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  • Guesting on Indigenous Land: Plimoth Plantation, Land Acknowledgment, and Decolonial Praxis
  • Bethany Hughes (bio)

The People of the First Light (Wampanoag) worked with and alongside the land, the water, and non-human creatures of Turtle Island to make a home, a life for themselves.1 Then a plague swept down the coast of the Dawnland devastating the People and emptying their villages.2 The People regrouped, persisted, and continued in their lives. Then guests arrived.

The People of the Mayflower (Pilgrims) endured a rough voyage, counting it less arduous than living where they were unwanted and unsupported. The seas took them farther north than planned, but they were eventually able to land. They arrived in a world new to them and happened upon an empty village. They discovered a ghost town.

The People of ATHE (students/artists/faculty) traveled by car, rail, and plane to Boston in 2018. They set aside lives, families, and routines to sit in cold, unfamiliar spaces listening to colleagues, eating with friends, learning from one another. They paid for the right to occupy space, to access wi-fi, to eat the food of their choice. They resided as customers.

This essay thinks toward how we as scholars, artists, educators, and humans can live better as guests on Indigenous land by overriding our entrainment to be customers, discoverers, and inhabitants of so-called ghost towns.3 I discuss how we can better understand Indigeneity, what we can learn from encounters with Indigenous peoples and spaces, and what practices we can implement to better relate to the land and peoples around us. As one contribution to these multifaceted topics, I offer the concept of guesting. In contrast to discovering, which reduces the discovered to a kind of possession, and customer-ing, which commodifies and dehumanizes, guesting is focused not on attaining or accreting, but on relationships, humility, and reciprocal nurturance. Guesting is an active and intentional practice of presence with the goal of honoring and supporting the Indigenous people and spaces that always already undergird, surround, and shape your life and work. The content and structure of this essay contribute to the decolonial praxis for which I am advocating. I intentionally manipulate temporality and positionality to unsettle Western preferences for intellect over embodiment, distance over proximity, and product over process.

This essay is for those wanting to develop a practice that purposefully unmakes the colonial systems that have separated, dehumanized, and denied resources to millions. It is for those who want to better know the land on which you teach and write and create theatre. It is for those who seek to work with and not demand from Indigenous communities. It is for those who guide students into spaces with often unacknowledged history. It is for those who wish to no longer live as customers.

Who Is Indigenous?

Indigenous peoples’ relationship to land, peoplehood/nationhood, colonization, the past, language, oppression, and sovereignty is complex and difficult to pin down in a global sense. It is precisely this complexity that led the United Nations in 2006 to state that it was most productive [End Page E-23] “to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples” (1).4 That does not mean it is impossible to define; it means that Indigeneity, while a global phenomenon, is uniquely experienced in discrete times/places and therefore accurately described in a variety of ways. Within the context of Turtle Island (aka North America), the scholar Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee) offers a cogent definition: Indigenous is a “proper noun [that] affirms the status of a subject with agency, not an object with a particular quality.” Indigenous people are “those who belong to a place.” Indigeneity “affirms the spiritual, political, territorial, linguistic, and cultural distinctions of those people whose connections to this hemisphere predate the arrival of intentional colonizing settlers and conscripted and enslaved populations.” (6). Justice lays out the various aspects of who and how a people are a people while maintaining the primacy of relationship to land. Importantly, Indigeneity is irreducible to land title or legal jurisdiction or phenotype or the number of language speakers. Indigeneity is multiple and capacious. However, it is not available to everyone. All people have relationship to land...


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