Reflecting: Interconnected Issues of the Indigenous Community

The “Indigiqueer” episode of podcast All My Relations touches on the systemic issues that indigenous people deal with in their own communities, in education, and in the healthcare system. While writing this post, I am thinking about the different perspectives we’ve heard from indigenous voices this semester. 

We started this year discussing the high numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women through the book The Round House, and were taken into the story of the families first hand affected by this systemic issue. The Round House highlighted how flawed and broken the justice system is for the indigenous. 

Joshua Whitehead’s letter to LAMBDA withdrawing his work from the trans category speaks on how the lack of historical context/education creates the misunderstanding of these indigiqueer identities. Forcing euro-centric and American views of gender on indigenous communities contributes to the erasure of their indigiqueer community. We also explored this topic through the texts discussing the two-spirit or berdache identities, and how these terms were coined by colonizers that attempted to understand their identities through a binary lens. 

Both of these texts reminded me of the first few minutes of the podcast, where Whitehead talks about the practice of labeling people by their relationships with others. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the time we are quick to label people as mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, etc. and these labels are important, but Whitehead points out that they ignore the independent identity of the person and can be indicators of a lack of gender-inclusive terminology. I thought this point was interesting because it was something so simple that I had not thought of, yet it is a struggle people must think about. 

Towards the middle of the podcast Whitehead discusses being indigenous in the education system. Grace’s post, Forgone, from earlier this week highlighted the fact that Native American communities are portrayed as a thing of the past, rather than current existing cultures and communities. They are seen as ancient, rather than integrated into modernity. When Whitehead said he had to choose between erasing his indigeneity or hyper performing it in the classroom, this shows how prevalent this viewpoint is in the education system. He was used to being the only indigenous person in the classroom, and was expected to know everything about Native Americans, even outside of his own people. He can either choose to ignore this part of himself or become the an impromptu “spokesperson” of all Native people for this class. The erasure of indigenous identities becomes exceedingly clear in classroom environments when people realize how little they really know about native communities. 

Finally, what I thought was one of the most important and stunning issues in the podcast was the discussion of systemic racism in healthcare. Decades of these injustices weigh on communities, and their mental health takes a toll. Every person in the podcast knew someone that had been hurt or had died from medical malpractice or because doctors refused to believe them or treat them for their pain. They discussed how they chose to live so fast, because they never expected to live past 25, since they’ve already seen so many deaths in their lifetime. 

Taking these perspectives and this knowledge from this semester, going forward, we owe it to indigenous communities to share stories and continue to educate ourselves, and then those around us.

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