Education | Opinion

Kyle Mays: Rejecting narrow-minded views of indigenous studies

Students at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign attend press conference in support of controversial professor Steven G. Salaita. Photo from Kyle Mays / Twitter

Doctoral student Kyle Mays (Saginaw Chippewa / African-American) explains why he supports controversial professor Steven G. Salaita:
There is a narrative circulating within the larger field of Indigenous Studies that has questioned why faculty of American Indian Studies (AIS) hired Dr. Salaita. Indigenous people have asked, “Why did they hire him in the first place?” “What does he have to do with American Indian Studies?” Or, even worse, “we need to stay focused on our own issues” whatever that means.

This narrow-minded vision of Indigenous Studies -- a U.S.-centric, nation-state bound version -- is a problem, and is in direct contradiction to what many of our ancestors did historically to challenge colonialism. We must avoid the simplistic, nationalistic boundaries that some have placed on Indigenous Studies. In hiring Salaita, AIS sought to bring a scholar to illustrate the possibilities for Indigenous Studies for the next generation of scholars like me. The nation-state or myopic intellectual borders have never bound indigenous people; we’ve always been border-crossing (cultural, geographic, intellectual, linguistic, etc.) people. And so is Indigenous Studies.

In other words, to use the idea of literary scholar Chadwick Allen, we must be trans-indigenous, operating within and also beyond our own Indigenous communities, intellectual specialties, and nation-state boundaries. If historical figures like Dakota Charles Eastman -- and many before him -- did not exercise their trans-indigeneity, perhaps we would not have witnessed the explosion of transnational Indigenous comparisons. To utilize the comparative, global perspective in Indigenous Studies is to also embrace -- to use the idea of Scott Richard Lyons -- Indigenous modernity.

Get the Story:
Kyle Mays: Reject Simplistic, Nationalistic Notions of Indigenous Studies (Indian Country Today 9/28)

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