David Shorter: Learning not to speak on behalf of Native people

David Shorter. Photo from Facebook

Professor David Shorter comes to terms with his identity and his support for indigenous causes:
I was both an undergraduate and graduate student in American Indian Studies, particularly within Religious Studies at Arizona State University. This was the 1990s and identity politics had the type of traction leading to scholarships, financial aid, and preferential hiring. Being both in Religious Studies and Indigenous Studies provided a doubly difficult balancing act: in Religious Studies we struggled to be non-believers simply studying the how people were religious.

In Indigenous Studies, we were expected to learn and help a particular community, learning language and culture when invited to do, essentially dance along the border of cultural insider and outsider. Many of us were taught that scholarship offered limited practical help to Indigenous communities, but that we could ideally do both, produce research that helped counter the centuries of written misrepresentations and collaborate with Native peoples in local ways. Our success in these challenging goals varies across my generation.

Where these two paths crossed were the instances when our value to the academic world was based upon our racial, ethnic, and national identities. Was my work with the Yoeme (Yaqui) people better, more useful, more reliable, etc. if I was a Yoeme person? While they were very challenging (more than words can ever convey), those years as a graduate student were incredibly valuable for how they led me to learn how to say something so very simple and powerful: “I’m not an Indian.”

Get the Story:
David Shorter: Four Words for Andrea Smith: 'I’m Not an Indian' (Indian Country Today 7/1)

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