16 Oct Ep. 90: How Western Media’s False Binary Between “Science” and Indigenous Rights Is Used to Erase…
Citations Needed | October 16, 2019 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Thank you everyone for listening to this week’s episode. You can of course follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help through Patreon is so appreciated. We are 100 percent listener-funded. We have no ads, no corporate sponsors, nothing of the like. It is all about you, so thanks so much for all your support. It really does help.
Adam: And as always you can rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. That is very much appreciated.
Nima: “Science and religion fight over Hawaii’s highest point” one CNN headline puts it. “Desecrating sacred land or finding new frontiers?” asks BBC. “SCIENCE, INTERRUPTED: Mauna Kea Observatories ‘caught in the middle,’” Pacific Business News writes.
Adam: When tensions arise between Native communities and the so-called “pursuit of science” more often than not Western media presents these points of conflict as a symmetrical and simplistic case of science versus superstition. “Science” — quote unquote — is framed as a morally and politically neutral quest for truth, knowledge and progress: an objective and innovative good that will unequivocally benefit humanity.
Nima: But this Western notion of “science” — despite its rank and file participants’ often best intentions — has historically been used as the PR vanguard of colonialism and white supremacy. A Trojan Horse presented as ideologically neutral, followed by an outpouring of exploitation, industry and the erasure of Native Peoples — both culturally and physically.
Adam: While everyone can agree that scientific research and progress are good things, the institution of science as such — from North America to Australia to Africa to Israel — has a long history of serving the front lines of white capitalist expansionism. This week we are going to discuss this history, how anti-colonial scientists are pushing back against these forces and how we can expand human knowledge and understanding without weaponizing the enterprise of science to serve the interests of power.
Nima: Later in the show, we’ll be joined by Nick Estes, Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and co-founder of The Red Nation, an Indigenous Resistance Organization. Estes is the author of the recent book Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.
Nick Estes: Settlers and colonizers are good at saying ‘there’s two sides to every story.’ Well, no there isn’t. There’s one side of the story and that is you invaded this land and took it from us and we don’t really have a choice about what happens to this land, and that’s constantly pointed out to us because when we do say, ‘hey, we don’t want this here’ or ‘how is this going to benefit us?’ You know, typically what happens is we get arrested or we get denounced in some way as being primitive or superstitious.
Adam: The impetus of this episode was an article written by Julianne Tveten for FAIR in August of 2019 who also co-wrote this episode. The article is called “Protectors of Mauna Kea Are Fighting Colonialism, Not Science” and in that she does a very good job detailing this false binary, which we’re going to kind of spell out in this episode where Native Americans opposing colonialism of their land is reduced to a kind of mindless superstition that is somehow standing in the way of progress. We’re going to start off by reading a quote from The New York Times from October of 2014 and this is by a reporter by the name of George Johnson.
Nima: Spoiler. George Johnson is white. The headline of the piece is “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism” and here’s the quote, this is how the article starts:
“Galileo knew he would have the Church to contend with after he aimed his telescope at the skies over Padua and found mountains on the moon and more moons orbiting Jupiter — and saw that the Milky Way was made from ‘congeries of innumerable stars.’ The old order was overturned, and dogma began to give way to science.
“But there is still far to go. Congeries of stars have given way to congeries of galaxies, but astronomy — one of the grandest achievements of the human race — is still fending off charges of blasphemy. These days the opposition comes not from the Vatican, which operates its own observatory, but from a people with very different religious beliefs. This month a group of Native Hawaiians, playing drums and chanting, blocked the road to a construction site near the top of Mauna Kea and stopped the groundbreaking ceremony for the Thirty Meter Telescope, often called T.M.T. Larger than any now on earth, it is designed to see all the way back to the first glimmers of starlight — a triumph in astronomy’s quest to understand the origin of everything. But for the protesters, dressed in ceremonial robes and carrying palm fronds, T.M.T. has a different meaning: ‘too many telescopes.’ For them the mountain is a sacred place where the Sky Father and the Earth Mother coupled and gave birth to the Hawaiian people.”
Adam: So this is amazingly patronizing. I’m visualizing an image of Johnson like patting a Native American man on the head while saying this.
Nima: Yeah. ‘Nice robes and palm fronds.’
Adam: Yeah. A couple of things here. Number one, the power dynamic of Galileo and the Catholic church in the early 17th century is of course radically different than the power dynamic of the Native People of Hawaii who have been colonized and genocided and attempted, not successful, but attempted genocide by white settler country. This is totally flattened. And what we’re given is this idea of superstition versus science, which of course, you know, the average person when they flatten every power dynamic would say, ‘well, yeah, of course science is good, everybody wants to know about the origins of the cosmos.’ And so this dynamic is presented with, you know, it’s dripping with condescension, right? The sort of, uh, ‘Hawaiians playing drums and chanting block the road.’ It’s so, it’s sort of like, ‘oh, they’re just a bunch of like hotheads who have no appreciation for the importance of science because they’re backwards.’
Nima: Right, no, exactly. And that there’s these appeals to almost childish savagery, right? The idea that they believe in the Sky Father and the Earth Mother because they don’t understand the vital importance of putting a gigantic telescope on top of a mountain. And it’s like, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s that, as you said, Adam, it’s this flattening of power and a total kind of ahistorical reading of what’s even going on here.
Adam: And this false dichotomy between superstitious Native Americans and apolitical, neutral bespectacled scientists who saw most media frame this. So CNN from August of 2015 the headline was “Science and religion fight over Hawaii’s highest point.” It’s of course not a conflict between science and religion. It’s a conflict between indigenous rights and those trampling indigenous rights.
Nima: Yeah. Also in May of 2015 The New York Times had an article headline “Star-crossed on a Hawaiian Mountaintop” covering the same issue. More recently, August of 2019, the Associated Press had an article headlined “Amid protest, Hawaii astronomers lose observation time.”
Adam: We see this too with Standing Rock. Standing Rock doesn’t even have the sort of trappings of science per se. It’s not sort of pure learning, but it has the concept of progress in the industry.
Nima: Technology and industry in progress, right? Oil is the driver of the future.
Adam: So Wired magazine wrote in December of 2016 “Standing Rock is Safe, but DAPL Still Needs to Cross a River” and then it said quote, “No matter what route they choose, protestors will probably be standing by: Any pipeline crossing will impact *some* water supply somewhere,” the article states, presenting pipelines as inevitable and water protectors as a sort of inconvenience.
Nima: Right. Fuck it, right?
Adam: Yeah, so it’s like routinely science is sort of seen as this law of nature that’s just going to happen and these Native Peoples are sort of just getting in the way.
Nima: Right. Of course. Some people are going to protest sometimes because it’s always going to inconvenience someone, but the future can wait for no one. There’s another article in Wired from that same year, 2016, this time in November with the headline, “The Dismal Science of the Standing Rock Pipeline Protests.”
Adam: And even as recent as July of this year, NBC News and The Washington Post reinforced this false dichotomy. NBC’s headline was “Telescope viewing suspended as protesters block Hawaii road.” The Washington Post had a far, far worse one, which was “Native Hawaiians’ Protests Stop Researchers From Studying the Skies.” Again, researchers are the contra. They’re the thing they’re opposing.
Nima: Right. Native Hawaiians versus researchers. It’s clear who is on the side of progress.
Adam: Yeah. Native Hawaiians’ grievance is not per se with researchers. It’s with a colonial white government and corporate interests that have seized land that they view as their land, which is their land. And this is why, as we’ll show throughout this episode, the point is not opposition to science of course. It’s that quote unquote “Science” capital “S” as an institution has frequently been the vanguard of colonial movement either into cultural spaces or physical spaces and has held up as a kind of liberal or high minded vanguard of white settler colonialism. And now science in principle is politically neutral, but historically is of course not. And I think people listening to this may think, ‘oh well, you know, science is good.’ And of course I think science is good. I think we all agree with that. But science is not politically neutral.
Nima: And so you have this kind of consistent trope where Indigenous protests, Indigenous rights are equated with as The New York Times in that same article that we quoted at the beginning “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism” says that opposition to the telescope — which now stands in for progress writ large, especially white Western notion of progress — opposition to that is called quote, “turning back toward the dark ages” and that later condemns those trying to protect their spaces for quote “waging skirmishes against science.”
Adam: Yeah, so we’re going to get into the history of science as a tool of white supremacy and colonialism. Again, I want to preface that this is not science lowercase this is “Science” uppercase “S” as a sort of political instrument, right? It’s something that requires funding by governments and large corporations and is easily weaponized as a political tool because again, despite what we want, science is inherently political, especially when it’s used as the propaganda veneer for what is white settler colonialism, which of course is not new. This is something that white settler colonialism has done for centuries.
Nima: So scientific racism really dates back to at least the Enlightenment. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries Western science had established a seemingly kind of endless catalog of supposedly rational, irrefutable justifications for colonization and enslavement. The promotion of say, democracy or how important new technologies were were consistently used to justify Manifest Destiny and settler colonialism across the entire North American continent. Proponents of Manifest Destiny held frequently that the Indigenous People of the land were mere impediments to civilizational progress and technological development, which would breed a more efficient economy, right? That the land use or in some cases a nomadic structure to a society was not doing justice to the vast resources of the land. And what it needed was more plowing and more agriculture done in a way that promoted new technologies. And so it was this kind of misuse of land that needed to be reappropriated by settlers to kind of benefit both the land and the people in the best way, which actually just wound up murdering millions of people. So for instance, Thomas Jefferson first envisioned an Indian removal policy suggesting that Indigenous People were culturally inferior to white people and holding that their semi-nomadic lifestyle, communal agricultural practices and hunting traditions did not use the land efficiently enough. Now remember, Thomas Jefferson is the same person who not only enslaved people but actually told a neighbor of his not to emancipate the people that he had held in slavery because free blacks were quote “pests in society” who were quote “incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” You know, basically this entire racist structure to create a superiority and inferiority between whites and then Native Peoples and also certainly people of uh, African descent. And so you then have Thomas Jefferson’s own policies giving way to a campaign of genocide under Andrew Jackson’s presidency, including of course the uh, Indian Removal Act of 1830. And the Trail of Tears.
Adam: And the idea that “primitive peoples” don’t efficiently or properly steward the land is a trope we’ve discussed in episode seven, an episode with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. It’s very common in colonialism of Palestine, of North America, of Australia. It’s very, very popular in Australia, very popular in Africa, which we’ll get into. But this idea of stewarding the land is inextricably linked to this idea of like scientific progress, right? That these people are not using materials, minerals in the Earth in a maximizing way therefore they ought to be removed and replaced by civilized people who will do so.
Nima: Exactly. Exactly. Because they’re not extractive enough in their culture so they need to be extracted to facilitate more extraction.
Adam: So there was an 1835 memo called “Minute on Indian Education” by British politician Thomas MaCaulay that criticized Indian languages, particularly because they lack scientific words. He suggested that languages such as Sanskrit and Arabic were quote “barren of useful knowledge,” “fruitful of monstrous superstitions” and contained “false history, false astronomy, false medicine.” So the supremacy of the English language and white people in general was something that was pretty much taken for granted for several hundred years. And the advances in science and the kind of majesty of science and the progress that was made was per se seen as evidence of white people’s superiority.
Nima: According to a lecture given by Dr. Josiah C. Nott in the United States in 1850 the so-called inferiority of Africans was evident in the quote, “deep-rooted intellectual and physical differences seen around us, in the White, Red, and Black Races, are too obvious and too important in their bearings, to be longer overlooked…” Josiah Nott further stated that the quote “White, Red, and Black Races” are categorically different from one another and could not possibly be related. He’s also someone who trafficked frequently in craniometry. He took — it actually relates to our episode on white supremacy and the misuse of antiquity — Josiah Nott looked at the statue of the Apollo Belvedere, this famous Greek statue and then made into a Roman replica that showed like the ideal beauty of white peoples, and he looked at the skull size and the nose shape and the angle of the statue’s face and then compared that to these caricatures of African faces and cranium and then also that of chimpanzees and — surprise, surprise — it seemed like the ideal beauty was the white Greek statue and somehow not too far removed from primate was the African.
Adam: There was an 1899 lecture by Dr. Ronald Ross, a British colonizer in India, who argued, quote, “in the coming century, the success of imperialism will depend largely upon success with the microscope.” Ross had used a microscope to identify how Malaria was transmitted because it would protect the health of the British troops and officials, which he viewed as being instrumental to Britain expanding its colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent. Ross’ speech posited that imperialism is morally justified because it reflected British benevolence via technology and scientific advancement and other forms of progress towards colonized people, namely those of India and Burma.
Nima: So these scientists were actually very closely linked to the political power of their time. This was not just like random researchers writing. There was a direct connection with those in power. So, for instance, as explained by Rohan Deb Roy writing in “The Conversation” quote “The likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle and botanist Sir Joseph Banks on the Endeavour literally rode on the voyages of British exploration and conquest that enabled imperialism.” In 1874 Darwin suggested that quote “savage races” such as the quote “negro or the Australian” were closer to gorillas than were white caucasians. And in the late 18th century, Joseph Banks called indigenous Australians quote “savages, perhaps the most uncivilized in the world.”
Adam: So the advancement of science, again, as a kind of lubricant of white settler colonialism was very common in King Leopold II’s Belgian Congo. Um reading an excerpt from the famous book King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, and he wrote quote:
“Livingston, Stanley, and the other explorers, Leopold saw, had succeeded in stirring Europeans by their descriptions of the “Arab” slavetraders leading sad caravans of chained captives to Africa’s east coast. As King of a small country with no public interest in colonies, he recognized that a colonial push of his own would require a strong humanitarian veneer. Curbing the slave trade, moral uplift, and the advancement of science where the aims he would talk about, not profits. In 1876, he began planning a step to establish his image as a philanthropist and advance his African ambitions: he would host a conference of explorers and geographers.”
So I think we’ve done a pretty good job showing the history of how science was used by colonialism and imperialism. Now someone listening to this may say, ‘okay, that was then. That was the old timey days. This is now science and anthropology and such have gone through a kind of colonial awakening.’ I think that’s mostly true, but it is still residually true in an obviously in a much smaller scale when how we talk about things like the protests in Hawaii and Standing Rock where Natives are presented as petulant, superstitious, backwards people and science is sort of presented as this morally agnostic thing rather than an extension of the same colonial apparatus that is held over from this time. In it’s contemporary context this is a very popular trope in Israel, which is sort of the most recent colonial enterprise that is either too nice or too late to commit full blown genocide.
Nima: Yeah, so you see, I mean one of the most common kind of Hasbara, the Israeli propaganda tropes that you see, is the idea that Zionist settlers made the desert bloom, that there was this barren desert in Palestine and then because of the settlements and because of the reclamation of the land by Jewish settlers that the desert bloomed. And so this is even a trope that was put into Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Literally it is in there. May 14th, 1948 Ben-Gurion declares that Israel now exists and one part of that proclamation was this quote:
“Pioneers and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.
This trope has since continued. You see it all the time. You see it in The New York Times. Ethan Bronner, who was the Jerusalem correspondent for a number of years in 2011 an article called “A Bountiful Harvest, Rooted in a Former Settlement’s Soil.” The online headline for that article was “Gaza Establishes Food Independence in Former Israeli Settlements.” And so what the article talks about is that when settlers were removed from Gaza — Israeli settlers were removed from Gaza in 2005 — they tragically abandoned all the green houses that they had built and all this stuff. And then those were subsequently looted by the Palestinians. But now there’s new growth and rejuvenation of the material and the equipment and the resources that the settlers had brought to that place. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, once said, quote “The country [Palestine] was mostly an empty desert, with only a few islands of Arab settlement; and Israel’s [cultivated] land today was indeed redeemed from swamp and wilderness.” So you see this really all the time.
Adam: Yeah. The, even like the whole notion of like Israel as startup nation, which was something promoted by pro-Israel writers and journalists and pundits. And Bloomberg 2015 “Paul Singer Embraces Startup Nation in Battle for Israel Economy.” Paul Singer is a billionaire hedge fund manager who for awhile controlled most of that of Argentina, big funder of right-wing politicians in pro-Israel groups. Business Insider quote “Here’s why Israel could be the next Silicon Valley.” Forbes magazine, June 2018, “Tel Aviv Takes Another Step Towards Silicon Valley With Silicon Wadi Tours.” So one way of defending Israel in it’s colonial project — which just as we’re recording this today, contingent upon Netanyahu’s reelection, announced the annexation of what they call Judea and Samaria in the West Bank — to sort of obscure that, right? To sort of obscure this ongoing colonial project and ethnic cleansing project. They’re tech savvy and they’re sort of blooming the desert and that way the average person goes, ‘oh, well then they’re more advanced, therefore they’re superior, therefore the ethnic cleansing policies make sense.’ So it’s not something that was used not only a hundred years ago, it’s still used today. And of course not just in Israel. The sort of techno and science-based pretext for colonialism is something ongoing in the United States, as we talked about, it’s ongoing in Israel, it’s ongoing in pretty much every white settler colony.
Nima: Yeah. Thomas Friedman really likes us to Adam (laughs) I don’t want to let Thomas Friedman off the hook.
Adam: Yeah. I want to be clear. I don’t think the US Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the same kind of settler colonialism, but I do think that peppering the war effort by making Arabs seem primitive and us as civilized is a necessary antecedent to that war. So in July of 2002, one of the biggest pushers and promoters of the war in Iraq, Thomas Friedman wrote an opinion column in The New York Times called “Arabs at the Crossroads” where he cited like the sort of Gulf states’ monarchies, stooges for business interest. And the US State Department wrote this like criticism of the Arab world. And he wrote quote “On education, the report reveals that the whole Arab world translates about 300 books annually — one-fifth the number that Greece alone translates” Greece is a sort of signal for white civilization, “investment in research is less than one-seventh the world average; and Internet connectivity is lower than in sub-Saharan Africa.” Oh gosh. They’re worse than the other Brown people who are bad. He’d go on to say quote “In spite of progress in school enrollment, 65 million Arab adults are still illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women.” And then he would go on to say, quote, “Getting rid of the Osamas, Saddams and Arafats is necessary to change this situation.” So we have this kind of, the Arabs are being held hostage by their bad leaders and what they need is effectively a liberator.
Nima: Right. By their own people and there’s no history or context ever.
Adam: Right. And so it’s like, ‘oh, well they don’t translate enough books.’ I’m not quite sure I know what that means, but they don’t translate enough books, therefore they’re worthy of bombing and invaded.
Nima: Ripe for invasion, ripe for occupation, ripe for colonialism to bring them up to speed-
Adam: To be civilized.
Nima: With the rest of the white civilized world. Exactly.
Adam: There is this sort of similar dynamic in that during the late 19th century up until the mid 20th century mountain climbing was sort of seen as this form of conquest and progress by the white man.
Nima: Conquering nature, which is a common theme of all of this.
Adam: Yeah. And Native Peoples are sort of seen as non-human or subhuman. So everyone knows the story of Sir Edmund Hillary, you learn it, you know, in elementary school or middle school, in 1953 he climbed Mount Everest, but I remember as a kid I was looking at the picture of him on top of Mount Everest and I’m like, wait, who’s that other guy who’s also on Mount Everest? Tenzing Norgay is the Nepalese climbing partner who gets no credit at all for climbing, in recent years he has, but for years it’s like he wasn’t even human and this idea that what all that really counts and if you go to the Wikipedia page it’ll say, the assumption is that lots of people climbed Mount Everest before Sir Edmund Hillary, but, but it says “first person to confirm” quote unquote climbing Mount Everest and that’s all that really matters. Right? Sort of did you document it and put it in the popular discourse? And I think that’s always interesting to me how like we don’t even consider that most teachers who teach this don’t even really consider this other guy worthy of consideration.
Nima: Yeah. So the idea that people worthy of being colonized, worthy of being enslaved or subhuman is obviously, you know, runs through as the kind of foundational concept of all of this and no more evident than when white people actually put black people in zoos. So there’s many, many cases of this, of course, throughout history. But since we are a media criticism show, we decided to look through how The New York Times talked about putting black people in literal zoos and this case in 1906 the Bronx Zoo in New York.
Adam: So yeah, there was a quote unquote “pygmy man” by the name of Ota Benga who was kidnapped by the Belgians and was sent to the United States to do this sort of press tour. He was a 4’ 11” man who was kidnapped and put into a cage in the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Immediately African American organizations tried to petition to have them released. But The New York Times thought that his caging was good for science, that it was good for learning, that the needs of white passerbyers in the Bronx Zoo to learn about these pygmy people who were seen as subhuman was sort of doing the world a favor. And so there was a, um, a poem published in The New York Times editorial page, presumably promoted by the editorial board on September 19th, 1906.
Nima: Yeah. We should probably give a disclaimer because this really, it’s really egregious. It’s really awful. So this is the poem actually published in The New York Times, as Adam said, written by M.E. Buhler and it’s called “Ota Benga” and this is the poem”
“From his native land of darkness,
To the country of the free,
In the interest of science
And of broad humanity,
Brought wee little Ota Benga,
Dwarfed, benighted, without guile,
Scarcely more than ape or monkey,
Yet a man the while!
“So, to tutor and enlighten —
Fit him for a nobler sphere —
Show him ways of truth and knowledge,
Teach the freedom we have here
In this land of foremost progress —
In this Wisdom’s ripest age,
We have placed him in high honor,
In a monkey’s cage!
“‘Mid companions we provide him,
Apes, gorillas, chimpanzees,
He’s content! Wherefore decry them
When he seems at ease?
So he chatters and he jabbers
In his jargon, asking naught
But for “Money — money — money?”
Just as we have taught!”
Adam: This is an un-ironic poem until the very end when it says, ‘oh, isn’t it funny that he wants money like us?’ But this is framed explicitly in terms of the interest of science, right? It’s sort of, and broad humanity and un-ironically the term freedom to talk about the US is sort of used without any apparent self-awareness to describe the United States. And of course he says quote “for most progress.” Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on this as if he was an animal.
Nima: Right around the time when Ota Benga was beginning to be exhibited, at the Bronx Zoo, there was some kind of public displeasure voiced. The crowds were huge to see the exhibition, as gross as that is, but not everyone thought it was necessarily so great. On September 9th, 1906, The New York Times editorial board explained why, you know what, not that big a deal that someone has just held in a cage at the Bronx Zoo in an article that they headlined “Bushmen Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes” and in it The Times wrote this while quote “To the average non-scientific person in the crowd of sightseers there was something about the display that was unpleasant”, but The Times explained that the fact is that Ota Benga quote “Doesn’t think very deeply” unquote. Because after all, he’s just part of a race that quote, “scientists do not rate high in the human scale”, unquote.
Two days later, September 11th, 1906, the editorial board doubled down on this statement, writing this quote, “We do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter. It is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation Benga is suffering. The Pygmies” The Times wrote “are very low in the human scale, and the suggestion that Benga should be in a school instead of a cage, ignores the high probability that school would be a place from which he could draw no advantage whatever. The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books, is now far out of date”, and quote.
Adam: So this is a New York Times article from September 25th, 1906 the article says, “Ota Benga Attacks Keeper” sub-headline is “Pygmy Tries to Use a Knife Following a Joke — Locked in a Cage” and the article read quote:
“Ota Benga let some of the savage nature of the African forest come out yesterday and tried to use a knife on one of the keepers of the Bronx Zoological Gardens.
“The keepers were cleaning the monkey house, and Benga watched them. They were using a hose, and the stream of water filled him with amusement. One of the men turned the water upon him, and he seemed to think it a great joke. But in order to get the full benefit of the flood he decided to take his clothes off.
“Visitors were coming. And it would not do to let him appear dressed like his pet chimpanzee. One of the keepers prevented him from shedding his raiment. He became greatly excited and rushed to his quarters. In a minute he was back, armed with an ugly looking knife that he had secreted among his belongings, and made for one of the keepers, who saw him coming.”
So this man’s been kidnapped. He’s tried to escape multiple times, as most kidnapped people do, but his wanting to leave the cage was referred to as quote “the savage nature of the African forest.”
Nima: And the report ends with this, it says “Then as a punishment Ota was locked in a cage. He was released in the afternoon.”
Adam: All this is sort of done in the name of science, right? It’s sort of science as this politically neutral thing.
Nima: So after being kidnapped from the Belgium colonized Congo brought to the United States to be displayed at the St Louis World’s Fair and later the Bronx Zoo, as we described in New York city, placed in the Brooklyn orphanage, then brought to Lynchburg, Virginia to attend a theological seminary to make him obviously a good Christian. And later working in a tobacco factory, Ota Benga was subsequently prevented from returning to his home in the Congo by the outbreak of WWI. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest in 1916.
Adam: Now, of course, we are not drawing any parallels between this and anything today because I think universally people see this as a very horrible, horrible stain on our society. The point is only to show that what we call science has never been depoliticized, has never been absent ideological on an institutional level. In the abstract, yes, science is not necessarily political. It’s simply a methodology of understanding the world. But the idea that science is something that can exist outside of any notion of colonialism or white supremacy even today is absolutely not true. And when reporting on Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with quote unquote “researchers” or quote unquote people who want to “expand human knowledge,” we really got to put that in its broader context and understand that this has always been to some extent — obviously grosser versions at others — his has always been the vanguard of colonialism, the sort of moral pretenses of science, just like the moral pretenses of spreading democracy or anything else we talk about on the show. The pretenses of science as this sort of objectively good thing have always gone hand in hand with colonial efforts.
Nima: To discuss this more we’ll soon be joined by Nick Estes, Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. Nick is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and cofounder of the Indigenous Resistance Organization, The Red Nation., an Indigenous Resistance Organization. He is also the author of the recent book Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. Nick will join us in just a moment. Stay with us.
Nima: We are joined now by author and professor Nick Estes. Nick, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Nick Estes: Yeah, thanks for having me. I love the show.
Adam: Thanks so much. So historically colonization has always had lofty liberal pretexts. That’s obviously something we’ve talked about on the show a million times because people who are colonizers can’t really commit genocide for the sheer sport of it. They need a kind of higher moral reason. One of those higher kind of civilizing reasons has been the pursuit of science, which we argue earlier in this episode is sort of perfectly noble in the abstract, but oftentimes has been on the vanguard of colonization. In the intro we laid out of a lot of historical examples, but can we kind of start off by discussing a very recent one, specifically how the language of progress in science was weaponized during the Standing Rock protest of 2015 and 2016.
Nick Estes: Sure. So kind of the primary goals of colonization would be to take the gold, introduce god, and then of course revel and bask in the glory of conquest. In this day and age we can say that like secularism has kind of overtaken that god impulse. And I think science is very much a part of that. And if we look at the Standing Rock protests and what happened in 2016 we can really see it as an extension of what happened in 2007 and 2008 which is the collapse of the US economy during the Great Recession because of the housing market. And you know, you also have at the same time the invention of new technology, fracking technology, but also new ways to extract and mine tar sands in Alberta, Canada with the oil sands there. And so what’s happening at this particular moment in time in 2007 2008 is that you have the US economy undergoing sort of a transformation where they begin to really focus on domestic oil production, oil and gas production. And so too does Canada for that matter. And so you have the introduction of things like, you know, the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is an attempt to get landlocked tar sands in Alberta, Canada to market by transporting it to the quickest land route, which you know, would be south down to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing an international border, to get to the Texas oil refineries for global export. Also, you know, at this particular time you have kind of the threat of Venezuela and its oil production, which has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, but you also have this increasing antagonism towards Venezuela itself. And so part of this domestic energy production was in a way to drop global oil prices and to choke out the Venezuelan economy. And so who becomes kind of the target for this production? Of course its Indigenous People. And you see the same thing happening in the 1930s with the Great Depression where you have the creation of these large public works projects, and I detail this in the book, with the creation of these large earthen rolled dams on the Missouri River beginning in 1937 as part of this economic recovery project that’s passed by FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president at the time, to essentially create jobs for white workers, white settler workers in the Plains region. And these jobs are really fascinating because, you know, I don’t detail this part in the book, but these man camps that were created — that’s what they were called at the time, and now we understand men camps as being sort of these transient worker camps that follow the extractive industry — but at this particular time there were small workman’s camps created in a place called Fort Peck, Montana that hired about 10,000 white workers to work on this, um, at the time was the largest dam in the world to dam the Missouri River. And if you look at the photos, which you know, it was like the first kind of spread of Life magazine, the first kind of photographic essay that they had in Life magazine and there’s pictures of the bar inside and you have white women drinking at the bar underneath signs that said “No Beer Sold to Indians.” So there was a definite segregation when they met, like who would get jobs, but also who would sacrifice to essentially pull the settler economy out of the gutter. And these were at the time seen as kind of like modern engineering marvels. They are great feats of humanity or “human achievement,” you know, big scare quotes on that. And then today we can also see the same kind of rhetoric being deployed with accessing these previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves through fracking technology and even Canada, you know, the US is just settler colonialism on steroids whereas Canada, you know, attempts to hug the murder out of settler colonialism and be a nicer form of it. Right? Even though we can see that and, you know, recent news of a Trudeau wearing black face or brown face and it’s like the question isn’t how many times did he wear brown face or black face? It’s like how many times did he not wear brown face or black face at this point?
Adam: When it rains it pours.
Nick Estes: Yeah. But the point that I’m trying to make here is that Trudeau is smart in the sense that he’s saying we do need a green economy and the way that we get that green economy is by, you know, extracting the capital from the land that we do have. And that means doing the ugly thing of mining this really toxic oil sands and you know, if indigenous people are protesting, they’re just in the way of progress. So this is where we’re at.
Nima: Right. So something you write in your book, Our History Is the Future, is that settler science oftentimes will allegedly rediscover, right? It’ll like rediscover knowledge that was, has been known by Indigenous Peoples for decades, if not centuries, if not millennia. Can you talk about this particular phenomenon? Maybe give some examples and kind of what this says about just the extractive models in general that settlers use to gather knowledge.
Nick EstesSo this particular passage or part of the book comes from just like star knowledge essentially and looking at how our people, we created, we’re not, we’re seen as like an illiterate people. We didn’t have writing, we didn’t have any kind of form of literacy and that we were quote unquote an “oral society” and remember things through oral history, which is a strategic move on the part of the settlers. First of all, oral tradition is always seen as faulty. You know, it’s just like the human minds are. But in reality, when we look at our astronomy or the ways in which we viewed the stars, we actually created what are called star maps. And this isn’t anything that’s unique to Lakota or Dakota people, but in fact, many Pacific cultures have star knowledge. For example, I was just in Aotearoa or what people call New Zealand and I went on a stargazing tour with a Maori tourist guide. You know, they shared this really complicated, very complex star knowledge that they had. And it was, you know, it wasn’t just kind of some beautiful, you know, story, which it was, but it was also about pure survival. If one did not know the stars and you’re in the middle of an ocean, you’re probably gonna die, right? So their star knowledge was incredibly advanced, so advanced that they began in what is Australia and you know, that conglomerate of islands and actually had traveled and had explored the entire Pacific. Easter Islands, you know, there’s a Maori culture that’s there. They also brought back with them when they visited the Andean cultures, the potato. And so they brought back the potato to Aotearoa or New Zealand and so it became integrated in their culture. And the only way that they could traverse those waters was through this intricate star knowledge. And we possessed here in this particular place I’m actually at right now in Lower Brule in South Dakota and, you know, the Northern Plains, we possessed a very complicated and intimate relationship with the stars. And not in some kind of mystical way, even though there’s an esoteric knowledge to it. But because we understood as certain seasons, certain constellations came out and we used the stars for navigation specifically to find food, we would oftentimes the saying was “the Buffalo followed the stars and the people followed the Buffalo” and we called ourselves simultaneously the Buffalo Nation or Pte Oyate ??? or Wicahpi Oyate??? 39:37 which means the Star Nation because that relationship with the stars and the buffalo was actually dependent on us just merely surviving in this land. And today, a lot of modern astronomers have come in and looked at our star knowledge and have actually dated, we’ve tracked the movement of stars because we understood that they weren’t just constant in the sky, but the constellations changed, certain stars disappeared and we retained all of that knowledge in our oral history. And sometimes we actually put it down on hide or whatever. But astronomers came in and later, you know, validated the knowledge that we already knew about ourselves and even dating some of it to the BCE or before the common era proving that we had a specific connection to this particular place long before, you know, the Western archeologists have placed us in this land. It doesn’t mean that the people there always have been what we now know as Lakota people. I mean cultures change over time. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about any culture is that it adapts to certain situations. Um, it adapts to people coming into an area. It doesn’t, you know, just stay constant and ossified.
Adam: So one thing we talked about in the decontextualized superstition versus science dichotomy that we see play out is what’s going on right now with Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which you noted on Twitter, you said quote, “Settler ‘science’ re: Mauna Kea: to look to the stars, we must trample the caretakers of this sacred mountain underfoot, beat them, vilify them, lock them away, so we can better understand ‘our’ place in the universe.” I thought this was an interesting quote because it’s basically saying we have to sort of destroy a culture to understand our culture. But of course our culture has a very specific meaning when we say this. To me it seems like I’m sort of, um, I hate to put it in such a hokey way, but it seems like a kind of an issue as sort of a, an order of operations. Like instead of sort of deferring to the Native People whose land you’ve stolen and asking permission, you sorta just like steamroll over them and call them all bunch of fucking idiots and if you don’t want this big ass gaudy telescope that you’re somehow anti-science.
Nick Estes: Yeah.
Adam: Can we talk about what you meant in that tweet and to what extent is this really just an issue of like having just a very baseline modicum of respect instead of just being an arrogant prick?
Nick Estes: Right. Well I think like the way that these two sides, cause settlers and colonizers are good at saying ‘there’s two sides to every story.’ Well, no, there isn’t. There’s one side of the story and that is you invaded this land and took it from us and we don’t really have a choice about what happens to this land, and that’s constantly pointed out to us because when we do say, ‘hey, we don’t want this here’ or ‘how is this going to benefit us?’ You know, typically what happens is we get arrested or we get denounced in some way as being primitive or superstitious. And I think back to the tweet that Trump made a couple, I don’t even know, several months ago, he made it this year, about Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. He said basically go back to where you came from and that’s a frequent insult hurled at Indigenous People. It’s ironic because it says, it says two things. One, it says that people are just totally like, there’s such an amnesia in this country around Indigenous People and two, when we do go back to where we come from, we are charged with trespassing.
Nima: (Laughs) Right.
Nick Estes: So, um, I, I think about this and in the context of this particular struggle, but also the fact that the settler nation is an invading nation, it constantly has to reconstruct its legitimacy. And going back to that gold, god and glory thing, glory for the colonizer this is the weakest link because, you know, at this particular moment in time, Trump has to create a phrase that says “make America great again.” It just begs the question, when was America great and at what point? And if we look at a place like Hawaii, we can see how Hawaii was made, you know, quote unquote “great again.” And part of that goes into the development of science. But that science industry in Hawaii cannot be decoupled from the immense amount of militarization of the Island.
Adam: Yeah. That’s something we actually didn’t spend a lot of time talking about. And you’re right, that’s a good point.
Nick Estes: Yeah. I was reading Edward Snowden’s memoir recently and you know, I guess I’d just never placed it, but he was actually in an underground NSA installation and Oahu at the time he left. I think he flew to Japan and then to Hong Kong, um, to meet with Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. I was like, wait a second, there’s an NSA facility in Hawaii? And so I started looking up some, you know, some facts about Hawaii. I have some Kanaka Maoli or Native Hawaiian friends and some of the things that were fascinating is that Hawaii has 21 military installations, 26 housing complexes for military personnel and family, eight training areas and 19 actual military bases themselves and armed forces in military and their dependents and the veterans themselves make up 16 percent of the population of Hawaii, which is phenomenal. And also the military controls 230,000 acres of land on all of the islands.
Adam: They just want to look at the stars, man.
Nick Estes: (Laughing.) Yeah.
Adam: Nothing going on here. We’re just, we’re just super, we’re super innocently we’re trying to advance human knowledge.
Nick Estes: Yeah.
Nima: And they need, you know, they need to protect the, uh, pineapple plantations.
Nick Estes: (Laughs.) Yeah. I actually think Edward Snowden, where he was at was actually under a pineapple plantation.
Nima: There you go.
Nick Estes: But so like on Oahu like 94,000 acres of Oahu is controlled by the military, which is about 25 percent of the Island, and the military alone just brings in about $8.8 billion and I think that’s about half of the tourist economy of Hawaii, which is about $15 billion a year. But what’s also fascinating is that Hawaii plays a strategic interest for the United States in the Pacific region. They run these mass training exercises basically to flex on China and to show that the US still has control over the Pacific. So this is the, this is the militarized conditions that many Native Hawaiians live under, and Native Hawaiians as a demographic have the highest rates of houselessness or homelessness. So imagine being from an island where the military owns, you know, in some instances, a quarter of the island and you don’t even have land to live on. It’s absolutely wild and criminal in my mind.
Nima: Totally criminal. I mean, yeah, RIMPAC, just for our listeners, it stands for the rim of the Pacific, and it’s this massive exercise. It’s actually the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise. It’s done every other year in the summer.
Adam: Yeah. And so it’s a little bit hard, you know, this is the, one of the problems with STEM, right? Which is why we, the STEM fetishization in science in general when it becomes an extremely tethered to the US military. And then people step in and say, ‘oh, this is a totally deep politicized science endeavor and we just really want to look into the origins of the universe.’ And it’s like, well, yes and no. I mean, I’m sure that people who, you know, these sort of researchers who make $3 an hour at the University of Hawaii or whatever, they could fancy themselves good liberals don’t feel like they’re part of that complex. But I assume from those who have been subjugated by American imperialism, it doesn’t look that much different.
Nick Estes: Yeah. And science has always kind of portrayed itself that way is like, it’s non ideological it kind of sits above society much like the law, you know? And as academics we like to say science is very socially constructed. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, but there’s a definite ideology and it plays a specific political purpose.
Adam: Right. And it seems like it would be not to be too prescriptive, but it would be incumbent upon those who care about the actual de-politicized nature of science to be aware of that context and to try to mitigate it and address it. And I do think that to some extent, some of the reporting has gotten slightly better in the last couple of years on that. There’s at least like a token mention of the historical context of the colonization of Hawaii. Whereas like in 2015 that wasn’t really the case.
Nick Estes: But you know, like US innocence and US exceptionalism always like, especially in this Trumpian moment, always kind of says things as you know, like let’s frame the question about science: is it good or is it bad? Or science: are you for it or against it? And those are really simplistic framings. And frankly they’re just racist because in one, you know, what I mean? We just need to look at like DNA testing for example. You know, our lord and savior, Elizabeth Warren can validate and trump, you know, no pun intended, can trump all indigenous claims about citizenship and our own definitions of who belongs to our Nations in this very complex kinship system by basically saying, ‘I can take a piece of an Indigenous body’ — cause DNA is part of a human body, most people don’t think of it that way, but it is — ‘I can take a piece of an Indigenous body and lay claim to it and say that it proves my family’s story.’ And frankly that’s just race science, right? And so this is the problem with not just with science but with how Indigenous eraser exists. It functions in several ways. One is to say, not only can we lay claim to your land and we have a right to your land, we can also lay claim to your bodies and how those bodies are defined. And the second thing that it does is that biologizes indigeneity in saying that, you know, there is a gene that proves that you can be Indigenous when in fact that’s not how kinship systems work. So, for example, there’s this accusation that’s leveled that Indigenous Peoples as kind of being essentialist, you know, both biologically and culturally, meaning that only an Indigenous worldview of exists outside of history and time and it’s based on race and you know, blood or whatever it is. But in fact, you know, the idea of kinship for Indigenous communities is very complicated. You know, we see what happens, you know, we see like the really absurd side of kinship in making relations with people. And this is kind of going beyond the science question, but an individual from the Comanche Nation adopted Johnny Depp for example. This is a true story, but you can laugh because it is absurd.
Nick Estes: And so then, cause then Johnny Depp can then, he believes he can then go out and do things like filming the Dior Sauvage commercial where he’s like wandering in the desert and he says at the very end of it, he’s like riffing the Link Wray song, which is, you know, by an indigenous rock and roller. It’s the only song without lyrics that’s ever been banned from the radio. It’s historic, you know, and it’s legendary. And he’s up there just rocking away in the Grand Canyon and there’s like cheesy drum music going everywhere. There’s Native People walking around, a Native woman walking around like she’s lost in the desert. There’s a man very beautifully dancing, grass dance. And then there’s Johnny Depp at the end he’s saying “we are the land.” You know? That’s absurd. That’s the absurd kind of form of kinship that doesn’t, just because you were adopted into the tribe doesn’t give you permission to be an asshole. But thanks for the laughs. But so the kinship thing and making relations was actually in many ways it came down again to survival. You would adopt somebody into your family if they couldn’t take care of themselves. So for example, I think the most famous case in our Tribe, in our Nation, is when there was a conflict between two liters Spotted Tail and Crow Dog and Spotted Tail was assassinated by Crow Dog. And there’s various stories about how that happened, but essentially Crow Dog shot him and killed him. And to make amends to Spotted Tail’s family he actually took in Spotted Tail’s children and his wives, like he had several wives and he took care of them, he brought them in, he took care of him. That was his way, that was his quote unquote “punishment.” Right? And that was a form of making relations to take care of people and to essentially make amends for a wrong that he had committed and he had to live with that for the rest of his life. Of course, the US government came in and said, ‘no, we’re going to try to hang you like you’re not above the law.’ And then they actually found out that they didn’t have any jurisdiction on the reservation. They ended up passing on the Major Crimes Act, which said that murders is a major crime that can be tried in federal courts, but essentially Crow Dog was led off. But it also, you know, in my own family history and my great grandmother, Cornelia Swallow was actually known for taking in a lot of people who couldn’t take care of themselves, whether they were elderly, whether they were children who were orphans. You know, that was just common practice because you wouldn’t, it was embarrassing for a family to have somebody who couldn’t take care of themselves, you know? And so that was the way of making kin and that’s how kinship operated. So there’s, and then it got all mixed up when they started biologizing us, you know, and putting us into these blood quantum categories because we have all these relatives who aren’t quote unquote “biologically” related to us. So that’s kind of the background of kinship making and how something like, you know, a DNA test can completely bastardize that.
Adam: Right. So one of the things I want to talk about, which I think overlaps heavily with this idea of science versus superstition is the kind of arbitrary European model of property rights, which is something that your book does a really good job, um, complicating or messing up. And I know that various Native cultures have different perspectives on this. I know, I don’t want to flatten that either. But in the context of Standing Rock specifically, there was like very literal minded, very Western notion of property rights as something that was sort of sacred. Could we talk about how the no DAPL protest in Standing Rock complicated this arbitrary patchwork of property rights and what alternative to property rights do protestors at Standing Rock and other activists and other writers have they kind of offered in its stead?
Nick Estes: Yeah, they say private property always trumps the sanctity of the poor, right? It’s private property as it’s constructed within kind of like the Anglo Saxon tradition, European property rights are essentially based on exclusion and US property law, especially when it goes back to things like the 1862 Homestead Act were incredibly destructive for Indigenous communal and collective property rights. And it’s not to say that like all Indigenous People had like this communistic, you know, straight out of the pages of the communist manifesto idea of property ownership. It was very mixed, you know, and each tribe had their own and it wasn’t just that like you couldn’t own individual property, it just wasn’t codified in that way. It wasn’t based on an exclusion as we now understand it. And I think that’s one of the most fascinating things about the ways in which the Homestead Acts have worked because you know, the Homestead Acts, there’s this myth of like ‘my settler ancestors pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,’ you know, ‘we succeeded,’ etcetera, etcetera, etcetera ‘because we worked hard.’ Well everything, if there’s anything about the founding of the United States that, you know, you should know is that settlers didn’t work hard. They had slaves and they had stolen land. Like those things like, you don’t have to work for it. Like, I mean will you do in some ways you basically have to keep them as property. You have to keep human beings as property and you have to keep land as property. But this idea that they built this nation with their bare hands is an absurd notion. It was built with stolen labor on stolen land. And if we look at the Homestead Acts, you know, yeah, it did parcel out lands for settlers and it gave it, sometimes it gives it away, you know, almost for free. And so it ate up about 270 million acres of Indigenous territory. It was one of the largest and most destructive land acts that the United States had passed. But it wasn’t they just opened the floodgates and settlers went out and settled on the land and then, you know, carved out their living. It was actually subsidized. So it was subsidized first of all, by making the land available and then secondly, it was subsidized by making improvements on that land. So, you know, the Desert Land Act, for example, created irrigation for farmers. And if settlers didn’t like their plot of land, they could sell it for quite a bit of money once the price of land went up. And so one out of every four white people alive today in this country are direct beneficiaries from the Homestead Act. And it created this generational wealth within families. Even if they are, you know, lower middle class or whatever it is still, you know, you have black families who are entirely excluded from that even after emancipation. And so you have this generational wealth gap and even Native People themselves, like to this day on reservations, you can’t own land in private, right? Like private ownership is actually, you know, because we’re still wards of the government, we’re still in the Department of Interior, which manages wildlife and Indians, right? We can’t control our own quote unquote “private property.” And it’s actually managed by the Department of Interior and the, you know, the 2011 class action lawsuit, the Cobell case, which is one of the largest, I think it was the largest class action lawsuit in US history, basically said that the Department of Interior has mismanaged billions. Cobell and her lawyers estimated around $300 billion were mismanaged in Native assets and we were effectively awarded under the Obama administration $3.5 billion of that mismanaged money for the lands that we owned. So we’ve got a fraction, very, very like, I think it’s like, you know, 1 percent of what we asked for. And on top of that, since we’re still considered wards of the government, the government signed a check to itself and it went to the Department of Interior to manage the buyback of lands that were actually ours in the first place. So this is the system, you know, this is the system that we’re operating under as Indigenous People. And even if we look in the territory’s in, which, you know, like for example, the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty encompasses about 70 million acres of territory, 35 of which are hunting territory and 35 of which are permanent reservation territory. And within that permanent reservation territory, somebody like Ted Turner, who’s, you know, a billionaire, a media mogul owns about 200,000 acres of that land. And he also owns the, you know, the world’s largest privately owned Buffalo herd. Um, so in this country, land equals wealth. You know, over 95 percent of privately owned land in this country is owned by white people, by white settlers. It’s, it goes along, you know, race and class divisions, 99 percent of farm subsidies go only to white farmers. So when we talk about property rights and we talk about, you know, exclusion, it’s not just at the base level of, you know, a single plot of land, but it’s actually at a structural level. So settler identity is legally codified and structured through US policy and law.
Adam: Right. And the logic of it is just kind of pulled out of thin air. There’s no like sort of natural law, like no one was sitting there and just contemplating like next to a river the nature of man and came up with this it’s sort of-
Nick Estes: No, that’s not how it happened.
Adam: Yeah, because I think most people assume that there’s some sort of like quote unquote “natural law” to these things, but then you look out and you’re like, wait, this is clearly the system you could come up with and you were just trying to reverse engineer a white settler country.
Nima: Right. It’s like when it works out that perfectly well for the ones who want it to work out that way. Yeah. It’s probably not just the natural way of things.
Nick Estes: You know what I mean? The other thing that’s erased in this is the Indigenous economies that existed. So for example, 80 percent of indigenous nations in the Western hemisphere had some form of agriculture. That’s why we had corn. According to the Lockian theory of property ownership agriculture is kinda like the highest mode of production because it’s sedentary and it’s permanent, right? And it reproduces itself, but that had to be completely erased. And even how we’re racialized, you know, as like being nomadic hunters and gatherers is completely false. If that was the case, then why is, you know, why did we have a relationship with corn? It’s not that you can’t just live off of Buffalo, like come on. Who actually believes that?
Nick Estes: It would be nice.
Nima: No, I mean I think that you see this the world over, you see it from Hawaii to the Great Plains to Palestine. Just how communities, indigenous communities are somehow deemed to be savage and just don’t understand the land that they have lived on for millennia. And somehow they need white settlers to come from Europe and teach them how to use the land effectively and efficiently.
Nick Estes: Right. I think Johnny Depp would call that “sauvage.”
Nima: (Laughing.) That’s right. That’s right. So Nick, before we let you go, your book Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance is out, which everyone can check out. But also, uh, what are you up to these days and maybe where it can, uh, people see you speak or a, what kind of other work do you have going on?
Nick Estes: Sure. I actually have another book that I coedited with with Jaskiran Dhillon called Standing with Standing Rock and it’s a collection of 30 different contributors who are leaders in the Standing Rock movement, activists, poets, artists, academics. And I’m actually working on a podcast with an organization that I cofounded. It’s just called The Red Nation Podcast. It’s about indigenous left politics. We’re also doing kind of interviews with academics. Um, but we’re also doing documentary series. My favorite one is coming out about wild rice harvesting in the upper peninsula of Michigan. So you can check that out on therednation.org and you can find us on Twitter or Facebook.
Nima: That is fantastic.
Adam: Check it out. Definitely check out the book. Definitely check out the organizations. We’ll have that in our show notes.
Nima: Yeah, this has been great. Nick Estes, citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Assistant Professor in American Studies at University of New Mexico, cofounder of The Red Nation, host of The Red Nation Podcast, author and activist and all around just fantastic guest. Thank you so much Nick for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Nick Estes: Thanks so much Nima and Adam. It was wonderful.
Adam: There’s this weird reaction I think people have when you say oh well science is this political thing we should dissect where it’s like, ‘oh, you hate science or science is pure,’ which is I think the recurring theme in the show in general, which is like things have context and they have-
Nima: Yeah things created by humans-
Adam: Can be wielded by humans in ways that are not necessarily savery.
Nima: Yeah, react like humans.
Adam: To be clear. We are not like against science per se, but we are about, similar to sort of human rights or democracy or another lofty concept like, how it’s used and the context in which it’s used is important.
Nima: Yeah, like technology can be really racist because it is encoded by humans with biases, with histories, with the legacies of whatever it may be. Oftentimes white supremacy and so science writ large does the same thing. It is beholden to the same human tendencies as anything else.
Adam: Indeed, except for me, I’m above everything.
Nima: You’re also a cyborg.
Adam: I’m the view from nowhere.
Nima: And that will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Thank you everyone for listening. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. And an extra special shout out goes as always to our critic level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research and writing for this episode by Julianne Tveten. Newsletters by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks everyone for listening again. We’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, October 16, 2019.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.