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  • Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization by Scott Lauria Morgensen
  • Lisa Tatonetti
Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization. By Scott Lauria Morgensen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 292 pages, $75.00/$25.00.

Scott Lauria Morgensen’s Spaces Between Us is a significant contribution to the field of queer or Two-Spirit Native American and indigenous studies and will be of great interest to scholars who focus on gender and sexuality in western American literature. Together, the book’s two sections—“Part 1. Genealogies” and “Part 2. Movements”—argue that settler sexuality is built upon the specter of indigeneity (2). This “settler colonial logic … disappears indigeneity so it can be recalled by modern non-Natives as a relationship to Native culture and land that might reconcile them to inheriting conquest” (3).

The introduction and the two chapters in part 1 sketch out Morgensen’s theoretical claim; the first chapter centers Foucault’s theory of bio-power and the second the figure of the berdache. Biopower—or the shift from the disciplinary power of a sovereign to mete out death to a modern state power that authorizes the life of/for certain populations over others—is central to the institution of settler colonialism in the United States, where white populations were marked for life, while indigenous populations were marked for a demise naturalized by a rhetoric of inevitability. Key to such colonial logics, as Morgensen explains and Native scholars such as Qwo-Li Driskill (Cherokee) and Deborah Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation/Chumash) have argued previously, is “the imposition of colonial heteropatriarchy and the hegemony of settler sexuality” (34). Morgensen’s intervention lies in his subsequent claim that this imposition “sought both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34). So while actual indigenous subjects were marked for death if their gender and sexuality exceeded the confines of settler subjectivity, their image was deployed as that upon which settler sexuality was defined.

Morgensen proves his claim about the centrality of Native people to the creation of settler sexuality by tracing a careful genealogy of “the colonial object berdache” in the entwined discourses of anthropology and the white Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) [End Page 422] rights movement. Non-Native scientists “cited the apparent existence and acceptance of marginal sexual subjects in ‘primitive’ societies as evidence that their nature had been known since human origins and could be scientifically and legally affirmed” (46). In his theoretical framing, as well as in the historical and ethnographic studies in the four chapters that comprise the book’s second section, Morgensen shows how subsequent non-Native social movements, most prominently the Radical Faeries, articulate their sexuality in relation to the berdache and attempt to inhabit indigeneity. Thus, queer settlers (1) authorize their sexuality by noting the existence of multiple gender traditions in indigenous societies, (2) occlude the privileges of whiteness by claiming a minority status in which sexuality equates to race in order to gain the rights and privileges of a settler citizen, (3) establish non-Native queer communities whose social practices are based on romanticized performances of indigeneity (what Philip Deloria has termed “playing Indian”). As a result, Morgensen shows, queer settlers first cite and then claim to inherit indigeneity.

Importantly, Morgensen does not confine his book to tracing the genealogy of settler sexuality. He also marks the rise of Two-Spirit societies, many of which precede the 1990 coining of the term two-spirit. Thus, for example, he discusses the creation of groups like the Gay American Indians in San Francisco in 1976 and New York City’s WeWah and BarCheeAmpe society in 1989, noting how such groups challenge settler colonialism through both pantribal alliances and alliances with other queers of color. Morgensen’s final chapter extends his project by citing the transnational nature of indigenous HIV/AIDS organizing and showing how such activism “centers Indigenous epistemologies that dare to imagine and assert autonomy from biopolitical control by proposing the decolonization of gender and sexuality and the pursuit of sovereignty over health” (221).

Ultimately, Spaces between Us aligns with Andrea Smith’s interrogation of indigeneity and heteronormativity, Mark...


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pp. 422-423
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