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  • #EquityOutdoorsPublic Lands and the Decolonial Mediascape
  • Ashley E. Reis (bio)

In her introduction to An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (2014), Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz models a practical rhetorical position on the United States’ history of colonialism. “To say that the United States is a colonialist settler-state,” she writes, “is not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless Indigenous peoples are erased” (7). Actively attending to and viscerally contending with the historical reality that “the great civilizations of the Western Hemisphere, the very evidence of the Western Hemisphere, were wantonly destroyed, the gradual progress of humanity interrupted and set upon a path of greed and destruction” is both a necessity and a responsibility to the ancestors and descendants of all parties, she declares (1). To seek what Dunbar-Ortiz calls “a history of redemption and reconciliation” is a disingenuous and harmful neocolonial maneuver that erases the true essence of the historical narrative in favor of a scripted origin story, which forms a vital core of US settler colonial identity and the values that guide the United States as a nation. On the other hand, approaching US histories and contemporary political realities from a position that acknowledges the United States’ “history of settler colonialism,” and that “the founding of [this] state [was] based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft” (2), challenges the “laziness of the default position and the trap of a mythological unconscious belief in manifest destiny” (6).

Despite the harmful nature of the unconscious belief in manifest destiny and the colonial agenda as a whole, Dunbar-Ortiz attends [End Page 63] to the powerful history of Indigenous nations that have, through acts of resistance and resilience, survived to bear witness to the United States’ settler colonial history and neocolonial present (7). The physical removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands combined with the United States’ violent forces of assimilation and annihilation was a central tenet of US settler colonial expansion and the creation of the United States’ public lands system. As Kyle Powys Whyte explains, to this day these structures of oppression “wrongfully [interfere] with Indigenous capacities to maintain an adaptive capacity in their homelands” (359). In turn, this interference comes to bear on Indigenous relational responsibilities and necessities, for public lands have always been Native lands. Despite this interference, the narrative thread that deserves attention is indeed that of Native nations and communities that have resisted genocidal policies and maintained fundamental values and sovereignty by way of both defensive and offensive means (Dunbar-Ortiz 6). Modern and contemporary Indigenous nations and communities have constituted themselves, in Dunbar-Ortiz’s words, “by their resistance to colonialism, through which they have carried their practices and histories” (7). Indeed, despite both the historical and contemporary challenges posed by the United States’ history of colonialism and current practices of neocolonialism, Indigenous peoples have enacted and continue to achieve resilience, opening up possibilities for decolonial futures. This essay introduces merely one facet of a vast and nuanced resilience, or “the capacity for successful adaptation, positive functioning or competence . . . despite high-risk status, chronic stress, or following prolonged or severe trauma” (Egeland, Carlson, and Sroufe 517). Whyte advances the concept of resilience within its nonwestern, Indigenous context as “collective continuance,” or “a society’s overall adaptive capacity to maintain its members’ cultural integrity, health, economic vitality, and political order into the future and avoid having its members experience preventable harms” (355). Within an unprecedented moment of confluence between politics and rhetoric, as a result of these Indigenous activists and their efforts, collective continuance and decolonial possibilities are bearing out materially on US public lands. [End Page 64]

Indigenous activists and activist communities are enacting contemporary resistance to settler colonialism by mapping out a relationship between US public lands and their Indigenous histories within a digital landscape that reworlds homelands occupied by the settler state and reflects the reverential essence of the relationships between these lands and their first peoples. Indigenous collective continuance is evident specifically within the context of Indigenous individuals’ and...


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pp. 63-78
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