Against settler colonial patriarchy: Jennifer Nez Denetdale, ‘Refusing the Gift of Democracy and Embracing Diné Concepts of Kinship: The Navajo Nation, Citizenship, and Practices of Gender’, Theory & Event, 23, 4, 2020, pp. 1053-1065


Abstract: Critical Indigenous Studies scholars assert that our imperative is to support Native sovereignty and self-determination, especially as it is constituted under American settler occupation and to enact decolonization through theory and practice. However, as Indigenous feminist scholars demonstrate, Native nation-building must be understood historically as an American colonial project intended to remake Indigenous peoples into mirror images of citizens of western democracies that privilege heterosexual patriarchy. Patriarchy signifies how relations of dominance and subjection marks our lives, from our relationship to the land, to non-human beings and to each other. Indigenous adaptation to the structures of a settler government has meant presumed authority over all manners of Indigenous living under settler authority, including formations of intimate and domestic spaces where the categories of gender and sexuality have been naturalized as constructions of the binary—feminine/masculine. In order to build democratic Native nations, it was crucial to transform Indigenous ways of thinking and being to accept heteropatriarchy as the natural evolution of modern democracy. This essay addresses the construction of the modern Navajo nation’s intersection with gender, and how leadership, laws and policies shape citizenship and belonging in ways that exclude gender diversity. Beyond the constraints of living within nations that surveil how we belong as its citizens, I find that Diné and Indigenous forms of ceremony speak to my thinking on Navajo narratives of kinship and belonging and how these ways of belonging persist against formations of modern tribal nation-building that are rooted in settler colonialist formations. I marvel that the spaces of traditional ceremonies and Indigenous drag shows, seemingly different spaces, create similar feelings of freedom, love and compassion. What is it about these spaces that recreates and affirms a sense of belonging that belies the kinds of nationalist belonging to a nation that institutionalizes heteropatriarchy, to exact belonging and unbelonging by race and gender? Traditional Diné principles of K’é, of kinship and belonging, continue to be practices, whether it be in participation in the ceremonies of blessing and renewal, or in drag show performances. In these spaces we remember who we are: Diné who honor the teachings of our Holy People, through K’é. In those spaces of freedom, we imagine once again our capacity to be loving, generous and compassionate.

%d bloggers like this: