity )
25. Sharing (e.g., “for indigenous researchers, sharing is about demystifying knowledge
and information and speaking in plain terms to the community” )
Smith’s outline brings together an array of perspectives and approaches marked by fluidity and overlap between the different agendas. In this way, L. Smith not only s et s parameters and redefines Indigenous and non-Indigenous concepts in a larger Indigenous framework, but she also formulates a cohesive set of imperatives and principles to be enacted through research and activism, communities and individuals. Different aspects of these concepts and projects emerge to varying degrees in my study of ecomentaries as articulations of resistance to dominant paradigms; those projects figuring most prominently based on their occurrence across my analysis of transnational eco-devastation case studies are, in no particular order: claiming, storytelling, intervening, reframing, restoring, democratizing, sharing, and envisioning.
Perhaps the most rigorous demand toward Indigenous theorizing, as recognized by
Indigenous scholars and writers, is that the theory is “user friendly”—people can understand what the theorist is talking about to avoid confusion or ambiguity (G. Smith, 2005). The central focus of Indigenous research and theorizing is the “usefulness” of the theory, for example, as reflected in the Kaupapa M ori Theory (Linda Tuhiwai Smith; Graham Smith; Kovach).
Describing transformative praxis as element of intervention, Graham Hingangaroa Smith observes,
78 Kaupapa Maori as an intervention strategy, critiques and re-constitutes the
“Western dominant” resistance notions of conscientization, resistance and
transformative praxis in different configurations. In particular, Maori
re-configuration rejects the notion that each of these concepts “stand”
individually; or that they are necessarily to be interpreted as being a lineal
progression from conscientization , to resistance , to praxi s. (“Indigenous
Useful research empowers Indigenous peoples with the goal of self-determination. Following is an excerpt from G. Smith’s “Transforming Institutions: Reclaiming Education and Schooling for
[F]rom the indigenous point of view, the following elements of what might count
as “useful” theory and theorizing, are deemed critical:
1. It needs to be seen as a potentially useful tool for assisting positive
transformation of our conditions.
2. It needs to be seen as a “tool”—useful in the right hands and potentially
destructive in the wrong hands. Thus the onus is on the person selecting to
use the theory (or not to use it), i.e., to assess its relevance and usefulness.
3. It needs to be transformative because the “status quo” for most indigenous
contexts is not working well and needs to be improved.
4. It needs to move beyond homogenizing position of seeing “struggle” as a
single issue and therefore needs to be adaptable to develop multiple
transforming strategies (some of which might be applied simultaneously).
79 5. It needs to be accountable to the community; the ideas around praxis and
“action research methodology” are useful here.
Given that Indigenous knowledge is intricately interwoven with praxis, some of its notable successes have been recorded through its implementation in M ori education. For example, during the graduation ceremony in Whakat ne on May 11 , 2012, Graham Hingangaroa
Smith (Awanui rangi CEO and Vice Chancellor Distinguished Professor) declared that
Awanui rangi was graduating close to 300 degreed students, nearing the fifty-percent degree- granting mark, and that “A M ori with a degree has more employment opportunities and on average earns more than non-M ori counterparts.” He also commented on the specific qualifications this education offers:
What I want to comment on is the relevance of the qualifications that we are
teaching. Our decisions about what we teach are not made simply around
vocational outcomes. Our aim is to not only improve academic achievement but
to also create M ori citizens who have the language and cultural skills to
participate more fully in M ori cultural life.
Too often our students are offered a narrow education in which academic
achievement is often at the expense of their M ori cultural capital. We believe our
students need and must have both elements—it is not an “either/or” choice.
Keeping with this trend, according to the institution’s website, Awanui rangi will be awarding more than 2500 diplomas and degrees for 2013, “up from 2220 in 2012 – another record year”
As Indigenous peoples are carving their self-identity at the international, national, regional, community, and individual level, through education and awareness-raising campaigns
80 (for example, the scar of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, which the U.N. called a “disturbing phenomenon” in its special report on Indigenous peoples and rights in
Canada, 2013/14), others have looked to help affirm their identity and heritage by honoring poets and writers as “yet another manifestation of sovereignty,” said Irvin Morris, chairman of the college’s Arts and Humanities department of Navajo Technical College. On April 24, 2013, the appointment of Luci Tapahonso as the Navajo Nation’s first poet laureate was announced, a writer who regards herself as being born of the land and as evolving "from the land" (208).
In becoming a nation it’s important that we develop in all areas, including the arts.
. . . States and other nations honor their writers by giving them different kinds of
recognition, so it’s only fitting that we see ourselves as a nation and have a poet
laureate. Who better to be that poet laureate than our most accomplished and
recognized figure? (“Luci Tapahonso Named”)
In my discussion and research of Indigenous methodologies and thought, I have found voluminous material as Gunn promised ( Sacred Hoop 7); moreover, I found a vibrant tapestry of
Indigenous voices, Indigenous writers, and theorists from a variety of geographical, disciplinary, and ethnic backgrounds, including Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Graham Hingangaroa Smith (M ori),
Paula Allen Gunn (Laguna Pueblo), Marie Battiste (Potlo’tek First Nations of Cape Breton,
Nova Scotia, Canada), Winona LaDuke and Kathy Absolon (Anishinaabe), Margaret Kovach
(Plains Cree and Saulteaux, Canada), and Cam Willett (Cree/Scottish) to name a few. These are the theorists who have guided my study, my readings, and my understandings of some of the conceptual underpinnings of the many loose, diverse, lasting, but never homogenous, ideas and strands of Indigenous thoughts. In this exploration, I have strived to be a respectful ally, and I
81 have strived to heed the warning signs adamantly pointed out to me by these writers and, thus, hope to have avoided Anglo-American appropriations and assumptions that, to quote Gunn,
“Indian America does not in any sense function in the same ways or from the same assumptions that western systems do” ( Sacred Hoop 7). If I have learned anything, then, it is that “Indian
America” in this context is interchangeable with Indigenous thought, as no traditional Indigenous system of knowledge or culture functions the way Anglo-American systems do. This is good news for our planet because as LaDuke notes, “[n]ative communities will resist [the disruption of environmental sustainability through industrialism] with great determination” (2) in order to assure that future generations will find the natural resources necessary to sustain life. 71
In a similarly optimistic voice, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, argues for the important contributions Indigenous peoples and Indigenous forms of knowledge offer for healing current neo-liberal
“maldevelopment” (Shiva). In her speech, Tauli-Corpuz suggests that “Indigenous peoples are not to be seen only as endangered victims to be protected,” and adds, “instead they are to be regarded as “carriers of knowledge and traditions that—far from being ancient and outdated— can offer concrete solutions to modern crises.” For example, one Indigenous paradigm of survival that Tauli-Corpuz enumerates as Indigenous response to the global problem of hunger and malnourishment is the principal of biodiversity, a model of agriculture that avoids monocultures and centers on diversifying crop in regular rotations of the land as a natural way to keep pests at bay. 72 Particularly, the view on food brings into sharp relief the contrast between the industrialized mind-set and the Indigenous mind-set: “For indigenous peoples, food is not a
71 That is not to say that all Indigenous worldviews are the same or to elide the fact that there are differences within Indigenous philosophies; however, the ethical tenets of Indigenous thought are coherent and consistent. 72 How peasants are fighting for biodiversity in face of giant anti-diversity and pro-patent seed-conglomerates is discussed in my next chapter. 82 commodity,” Tauli-Corpuz explains. “Instead, it is traditionally linked to social, cultural and spiritual values, and a worldview that centres on being nourished by mother earth and nourishing her in return” (Cordone). Food connects people to nature, and Tauli-Corpuz’s observation underscores how in Indigenous world views food and its production are based on sustainable practices that protect both the people and nature.
As the discussed Indigenous paradigms for survival suggest, much can be learned from
Indigenous approaches to decolonization and healing. Thus, in order to mitigate the violence inflicted through oppressive and hegemonic entanglements, I contend, in concert with a multitude of scholars across disciplines, that traditional systems of knowledge production in the
Anglo-American context must be reevaluated and brought into harmony with alternative epistemologies, such as Indigenous knowledges, which are significantly underrepresented in
Anglo-American institutions. In this spirit, Kovach suggests that “Non-Indigenous critical theorists are strong allies for Indigenous methods (protocols, ethics, data collection processes), but also for the epistemic shift from a Western paradigm that Indigenous methodologies bring”
(86). After all, the academy has a responsibility because it produces “elite knowledge in society”
(89). For example, in Teaching to Transgress , bell hooks examines the possibilities of education as the practice of freedom. She maintains that “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy” (12). I locate the spaces for increased integration of Indigenous thought in institutions of Anglo-American knowledge production, for example, by offering undergraduate and graduate classes on the topic of Indigenous knowledge and methodology, across a range of disciplines, such as literature, philosophy, history, and geography, among others; meanwhile, I consider it the educators’ and researchers’ responsibility, as they follow a decolonizing agenda premised on the understanding that “Indigenous communities demand a
83 decolonizing outcome from research” (86), to balance European and US continental thinkers with those grounded in alternative world views, such as Indigenous epistemology and ontology. I suggest that working through these issues may be the most pressing work of our time.
I introduce Indigenous ways of knowing as independent, yet relational strands of thought that demand attention as they offer sustainable approaches and practices that aim at tangible and practical solutions because they have “life” itself at their core and not “money” or profits. These practices are important not only as they challenge a history of deep-seated unequal power dynamics to empower Indigenous peoples but also because they carry the experience of how to overcome and heal. I chose animal studies due to its inherently non-anthropocentric approach, and feminist transnational theory for its (1) non-phallogocentric stance, (2) its ability to respond to “scattered hegemonies” across national borders, and (3) its attention to racialized and gendered bodies. Finally, I selected Indigenous theory for its relational worldview or consciousness, as it not only integrates the previous concepts, for example, Indigenous thought is non-anthropocentric by nature, but also because this holistic view holds the most comprehensive structure to respond to contemporary socio-environmental injustices and eco-devastations; thus
Indigenous frames and principles figure significantly in subsequent analysis and are central to my larger project.
In the chapters that follow, I apply a number of concepts introduced throughout this chapter: for example, “sentience,” discussed in this chapter from animal studies, Cixous’s urgent and timely concept of the “ immonde ” that I briefly touched on and will expand upon in my discussion of My Year of Meats in chapter 3, alongside the principles of Indigenous thought— such as claiming, storytelling, intervening, connecting, restoring, reframing, envisioning, and creaturely brilliance—and its relational ethics to the themes and ecomentaries under analysis. In 84 doing so, I demonstrate that the theoretical threads I discussed all add a layer of nuance and dimension that deepen our understanding about the axis of oppression binding together disenfranchised groups.
85 CHAPTER 2
(U N)T ANGLED LEGACIES :POLITICS OF COMMON ACCESS , SARAH BAARTMAN , AND RESTORATION IN MICHIKO ISHIMURE ’S LAKE OF HEAVEN
in this earth in this earth in this immaculate field we shall not plant any seeds except for compassion except for love —Rumi
We are the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. And reclaiming democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project of our freedom —Vandana Shiva
In 2005, South Africa's first environmental protection vessel set sea with the explicit mission to safeguard and patrol the deep-sea waters rolling from the South African coastline to the Prince Edward Islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. This expansive area of ocean, known as South Africa's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), remains one of the most pristine and ecologically rich oceans on earth. It covers approximately 1.3 million square kilometers and is one of several regions of the Southern Ocean that warrant high levels of marine sea life protection as identified by The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In particular, the Prince
Edward Island group is frequented by poachers seeking to catch the endangered Patagonian toothfish, which yields high prices on fish markets. Equipped with the latest technological equipment, the glistening, ultramodern, $19 million, environmental patrol vessel was
86 commissioned by the Department of Environment as the flagship for a fleet of four boats. 73 “At no point ever has South Africa been better-equipped to protect our marine resources, monitor our marine environment, or react more rapidly to accidents and incidents in our waters,” explained
South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
Ironically, a ripple of news reports document significant fault lines underlying the minister’s narrative, as the boat, commissioned to battle pollution and help alleviate environmental calamity, has been linked to illegal activities that clash with its purpose and directly endanger fragile aquatic ecosystems. Like deep water that wells up, reports surfaced confirming allegations—that senior government officials had consistently denied—stating that the ship had been outsourced to support offshore oil drilling at PetroSA's Mossel Bay gas platform operations dating back as early as August 2005. Little by little, the vessel, from its name to its use, to the manner in which politicians chose to speak of its true purpose, revealed that it symbolized both in practice and in its naming, an uninterrupted chain of both human and ecological abuses reaching back into the colonial past. A closer examination of the rhetoric surrounding the defense of the ship’s activities brings its conflicting usage and symbolism into focus.
When he was asked to testify in Parliament, under questioning by district attorney, Isaac
Julies, Van Schalkwyk justified the utilization of the ship as a “safety standby vessel and guard ship” and declared that in cases in which the vessel is not engaged elsewhere, its charter “may be considered” as to avoid incurring costs from idling in a port. He added that “the revenue received from the charters is used to supplement the vessel's high operating costs” (Yeld). The minister reasons that the vessel’s high operating costs vindicate the chartering by a third party, regardless as to how the vessel gets put to use during the lease period, even though the minister had initially
73 The boat is equipped with hospital facilities, a helicopter pad, and a crane in order to help assist in “disaster relief, search and rescue, evacuations, fire fighting, pollution control (like oil spills), towing, and other emergency operations” (Engelbrecht). 87 boasted about the ship’s essential and focal purpose—the urgent necessity to intercept poaching of endangered fish populations and to protect the marine environment in general. At the time, the minister audaciously declared, “We said we mean business, and we are showing it” (Maclennan).
Essentially, Van Schalkwyk’s brazen justification of the government turning a blind eye to the misuse in service of the petro industry situates monetary interests at the center of discourse, which allows him to unflinchingly dodge questioning on grounds of ethical consideration and governmental obligation and responsibility, because, in neo-liberal climates and currents, shortsighted profits are valued over long-term, sustainable approaches.
Van Schalkwyk’s words demonstrate the corruption of the vessel’s purpose, its twisted re-appropriation to pursue the very goals it claims to combat, illustrating the power of capital interests and their reigning preeminence when competing with the ecological crisis. Other(ed) concerns, like environmental issues, ultimately drown and fall by the wayside as collateral damage. Shaheen Moolla, a former senior official in the Marine and Coastal branch, draws attention to the arbitrariness and inconsistency with which capitalist logic operates. She argues that by the same token, during his hearing in Parliament as the minister justified the misuse of the ship to supplement its operating costs, he “should also have been asked what value of
Patagonian toothfish and other offshore resources had been plundered by poachers since 2005, including hake, roughy and large pelagics” (Yeld).
I begin this chapter with the story of South Africa's first environmental protection vessel because it allows me to unravel interconnected issues that relate to my overarching project. First, the vessel’s story showcases how politicians and officials in charge of protecting the disenfranchised, nonhuman life forms and the environment are ignoring the crisis as governments worldwide are avoiding obligations and responsibility. Second, it reveals how the
88 lack of transparency, the inaction of the masses, as well as the uncritical reliance on governing bodies, further empower transnational economic actors to operate in lax regulatory climates.
Third, it raises the question of whether a price tag can be put on the extinction of rare plant and animal species or the depletion of natural resources in the most general terms. What are the limits of corporate and environmental deregulation if
The overall picture is one of widespread and rapidly expanding marketization,
with legislation, international trade agreements, multinational corporations and
other pro-market forces poised to deepen the commercialization trend. (24)
Commodification is a set of systematic processes that operate through the logic of the market. It includes privatization, which transfers ownership and control of resources from public to private hands (23). In essence, the privatization of natural resources postulates a mind-set that considers all aspects of life and nonlife as tradable objects—as matters are seen as inherently commodifiable for profits. Hardt and Negri explain that “Neoliberal government policies throughout the world have sought in recent decades to privatize the common, making cultural products—for example, information, ideas, and even species of animals and plants—into private property” (viii). 74 These developments are best exemplified through the food system, a giant industrial sector directly entangled with a number of methods and practices like landgrabbing 75 ,
74 Several other works by Shiva point to this same conclusion. 75 Recent years have seen an explosion in foreign land acquisitions. As Lester Brown, the author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity , notes in his book, “[B]y the end of 2009, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2010 World Bank analysis of these ‘land grabs’ reported that a total of nearly 140 million acres were involved” (13). In their report focusing on land and water grabs published in January 2013, Rulli, Saviori, and D’Odorico count at least sixty-two grabbed countries and forty-one grabbers. The grabbing occurs on all continents except Antarctica. Africa ranks at forty- seven percent followed by Asia at thirty-three percent of the global grabbed area respectively (893). A staggering ninety percent of the grabbed area is divided among only twenty-four countries most located in Sub-Saharan Africa, which compromises the poorest and most malnourished nations on earth (Some of the grabbed countries are also grabbing, such as Argentina, Australia, the Philippines, and Sudan). According to the report, the authors state that based on the comparatively “high grabbed-to-cultivated area ratios,” it can be assumed that an enormous quantity of land was not cultivated prior to the grabbing. Intensive resource hoarding including deforestation and land-use change (893) propelled by affluent nations have driven the alarming rates of land deterioration in most of the 89 food price speculation, locked access to commons, and biotech seed patenting that are running traditional, small-scale farmers and nomad peasantry into the ground. While aggravating the desolate conditions for survival in these regions, women are faced with shrinking opportunities, and the land is rendered uninhabitable and uncultivable. Inside the food system, power has been removed from small-scale farmers and is concentrated among only a few megacompanies, whose directors routinely function on the board of other corporations across the financial, biotech, and general consumer product sector. For example, in her research article “The Big Six: A Profile of
Corporate Power in Seeds, Agrochemicals & Biotech,” Hope Shand identifies “The Big Six” as the multinational power players—Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, and Dow—which in 2009 possessed fifty-eight percent of global market share of seed sales, seventy-one percent of global market share of agrochemical sales, and seventy percent of crop research and development devoted to ag-biotech. According to Shand, market concentration in the commercial vegetable seed sector is higher. She writes, “The top 4 companies controlled 70% of
grabbed countries (894). Often, individuals and communities are unaware of land purchases and how it alters their way of life, Wolford points out. Brian Bienkowski citing Wolford explains, “[P]eople could have gathered timber from the woods or lived downstream of the land grabbed. [T]hese things could be taken away without them knowing what happened.” In other words, these commercially steered investment deals not only adversely affect local groups situated in direct or close vicinity to the grabbed land or water sources, but every grab inevitably spills across borders as these natural elements interlock in a net of interacting ecologies with chilling affects for distant communities and ecologies. Similarly, water streams are not bound by national borders, so if the water gets diverted upstream, this leads to unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences downstream. In fact, most of the grabbed land is turned into agricultural land that requires vast quantities of water to maintain its production and thus “accounts for major water withdrawals from streams, lakes, and the groundwater” (Rulli, Saviori, and D’Odorico 892). Overall, water grabbing reduces the availability of freshwater not only in the area in which it is sourced, but it affects downstream areas, potentially “causing water stress, poor water quality, and social unrest” (892). Social upheaval and unrest resulting from diverted and drying up water streams, shortages, and lack of access have been reported from Nacala Corridor in Mozambique, where peasants are fighting mega-farming projects. Moreover, grabbed countries frequently suffer from high levels of malnourishment, while the grabbing nations benefit from the commodities (e.g., food, energy) that are generated in foreign territory (Rulli, Saviori, and D’Odorico). It comes as no surprise, then, that there is a strong correlation between nations instigating the grabbing and those with a record of imperial exploitation and colonization, with a few poorer countries getting involved in this new form of colonizing the global commons. The authors estimate that “about 60% of the total grabbed water is appropriated through land grabbing by the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, United Kingdom, Egypt, China, and Israel” (893). 90 the global market in 2007; the top 8 firms controlled 94% of the market” (11).This concentration of power has led to a myriad of far-reaching consequences on both local and global scales.
In chapter 1, I laid the groundwork for understanding and analyzing the theoretical implications of colonized knowledge(s) and showcased Indigenous models of intervention; in this chapter, I offer a critical reading of the colonial relations between corporate-political engines and disenfranchised groups and the legacies of appropriation and commercialization that underwrite these relations. L. Smith, among other Indigenous thinkers, argues that in past processes of conquest, cultures destroyed by imperialism existed for centuries before they were degraded by subsequent colonization, particularly with regards to eco-devastation. 76 In this chapter, I follow feminist scholar Chandra Mohanty’s call to respond to “the phenomenon of globalization as an urgent site for the recolonization of peoples” (236) to bring center stage how the often invisible struggles of marginalized communities connect to larger anti-globalization struggles that aim to combat the present neo-colonial wholesale dispossession of Indigenous and disenfranchised people worldwide. I am interested in exploring the co-dependencies and conditions that forces of globalization 77 have created for access to the commons and other shared ecosystems, such as access to water, in order to make visible the axis of power. In my exploration, water emerges as the guiding principle that explicitly links South Africa’s environmental protection vessel named after Sarah Baartman to multinational corporate
76 These thinkers also acknowledge that transculturation, which describes the product of colonial contact zones and the complex processes of mutual influencing under conquest and colonization as discussed by Mary Louise Pratt, among others, have had important effects on their cultures. Even though there had been a strong emphasis in the surveyed Indigenous literature(s) from the 1970s through 1990s centered on the continued healing from colonial trauma, contemporary Indigenous thinkers are outspokenly optimistic and hopeful. There is an emphasis on the survival and resistance of Indigenous peoples and a de-emphasis on the “cultural” demise that colonialism brought. According to L. Smith, “the sense of hope and optimism is a characteristic of contemporary Indigenous politics which is often criticized, by non-Indigenous scholars, because it is viewed as being overly optimistic” (91). 77 Borne out of a collusion of modernism and imperialism in the sixteenth century, “forces of globalization [are] still centered in the West (in terms of power and institutional organization) despite their global dissemination” (Ashcroft 103). 91 definitions of human rights, while bringing to the surface the links between human rights violations and environmental degradation. However, in its dual role as both economic-value commodity and life-sustaining element, water also emerges as the lifeline that provides energy for democratic change, healing, and renewal to create alternative practices exemplified by
Indigenous trade systems.
Retracing the genealogies of South Africa’s first environmental protection vessel, in particular, reveals how the ship’s trajectory is intimately intertwined with the nation’s complex history of post-apartheid trauma and Anglo-American neo-liberal colonization. In my examination, I align myself with the critical thought of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who contend that in the new stage of capitalism, there has been an erosion of boundaries between economics and politics, production and reproduction. Rather than sustaining a large group of people, capitalist exploitation is a hegemonic system that destabilizes and suspends democratic principles and renders formerly functioning systems, such as the food system, dysfunctional and susceptible to corporate privatization. Similarly, when the commons and other resourceful land falls into the hands of wealthy investors, it moves from being “common wealth” to being a unitary source of wealth benefitting a privileged few. Three writer-activists—Arundhati Roy,
Michiko Ishimure, and Vandana Shiva—vanguards, who have been tracking neo-liberal processes of dispossession, displacement, and toxification in the global South, are lending these often neglected causes increased visibility through their ecomentary work—fictional and nonfictional work, talks, interviews, and opinion pieces—with a keen interest in women, peasantry, and Indigenous empowerment. Via the critical grappling of these writer-activists and their important role as producers of ecomentaries, I outline the need to engage in intellectual
92 dialogue with Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies as I consider alternative ways of knowing as being key to mitigating environmental violence.
A Vessel Named after Sarah Baartman
South Africa’s notoriously paradoxical environmental initiatives are mobilizing an increasing number of researchers and scientists to raise red flags. For example, a news piece published in the February 2013 issue of Legalbrief Environmental notes that a controversial seismic survey of the ocean floor off the Eastern Cape for oil and gas reserves commenced, despite widespread quelling of concerns that it will adversely affect already threatened marine wildlife. The 450 000km² survey is one of several taking place off the South African and
Namibian coast. Outlawed in several developed countries, the two-dimensional survey method involves ships crisscrossing the ocean, firing several loud air gun blasts at set intervals towards the seabed looking for fossil fuels. A study conducted by marine biologists, Stephanie Plön and
Renee Koper, points out that, in spite overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic noise has been linked to negative impacts, both direct and indirect, on a variety of marine animals, “to date, no systematic formal research on the effects of ocean noise on marine animals has been conducted in South Africa”. 78 Furthermore, Plön explains that “Ideally one should employ the
78 Stephanie Plön, who is in a joint appointment with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), the South African Environmental Observatory Network (SAEON), and curator for marine mammals at the Port Elizabeth Museum Bayworld, and Renee Koper recently published a report for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Research and Technical Series, entitled “The Potential Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Marine Animals and Recommendations for Research in South Africa.” In the report, Koper and Plön find that anthropogenic, or human-generated ocean noise (sounds generated by large container vessels, small recreational and fishing vessels, seismic surveys, naval sonar, and construction activities) levels have increased significantly and have been linked to negative impacts, both direct and indirect, on a variety of marine animals. Plön said seismic disturbance impacts could range from behavioral responses to physical damage of body tissues and temporary or permanent hearing loss. According to Plön, “Ideally one should employ the ‘precautionary principle’ when approaching such issues and research should be conducted into the potential effects on local marine fauna prior to or alongside the surveys.” Koper and Plön explain, “The oceans are often thought of as a silent world. However, in reality the oceans are filled with sounds from both natural and anthropogenic, or human generated, sound sources. In fact, during the last five decades, ocean ambient noise levels have increased with at least 10-12 dB within the 30-50 Hz frequency band. This frequency band falls within the hearing range of baleen whales, of which 42% of all species are endangered. As a result, there is a currently growing concern that anthropogenic sounds in the marine environment potentially have a 93 ‘precautionary principle’ when approaching such issues and research should be conducted into the potential effects on local marine fauna prior to or alongside the surveys” (emphasis added).
If the government’s goal is—as it claims—to protect marine sea life, why is it permitting these controversial surveys? Plön’s charge that the seismic permits appear in contrast to the government's initiatives towards a clean and green economy using alternative, environmentally sustainable energy resources, indicates the government’s upholding of neo-liberal approaches to governance and raises the question whether the government displays political inconsistencies only with regards to environmental issues or also in interplay with other issues.
In the specific case of the environmental protection vessel, the story was unfolding in an exclusive economic zone. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, also referred to as the “most ambitious attempt ever to provide an internationally agreed regime for the management of the oceans,” an exclusive economic zone is an area “beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to . . . the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State.” (United Nations).
More specifically, in this zone, the State has
sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and
managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters
superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to
other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as
the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. . . . (United Nations)
The stipulations of the UN Convention beg the question, how feasible it is to slice an ocean into different economic zones if, after all, it is a shared ecosystem? Overfishing or oil spills in one part of the ocean will inevitably affect other parts of the ocean. It is not difficult to
substantial impact on marine organisms. The report investigates this matter and makes recommendations on how anthropogenic noise can be managed and its effects mitigated.” 94 discern the shortsightedness of this economic approach. Moreover, what regulating body decides which nation gets a piece of the oceanic pie, and to what extent are these decisions informed by neo-colonial practices? How binding are stipulations and legal frameworks that work to protect disenfranchised groups, animals, and the environment in these transactions of “global commons”? Who benefits and who loses out in the management of shared ecosystems?
Similarly, troubling questions are raised with regard to the outsourcing of production through use of ecosystems in distant territories, a process known as land or resource grabbing. How are neo- liberal globalization forces shaping policies and governing subjects? What are the links between the commodification and privatization of natural resources and human rights infringements? And finally, what are the interdependencies and conditions for access to common resources?
Infinitely more intricate issues surface when we consider the vessel’s naming for the
“Hottentot Venus,” Sarah Baartman. Baartman did not leave a record regarding her own life, but since the advent of Black feminist studies, which led to a reevaluation of her story in the 1970s, when she “ emerged in late twentieth-century academic discourses of racial and sexual difference” (Hobson 93) , an increasing number of studies dedicated to her figure have provided much detail regarding the historical circumstances of her life. Based on this research, numerous accounts, and stories, her biography can be carefully pieced together to a tightly interlaced fabric that reveals new twists in Baartman’s tragic journey. Baartman was a young Khoisan (Southern
African) woman who was reduced to the hypersexualized, “primitive” African savage for
European crowds to gaze 79 at while she was on display at circuses, museums, and salons across the continent. In 1810, she had been brought to Europe to be paraded as a curious anomaly
79 Implicitly, I am referring to the colonial gaze/spectacle here. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon illustrates how the internalization of the gaze operates and how it relates to power because the one who looks has power. With regard to the Panopticon, Foucault writes that the inmate “is the object of information, never subject in communication” (200). 95 demoted to a grotesque figure and ambivalent fantasy made flesh for nineteenth-century
Europeans. The fetish 80 fascination with the hypervisibility of Baartman’s body did not cease with her death in 1814. French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier examined Baartman’s body during her lifetime, and after her death, he dissected and conserved her brain and genitalia for further experimentation and display at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, which underwrites that Baartman’s history is not an isolated, episodic experience, but a reflection of deep-seated patterns of discrimination borne out of racialist scientific discourse in Europe. 81 Baartman was appropriated, constructed, and disassembled under Western European eyes to establish colonial difference 82 , based on racial epistemic hierarchies that justified the project of European imperialism and expansive “civilizing” efforts abroad, or as McClintock puts it in the words of imperial rhetoric, “voyages of enlightenment and reform” (120). 83
The commodification of difference was and continues to be a central factor in the colonial/neo-colonial narrative—a narrative Walter D. Mignolo calls the narrative of modernity—because it ensured the superior standing of Europe based on modern cultural concepts of European “uniqueness” and value set in contrast to the deviant “primitive” Other, which was relegated to a lower “stage” in its progression and development towards high
European civilization. 84 Mignolo suggests that globalization works based on two complementary notions: the narrative of modernity, which I pointed out, and the logic of coloniality. The pivotal
80 See McClintock, especially chapter 4, for an insightful analysis of the “primitive fetish” in colonial relations. 81 For more than a century and a half, visitors to the Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris could view Baartman’s brain and skeleton in case number 33 (Frith). 82 As Anne McClintock notes in Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context , “for most colonials, African women serve principally as boundary markers” (268); moreover black domestic maids were “rejected but necessary” (277). 83 On writing against Eurocentric accounts of Sarah Baartman's historiography, see Natasha Gordon Chipembere’s edited collection; for a critical assessment of scholarly work on Baartman foregrounding the problematic continuation of the exploitation and exposure of Baartman’s sexualized body, and by extension critiquing academia, see Ayo Coly. 84 The entire continent of Africa was defined as “outside” of history by philosopher Hegel. 96 observation Mignolo makes, then, is that the colonizing system operates under a “logic of coloniality that translated differences into values” (11). This logic allowed the colonizer to commodify and profit from difference in three important ways: economically through the exploitation of labor, socially by claiming higher social status based on relegating the Other to a lower, inferior status, and lastly, culturally as European cultural production was highly valued and circulated to perpetuate the preeminent standing of Europe, each venues which assisted in maintaining the system’s global standing as the "Empire on which the sun never sets."
According to Janell Hobson, author of Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in
Popular Culture (2005), Baartman epitomized difference made flesh that was commodifiable and consumable as Sarah Baartman became an iconic symbol for the objectification and commodification of the black female body (Fleetwood 2011; Henderson 2010; hooks 1981;
Wallace-Sanders 2002). Lydie Moudileno has notes in her article “Returning Remains: Saartjie
Baartman, or the ‘Hottentot Venus’ as Transnational Postcolonial Icon”:
Saartjie Baartman’s body and trajectory from the time of her birth to the time of
her burial in South Africa have been used, constructed and recuperated on
multiple occasions at different historical periods and by different groups
according to varying ideological agendas. (36) What her trajectory tells us is that
at each stage, a physical body and fictional narrative have been systematically
re-assembled and disassembled, abandoned and reclaimed. (210)
I find Lydie Moudileno’s notion of imagining Baartman’s transnational journey as a trajectory in various stages helpful for sorting through Baartman’s complex history of commodification. The continued use of Baartman’s name signals that colonization is not in the past.
97 The desire to be in possession of Baartman’s body is one of the most pervasive themes in
Baartman’s history, effectively binding together the various stages in the narrative of Baartman’s colonization. In 1995, after Baartman haunted French museum halls for more than 150 years, the
South African government began to press the French government for the return of Baartman’s remains to South Africa in what appears to be a scramble to breathe life back into the disquieting icon of an old narrative reenacted in the epos of displacement. As noted by several theorists, including Hobson and Moudileno, the timing for the government’s reinvoking of Baartman is not a coincidence. While Hobson has suggested that “This reclaiming of Baartman . . . paralleled
South African politics when the post-apartheid South African government began agitating around 1995 for the return of her remains to her place of origin” (93), Moudileno rejects
Hobson’s idea of considering it a parallel development, suggesting instead that
[t]he end of apartheid in South Africa was a key event in the trajectory and
popularity of Baartman, since this historical moment opens up the possibility of
the return. The end of the Apartheid regime was one of the most significant events
in African and world history, and the “return” of Nelson Mandela as a free man in
South Africa one of the most symbolically charged events at the end of the
twentieth-century. This geopolitical turning point allows Baartman’s case to be
re-opened, since up until that point her symbolic value belonged to a tragic but
remote colonial past whose connection with the present was nonexistent. (203)
Here, I agree with Moudileno and extend her reading into my own to suggest that Nelson
Mandela’s return to South Africa, which Moudileno describes as a geopolitical turning point, carries its specific valence because it opens up different kinds of borders from the convergence of three crucial factors: first, the event of the return of Mandela, a figure West Europe
98 sympathizes with to the point that in his study Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the
Poor , Rob Nixon writes, “The Commonwealth, the United States, and the European Union were all goading Mandela to take the lead in Africa” (115); second, the evolving geopolitical circumstances and spaces—South Africa, a poor country in rubbles lacking infrastructure, but with ripe opportunities for global investment in addition to access to three oceans (Indian Ocean to the west, South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Southern Ocean to the south); and third, a time when powerful globalization forces are seeking investment opportunities in the Third World with particular interest in water privatization deals. On these shifting political grounds, South Africa deeply engages in negotiating its strategic objectives, designed to “protect and promote” its domestic interests with regards to matters of economic development and cultural identity. More broadly, the Baartman negotiations occurred when Third World nations, such as South Africa, were struggling to come to terms with “colonial history and the postcolonial present” (208) on the one hand, while simultaneously attempting to develop a national, as well as “an independent economic and political identity under the pressures of globalization” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and
Tiffin 146) on the other hand. In this dynamic process of opposing and overlapping forces,
Baartman becomes a contested site of memory making and grim reminder that the struggle over the meaning of her exploitation still haunts the South African nation. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Baartman’s ghost rises from the rubble of the post-apartheid regime, invoked and reclaimed by the South African government under the pretext of a new African identity as illustrated in Van Schalkwyk’s 2005 statement:
It was the greed and ignorance of unscrupulous men that led to Sarah’s
exploitation. The return of her mortal remains in 2002 helped to restore the
dignity of our nation. The Sarah Baartman [vessel] will make a similar
99 contribution—helping us to track down and punish those whose greed is stripping
our country of its valuable marine resources, and helping us to assert our authority
in our territorial waters. The story of Sarah’s return has become a symbol of
Africa’s renaissance. The Sarah Baartman will be a tribute to her memory and the
contribution of South African women to the building of our country. This vessel
will be an asset not only for South Africa, but for the entire SADC region.
The minister’s hyperbolic speech operates through idealized notions of nationhood and the deceptive appearance of cultural openness in which Sarah Baartman emerges as a transnational, gendered, and sexualized idol, whose complex identity is reduced to a powerful symbol of national allegory. As McClintock asserts, “Women are typically constructed as the symbolic bearers of nation, but are denied any direct relation to national agency” (354). Moreover, she notes that "in our time, national collectivity is experienced preeminently through spectacle"
(374). In Van Schalkwyk’s saturated speech of Sarah Baartman, the spectacle of national collectivity was predicated on the racialized, dispossession of Baartman’s body. By naming the vessel after Baartman, the government taps into a rich historic vein, divorcing the individual from her potent symbolic value and repurposing Baartman’s exploitation as an emblem of a reinvigorated South African national identity to mystify her true purpose. In doing so, the minister reaffirms a socio-historic context permitting the limitless appropriation of Baartman’s image, which ropes Baartman’s story back under the auspices of powerful interests that prevents a reading of her story as a counternarrative to the official hegemonic story. This reading is highlighted by Frow, who notes that “commemoration is mourning, and it is not achieved when remembrance and meaning are so easily given.” Through the return to her place of origin,
Baartman geopolitically anchors South Africa’s project of national identity building. Regaining
100 control over Baartman’s violated, dismembered body is a powerful gesture of autonomy and confidence, which effectively diminishes Western European power over its former African colony. On the surface, the request of Baartman’s return is the ultimate act of freeing South
Africa from the shackles of Anglo-American preeminence. It demonstrates South Africa’s rising role as a global player, economically and politically speaking, while signaling its power to make requests—such as the request for the repatriation of Baartman’s remains—directed at the West
Europe. However, the fact that the negotiations are carried out among an entourage of both South
African and French officials and politicians not only underscores the anxiety this high-stake case continues to invoke, more significantly, it indicates a lopsidedness toward business over cultural matters, all the while hinting there are more powerful economic interests commanding the outcome of the negotiations.
I suggest that in this contemporary stage of Baartman’s trajectory/colonization,
Baartman’s significance is no longer limited to a symbolic discursive commodification of
“difference,” which served the project of empire building during European colonization. Rather,
Baartman has been reconceptualized as a commodity , whose name has become a “brand” itself and whose discursive franchise is working in the service of powerful, multinational political actors linked to the multinational corporatization and privatization of the commons. In retrospect, around the same time the Baartman negotiations commenced, South Africa was also deeply entangled in negotiating water privatization deals with France. According to a number of studies and reports, the first six privatization contracts in 1996 were mainly awarded to French water companies. In this sense, Baartman is yet again enlisted in Western European empire-building purposes as an instrument of indirect control, this time on a global/transnational scale, as the
“forces of globalization are still centered in West (in terms of power and institutional
101 organization) despite their global dissemination” (Ashcroft, Griffths, and Tiffin 103) but shifting the exploitive center of gravity to the global South. This is the point of convergence where the trajectories of both Baartman and the vessel conjoin in their perverse reappropriations: the same way the vessel was reappropriated to pursue the very goals it claims to combat, Baartman is recolonized to promote the commodification of life-sustaining resources, an ideological agenda that bereaves millions of discounted individuals, including Baartman, of their basic human rights and dignity—such as access to clean water and sanitation—for multinational corporate profit. In other words, it drives the neo-liberal assault on human rights in South Africa, which is also irrevocably mired in racist ideology. Contrary to reports from World Bank and Anglo-American governments, supporting privatization does not solve the water crisis that denies millions of poor people access to safe water resources; ultimately, privatization creates more problems than it solves. Thus, in her book Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (2002), Shiva insists,
“Water is a commons. . . . It cannot be owned as private property and sold as a commodity”
(158). But even though in 2010 the UN General Assembly declared for the first time that access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right (In the historic vote, 122 countries supported the resolution, and over forty countries abstained from voting, including the United
States, Canada, and several European and other industrialized countries; there were no votes against the resolution.), the reality is that were Baartman alive today, she would, most likely, have no access to clean water. According to Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo
Solón, who successfully led the resolutions on the Human Right to Water, said,
At the global level, approximately one out of every eight people do [ sic ] not have
drinking water. In just one day, more than 200 million hours of the time used by
women is [ sic ] spent collecting and transporting water for their homes. The lack
102 of sanitation is even worse, because it affects 2.6 billion people, which represents
40 percent of the global population.
This reflects the lived reality for the majority of people of color and Indigenous groups residing in South Africa today. In fact, Cosatu, South Africa's biggest trade union, states in a report that
“98 percent of whites, but only 27 percent of blacks, had access to clean water in their homes in
March 2001. In rural areas, only 2 percent of blacks had indoor plumbing.” South Africa’s attempt at establishing an independent national and economic identity is hindered by the racial dynamics at work and suffocated under the pressures of globalization because the First World has already created conditions and dependencies that make an independent economic and political identity for South Africa impossible. Ultimately, South Africa is rudely changed by the disruption of its independence through Anglo-American market forces and comes to embody some of the most abiding contradictions of colonial control. In this sense, the negotiations between France and South Africa are a staged political farce and macabre charade in which
France (Europe) returns Baartman at the price of slicing South Africa’s commons/resources into privately managed assets and commodities. This reading is aided by Moudileno’s note of how the French Senate framed the discourse with “a llusions to notions of French grandeur,” so “the return of Baartman’s remains came to symbolize an act of true French Republican generosity, analogous to the abolition of slavery” (Moudileno 207).
If the continuities of Baartman’s colonial past spans and highlights the contours of many borders, for example, national, class, and ethnicity, the return of her remains poses no exception.
Baartman’s remains were repatriated on 6 May 2002, the same month the government ordered the Baartman environmental patrol vessel from the Dutch Damen Shipyards Group. I suggest that the vessel is strategically named after Baartman to shore up a new narrative of symbolic
103 economic and cultural value. In this sense, the fate Moudileno projects for Sarah Baartman has already come to fruition through the vessel. Moudileno states,
If Baartman’s symbolic power lies precisely in her fragmentation and constant
wandering, then the return of her remains could very well herald the end of her
status as a transnational, diasporic icon, in favour of a national, or even
ethnic/indigenous identity. (209)
What I am suggesting here is that the very moment South Africa was in possession of the fragmented remains of her body, Baartman’s symbolism is no longer useful because it is not compatible with the prevalent narratives of economic value. This reading is aided by Clifton
Crais’s observation that within a few months after Baartman’s burial, her grave was vandalized, and consequently, a tall metal fence was erected to shield her isolated grave from further attempts of violence. “She's buried at the top of a hill overlooking a river and citrus orchards owned by the descendants of a family that took part in the genocide of her people,” Crais states.
“She is behind bars in her grave, and no one goes to visit” (Frith). I conclude that in linking
Baartman and the vessel, the South African government conjures up “the dismembered, exiled colonial ghost of the Hottentot Venus” (Moudileno) in an attempt to reappropriate the power of her symbolic status and to confer it onto the vessel, which is subsequently elevated to a new symbol of transnational economic power, as well as an invigorated nationalism in South Africa. 85
Even though heralded as a new chapter in the counternarrative of battling corruption, economic greed, and loss of endangered sea life in South Africa, I conclude the vessel merely ensures the continuity of a master narrative that will keep Sarah Baartman restless. 86 The story of
85 Moudileno seems to suggest that Baartman’s haunted colonial ghost comes to rest with her return. 86 In November 2011, South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries came under fire again for awarding a five-year contract worth an estimated $131 million to Sekunjalo Holdings for combating illegal fishing on South African coastlines. The Sarah Baartman was chosen to be one of the eight state-owned research and 104 the vessel acts as a mirror reflecting both the political system’s twisted shortsighted economic policies and the oppression and marginalization of subordinated groups. 87 The story of Baartman and the environmental protection vessel collude where both—the inferiorized body of Baartman, as well as the marginalized issue of environmental protection and Indigenous dispossession—are connected through a web of oppressive dynamics linked to a technocratic mind-set that devalues women, peasants, and all other subaltern groups and, by analogy, natural/environmental life.
More specifically, the MS Baartman becomes a charged site transcending the nexus of gendered, racialized, and sexualized identities to collude with human rights, environmental justice, and technology. It assists in bringing to the fore the continuities as well as the different stages of
Sarah Baartman’s appropriation, her entanglement with past, present, and future projects of nation and empire building.
Access to Commons as Human Rights Issues
Despite being responsible for the unleashing of dire humanitarian catastrophes, such as
South Africa’s cholera outbreak, which was caused by the lack of access to water as a
protection vessels to be maintained by Sekunjalo for this purpose. However, a gaping conflict of interest was discovered, given that Premier Fishing, as a subsidiary of the Sekunjalo Consortium, has existing fishing rights awarded to it by the State (Van Dalen). These red flags were ignored until a report exposed a number of significant irregularities in the awarding of the contract in early February 2012. Only after pressure was mounting, the tender withdrew its bid a few weeks later. 87 The decision to name a vessel after Baartman raises particular issues with regards to the problematic history of ethical labor practices on boats as vessels morph into contested sites where issues of marine resources and sea life protection clash with rights for (economic) fishing rights and human rights. The UN findings describe grave human rights infringement stating that, [M]ore recent research has exposed poor, even slave-like, working conditions in many industrial vessels operating illegally in developing coastal countries. This highlights the importance of swift and wide ratification of the Convention concerning Work in the Fishing Sector (Convention No. 188) and the need to introduce provisions concerning work conditions on-board fishing vessels in fishing access agreements (page 11, section 25). For example, reports published in 2010 by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), reveal how Burmese migrant fishers are ruthlessly exploited aboard Thai boats under atrocious working conditions, many cases meeting International Labour Organisation (ILO) definitions of forced labor (physical/psychological abuse and violence, wage withholding or nonpayment of wages, and death), in order to maximize catch sizes and minimize costs. According to the International Trade Union, there are over 250,000 Burmese migrant fishermen and women fish processing workers in Thailand’s billion export-driven fishing industry of which only 70,000 are legally registered. The report states, “[T]he ‘pirate’ fishing industry is supplying world fish markets with catches that hold untold stories of suffering and devastation” (“Illegal Fishing”). 105 consequence of resource privatization, the inhuman principles of capitalism continue to sprawl, trespassing any threshold of accountability. Yves Picaud, managing director of Vivendi Water in
South Africa (today Veolia Environnment S.A.), one of the several transnational French companies liquidating free water into a priced commodity in South Africa, said in an interview with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, free water “is not so good an idea.
It is better to ask people to pay very little, but to pay something,” because, he adds, free water
“gives the impression that water is free, service is free and you can use water as much as you want.” This perverse claim inscribes the hallowing, relentlessly calculated, injustices underway that impose their hierarchal geopolitics through coercion, rather than through consent. Thus, I agree with Roy’s apt conclusion to describe the unequal economic relations that are maintained between the Anglo-American powers and economically depressed countries: “The first world needs to sell, the third world needs to buy” ( The Cost of Living 46/47). It becomes evident how tightly corporate industry and policy makers cluster together to insist on unfair economic systems and policies, that above all, are designed to keep depressed economies underdeveloped, because as long as they are not developed, they can be utilized by foreign commercial interests to fit the corporate definition of what “development” means in the respective territory. The redefining of things into commodities is the prevalent mode of establishing the neo-liberal order as demonstrated by food-conglomerate Nestlé (the largest producer of food products in the world) Chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who possesses the arrogance to declare that water is not a human right. With his statement, Brabeck-Letmathe not only pushes to redefine water, a commons, in terms of its economic value, but also challenges the meaning and ethical implications, in fact the very essence of the definition of human rights. However, based
106 on their geopolitical location, some human rights and water resources get excluded from this liquidation as the following news headline illustrates:
While peddling the benefits of free-market privatization abroad, France carefully
guards its own borders against foreign companies, claiming water is too important
to be controlled by outsiders. (Godoy “Defending”)
As it turns out, water appears to be even too precious to be controlled by France’s own private multinational corporations. Case in point is the fact that the city of Paris reclaimed public ownership and management of its water system, terminating the 100-year “private duopoly” of the world’s two biggest French water service companies, Suez and Veolia in 2010 (Long “How
American”; Godoy “Water”). 88 At the time of Paris’s reclaiming of public ownership, the water management system in many parts of France and South Africa had undergone a sharp reversal.
For 100 years, Paris had its water controlled privately, whilst in South Africa, water had always been free to the public due to state subsidies municipalities received for the provision of water.
But as Paris was disengaging the ubiquitously tight grip private companies had over its water control, a decade earlier, South Africa had sunk into the quicksand of private water management, which ensured that public access to free water evaporated into thin air, notwithstanding free water poses a constitutional right in South Africa.
The loss of public water access and management due to foreign private control has led to a different range of material effects marked by deteriorating conditions for the poorer populations in South Africa. The World Bank, powerful Western European governments, and private investors were responsible for water—once free for the poor, the majority of them
88 Statistics suggest that Vivendi and Suez together control at least forty percent (seventy percent according to some sources) of the world’s commercial (privatized) water market in 130 countries with an estimated 110 million customers; the water giants Vivendi and Suez are paralleled by the immense power of multinational Monsanto in the agricultural sector, yet another multinational corporation actively undermining the rights and expertise of local communities. 107 women of color like Sarah Baartmaan—transforming into a commodity that suddenly carried a price tag because municipalities no longer received state subsidies for the provision of water.
Instead, municipalities were pressured into allowing and relying on the private sector to step in and take over, which has subsequently robbed millions of people from access to clean water. In
South Africa, the access to water became a contested site because in the mid-1990s, large food conglomerates, like Nestlé, were looking to expand their markets, and the fall of the apartheid regime and the rise of neo-liberal forms of governance vigorously pushed forward by the World
Bank opened up a large market for extracting resources through investors from abroad. It is well documented how institutions, such as the World Bank and governments located in the global
North, are heavily entangled in the restructuring of the post-apartheid state. For example, in the process of molding South Africa into the economic grid of Anglo-American capitalism, the
World Bank took the lead in advising the government’s economic policy, while systematically laying the groundwork for the state’s obsession with privatization. 89 Just how quickly the South
African government cozied up to the Western European and Northern American corporate order of things—despite the nation’s legacy of imposed European colonization/norms of governing—is highlighted in Nelson Mandela’s government proclamation. After winning the presidential elections in May 1994, he declared, “with a nod to Britain's proponent of privatization, former
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ‘Privatization is the fundamental policy of our government.
Call me a Thatcherite, if you will’” (Pauw “Metered to Death”). Furthermore, this euphoria was fueled by a brigade of multinational corporations eager to lend the new government a helping hand in its reforming efforts, not only for mapping out the new blueprint for things, but also for
89 While so-called “developed” countries, such as the United States and France, reject the privatization of their water and water sanitation services, much of South Africa’s water services are in private, mostly foreign, ownership today. 108 determining its stipulations, deciding which investor gets to privatize which piece of the South
African pie. As one multinational corporation boasted in its annual report in 1995,
Whilst these are early days in winning their acceptance, we now have the support
of the government. We helped draw guidelines of private sector management of
water and sanitation services and are now helping with a regulatory framework.
Foreign economic stakes in the regulatory framework unleashed a surge of privatization deals leading to the erasure of the public sector and exorbitantly high prices for consumers. For example, following the privatization through the French water company Suez, the price for water skyrocketed across the country, leading the poor scrambling to afford it. The black townships in the Eastern Cape town of Fort Beaufort paid a flat rate of R10,60 for all services, including water and refuse removal. With an astronomical initial six hundred-percent increase in water service charges and a one hundred-percent increase for water connection costs, the price eruption led to a
“national affordability crisis for black townships as well as rural communities,” as the right to the most basic of human needs, water, has been turned into a restricted privilege available only to those who can afford it. “They came to us and said we are wasting water,” Xaba, a resident, recalled. “We were not consulted, they just told us. For those houses with taps, they put meters in. Then they put the prepaid meters in. We said ‘no’ and then they cut our water. They said the water belonged to the municipality. They used a phrase, ‘No money, no water.’” To receive water supply, meters have to be prepaid; however, those who cannot afford to pay the newly privatized service due to jacked-up water rates see their water supply cut off with locks on their taps. These supply cutoffs have forced thousands to get water from polluted rivers and lakes, which led to the spread of the nation’s worst outbreak of cholera, leaving thousands of people
109 sick and claiming the lives of hundreds in 2002, the same year Baartman’s remains were buried in South Africa.
As many critics of globalization (Mohanty 2003; Patel 2009; Mignolo 2011; Ashcroft
2007; Grewal 1994; Rodney 1981) have noted, globalization forces are a continuation of older forms of imperial control and power (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 2010, 147) that are actively changing the organization of the world. While for a selected few this process has enabled access to markets, such as communication and commodity markets, these same forces have denied access to resources and markets for others. According to Foucault, with the move to liberal democracies, power is never exercised in a top-down fashion; rather, it circulates (93). Neo- liberalism has swept the globe, deploying its homogenizing infrastructure of economic control through privatization of particular forms of disciplinary conduct or, as Foucault (“The Subject”
220/1) conceived it, governmentality of subjects, while reproducing unequal power relationships and perpetuating its dominance within social, economic, and political arenas with detrimental effects for peripheral groups. While in the past, the subjects of an empire were mainly viewed as
“passive objects of imperial dominance” (216) that were both tradable and replaceable production units, the modern addition to this is the imposition that bodies are deemed moveable as migrants have become symbols of globalization’s fluidity. Ceaseless moving is a phenomenon, which at a broader level, emerges as a fundamental element of the displaced experience as a result of the interrelated issues of commercially altered landscapes, environmental destruction, and denied access to formerly commonly used, freely available resources. These populations are targeted in large-scale, multinational projects either for use of their economic production (cheap labor) or to push these groups off their land so the “empty” land can then be utilized for other economic ends (by foreign investors and speculators for
110 agricultural production or dam projects). According to Mohanty, globalization is the modern arena that manages Third World people in the name of liberal capitalist democracy (216).
Indeed, the increasing influence of structures and movements of corporate powers permitted to bypass state boundaries, in fact wielding more power than any nation-state, marks the “corporate stage in controlling bodies” in the twenty-first century (Mignolo 14). This modern stage of imperialism colonizes bodies externally , via hidden violence, through perpetually intangible, remote (ex-territorial), faceless forces that never have to take into account the physical consequences of their actions as they
[E]xert control through new instruments of indirect control such as international
monetary bodies, through power of multi-national corporations and cartels which
artificially fix prices in world markets, and through a variety of other educational
and cultural NGOs. (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin Postcolonial , 146)
For example, a year-long study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, released in February 2003, under the title “Promoting Privatization,” documents how some of the world’s poorest and most debt-ridden countries are targeted in structural development initiatives helmed by the World
Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as the G8 that effectively tie financial aid, such as loans, grants, monetary aid, and debt relief, to conditions on water privatization and cost recovery. Water privatization or cost recovery provisions are attached to loans made by these bodies to Angola, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Nicaragua, Niger, Panama, Rwanda, Sao
Tome and Principe, Senegal, Tanzania, and Yemen (“Promoting Privatization”).
As such, forces of globalization have led to a crisis of survival for the poor. “People are saying: I have to choose between water and food—or between electricity and sending my child
111 to school,” says Canadian researcher David McDonald. In order to understand the different interlocking processes at work in the (economic) dispossession of the poor, as well as the hampering of equitable access to water and land, it is imperative to shed light on global agriculture (which is inherently tied to the commodification of natural resources) and the changes that have taken place in this sector over the past decades. Agriculture is pivotal because peasantry is the most prevalent form of economic participation among the poor, women,
Indigenous, and other disenfranchised groups, while food production and food security have enormous economic and political impact on a local and global level, greatly influencing the viability (in terms of survival) of local communities, as well as the political stability of modern nation states. In the past, local peasants have witnessed the erosion and circumvention of their agricultural contributions by a large-scale transnational economy, a model of economic development tied to boom-and-bust cycles, which does not bring lasting prosperity and contributes to the impoverishment of lower classes. As a consequence, local agriculture has been bankrupted and transformed into a rapidly expanding commodity market of land and water rights up for grabs for neo-colonial powers. In the following section, I show how powerful economic actors and multinational corporations located predominantly in the northern hemisphere, in conjunction with local governances, have created a stringent grid of dependencies that caters to a system that robs people of their means of survival, animals and ecological organisms of their habitat, and destroys the sensitive ecological equilibrium that the planet depends on for sustaining life on earth.
Dams are a particularly devastating type of human encroachment into natural frontiers.
Similar to land and water grabbing practices, dam constructions happen most woundingly in regions that have been previously untouched by large-scale urban and economic “progress” and
112 modernity initiatives, whilst the inhabitants, the rural, the landless, the exhausted, and the trampled-on become collateral damage in enormous dam construction. The groups that have the knowledge to survive on the bare essentials nature has to offer get targeted in efforts to take away these essentials, hence threatening the livelihoods of the poor in order to improve the way of life of those already better off living in towns and cities. It appears to be a perpetual wheel that further deprives the poor.
Dams generate sixteen percent of the world’s electricity and have helped control floods, provided water for drinking and irrigating crops, and generated electricity for millions of people.
More than half the world’s large rivers are dammed in attempts to harness the aquatic element, mostly leading to the destitution of local life. For instance, construction is on its way for Brazil’s
Belo Monte Dam, estimated to provide 60 million Brazilians with clean and affordable energy, while uprooting 40,000 people, including 7 native Indigenous communities. Critics of the project worry that the benefits of the dam dwarf in comparison to the destructive and irreversible effects the gigantic endeavor will have on the Amazon’s unique ecosystem. Experts warn that one side effect will be the disruption of the water flow of the Xingu River, which is expected to dry up as a consequence. This would be fatal in a region in which local and Indigenous groups rely on the river for survival and transportation. Reports allege that the government has promised that displaced individuals will receive financial compensation; however, fishermen and Indigenous inhabitants insist that nothing can compensate the loss of their livelihood and culture. This sentiment is underscored by the following declaration Jose Carlos Arara of the Arara tribe (who live along the Xingu River in Brazil) made (during a discussion with former President Lula da
113 Our ancestors are there inside this land, our blood is inside the land, and we have
to pass on this land with the story of our ancestors to our children. We don’t want
to fight, but we are ready to fight for our land if we are threatened. We want to
live on our land in peace with all that we have there. (Schultz)
A sheer endless number of similar accounts have been recorded from other dam sites all over the world. In India, for instance, the Tehri Dam, Uttarakhand, forced the relocation of more than 100,000 people from their Himalayan mountain villages. When the dam opened in 2006 after years of protest by environmentalists, Indian environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna is said to have lamented, “This is a dam built with our tears.” In China, the construction of the gigantic Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei Province dislocated a staggering 1.3 million people and led to the submerging of hundreds of towns, cities, and villages to create the dam’s 403-square- mile reservoir. In Sudan, the Merowe Dam, Merowe Town, on the Nile River made headlines in
2007 due to pressure from the United Nations to halt the project, citing “deep concern” about human rights violations. Reports had surfaced stating that 50,000 small-scale peasants living along the Nile were relocated, while those who refused to leave their homes were flushed out when the dam was opened to create its reservoir (“Villagers in Sudan”). Similarly, Roy uncovered in 1993 that Indian officials signed off on the takeover and subsequent privatization of electricity by US energy company Enron, even though hundreds of millions lack electricity in
India, and moreover, the deal entailed flushing thousands out of their homes without compensation.
There are only rough estimates as to how many have been affected and how many more have been uprooted and displaced by these projects worldwide. According to a report titled
“Dams and Development” released by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), an offshoot of
114 the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “large dams have had serious impacts on the lives, livelihoods, cultures, and spiritual existence of indigenous and tribal peoples” (120). To date, dams have displaced roughly 80 million people, exiled and banished millions of rare native animals and plants, destroyed countless fragile ecosystems and habitats, and inundated innumerable important cultural sites, monuments, as well as sacred Indigenous ancestral lands. In her criticism, Arundhati Roy outlines how the benefits of privatization deals get promoted with little or no attention to the consequences these undertakings have on the lives of those affected by the landscape intrusions. This is illustrated by the fact that she discovers there are no audits, reports, balance sheets, evaluations, or studies regarding the effects of the dams in India. Outraged she declares in her polemic essay collection titled Power Politics ,
In fact, there’s no record at all. This is unpardonable on the part of the Indian
state. And unpardonable on the part of planners, economists, funding agencies,
and the rest of the urban intellectual community who are so quick to rise up in
defense of Big Dams. (66/67)
The lack of records, reports, and studies is, projected on a broader canvas, congruent with the lack of numbers for the globally displaced, because to acknowledge the number is to “confront the fact that the excluded constitute most of those living on the surface of the earth” (Berger,
The lack of data and transparency with regards to international resource and land grabbing acquisitions is notable as these tend to operate in gray legal areas lacking protocols and criterion for acquisitions, therefore making it impossible to accurately track foreign resource acquisitions. In addition, there is no clearly regulated organ of oversight that keeps record of human rights violations or has the power to warrant protection for poor and disenfranchised
115 groups that are disproportionately highly affected by these ‘global’ transactions. The poorest,
“who are the clients of nobody” (Nixon, Slow Violence 44), are targeted by powerful global interests that easily expel groups with non-traditional land titles from the lands, which countless generations had cultivated in sustainable ways while acutely aware that overuse of the ecosystem would disrupt the balance and render the land that the people depend on as unsustainable. As
Nixon writes, “In many instances, their relationship to the land is historically deep but legally informal” (151), leading to catastrophic inscriptions scaring both landscape and people, as nomads are treated as criminal trespassers deprived of every aspect of their ancient nomadic liberty. Writing on the displaced, Hannah Arendt states, “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion—formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities—but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever” (293). Denied a socially and spatially legitimized community, disenfranchised groups do not inherently lose their human rights, but do lose the guarantee of these rights. Keeping with this line of thought, according to Rulli’s, Saviori’s, and D’Odorico’s report, several institutions, such as the World
Bank (WB), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD) have chronicled how countless resource and acquisitions were completed in the absence of democratic processes, more specifically, “with limited consultation of the local population, without adequate compensation of the previous land users, and without seeking opportunities to create new jobs or enhance environment sustainability” (892). These unregulated practices of resource grabbing—that are widely underway with little international policing and mainly controlled by powerful economic actors—lead to resource bottlenecks and often proceed in violation of human rights, “without prior consent of the preexisting land users,
116 and with no consideration of the social and environmental impacts” (892). The environmental and socio-cultural destruction has no boundaries and alters life in the affected regions forever.
The Role of Writer-Activists
Instead of facing the factual pain of living in the present world as experienced by millions, the denial of this suffering, in other words, its invisibility, allows it to proliferate while the important questions go unasked, thus it is pivotal that notable figures like Arundhati Roy,
Michiko Ishimure, and Vandana Shiva step in to give voice to those silenced and forgotten, produce visibility about environmental emergencies, and raise uncomfortable questions by ways of channeling the stakes into public sphere discourse. I refer to these figures as “writer-activists,” a term Roy has deployed to describe the work she carries out. Several other writer-activists, who have their place in this tradition, come to mind, yet I limit my engagement to these three women as they actively address transnational forces that drive issues such as biopiracy associated with intellectual property right claims and electro-piracy associated with megadams. This geographically diverse spread of writers and cultural critics is read together as they are at the forefront of elucidating the complex politics of resistance, while illuminating the specific factors that spur and sustain displacement of disenfranchised populations. I suggest that these critics, despite their different disciplinary backgrounds, share the common vision that Indigenous peoples and their multitude of knowledges are key to a sustainable future of food production, agricultural development, and environmental preservation. I will show how these writers expose the limitations of national frames dominated by neo-liberal power dynamics and explore imagination as a social force in renewing awareness and attention, while contributing to the formation of agency in local places.
Arundhati Roy offers suggestive insights regarding the pervasive invisibility suffered by underrepresented and politically undesirable groups and how it contributes to the obscuring of 117 the complex, lived realities of these displaced groups. She has outspokenly scrutinized the flow of capital between India and the global North, and with particular attention to foreign privatization and megadam building projects across India as major investment channels for foreign multinational companies. To highlight the lucrative financial interests involved in the harnessing of natural resources, Roy refers to the business sector as Big Dams. In her essays,
Roy, as an Indigenous thinker, criticizes the role of the Indian government in facilitating the sellout of natural resources and human rights to high-bidding, multinational corporations by drawing comparisons to India’s former role as a colonial puppet during British rule.
Roy addresses how the politically undesirable are written out of the narrative of nationalism as these narratives have been and remain irrelevant to the lives of those not favored by the system because these narratives pursue a unilinear version of development that has no space for the subordinate. 90 As a result, the subaltern is reduced to a liminal existence and is physically evicted to make way for colossal dam projects, several of which have ultimately bankrupted local governments. In this vein, Nixon declares,
Thus the direct violence of physical eviction becomes coupled to an indirect
bureaucratic and media violence that creates and sustains the conditions for
administered invisibility. The result is what I have called spatial amnesia, as
communities, under the banner of development, are physically unsettled and
imaginatively removed, evacuated from place and time and thus uncoupled from
the idea of both a national future and a national memory. (Nixon 151)
90 Roy writes, “Essentially, privatization is a mutually profitable business contract between the private (preferably foreign) company or financial institution and the ruling elite of the third world” ( Power Politics 60). 118 Similarly, Roy insists, “For reasons more cynical than honorable, politicians and planners have successfully portrayed Big Dams to an unquestioning public as symbols of nationalism—huge, wet, cement flags” ( Power Politics 63), and she goes on to say,
The distinguished Home Minister, Mr. Advani, while speaking at the inauguration
of construction at the Sardar Sarovar Dam site . . . called it a victory for
“development nationalism (a twisted variation of cultural nationalism).” (64)
Roy offers a charge against politicians and planners at the national and provincial levels for promulgating myths of development, while severely neglecting their obligation and responsibility in assuring the well-being of those who rely and depend on them. Keeping with this line of thought, Spivak sharp-tongued notes elsewhere: politicians “offer grandiose solutions with little political specificity, couched in the strategic form of rhetorical questions,” (“French
Feminism” 177) while “the elite culture of nationalism participated and participates with the colonizer in various ways” ( Other Worlds 339). Here Spivak raises an important point. Select human rights are subject to redefinition and diminishment by more powerful actors based on the geopolitical location the infringement is taking place; moreover, these violations are enacted across class revealing both the complicity of the elite and the ways it benefits from it. In other words, the internal boundaries crumble for the elite (affluent citizens), while the disenfranchised find themselves increasingly fenced in on landscapes that are subject to unregulated intrusion and destruction.
Betrayed promises politicians and transnational trade organizations make regarding the creation of prosperity and employment opportunities mark the rapid deterioration and decay of previously functioning communities. The much-touted technological advances foreign investments are supposed to bring to these regions seldom materialize with actual access for the
119 local population. As a consequence of these “killing injustices” (Berger, Hold Everything Dear
102), many Indigenous groups and peasants are robbed of their lands without compensation, forcefully unsettled, leaving as a last resort the migration to urban areas, a space where people are forced into wretched dependence on capital for their very survival that render these groups prone to abject poverty and violence, while uprooting and isolating them from their culture and communities, which further intensifies their marginalized status. As Roy forces us to reevaluate what it means to be a modern nation and to ask ourselves at what cost it comes, Nixon observes that the divides and injustices assure the continuities of privileged access:
If the idea of the modern nation-state is sustained by producing imagined
communities, it also involves actively producing unimagined communities. I refer
here not to those communities that lie beyond the national boundaries but rather to
those unimagined communities internal to the space of the nation-state,
communities whose vigorously unimagined condition becomes indispensable to
maintaining a highly selective discourse of national development. ( Slow Violence
The notion of unimagined communities is useful for thinking through how the undesired are integral to nation building, yet their subjectivities are collectively erased under the garland of national prosperity and development, which is ultimately erected on their backs, as seen in the case of Saartje.
If Roy makes visible the bereavement of unimagined communities through the transnational political entanglements of dam building projects across India in her writer-activist engagement, she clearly has a broad Anglo-American audience in mind as she is focused on the
91 Nixon’s notion of “unimagined communities” is a play on Benedict Anderson’s work titled Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983). 120 presentation of data and records, or rather lack thereof, in order to appeal to the Anglo-American mind. Interestingly, by contrast, renowned writer-activist Michiko Ishimure makes it a point not to present data; rather, she blends the information into the traditional fabric of local stories and sounds such as dialects. In particular, her lyrical work Lake of Heaven (2008) epitomizes
Ishimure’s search for a local clear, untainted voice that comes from within the landscape, from a deeply rooted place of—to borrow Nixon’s term—unimagined communities, to tell the story of a lake that becomes the undammed portal dividing and connecting different realms of being of an uprooted village community that clings to its memories, dreams, and ceremonies for survival.
In order to contextualize Ishimure’s writer-activist ecomentary work more broadly within my discussion of the effects of eco-devastation and interconnected suffering across borders, it is important to very briefly sketch the linchpin of Ishimure’s earlier nonfiction work, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow , which helps foreground the later themes found in Lake of Heaven as both works are specifically oriented toward the healing of Indigenous lives and ecosystems situated in
Japan but apply to other transnational geographies.
Ishimure first gained visibility through her award-winning pioneer work and sensitive portrayal of Minamata disease, an epidemic of mercury poisoning caused by toxic waste disposal into the seashore in Minamata, Japan, between the 1950s and the 1970s. For her work, which has inspired environmental and ecological grassroots organizations and scholars at large, Ishimure has been awarded a number of domestic and international prizes, namely the Kumamoto
Nichinichi Cultural Prize (1969), the Oya Soichi Prize for Nonfiction (1970), and the Republic of the Phillipines’ Ramon Magsaysay Prize (1973). Ishimure, however, refused to receive the domestic awards to express her critique of the government’s treatment of Minamata disease patients. The nonfiction oeuvre titled Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease is
121 described as a “record of the earlier history of the Minamata movement in which the patients protested against the governments’ and citizens’ negligence of the victims under the name of national, industrial prosperity” (Akamine 88) because as the narrator, Ishimure herself, observes,
“Minamata disease is becoming more and more of a taboo topic among the people of Minamata.
They think that if they speak of the disease, then the factory will collapse, and if the factory collapses, the town of Minamata will disappear” (233). Sensing the urgency to bring attention to the struggle and violence of the ostracized and marginalized victims of the pollution catastrophe,
Ishimure creates a multilayered and nuanced collage of Minamata disease through a complex mélange of medical records, factual articles and fictional documentation, personal accounts and biographies, intermingled with distinct formal 92 and local Japanese dialects to signal different tones and registers, in an attempt “to let the victims themselves tell their own stories . . . to create a space for the victims' own voices to be heard, for them to rise out of marginality (even if only in a text), and for them to claim a visible self-identity” (321).
Different theorists and cultural critics employ different decolonizing practices. For example, Trinh’s approach to the conditions of subjectivity and objectivity is one of the most explicit theories: it consists of freeing discourse (with the possibility of freeing the way we think), which is exemplified in her approach to the nomenclature of the subjectivity/objectivity relation in “I/i.” “I/i” is the plural, nonunitary subject (9)—the “I” stands for the all-knowing subject (the subject that assumes to know), whereas “i” represents “the personal race-and- gender-specific subject.” As a result, Trinh’s discourse “I/i” consists of the collective and the individual. To be more specific, in Trinh’s discourse, each “I/i” is a subject and there are no
92 For example, Ishimure employs katakana , “one of three styles of Japanese characters, which is associated with cold and mechanical tones and attitudes. Generally, in Japanese literature, katakana is used to inscribe narratives about robots, aliens, and sometimes foreigners, so that the language can convey a sense of soullessness, gruesomeness, and awkwardness” (Kurahashi 322). 122 subaltern in these “I/i’s” (22). Trinh positions herself in the space that speaks with the subaltern.
She uses her privilege to make the voices heard:
A writing for the people, by the people, and from the people is, literally, a
multipolar reflecting reflection that remains free from the conditions of
subjectivity and objectivity and yet reveals them both. I write to show myself
showing people who show me my own showing. ( Woman, Native, Other 22)
Through her approach Trinh actively removes the subject/object (subaltern) relation and calls for a reflexive discourse. Similarly, Ishimure brings center stage the polyphony of voices (human and nonhuman) that are ignored in mainstream public discourse about Minamata disease.
Most notably, while focused on increasing visibility of the human catastrophe, she remains inclusive and slips in stories about the painful and deadly effects the disease has had on the many cats residing in the fisher village. For example, in the chapter portraying the fisherwoman Yuki, who is depicted as an exceptionally physically and mentally strong woman, yet whose body is increasingly ravaged by violent convulsions, Ishimure purposefully includes halfway through the chapter an exposé titled "Observations of a Cat Affected with Minamata Disease," a report that is directly quoted from the journal compiled by the Kumamoto Medical Society to suggest how human and animal suffering are analogous, as Ishimure “[parallels] the cat's dance with the
‘dance’ of Yuki who contorts her body as if she is dancing” (Kurahashi 323). 93 Describing the interconnection cats and humans experience 94 through the cruel grip of Minamata disease, the
93 The following excerpt from the report draws attention to the otherwise invisible effects the disease has on nonhuman organisms and illustrates the dance of the cat: This year the number of cats displaying such symptoms has markedly increased. Now there are hardly any cats left in this district. Local residents describe the symptoms of the cats as follows: They dance round and round, run about in a confused manner, and finally dash into the sea and drown. When we started our research in the Minamata area, we could find neither sick, nor healthy cats. (Ishimure 152) 94 Notably, Ishida remarks that parallels were known but disregarded: 123 relational model of thinking that recognizes humans and animals as part of a larger community of beings that must be treated “with care” in order to survive resonates with the Indigenous models discussed in chapter 1. While Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow radically disturbed the collective indifference towards environmental pollutions to such an extent that “many readers gave up their studies or profession and went to Minamata to help patients in their struggle for survival’ (Monnet iv) 95 , Ishimure’s novel Lake of Heaven can be read as a sensitive inward look into a culture imperiled by the construction of a megadam.
Spiritual Renewal in Michiko Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven
In Lake of Heaven (2008), Ishimure engages a careful articulation of the relationship between the broad geography of loss and those who are subjected to the bereavement through the volatile history of dam building, while illustrating the resilience found in Indigenous knowledges and within the power of the sublime—memory, dreams, and ceremonies in countervailing displacement and alienation across time and space. The richly layered and complex meditation— on time and space, on the relentless flow of existence, on ephemerality and uncertainty, but also resilience and transcendence—beautifully renders not only the interdependence between human and the natural world, but also the solace found in its effects. This tale about what has been lost unfolds in the Japanese mountains where the old village Amazoko—the name means “bottom of heaven” (321)—lies sunken at the bottom of a lake created by the building of a dam: the sediment of history, homes, landscapes, and ancestral and sacred grounds that inseparably tie the village identities to local stories and cultural knowledge. Cataloguing the resources that the
The dancing cat also paradoxically symbolizes one of the darkest and most evil moments in the history of Minamata disease, when Chisso and the local government disregarded the result of the experiment which Hajime Hosokawa, head of the Municipal Health Department, conducted in 1954. In the experiment, Hosokawa successfully demonstrated the direct linkage between the mercury discharge and the symptoms of the victims by using a cat (Ishida 42). 95 As the narrator observes, “Minamata disease is becoming more and more of a taboo topic among the people of Minamata. They think that if they speak of the disease, then the factory will collapse, and if the factory collapses, the town of Minamata will disappear” (233). 124 transplanted draw on to challenge the fragmentation of identities and landscapes, Ishimure’s distinct mythopoetic style blends together myths and storytelling with particular attention to the
“world of sounds” (xi) and voice to chronicle inseparable ties between landscape and culture, as well as intimate relationships between humans and the natural/nonhuman world. Gary Snyder has described Lake of Heaven as “a remarkable text of mythopoetic quality—with a Noh flavor—that presents much of the ancient lore of Japan and the lore of the spirit world—and is in a way a kind of myth-drama, not a novel.” More broadly, Lake of Heaven becomes an allegory for the larger world, “in which all of our old cultures and all of our old villages are becoming buried, sunken, and lost under the rising waters of the dams of industrialization and globalization” (Snyder qtd. in Allen’s Translator’s Introduction to Lake of Heaven xi). On the shore, Ohina opens the narrative by reminiscing about the past and present, when she encounters
Masahiko, who, having ancestral Indigenous ties to the village through his grandfather Masahito, has traveled from Tokyo to scatter his grandfather’s ashes. About Masahiko Ishimure writes,
“[H]e had come here for escape from the helter-skelter, clamorous, end-of-century world” (31), describing Tokyo as “one giant cancer cell” (77). Crushed and drowned by the noise and pollution characteristic of the modern mega city, his grandfather’s flickering and fading memories and dreams of Amazoko are hijacked by his memories of war and terror tormenting his fragmented psyche and soul. Not until Masahiko meets the villagers of Amazoko is he able to piece together the fragments that explained the uprootedness his grandfather experienced but never recovered from:
The voice that Masahiko could never forget had been the old man’s cry of
desperation. The inner cosmos in which he had been brought up, where people
125 had lived in a world of myth, now lay destroyed at the bottom of the lake and he
remained a lone survivor wandering in an unknown megalopolis. (271)
The haze of paralysis and disorientation imperiling Masahito’s soul, as well as the subsequent misreading of the signs of his condition—shrugged off by the technocratic citizens of the metropolis, who deem what they see as the senile and hallucinatory state of a crazy, old man— suggest that Masahito’s years spent in the city resemble a slow drowning. However, the genealogy of his dreams of Amazoko come full circle after his grandson arrives at the lake, immersing himself in the forgotten world and traditions of the village. Set in an ambivalent time gone by, Lake of Heaven communicates with larger spaces and questions, accentuating people’s intimate kinship with their surroundings in which landscapes serve in dual capacity as respected commons and as restorative, peaceful sites of human/nonhuman intermingling, finding expression through Ishimure’s poetically invoked, gracefully laced, acoustic imagination with specific attention to animal and plant life in acknowledgment that environmental degradation not only visibly alters our world but also audibly. Her work speaks to the senses, which causes
Masahiko to reflect on his own identity. Notably, Masahiko’s arrival not only intertwines with
O-bon , the summer festival for remembering the dead, but also with the mystery of Sayuri, the o-miko (female ceremony attendant) from Okinomiya (literally, “Palace of the Sea “), who is found dead from drowning in the lake. As the mystery of her drowning unfolds, Masahiko, at last, discovers his ancestral roots are deeply connected to the old ceremonial rites for the “whole water system” (336), linking him to the land and giving meaning to his literal and metaphorical return to the land.
Ishimure offers a sensitive and multifaceted account of the lived experiences of displaced populations that places the status of disrupted and dispossessed people and their invisibility, as
126 well as their marginal agency, at the heart of the novel by tracking the condition of psychological and cultural disorientation and fragmentation by those whose lands and lives have been submerged. The drowning has left deep inscriptions: the lives of those displaced are changed forever, while the destitution experienced over the loss paralyzes the villagers. The paralysis dramatizes the violence in the encounter between sprawling modern development and dwindling homes and landscapes for the rural population.
When the dam was finished it was given a name. When the bottom of Utazaka
Hill was flooded and the people were left with no way to go or come from their
village they just stood around and stared into the water. (44)
Moreover, the bewilderment and compassion the villagers experience for their environment as they must witness the drowning of their village is distinctly summed up when an elder woman whispers the subsequent words into her grandson’s ear: “I want you to remember this well—all these insects here are among the ten thousand beings. What’s going to become of them now, with no place to go?” (324). Never romanticizing the hardships or the suffering, rather with a keen awareness for the realities of life lived on the margins, for the fragility of life, and the interconnected worlds of (different states of) being, Ishimure’s luminous prose (e.g., “Her voice and the motions of her body were like the spirit of a tree, or of an object answering to a faint, distant wind” ) paints the picture of a simple life ostensibly attuned to the natural world and its seasonal changes in which every being and every natural element has its place as a respected entity. The shared acknowledgment or even philosophy among the villagers pervades every essence of their communal life, history, and epistemes, and finds expression through traditional peasantry, ceremonies, songs, and dances. They consider their relationship with plants and animals as interdependent and interwoven. In this worldview, the insects in the fields, which
127 keep pests at bay, are equally as important and significant as the water lifelines that naturally keep the fields irrigated. It is the sort of Indigenous relational worldview that supports human futures through sustainable agriculture in balance with the nonhuman.
The villagers all turned out to take care of things like conducting the memorial
service for the dead insects of the fields. . . . It was in such a way that there came
to be instilled in the villagers a sensitivity to these capillaries of the earth, and a
caring to ensure that the system always flowed properly. Should these lifelines of
countless waterways that ran all the way from Oki no Miya to the source of the
Isara River on Ontake Peak dry up, the life of the village would be cut off. (99)
Living in close symbiosis with the natural world despite their uprooting, the villager’s despair is to some degree mitigated as the oceans of grasslands and forests that are hitherto filled with rich and intact vegetation and animal life in the rolling mountain foothills provide a safety net. For example, Masahiko observes, “the village had been able to get along self-sufficiently. [They were] people who relied on the mountains and rivers for their living. It had been that way since the oldest times” (326). Or in another example, in the opening scene, Ohina is described as biting into an unripe persimmon and, after careful contemplation, decides to “toss the persimmon into the thicket of the grass” because, despite her destitute poverty, she does not depend on the consumption of unripe food for her survival. Here the persimmon becomes emblematic for a system that reliably supplies plentifully for its inhabitants, so that notions of abundance and wealth come to be defined by alternative parameters. The significance and valorization of these natural goods find expression through their deep imbrication into the lore of the community:
“Where that red dragonfly just disappeared is where the old straw sandal shop
used to be.” After typhoons, persimmons used to be set out in front of that sandal
128 shop, ripening on trays. . . . “They get those Utazaka persimmons for free, you
know,” the villagers would note. It was said that the Utazaka persimmon tree had
stood there for six hundred years. At the time of the O-bon festival the fruit
sweetened up. (2)
In this sense, festivals and ceremonies, such as the O-bon , are also celebrations of the natural world, celebrations of survival and rebirth. In its dual capacity the persimmon comes to serve as a vehicle transporting Ohina into the past, into the world of her memories, as natural elements and animals become soothing messengers of restorative relationships and enigmatic gatekeepers to a world unknown to humans, illustrated by how the villagers refer to these messengers as
“guardian spirits” (67) that need to be cared for. For example, as Ohina gazes at some wild monkeys in the distance, she remarks how innocent their eyes look, noting, “How lovely. She realized she was being revived, little by little” (8). Similarly, during the fateful encounter between Ohina and Misahiko, a dragonfly that invokes the shimmering of water, seems to be magically binding the two strangers together through their connected fate the water comes to symbolize.
A crimson column of dragonflies, looking as if it had been sucked out into the
middle of the lake, floated back into sight and drifted between the two people like
shimmering water. (12)
Through its representation of the villagers’ tenacious efforts of resistance, Lake of
Heaven is clearly determined to restore agency to transplanted groups. Indeed, action and resistance are imbricated into the fabric of the community, which, despite its displacement, is resisting subjugation and is working together on restoring its traditions in the landscape it has been expelled from to renew its ties with the natural world and to redress the intrusions of space
129 and imbalances created through eco-degradation. The ecologically unfathomable relations between humans and nature, assist in bringing to the fore “the enduring resistance of dominated but strong and resourceful characters, whose coping strategies shrewdly oppose attempts to enslave the soul along with the body” (361). For example, after being swindled out of her compensation money (leaving her with nothing more than a few belongings, including a sickle),
Ohina lives on the outskirts of town in a small shack her daughter Omomo provisionally plastered together, where Ohina gets by on harvesting and selling barley and rice, while also having made a name of herself as an expert for catching snakes and selling their poison. Ohina, whose soul is deeply connected to nature, notes that the hut she shares with her daughter has only one window to the outside world, but in the same breath consolidates, “But even if it was just a cheap little plywood shack, as long as they weren’t chased away, it was theirs” (4). Ohina’s remark tells the untold story of endless genealogies of dispossession and depravation that violently push and shove the marginalized onto the invisible, fleeting brinks of existence. In
Ohina’s case, they have settled on the banks of the rivers, an undesired, perhaps transitory space, where they will be tolerated for the time being.
Latife Tekin’s Garbage Hills
Named for the camouflaged and hidden-from-view practices and spaces surrounding the metropolis, where, with very little oversight and regulation, millions of cubic tons of refuse are carelessly dumped in the ground daily, Latife Tekin’s novel Garbage Hills (1992) uncompromisingly links the rhetoric of expendable objects, peoples, and species to transnational dynamics of globalization, by describing how a landfill on the outskirts of Istanbul (Turkey) essentially becomes a transnational burial ground for imported technology, uprooted families, migrated workers, and damaged ecosystems. In this sense, Garbage Hills is comparable to how
130 Lake of Heaven becomes the metaphorical burial site of Amazoko and all the stories and myths tied to life in Amazoko, yet Garbage Hills is more pessimistic in its outlook. I suggest that
Tekin’s work exemplifies an alternative narrative of what migration, environmental uprooting, and urban decay look like in economically depressed urban regions; however, due to the limited to scope of my study, I will only briefly outline a few notes comparing some distinguishing features of both texts. Although both novels convey similar notes of fragility and desperate uncertainty, Ishimure’s work conveys a feeling of hope as it distinctly promotes the idea that suffering is reversible and that both memory and acts of solidarity and empathy are integral to the process of healing as mirrored in my discussion of Indigenous theory. In my reading of
Tekin’s novel, the utter disconnect from the natural and spiritual world forecloses the possibility of this healing entirely. If in Ishimure’s work the realities of destitute poverty are rendered as mere temporal conditions that provisionally lace the central, important and strong, vivacious, inseparable bonds between human and nonhuman worlds, as well as ancestral dream worlds,
Tekin’s novel does not explore this component of metaphysical and spiritual connectedness; rather, it emphasizes the dialectic between those with and those without power at the nexus of suffering and abject bodies.
Garbage Hills is about the lives of shantytown outcasts 96 , who are poisoned and brutally exploited for their labor in factories, and portrays the unnatural metropolis as a densely filled, inaccessible urban morass of decay, in which humans are out of touch with nature and where every inch of meager land is turned into privately governed property, including the garbage hills of the city. Numerous attempts are made by the city to expel the dispossessed groups who are trying to set up their shacks and huts on the garbage hills, with material salvaged “during the day from the garbage” (22) into a “Wood-and-Plastic Neighborhood” (18), “wearing plastic sacks at
96 A class that lacks social mobility. 131 night” (32) to ward off mosquitos and “washing in bluish hot water” that ultimately poisons and kills countless residents. Having no other place to go and with nothing to lose, these groups tenaciously and patiently battle until the city ceases its attempts to chase them away, presumably as an attempt on behalf of the city to avoid escalating the issue before it reaches the public’s eye.
From the first to the last pages of the novel, Garbage Hills is a battle, which only intensifies after the hills are renamed as a way to hide the “dehumanization, economic inequality, and ecological catastrophe” that turns humans into “disposable people” (Shiva). In a bold moment of empowerment and self-assertion, the shantytown inhabitants erect a wooden sign naming their settlement “Battle Hill” to make claims for a visible identity and space. Their challenge of the status quo is short-lived when nearly a month later their small makeshift sign is removed by “two official-looking men and replaced by a blue metal plaque inscribed FLOWER
HILL” (24). The new name for the landfill is misleading inasmuch as the living conditions are grotesque and surreal.
[T]he owner gave the Flower Hill people a little money per kilo for their pickings
[in the garbage], and no more trucks came to the Hill to attack the scavengers.
Instead of precious stones and pieces of gold, blood-red sores appeared on their
hands. . . . the men gave up picking over garbage and went off to find work and a
living beyond the Hill. Collecting garbage was considered child’s work, women’s
work. The women filled their pouches rapidly as though gathering herbs or
sorting over cracked wheat. (31)
In this passage, Tekin alludes to the work the women would traditionally be carrying out pre- transplantation and pre-urbanization: gathering herbs and sorting wheat. The villagers of
Amazoko have not (yet) experienced this degree of migrant displacement, as they are still able to
132 regularly engage in traditional activities and rituals despite their relocation. In the displaced environment of the megacity, however, the women are picking through refuse that oozes dangerous toxins and causes severe symptoms of internal, as well as external, pollution with unpredictable outcomes including death. Denied the self-designation “battle hill,” which subsequently cancels the notion of the actively “battling” residents, the dwellers not only find themselves covered and cloaked in the usual rot, dirt, and stink of toxic decomposition, but now their battles are eternally concealed under the hollow tombs of silence. Politically, on the surface, the shantytown has been quietly integrated into the urban zone, but the myriad of complexities have been successfully ignored because the garbage hills are regarded as an aberration and the shantytown inhabitants are considered abject humans unworthy of fair treatment, just compensation, or rights, so their chemically ravaged and bruised bodies wilt and perish unseen and unnoticed within the confinements of the garbage mounds due to the lack of advocacy and attention outside the perimeters of the landfill. Their unfulfilled lives and dreams parallel the fate of all living beings on Flower Hill, including the disrupted development of the flowers, which never reach full bloom, as the narrator informs the reader, “Those flowers too, like others on
Flower Hill, afflicted by pollution from the factories, wilted before anyone could smell them”
(141). The identity of the outcasts begins to melt with the space they inhabit—a dumping ground for the broken, unwanted, fragmented, and forgotten.
Storytelling as Healing
“Storytelling,” writes Trinh, “the oldest form of building historical consciousness in community, constitutes a rich oral legacy, whose values have regained all importance recently, especially in the context of writings by women of color” ( Woman Native Other 148). Traditional storytelling interweaves dreams, songs, lore, memories, and folktales through which cultural knowledge, epistemes, values and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation, 133 endlessly singing. Lake of Heaven is a tantalizing tapestry, a solemn yet joyful symphony, composed of these powerful notes and magical yarns. The characters are often described as falling into dreams. In an indicative, foretelling moment on the shore, Ohina has yet another dream:
When Ohina said this, the weeping cherry just stood there and shook its
countless branches, setting loose a flurry of petals all around.
“It must be painful, not being able to say anything.”
Ohina started to speak again, but she too became sad and looked as if she was
on the verge of tears. Then, distinctly she heard the voice of Omomo ask,
“How can I get to Oki no Miya? I can’t find the way through the thick
concrete of the dam. Come, show me.” (6)
. . . At this point . . . she woke up. . . . Grabbing on to a branch and pulling
herself up she muttered, “I wish this water would dry up. If it were gone I could
see the original pathways.”
In her encounter with the cherry tree, Ohina sees her fate reflected within the tree. The villagers are able to speak, but they are not heard. Deprived of their autonomy and their waypoints that intricately map out pathways and directives for navigating their social, cultural, and spiritual environment, the “road had become lost” (7). The signs are there, but environmental degradation is erasing the physical and mythical landmarks, while the younger generation, epitomized by
Omomo and Masahiko, has lost the ability to read and heed the signs altogether. In Lake of
Heaven , Ishismure suggests that the allegorical worlds of Amazoko, as any place on the planet, is at the “bottom of heaven” (321) (the meaning of the village name Amazoko) and could be restored if the signs were heeded.
134 In Lake of Heaven , the shore, among other elements of the natural world, emerges as the invisible threshold between various realms across space and time, land and water, living and dead, present and past, man-made and natural world, reality and dream, fragmentation and resilience. Keeping with Indigenous notions of space time, Gunn notes, “The traditional tribal concept of time is of timelessness, as the concept of space is of multidimensionality. In the ceremonial world the tribes inhabit, time and space are mythic” ( Sacred Hoop 147). Similarly, the shore is the guardian of elusive time, where the Amazoko villagers gather to remember what had been lost in the flooding. Based on Ishimure’s deliberate ambiguity regarding space and time, it is not discernable whether the villagers regularly congregate to the shore, whether they do so in form of a physical or spiritual journey, or both, and finally whether it is perhaps only one episode, memory, or even dream that the villagers dwell and reflect over time and again from different perspectives and vantage points in a number of scenes. For example, the reader is reminded that thirty years have passed since Amazoko has been tragically submerged (62), yet a few lines later Ohina contemplates over the events yet again as if the flooding had just recently occurred, even questioning if it had really happened at all:
Had it all been just a dream? That day when the village was flooded and the
people all stood about the dam with their hands folded—the sight of it flitted in
and out and mixed with Ohina’s thoughts. Words, like those in a song, drifted
from her mouth: “The fate of this world and the fate of that world are not
Ishimure insists that the reader cannot passively consume the narrative, but instead that the reader works to connect how the various pieces of memory, storytelling, and dream groove
135 together to function as a whole. In a similar vein, feminist postcolonial theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha declares,
A narration is never a passive reflection of reality. At the same time, it must
always be truthful if it is to unwind beautifully. Truth, however, is not attained
here through logocentric certainties (deriving from the tendency to identify human
telos with rationality). ( Moon Waxes Red 13)
As the tale slowly unfolds, Ishimure offers strewn glimpses, like scattered sea glass on the shore, that piece together a precarious mosaic of stranded existences and shattered hopes, roped together by the unwavering resilience and solace found in the interconnected spheres of natural and ancestral dream worlds consistent with the principles of Indigenous theorizing. For example, in Indigenous teachings, the emphasis is always on the “connection to the land and her creatures” (Gunn, Sacred Hoop 153). The transnational applicability of this Indigenous principle becomes even more evident through the aforementioned work in chapter 1, Wisdom Sits in
Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache , by Keith Basso, who did extensive ethnographic work in collaboration with Indigenous leaders in the US Southwest and who explains that the names of places in Western Apache tell more than a precise description of the location. He writes,
Place-names implicitly identify positions for viewing these locations: optimal
vantage points, so to speak, from which the sites can be observed, clearly and
unmistakenably, just as their names depict them. To picture a site from its name,
then, requires that one imagine it as if standing or sitting at a particular spot, and it
is to these privileged positions, Apaches say, that the images evoked by place-
names cause them to travel in their minds. (89)
136 Likewise, in Lake of Heaven , Amazoko exists through dream worlds, called up through rituals, prayers, and songs. In a particularly telling scene, Masahiko is listening to a traditional prayer which further propels Masahiko’s transformation.
The Isara River
Shows the way
For the bounty
Of the oceans and the mountains
The landscape Masahiko’s grandfather had tried to describe to him now began
to appear. The lake that lay in the womb of Amazoko Mountain was where the
wedding of the gods took place. (274)
A few lines later, then, Ishimure explicitly engages the importance of memory and storytelling.
In his childhood Masahiko had thought of these tales of a far-off forgotten
mountain village as merely the fragments of memories of an old man who had
been separated from his hometown. . . . Now he had come to realize that in order
to see into the world that had been hidden in his grandfather’s mind it wasn’t
necessary to resort to ideas from ethnology or recently fashionable ecological
theories about saving the earth. All that was needed was to share in the feelings of
these elders right here; these people who continued to return to Amazoko in their
Read as an allegory, Lake of Heaven offers a chance for rebirth; Masahiko “was starting a healing process” (290) surrounded by spirited nature, “spirits of the water, the grasses, and the trees,” and the elders. His experience thus reflects Gunn’s characterization of a healing ceremony, which moves an individual from a state of isolation (which is toxic) to a state of 137 incorporation (which is healthy). More specifically, Masahiko begins to come to his “senses,” a new sense of self-conscious predicated on memory and storytelling that is invoked by sounds and careful listening:
While Masahiko was listening to Omomo’s song, the words of his grandfather,
with their musical cadences, fell into context. So that was what it was about, he
thought. His grandfather must have been trying to convey the spiritual world of
his lost village to his weak grandson whose ears had become damaged. (270)
Set in motion through ceremonial song and verse, Masahiko is prompted to situate himself within the community of people and land and to widen his view and understanding illustrated by reflection.
The thought came to him—this is the moment where a vanishing mountain
people’s spirit is transformed into art. And then, as if gathering together all her
voices and breathing them into the sky, she began a powerful new verse—
weaving it into a tapestry of sound. (273)
In a moment of profound reflection marking the onset of Masahiko’s healing, Masahiko recalls pivotal conversations at school with friends “leaning on one elbow and blowing smoke from their cigarettes as they spoke, casually spouting off things like, ‘The modern era is an age when meaning has become completely deconstructed’” (277). Back then, he had silently questioned the premise of these assertions and wondered in what way this clouded worldview imbued the meaning of life itself. With his arrival at the lake, however, his thoughts progress from fragments to meaningful engagement and empathy with his surroundings:
But there in the village of Amazoko, he saw people living in peace with the
growing of the trees, the flowing of the waters, and the waxing and waning of the
138 moon. Here he couldn’t say that existence was meaningless. Even just thinking of
a biwa , couldn’t a person discover within its form a profound world of order? The
villagers see and understand such meaning and bring it together. They look on
existence as being one image of the world placed in the midst of the entire
creation; one in which all animals and all people, themselves included, have to
play their roles. They can’t help but give it meaning. (277)
Part of this rite of passage is the immersion in the dream world. Lake of Heaven is about the
(dis)continuation of life after the submerging of Amazoko, buried under the depth of the lake.
The novel does not follow a chronological storyline; rather, it begins on the shores of the dam lake, which surfaces as a line strung between fateful events, uncanny encounters, and Ishimure’s aesthetic sensitivity to the natural world, in which each experience is a piece of a larger narrative masterfully interwoven with countless other story worlds—“as if this world and the world beyond had become one”—lending it its mystical aura. Every creature, every action, every idea is intertwined with a larger common goal illustrated in the following lines: “Then in a low voice
Ohina began to sing, taking over for Omomo. It felt as if the grasses and trees all about were waving gently in the wind” (271). Soft whispers, quiet singing, and gentle waving motions of grass and trees convey a feeling of solidarity and continuity. Intricate descriptions of nature, locations, rituals, and spiritual setting take up as much space in Ishimure’s writing as dialogue, prayers, songs, reflections, and the action of humans, animals, insects, trees, and other nonhuman elements to restore imbalances caused by contemporary logocentric, separative discourse and action. It also shows the all-encompassing care and empathy the villagers possess with particular attention to trees. In this worldview, all natural elements and living beings are equally regarded as kindred souls and spirits:
139 Back at the time when the water was let in to flood the village, for two or three
days or more, tiny mud-colored bubbles had risen up to engulf the trunks of all the
trees in the village. They crept up to the surface of the water and remained there
for a while before breaking. The sandalwood trees disappeared, and so did the elm
trees at the bank of the Isara River, along with the great old ginko trees at the
graveyard, and the pagoda trees. . . . The old women had watched, holding back
tears with the edges of their sleeves and calling out, “Souls—those are souls!”
The imagery of trees is continuously evoked to elucidate how respected and cherished they are.
The venerated trees had anchored the community physically and literally. Of the weeping cherry tree of Oki no Miya it is said,
It’s the marker of the village. Poor wayfarers often used to come here as a place to
die. Beneath that cherry there’s a spring-fed stream that’s good for sending off
dead souls. It was a village where beggars and down-and-out folks often came.
You could say those folks were also guests of the village. (12/13)
The soul of the homeless or beggar has the same intrinsic value and is treated with equal dignity and respect as persons, animals, or plants. The “bottom of heaven” is an integrative place, in which those who are usually shunned and trampled on—the outcast and marginalized—are able to find a peaceful resting place sheltered from the aggression and exploitation of dominant society. It is a selfless ethics of compassion that guides their (inter)actions in which no element is more valued than the other, a shared vision across Ishimure’s work, as well as Indigenous theorizing about the interconnectedness of life.
140 Similarly, the little girl, Sayuri, who is adopted by the village’s midwife, was born to a woman who died by the wayside and whose identity was unknown (95). Nonetheless, despite her lack of roots in the Amazoko community, Sayuri later in age comes to perform the integral ceremonies in the village, revealing that feeling of interconnection with one’s environment is not so much a matter of century-old genealogies of rootedness in a particular place but rather a question of engagement, of strong felt empathy that guides the knowing and caring about a place, a landscape, and its inhabitants.
The elders watch the water rise, standing on the shoreline.
“I want you to remember this well—all these insects here are among the
ten thousand beings. What’s going to become of them now, with no place
to go?” (324)
Quietly but decisively Ishimure’s writing captivates the reader, sensitizing the senses, probing the reader to listen carefully and look closely, illustrating literature’s transformative power and writing’s power to transcend time and place. For example, dazed by the beauty of the mountain hill landscape, Masahiko ponders “in this place, except for the dam, there was not a single line of expressionless man-made things” (77).
In various episodes, different individuals have a vision of their old village that lies sunken at the bottom of the lake. The author writes, “At the bottom of the dammed-up lake the petals of a weeping cherry tree were swirling about wildly—like in one of those miniature water- filled globes. And then night fell on the bottom of the lake” (6). Understood in a larger, global context, the scene in the glass is a parable for the ever-diminishing, elusive, endangered, pristine earth that when handled with care, sways gently back and forth to its own rhythm, in peaceful synchronization with ocean tides. But then, if appropriated and unsettled and violently shaken,
141 the globe world becomes distressed, creating a reverberating echo across time and space. In this sense, the weeping cherry tree—or rather its reflection inside the scene in glass—the miniature water-filled globe becomes a memento mori , a reminder of the fragility of life. In a similar capacity, the lake is a mirror, a mere reflection: we look at the lake looking back at us. 97 Our own future lies at the bottom of heaven, and as we shape our future, we shape what the bottom of heaven looks like. Is it a desirable place to be or a place where we push those deemed undesirable to the fringes? Indigenous claims suggest that life exists as part of the sacred hoop and that there are no undesirable creatures or elements nor fringes or hierarchies; the “ immonde ” is nonexistent in Indigenous thought and praxis.
Colonial (Dis)Continuities: The Commodification of Marginalized Epistemologies and Ecofeminist Interventions
Acts of intervention are ensuing daily. However, countless stories remain untold, meta- histories buried, and visions suffocated in cloaks of silencing. It is essential to make local experiences available in order to show alternative, decolonizing ways of existence. One such emblematic story takes place more than two hundred years ago, in 1730, when 363 members of the Bishnoi community, led by a woman named Amrita Devi, sacrificed their lives to save the sacred khejari trees by embracing them. 98 Amrita Devi’s death became symbolic for women’s knowledge and awareness of the interconnectedness of human and nonhuman ecologies, as well as for women’s agency in protecting the livelihoods of these ecologies. Her courageous act was
97 Lacan’s mirror stage is fundamental for the process of identity formation. In the moment the infant encounters its image and recognizes itself in the mirror identity, thus, subjectivity is formed. There is both a recognition and misrecognition as the child sees an ideal of its ego. 98 Pankaj Jain describes how, during his local field work in Rajasthan, he learned that this well-known Bishnoi legend is challenged by the Rajput community (it remains unclear what the motivation for the contestation is). In fact, Jain was urged by several Rajput scholars to investigate the “‘real’ fact” behind the legend (63). However, Jain’s findings suggest there is more evidence that speaks for the occurrence of the events as sketched in the vignette than there is evidence to refute it. 142 the catalyst for many activist groups at the grassroots level throughout India. 99 With this event
“begins the recorded history of Chipko” (67), an activist group that, stirred by Amrita Devi’s bravery and conviction, began embracing trees and collectively prevented their felling in the
Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, as Vandana Shiva observes in her book, Staying Alive:
Women, Ecology, and Development in India (1988), which explores how the colonial and neo- colonial desire to regulate native lands interacts with particular regional social histories in complex and potent ways . Shiva uses Chipko’s activism as a springboard to map out the legacy of early ecofeminist interventions in the context of India’s pre-colonization and during colonization. In these early genealogies of ecofeminist resistance, the actors are rural peasant women who uphold and defend their pivotal positions as traditional custodians of the land. There are no records to indicate that Amrita Devi herself embraced any trees prior to her death, yet her sacrifice was the seed for this unique type of intervention. 100 According to Shiva, the environmental issues did not receive much attention in the global North 101 prior to the 1970s, however, the concept of embracing trees as a form of resistance and protection ignited worldwide awareness, and henceforth, heralded a new age of environmental interest and concern.
Ironically, through her death, Amrita Devi paved the way for a new paradigm, a paradigm for survival and self-realization.
99 Interestingly, the Bishnoi are not part of a declared “environmentalist” movement, but rather their care for trees and animals is part of their wider concern for moral treatment of all beings. According to some reports, Bishnoi communities continue to be among the most prosperous in the region because the nonfelling of trees has hindered soil erosion and desertification processes that are stifling life in other deforested areas of the region. Bishnoi are avid animal lovers and protectors of trees who continue to make news headlines for pursuing poachers and hunters at the risk of their own lives. (Many Bishnoi have been injured and killed in the attempts to save animals from hunters.) A high number of hunters have been brought to court over acts of chasing and killing animals in Bishnoi communities. Jain provides a good overview of incidences that made it into the news press during the last ten years. 100 In 2001, the Indian union environment and forest ministry awarded posthumously the first Amrita Devi Award to Gangaram Bishnoi,to honor his sacrifice for attempting to save the life of a chinkara deer chased by poachers. In the attempt, both the deer and Gangaram Bishnoi lost their lives. 101 Shiva maintains that the work of women in the global South alerted the global North to pending environmental issues. 143 In the early 1970s, Chipko 102 grew into a larger ecological movement that encouraged further protests against the cutting down of trees, and the movement received increasing worldwide attention for its distinctive nonviolent practices. Succeeding Amrita’s death and the advent of colonialism, the movement fought to reclaim the forest rights that the British Empire had revoked as part of dispossessing and displacing the colonial subject. Shiva suggests that prior to British rule, women had lived in partnership with nature, collecting and disseminating the valuable knowledge of how to live with the land in sustainable ways that maintained the sensitive balance of interacting ecologies. 103 With the arrival of imperialism, however, Shiva asserts that “[w]omen’s subsistence economy based on the forest was replaced by the commercial economy of British colonialism” (61). The Empire revoked traditional forest rights and defended their dispossession as necessary in order to transition from futile peasant forestry to efficient, profitable, “scientific management” 104 of the forest, 105 in other words a necessary
“civilizing” mission. As a consequence of commodifying the Indian landscape for profitable ends, its forests were turned into timber mines, and in doing so, not only the trees were
“shredded to pieces,” but also the livelihoods, rights, and expertise of local women and peasants
(Shiva). Gayatri Spivak discusses a symmetrical methodology of colonial practices in her pivotal essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988). Spivak’s essay retraces the suicide of Bhubaneswari
Bhaduri to demonstrate the intrusion of British law in the colonized culture, as well as the deliberate misreading of agency by patriarchal powers. Spivak declares that sati , the immolation of oneself after the death of one’s spouse, must be understood in socio-historic contexts. In 1829,
102 Translated from Hindi, “Chipko” literally means “cling.” 103 See Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development in India (1988) for a detailed treatise on the workings and effects the “scientific management” had on India’s forest. 104 See Vandana Shiva Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development in India (1988) for a detailed treatise on the workings and affects the ‘scientific management’ had on India’s forest. 105 The scientific management resonates with Hegel’s interest in establishing boundaries and categorizations of geography and culture in The Philosophy of History (1837), reminiscent of the separative discourse Foucault identifies with regards to the life sciences. 144 the British abolished sati in the colony, declaring that “white men are saving brown women from brown men.” The Indian countered the argument by contending that “the women actually wanted to die.” Amidst the discussion, women’s voices went unheard; in this situation, the women were rendered subaltern. The subaltern refers to those disenfranchised groups (women and immigrants) without representation or a voice and with limited access to power. However,
Spivak insists subaltern is not "just a classy word for oppressed, for Other, for somebody who's not getting a piece of the pie," but rather it is a term Gramsci adopted to refer to the proletariat,
“those groups in society who are subject to the hegemony of the ruling class” (Ashcroft,
Griffiths, and Tiffin 198), those who are written out of the capitalistic bourgeois narrative.
Despite Bhaduri’s own efforts of displacement by following codes (waiting for her menstruation) as an avenue to illustrate her agency and to avoid a misreading or misconstruing of her action, her suicide was misread/not read as an act of intervention. Instead, “it appears that it was a case of illicit love” (35). As a result, Spivak sees no space for women across class to enact effective agency within patriarchal society. Furthermore, Spivak expresses concerns that the privileged speak for the subaltern, as this reinscribes the position of the subaltern. In Chipko, when the women’s voices went unheard by the new government of the colonizer, the women reverted to using their bodies in peaceful physical resistance by embracing trees; thus, the women’s bodies became a strategic site and a tool of resistance. Shiva suggests there is an inherent correlation between the fragmentation of land and people and that this fragmentation has led to deteriorating conditions for all—human and nonhuman societies alike. Strategic fragmentation is employed by patriarchal hegemonies to continuously undermine women’s accomplishments and to ultimately mute women’s voices. It is not a coincidence that Amrita’s sacrifice for the trees was carried out on her body by the men, by displacing her head (logos,
145 reason, and masculine principle) from her body (corporeality and feminine principle). Her mind
(knowledge) had to be literally displaced in order to reinscribe her gender positionality in an attempt to render her voice, as an advocate for the trees, mute. 106 In this sense, Amrita’s displacement is like Saartje’s reduction to her sexuality and silencing. The fragmented and colonized body seeks restoration of autonomy in the regeneration of nature and preserving natural resources, while the villagers in Lake of Heaven , admit a certain degree of complicity when it is announced that Amazoko’s “lifeblood”—the weeping cherry tree—will be cut down:
“We’ve all gotten our compensation money, moved out, and turned our backs on it [the cherry tree]—so now it looks like we we’re going to have to face our regrets” (313). Granted, based on their status as a disenfranchised community, the villagers never had a say in their uprooting nor in the cutting down of the weeping cherry tree, and so as the villagers congregate to watch the cutting of the tree, it is unsurprising that they compare it to a slaughtering, reminiscent of
Amrita’s sacrificial death: “The cherry tree was in full blossom and it toppled over slowly, rolling over and exposing what looked like a freshly severed head. It was the body of a fallen giant” (316). Moreover, one village elder
reached out her hand to touch its open wound and sobbed as she stroked it.
“Forgive us. Forgive us. You were sacrificed for our lives. . . . We were poor
and couldn’t buy you back.” The other old women had staggered over to the tree
too and sat around it, placing its blood-stained sawdust in their palms and
weeping as they rubbed it in their fingers.
106 Keeping with this line of thought, Mohanty remarks, If we look carefully at the focus of the antiglobalization movements, it is the bodies and labor of women and girls that constitute the heart of these struggles. For instance, in the environmental and ecological movement[s] such as Chipko in India . . ., women are not only among the leadership: their gendered and racialized bodies are the key to demystifying and combating the processes of recolonization put in place by corporate control of the environment. (249) 146 “Forgive us. Forgive us. Forgive us for what we have done.” (316)
The passage shows how, for Indigenous peoples, trees are not a commodity. Instead, they are traditionally linked to social, cultural, and spiritual values, and a worldview that centers on being in a net of interdependence, in which every element nourishes and is nourished in return. Thus,
Indigenous ethics and epistemologies offer viable responses to eco-degradation, if all commodity resources were to be treated with the kind of respect and compassion the villagers demonstrate for their surroundings.
If today, lingering legacies of colonial conquest and subjugation target food sovereignty, the crux of this modern neo-colonial capitalist overexploitation and fragmentation of peasant rights is the introduction of patents and intellectual property rights that privileges corporate commercial interests (as sanctioned by the World Trade Organization and widely backed up among powerful Anglo-American governments and economies), permits them to commodify the labor and expertise of Indigenous groups and farmers, and ultimately yokes them under corporate control. Biotech gene giants, the largest, most notorious promoters of chemical dependence, namely the “Big Six”—Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, and Dow —have not only monopolized the fundaments of the world’s food supply, but coupled with biotech friendly regulations, acting as cartels through cross-licensing and consolidation of research and development efforts 107 , they are eliminating seed-saving practices, thus denying Indigenous seeds cultivators their history for generations, while removing their agency to choose sustainable farming practices according to nature’s rhythms and currents.
While in chapter I demonstrated which aspects of theory were useful to my project by highlighting the usefulness of Indigenous knowledge, this chapter illustrates how powerful
107 According to Shand, “Monsanto has cross-licensing agreements with all the other Big 5 companies; Dow has cross-licensing agreements with four of the other five, and DuPont and Syngenta have entered agreements with three of the other companies” (11). 147 economic actors utilize their privilege to ruthlessly render and appropriate “authorless” raw material (seeds and subaltern epistemologies) for profits as their own intellectual property, protected through intellectual property rights agreements. Often these patents hand corporations a monopoly and scientists warn that patents put locks on research. As Shiva outlines,
[T]hrough patenting, Indigenous knowledge is being pirated in the name of
protecting knowledge and preventing piracy. The knowledge of our ancestors, of
our peasants about seeds is being claimed as an invention of U.S. corporations
and U.S. scientists and patented by them. The only reason something like that can
work is because underlying it all is a racist framework that says the knowledge of
the Third World and the knowledge of people of color is not knowledge. When
that knowledge is taken by white men who have capital, suddenly creativity
begins. . . . Patents are a replay of colonialism, which are now called globalization
and free trade. (“Global” 32)
The insidious design of this transnational corporate mechanism creates a web of dependencies that turns peasants into modern slaves because self-provisioning farmers are competitors; thus,
Shiva calls genetically modified seeds "seeds of slavery." The previously sustainable methods of saving and reusing seeds, which was free and accessible to everyone (see next section), has been undermined and replaced by the present corporate patent system that continuously lusts for more revenue. 108
In April 1987, the final report of the World Commission on Environment and
Development was published. Our Common Future , commonly known as the ‘Brundtland Report’ was a widely acclaimed study addressing the global challenges of eco-devastation, management
108 Currently, giant agricultural corporations are pushing to write the World Trade Organization’s intellectual property rights treaty. 148 of the commons, and outline of concrete sustainability initiatives. The report suggests that “the roots” of this modern colonial system of resource fragmentation and commodification “extend . .
. to a global economic system that takes more out of a poor [country] than it puts in” (section
19). First, commercial interests suck the labor out of the poor for dumping prices, and then when farmers can no longer keep up with the outrageous demands from the markets and are faced with extinction, powerful corporations swoop in to promote the grandeur of their agricultural products with promises for instant high returns. In their desperation to increase crop yields—because they depend on it for their survival—many peasants are pushed over the edge and give in into purchasing these corporately patented seeds as a last resort, which ties the farmer to the corporation, namely Monsanto (or other powerful players, such as DuPont, Syngenta, BASF, and
Dow), for the rest of their lives.
Or these farmers are affected by the recent phenomenon that public seeds are simply no longer available because Monsanto is buying up all of the small companies. According to Shiva, all Indian cotton companies have been bought up and are now controlled through licenses and arrangements by Monsanto. As a result of this bottleneck model that Monsanto is recklessly pursuing, there are only three supplies of seeds available: (1) farmers themselves, (2) a few small private companies, and (3) private sectors. Following the scheme as outlined above, Monsanto takes over the suppliers and remains as sole seed supplier. On the heels of acquiring this monopoly status, Monsanto then increases the price of seeds by eight thousand percent. In order to produce more crops, peasants take up credits and sign mortgages on their land. As the promises of high yields do not materialize, for instance, because the crop is less resistant to diseases due to mandatory monoculture farming and use of (toxic) pesticides, the peasants lose their land to Monsanto. Bankrupted and with their existences in ruins after Monsanto has
149 squeezed the last drop of commodifiable productivity out of them, the farmers commit suicides at alarming rates (Shiva), because, as Mohanty aptly puts it, “Global capitalism doesn’t give a damn about the people or the natural environment of any particular place because it can always move on to other people and other places” (235).
As a result of the increasing stronghold of corporate giants that hold seed diversity hostage, Shiva identifies two very different approaches to agriculture:
One is the agroecological approach, based on the use of traditional seeds, diverse
crops, trees and livestock, with smallholder farmers and the right to food at the
core. The other is an industrial system based on monoculture, the use of fertilisers
and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), where companies such as
Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF and Dow are dominant. (Tran)
The inherent risks and dangers of biopiracy, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the frequent use of pesticides “drastically reduce the genetic diversity of the world’s ecosystems.
This process deprives present and future generations of genetic material with which to improve crop varieties, to make them less vulnerable to weather stress, pest attacks, and disease” (UN report). Moreover, Gilyn Gibbs reminds us of a study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Guillette in
1997 that “detected high levels of pesticides in mothers’ milk and found severe learning and development disabilities in Yaqui children living in these high pesticide areas” (Gibbs). As a consequence of the horrendous effects of this unsustainable corporate-controlled approach to agriculture, Shiva criticizes foundations and organizations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, because they support and promote the very type of agriculture that relies on GMOs and pesticides (Tran). Moreover, many genetically modified crops once heralded as super crops
150 for the elimination of world hunger have fallen victim to super weeds and super pests. 109 In its food issue published in September 2011, The Nation printed a series of essays regarding the food movement. Among the essayists, Vandana Shiva, Raj Patel, Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan addressed the urgency to reconceptualize our relation to food. As Patel put it,
Harvests remain strong, and people still go hungry. This isn’t because of
population growth—there’s enough produced to feed everyone on a Small
Planet’s diet. But the economics of crop production have increasingly left
concerns about human eating in the dust.
Instead of investing in sustainable, long-term approaches to set up food security, for example, through the support of small-scale farmers to sustain themselves and their communities, foreign governments annually pump billions of dollars into alleviating global hunger in ways that merely act as a Band-Aid and short-term remedies.
In a similar vein, Roy forces us to reevaluate what it means to be a modern nation and to consider who and what gets excluded from this narrative of modernity, which she follows up with a call for “decentralized economics, decentralized control; handing some measure of power back to the people” (qtd. in Tickell 35). Shiva sees opportunity for intervention in the deconstruction of the dominant mind-set. She asserts,
[S]eparatism is patriarchy’s favoured way of thought and action. . . . the
externalization of women's work and nature's work from dominant economic
thought has allowed . . . [their] contributions to be used but not recognized. ( Close
to Home 4)
109 Tran reports that “In India, Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis ) cotton, sold under the name ‘Bollguard,’ was supposed to control the bollworm pest, but according to a Seed Freedom report last year, ‘The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes,’ the bollworm has become resistant to Bt cotton. On top of that, new pests have emerged and farmers are using more pesticides.” 151 The dynamics of displacement and fragmentation are modern strategies of capitalist control that operate through practices like “The Feminization of Farming.” 110 This process is not, of course, an entirely new phenomenon—the majority of farmers and landless peasants and nomads have always been women; in fact, women form the “biggest group of landless laborers”
(Petra Kelly 116)—rather, it is one Shiva and other feminist environmental thinkers cautioned against before globalization took its worldwide stronghold. As a result of the subsequent changes in global labor organization, it is mostly the men who are migrating to urban regions in search for work, while the hardships that women 111 face when staying back at the family farms are pervasive and stifling, particularly with the newly added challenge of climate change that has brought about disastrous drought, unpredictable weather patterns, severe floodings, and dried-up rivers, which are leading to a myriad of unprecedented challenges.
Seeds of Change
We are dealing with life itself, so the first place we get power is by aligning ourselves with the forces of life. That is why the act of seed saving is such an important political act in this time. And that is the part that is linked to self-organizing—organizing yourself to save the seeds, have a community garden, create an exchange, do everything that it takes to protect and rejuvenate the seed. —Vandana Shiva
In recognition of the specific challenges women and other minority groups face, Shiva has long advocated for a movement to revive the tradition of seed saving because it provides peasants with autonomy, which is an important Indigenous principle of healing through empowerment and accountability. Moreover, traditional agriculture is carried out with humans as
110 A recent opinion piece by De Schutter was published in The New York Times under the same title. 111 The women struggle with persistently widespread gender discrimination, making it difficult, often impossible, for female farmers to access much needed agricultural resources such as land, fertilizer, seeds, soil, technical assistance or credits, and requirements for any kind of successful farming and certainly for corporate models, which favor “larger, more capital-intensive farms” (Patel 3) that require both access to capital and land. Thus, not only do corporate models exclude women’s participation based on the lack of resources, but the technology also displaces women’s extensive insight and knowledge (Shiva). To make matters worse, narrowly defined gender roles still deny most women access to education, which severely hampers the economic possibilities women have for their survival. 152 “co-producers” (Shiva) of nature that puts mindful and respectful human stewardship of nature at the center of human-environment interactions, in the Indigenous spirit of how people are the land. Ultimately, Indigenous practices do not regard the different realms of life as decoupled from one another, but rather caring for the land helps the land care for the people. Seeds are remarkable bearers of life—as Gary Paul Nabhan explains in Enduring Seeds: Native American
Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation (1989), “[i]n a handful of wild seeds taken from any one natural community, there is hidden the distillation of millions of years of coevolution of plants and animals, of their coming together, coexisting, partitioning various resources, competing or becoming dependent upon one another” (xv). Moreover, he notes that in the
Indigenous context, “we also have the germ that generates many stories, many ceremonies, and many blessings” (xv). Nabhan’s observations foreground the seed’s ancient role for sustaining life as a paradigm of survival and bearer of culture across space time. “The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection” (Shiva)—women and peasants developed nonhomogenous seed varieties that strengthened over time, proven to be more resilient to pests and to withstand droughts or floods. “So from one grass you get 200,000 rices,” Shiva notes and continues, “That is a convergence of human intelligence and nature’s intelligence. It is the ultimate expression of life” (Van Gelder). In the past, women had been integral to saving seeds, and Shiva argues that seed sovereignty brings women’s knowledge back center stage for the future of sustainable farming. The seed as a life-sustaining principle derives its name from bija , which signifies “that from which life arises on its own, forever and ever and ever’” (Van Gelder). Seed diversity is imperative not only for keeping crops resistant disease- fee, nutritious, and tasty but also because “‘Ecological multiples are insurance,’ says Shiva. ‘In any crisis, uniformity is the worst way to respond; diversity is resilience’” (Davis). As a tangible
153 example for the effectiveness of seed saving and the importance for women and peasants to retain seed sovereignty, Shiva describes how, even though scientists predicted that local agriculture had to be halted for several years due to the large amounts of salt washed into the soil, it was possible to quickly bring back farming to the 2004 tsunami-torn regions in Thailand because of the salt-resistant seed varieties that had been saved in a seed bank run by Navdanya
(an India-based organization promoting the rejuvenation of Indigenous knowledge and culture and cautioning of the hazards of genetic engineering; Shiva is a founding member).
The empowerment of peasants and the collaboration among peasant groups have the potential to create not only alternative discourses about human-nature relations, but to also revive ecological sustainable agriculture practices in synchronization with nature. Concerning the latter,
Nabhan critically calls into question how attitudes and beliefs shape behavior and values that contribute to a denigrating environment. For example, he explains, “Desertification is not recognized as evidence of negative feedback from poor practices associated with a certain belief system.” And he adds, “Others simply ignore the notion that the overexploitation of land and life could be the direct effect of a culture’s value system; the study of one is rarely connected with the other” (71). Indeed Nabhan makes a valid point about how a mindset of separation efficiently masks unsustainable practices and deflects thorough interrogation because the scrutiny of a culture’s values system may mean social upheaval and subsequent rejection of neo-liberal corporatism. On the other hand, the “daily practice of caring for the soil, its plant cover,” (69) ensuring unhindered access to water and “recovering seed as a commons” (“Saving Seeds”), is a path for survival that puts the value of life and sustainability at its core. These core values are reflected in Indigenous methodologies and practices, which Eugene Anderson has labeled “an ecology of the heart,” which resembles Shiva’s concept of “Earth Democracy.” According to
154 Anderson, the term “ecology of heart” encompasses the wealth of emotions and meanings, compassions and knowings “that guide traditional cultures in their relations with the places, natural processes, and organisms around them” (qtd. in Nabhan 84). Or as Shiva puts it,
“Rebuilding nature means rebuilding people—and if we want sustainability then the resources of the Earth will have to stay in the hands of the people” (Davis). Both authors concord in their vision to empower people through the pivotal relationship to the land and ritual practices of working with it.
Consternation and disillusionment with the concentration of power inside various nation-states has led many Indigenous groups to intervene and to establish and reestablish transnational relations with other Indigenous communities, Linda Tuhiwai Smith notes (116). A recent example of this multinational and multivocal approach of international mobilization is the inaugural Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn hosted by the Yaqui Peoples of Sonora, Mexico, in the Zapoteca Nation of Oaxaca, Mexico, in September 2012, attended by
48 Indigenous Nations across from North, Central, and South America. In their resolution, the
Indigenous Corn Peoples decided to cease the use of pesticides and GMO corn in their territories and to focus on restoring and strengthening local markets and economies by protecting their food and seed sovereignty. The conference attendees decided that the way to do this is by returning to old traditions of reestablishing Indigenous seed banks and trade relationships, so the seeds with the most resistance and adaptability to climate change can be used, replicated, and shared among communities. They believe that the renewal of an Indigenous trading system in the Americas will be the most beneficial way to share knowledge across communities and, ultimately, bring change
(Gibbs). As one member of the Yaqui points out, “Our struggles to protect corn as a source of
155 our lives cannot be separated from our struggles to defend our rights to land, water, traditional knowledge and self-determination.”
The goal of self-determination of Indigenous peoples is a key concept in Indigenous theorizing arising out of a painful and deadly genealogy of being yoked under dominant paradigms of Western European thought and politics for centuries. Speaking about self- determination in the context of decolonizing research agendas and methodologies, Smith suggests “it [self-determination of Indigenous peoples] becomes a goal of social justice which is expressed through and across a wide range of psychological, social, cultural and economic terrains” (120), while being part of active and dynamic processes of mobilization and healing. In this way, the Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn illustrates the importance of pursuing new ways for creating alliances across varying domains to protect diverse cultural and agricultural traditions, as well as food sovereignty, as these connect to deeply engraved issues of sustainable uses of land, as well as food impoverishment. Moreover, the International
Conference elucidates how Indigenous peoples are actively restoring aspects of their culture, which double as alternative ways to push back the neo-liberal order of things.
In conclusion of this chapter, looking at the ways politicians and corporate interests across the globe view disenfranchised humans, animals, and natural resources as commodities 112 , for example, in the United States, the remaining forests are legally referred to as “undeveloped property” and “unrealized tax revenues,” reveals an unbalanced and unjust mind-set. In light of the limits and far-reaching consequences this mind-set has for the majority of disenfranchised groups in terms of access to the commons, peasants’ freedom to engage in traditional agriculture, and the irreversible extinction of thousands of species annually, Indigenous theory and praxis
112 In Indigenous thought, food and water are not viewed as commodities, and the idea of commodifying and privatizing resources is categorically rejected. 156 becomes a viable option for an alternative, sustainable worldview that has the protection and nourishment of life at its core. Through this alternative consciousness, we can start to envision alternative scenarios. If we can then view the scenarios examined in this chapter through an
Indigenous lens, these scenarios may look something like this: peasants have the freedom to farm in accordance with the rhythms of nature as “co-producers of nature” (Shiva), while living lives more closely to their tradition as nomads. As a consequence of less-intensive, cash-driven agriculture, then the land begins to heal and regenerate. Slowly, the land returns to a state of biodiversity, which grows more pest-resistant crops and sees an influx of insects, species, and a number of water veins. In turn, this enables peasants to create smaller, localized economies and alternative trading systems resembling Shiva’s call for a paradigm of “Earth Democracy,” as discussed in my introduction, through which peasants expand their agency because they no longer rely on world food prices, the unnecessary global movement of goods, or the seed patents of multinational corporations.
This scenario reflects a number of Indigenous strategies for surviving. First, it illustrates the importance of creating healthy, balanced ecosystems. The disappearance or reintroduction of a key element or species can drastically alter an ecosystem. The reintroduction of small-scale agriculture has the ability to cause a reversal of the negative effects associated with industrialized farming (Shiva) as it alters the landscape of a broad region. This leads to a restructuring, not only of the species and ecology, but also of economic ways of trade. Second, it offers peasants the opportunity to (re)claim traditions and rituals through which to affirm their identities as stewards of the land. Third, it is an intervention organized from the bottom up that contests dominant neo- liberal politics. Fourth, this strategy overlaps with creating and maintaining a balanced ecosystem, to reflect the importance of restoring Indigenous landscapes for spiritual, mental, and
157 physical health. Fifth, and finally, this system relies on a sharing of resources (e.g. seed saving and sharing) and knowledges (e.g. alternative trade systems, conferences) according to the notion that “sharing contains views about knowledge being a collective benefit and knowledge being a form of resistance” (Smith 162). Sharing resources can greatly assist marginalized groups in their struggles to gain independence and autonomy.
This chapter has looked at the (neo)colonial legacies, their global reach, and their destructive power in the devastation of transnational ecologies in order to contextualize the racialized and sexualized body in the struggle for access to equal rights and protection from forced migration. In doing so, the chapter illustrates the staggering parallels of how, in South
Africa, Baartman’s body, then, and access to water, today, are commodified and exported by imperial forces for the benefit and pleasure of wealthier nations. However, this chapter also shows the importance of staying in-tune with nature and nonhuman others, as these in Anglo-
American spheres often overlooked relations, when attuned, can function as source of power that can help transcend unjust material conditions as demonstrated by the villagers of Amazoko.
Despite their destitute poverty, the villagers are incredibly resourceful and creative because, in absence of their home-grounds, they know to draw strength and resilience from their meaningful interactions with their natural environment. Through their interconnections with other forms of being their capacity to imagine different ways of being is expanded, which widens their imagination and their circle of compassion. The positive effects of a relational word view have also been enumerated per example of the Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn to emphasize how restoring a people is undeniably linked to the restoring of landscapes and vice versa.
158 In the next chapter, I turn to the body as a site of toxic entanglements to show how the internalization of toxic pollution has material effects that are inscribed on the body it considers, to quote Cixoux, the “ immonde .” The chapter offers a critique of factory farming and the uncritical consumption of “meats” in its various connotations to elucidate the importance of cross-cultural solidarity and “ecomentary” recording as ways to resist the bodily imperialism the legacies of scattered hegemonies exert over creaturely bodies. The analyzed themes of carno- phallogocentrism, obsession with purity and heteronormativity, opportunities and risks of border crossings, dangers of lax industrial regulation and public health safety standards, and finally, entanglements of corporate-funded research not only speak to the need for an ethics and politics of empathy and compassion, but also to the necessity to see the different spheres of life as connected and how violence against one species tends to sanction violence against another.
159 CHAPTER 3
(U N)T ANGLED BODIES :TRANSNATIONAL MEDIASCAPES ,ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE , AND THE CONSUMPTION OF “M EATS ” IN RUTH OZEKI ’S MY YEAR OF MEATS
I see our lives as being a part of an enormous web of interconnected spheres, where the workings of the larger social, political and corporate engines impact something as private and intimate as the descent of an egg through a woman’s fallopian tube. — Ruth L. Ozeki
A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know. —Diane Arbus
With the rise of destructive encroachment by urbanization and waste dumping, leading to environmental degradation of various landscapes as a result of expanding globalization, Stacy
Alaimo declares that “the human body is vulnerable to the substances and flows of its environments, which may include industrial environments and their social/economic forces”
(28). Taking Alaimo’s assertion as a departing point for entering multiple conversations across varying landscapes and dimensions of time and space, this chapter investigates how different and scattered hegemonies maintain control over creaturely bodies and how these oppressive intrusions are actively resisted. The chapter focuses specifically on the work of the novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth L. Ozeki, who, in recognition of the intensification of cultural hybridity, focuses on the issues that are marginalized by mass media. In my analysis of
Ozeki’s ecomentary, I suggest that neo-liberal ideologies of deregulation are responsible for the eroding boundaries and spilling substances that unevenly and violently pollute creaturely bodies.
My contention is that these bodies are polluted internally ( through the body) as opposed to regulating and controlling bodies externally or circularly through the internalization of the gaze, as advanced by Michel Foucault. In analyzing Ozeki’s work, I identify the literal and
160 metaphorical overspill and subsequent poisoning of bodies and landscapes as the kind of violence Rob Nixon refers to as “slow violence” that “occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (2). My Year of Meats (1988) thus emerges as a creative assemblage to urgently describe and respond to environmental violence and injustices that have been culturally unseen and neglected (Nixon). Nixon further explains that violence is generally registered as such only if it chronicles a spectacular event suitable for “erupting into instant sensational visibility.” The keyword is visibility: by situating the novel at the nexus of representational and narrative landscapes conveyed through her documentary-like writing style,
Ozeki strategically enlists the reader, a familiar consumer of habitual media spectacles in varying pop culture landscapes, to rethink her relations to the invisible forces that underlie visible cultural perceptions and knowledges, according to the mantra that “seeing is believing” (Berger).
Information about toxicity in food is widely available, but people don’t want to
hear it. Once in a while a story is spectacular enough to break through and attract
media attention, but the swell quickly subsides into the general glut of bad news
over which we, as citizens, have so little control. ( My Year of Meats 334)
Addressing Ozeki’s criticism regarding the perceived powerlessness of the individual citizen, my examination takes into account the integral role of citizen activism and the emancipatory power of discourse, written and visual, in an expanding transnational context. In doing so, I show that
My Year of Meats is deeply concerned with questions of violence and power, as it is with questions of desire and agency. Hélène Cixous’s concept of the “ immonde ” figures as an analytic
161 frame, to not only analyze, but also to arrive at a more nuanced view of human-animal entanglements.
The lack of transparency and consumer knowledge and awareness in visible public landscapes regarding the toxicity in food is an effective way of maintaining unequal power relationships in a globalizing world and is a direct result of the processes of overregulation and deregulation, which are relevant as public speech is constantly under threat of being curtailed.
For instance, this relevancy is shown through the recent push to pass legislature in several US states to outlaw unauthorized photojournalism in feedlots and slaughterhouses. These pieces of legislature, commonly referred to as ag-gag laws, stifle the flow of information. Images and video are powerful tools and important drivers of public opinion on animal welfare and food safety issues. Here, Jane (Ozeki’s main character) has a crucial role as a documentary filmmaker to present facts in an informative way for historical record. She proclaims: “I’d been practicing revisionist history. I didn’t mean it. I just couldn’t seem to avoid it—and maybe that’s why I ended up in television” (148). She later goes on to say, “Truth lies in layers, each of them thin and barely opaque, like skin, resisting the tug to be told. As a documentarian, I think about this a lot. In the edit, timing is everything. There is a time to peel back” (175). Jane’s investigative journalism becomes a vital part of her whistle-blowing capacity, as she renders visible what happens both at the feedlot operation and the slaughterhouse with a documentary-like description of the two spaces. She transports the bleakness of the feedlot and the horrors of the slaughterhouse through words to describe a visual landscape, one, as Fish points out, the
“industry denies” (45). It comes as no surprise that Bunny, the wife of the retired feedlot patriarch, turns to Jane for help in finding out what is happening to their child, Rosie. Defending
162 her decision to speak, Bunny tells Jane and her crew: “I gotta do something. You guys are journalists. Maybe you can figure out a way to help” (275).
The novel serves as a cautionary tale that reveals the limitations of profitable exploitation, while seeking to document how uneven pollution becomes the common denominator violently entangling human and nonhuman life forms, showing how the pollution permeates the lives of those who lack the political and social alliances to protect themselves from the assaults. By attempting to bridge human and nonhuman spheres—two domains that Ozeki suggests are interconnected through the treatment of women like animals (deemed as “available meat”) and because animals are fed the same hormones women are given—my analysis engages in a vigorous cross-species examination to carve out the links between carnivorism and subjectivity, as both women and animals are subject to discursive and representational modes that reduce their complex lives to docile bodies with mere fleshy existences that adhere to a dominant patriarchal norm. These bodies are regarded through a normative prism that renders them as “meats” and all the various connotations that “meats” come to occupy. In this context,
“meat” becomes a culturally rich signpost steeped in dominant ideologies that redefine perceptions of normativity, while sharply redrawing the boundaries of identity positions for disenfranchised groups, particularly women. Ozeki traces the violence this normativity implicates and proposes culturally transformative and subversive ways to which the erosion of boundaries might be used. More broadly, Ozeki’s work is compelling in that it integrates issues of gender, race, speciesism, and the environment into the study of transnational cultural flows to explore their interplay with the hegemonic forces of borderless capitalism. I argue that the novel offers an urgent and timely acute intervention as it serves as counter-narrative for possibility and
163 change in showing how women, in recognition of the balance with the nonhuman, restore varying landscapes to create new paradigms for survival and self-actualization.
Today, in capitalist 113 societies, not only are the modes of (re)production oppressive, in terms of the exploitation of workers (mostly disenfranchised migrants), but increasingly both the intended consumption of food and the unintended ingestion of drugs, such as hormones and antibiotics, are polluting othered bodies from the inside out . According to Shameem Black,
“[M]edical establishments and transnational corporations form one of the biggest sources of violence against the bodies of women” (240). In principle, the toxic pollution occurs because animals and the natural environment are (mis)treated and violated through drugs and other measures for increased efficiency, resulting in an unleashing of (gradual) calamitous repercussions and acute health risks in the exposed human groups. This subjects a host of sentient beings to a dire existence of suffering because in the eye of capitalism, the needs, interests, and rights of disenfranchised groups and animals are deliberately overlooked in favor of appropriating and instrumentalizing their bodies as production units to achieve the bourgeois narrative of maximizing economic growth. The Marxist Antonio Gramsci argues that economic and social forces work to create a hegemonic order, “one that is constantly rewritten in a struggle between the oppressive drives of capital and the oppositional forces of liberation” (Torres 7).
The tensions between these forces need to be addressed in order to shift power away from multinational corporations to make possible a life with dignity that resists cultural alienation and societal devaluation.
Ozeki’s background as a Zen Buddhist priest aligns with a mind-set similar to Indigenous thought, as Buddhism is predicated on the interrelatedness of life on earth and teaches
113 Capitalism is based on unequal power relations in society. Bob Torres defines capitalism as “marked by a division of classes, with one class holding private ownership of the means of production, and another class forced to sell their labor to live” (5). 164 “compassion for all beings.” Thus, it is no coincidence that Ozeki writes to bridge cultures and human and nonhuman spheres because “Buddhism does not see a great gulf between humans and non-human animals. . . . [T]he suffering of animals is morally significant, just like the suffering of humans.”
Moreover, Buddhist theories of causality stress that things arise in dependence on
a diverse collection of causes and conditions, implying that human life is
interdependent in complex ways with other forms of life on Earth. . . . [T]he
cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion for all sentient beings is an
important part of most systems of Buddhist meditation practice. (Goodman)
In this way, Buddhism as a set of practices and religious views, in combination with Zen, “with its emphasis on empathy and mindfulness” (Thorkelson 29), has a number of commonalities with
Indigenous thinking and practices in terms of the outlook on animals and nature. Both traditions seek “to develop a way of life for humanity that supports spiritual practice and can coexist in harmony with the non-human animals who share our planet” (Goodman). I read My Year of
Meats is an exploration of these shared ethical and moral considerations and how a reevaluation of our relations can help heal suffering among those cast to the shadows. As Ozeki explains in an interview with Erika Thorkelson from spring 2014, the Zen Buddhist mind-set and practice “is a way . . . to find peace with [the] incredible amount of information and impermanence of life.”
Furthermore, Thorkelson notes that Ozeki “became interested in the practice in the 1990s, using meditation as a way to deal with her father's death” (29). Finding solace in spirituality resonates with Ishimure’s novel Lake of Heaven, in which spirituality, traditions, and empathy with nonhuman creatures figure as coping mechanisms for inscriptions of loss. However, rather than
165 illuminate spiritual realms, Ozeki’s novel My Year Meats is grounded more closely in political grassroots activism.
The Written Word and the Power of Imagery
In My Year of Meats , Ozeki juxtaposes notions concerned with the importance of the written word (Ozeki as the author of the novel) with the power of imagery (Ozeki’s protagonist,
Jane, is a documentarian and filmmaker.) as a crucial avenue of exploration for any discussion of liberatory practices. As a documentarian, Jane works with images, as well as the techniques of editing and cutting, to produce visual stories and landscapes. In a conversation about My Year of
Meats , which won the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Award, the Imus/Barnes and Noble American Book
Award, and a Special Jury Prize of the World Cookbook Awards in Versailles, Ozeki acknowledges that her personal experiences and skills as a documentarian guide her writing. She explains, “[W]hen I write, I feel like a virtual camera, moving into a location, panning around, choosing a frame, then starting to record” (“Conversation”). In this regard, My Year of Meats can be considered a hybrid “text” that incorporates cinematic elements on paper, which playfully tests boundaries by reversing the genre of docu-fiction, a documentary contaminated with fictional elements, to a piece of fiction with documentary “interludes.” Film and text are two very different types of media that imply various processes of reception and identification in the viewer/reader as expectations, experiences, hopes, and fears inform any text, even interfere with it, while an image inherently claims to be an objective display of truth, therefore, Jane uses documentary footage to gain legitimacy. Any photograph is the result of a number of deliberate stylistic choices, as Susan Sontag reminds us in her collection of essays titled On Photography
(1977). Sontag’s essays explore the philosophical and ethical implications of photography, such as the problematic relationship between art and truth and photograph and photographer, which typically resemble the power dualities between master and slave, colonizer and colonized, and 166 oppressor and oppressed. Sontag writes that “[T]o photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed” (4); photographers make deliberate choices for framing their subjects by imposing their own standards and ideas on them. Sontag suggests that photographs in this sense are subject to interpretation as much as paintings and written texts like prose are (7).
Black notes Ozeki’s effort to highlight the importance of the written word, for instance, by including excerpts from Sei Sh nagon’s The Pillow Book , which figures as ancient wisdom with a feminist twist, and how My Year of Meats functions as a modern alliance for the liberating possibilities that literature has to offer. Ozeki describes how she enjoys the freedom of the written word and the absence of financial constraints. She explains, “[W]riting is portable and doesn’t require a large amount of heavy equipment [as compared to filmmaking]. . . . You don’t have to make compromises with collaborators. You can have complete artistic control”
(“Conversation”). Here, Ozeki raises an important point regarding the implication of monetary means to produce films and how needing sponsors and collaborators can tamper with the initial agenda of the production—compromises that lead Jane to proclaim, in the novel, that she is a
“cultural pimp” (9).
Similarly, the written word bears opportunities and risks. For example, Foucault targets written discourse for political action, suggesting that “texts” need to be challenged (95) because
“discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it.” However, a lesser known fact is that
Foucault—who aggressively denounced the “disfiguring practices of discursive manipulation”— was part of a group called Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons (GIP) that exposed the harsh treatment of French prisoners and advocated for better living conditions in French prisons in the early 1970s. As part of the project, the prisoners were interviewed by members of the group, but
167 soon after, the prisoners spoke out and criticized that they had been swayed to address specific issues, such as unjust policies, because GIP had determined that these issues would benefit the prisoners’ cause. This example illustrates how cultural work is, by trade, always implicated in acts of a dominant group defining the parameters for exchanges with less privileged groups. As framing gets carried out in these shifting contexts, it calls for continuous, critical self-reflexivity to avoid reproducing unequal power relationships of a privileged group speaking for the subaltern, silencing the subaltern voices in the process. Ozeki resists the speaking for through
Jane who, disenfranchised on the grounds of her gender, race (American with Japanese parents), and ambiguous gender (She passes as a male.), lends her privilege and access to record the voices of those usually not heard. Neither Jane, nor by extension Ozeki, can escape the charge of framing discourse, but Jane recognizes this and creates a counternarrative to dominant narratives of a mainstream politics, or as Cornell West calls it, a “malestream” politics. West uses this term to define the mainstream against a politics of difference that is neither "simply oppositional . . . nor transgressive. It is much more, a strategy of revealing the operations of power" (94), and
Jane’s nonconformity on several levels exposes the arbitrariness about the way identity is supposed to be structured.
The practice of framing and the tension accompanying it intertwine with notions of art, truth, and deception to inform the novel; Ozeki uses this tension to set the stage in the prologue.
Suzie Flowers and her husband, Fred, represent a white, middle-class, suburban meat-eating couple on My American Wife! a TV show sponsored by BEEF-EX (the US Beef Export and
Trade Syndicate) designed to promote American meat sales in Japan. Meat is packaged to coerce spectators to consume normative gender and racial orders because unequal distribution in gender relations is fundamental to the securing and maintenance of hegemonic control. On a broader
168 scale, the TV producers aspire to use the artificially and locally produced microcosm the show creates as a global theater for exhibiting the power of hegemonic control, while offering the illusion of degenerative social hierarchies and cultural homogenization, in which the meat-eating subject keeps the upper hand. As Youngsuk Chae asserts in Politicizing Asian American
Literature: Towards a Critical Multiculturalism (2008),
The media has contributed to promoting economic homogenization through cultural
commodities like television programs. Mass media, which heavily relies on commercial
sponsors, has become a vehicle to convey the interests of sponsors and ideologies of
consumer culture and has played the leading role in distributing manipulated information
or ideologies. (121)
In this context, meat emerges as the prime imperial tool to drive cultural universalism because creating identical needs in consumers in every far corner of the globe boosts the marketability of
US consumer products in other nations.
Violence Inflicted through Meat-Eating
Meat-eating and the violence caused through its practice is a central theme, effectively binding together the subordination of multiple groups in My Year of Meats . In the forward to the twentieth anniversary edition of Adam’s The Sexual Politics of Meat , Calarco recaps the parallels between Adams’ and Jacques Derrida’s work on the question of the animal. According to
Calarco, both theorists agree that meat-eating is central to being a human subject (6). The link between carnivorism and masculinity is crucial, as Adams points out, because subjectivity is rendered masculine through meat-eating. The necessity of meat in human diets is contested terrain; for example, the documentary Forks Over Knives (2011) gives voice to experts, researchers, and patients alike, who testify to how it is proven that a whole foods, plant-based diet that omits meat and dairy products has the ability to reduce and reverse the very type of 169 health problems (such as decrease the chance of certain kinds of cancers, reverse diabetes, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease) these food products are suspected to cause in their consumers because of the use of hormones and growth stimulants in the first place. Adams describes how meat eating in the Western hemisphere, as well as the sport of hunting and killing sentient beings, continue to be associated with virility and power (note parallel to Kheel’s critique of the masternarrative of masculinity), and how in traditional gender role divisions, women prepare meat for men. The former point emerges in Jane’s memo to Ueno, her boss, in which she explains that John Dunn, the retired feedlot farmer, “says his virility comes from the red meat he’s eaten every day since he first grew teeth” (209). Conservative gender expectations is one aspect that Ozeki takes up and experiments with in regards to the conservative family structure in the fictional TV show My American Wife! (for which Suzie Flowers takes up the role of the homemaker and food preparer) and reflected in the “progressive” choices Jane makes about the social and racial makeup of the subsequent (unconventional) family units she spotlights on the show. At this point, Jane purposefully subverts the show in an attempt to interrogate and challenge her own role that she describes early on as “go-between, a cultural pimp, selling off the vast illusion of America” (9).
Jane’s transnational doppelganger, Akiko, a young, married woman living in Japan, portrayed as submissive and docile (note the parallelism created to farm animals, such as lambs, and a nod to Foucault’s concept of “docile bodies”), is literally and metaphorically treated as a piece of meat, as she is physically abused and raped by her husband, John Ueno. Ueno is described as being “allured by American-style meat and ‘big-breasted American women’”
(Black 238), and it is revealed that Ueno’s idea for My American Wife! derives from Ueno’s desperate wish to “beef up” his wife in order to make her “fit” for reproduction. Adams describes
170 the mind-set that levels women with meat, as a collapse of sexuality and consumption (89), in which the idea of “woman” moves from an objectified being to a consumable object of male subjectivity (76). In other words, American-style meat and sexualized images of women collapse into signifying masculinity-enhancing and subjectivity-driven satisfaction, creating a vacuum that tolerates and neutralizes violence against women.
Suzie and Fred actively blur the distinction between reality and make-believe as their interactions in front of the camera are awkwardly stilted, instilling a sense that reality is blemished. This suspicion is underlined by the behind-the-scenes dialogue that indirectly describes Suzie: “ It’s impossible. We can’t go in any closer than this. Her [Suzie’s] face is all shiny and blotched. She looks ugly .” “ Ask her if she has any makeup she can use to cover up her unattractive skin! ” (2). The close-up of Suzie’s face brings us into intimate contact with Suzie’s unaltered bodily reality, which immediately calls for an intervention on the part of the filming director. In the theater of commodity, spectacles, social norms, and orders are written in the language of appearance and physical signifiers. Suzie’s identity and agency are reduced to her outer appearance, highlighted by the fact that the filming crew speaks about her and her body parts (face) in third person, profoundly denying her presence on the set. Suzie’s face is undesirable. In order to be valued, the female body needs to adhere to an unattainable, carefully curated and hypersanitized image that is culturally expected, as the slightest deviation invokes deep anxieties. Smooth, unblemished skin associated with sexual desirability and availability is deemed permissible and palatable, while the adjectives shiny , blotched , and ugly get etched onto
Suzie’s unattractive skin, catapulting her into being rendered a grotesque figure, a freak reminiscent of the subjects of Diane Arbus photographic lens, whose work has continuously been regarded with ambivalence. For instance, in Sontag’s essay “America, Seen through
171 Photographs, Darkly,” a critical reflection of Arbus’s work, Sontag disparages the lack of beauty in Arbus’s work and accuses Arbus of neglecting to assist the viewer in identifying and engaging with the visual subjects in a compassionate way. Similarly, writer and feminist Germaine Greer, the subject of an Arbus photograph in 1971, criticizes Arbus's work as focusing on “mere human imperfection and self-delusion” (“Wrestling”). Arbus admits that a camera could be “a little bit cold, a little bit harsh,” but insists that its scrutiny revealed the truth; the difference between what people wanted others to see and what they really did see—the flaws. In keeping with Arbus’s dialectic, Ozeki quotes Sh nagon in the epigraph with the words: “ As will be gathered from these notes of mine, I am the sort of person who approves of what others abhor and detests the things they like .” In this sense, My Year of Meats is a critical reflection of the meaning of the abject in shifting contexts. It is an exploration of what is valued in dominant Anglo-American society at the turn of the millenia trickling well into the twenty-first century, an era that breathes through pop culture and its borderless flows of signs and iconic trademark symbols. Ozeki insists on raking back the dangling flaps of skins to bare the unwelcomed reality of sore wounds inflicted by Anglo-American values to advance a pivotal argument: the dynamics that regard any group of humans or nonhumans as unclean, polluted, or abominable enable the literal pollution and abomination of these bodies and sanctions violence against these bodies. Suzie Flowers’s body is the first in a string of female bodies deemed abominable by patriarchal dominant structures, and subsequently, her body is appropriated and violated in the name of corporate profits, while subjecting her to ridicule and hostility on the film set. Similarly, Bunny, the white former beauty queen, who is married to the retired feedlot farmer John Dunn, is not taken seriously by her husband or his son Gale, while their daughter, Rose, is precocious (270), having developed breasts and menstruating caused by Diethylstilbestrol (DES) estrogen poisoning at the age of
172 five. Akiko, who lives in Japan, experiences physical abuse by her husband, and Jane, the cultural outsider, who suffers a miscarriage due to being a DES daughter, are women with a shared experience of oppression and violence across class, ethnicity, and nationality.
Documenting Invisibility at the Slaughterhouse
In order to stay profitable and competitive, farmers are driven to supplement animal feed with drugs to enhance a quick beefing up of the animals. In this context, Ozeki raises the issue of
DES, a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen, given to both cattle and pregnant women in the US during the 1950s and 1960s, until it was discovered that DES potentially causes cancers and tumors in the women, as well as in the unborn life the women were carrying in utero
(mostly affecting daughters rather than sons). Even though DES was thought of as a threat of the past, Ozeki shows that there are very real and tangible consequences reaching well into the present that stifle the agency of women across race and class due to lax industrial regulation and public health safety standards. In the “Documentary Interlude,” Jane explains when DES contamination was first discovered that
of course, there was an immediate outcry to ban DES in cattle feed. But cheap
meat is an inalienable right in the U.S.A., an integral component of the American
dream, and the beef producers looked to cheap DES to provide it. (126)
In My Year of Meats , the slaughterhouse is the locus where this profitable “production” of meat and meat packing take place. This economy of the flesh is a system that dehumanizes people
(workers and customers) and animals. For example, during Jane’s visit at Gale Dunn’s feeding facility, a white heteronormative farmer, Gale’s descriptions of advancement and efficiency resemble a caricature of troubling proportions. For instance, he explains nonchalantly, “They
[the cows] abort so nice and smooth they don’t go off their feed for a second, don’t even miss a mouthful,” which is followed by a matter-of-fact assertion expressed in broad Texas vernacular 173 to clarify that the important message is “our job here is gainin’” (263)—gaining profitable meat to gain profits, even at the cost of inducing abortions in cows that are not “producing” the desired gender in their offspring. The side effect is that humans too are affected by the constant push to increase productivity. Gale’s young stepsister, Rosie, shows the traits of a mature woman as she is grotesquely overproducing just like the animals on the farm. Her symptoms of hormone poisoning are a direct result of being exposed to the hormones at the farm. Fish concludes that
“Dunn uses banned DES to fatten cows for slaughter because he is compromised by market- driven policies” (49).
Both the modern day space of the slaughterhouse and the feedlot are among the most violent places imaginable and have come to function as tropes for social conditions. These are marked spaces that are unique, as they are the stages for the clash between human animals and nonhuman animals. In these spaces, humanness reveals itself in all its rawness; some would even say that what sets us apart from nonhumans is our capacity for violence (Kheel). It is a space where humans daily exhibit mastery over nature 114 , as these are spaces where humanity is confronted with a choice and opts for killing billions of sentient beings per year. In the United
States alone, around 9.1 billion animals are killed every year (“Livestock Slaughter” 63). This number does not account for all animals slaughtered for food in the United States, only the killing of land-farmed animals (e.g., it excludes fish, rabbits, and equines, among others species unaccounted for by the USDA), making the violence against farm animals the most pervasive form of institutionalized violence against animals (Gaard). The mastery of nature is magnified as cows are neatly packaged into shiny, meal-sized plastic wrappers; their often despicable living conditions concealed (the consumer deceived). Instead, the conditions are glossed over by
114 Here, I allude to Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993). 174 nostalgia-evoking labels with images of happy grass-fed cows 115 , when in truth their existence is dictated by markets and consumers. Cows are born, raised, and killed for consumption, only to end up on a plate to be “eaten, consumed, forgotten” (hooks). 116 Overlooked is the inflicted violence, as the statistics also mask the suffering animals endure while in the slaughterhouse, where they are raised for slaughter (Schlosser, 2001).
In My Year of Meats , the climax of the story plays out, as the viewer follows Jane and her crew into the slaughterhouse, a space described as a gruesome, morbid location. The descriptors are underscored by Jane’s powerful declaration that “stepping into the slaughterhouse was like walking through an invisible wall into hell. Sight, sound, smell—every sense I thought I owned, that was mine, the slaughterhouse stripped from me, overpowered and assaulted” (281). Her word choice is significant, as it draws parallels between her sense of being (overpowered and assaulted) and the fate of the animals, once again linking women and animals in a pivotal moment in the story. Jane carries on with her gripping account of the conditions at the slaughterhouse: “Blood was everywhere: bright red, brick red, shades of brown and black; flowing, spattering, encrusting the walls, the men.” The gothic scenery is heightened by the crews’ emotional responses. Moved to tears, they attempt to film the moment a cow is brought to slaughter:
The cow was breathing hard, raspy breaths through the foam and the spittle, and
from time to time she let out a strangled cry. Oh stood just behind Suzuki,
trembling and bloodless, holding the boom. His headphones looked like goofy
plastic ears, feeding the amplified cries of the animal directly into his brain. His
115 The documentary film Food Inc . takes up the issue of nostalgia vsersus reality and how it tricks consumers into buying animal products because, based on the advertising strategy, the products are perceived to be wholesome. 116 In her essay titled “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” bell hooks discusses the commodification of black culture by dominant, white Anglo-American culture. 175 face was all screwed up, leaking tears, like a little kid trying hard not to cry out
With this scene, Ozeki raises questions regarding our moral 117 and ethical 118 considerations, as well as our empathy (in other words, our ethical position) toward sentient beings. Empathy is a key concept in Marti Kheel’s work, Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective (2008), in which she develops and advocates for a nonessentialist feminist ethics of care and empathy. Kheel critiques that in the masculinist paradigm of independence and hierarchal organization, the care for the individual is overruled by an abstract “whole,” “which is conceived of humanity or the ecosystem” (5). Based on this thesis, she deconstructs the writing of the four prominent holist 119 ecophilosophers—Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Holmes Ralston III, and Warwick Fox— and exposes their discourse and thought as ecocentric and hegemonic, as all three prescribe to the master narrative that caters to the “whole,” also referred to as the unitary subject. Kheel contends that this ecocentric philosophy is submerged with the master narrative of establishing and solidifying masculine identity through the sport of hunting, the killing of animals—in short—the conquering of nature. Here, Kheel sees male violence directly entangled with sexism and the killing and eating of animals. She forcefully focuses on asking what prevents achieving empathy and care. To what degree do we question our moral obligations to nonhuman beings, in order to move away from assumptions about “animal otherness and nonhuman subjectivities,” when in
117 Morals defined as based upon a set of rules. 118 Ethics understood as principles that form the way we think. 119 According to Kheel, holist nature philosophy, also referred to as ecocentric philosophy, “postulates that larger entities such as ‘species,’ ‘the land,’ or the ‘ecosystem’ should be accorded the highest value in ethical conduct toward nature. Holists contrast their philosophy with the atomistic and egocentric orientation of modern Western culture, arguing that humans should see themselves as part of the larger matrix of nature. . . . [Kheel’s] analysis suggests that holists typically care about ‘species,’ ‘the ecosystem,’ or ‘the biotic community’ over and above individual beings. Many see no contradiction in killing wolves in order to save ‘the wolf,’ or experimenting on animals in order to make the environment safe” (2). 176 fact these very terms imply and promote “humanormative” (Gruen) values and attitudes? How are writers and artists actively mitigating these questions in discourse?
Hélène Cixous’s Concept of the “ Immonde ”
Hélène Cixous’s formulation of the “ immonde ” offers a productive analytic frame for thinking about human-animal connections, as she reflects on "birds, women, and writing" and, according to Matthew Calarco, “explore[s] the space of abandonment into which those beings traditionally denied full human status have been cast” (xxiv). Cixous insists on linking "birds, women, and writing" because they share the common denominator of being deemed “ immonde ” by the dominant discourse. Cixous’s concept of the “immonde ” carries the sense of being unclean or impure. Cixous examines the “ immonde ” by analyzing passages from novelist Clarice
Lispector's The Passion according to G. H. In the novel, the main character, G. H., recounts a moment of profound interrogation and crisis after she has a face-to-face encounter with a cockroach that she crushes in a door. While she is watching white paste oozing out of the body of the half-dead cockroach, G. H. contemplates her relation to the cockroach, the paste, and how male religious discourse—she refers to “Those He-Bible”—considers these things to be
“abominations.” Calarco writes, “Following Lispector, Cixous suggests that the task is to rethink one's relation to all forms of being that are considered abominable. . . .” (xxiv). Cixous advances a very important intervention because any construct deeming something as other, less than , or inadequate in general, should be regarded with suspicion, as it is constructed to keep the wheel of oppression turning—across time and space—transcending social constructions of identity.
Cixous’s concept of the “ immonde ” reminds us that humans need to reconsider their relation to the “ immonde ,” whether the “ immonde ” signifies fellow human beings or nonhuman life forms. The reader gains insight into Jane’s own gradual transformation as she grapples with her long denial of the unwholesomeness and violence of and within the food industry and her 177 confrontation with her own demons to act on something she senses is ethically problematic. Even though media and society at large promote glossing over injustices inflicted on the “ immonde ,”
Jane’s revelation and acknowledgment of her own complicity gives way to an imaginative path of how individuals come to be politically engaged in protecting those who are disenfranchised based on their inferior standing in society.
In his piece “The Writing of the Birds, in My Language”—a response to Cixous’s “birds, women, and writing”—Stephen David Ross ponders the violence afflicted upon animals and how reading and writing have ethical implications. He conjures up and quotes Kafka speaking of writing and books:
I think we ought to only read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the
book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we
reading it for? But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us
deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being
banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for
the frozen sea inside us. (qtd. 183)
Ross’s commentary following Kafka’s words is equally forceful and poetic:
How, we ask, are we to live after the disaster? How are we to write? With joy.
The answer is, with joy. However, that joy is from the disaster. That is, from
within the end of the world, at the edge of the world, in the roots of things, death
and cruelty. I keep thinking of the birds. And of animals on the way to slaughter
killed by blows on the head. For us to eat. Is it ever time for a blow on the head to
take us down to the roots where animals live and die? (183)
Ross engages a further dimension with regards to the question of animal ethics: urgency. It goes beyond questioning our ethical responsibilities to asking when is it ever time for things to 178 happen? It is never time to inflict suffering or death…. How much time must pass for us to act and take responsibility? I agree with Ross (and Kafka) that writing and books should stir 120 something in us: our compassion, our understanding, our integrity to act, our responsibility to use our privilege in liberating ways for a greater common good, as I understand empathy as an articulation of resistance. I read this urgency in Ozeki’s work, who takes the reader hostage in her rendering of the slaughterhouse. She uses Kafka’s axe to shatter the frozen sea inside us. She takes us hostage to ignite the flame of compassion and empathy within us. My Year of Meats invites us to an uncensored “view” that operates multimodally and multidimensionally. Ozeki transports us into the oblique space that we would not have otherwise accessed. Ozeki’s ecomentary has the potential to stir emotions by exposing readers to the abominable processes of meat production; she notes “Images have the power to move us and to make us care”
(Thorkelson 29). Not only does the slaughterhouse choose what it hides 121 , readers usually do not want to know what happens inside the slaughterhouse. Ozeki does not give the reader a choice; rather, she has the reader, who has no choice but to watch the scene before her unfold, strapped to Suzuki’s camera. Similar observations can be made regarding Jane’s investigation into the pollution of bodies across ethnicity and gender lines and how Ozeki slowly unfolds these complex, interconnected nuances layer by layer for the reader to discover and consider.
Understanding the slaughterhouse as a microcosm of oppressive structures is important, given that it is a crucial link in the modern food consumption chain. Agribusiness, the amalgamation of agricultural politics and practices and business capitalism, is one aspect of patriarchal “maldevelopment” (Shiva) that imperils social justice with regard to humans and
120 I believe that privilege comes with moral obligations and responsibilities, and that those in privileged positions to help alleviate suffering and find creative solutions to problems have responsibilities to utilize their privilege to do so. 121 According to Richard Selzer, “[The slaughterhouse] carries out its business in secret and decides what you will see, hides from you what it chooses” (“How to Build” 116). 179 animals. As a result of being chained to a financially powerful agribusiness industry conglomerate worth approximately186 billion dollars annually in the United States (World Bank
GDP; United States Department of Commerce), the slaughterhouse, as a systematic institution, has an abundance of power as it regulates our bodies (hence our beings), our food-slaughter- ontologies . The level of nondisclosure achieved and enjoyed by slaughterhouse and feedlot operations is gigantic, even though these operations have the responsibility to handle billions of farm animals and that we, in Anglo-American economies, consume one way or another (even if we are vegetarians or vegans) traces of slaughterhouse products (leather, soap, and a variety of other commodities) on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the welfare of billions of industrial farm animals is chained to the same billion-dollar-profit machinery.
“Meat Is the Message”—Bodily Misuse as a Framing Trope
Examples as to how humans and nonhumans lose out when competing against corporations in the United States are abundant. A recent example of the skewed dynamics is what Mark Bittman, columnist for the New York Times, refers to as a “lovers’ quarrel” between the National
Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (“What’s the U.S.D.A.”). The USDA initially supported and—following the outcry of the NCBA’s president a few days later, who called into question the USDA’s commitment to US farmers and ranchers—promptly retracted its endorsement of Meatless Mondays. The Meatless Monday endorsement was part of an internal USDA newsletter titled “Greening Headquarters Update” that was posted to the USDA’s intranet. In an effort to disseminate information regarding more sustainable ways of living, the article suggested, among changing light bulbs, to join the
“Meatless Monday” initiative by foregoing meat one day a week in order to reduce the environmental footprint. The article explained that, “The production of meat, especially beef
180 (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact” (Peralta). This internal USDA newsletter suggestion unleashed a storm of outrage with J. D. Alexander, president of the NCBA, who issued a blanket statement that “[t]his move by USDA should be condemned by anyone who believes agriculture is fundamental to sustaining life on this planet” (Peralta).
The USDA newsletter was framed by the NCBA to be an attack on agriculture as sustaining life on this planet. First of all, agriculture is fundamental to sustaining life on this planet, but US agriculture is not responsible for sustaining life on earth. US agriculture has morphed into agribusiness because it is a profit-driven conglomeration. The skewed rhetoric suggesting that the United States is the savior of the planet ignores the many systems of agriculture scattered over the globe that support local, regional, and national populations. In contrast to the United States, most countries have a mission of agriculture that caters to the people. These systems of agriculture are usually not large-scale operations, do not subject land to dangerous monocultures, and do not insist on genetically modified crops that endanger health and bankrupt their farmers. The way US agribusiness has been conducting business includes all of the above. In other words, US agribusiness reflects a disregard for both land and people.
The outburst of the NCBA, a trade organization that has high stakes in this debate and wants to protect its members, alongside the chiming in of Republican lawmakers, who took to
Twitter to express their unwavering support of the meat industry (e.g., Sen. Chuck Grassley from
Iowa tweeted, “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation abt a meatless Monday” [Peralta]) took effect. By the end of the day, the USDA withdrew its endorsement of Meatless Monday, claiming that the “Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed // @FarmBureau” (Peralta). What happened to free speech? Ironically, as the Meatless Monday Initiative representatives point out,
181 not eating meat once a week “helps achieve two key recommendations in the USDA Dietary
Guidelines—reducing saturated fat intake and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables”
(qtd. in Peralta). Bittman called it “tragic” that the USDA, in its capacity as a government agency, is unable to stand its ground against a trade organization like the NCBA. He concedes that “as long as trade associations can push around members of Congress and government agencies, the rest of us are in trouble” (Bittman).
The USDA example is not an isolated example and underscores the importance of creative works that challenge public opinion and outlook on issues that directly affect human health and, in particular, female reproduction. The impurities and fragmentation become visual, corporeal markers in a diseased society 122 that reflect Anglo-American paradigms of thought and discourse. Impurity in Donna Haraway’s sense is favorable, as it facilitates what Haraway calls
“boundary breakdowns” with regards to the purity of traditional social, natural, and bodily categories. The example as to how the borderless flow of signs can facilitate a global exchange on a local level that opens up space for alternative positions of identity confirms the breakdown of boundaries has liberatory potential. Haraway’s articulation of the cyborg, a cybernetic hybrid of human organism and machine, is the epitome of the boundary breakdown, as it consists of human subjectivities interwoven with nonhuman entities, while removing the human from the center. According to Cary Wolfe, the cyborg puts the “post” in posthumanism ( What is
Posthumanism? xx). Furthermore, the cyborg rejects the normalization of the body and advocates multiple, shifting, simultaneous, as well as fluid, positions. In theory, all bodies are polluted and contaminated as we are all modern “chimeras” (150). However, as Julia Sze rightfully points out, “[H]ybrids stand as both a warning sign and an opportunity to escape a
122 My phrase alludes to Jiddu Krishnamurti’s quote, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 182 cultural past obsessed with notions of purity” (801). The risks have been illuminated throughout this chapter. In essence, the cyborg hybrid has been usurped by the machinery of capitalism, which turns creatures—human and animal—into (re)production units. The United States alone can raise ten billion farm animals annually for consumption (Poultry Slaughter) because the animals are redesigned to be hybrids of machine and organism. They are “beings that live for capitalism” (Torres 11). To date, most countries do not possess a system for surveillance of the use of antibiotic use in food animals (“Tackling Antibiotic Resistance” 12); however, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) estimates that up to seventy percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in industrial food animals. This high percentage is not implausible considering that, in the US, after the introduction of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) in the
the use of antibiotics as AGPs increased fiftyfold between 1951 and 1978 (from
110 tonnes to 5580 tonnes), while there was only a tenfold increase in the use of
antibiotics to treat infections in people and animals. (“Tackling Antibiotic
This widespread usage of drugs and hormones contributes to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, which is reflected in the emergence of “superbugs” that can be transferred from animals to humans, as echoed in a number of reports published in summer 2012 that identify a
“superbug” to be responsible for the increased number of urinary tract infections in women
(McKenna). The fusion of women, animals, and reproduction has a long history. For example,
Sze notes that
the boundary breakdown between woman and animal has been a central feature of
the history of hormone development, since animals have been central to the
183 development of the birth control pill and reproductive technologies such as IVF
and hormone replacement therapy, and as the sources of popular estrogen
In other words, animals and women get conflated through various practices and modes of
(re)production. Animals are needed to develop the drugs that women and animals are given later.
The consequences are reflected in DES and modern “superbugs.” However, this pollution is not limited to the categories of gender; the pollution is borderless . In My Year of Meats , pollution affects the disenfranchised across race, class, and gender. Mr. and Mrs. Purcell, the African
American couple Jane meets in Mississippi, tell her that, due to the drug-contaminated poultry
Mr. Purcell had been eating, he started sounding and looking like a woman as he developed a high voice and male breasts (117).
In Ozeki’s My Year of Meats , Jane’s dismantlement of mainstream domination consists of turning the tables: she actively chooses to invite members of marginalized groups to appear on the show in order to represent ethnic minority, multiracial, adoptive, lesbian, and disabled families, while lending the counterpublic a voice in a mainstream media circuit. My Year of
Meats displays the possibilities of public spheres as dynamic sites of feminist intervention that offer alternative spaces through the creation of feminist public spheres, more specifically—to borrow Black’s term—“cosmofeminist” public spheres. Black extends the definition of
“Cosmopolitanisms,” understood as “progressive and enabling responses to the dilemmas created by globalization” (Pollock, Bhabha, Breckenridge, and Chakrabarty 228), to imagine and include the possibility and more concrete outlining of feminist alliances across borders. Black’s concept of “cosmofeminism” is a useful notion for thinking about the mitigating power alliances may have on a broad scale by drawing on both local and global resources. I suggest that in My Year of
184 Meats , various alliances are formed across borders: for example, Jane and Bunny—an unlikely pairing with Jane as the “global media maker” (335) and Bunny, who as wife of the local feedlot farmer and mother to Rosie does not strike as compelling figure to act politically (note the play with perception and reality)—ultimately come to form their own articulation of cosmofeminist alliances. When presented with the opportunity, the women in the novel, despite their different contexts and lived complexities, seize the chances to actively shape their present, past, and future. It is a speaking up from a position of experienced violence and recognition of shared stories of violence. For example, Bunny is reluctant to speak about Rosie’s condition until Jane reveals to Bunny that she herself is a victim of hormone poisoning and how the condition has stifled her own existence. Immediately after Jane’s highly personal and delicate revelation,
Bunny tells Jane to return in the evening “[a]fter they’re asleep” and “[b]ring the cameraman”
(274). Bunny must take precautions, so she gives her husband, John, and Rosie a sleeping pill to avoid being discovered. In other words, for Bunny to speak truth on camera, the women depend on retreating to the shadows, to the realms of their invisibility, enveloped by the darkness of the night to create safe spaces where speaking and showing the inflicted violence are tolerated and accepted. Secretly they must do so, just as Jane secretly filters the messages for Suzie, and Akiko hides her period from her husband.
To this complex disconnect between truth, visibility, and violence, another invisible layer must be added that pertains to public perception and acceptance. After having returned home to her New York apartment to review the slaughterhouse footage, which is permeated by loud, shrill animal shrieks and screams, Jane’s viewing is interrupted by two cops, who alarmed by neighbors, knock on her door to investigate the source of the intolerable noise:
185 “Lady said it sounded like there was animals being slaughtered down here or
something,” the cop reported.
“Yes,” I agreed. “She’s right.” I showed the [slaughter] scene to the cop and
his partner, two big, beefy Polish guys from Long Island. . . .
“How can you watch that stuff?” the cop said, screwing up his baby face.
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “How can you eat it?” (326)
In her response, Jane touches on a sensitive but crucial ethical conundrum. If the visibility of the violence and killing, here transported through a landscape limited to sounds for the neighbors, and later sounds and images for the police as Jane replays the clip for them, proves too potent and overwhelming, then why don’t we question the roots of this violence and our complicity in the process of food production? Ozeki shows the reader quite plainly the absurdity of how cruelty is tolerated and accepted, as long as it is a fragmented process in which the consumption of meats follows a culturally expected format, whilst blending out those parts of the process that are ugly, brutal, and inconvenient.
The invisibility of the ugly cycles back to the notion of the “ immonde ,” and in order to think through this concept in relation to the abject, I find McClintock’s discussion of the abject in Kristeva’s work a very useful extension of Cixous’s theorizing. In McClintock’s definition,
“[a]bjection means to expel, to cast out our away” (71). She continues,
. . . Kristeva argues that a social being is constituted through the force of
expulsion. In order to become social the self has to expunge certain elements that
society deems impure: excrement, menstrual blood, urine, semen, tears, vomit,
food, masturbation, incest and so on. For Kristeva, however, these expelled
elements can never be fully obliterated; they haunt the edges of the subject’s
186 identity with the threat of disruption or even dissolution. She calls this process
As a consequence, impurity and ambivalence come to invoke paranoia about boundary order as impurity and pollution constantly loom over the integrity of the agent’s identity, thus capturing male dominance in a frame of constant imperilment and threat.
The abject is everything that the subject seeks to expunge in order to become
social; it is also a symptom of the failure of this ambition. . . . [A]bjection testifies
to society’s precarious hold over the fluid and unkempt aspects of psyche and
body. “We may call it a border,” [Kristeva] writes. “Abjection is above all
ambiguity.” . . . This is Kristeva’s brilliant insight: the expelled abject haunts the
subject as its inner constitutive boundary; that which is repudiated forms the self’s
internal limit. The abject is “something rejected from which one does not part.”
Kristeva’s pivotal argument is that, while the subject comes into being through the abject, the subject hermetically seals itself off from the others it rejects and sanctions violence against these bodies to erase their agency in order to safeguard the agent. As male privilege overrides bodily categorizations associated with women, the impurities cling to all those less privileged.
[C]ertain groups are expelled and obliged to inhabit the impossible edges of
modernity: the slum, the ghetto, the garret, the brothel. . . . Abject peoples are
those whom industrial imperialism rejects but cannot do without: slaves,
prostitutes, the colonized, domestic workers, the insane, the unemployed, and so
on. . . . Inhabiting the cusp of domesticity and market, industry and empire, the
187 abject returns to haunt modernity as its constitutive, inner repudiation: the rejected
from which one does not part. (72)
The link between the “ immonde ” and the commodity market is value: in the capitalist value system, the “ immonde ” figures as dirt, and those repudiated come to equal the value of dirt:
[D]irt is the counterpart to commodity; something is dirty precisely because it is
void of commercial value, or because it transgresses the “normal” commercial
market. Dirt is by definition useless, because it is that which belongs outside the
commodity market. (154)
Arguably, McClintock’s list is extendable to include factory farm animals, along with other species, to reflect Cixous’s theorizing on relational (re)thinking to all forms of being. A collection of essays titled Trash Animals (2013) provokes a rethinking and complicates generally held perceptions and attitudes toward creatures that are deemed inadequate, filthy, and unwanted, while addressing the hierarchies implicit in the mind-set that prescribes how some species are considered more expendable and worthless than others. Each essay is dedicated to a so-called
“trash species”—gulls, coyotes, carp, and pigeons, among others—offering thoughtful and differentiated accounts regarding the biology and behavior of each species. The collection shows how the gap between perception and reality becomes a crucial site of interrogation to “reimagine our ethics of engagement with such wildlife, and to question the violence with which we treat them” (book cover, Trash Animals ).
Visible Corporeal Markers
While some of the novel’s bleakest and bravest moments deal with the politics of female sexuality, fertility, and reproduction, these aspects most effectively exemplify Cixous’s concept.
Essentially, in the potent discourse of carnivorism/“carno-phallogocentrism” (a term used by
188 Derrida), women are impure and deficient by virtue of lacking a phallus, and female sexuality gets conflated with corporeality and reproduction. For example, despite their unlike cultural and ethnic backgrounds, both Bunny (the aging and formerly sexually enticing, Texan beauty queen with large breasts) and Akiko (the physically liminal, young, Japanese, housewife figure) are embodiments of women’s reduction to their physical bodies by male relatives and a heterosexist society at large. The premise prescribing that the category “woman” is less adequate or pure than the category “man” casts women as abject and sanctions the misogynist attitudes the women experience: Akiko’s abuse is physical (rape), whereas Bunny’s is symbolic (her agency gets erased in social interactions and discourse). The most notable causality of the (in)visible effects of this violence is Bunny’s biological daughter, Rose, a victim of premature sexual development with crippling effects caused by cross-species pollution. In the novel, while reviewing the film material from the visit to Dunn’s feedlot where Jane and her crew were filming an episode for the TV show, Jane struggles to pinpoint an oddity she has noticed about Rose. Dave, the melancholic student-figure, who is the most knowledgeable about the web of opaque interconnections between agribusiness and the associated pollution deriving from its mass- factory productions, is quick to piece the enigma together: Rosie is (physically) precocious. The visible markers for her condition as deviant being are the breasts she has developed at the age of five.
“It’s premature thelarche,” said Dave. “I read about cases in Puerto Rico.
Precocious puberty. These little girls with estrogen poisoning. They thought it
was some kind of growth stimulant in meat or milk or poultry. I think they
suspected DES. . . . [T]he media attention was enough to scare off the farmers
from using the drugs, and after a while the symptoms just slowly regressed when
189 the kids stopped eating the contaminated foods. But not before a lot of them
developed cysts in their ovaries . . . and of course there’s danger of cancer too.”
The passage gives voice to three of the governing themes that invisible violence inflicts: first, even though the symptoms of the poisoning subside over time, the life-threatening effects will haunt the young girls—as well as Rose, Jane, and potentially even Bunny (because she inhabits the space where pollution is taking place)—for the rest of their lives, putting them at heightened risk for infertility, miscarriages (Jane’s fate), and cancer (Jane has previously successfully battled cancer). Second, the utter disregard for the dangers of modern (unregulated) growth and hormone technologies poses a form of nameless, faceless violence. Despite the scientifically proven, well-documented facts outlining how cross-species-bodies-pollution is life threatening, particularly to women, this avenue is still pursued as illustrated through Gale in the novel. Gale not only illegally feeds DES as a growth stimulant to his cattle, he is also well aware of the risks it poses for pregnant women, such as Jane, yet he is reluctant to make connections between
Rose’s precocious puberty (a secret nobody talks about on the farm, but everyone is aware that there is a problem) and Gale’s underhanded dangerous business practices. Third, it illustrates how the categories deemed impure—farm animals, women both young and old—are at heightened risk of overspilling pollution across species lines both through consumption and exposure.
A sore opens as it becomes clear that Jane is instrumental in creating the rationale and format of My American Wife! In a way, Jane is victim to the most insidious strategy of misuse and faceless oppression—her face becomes the face of oppression, while the real oppressors
123 Thelarche is defined as “the process of breast development, which occurs as a normal part of puberty. Isolated premature breast development in girls is not uncommon and is almost always benign,” according to Elizabeth Martin and Tanya McFerran ( Dictionary of Nursing ). 190 remain masked and invisible. In this regard, My Year of Meats is a parable of “how women themselves contribute to the dissemination of transnational harm” (Black 242). Ozeki reverses the chronological order of events in the novel in order to highlight the problematic relationship between Jane’s complicity and her gradually growing awareness of this dilemma. In the very prologue that introduces Suzie and the imposed violence and caricature of her body, we catch a first glimpse of Jane at a decisive moment. Jane is described as a person with sensibilities as she deliberately chooses not to translate all of the Japanese instructions she is given for Suzie because they are mostly disrespectful and condescending. More specifically, she secretly claims her prerogative to mitigate and filter between orders from above and the actors on the ground, thus becoming a mediator working vertically and horizontally. Her action stands in stark contrast to the fact that she can be read as assisting the violence carried out on Suzie’s body. In other words, for Jane, this is a crucial moment of painful recognition when she recognizes how her past actions (for instance, her memo outlining the show’s rationale) are mirrored in Suzie’s pain and quiet suffering. The disparity becomes a rich space for possibility and change, as Ozeki challenges this tension that becomes a first crack in Jane’s shackles that tie her to the industrial capitalist system. The moment that Jane witnesses how Suzie is treated as an outcast and freak profoundly stirs something within her being: she deeply empathizes with Suzie and the dynamics she is tangled in. It is a perception that goes beyond a simple recognition, as it quite plainly demonstrates to Jane the many complicated ways in which both she and Suzie share an experience of violent marginalization. Jane, too, is a “freak,” a creature that does not fit in:
In spite of the [last name] Little, my dad was a tall man, and I am just under six
feet myself. In Japan this makes me a freak. After living there for a while, I
simply gave up trying to fit in: I cut my hair short, dyed chunks of it green, and
191 spoke in men’s Japanese. It suited me. Polysexual, polyracial, perverse. . . . Being
racially “half” . . . I was uniquely suited to the niche I was to occupy in the
television industry. . . . it seems I was useful . . . selling off the vast illusion of
America to a cramped population on that small string of Pacific islands. (9)
As an outsider, Jane has a keen awareness and ability to mediate between her multiple identities as a means for survival. Homi Bhabha calls this “the in-between spaces” constantly negotiating between various selves.
Like Stuart Hall, Bhabha defines identity as a fluid process that reconstitutes itself constantly in its encounter with the other.
Hybridity has no . . . depth or truth to provide: it is not a third term that resolves
the tension between the two cultures, or the two scenes of the book, in a
dialectical play of “recognition.” The displacement from symbol to sign creates a
crisis for any concept of authority based on a system of recognition: colonial
specularity, doubly inscribed, does not produce a mirror where the self
apprehends itself; it is always the split screen of the self and its doubling, the
Bhabha’s “hybridity” does not release the tension but it enables “the in-between spaces,” spaces of challenge and possibility. Considering how hybridity is fundamentally resistant to power, Jane is engaged in the varied performance in order to both replicate and subvert the expectations of power. For example, the same way Jane deeply empathizes with Suzie after witnessing her treatment as an outcast and inferior being, Jane later empathizes with other sentient beings, such as factory animals and the brutal violence inflicted upon them. Put differently, Jane is becoming aware of “being” those marginalized identities, alongside of the animals, simultaneously
192 performing a disruption of the power that marginalizes. Jane is always “woman” as the animals are always “animal,” but her performance exposes the extent to which these categories are arbitrary, and more importantly, arbitrarily inscribed with less-than-human status.
Cheryl Fish explains in her article, “The Toxic Body Politic: Ethnicity, Gender, and
Corrective Eco-Justice in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Judith Helfland and Daniel Gold’s
Blue Vinyl ” that Jane “embodies a hybrid biracial androgynous identity, seen as threatening and yet enabling to the subversive agency that challenges stereotyped representations of red meat, patriarchy, and white American superiority” (48). Jane has learned to survive on the margins and to transcend borders. Her outsider status enables her to look in from the outside, so moving between different spheres vertically and horizontally across social ranks, gender, race, and sex is encoded in her identity. Minh-ha Trinh writes,
The moment the insider steps out from the inside , she is no longer a
mere insider (and vice versa). She necessarily looks in from the
outside while also looking out from the inside. ( Moon Waxes Red 74;
emphasis added) 124
Given her marginal status as outsider, she has not yet been entirely yoked under by colonial forces, which bestows Jane a unique perspective to recognize the delimiting structures that are enmeshed in the fabric of oppression. In this way, she becomes a key actor in productively deconstructing colonial forces.
The sight of arranging Suzie’s body in front of the camera’s eye for My American Wife! can be read as an act of double voyeurism. Permitted a voyeuristic peeking behind the scenes, the reader is also following the voyeuristic, panoptic vision of the camera, which controls and directs the representation and movements of the woman in order to feed the captured spectacle into a
124 See Mulvey and Berger for discussions of different “looking relations.” 193 larger narrative confirming male authority. Because the staging and framing of the symbolic order relies on conveying messages through visual cues, the filming studio reproduces private/public relations. These lulling narratives of power, set against the backdrop of picture- perfect homes, strap the female into her role as doting housewife and child caregiver, whereas the male figure, as head of the home and as breadwinner, has financial control and reproductive control over the woman’s body. The male also easily crosses between private and public sphere, leaving the home to go to work, while his female counterpart is confined to the interior of the home left to toil in her invisible, devalued, domestic labor. Suzie Flowers embodies the role of the disempowered housewife, her emblematic white skin and blonde hair figure into the perpetuation of the mythical norm as heterosexual white, whose identity is solely mediated through her relation to her husband. In this sense, My American Wife! becomes a celebration of gendered and racialized traditions that create the illusion of the restored, white-washed family nucleus that puts white male heteronormative dominance back on the map of oppressive relational structures.
Consequently, in the show My American Wife! , notions of white purity are conveyed through the fetish commodity of meat (ironically arising as a carrier of unhealthy pollutants and contaminators). In collusion with its promoter, the powerful agribusiness sector, the commodity of meat becomes a modern way of organizing and governing subjects across gender, ethnicity, culture, class, and species internally through the body as opposed to externally , as advanced by
Foucault. Foucault writes in his study Discipline and Punish (1977) of the power that modern disciplinary institutions exercise over human bodies; whereas, in past pre-democratic eras, harsh bodily punishment was displayed publicly to illustrate the sovereign’s power over his subjects,
Jeremy Bentham’s invention of the Panopticon in 1791 introduced a new way of surveillance
194 through internalization of the gaze. According to Foucault, with the move to liberal democracies, power is never exercised in a top-down fashion; rather, it circulates (93). Its rapid circulation is aided by the commodity market emerging as a “fundamental form of a new cultural system for representing social value” ( Imperial Leather 208). Created and owned by multinational companies, this powerful system perpetually reinvents itself, marketing and branding its products as essential and indispensable markers of progress and modern vehicles for human identity. In
My Year of Meats , the harmful paradigm of invisible violence works through the “collusion between global television and corporate agribusiness in the transnational spaces across the
Pacific Ocean” (Black 227) as a type of colonization, an economy of the flesh aided by multinational corporations that infiltrate media and culture transnationally to satisfy their want for homogeneity and control. Shiva defines the power of agribusinesses as an “era of corporate control on food production by creating a technology by which multinationals acquired control over seeds, and hence over the entire food system” (121). Having control over the food system results in control over economic food distribution (Shiva; Patel), including the bodies that are impacted and polluted through food toxicity. In this dimension, the invisible pollutants transgress bodily borders and flow directly into the bodies to become directional flows within the bodies.
All of these dynamics line up to allow modern corporate control over bodies from the inside out .
The targets of the misuse and pollution are those considered “ immonde ” as “globalization uses women, technology, minorities, and animals to feed the insatiable modern desire to consume and to appropriate otherness for profit and power. . . .” (Fish 48). Keeping with this line of thought,
Chad Lavin notes in his article titled “Factory Farms in a Consumer Society” that “one cannot help but notice how the factory logic is now in operation in the body of the consumer” (83;
195 emphasis added), primarily in the bodies of the lower classes and ethnic minorities, but not limited to these bodies, as Rosie’s illness reveals.
As part of the pollution processes, “meat” becomes a culturally rich signpost steeped in dominant ideologies that redefine perceptions of normativity, while sharply redrawing the boundaries of subjectivity for the disenfranchised—particularly women. 125 Carol Adams writes about the literal and metaphorical, psychic and bodily fragmentation that binds together the categories of animal and woman. The dismemberment of animal bodies, which occurs in Ozeki’s novel, is a theme that Carol Adams began to write about (predating My Year of Meats ) in 1990, by drawing parallels between the butchering of animals and the violation of women’s bodies.
The premise of Adams’ work is that animals are the visible sign or “topic” and women are the
“absent referents” (16). In other words, food and meat-related images of animals and animal flesh are framed in sexualized terms that refer to an absent object that is human and female.
More specifically, in Anglo-American popular culture, meats and other foods are conflated with sexual and pornographic images of women’s bodies, rendering both the bodies of animals and the bodies of women as readily available “meats” for consumption. Women and animals are constructed as objects for consumption that satisfy male desire and appetite. As a consequence,
Adams speaks of the “sexualization of meat,” which leads to the devaluation of women and their bodies and perpetuates an image of animals as signs without inherent meaning—stand-ins for absent human referents. Adams writes,
Through butchering, animals become absent referents. Animals in name and body
are made absent as animals for meat to exist. Animals’ lives precede and enable
the existence of meat. If animals are alive they cannot be meat. . . . Animals are
125 Frantz Fanon theorized in Black Skin, White Masks , about how he, the Black (male) subject, being the Other, experiences the violent fragmentation through the gaze of the White Man. According to Fanon, the oppressor decides why and when the fragmentation is executed. 196 made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers
participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with
gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine.
Language thus contributes even further to animals’ absences. . . . [W]hen we eat
animals we change the way we talk about them, for instance, we no longer talk
about baby animals but about veal or lamb (66). . . . After being butchered,
fragmented body parts are often renamed to obscure the fact that these were once
It is no coincidence that when Jane embarks to visit Gale’s feedlot and the slaughterhouse operation to find out more about meat production, she is confronted with pornographic images and male dominance expressed through Gale’s sarcastic discourse that interjects the killing of animals with sexually threatening language:
We gotta educate these city folks, show’em how we murder our animals round
here, ain’t that right, Miz Takagi? How we stick it to ’em. That’s what you want,
ain’t it? That’s what you been askin’ for . . .” (280)
Moments later, the slaughterhouse boss, Wilson, refers to the two male crew members of Jane’s filming team as “you girls with long hair,” and as Jane leaves Wilson’s office, describes it as a
“wood-paneled panopticon decorated with a large poster of a young blond Amazon in jungle bikini, who overlooked the meat-cutting operations below.” Jane looks back up to the office’s wide glass observation window where she sees both Wilson and Gale, “the two of them, their heads perfectly aligned under the jungle girl’s large proffered breasts. They were watching me, and when I turned around they both burst out laughing” (281). Then later on the killing floor,
Jane describes how the floor worker hoists a cow by her hind leg up into the air,
197 where she hung upside down, slowly spinning, head straining, legs kicking wildly
in their search for solid ground. The worker approached and took a knife from his
belt. . . . [He] put his hand on the cow’s arched neck to steady her . . . all the
while, saying, “There now, girl, calm down, it’s gonna be all over soon. . . .”
Both the language and imagery illustrate reductive and devaluing attitudes and mind-sets toward women and animals, while the mode that conflates both species is the same. The men with long hair are called “girls,” the cow on the killing floor is referred to as a “girl,” and Jane, the only
“girl” present, is ridiculed and sexually threatened by the men. In other words, those who have violence inflicted on them are portrayed as those who are figuratively and literally subjected in the food-making process and male discourse at large. As such, the slaughterhouse emerges as microcosm of human-animal entanglements, a space into which those traditionally denied full human status, the “ immonde ,” are cast and rendered powerless.
Some of the most significant perpetrators of invisible violence in the novel, as well as in real life, are ignorance and misinformation caused in part by the undermining and marginalizing of public sector research. In real life, one particularly poignant example of commodified research that highlights the vulnerabilities caused by the dangerous collusion between agribusiness and industrial interest groups is research for food animal well-being. The research is tied to agricultural law and monetary contributions by Tyson Foods, a company known to abuse animals and bankrupt its contracted farmers ( Food Inc. ), and to the Walton Family, which is under criticism for not openly disclosing affiliations 126 to carry out this research. In a news report
126 The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation has been repeatedly under crossfire for failing to disclose information regarding its conflicts-of-interest policies or board members: “Some philanthropy watchdogs, however, criticize the fund’s approach. Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive 198 published on the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s website, the first Center for
Food Animal Well-Being in the United States is being established and introduced at the university with the stated goal of improving animal health, animal handling, food safety, and productivity. The director, Yvonne Thaxton, a poultry science professor, had also been vice president for science and quality assurance at Marshall Durbin Food Corporation, one of the largest, privately owned US poultry companies in Birmingham, Alabama. According to the university website,
The center is associated with the Division of Agriculture’s food science and
poultry science departments and with the National Agricultural Law Center at the
UA School of Law. It was established earlier this year with the support of a $1
million gift from the Tyson Foods Foundation matched by the Walton Family
Charitable Support Foundation through the university’s Matching Gift Program.
Agribusiness and pharmaceuticals are the two biggest players in corporate research funding and perpetuators of violence against women’s and animals’ bodies—research that often does not disclose its funding sources, but often finds wide circulation due to the financial boost corporate institutions are willing to lend (for favorable reports). All the while, the consequences of the lack of transparency and collusion of business, politics, and science/education are carried out on the backs of animals and the consumers, or rather in and through their bodies .
The Important Role of (Counter)Publics
Media circuits are a pivotal tool of colonization and resistance because epistemologies are circulated, developed, and reinforced through this public sphere gateway. Public sphere theory becomes relevant as the media has a large influence on shaping and forming public
Philanthropy, in Washington, notes that the fund doesn’t share on its Web site information on its employees, board members, conflict-of-interest policies, or commitment to diversity” (“A Quiet Family Fund”). 199 discourse. In Jürgen Habermas’s model of the public sphere discussed in The Structural
Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962), the public space exists as soon as someone engages in “practical discourse.” This discourse model is open to anyone anytime, anywhere, therefore lending itself to the reality of democratic debate and public speech. Nancy Fraser takes issue with Habermas’s neo-liberal model of the public sphere, arguing that rather than opening up the political realm to everyone, the bourgeois public sphere shifts political power from “a repressive mode of domination to a hegemonic one”
(62). Instead of a rule by power, there is merely a rule by majority ideology. Fraser critiques the political legitimacy of “the formal exclusion of women from political life” and the concept of public sphere that claims to “bracket, rather than to eliminate, structural social inequalities” (65).
Moreover, she argues that Habermas idealizes the liberal public sphere and fails to examine
“other, nonliberal, nonbourgeois, competing public spheres” (61/62). According to Fraser, subordinated groups (e.g., women, workers, people of color, and gays and lesbians) have repeatedly created subaltern counterpublics 127 , defined as alternative publics or parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs. 128 Jane is a cog in the wheel of global media making of a public, which is constructed and controlled by conservative, patriarchal power forces (mainstream media), such as the producers of My American Wife! , who commodify for profits in tandem with economic actors. Using her privilege to put the voices of those usually erased back on the map of public media landscapes,
Jane creates and engages in new groups and subcultures (through which she opens new identity
127 Michael Warner, a literary critic and theorist who has written about Habermas, also uses the term “counterpublics” in his works on queer and public sphere theory. Most notably, he employs the term in his collection of essays titled Publics and Counterpublics , an exploration of the different ways a public is constructed. 128 In other words, there has always been a multiplicity of publics and counterpublics with competing discourses. These discourses mark positions that allow “speaking,” and they determine what can be spoken (of) or not. 200 positions). It is critical to note, first, that counterpublics may also engage in marginalizing and excluding others (whoever constitutes the other for this group formation) and, second, that discourse including Jane’s subversive spin on the show still “happens” within the paradigms of the dominant culture. Nonetheless, most importantly, even if the format remains the same, Jane is in control, as she has found a way to change the meaning of the content, which supersedes the format. Jane’s control of the framing and subsequent reassigning of meaning is crucial; it extends to her the ability “to save lives” as she instigates change through her own actions. Through the pan-American/Japanese broadcasting of the show and her own investigation at the feedlot where
“[she] uncover[s] the illegal hormone ring” (358), Jane ultimately challenges preconceived notions about social and cultural normativity. In conversation with Jane at the hospital, Bunny ponders how violence becomes normalized. She declares,
Things you’d never believe could ever happen just start seemin’ as normal as
pie. Well, maybe not normal, but still you accept it. Like Rosie . . . You just get
used to it. Until something happens, that is, that wakes you up and makes you see
different. That’s what happened when you all showed up. I saw her with your
eyes, and everything looked different. Wrong . (emphasis added, 294)
I ain’t never really ever made a single decision in my life, you know. . . . I
finally made a choice, talkin’ for the camera, and it felt good. Like I was takin’
stand. . . . (295)
Without models and narratives that break with widely held beliefs/norms of concepts of the
“immonde ,” the normalization carries on.
In My Year of Meats , Ozeki diligently works to expose different layers of commonly held beliefs and attitudes to provide us with a glimpse of the endless possibilities of the interplay of
201 the global and the local, and here is found the most developed response to Jane’s activism, which is the parallel story of Akiko. While globalization processes bear risks, there is an array of possibilities for subversion that can be tapped into as Chae observes:
Ozeki's strategy to actively use the media in order to subvert the white middle-
class dominant perspective of “America” and the U.S. capitalist expansionism and
violence towards “others” is her way of applying resistance within the system. . . .
Ironically, the show intended to coerce Akiko to enlist in the production’s ideology and brainwash her to follow a more domestic, American-like, homemaker cliché but changes her outlook and enables her to live a life self-actualization. Through Jane’s locally (across the United
States) filmed subversive TV episodes—produced to penetrate the living rooms of millions of
Japanese households—Akiko is presented with new, alternative subject positionalities that ultimately empower her to opt for a different, independent life that entails traversing borders. As such, popular culture as a site of identity and desire ties directly in with the emancipatory power of images and representations in a transnational context. Rather than having a unidirectional influence from the center to the periphery, popular culture is marked by circular flows that have a facilitating quality for transnational (cultural) connectedness and subversion. In their article,
“Global Femininities: Consumption, Culture and the Significance of Place,” Mary Jane Kehily and Anoop Nayak draw from several comparative ethnographies to investigate the relation of gender, consumption, and place, and how these categories function in opening up new spaces for subject formation. In the analysis of their findings, the authors attest to the integral part that global media cultures 129 play in young women’s lives and that they are “an important resource
129 The global media cultures investigated in the study include television series, soap operas, films, music, dance, and blogs, as well as networks. 202 for creating meanings, shaping identities and forging relationships. Through an engagement with the ‘flow’ of cultural signs and material objects, young women appropriate, adapt, and subvert
“globally marketed versions of femininity” (339), as is the case with Akiko. Through the global flow of signs, local identity is reworked as Akiko consumes what is globally produced and interprets and applies it on a local level and context. In this view, rather than alienating, the borderless flow of global signs enables subjects like Akiko to relate to notions of diversity and liberation in new, intriguing ways.
It is interesting to note how Ozeki goes to great lengths to show Jane’s gradual transformation from a mostly unknowing and minimally concerned cog in the wheel of big business to a powerful actor who pulls the strings and orchestrates a more just outcome for those involved in the violent pollution entanglements she uncovers. In her personal journal, Jane admits an intimate truth:
I have heard myself protesting, “I didn’t know!” but this is not true. Of course I
knew about toxicity in meat, the unwholesomeness of large-scale factory farming,
the deforestation of the rain forests to make grazing land for hamburgers. . . . I
chose to ignore what I knew. “Ignorance.” In this root sense, ignorance is an act
of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information
overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence. (334)
I read Jane’s reflection as a call from Ozeki to take responsibility for one’s actions, reminiscent of Rosa Eberly’s notion of the “citizen critic.” According to Eberly, a public sphere theorist who is interested in the connections between theory and activism, a citizen critic is a person who
“produces discourses about issues of common concern from an ethos of citizen first and foremost—not as expert or spokesperson for a workplace or as member of a club or
203 organization” (1). The position Eberly proposes is empowering for those with privileged status as citizens of a country (those lacking citizenship, such as illegal immigrants, are omitted from the conversation. However, individuals lacking citizenship may still produce this kind of discourse, but it may come with repercussions, such as deportation). For example, after taking a stand,
Bunny unwaveringly shares with her husband the incriminating information about Gale’s business practices, which ultimately leads to Gale being held accountable. Bunny recollects in her conversation with Jane:
[Gale] was sobbing, ‘I never knew, Daddy, you gotta believe me I never
‘He did know. I told him.’
‘That’s what I said. So John made him get on the phone and call the guy at the
local USDA office. (357)
Jane also enacts a citizen critic role and critically engages the hegemonic show production agenda to breathe life into her own cosmofeminist vision of My American Wife! Her employment as documentarian allows her to then broadcast her counterracist and countersexist discourse broadly. Moreover, as she finds out that she is pregnant, she feels a growing responsibility to ensure the well-being of others around her. Hence, as soon as she discovers that the information about food and meat production and toxicity begin to run meager, she decides to get to the bottom of the issue, and taking matters in her own hands, she sets out with her film crew to render visible the concealed, underreported, unseen workings at Dunn’s feedlot and the slaughterhouse as an exploration of what kind of message “meat” really is outside of the restrictive box of hegemonic control and capitalist profitability.
In My Year of Meats , Ozeki does not shy away from asking important questions, forcing us to rethink for what reason and to what ends we abhor certain bodies deemed abominable in an
Anglo-American context. Does this uneven mind-set of devaluation justify the killing of innocent sentient beings in order to cater to a powerful economic system that aims for profits and uses consumer misinformation and ignorance to keep its billion-dollar industry flourishing despite the violence inflicted on animals, workers, and consumers? The novel may be criticized for being too optimistic, however, it has to be noted that according to L. Smith, “the sense of hope and optimism is a characteristic of contemporary Indigenous politics which is often criticized, by non-Indigenous scholars, because it is viewed as being overly optimistic” (91). The projections regarding the state of health of the planet are grim, and narratives like My Year of
Meats are urgently needed to imagine new paradigms of survival that tend to the interconnections between human and nonhuman life forms. Human, animal, and natural ecologies can hardly be disconnected from each other as they exist in tight symbiosis and are connected through bonds that cannot be severed. Polluting or destroying one or the other inevitably spills over and etches the waning effects of invisible violence into the psychic and physical landscapes of coexisting ecologies. These lingering legacies of toxic entanglements become corrosive signposts for diseased societies and fragmented landscapes that have fallen victim to social and political amnesia caused and displaced by shrill, hyped-up media spectacles that push critical inquiry to invisible, out-of-sight realms (Nixon). Ozeki’s text is important because Jane’s descriptions give the reader a visual and written context about these politically, historically, socially, and culturally highly contested sites by providing not only coordinates for ethical engagement and activism but also suggesting enticing and creative ways to imagine paths that lead to environmental justice. 205 In sometimes comical and satirical fashion, the novel suggests that current models of food production and ill gender relations are unsustainable because they cause pain, suffering, violence, and even death. I chose My Year of Meats because it combines a variety of influences and principles—Anglo-American-Asian, Buddhist, and Indigenous—to present a gripping visualization in written word about the limits of the capitalist mind-set, while raising awareness for the interlinked suffering across species lines with focus on women and animals. The
Indigenous word view rejects the industrial factory farming complex because it lacks accountability and transparency; it is unsustainable for people, animals, land, and nature; and it fails to view sentient beings as sources of intelligence and knowledge. Ozeki stages an important invention by showing how the lack of empathy toward one species easily spills over into violence and suffering for another.
The last chapter is concerned with restoring and protecting Australian Aboriginal land rights in light of a young nation-state seeking to present itself as a homogenous entity that subsumes Aboriginal sovereignty. It is the real-life account of a small clan of Aboriginal traditional owners, the Mirarr, who creatively combined contemporary media tools and political structures with Indigenous practices and methods to stage a global intervention that resists multinational plans to exploit uranium from Mirarr lands.
206 CHAPTER 4
(U N)T ANGLED PLACES :MAPPING MIRARR RESISTANCE THROUGH ECOCIDE , INDIGENOUS METHODS , AND ALTERNATIVE MEDIA INTERVENTIONS
Ba-Ngurdmeninj Djabulukku! Yun Ngurri-Djalkgarung Boiwek Gun Nugukbim
Stop Jabiluka! Don’t dig the life out of the knob tailed gecko dreaming —Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation
We still say no. Maybe that's all I can say. No to uranium. —Yvonne Margarula
Kakadu National Park is our home, it’s the place where we educate our children, it’s the place which sustains us nutritionally, it’s the place where we derive our lore and authority from, we won’t allow our country to become a dumping ground for toxic waste which remains active for 250,000,000 years. We, as many other peoples, do not accept this as the future. —Jacqui Katona, 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize Acceptance Speech
“It’s often said that change always happens; the question is: Who determines the direction of the change?” (155). Winona LaDuke asks this question in her work, All Our
Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), which chronicles how Indigenous communities across the United States are taking a lead to confront environmental injustices by actively resisting global imperialist forces pushing to exploit the rich uranium, hydroelectricity, oil, and natural gas resources situated on their land (189). Thus, it comes as no surprise that, according to LaDuke, “Grassroots and land-based struggles characterize most of Native environmentalism” (4). If the story of Saartje Baartman’s toxic, transnational entanglements in chapter 2 teaches the failure of governance and politicians to protect disenfranchised groups, and
Ozeki’s ecomentary My Year of Meats in chapter 3 demonstrates the limitations of ethical and
207 legal systems to account for the lives of those considered “ immonde ,” alternative ways of making change and making meaning are needed.
I turn to the Mirarr Aboriginal people of Australia’s Northern Territory, a small group of traditional owners at Kakadu National Park, because they offer a paradigm of survival that is not only instructive and inspirational for other communities threatened by transnational eco- devastation, but also because the Mirarr struggle for eco-justice is a culmination of many fundamental concerns of my study. The Mirarr paradigm reflects an interconnected environmental justice approach that attends to the needs of human and nonhuman life forms in recognition of the cultural and spiritual importance of the land and its people; it focuses on empowering disenfranchised groups by increasing visibility about Indigenous struggles to reclaim their land; and it emphasizes creative strategies to promote justice through a variety of different venues to fight the harmful effects of pollution. Through a real-life account of resistance to multinational mining interests set in the context of the modern Australian settler nation-state, this chapter brings to light how the Mirarr redressed the lack of legal and political accountability concerning their interests and needs, with heightened activism and activist strategies. In this way, the story of the Mirarr portrays another facet of the varied and resourceful responses in which minority groups are resisting the effects of global expansion and changing ecologies. On the basis of acknowledging the entitled, Indigenous ownership of land, this chapter attempts to highlight some of the resistance tactics and proactive strategies that have resulted in many of the Mirarr’s successes. In this spirit then, I discuss the Mirarr successes as a collective effort. Through the interweaving of shifting collective strategies derived from both past and present influences of surviving colonization—such as extending civic reach through public speaking engagements, actively seeking protest allies, or establishing the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal
208 Corporation—the Mirarr have created new paradigms for survival that empower Indigenous groups to actively shape their futures at the nexus of environmental justice, land-claim issues, and transnational hegemonic hunts for profit. Finally, as my study is heavily indebted to
Indigenous thought and activism, it is only fitting that Indigenous voices have the last word in this study, thus this chapter presents a forum for these voices.
Due to the scope of this chapter, I will focus on the paradigms of survival the Mirarr have created during their oppositional movement to mining at Jabiluka. I follow these sites of resistance and use them as important sources, represented by their tactical use of media releases, production of documentary filmmaking, and construction of the Mirarr website, to understand how these communicative technologies have “effectively contested the representation of
Aboriginal consent to mining by the Federal government and the mining company” (Osuri 278) and aided the Mirarr in publicizing their perspectives. After illuminating relevant aspects of
Australian Aboriginal literary production, I will briefly sketch two activist narratives—those of
Jacqui Katona, who has been described as “the public face of the campaign” to halt Jabiluka
(“Wisdom Interviews”), and David Bradbury, a documentary filmmaker—to understand who the activists and allies in the Mirarr struggle were, and what paths they chose to make their voices heard. Bradbury’s documentary Jabiluka (1998) is an answer to the latter as it springs from a fruitful grassroots collaboration with Katona and Margarula. I read the film from a cultural perspective to understand how it functions as a document of resistance and a form of counterdiscourse of an alternate history in the context of a neo-liberal nation state. Bradbury’s filmmaking experience is instructive in understanding how power and the media intersect in
Australia because it speaks to two distinct conditions in the media landscape: the triumph of corporate conglomerates over public media systems and the spread of neoliberalism into all
209 aspects of social and political life. To understand the counterhegemonic underpinnings, I interweave a contextualization of the power relations that have structured the exercise of land rights in the Northern Territory. My exploration reveals a specific Indigenous history of negotiating with and contesting of colonial conditions. Politically, I ally myself with those critical theorists and activists who work towards justice and sovereignty for Aboriginal nations in
Australia. I acknowledge my own subject-position as a white scholar writing about Aboriginal issues and cannot escape the charge of being a product of Western European academic education. Therefore, I have cautiously attempted to weave the culturally specific history of the
Mirarr clan into a strictly postcolonial, analytical framework that heavily relies on the spoken and written word of Aboriginal thinkers, critics, theorists, artists, and writers. Before I embark on my reading and the colonial contextualization, I will briefly illuminate the beginnings of a growing Aboriginal public sphere and counter-discourse exemplified through Aboriginal women’s literary production because it allows me to foreground some preliminary considerations regarding the politics of Aboriginal representation. Furthermore, it helps me situate questions, such as, who is producing knowledge and how is it linked to the authorization of violence in the
Anglo-Australian context, because as I will show, the Mirarr effectively disrupt and intervene in dominant ideas about who gets to create meaning and produce knowledge.
Contextualizing an Emerging Aboriginal Literary Sphere: Ruby Langford Ginibi
Illuminating the emergence of a strong Aboriginal literary sphere, embodied through
Kaori writer and activist Ruby Langford Ginibi, helps me foreground and situate Mirarr resistance and counter-discourse in the contested realm of past and present meaning making as
Langford Ginibi has raised a number of issues that are pivotal to my discussion of Mirarr tactics at Jabiluka. A wave of Aboriginal women's published literary works was vital in raising public awareness, constructing a visible Aboriginal identity in Australian society, and retelling colonial 210 history from the perspective of the dispossessed, disavowed Indigenous population. These novels began with Colin Johnson’s (later Mudrooroo Narogin) Wildcat Falling (Sydney: Angus &
Robertson 1965) and autobiographies penned by Monica Clare ( Karobran ), Doris
Pilkington, and Ruby Langford Ginibi. This increased visibility of Indigenous literary production in conjunction with a growing awareness of historical elision, which has a role in the disempowerment and exclusion of minority groups—helped establish a strong Aboriginal counter-discourse, as Langford Ginibi puts it, “so we don't get left out of the next lot of history”
(Little 108). Carole Ferrier has described Langford Ginibi’s Don't Take Your Love to Town as one of the crests of a wave of Aboriginal women's published autobiographies. According to
Ferrier, autobiography or life writing has been the primary genre for many Aboriginal women writers to record personal and collective events and experiences of displacement and loss, perhaps due to the genre’s “testimonial capacities”—a term I borrow from Nixon ( Slow Violence
32)—to testify of Aboriginal urgencies. This kind of testimonial writing resonates with a particular “project” from Linda Smith’s list of decolonizing projects, as discussed in chapter 1, about Indigenous methodologies: the project of “testimony.” Almost identical to how it is described by Smith, this project serves as a way for Langford Ginibi to communicate “extremely painful events” (145). In this vein, she quips in a powerful assertion that she is
not interested in fiction. Don't need to be, because I'm too busy writing the truth
about my people. . . . This is from our side of the fence. . . . Although the history
of the whole of white Australia is one of the biggest fictions, aye? (Little 102)
Here, Langford Ginibi refers to the history of white Australia as one of the biggest fictions to underscore how the construct of ideological fictions is designed to rationalize the exploitation of
Indigenous people. In doing so, she alludes to how Australian narratives of nation have written
211 Aboriginal presence out of existence and how her writing back to empire consists of defictionalizing wrongful truths to “tell it like it is” (Little). I read Langford Ginibi’s commentary, not as much as an attempt to discount the genre of fiction, but rather as an appeal to redirect attention from harmful master narratives to the real urgencies that are riddling an overwhelming number of Aboriginal communities. Langford Ginibi’s raw force lies in her unapologetic vision to chronicle the conditions of her people in sometimes stark, sometimes violent terms because this mirrors the inhabited realities. In this sense, her writing speaks to three additional decolonizing “projects”: storytelling and writing as practice to pass down memories, knowledge, and to dialogue; remembering as a practice to heal from the trauma of imperialism; as well as gendering, to some extent, as her writing exposes relations between Indigenous men and women that have been impacted by the effects of colonial patriarchy. Sanitized versions of reality, as they are perpetuated by national interests, the media, or history books, do not change dominant perceptions. The reception of Langford Ginibi’s work has been mixed in Anglo-
American academic traditions. 130 In order to be able to widely circulate her work, she has catered to dominant society and translated the stories into the written word, the English written word.
Must the role of the artist go beyond this facilitation of understanding? In his piece “Borders and
Bridges” (2000), Ngugi Thiong’o explains that
for many of us in Africa [the colonial mode of education] makes us look to
Europe as the basis of everything, as the very center of the universe. We can see it
in the way we are brought up to regard the English language as the basis of
definition of our own identity. Instead of seeing English as just another language
130 If the availability of Langford Ginibi’s published works is any indication regarding the popularity of her work, then it seems Langford Ginibi may be disappearing in the shadows. Except for a reissued copy of Don't Take Your Love To Town in 2007, available through the University Of Queensland Press, none of her works are currently in print or available digitally in the US or Australia. 212 with a lot of books and literature available in it, we see it as a way of defining our
own being. We become captive to this language, developing certain attitudes of
positive identification with English (or French). We also develop attitudes of
distancing ourselves from our own language, our own cultures. (390)
Ngugi, who writes this from a nationalist standpoint, critiques how colonial education molds non-Europeans into Eurocentric subjects, and he takes issue with the uncritical adoption of the colonizer’s language because language functions as a vehicle to transport the colonizer’s episteme. On a similar note, Michael Hart, a Cree scholar interested in social work issues and author of Seeking Mino-Pimatisiwin: An Aboriginal Approach to Helping (2002), suggests that the challenges of trying to explain Indigenous methodologies to academia are linked to worldview, and “the challenge with bringing out worldviews is language , overall” (Kovach 69; emphasis added). For example, there are concepts in Cree that do not have English translations, and inadvertently, some meanings will be lost and other meanings will change in the process of translation. For this reason among others, in his interview with Kovach, Hart “urges care in sharing knowledges coming from the sacred, especially in setting such as universities, where their legitimacy as knowledge source may not be recognized” (73). I understand his cautioning to mean that Indigenous writing and theorizing can be perceived as cryptic by non-Indigenous scholars and readers, who lack the cultural-specific knowledge and awareness to respectfully unpack the messages conveyed and instead draw premature and simplistic conclusions from
The challenge of recounting aspects of a past that have been hidden from view is thus connected to offering sensitive representations that attempt to bridge divides, as Langford
Ginibi’s writing illustrates so well. The acknowledgments inform the reader that Don't Take Your
213 Love to Town is the autobiography of an Aboriginal woman born in 1934, who raises her nine children in segregated Australia with limited access to housing, health, and education.
Confidently, she explains,
No white could write that sort of story, because no white has ever lived the
life of an Aboriginal person like me. . . .
I can assure you that everything that's written in there is true, because I've got
the scars to prove it.
The scars, then, become like maps, symbols of oppressive power inflicted on a space that is perceived to be unoccupied. Through the passage of cyclical time, Aboriginal writers and artists are reclaiming “their local landscapes by imprinting them with their life stories, histories, memories and emotions,” thereby constructing alternative maps that are different from “the official maps produced by government” through mapping Aboriginal experience on Aboriginal terms (Byrne and Nugent). These story maps and landscapes speak to the experience of
Aboriginal people, the importance of practicing revisionist history, and the issue of dominant misrepresentation. Mirarr resistance, then, is a story, not only about Indigenous land rights, but also a struggle to challenge and replace media (re)produced notions of Aboriginality and
Aboriginal subjectivity with self-representation and meaning making that is controlled by the
Despite the relentless assaults that the Mirarr are subjected to, the Mirarr are remarkable for having found a number of ways to unbalance the status quo of uneven power relations. It is safe to say that Jacqui Katona, the principal organizer who acted on behalf of the Mirarr in a variety of capacities ranging from advisor to spokesperson and as executive director of the
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC)—an organization dedicated to the interests of the
214 Mirarr community—played an integral role in the implementation of alternative communication in ways that aided the cause of the Mirarr based on her political insight and training. However, it must be noted that Katona’s accomplishments are never framed as separate from the larger efforts; rather, in line with traditional Aboriginal beliefs and customs, her person and actions are subsumed and organically blended into the wider collective of the Mirarr struggle under the lead of Yvonne Margarula as a “we” instead of unitary “I.” According to the GAC sponsored Mirarr website, “The Corporation is funded almost exclusively by the mining royalties. With the establishment of the GAC, the Mirarr determined to use this money for the benefit of the wider community” (“Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation”). It is notable that the foundation of the organization, as well as the language it employs, keeps with the project of democratizing and
Indigenist governance with strict focus on the interests of the community based on Indigenous principles of collectivity and public debate. For example, as an organization run by women,
Katona observes how “There were a lot more kids and committee meetings and babysitting and feeding and all sorts of things, practical considerations” (“Wisdom Interviews”). These practical considerations also found reflection in the tenacity the group showed in their struggle Katona believes:
These were women who had to take care of their children, who had to find a
future for their children, who were struggling already, just to survive, and they
weren't going to tolerate any further degradation of their quality of life, if you
could call it that. And in that sense, yes, I think a mother's determination is pretty
hard to beat really. (“Wisdom Interviews”)
GAC functions as a representative body of the Mirarr, and, in its representative capacity, engages in dialogue with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous systems of power. In this way, it
215 epitomizes the development and implementation of twenty-first-century governance approaches that are embedded in an Indigenous value system.
Things acquire meaning by how they are represented—the tying together of conceptual features—such as “the stories we tell about [things], the images of them we produce, the emotions we associate with them, the ways we classify and conceptualize them, the values we place on them” (3), Stuart Hall writes in Representation: Cultural Representations and
Signifying Practices (1997). He describes representation as residing principally in language, which, he notes, “is one of the media through which thoughts, ideas and feelings are represented in a culture. Representation through language is, therefore, central to the processes by which meaning is produced” (1). Because representation is dialogical, involving the sharing of encoded meanings, there is no certainty that any particular meaning will remain fixed, and it is in this attempt to secure or insist on certain meanings, that the notion of “ power intervenes in discourse ” Hall observes (10, emphasis in original). Therefore, the cultivation of alternative forms of communication and media dissemination is essential to the preservation and survival of
Aboriginal identity, given that Australian mainstream discourse and news media coverage in particular fall short of presenting fair and balanced representation of Aboriginal issues (Pugliese;
Ginibi). Consistent with this observation is Osuri’s findings in her study about media coverage at
Jabiluka, which suggest a “tendency to frame the Mirarr struggle against Jabiluka within a series of displacements concerning the exercise of land rights” (260). At one level, the opposition has been constructed primarily as an environmental issue. Osuri explains that
[t]he conflict was staged as one primarily between the government and
environmental organizations during this phase of the Jabiluka campaign. The
omission of this media release which challenged Minister Hill's spin doctoring
216 seems tantamount to silencing the perspective of the traditional owners. In
silencing this perspective, ABC Nexus and SBS World Nexus were, in fact,
displacing the issue of Mirarr exercise of land rights at Jabiluka to a narrative
primarily about environmental conflict between the Australian government and
various environmental organizations. (265)
At another level, the news media has reported the blockade of the mine within a human-interest genre rather than a land-rights issue. According to student protestors Osuri interviewed at the
Jabiluka blockade, the students, Rebecca Nissim, Ally Richmond, and Emma Snow, were approached by news reporters for interviews, but the reporters showed no interest in asking questions about their motives and reasons for being at the strike. Instead, each time the activists tried to refocus the conversation on the mining issue, they were told by the news staff, “no we don't want to wanna talk about politics, we just want to know how do you feel about going to jail” (Nissim 26 qtd. in Osuri 270). Understood within the larger context of neo-liberal agendas and corporate media, this methodology allows the reporter to shirk journalistic responsibilities, such as avoiding inquiry and investigation of the issues at stake in an effort to weaken and discount the political message. And more broadly, it perpetuates a public perspective insinuating that jail was the only viable outcome of the protesting efforts. In addition, Osuri points out that in the few limited segments where the Mirarr are visible, they are “featured visually and had no access to verbal responses” (263). Also, because of the lack of media coverage of protest events at Jabiluka, she discovered that “there has been a veritable silencing of articulated Indigenous opposition to mining specifically on television news” (260). Osuri’s comments are indicative of a media agenda inducing erasure of the subject, thus reproducing Aborigines’ invisibility by framing Jabiluka protests as a space of unrecorded contestation and resistance. Whether or not
217 the media recognizes Mirarr agency and interests, both exist, and accordingly, the Mirarr took matters in their own hands to affect change in the way discourse was framed and Indigenous issues were represented to a wider public audience.
The Vital Role of Alternative Media
Two brief activist narratives, situated in disjunctive but ultimately converging moments, help foreground the vital role alternative media played in representing Mirarr interests during the
Jabiluka campaign to halt mining on Mirarr land. One of the narratives has to do with grassroots activism, the other with independent reporting about grassroots activism, and each reflect from different angles the need for alternative routes when legal venues are exhausted and mainstream media channels cater to the agenda of the status quo. I contend that read together, these converging activist narratives draw the contours of a wider narrative of social and environmental justice that places the story of Mirarr resistance at its core.
When at age eighteen, Western-educated Jacqui Katona, the daughter of a Hungarian father and an Aboriginal mother, travelled across the country to meet her Aboriginal grandmother and extended family at Pine Creek, Northern Territory, for the first time, she had no illusions about the intricacies of a difficult family reunion. Too deeply inscribed were the colonial memories and legacies of Aboriginal displacement, absence, and family deportation as a result of systematic dispossession and genocidal policies of the British occupying regime.
However, nothing prepared Katona for the reality inhabited by her grandmother and relatives at
Pine Creek—the abject poverty entwined with limited access to resources. Bearing witness to these grave injustices and human rights violations propelled Katona to break her silence, to regain possession of her Aboriginal identity (and by extension her humanity) by reconnecting with her displaced family (“Wisdom Interviews”), and to become a catalyst for change by practicing revisionist history within and beyond national borders in the service of her 218 community. As she recounts the experience of her acute realization of shared responsibility and the necessity to act, she also reveals her own experience with invisibility and silencing as a black woman. Subsequently, Katona, like Baartman, seeks restoration of autonomy in the regeneration of nature. Katona identifies as “black” in this context to elucidate how she was perceived as a marginal figure with limited agency. Historically, the term “black” was applied to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders by European colonizers and then used by the Indigenous population.
In this sense, Katona’s reduction to her ethnicity and silencing by white Anglo-Australian society is like Baartman’s reduction to her sexuality and her silencing by nationalist narratives. Katona explains,
My grandmother was my life, this was my life, this was my family, and I had
to do something, I knew I had to do something. . . and feeling totally useless, I
thought . . ., I have to become better skilled, and get into a position where I'm able
to help. . . .
I was worried for my grandmother that she was living like this, and wanted to
do something, but already at that stage, nobody would take any notice of me, I
was eighteen years old and I was a young black woman. . . .
Feeling totally useless, I thought Well I have to go back to the Eastern
seaboard, I have to become better skilled, and get into a position where I'm able to
help. (“Wisdom Interviews”)
Determined to “do something,” to change direction and dislodge her community’s toxic entanglements with colonial legacies, Katona swiftly completed her traineeship as an editor in publications, worked for The Courier 131 (a stint providing her “with a great political grounding”),
131 At the time Katona worked for the publication, it was an upstart radical newspaper. Today, it is regarded as a “militant newspaper in academic publications” according to Katona (“Wisdom Interview”). 219 became a Convenor of the National Coalition of Aboriginal Organisations, and worked as a research officer in the Darwin office of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, among other numerous professional engagements. About her experience in Darwin, Katona says it offered her an in-depth understanding of “the institutional relationship between Aboriginal
Australia and the broader Australian community” (“Wisdom Interviews”). Equipped with a wide range of skills and political insights into institutional oppression, Katona went on to become instrumental in shaping the Jabiluka campaign as it evolved around Mirarr resistance to mining and the vital role alternative media played in its success by taking a stand against neo-liberal government and market forces.
Katona’s courageous activism is the kind of intervention work Australian-born David
Bradbury, known internationally for widely acclaimed documentaries about political oppression and environmental vandalism, sets out to capture in his activist films to raise awareness for these low-visibility causes. “Filmmakers have serious social responsibilities,” he told The Hindu in an interview in 2012. “Art is for humanity. It should mirror and save the world” (“Filmmakers”).
Bradbury considers himself a political activist, using the camera as a tool of activism to bring injustices to light, illuminating the often uncomfortable and unsanitized reality we live in.
Belonging to the school of cinema thought of as “third cinema,” he emphasizes the crucial role of companies like Frontline (the film company he owns) as forums for independent investigation and reporting. Bradbury has been an outspoken critique of mainstream media and its function of defending the interests of the powerful and wealthy in Australia, while he sees independent filmmakers lacking resources and facing the “refusal of commercial TV networks to show films which highlight the destructive role of their corporate backers” (Leeman). This has led to a situation that concerns filmmakers because issues “which are reported on daily and critic
220 internationally could not attract public funding for a documentary” (“Frontline Film”). An example of one such unfunded issue is the Jabiluka uranium mine, documented in Bradbury’s privately financed film Jabiluka , which features Katona as a grassroots organizer and spokesperson among a multitude of other voices. About the film, Bradbury said, “I hope this film brings people into action and makes them more informed and aware of their responsibilities to themselves, their children and present and future generations” (“Yes to Land Rights”). Despite being allegedly turned down for broadcast at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and other Australian commercial broadcast stations for being too controversial, the film was eventually shown on the Special Broadcasting Corporation (SBS). Bradbury has commented about his relationship with commercial TV stations that these stations “generally didn’t want to know about the sort of documentaries [he] was making, they were too radical and too truth- affecting” (“On the Frontline”). Bradbury’s experience is instructive in understanding how power and the media intersect in Australia because it speaks to two distinct conditions in the media landscape: the triumph of corporate conglomerates over public media systems.
The alarmingly high concentration of media ownership in Australia, routinely ranked amongst the most concentrated in the world, has plunged the nation into a crisis for democracy.
In total, there are three different types of media organizations: government, commercial, and community. While ABC and SBS are both owned by the federal government, community media organizations are funded by the government, while advertising and commercial media organizations are privately owned companies. Excluding government-owned media, a mix of only six media moguls, stakeholders, and corporations—The Murdochs (Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch), Fairfax, Kerry Stokes, James Packer, The Gordons (Bruce and Andrew
Gordon), and Gina Rinehart (mining magnate)—own virtually all of the media landscape. In
221 addition to film, publishing, television, radio, music, and online holdings, many of these magnates own mining companies, as well as casino and gaming businesses. This consolidation conflates the pursuit of profit with the purported educational goals of news and broadcasting; thus, as news get replaced with entertainment (Kellner 10), the consolidation creates a paucity of represented diverse, ideological perspectives that are vital for democratic debate. In addressing significant social issues that would otherwise be ignored or distorted (due to commercial interests), Bradbury’s filmmaking thus serves as a powerful instrument for communicating and informing the wider public, and the success of the Jabiluka campaign has been, at least in part, attributed to his filmic effort.
Old Attacks in Modern Disguise
After surviving two hundred years of insidious colonization and cultural genocide,
Aboriginal people are facing old attacks in modern disguise. Uranium mining is threatening the very survival of a culture that has existed in Kakadu National Park, Australia, for 60,000 years.
The perpetrators of this violence are mining transnationals, such as Rio Tinto and BHP, as well as Australian conservative, neo-liberal politicians looking to gain economic advantages by overriding Indigenous land claims. The stakes are high, as mining is a key industry in Australia, operating for nearly 150 years. Over sixty percent of Australia’s commodity exports come from mining, accounting for over $36 billion of Australia’s export earnings (Kauffman). The Ranger mine produces ten percent of the world’s uranium. Apart from the dangerous nature of uranium itself, a major environmental concern is potential contamination caused by “tailings” (fine particles left at the end of any mining process). For each ton of uranium oxide extracted, about
40,000 tons of tailings remain as low-level radioactive waste. These tailings have up to eighty- five percent of the ore’s original radioactivity and can remain radioactive for 300,000 to 700,000 years (Verjauw). According to the GAC website, both the Ranger mine and the adjacent Jabiluka 222 mine are surrounded by Kakadu, Australia’s largest National Park and “one of only a handful of
World Heritage properties registered for both natural and cultural values” (“World Heritage”).
The park was added on the UNESCO World Heritage List in three stages: stage 1 in 1981, stage
2 in 1987, and the entire park in 1992. 132 Matthew Fagan, a researcher with the Gundjeihmi
Aboriginal Corporation, aptly summarizes the legal and political conditions that have historically kept the Mirarr entangled in unequal power structures:
Although one of the first Aboriginal nations to “regain” part of their land under
the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) (“the ALRA”),
the Mirarr have never enjoyed peaceful occupation of their traditional estate.
Instead, various Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments, in
conjunction with multinational mining companies, have legislated, regulated,
badgered and bullied to extract uranium from Mirarr land despite the opposition
of the traditional owners and the so-called “mining veto” provisions of the ALRA.
Despite opposition to mining, political provisions have historically rendered the Mirarr powerless and defenseless on their own land.
132 The World Heritage criteria for which Kakadu are listed (note that phrasing of the criteria has been amended since the adoption of the Convention in 1972) shows that Kakadu is inscribed under two of the cultural criteria and four of the natural criteria: • To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; • To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance; • To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; • To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; • To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. (GAC website) 223 The struggle to halt uranium mining at Jabiluka, is a history of the visions, determination, and actions of an exceptionally courageous clan of Aboriginal people (the Mirarr) and are made up largely of female traditional owners. They are led by Yvonne Margarula as senior traditional owner, and staff (including Katona), who refused to allow multinationals and government to dictate the conditions of their livelihoods, which are deeply imbricated in the land of Kakadu
National Park. Not only did the women alter the course of history based on their ecological insight and moral strength in the ensuing struggle surrounding uranium mining on Mirarr land, but they continue to defend their community and their land from paternalistic and toxic neo-liberal assumptions about progress and development. In this way, the Mirarr are engaging in a number of projects that L. Smith identifies as Indigenous decolonizing methodologies. Among these projects are claiming, such as (re)establishing claims to territory at Kakadu National Park; protecting, by safeguarding Mirarr customs, sacred sites, and beliefs about how human life interweaves with nature; restoring traditional Mirarr lands, in balance with “creaturely brilliance,” for the greater benefit of human and nonhuman communities (“Earthing History”); intervening, by strategizing against mining on their lands and as action directed at changing the political system, not at changing Indigenous peoples to fit its structures, as exemplified by GAC; and finally, democratizing, a concept similar to the principles of usefulness and accountability as outlined by G. Smith. For example, stressing the importance of accountability for a wider decolonizing agenda, Katona notes, “[the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is] not accountable to the Aboriginal community and our society requires structures that are accountable to our communities, not just a local community, but collectively to Australian
Aboriginal communities” (“If Native” 7).
224 The livelihood of the traditional Mirarr is based on a complex and intricate set of relations in a powerful environment of land and wetlands, which resonates with Ishimure’s description of nature in Lake of Heaven and the importance of connecting people to their traditional lands outlined in L. Smith’s decolonizing project. Furthermore, similar to how the Anishinaabe, the
Hopi, or the Independent Traditional Seminole nation of Florida in an US Indigenous context oppose exploitation of their lands (LaDuke), the Mirarr resist the expansion of uranium mining because of its destruction of these relations—the water and soil, as well as plant and animal life.
It is thus chilling to see how the Australian government and powerful economic actors have been attempting to assimilate Mirarr land into its economy for decades, by co-opting the exercise of land rights from Mirarr people and discounting their knowledge and beliefs in the name of national interest. 133
Jabiluka, the location name of the proposed mining site, has become a signifier that calls attention to the manifold and complex challenges the Mirarr people, as well as countless other
Indigenous peoples worldwide, face as the result of the loss of their traditional land rights during colonization; as the inequalities and impediments connected to land loss increase, the Mirarr must continually renegotiate their identity, rights, and place in a world of forced surveillance, relocation, and assimilation that works to render their embodied subjectivities invisible. That is, not only do the Mirarr have to reconcile concerns about losing cultural ties to their land and being exposed to health hazards (wetland destruction and the end products of uranium mining, destruction of sacred sites and detrimental health effects from contaminated water), while being implicated in environmental pollution on distant shores (Japan), but they also have to fight for
“basic citizen entitlements” (Katona qtd. in Nette) in their own country of Australia.
133 These politics are reminiscent of nuclear tests conducted in the American Southwest, on or adjacent to Native American reservations. The vast majority took place in the 1960s, but testing occurred from 1945 until 1992 (see LaDuke for an insightful analysis of the politics). 225 Indigenist Governance and Media Representation
The crisis of mainstream corporate media through consolidation and globalization, coupled with the lack of Mirarr representation and Mirarr voices in mainstream news media, prompted the creation of two significant entities to promote and foster Mirarr control over self- representation and media dissemination during the Mirarr protests to halt mining at Jabiluka:
GAC and the launch of its website as both a medium of contestation and a bypass of mainstream presentation. Margarula helped found GAC in 1995 as a land-rights and political advocacy organization committed “to protecting Mirarr land and lives from the imposition of uranium mining” ( Mirarr Website ). Since its inauguration, the GAC has evolved into expanding its functions to include a variety of social, cultural, educational, and financial activities, such as fostering knowledge of cultural heritage, developing and promoting health initiatives, and offering employment training. In an interview Jacqui Katona explains that GAC is the only organization that's undertaking any type of community development work in the region. For example, in response to the extremely low attendance average for Indigenous children in remote schools in the Northern Territory, GAC is dedicated to providing a comprehensive and balanced education for its students through Djidbidjidbi Residential College. According to the GAC website,
International evidence confirms that the major factors contributing to lower-than-
average school attendance and “performance” of Indigenous students include:
1. The cultural “disconnect” between the Western model of education and
Indigenous knowledge systems and practices
2. Inappropriate curriculum content that lacks relevance or context for
226 3. A dissonance between the teaching values and delivery methods of
traditional Indigenous communities and the mainstream education system.
(Mirarr Website )
The GAC is developing a more expansive Indigenous-focused curriculum and alternative delivery based on best international practices to improve the educational outcomes of Mirarr children. Moreover, several initiatives and programs are in place to improve issues of literacy and numeracy, provide Bininj Gunwok language resources, and collaborate with other educational institutions to develop culturally sensitive practices ( Mirarr Website ). In theory as well as in practice, the foundation reflects the values, beliefs, and ethics of the Mirarr:
“Established, managed and directed by the Mirarr Traditional Owners, Gundjeihmi Aboriginal
Corporation is still absolutely committed to its core principles of Aboriginal rights and advancement” ( Mirarr Website ). The powerful role of the corporation cannot be underestimated, especially in tandem with its website, which makes available an abundance of materials and resources pertaining to Mirarr matters in the shape of government reports (a history of the complex relations between government, mining companies, and Aboriginal communities) to form a distinct counterpublic and counterdiscourse.
The GAC sponsored Mirarr website includes GAC-endorsed voices and issues, to promote those usually not featured in mainstream media, linked also to a GAC-owned account on Facebook, Twitter, and a newsletter. The Mirarr website both reports on and helps create a forum of alternative news dissemination that avoids the dominant, corporate filter through a diversity of media technologies found on the Mirarr websites, including video and audio. The infrastructure for this Mirarr newsroom is propelled by the project to alter the balance of who gets to “make” the news. In doing so, the website critically intervenes in the mainstream news
227 media representations of the Mirarr and their interests and reclaims the civic process of news making.
The dilemma of how to assure sustained public attention on Jabiluka without risking skewed mainstream media representation may have propelled the production of the film project
Jabiluka (Australia, 1997). Presented by the Gundjeihmi Corporation and directed by David
Bradbury, the documentary addresses these issues and underscores the connections between capitalism, neo-colonialism, and their impact on Indigenous rights. The choice of medium, in this case documentary, parallels autobiography in its narrative function to “tell it as it is,” to be a
(immediate) testament, and to call attention to the material effects of environmental injustice on oppressed people and degraded landscapes. The documentary unfolds with introductory visuals, taking the viewers into the land of the Mirarr, showing at a meditative pace the beautiful, idyllic landscape scenery: a sunset over the wetlands; a forest area in dusk with smoke rising in the distance; majestic, red mountain cliffs glowing in the sunset, creating a backdrop to blue shimmering wetlands; and lastly, a close-up of the mountain’s red cliffs. The play of light and color accompanied by a continuous chorus of bird sounds convey a sense of ephemeral serenity and peacefulness. The auditory bird sounds seem in perfect harmony with the visual intricacy of the landscape and is dramatically interrupted by the sudden cut to an aerial shot of a small barren tree, its roots clinging to a rock. The bird sounds have subsided and the muted sound of engines take over, followed by a sequence of three bleak aerial shots of a mining site that appears as a large scar in the lush green vegetation surrounding it.
The production company’s introduction, “Frontline Production presents,” appears in large white letters across the screen, which then fades into black while traditional Aboriginal music audibly begins to hum in the background. The title “Jabiluka” lights up the screen in ombré,
228 yellow-orange lettering accompanied by the sound of police sirens to help forebode the impending rupture and conflict. The title fades into nighttime footage of protestors holding a banner illuminated by torches reading, “Stop Jabiluka.” The sirens grow louder as the police vehicle comes to a halt behind the group. Next, the viewer is presented a sequence of footage that shows protestors occupying what is presumably the roadway circuits to the Jabiluka mine— including a young male lying motionless on the ground, uniformed police breaking up a chain of protestors, a young protestor lying under a vehicle with his neck locked to the vehicle’s wheels, and a group of policemen loading protestors into a police van. A voice-over of a radio report narrates the events, explaining that the police are taking protestors in custody. The voice of the
Jabiru police superintendent is broadcast via telephone, describing how protestors have been securing themselves with various locking devices. Before I continue with my review of the
Jabiluka film, however, I provide in the following subsection some detailed, mostly chronological, historical contextualization of the government’s implicit disavowal of the effects of colonialism and its explicit attempt to extinguish native title, two conditions that have been entrenching the nation and produced Aboriginal subjectivity along its seams. While the documentary provides an urgent and immediate snapshot of past and present events to highlight the most acute sites of contestation for meaning making of the current events at Jabiluka, the contextualization will help situate more broadly the complex effects and implications of historically and culturally produced Aboriginal invisibility.
Throughout history, Aboriginal people have been relegated to a status of invisibility, to ghosts, on their own territory. In 1788, Australia was a continent populated by an estimated
500,000 Aboriginal people who had inhabited the continent for at least 60,000 years. Colonized as terra nullius or “vacant land,” the British asserted their sovereignty over the Australian 229 continent, turning it into a colony of England. At first contact, the legal system ignored that the continent was inhabited, by deeming Aboriginal people as uncivilized and without a system of laws and, therefore, concluded the continent as uninhabited via racist narratives of uncivilized barbarism, which effectively voided “aboriginal title as a matter of common law” (Scholtz 113).
This racist mind-set of devaluation formed constitutional legal models that continue to underpin
Australia’s policies and the government’s relations with Aboriginal people to this day—“from physical coercion and killings in early colonial days to institutional and economic coercion in more recent times” (Roberts qtd. in Banerjee 13). Similar to the systematic genocide of first- nation peoples across the Americas, especially Central America (where one could argue this genocide reached new heights in the 1980s), Australian history is mired in a bloody history of
Aboriginal slayings and killings by the hands of white settlers. Langford Ginibi targets the historical contradictions normative society prefers to gloss over in her pointed commentary:
And kill, kill, kill. It's well documented, you can find all that stuff there. Before
settlement there was something like about 500 different tribes of people, that
would mean there were about 500 different languages, right? But all scattered all
over the place, coastal and whatever, central and urban and all around. Today
there are 200 tribes left on the whole continent, and there's only 20 languages!
Three hundred Aboriginal nations were wiped out through the colonising of our
land and, look, white Australia has a black history. It not only has a black history,
it has a very bloodied one. (Little)
Under colonial rule, racist underpinnings found their expression in the way Indigenous bodies and landscapes were disciplined and monitored in a panoptic fashion. The young Australian settler nation went to great lengths to assure that Indigenous bodies were systematically kept in
230 check, as demonstrated by the massive bureaucratic apparatus that was rolled out and implemented to prevent the legitimate claims of Indigenous people from jeopardizing the
Empire’s colonial project. “Imperialism,” Edward Said suggests, “means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory; ‘colonialism,’ which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territories” (Said 8). This project was not a temporary imperial undertaking but rather a long- term investment in distant settlements for economic benefits.
The vast landscape offered a broad canvas for formulations of nature as a category of ideological control because the success of the imperial project was dependent upon placing
Aboriginal bodies outside of history, hence outside of place and erasing emplacement.
Regardless of geography, writing Indigenous peoples out of the spatial, literary, and imaginative landscape had profound effects, as critical cartography is constitutive in the formation of a colonial and national identity, as well as gendered subjectivity. Aboriginal bodies were subjected to a rigorous “ordering of bodies in the social and physical landscape,” (Cerwonka 7) assisting to construct Aboriginal invisibility in two important ways: “physically, by marginalizing
Aboriginal people on reserves and in institutions and, discursively, by constructing a heritage landscape in which traces of the post-1788 experience of Aboriginal people were rendered invisible” (Byrne 74). Physically banned from the metropolis, yet limited in their ability to crisscross the landscape according to ancient rituals and ceremonies, Aboriginal bodies became marked sites of duality, being inside and outside the landscape at the same time. Discursively, this notion was reinforced by rendering Aboriginal history non-traceable upon colonizer contact.
Artifacts and ancestral remains were appropriated and sent to European museums to document, dissect, and interpret Aboriginal history, perhaps as a story passé, and to engage in skull
231 measuring. Commenting on how the British stole ancestral remains, Langford Ginibi alludes to the racist mind-set:
Oh-ho! Not only England! Germany, America, Spain all them places, they got
there, in the museums and that, bodies of our ancestors. They not only murdered
our people, they grave-robbed us as well. And they grave-robbed us because there
was this theory, the Darwin theory, that Aboriginal people were the missing link
between man and ape, so that's why they did this to us. (Little)
Those artifacts and places that could not be physically transposed succumbed to falling out of official public record, thus, national consciousness. In “The Ethos of Return: Erasure and
Reinstatement of Aboriginal Visibility in the Australian Historical Landscape,” Denis Byrne argues that there is a direct correlation between the neglect of documenting Aboriginal post- contact places by heritage practitioners, including historical archaeologists, and the diminished visibility of Aboriginal people in the post-contact heritage landscape (84). This manifests itself in the recording of more than 32,000 Aboriginal pre-contact sites, but only some 200 post-contact sites (mostly cemeteries) listed on the Aboriginal Sites Register maintained by the North South
Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (79). Byrne suggests that “the dramatic under- recording of post-contact sites is eloquent testimony to the fact that over the past 30 years, the
Service has been dominated by a ‘culture of prehistory’ in its Aboriginal heritage responsibilities,” which is further highlighted by the fact that “the State Heritage Inventory, maintained by the NSW Heritage Office, now has more than 17,500 sites, only 7 of which are
Aboriginal post-contact sites” (79). This “culture of prehistory 134 ” is not surprising because, as
David Bunn has noted in his essay about colonial landscape painting in the context of the African
134 The term “prehistory” is problematic here because in Hegel’s Eurocentric world history, those who were not considered human (in terms of self-actualization) figured as “prehistoric,” while history “was the story of people who were regarded as fully human ’” (L. Smith 33). 232 continent, “The settler landscape cannot afford the Romantic luxury of bathing in the past, in deep history, because the past is the domain of the Other, and history is the history of dispossession” (143). Consequently, Byrne writes, the dispossessed presence of Aboriginal bodies
in this landscape was replaced by a population of Aboriginal “sites” (rock
paintings, carved trees, coastal shell middens), which, in the minds of whites,
belonged to a period well removed in time (Allen 1988; Byrne 1997). For white
Australians, the “real” Aboriginals were always away on the frontier or away in
Langford Ginibi describes the “real” Aborigine as a stereotypical and monolithic construct, which renders the human as a mere idea rather than real embodiment. She explains with sarcasm,
“[T]he only ones that are real Aboriginals here are the traditional tribal ones out in the desert sitting on a rock with a spear in his hand” (Little). The geography of exclusion, in which the traditional inhabitants are missing from the Aboriginal landscape, thus opens up a space for imperial expansion: “a projected future of ‘development’ and exploitation” (Mitchell 17).
Presenting rootedness in the land “in the form of an archaeological footprint” has, therefore, become a contested area to establish legitimate claims to the land and to animate a movement to write Aboriginal presence back into the colonial landscape, as illustrated through the Mabo ruling. In this pivotal ruling, Indigenous groups were able to reclaim their land by establishing archeological rootedness in the land. This shows that grounding in land and in a consciousness of mutual sustaining between human worlds and natural worlds can lead to empowerment and sovereignty. Katona affirms that the Mirarr “historically have maintained connections with those areas [of land]” and adds:
233 [T]hat's a result of a great wealth of knowledge which Aboriginal people have
developed and handed on to each other to subsequent generations: to maintain a
care for that land and in return be cared for by the land as well, be nurtured and
nourished by the land.
Well into the late 1800s and early 1900s, the movement of Aboriginal bodies across the land included “tracking people in the landscape,” as Aboriginal people had to ask permission from their protectors to move or leave their strictly assigned spatial spaces, such as camps and later reservations. In addition to restricting Aboriginal people in their ability to “conduct their own affairs and to develop their own systems of justice or governance,” they were “not granted even the most limited form of citizenship. . . . In Western Australia, for example, even in the
1920s, the Government Department that had charge of Aboriginal affairs was called the
Department of Fisheries, Forests, Wildlife and Aborigines” (Ashcroft 2010, 43). Legally unprotected, people with Indigenous heritage had no choice in matters concerning their personhood and served as expendable bodies used in the production of national territory and narratives of progress (performed work for white settlers, such as farm work, without receiving wages). Langford Ginibi writes,
And let's face it, the first squatters would never have been able to settle this land
without Aboriginal involvement: cooks, housekeepers, fencers, midwives, you
name it, the lot. And they started off by breaking up our family clans, by taking
the so called half caste kids from the missions because they didn't want them
growing up tribal because our traditional ones were classified as heathens and
vermin to be cleared off the face of the earth. (Little)
234 The strategic cultural genocide culminated in nationwide programs and policies designed to
“breed out” Indigeneity to maintain white purity within national borders. The government’s goal was the extinction of Aborigines, as if their communities were some unwanted fauna. The children of Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and half-castes (children with
Aboriginal mother and Anglo-European father) were removed from their families by the
Australian Federal and State government agencies—as the children and their mothers were the bearers of culture, thus the future of the community. These children are referred to as the “Stolen
Generation,” a historically clumsily, sutured scar that white settler narratives discursively elide and Australian history books tend to erase in romanticized colonial history and neo-colonial fantasy.
Intended to break their spirit, the cruelties and trauma endured by the Aboriginal population dispersed their collective strength, rendering them vulnerable and disempowered. In the missionary institutions, children were brainwashed to disassociate from Indigeneity as their families, their heritage, and their histories were replaced by white disciplinarians, elementary- level English education, and severe punishment for disobedience. In the public arena, the policy was circulated as a benevolent gesture—to save the children from their heathen, unruly parents, to afford them educational skills, and to free them from Indigenous nonsense—a dreamy rhetoric far removed from the violence associated with the colonial process of forcibly removing children from their families. In this crucial transitional period, a series of legislative changes became necessary. The Aborigines Protection Act of 1897 provided the legal grounding for many of these appalling practices, as it enabled authorities to provide “for the care, custody, and education of the children of Aboriginals” and prescribed “the conditions on which any
Aboriginal or half-caste children may be apprenticed to, or placed in service with, suitable
235 persons” (“Queensland”). In 1936, the Aborigines Act (passed in 1905) was amended to effectively remove the legal guardianship of Aboriginal parents, rendering their children legal wards of the state. The displacement of Aboriginal collective memory fragmented and silenced the witnesses of the “Stolen Generation,” thus delaying the forceful eruption of their accounts and voices to the surface of Australian national consciousness for decades. This delay was further reinforced not only by the emphasis in oral tradition and the need for translation for
Aboriginal artists and writers, but as Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith argue, “Until the 1970s . . . there were no published life narratives or a supportive publishing industry to enable the transmission of stories” (Schaffer and Smith 85).
“This is Bining Land”
The documentary helps to restore claims and authority to the land by portraying a visible connection between the land and the Mirarr, thus the next scene is filmed from a bird’s-eye perspective, showing a group of Aboriginal people, presumably traditional landowners (among them Margarula) coming from a wooded area in the wetlands. The camera slowly zooms out, expanding the view to the surrounding park. The director’s camera constructs a sense of agency, establishing a sense of belonging and authority between the Mirarr and the landscape that asks us to see the land on its own terms, not on ours. This is underscored by Yvonne Margarula’s presence in the next scene. She wades into the water toward a water lily she says looks “perfect,” picks two of the water plants, and slowly treads back through the water where she joins the women and children waiting in the grass. The camera shows one of the young children, then switches to Yvonne in a close-up. Calmly, she begins to speak:
I born in the bush. . . . But we know we own the country, we know, we born the
country. We live the country. This our country, it is country, black country, not
236 white country. This not white people’s land, this not Balanda [white, European]
land this is Bining land, blackfella land, this Aboriginal land.
During Margarula’s narration, the camera depicts her with the women and children as they walk across the landscape.
The documentary alternates between illustrating the dialectics of the National Heritage site’s pristine beauty and the industrial exploitation of the land represented by footage of the mining area. Interwoven in this visually rich fabric, deeply grounding the conflict in place, are firsthand accounts, archival footage, and scenes from community protests and speeches. It is a quiet documentary that avoids nostalgia or sensory overload. Each scene is an evenly paced unit that contributes to an understanding of the larger whole. The pace allows for breathing, for a mindful absorbing of the information. It is interesting to note that the documentary does not employ captions, nor does it specify events, places, or speakers by name, which, on one hand, demands a familiarity with the case to know the concrete context, and, on the other hand, becomes a parable of resistance applicable and portable to other geographies and contexts of struggle. Jabiluka does not engage in historic contextualization to establish a claim; the Mirarr know the land to be theirs. Its keen focus is on presenting the immediate, collective Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal struggle to halt mining at Jabiluka, including a multisensory rewriting of the
Ranger “negotiation” process narrative. In doing so, it addresses past and present politics of coercion employed by the government to achieve the government’s goal of mining on Mirarr land. The film performs the vital work of setting the record straight (from the perspective of the
Mirarr) about the issues involved in mining on Mirarr land, as well as expressing their collective stand on Jabiluka for the public record. It undertakes this work to escape the “absolute misrepresentation” as experienced during the debacle at the Ranger mine (“If Native” 23). It
237 allows the Mirarr to insert and fill in the gaps where previous omissions had been made. In this way, the documentary functions as a testament, a larger witness to a formulation of Indigenous politics of resistance. The documentary focuses on key moments of contested historical events and leaves other moments out—those moments that remain uncontested and readily available. To fill in the gaps of historical contextualization not provided in the documentary, the following is a reworking of the history through an Indigenous lens of Indigenous accounts and perspectives.
“Ecocide” at Kakadu National Park
The “ecocide” at Kakadu began in the 1950s and 1960s with the discovery of high-grade uranium in the Northern Territory. Katona uses the term “ecocide” to encompass the escalating degree of transnational eco-devastation and how sentient beings and human life suffer from its lethal consequences alike. Due to Indigenous reliance on nature, there are important reasons to protect animal and plant life for the sake of human well-being. The loss of one animal or plant species not only causes the demise of species diversity, but also leads to the disruption of a variety of life cycles that depend on each other. Thus, the death of nature ultimately means the death of the human; it’s a matter of nature, not a matter of scientific debate. As Aboriginal communities across Australia are struggling to survive, the Mirarr are actively working to resist the processes of ecocide and to restore the land as nourishing grounds for sustaining their peoples and their diverse cultures. With regards to the effects of mining, Katona makes clear:
Having uranium mining in the Mirarr’s backyard hasn’t led to any great benefits.
It brought along social changes which made them more depressed, which
dispossessed them even more from their own land. And it’s left them with a
legacy of bad health, no houses, no infrastructure, and no employment. It has
brought them not economic independence, but ecocide . . . a sense of
powerlessness. (qtd. in Banerjee 19) 238 By 1971, Pancontinental Uranium Corporation discovered a large uranium deposit at Jabiluka, an area located 14 miles north of Ranger on the traditional lands of the Mirarr, who oppose uranium mining. The Federal government appointed the Fox Committee to evaluate the impact of mining in the region, and the 1977 report of the Fox Inquiry described Aboriginal reaction to mining as follows:
It was established to the satisfaction of the Commission that the Aboriginal people
concerned were opposed to mining on their land . . . while royalties and other
payments . . . are not unimportant to the Aboriginal people . . . our impression is
that they would happily forego the lot in exchange for an assurance that mining
would not proceed. . . . It is not likely that the mining venture will add appreciably
to the number of Aborigines employed. (Roberts qtd. in Banerjee 16)
Despite the findings, the Commission concluded its report in favor of uranium mining because national interests had a higher priority than the interests of the Mirarr and other Aboriginal groups in the area.
“Everything they have done . . . has been to limit our rights,” Ms Margarula said.
“They always want to commodify land, to turn it into a business, and Aboriginal
people come last in that. They are always wanting to buy everything that belongs
to us.” (Aikman)
To accommodate the colonial desire of land acquisition, legal frameworks had to be rewritten.
Prior to the Native Title Act of 1993, state governments and territories individually developed their own land legislation. 135 The first regional land rights legislation was the Aboriginal Land
Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 1976, under which former Aboriginal reserves were
135 For a detailed description of the legislation, see Scholtz, Negotiating Claims: The Emergence of Indigenous Land Claim Negotiation Policies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States . 239 transferred to Aboriginal “ownership.” However, ironically, the new legislature rendered the exploitation of the Ranger mine a fait accompli , as it contained a provision to remove the right of the Mirarr to withhold their consent to mining at Ranger. Katona asserts,
We're constantly fighting being assimilated into the dominant system of rules, of
resolving disputes, of negotiating areas, of working through proposals, and
finding some compromise or solution. And this is at the heart of the failure of a
lot of agreements around the place. And it's very true in the Kakadu region. The
dominant non-Aboriginal society said, ‘Oh well, I'm sorry, we won't let you use
the veto provision to prevent Ranger [uranium mine] going ahead; we'll put in a
legislative amendment to make sure that it goes ahead, we'll prevent you from
exercising any control.’ Traditional owners were not able to exercise any control
over the area of land of the township of Jabiru. (“If Native” 9)
More precisely, the Ranger Agreement Subsection 40(6) stated, “If the land . . . being known as the Ranger Project Area, becomes Aboriginal land, subsection (1) [the mining veto provision] does not apply in relation to that land” (“We Are Not Talking”). Thus, the Mirarr, led by Yvonne
Margarula’s father, Toby Gangale (the Senior Traditional Owner at the time), were overruled by the government. Consequently, in 1978 the Ranger Agreement was imposed upon all Aboriginal groups living in Kakadu, and drilling at Jabiluka commenced the same year, promising royalties in return for the disruption of their ecosystem and landscape. Reflecting on the consequences of the agreement, Katona says:
And the Ranger Agreement was, I mean, it was terrible. Everybody who worked
on it—it had some effect on them because of the nature of those negotiations,
because of the insidious way the negotiations took place. And it was clear to all
240 the people who were involved in the Ranger negotiation and part of the Fox
Inquiry that this government really didn't care. It didn't care about Aboriginal
interest and it wasn't there to protect Aboriginal interest. It was there to take an
economic rationalist point of view and be sympathetic to the industrial lobby. And
the industrial lobby was much different and much more aggressive in those days.
They're just a bit differently aggressive now, a bit behind closed doors: they don't
do it as openly. (“If Native” 20) 136
The Mirarr and other clans in the Kakadu region began organizing, which culminated in the launch of a land claim in 1980. In the subsequent year, Pancontinental agreed with Northern
Land Council not to oppose the Mirarr land claim and to enter negotiations. The Mirarr maintain that, under extreme pressure and duress, the Mirarr signed an agreement with the Northern Land
They've done a lot of research on how the Jabiluka Agreement was negotiated and
we've looked through the files at the Northern Land Council, and it's been
fascinating because the attitude of the people in the Northern Land Council was,
“Look, we're beaten and we're just going to have to get the best deal that we can.”
136 Following are examples of earlier aggression Katona is referencing: For instance, the chief executive of Pancontinental, Tony Grey, states, “I think for a big thing, like whether mining should go ahead or not, there should be all of the players—have a big meeting. But for little things such as approval for a tailings site drilling it is too difficult. Very difficult to get that many people together. And if we have to do that every time we have a consultation about a little thing then nothing gets done. So much trouble. So much expense” (“We Are Not Talking”). In another instance, Tony Grey complains, “It's the most frustrating thing. We just try so hard to do the right thing and it just . . . We can't . . . It’s costing us 5300,000. We've spent S10 million so far. We want to be friends with the Aboriginal people” (“We Are Not Talking”). When Toby Gangale asks, “(s)omebodv might say (inaudible) the bird life. We're living off the land, you know. Some say, might be, kills animals . . . dangerous things” (qtd. in GAC, 1997). Grey answers, “No, it won't kill the animals and it won't kill the birds because it’ll be done in such a way that they are all protected. All over the world new mines are being opened up. All over the world. And they are being done properly now” (“We Are Not Talking”). 137 According to Katona, “both the Ranger and Jabiluka deals were reached under duress and deceit on the part of mining representatives, who pledged during talks that exploration for uranium would not lead to mining” (Nette). See Katona’s interview with Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese titled, “‘If Native Title is Us, It's Inside Us’: Jabiluka and the Politics of Intercultural Negotiation,” especially pp. 21-23, for a detailed description of the events. 241 And then there was another school of thought in there saying, “No, we have to
develop a non-Fox view of the world; we have to develop an Aboriginal view on
these things”; and unfortunately that school of thought didn't win out. They saw it
as a pragmatic, practical approach that needed to be taken, largely because there
was a financial benefit and if they weren't part of the negotiations, the
negotiations would go on without them and they would not benefit. (“If Native”
Through misinformation and misrepresentation, the Jabiluka Agreement was sealed even though
Margarula’s father was not a signatory to the agreement.
And it was devastating for him as an individual and, of course, because of the
weight of his responsibilities and the number of meetings he had to attend and the
number of issues that he had to become familiar with and to be able to discuss and
make decisions on, he became, well, he became an alcoholic and he eventually
drunk himself to death, literally. So it had a terrible effect on him as an individual
and certainly a terrible effect on his family as well. And lots of other families.
And it just sealed that sense of hopelessness and that sense of absolute
dependence on a dominant society that was just going to treat you expediently.
(“If Native” 23)
If in the Jabiluka documentary, the powerful archival footage of the “negotiation” process (Ranger) “presents a damning picture of government duplicity” (“Jabiluka”), then it does so by transporting us into the time-consuming and emotionally energy draining process the
Mirarr people and traditional owner, Toby Gangale, are dragged through against their will by the government, Northern Land Council, and mining industry. In this context, the Northern Land 242 Council goes on record as not working in the service of the Mirarr. In a meeting with the traditional owners in 1978 during negotiations for the Ranger mine, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the
Chairperson of the Northern Land Council says,
The Northern Land Council also has to know that the community which will be
affected by the mining at Ranger have had a fair chance to say what they want to
say to the Northern Land Council. This does not mean that the members of the
Northern Land Council do what the community says. When you make the
decision have in mind that we are entitled to be pushed around by any government
in power. We are being pushed around today and we will be pushed around
tomorrow, and we will be pushed around forever. That is a fact of life.
Despite the Mirarr’s expressed opposition to mining, Gangale is incessantly called upon to attend meetings. In the documentary, Katona describes the last meeting as follows:
The last meeting and the consultations and negotiations that took place over 18
months, was a meeting about consent. The agreement had been negotiated, all
points had been agreed upon by the Northern Land Council and Pancontinental.
And saved until the last meeting, was the issue of consent. Yvonne’s father was
very sick at that meeting. He was run down by the process. He was so worn down
that he couldn’t sit at that meeting – he spent most of that meeting lying down.
And finally at the end of that meeting when the question of consent was put, he
got up and addressed the legal advisers and the people attending that meeting.
And he said “I’m tired now, I can’t fight anymore.” That was consent. That was
officially and legally all that was required to embody legal consent for a project to
243 Speechless and bewildered, Katona’s gaze drifts away onto the adjacent lake. In the next scene,
Toby Gangale steps in front of the camera lens and silently gazes into the camera. The years spent negotiating have left their marks. His gleeful, vigorous optimism observable in earlier footage has given way to dispirited, contemplative exhaustion. After lingering on Gangale’s gaze for some time, the camera switches to Margarula, who explains that shortly after the coercion debacle, her father was “finished” and passed away.
The information the film leaves out is that following her father’s passing, Margarula became the Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirarr people and signaled to the government that the Mirarr would not accept further uranium exploitation at Jabiluka, which had been sold from
Pancontinental to Energy Resources Australia in 1991. Politically, with the election of the
Hawke Labor government in 1983, development at Jabiluka had been suspended because of a regulated, three-mine policy. Despite the touted promises of economic opportunity for the Mirarr through the mining at Ranger, the community lived in abject poverty, ravaged by illnesses and trauma, with little health and educational resources, rapidly decimating the population by seventy percent. Numbers are too abstract and cannot possibly encompass the real suffering taking place in communities.
People living in Aboriginal communities in remote areas generally suffer chronic
illness from the time that they're very young or even from the time that they're
born, and this chronic illness is lived out either through kidney problems,
congenital heart problems, problems with the liver, and then you add on to that
poor nutrition, often excessive consumption of alcohol, and yes, by the time
people are in their mid-twenties, they actually look like they're forty. Because of
that problem with diagnosis and self-monitoring if you like, Aboriginal people die
244 young, very young, and they die terrible deaths because it's been a sickness that
they've had all their lives, and again, sickness like that is normalised to an extent
in Aboriginal communities, people think it's normal to be that ill. (“Wisdom
Countless studies by government and nongovernment agencies and researchers have shown that royalty payments do not provide the benefits they were designed to, and the material conditions of Aboriginal communities plummet to disastrous proportions, with most of the money going to maintain government infrastructure and for land council expenses. Katona clarifies,
There was no benefits from Ranger. . . . The pressure was on Aboriginal people to
spend their royalty money on providing water, power, roads and road
maintenance. This is an outrage. In Australia there is no other community that is
required to make that choice, that you have to have a uranium mine to get your
basic citizenship entitlements. Until Aboriginal people have the ability to control
their affairs on their land then nothing is going to change. (Nette)
In the 1990s, unemployment among Indigenous people was about forty percent as compared to
Australia’s total unemployment rate of eight percent. Although Aboriginal people comprise twenty-five percent of the population in the Northern Territory (a region where more than half of all mining in Australia is carried out), they comprise only seven percent of the workforce, mainly in minimum-wage casual jobs (Kauffman). In 1998, Energy Resources Australia’s total workforce at Ranger was 233 with “minimal” Aboriginal employment (Kauffman). Katona describes this “minimal” Aboriginal employment as follows: “they had employed something like five or seven people over a period of fifteen years” (“Wisdom Interviews”). This lack of prospect and opportunity has had detrimental effects on the affected population.
245 Alcohol consumption in this area is a symptom of powerlessness. Alcohol has
become an anesthetic in some sense in this community. People anaesthetize
themselves to what they see around them to their inability to be able to control
their lives. That’s led to other poor health outcomes, poor educational outcomes,
poor employment outcomes. There’s no opportunity to change their lifestyles, the
lifestyle which has come about as a direct result of the history in this area. We
can’t expect individuals to be able to overcome those barriers. There has to be
resources provided. There has to be infrastructure which reflects indigenous
values and beliefs, which is able to advocate on their behalf to be able to turn this
around. (Katona qtd. in Banerjee 19)
The election of the pro-uranium Howard Liberal Coalition Government in 1996 brought uranium mining back onto the political agenda, leading the new government to quickly revoke the three-mine policy to signal to the world that “Australia is open for business.” In her introductory essay, titled “Aboriginal Traditional and Customary Law,” published in 1994 for the inaugural issue of the journal Law/ Text/ Culture , Langford Ginibi not only addresses how the imposition of the Anglo-Australian penal system worked to erase Aboriginal subjectivity, but also sheds light on the continued separation of society along color lines in Australian society.
We still have politicians like John Howard saying that to give Aboriginal people
land rights would cause a division. I have news for Mr Howard: there has always
been a division, and we Koon people have always had to live with that division.
We are classified as the lowest of the low, and we are the first people of this land!
. . . There has to be a coming together of the two cultures, the black and the
246 white, but not like it is today. It has to be on a fair and equal level. (12)
Having witnessed the deterioration of her community after the mining at Ranger commenced,
Margarula was determined to prevent construction of the Jabiluka uranium mine on the land of the Mirarr and quickly sprang to action by establishing the GAC and by launching a public campaign and speaking tour to raise awareness for the risks of mining at Jabiluka. Over the next two years, the GAC, Margarula, and Katona, were instrumental in galvanizing worldwide support to halt its development. During this time, Margarula won the 1998 Friends of the Earth
International Environment Award and the 1998 inaugural Nuclear-Free Future Award in
Salzburg, Austria, (selected by a panel, including physician Dr. Till Bastian, African-American civil rights activist Angela Davis, and author Isabelle Allende) for her courageous and tenacious efforts to stop uranium mining at Jabiluka. Jacqui Katona and Yvonne Margarula were also awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1999. The largely female, traditional owners entered Australian environmental consciousness as a story of gendered resistance to uranium mining instigated by globalizing corporate forces.
Emphasizing Katona’s instrumental role in orchestrating visible resistance, the installation of a banner on a nearby mountaintop not only functions as a thread for the film by connecting past events with the present, but it also drives the documentary narrative. “Okay, we’re going over to the Jabiluka lease to look at a site where we’re preparing to drop a banner on
World Environment Day,” a resolute and upbeat Katona declares in a vivid action shot that shows her steering the wheel of a small minibus racing along a rocky gravel road, the red mountain visible through her window. The viewer learns that a small group of presumably
Mirarr-affiliated, community activists are embarking on a collective effort to carry a giant banner to the top of one of the red rock mountain cliffs by foot. Throughout the film, the camera
247 periodically switches back to show the group’s strenuous and exhausting mission to reach the mountaintop, which becomes a larger metaphor for the sheer insurmountable adversities the wider community is confronted with at Jabiluka. For example, among other issues, it illustrates the struggles of finding effective ways to convey their message and their perspective. As Katona notes elsewhere, “We're certainly looking at ways to make . . . information public in a way that people can understand it, which is quite difficult” (“If Native”). Similarly, the group’s banner mission portrays David versus Goliath power dynamics, while suggesting that the journey and the means for achieving the mission are as important as the goal itself. In the end, the strategy of dramatically unfolding a banner gives the Mirarr a visible platform to represent their perspectives, their values, and their claims.
“No Impact” Mining
Several interview segments with Philip Shirvington, then Chief Executive Officer for
Energy Resources Australia (the company that is constructing the Jabiluka mine at Kakadu
National Park), serves to place the local narrative within a wider political context as he articulates the colonialist mentality, which has often masked the racial, cultural, gendered dynamics that have historically unfolded across Kakadu. As his assertions become emblematic for the nation’s imperial project of development and resource extraction, he offers reassurances that mining will benefit the Aboriginal community, the community’s needs will be discussed, and the radioactive uranium will be buried “and basically it will be like before”—“no impact” mining. In another instance, he condescendingly declares,
What you've got to realize is that the Aboriginal community is on territories in
severely disputed land the last 100 years or so . . . ever since white people came to
the region starting with missionaries and buffalo hunters and so on. Many then
left the land and then came back when land rights were introduced. In fact, the 248 people out there are really a lot better off than, in one sense, than people, . . .
Aboriginal people in other parts of Australia in that they have their land, they won
Shirvington’s dismissals are countered by Margarula’s strong statements in a later scene. She states,
That (the Ranger uranium mine) already ruined all our culture, everything . . . the
Ranger mine. And now he’s going ahead at Jabiluka? More problems coming up.
Money not gonna fixing anything. It kill us. When we see that money, ohh, people
happy to see that money. But not me. They can take it back—it white fella money,
not black fella money.
As the film gives voice to multiple accounts—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, elderly and young, expert and student, and mostly female—it is a writing back to those who produce dominant discourse. For instance, in one scene, a young, white, female protestor goes on camera, stating that students are giving their voice and that Australians should join in because “the project is unwanted, it can’t go on.” An elderly white woman describes the risks of the open pit mine. The gas can easily travel far distances, and breathing in the gas can cause birth defects in utero. As the film progresses, we learn from a white guide on one of the tours busing white tourists around Kakadu Park that the royalties from Ranger are split three ways: Northern Land
Council, Indigenous Land Trust, and the Mirarr.
The international attention Katona and Margarula are able to draw mobilizes the
UNESCO to launch an investigation of the project, which recommended that another environmental and social impact assessment be carried out before mining began. Both the
European Parliament and the Australian Senate passed resolutions condemning the Australian
249 Government for allowing the construction of the Jabiluka mine despite the concerns of the UN
World Heritage Committee (the assessment of stage 3 is in process). In addition, support for this movement continued to grow amongst Australians. According to a 1998 Australian news poll, two thirds of the Australian population opposed the mine and less than ten percent actively supported it. The government and the mining company insisted that all safeguards had been met and the uranium mine is “environmentally friendly.” In April 1998, a six-month-long blockade of the mine site is organized which draws thousands of protestors from all over the country and abroad. Hundreds of protestors are arrested and jailed, including Margarula, who is arrested and charged on May 19, 1998, for trespassing on her traditional lands near the proposed Jabiluka mining site. Shortly after, government and mining corporations crumble under the collective efforts the Mirarr have been able to get underway, and mining at Jabiluka is halted.
The climax of the documentary is reached as the small activist group manages to unwind their message in form of the huge banner atop the red mountain cliff for the international spectator to see: “Stop Jabiluka Mine.” Looking up to the mountain and scratching her forehead in contemplation, a group member on the ground ambiguously states “it’s big . . ., so big. We underestimated [its extent].” The resilience of the group metaphorically extends to the larger group implicated in the Jabiluka struggle; the Mirarr prove that they are prepared to fight tenaciously for what they know to be theirs, no matter how big the adversities. Triumphantly, the documentary ends with scenes showing the group lighting up torches surrounding the banner, while aerial shots show the cliff from different angles. As the film ends with images of the giant banner “Stop Jabiluka Mine,” the viewer is invited to celebrate the Mirarr bond with the land.
The film, in conjunction with the construction of the GAC website and GAC-controlled production of media releases, each in their own way respond to an aspect that counters the dominant discourse’s reductionist engagement with mining on Mirarr land. The Mirarr-led campaign offers to other groups affected by social injustices a blueprint for survival as it teaches audiences about the conflicts and challenges and possibilities and tactics of fighting for social and environmental justice. In this chapter, I have both mapped colonial injustices and disavowals of the effects of colonialism and its explicit attempt to extinguish Indigenous land rights. I have argued that by establishing effective communication structures through the internet and social media, the Mirarr challenge dominant ideas about who gets to create meaning and produce knowledge. Through identifying and developing strong cross-alliances, engaging different types of media (like speeches, film, and letter writing), and focusing on community advancement by providing relevant structures, the Mirarr effectively intervene in media representations.
I chose the Mirarr Aboriginal people of Australia’s Northern Territory because their struggle alongside their ensuing model of resistance both epitomize the use of Indigenous concepts and projects for a paradigm of survival that achieves lasting change, while promoting the ethical treatment of nature. As a result of the Mirarr’s decolonizing strategy, the small clan of traditional owners managed to dismantle unjust government rhetoric and policy, as well as the destructive forces of multinational corporate interests. The strategizing via Indigenous practices showcases a number of important principles: first, the importance of resilience, tenacity, and finding creative solutions (mixing Indigenist approaches with current media tools to achieve the greatest exposure possible); second, the importance of determining the direction of change
(organizing their own campaigns, public speaking to increase transparency and awareness); third, the importance of community and cross-cultural alliances to build leverage and support; and, 251 fourth, reframing the public discussion about Aboriginal land rights in Australia. Indigenous practices are rooted in ancient knowledge and are showing flexibility to adapt to changing environments. What Mirarr resistance tells us about other case studies is the need for interdisciplinary, multimodal, and mixed methodological approaches to solution finding that combine Indigenous methods and practices with twenty-first-century structures and tools. These structures include, but are not limited to, using dominant discourse and reframing the conversation to heighten visibility of Indigenous issues in order to benefit Indigenous communities; establishing educational institutions with curricula premised on Indigenous values and practices; privileging purposes over ideas; and insisting on accountability to community. The tools involve using social media (Mirarr; Via Campesina), documentary filmmaking (Ozeki;
Mirarr), biographical writing (Langford Ginibi), novel writing (Langford Ginibi; Ishimure;
Ozeki), letter writing (Mirarr to Ban Ki Moon/international community), nonfictional writing
(Shiva; Roy), maintaining websites and blogs (Via Campesina; Mirarr), and producing media releases (Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Corn; Mirarr).
In my exploration of Indigenous paradigms of survival, the message is clear: it is time to value creature brilliance for the well-being of the community, divest energy from researching more ways to outperform nature, and instead to refocus energy and commitment to living in harmony with nature by listening to nature’s stories.
The Wind is a Prophet, a Scientist, a Talker. —Linda Hogan
Cornmeal and pollen are offered to the sun at dawn. The ears of the corn are listening and waiting. They want peace. The stalks of the corn want clean water, sun that is in its full clean shining. The leaves of the corn want good earth. The earth wants peace. The birds who eat the corn do not want poison. Nothing wants to suffer. The wind does not want to carry the stories of death. —Linda Hogan
A group of five small, striped beakfish 138 are believed to have survived a two-year journey, traveling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean on a boat swept away from Japan by the 2011 tsunami, and were found washed up earlier in spring 2013 on Long Beach in southwestern Washington State. 139 It is a stunning story about nature’s resilience in the wake of a tsunami. 140 Discolored toys, faded slippers, and other pieces of debris continue to quietly wash ashore in Hawaii and along the West Coast of North America, silently documenting one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. A few findings, like a football, have been traced back and returned to a Japanese high school; other items remain untraceable. It is difficult for coastal volunteer crews sifting out debris to distinguish tsunami debris from the refuse usually hurled en masse onto the beaches. A volunteer on the Alaska coast calls it a “slow-moving environmental disaster,” with long-term impacts that will be hard to quantify. “But when you go out there and walk down those shorelines and see billions of pieces of Styrofoam ground up all over and plastic everywhere, you know that it is a disaster. My greatest concern is people have lost track of this and they don't understand how bad it is.” Even though the disaster of flotsam plastic
138 The striped beakfish is a species native to Japan. 139 Some reports suggest the fish may have been originally from Japan, or they “may have been picked up going close by the Hawaii coast,” said Allen Pleus, the aquatic invasive species coordinator at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Pappas). 140 In an ironic twist, all surviving fish but one were euthanized out of fear for invasive species. The surviving fish was kept at Seaside Aquarium in Oregon. 253 debris originating from Western garbage dumps may seem disparate from the washing up of tsunami debris, they both originate from the same source. As do the radioactive particles and polluted sea life arriving on the US West Coast from the tsunami-torn Fukushima power plant, where the main part of nuclear disintegration products dispersed into the water and not into the air, like in Chernobyl.
Even though seemingly far removed, the Mirarr are interconnected through a long string of complex events to the Japanese beakfish washing up on North American shores. The key to this transnational re-coupled interrelatedness of cause and effect lies with Yvonne Margarula and the Mirarr. In an open letter to UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, Margarula not only expresses her solidarity with the tsunami and Fukushima victims, but more remarkably,
Margarula, on behalf of the Mirarr, sets new standards for response and assumed responsibility on an international (political) scale. Rather than following the neo-liberal paradigm of silence and non-transparency, Margarula publicly exposes the Australian government’s complicity in the nuclear catastrophe in Japan. In doing so, she is linking systems of oppression and how the colonial interference, in spite of the governments’ desires, makes their clan lands indirectly complicit. I read this displacement of cause and effect triggered by transnational flows as an example of a “scattered hegemony.” There is no gain from revealing this indirect complicity; however, it deeply reflects the Mirarr’s belief, and particularly, L. Smith’s identified decolonizing methodology of sharing knowledge(s) and experience(s) with other similarly disadvantaged groups to boost visibility about neglected issues, to demystify information, and to increase accessibility to information. In an open letter to Ban Ki Moon, Margarula states,
In the early 1970s the Australian Government, as part of its negotiations with
Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, committed to the export of uranium
254 from our land at Ranger to Japan. This commitment came many years before the
enactment of Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. We were not
consulted about this. We opposed Ranger's development. When the Australian
Government introduced land rights legislation in 1976 our ability to stop the
Ranger mine was blocked by special provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights
(Northern Territory) Act. Given the long history between Japanese nuclear
companies and Australian uranium miners, it is likely that the radiation problems
at Fukushima are, at least in part, fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional
lands. This makes us feel very sad.
As such, considering that a small disenfranchised community speaks up to share responsibility and to expose how these disasters spring out of chains of imposed power and control,
Margarula’s action can be read as a step toward decolonizing world politics. In this way, the
Mirarr paradigm of survival showcases the discovery of new non-colonizing ways of representation in transnational contexts. The letter is a document of solidarity in which the Mirarr courageously reveal how uranium mining has been imposed on their people without their choice, signaling to the Fukushima victims that there are future choices to be made (but not everyone is in a position to make them). Margarula writes,
In 2009 the European Commission found that approximately 70% of uranium
used in nuclear reactors is sourced from the homelands of Indigenous minorities
worldwide. We Mirarr believe that this constitutes an unfair impact on Indigenous
people now and into the future. We suffer the dangers and long term impacts of
the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle so that others overseas may continue to
255 enjoy lives without the awareness of the impacts this has on the lives of others.
The powerlessness Margarula addresses becomes a tool to restructure politics from the bottom up, but also underscores how human rights are inextricably tied to environmental pollution. Indigenous resistance around the issue of mining is continually building and has achieved many successes often deemed impossible to attain. But there are still more efforts to be made, such as achieving the consideration of Indigenous peoples in any nuclear deliberations and continuing investigations into the some 200 spills at the Ranger mine to date (the latest spill as recent as December 2013)—battles the Mirarr continue to fight.
As showcased throughout this study, in the present era of globalization, the power of knowledge and transparency has shifted from the truncated establishment of order, dictated by
Western European life sciences as traditional unitary gatekeeper, to the pockets of powerful, transnationally operating, commercial interests, once again coiling knowledge production with imperialism in a toxic entanglement. If, according to Foucault, “[L]ife itself did not exist. All that existed was living beings, which were viewed through a grid of knowledge constituted by natural history” (128), then similar observations can be made under the rule of borderless mobile capital and power: life itself does not exist. All that exists are living beings who are viewed through a grid of economics constituted by Anglo-American paradigms of capitalist values. In this postmodern order of things, life is degraded to the existence of tradable objects—replaceable production units that plug in and out of profitable, commodifying processes. In other words, economic interests that I have referred to as “scattered hegemonies,” following the work of transnational feminists, are the modern entities that determine the order of things (politically and socially). Scattered hegemonies successfully reproduced the discourse of life sciences and,
256 moreover, undermined the sciences as to have them work in their service (see my criticism of corporate-funded research in chapter 3). As a consequence, it is vital to acknowledge the limitations of Eurocentric knowledge and to shift these paradigms of thought as they are the perpetrators of environmental violence and dispossession.
So, where does this leave us today? Who, then, is producing knowledge? What institutions and disciplines legitimize it? What is knowledge for and who benefits from it? How does power colonize our social existence and being? What power hierarchies constitute the cartography of power of the global political economy? To shed light on the hidden agenda of modernity/coloniality in the tangled spheres of knowledge, power, and being, a closer look at the
“Anthropocene” offers some valuable clues about who is presently producing knowledge and which institutions and disciplines are legitimizing it. Considered as the advent of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene is becoming a buzzword in Anglo-American academic debates and discourses about social and environmental urgencies (Nixon 2013; Spivak 2013).
Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist who shared the Nobel Prize for discovering the effects of ozone- depleting compounds, helped coin Anthropocene in 2000 as a term to encompass the massive impact the human species has had on the planet. It is interesting to note that Crutzen is less concerned with revising textbooks: “His purpose is broader: He wants to focus our attention on the consequences of our collective action—and how we might still avert the worst. ‘What I hope,’ he says, ‘is that the term ‘Anthropocene’ will be a warning to the world” (Kolbert 77).
The term figures as an incentive to avert further deterioration of the ecological crisis, as no other geological epoch has seen in the number of human intrusions and encroachments into natural frontiers. Examples of these intrusions range from the construction of hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants to the cloning of animals. In Crutzen’s scale, the onset of the new epoch
257 begins with the Industrial Revolution, radically intensifies throughout the Atomic-Era, and presently continues with ultra-sprawling mega-urbanization that is transforming the landscape in previously unseen ways. For example, the light pollution of urban hubs and oil drilling/fracking fields in the United States has become so pervasive that these areas can be seen as blazing spots on night satellite images. Thus, it is a valid argument to name this era the Epoch of
Anthropocene, as this age has vastly advanced humans, mostly those who already had power 141 , with utter disregard for the implications.
Although conceptualized as an explicit warning post, the Anthropocene is even more notable for its complete absence of Indigenous and alternative inputs or influences, which gives rise to three primary concerns. First, the Anthropocene is a discursive term borne out of narrow, mono-epistemic thought and research, based on a European-continental preeminent notion of man that illustrates how Anglo-American sciences are shaping and defining, as well as controlling and naming. Second, the concept is applied to the northern hemisphere and the rest of the globe universally, without differentiation or specification of the different layers of responsibility or complicity in the denigration of the natural environment. The Anthropocene is used as a blanket term suggesting that all groups have been equally involved in environmental pollution, a skewed representation of history considering that affluent countries are the primary pollutants of CO 2 emissions (the majority of the world population lives under the poverty line).
The countries and people who are most vulnerable to climate change are those who are least involved in causing it. For instance, the fifty, “least-developed” (in Anglo-American capitalist terms) nations of the world (which also happen to have the least weight of voice in international, political policy making, like environmental treaties or protocols) account for less than one
141 This is an important contention Walter Rodney brings forward in his work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa , which analyzes how different colonial powers have exploited African countries. 258 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Third, these terms are gradually legitimized and circulated without consideration or input from the “rest.” It springs from a system that privileges selected knowledge about history of colonization and colonizing processes, a system that centers around itself and its knowledge production, while its approaches for solutions are all based on a North/Western continental hemispheric axis that gives little or no attention to other approaches, such as Indigenous philosophy or ecological studies.
To counter this relative paucity, my study presented Indigenous thinkers, writers, and activists, as they stress the need for interconnected approaches and alliances to fight and resist the violence of neo-liberal processes. Highlighting the integral role of place and organic structure, each chapter gestured toward one of the four cardinal directions: mapping entangled legacies of critical theory, tracing access and locating blockage to the commons, re-membering human-animal/gender-species entanglements, and imagining postcolonial visions and Indigenous intervention models. Throughout the dissertation, I presented articulations of resistance through a number of Indigenous principles including L. Smith’s decolonizing projects and subsequent analysis of the chosen ecomentary works, as I sought to untangle the interconnections between environmental and other types of oppressions and dramatizing the material effects of environmental injustice on marginalized and discounted people. Ultimately, I contend that a focus on ecomentary narratives allows for the emergence of collectivity, redefinition, restoring, and healing. The trajectory I see developing throughout this project is a gradually intensifying focus on the interrelationship of storytelling (through the venues of theory in chapter 1, documentary filmmaking in chapter 2, and documentary in chapter 4) and activism as integral forms of resistance movements.
259 This project is not about the lives of others—it is our story—as we face the difficulties of confronting a plethora of injustices. As women, peasants, and Indigenous peoples rewrite histories by championing the current, dominant, neo-liberal status quo and exercising resistance and agency, their work is instructive for the contested sites and politics of self-representation.
Chapter 1 served to create the theoretical grounds for decolonizing discussions of gender, race, speciesism, contemporary understandings of intersubjectivities, as well as alternative and
Indigenous ways of compassionate, sustainable, and peaceful coexistence. Building on
Indigenous theories and concepts of intervening, claiming, healing, envisioning, restoring, and creaturely brilliance the following two chapters attempted to identify the structures that are oppressing certain identity categories deemed expendable and “ immonde ” (Cixous) and to find effective ways to resist the normative function of colonial discourse through a relational consciousness promoted in Indigenous thought. The geographical terrain is wide due to the transnational effects of eco-devastation, capitalism, and scattered hegemonies. Another reason for the geographically widespread terrain is the interrelatedness of certain struggles, for example, the nuclear disaster that has erupted in Japan and the relationship Mirarr activists see as their own in connection to the Fukushima tragedy. What the study has shown is that, regardless of geography, the commonalities are restricted access, the denial of rights and freedom, impoverished living conditions making survival the outspoken priority, and the need for boosted visibility about the disregarded environmental impact on the lives of others.
Throughout, I have demonstrated that literary narratives and documentary films in particular are powerful mediums for challenging the historical, economic, and national narratives that legitimate environmental injustice. The written word and screened image gain momentum in these acts of civil disobedience because they create and subvert, with the power to express and
260 conjure visions and ideas that are so fragile, elusive, and intricate, which so intensely and completely stir the reader, one begins to believe in things one might subconsciously sense, but has grown into the habit of denying, as per hegemonic ways of looking. The written word and the visible image become tangible, for one has learned to avoid catastrophes and destructions by looking the other way. The inconveniences of life or the inconvenient truth make life so much more convenient if one sits comfortably on one’s own living room couch.
In chapter 2, writer-activists revealed how South African politics, designed to impoverish ninety percent and profit ten percent, are masked by patriotic declarations and appropriations of inferiorized, gendered, and racialized black bodies. The ghosts of those inferiorized and brutalized bodies of color continue restlessly to haunt today’s history, because old regimes and injustices are replaced by new ones. But the chapter also highlighted the shifts and how peasants and Indigenous peoples are coming together to share their expertise and to establish their own sustainable ways of trade across large distances and even continents. Chapter 3 involved a different aspect of food production, illustrating one that permits another layer of colonization: the internal colonization of bodies, in which both women and animals are reduced to their “meaty” existences, sexualized objects for consumption and pleasure. When it comes to food production and concerns about food toxicity, one does not have to travel far to encounter restricted access and curbed visibility, as this violence inflicted by the meat industry, slaughterhouses, factory farming, and multinational pharmaceuticals is an organized web spanning the United States with operations in rural areas, as well as the metropolis. Ruth Ozeki’s heroine, Jane Takagi Little, showcases how information is key to debunking and demystifying concealed practices of consumer logic. The importance of reporting also emerges in the third and fourth chapter, in which a mining project will permanently destroy the homeland of Yvonne Margarula and her
261 people, the Mirarr. But as Margarula co-opts the colonizer’s tools, the power of writing, speaking, creating, and transforms them into tools of resistance, the Mirarr successfully champion government and transnational economic actors.
It remains unclear whether the global outbreak of starfish illnesses is related to the
Fukushima catastrophe. Nevertheless, the massive starfish die-off is the largest ever recorded, spanning both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and many species have already irretrievably disappeared. It seems there is a lesson to be learned—it’s time to begin listening to Indigenous thinkers, ecofeminist writers, peasant movements, winds and oceans. LaDuke points out how different Indigenous clans across the US have been warning of the unforeseen consequences of mindless eco-devastation for decades but their voices are silenced in national discussions. Hogan suggests that the earth may be speaking “its symptoms to us.” She adds,
With the nuclear reactor accident in Chernobyl, Russia, it was not the authorities
who told us that the accident had taken place. It was the wind. The wind told the
story. It carried a tale of splitting, of atomic fission, to other countries and
revealed the truth of the situation. (“Different Yield” 118)
Similarly, the oceans are revealing truths. Some mainstream reports suggest that fishing is no longer safe in any ocean because fish because plankton are able to travel thousands of miles, as demonstrated by the Japanese beakfish (not just when they’re hitchhiking).
The only way to move forward now is to learn and to listen. The visceral interconnection between the nuclear disaster in Japan and the Mirarr should be the last piece of evidence the global community requires to begin paying attention to the future. Circling back to the assertion that “Indigenous peoples represent the unfinished business of decolonization” (qtd. in Smith 7), I contend that the Indigenous concepts of intervening, restoring, claiming, democratizing
262 (accountability), and creature brilliance can help us understand unifying themes in neo-colonial overexploitation of people and nature, be instructive for bridging ideological gaps and forming flexible yet critical alliances, and finally, give meaning to the importance of resilience and healing in the face of hopelessness and denigrated, impoverished opportunities. Even though
Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies cannot be universalized or generalized as they depend on a specific cultural-historic context anchored in place, these knowledges are instructive in the ways they teach us about flexible approaches, the significance of place, and how important cultural-specific knowledge about us and our environment is passed down from past generations—knowledge that cannot be acquired from textbooks and knowledge that can be incredibly empowering as it can mean the difference between death and survival at any given time. These concepts insist on the inseparable union of theory and praxis to highlight accountability to community and individual over profit and to give an account of a way of life that decenters the human, while regarding life as an interconnected, non-hierarchal web of relations among humans, animals, plants, and all other organisms and elements, in which causes and effects inevitably overlap and boomerang. In this cosmology, it is strongly believed that
“what goes around, comes around.”
These are the concepts— intervening, restoring, claiming, democratizing (accountability), creature brilliance, and the recognition that the (k)new ways needed, perhaps to listen, are actually old—that I see entering into academic discourse: first, as they set themselves apart from the homogenous crops planted by mono-cultural minds, and second, as they have been embodied to varying degrees by a number of successful Indigenous struggles for liberation, namely La Via
Campesina and the Mirarr, two movements that relied on these concepts to defeat transnational corporatism while fighting for Indigenous sovereignty. As the value of storytelling as one of the
263 concepts is renewed, spirited bonds with creatures validated, and careful attention to the lives of others restored, toxic entanglements suddenly lose force and can no longer hold. The entanglements are replaced by visions of renewal, paradigms of survival that promote the ethical treatment of the natural world for future generations to come.
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