- Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization by Scott Lauria Morgensen
With Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization Scott Lauria Morgensen opens a critical, complex, and, at times, heartbreaking conversation about how processes of colonization and decolonization have created distinctly different understandings of queerness within Native and non-Native communities. While cultural conversations constantly implore civil rights to be established and maintained for all groups, Morgensen illustrates the fact that fights for civil rights have been terribly biased and exclusionary when it comes to Native Americans. Spaces between Us illuminates the ways in which Native Americans have been limited by colonial understandings of binary-based gender and sexuality and how efforts toward indigenous decolonization and destabilization of such binaries shape not only Native American rights but also civil rights. By deconstructing the ways in which queer indigeneity is defined and commodified by the pervasive settler culture and the resulting limitations of such a definition, Morgensen is able to effectively situate the efforts and effects of indigenous decolonization so that his audience can see that continued racial exclusion or exultation is equally damaging to civil rights efforts and, ultimately, only serves to perpetuate queer settler colonialism.
In “Part 1: Genealogies,” Morgensen deconstructs settler definitions of Native sexualities such as berdache and Two-Spirit, as well as settler frames and restrictive expectations of Native sexualities, illustrating the influence colonization of Native sexuality has had on modern settler sexuality (31). However, he suggests that before queer studies can be brought into the conversation, one must first examine the settler versus Native dynamic that has saturated modern society. While the othering of Native peoples is most often viewed through a political lens, Morgensen elucidates the history of othering that Native sexuality has endured as it has been mercilessly consumed by settler societies. The “histories of intermingling, interdependence, or the attempted erasure of indigeneity as a marker of national difference” have become normalized watermarks of the relationship that settler societies perpetuate between themselves and Native communities (1). To that end, Morgensen posits, [End Page 96] “the distinction between ‘Native’ and ‘settler’ informs all power in settler societies and their relations with societies” (1). Everything within settler societies is dictated by the relationship between “Native” and “settler”; therefore, before one can meaningfully discuss queer Native communities, one must first acknowledge and explore the overarching settler presence within such communities.
Just as Native lands were usurped by settlers, so was Native sexuality. The parallels between the ways in which Native lands were stolen and then governed by settlers and the ways in which Native sexuality was defined and commodified by settlers cannot be ignored: “Native and queer studies must regard settler colonialism as a key condition of modern sexuality on stolen land, and use this analysis to explain the power of settler colonialism among Native and non-Native people” (2). By framing the pervasive influence of settler colonialism, Morgensen is able to more accurately and completely showcase the struggle of Indigenous decolonization efforts within Native queer communities. Such a position also establishes a unique Native queer identity that not only challenges the power of settle colonialism over Native sexuality but also questions the continued effect of colonizing power over Native communities, as well as the understanding of “normative” sexuality imposed by settlers upon their own communities.
As Morgensen critically explores the history of queer settler colonialism, it is important to note the social and political evolution of the concept of Native queer identity within academic and advocacy discourses. The antiquated and controversial concept of berdache, a term that negatively refers to a Native American who assumes the role of the opposite sex (including dress and social status), and the more widely accepted concept of Two-Spirit, referring to a Native person who feels their body has a different balance of masculine and feminine spirits than that of a masculine man and a feminine woman, are both explored extensively throughout Space between Us. Throughout this discussion, Morgensen skillfully situates his discussion of these two terms...