- Native Land Talk: Indigenous and Arrivant Rights Theories by Yael Ben-zvi
YAEL BEN-ZVI'S Native Land Talk refuses to isolate the study of the political history of Indigenous people from that of Black people in the United States. Looking at the 1760–1840 time period, Ben-zvi analyzes the effort of arrivants (the term coined by Kamau Brathwaite and elaborated upon by Jodi Byrd to refer to people forced to the Americas) to secure rights and freedom in and of the land called the United States, as well as Indigenous peoples' efforts to challenge settler-colonial mappings in order to assure freedom on their territories, not as part of the United States. Native Land Talk confronts the reader with the triangularity of claims for settlement, resettlement, and unsettlement articulated by, respectively, settler, arrivant, and Indigenous peoples, all of whom ground their notion of freedom in a claim to Native status via their particular meaning and practices of inhabitation. However, the refusal to isolate Indigenous and Black/arrivant narratives in the US context does not mean constructing harmonious ones.
As Ben-zvi shows, arrivant claims to belonging through a discourse of resettlement can thereby affirm the status of settler claims to territory, whereas Indigenous claims to historical Native status and sovereignty can deny the status and agency of slaves and their descendants on the land. We see this in chapters on Mohegan and Cherokee efforts to resist removal in ways that demonstrate their strategy and rights theorization against settler-state impositions but that also did not recognize arrivants as legitimate inhabitants. On the other hand, efforts by Olaudah Equiano to construct an Indigenous African claim, while the best example in the book of an effort at conceiving of Indigenous and arrivant solidarity, worked with rather than against imperialist logics, and Black resistance to the African colonization movement affirmed the settler geopolitical mapping as a means to gaining rights within it. This is just a sample of the way in which Ben-zvi has successfully achieved the task of engaging in a complex analysis of anti-settler-statist theories of rights and freedoms generated by Indigenous and arrivant political actors while not being blind to how these efforts can conflict.
We see this complexity in chapter 3, "Spaces of Slavery and Freedom," a sublime comparison of settler notions of freedom based in movement across [End Page 169] lands and arrivant claims premised upon spatialized stability. One discerns in Ben-zvi's narrative the way in which white settler masculine freedom is driven by anxiety about a rooted, interdependent relationship to land, an anxiety that solidifies a liberal bourgeois notion of negative freedom from attachments and interference. In comparison, connection to land, belonging, and community form the bases of arrivant rights claims. Similarly, the brilliant chapter 5, "Ancestral Blood," followed by the "Blood and Graves" interlude and chapter 6, "Ancestral Graves," explores the differential arrivant/Indigenous relationship to land and nativity discernible in the politics of memory regarding the blood and bones of their ancestors. For arrivants, in a Lockean twist, the blood of enslaved ancestors mixes with the soil to establish positive birthright status, whereas the ancestral graves of Indigenous peoples unsettles the colonial mapping of this regime by asserting the precolonial temporal persistence of Indigenous relationships to the land on their own terms.
In all, Native Land Talk is a needed intervention that shows the fruitlessness of efforts to split off a deeply interwoven, fraught history of settler colonialism and enslavement and thus of Indigenous and Black political agency. Ben-zvi also reveals how Indigenous and Black claims that undermine each other reproduce the mutual exclusivity of the Native/settler and Black/white binaries. At the same time, by my reading, Native Land Talk shows how the Native/settler and Black/white binaries are contained within each other, as one binary cannot exist without the other in the US context. With this in mind, we can consider the way in which whiteness is an inherently settler positionality and political identity in US settler society as in...