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  • Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization by Scott Lauria Morgensen
  • Andrea Smith
Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization By Scott Lauria Morgensen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Scott Morgensen is one of the leading scholars whose work intersects indigenous studies with queer theory. In Spaces Between Us, Morgensen argues that queer subjectivities within settler states are fundamentally constructed by settler colonialism. The resultant "settler sexualities" rely upon primitivist articulations of Indigeneity that provide the resource by which settler subjectivities position themselves as radical breaks from heteronormativity. Morgensen builds on the work of scholars such as Chris Finley and Mark Rifkin who argue that the colonial project of Indigenous genocide is simultaneously a project of heteronormativity. Insofar as Indigenous peoples are marked as inherently sexually deviant, heternormative colonialism seeks to destroy alternative non-heteronormative possibilities inherent within Indigenous nations. However, notes Morgensen, settler colonialism not only instills heterornormativity, but it sets the terms by which peoples seek to resist heternormativity. In particular, the alternatives provided by Indigenous communities become resources to enable the construction of alternative but still settler sexualities. Relegated to the past, Native queer peoples disappear as contemporaries in the struggle against colonial heteropatriarchy. Morgensen also builds on the work of Jasbir Puar who troubles the assumption that "queer" politics or thought is necessarily transgressive. Indeed, queer analytics can enable rather than transgress the current system. Morgensen adds to Puar's analysis by demonstrating that queerness enables the status quo not just through its unreflexive investment in empire, but also its investment in settler colonialism. Argues Morgensen: "Homonationalism arises not just in civilizational alignment of queers with empire, but also in primitivist critiques of heteronormativity and homonormativity that makes a settler relationship to indigeneity constitutive of queer radicalism" (177).

The basis of Morgensen's critique is his ethnographic work within several sites of queer activism. What is noteworthy about his ethnography is the extent to which he takes the intellectual production within these circles seriously, even as he criticizes it. He notes, for example, that it would be easy to dismiss or ridicule groups such as Radical Faeries. To counter this tendency, Morgensen positions the intellectual production of these groups on par with that of scholarly anthropologists.

In doing so, Morgensen demonstrates that the appropriative tendencies within groups like Radical Faeries are not radically discontinuous with the colonial tendencies within anthropology. Furthermore, the colonial logics within the Radical Faeries is not the product of marginal and dismissable individuals, but inheres within all peoples under settler colonialism, even as it may manifest differently. In addition, Morgensen contends that the intellectual divides between academia and activist circles are porous. It is the colonial ethnographic work within anthropology that provided the intellectual framework the appropriation of Indigenous cultures within queer activist communities. Conversely, this appropriation within activist circles shaped many scholarly accounts of Native genders and sexualities.

In order to counter the tendency within academic and activist circles to engage Native peoples primarily as resources upon which to build analytics that simultaneously displace them, Morgensen positions the work of Native activists and scholars as "a distinctive body of critical theory" (14) with which queer activists and scholars should seriously engage. His goal then is not to replace inaccurate representations of Native cultures with more accurate representations, but to challenge the settler colonial framework by which Native peoples are represented in the first place.

As Morgensen notes, it would be unfair to assume that the queer activists implicated in Native appropriation are simply die-hard colonialists who have no concern at all for Native peoples. First, many of these groups have in fact worked with Native activists and have changed their politics and practice based on this engagement. Second, argues Morgensen, Native queer activists have also redeployed these representations within queer circles for their own purposes. For instance, in his recounting of the evolution of the term "two spirit," Morgensen argues that the colonial construct of the "berdache" as a transhistorical, transtribal figure of indigenous non-heterornormativity did provide a place for some Native queer activists to question heternormativity within contemporary Native communities brought about by Christian colonization. However, Native activists redeployed this concept...

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