Mapping a “Separate Country”

New BedfordMarch has arrived, and with it, the usual swings between warm and cold. Yesterday the sun came out and the temperature rose to around 50. This morning we have snow showers.

I’ve been reading Reconstructing the Native South by Melanie Benson Taylor, and Separate Country by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Melanie Taylor maps the similarities and differences between the history and current experience of the European and Native South, ultimately postulating they are each struggling to find a collective, cohesive sense of Self amidst the wreckage and slavery imposed by the totalizing discourse and practices of capital. She further notes that given the centrality of slavery to the histories of both groups, the contemporary landscape of economic and cultural disenfranchisement may be seen as deeply ironic. Ironic, too, is that although Taylor addresses, to some extent, the plight of persons of African heritage, she seems to ignore southern Hispanics, and their history of displacement.

Cook-Lynn draws from a long and distinguished academic and socially engaged career to critique the academically popular idea of the Postcolonial. Rather than seeing Indian country as in recovery from a colonial past, she argues the forces of colonialism have never been stronger, nor their impacts more total. Rather than being an accurate reading of the current state of Native people, especially those on reserves, Cook-Lynn postulates the Postcolonial as arising from European-American academic desires to erase the historical and contemporary plight of Native peoples. Her response to the continued theft of Native lands and culture is to encourage Native people to insist all governments recognize and respect the sovereignty of tribal nations territories.

While Cook-Lynn is focused on the ongoing effects and practices of capital driven colonialism and cultural genocide as they affect Native people, Taylor generalizes these conditions, exploring their soul-numbing and soul-stealing influence in the lives of all North Americans, especially those in the South. She argues forcefully that the greed, avarice, and cultural hegemony created by the relentless expansion of the marketplace inevitably undermines Self for all people. This is most noticeable in the lives of persons of color and/or low income, who are simultaneously demeaned and erased as social beings. Further, she suggests, these same conditions continually undermine the development of Soul and Self in persons of all classes, threatening our very sense of “human” and connections to others. Under their influence, she suggests, we are left feeling alone and empty.

As I converse with clients I am reminded they are struggling to find Self in a world where personhood seems fragile and threatened. where experiences of vulnerability and loneliness cross ethnic and socioeconomic lines. In some ways, we are all “Indians”. Yet, as Lynn-Cook points out, we must resist the very totalizing influences that would erase Native people by equating Natives with everyone else. To put that another way, the melting pot effectively comodifies and erases everyone.

The problem of identity becomes even more exaggerated and difficult for Natives, and others, of mixed racial heritage. We are, physically and culturally, the melting pot. We are also individuals with unique histories and rich connections to family and culture. This is complex, for as Native people have long known, assimilation is both an avenue to survival and an act of genocide. Thus, Mixed-bloods are, in many ways, the bodies over which culture and power are contested. As North America becomes a land of Mixed-bloods, the racial, ethnic, economic, and cultural landscape will change, as will the conversations that occur in our communities and consulting rooms. I am curious as to how we will explore and sort out issues of personhood and sovereignty, map and establish the permeable yet clear boundaries required for cultural and personal experiences of Self and survivance.

8 thoughts on “Mapping a “Separate Country”

  1. Interesting. Cook-Lynn has a valid point. Of course, insisting that the government respect tribal sovereignty has a rather mixed record of success!

  2. I find it shocking that the author Cook-Lynn could even begin to suggest that the greedy capitalist colonials have similar problems finding “self” as do Native American Indians or as we in Canada say First Nations.
    I believe the solution may possibly be found in co-operative communities much like what was here before colonialism. \
    In Venezuela, they have paid off the world bank and are reclaiming their heritage and resources. CELAC invited the USA and Canada join but we declined. This is a group of South American countries and they are open to help those who need help. It may well worth investigating their methods. Who knows. Something has to change and I favor small communities that are self supporting in case of a capitalistic crash, I hope this is helpful..

    1. Laara,

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment.

      I think Cook-Lynn had in mind everyday people rather than the wealthy elites. She attempted to map the influence of greed on people living in the U.S. South, both Native and non. I failed to mention that part of her thesis is that the U.S. Civil War had the effect of dislocating much of Southern culture, and of impoverishing the South. This effect was similar in kind, if not in degree, to dislocations to Natives and Africans. She posits the thesis that the Civil War was actually a colonial expansion, following patterns of land acquisition and economic and political disenfranchisement that had been used against First Nations peoples throughout the Americas, and would be utilized in the Westward Expansion.

      Iceland seems to have found ways to undercut the greed and authority of Late Capitalism as well.


      1. Thank you Michael for your in depth explanation of Cook-Lynn’s thesis. I agree that the slavery, civil war as colonial advancement, the total war against the Native Indians….it is all very, very wrong. I believe we are on the cusp of a new type of social organization, that of small communities supporting and sustaining their residents. Vauban, Germany is almost an example of this. And I am hopeful when I hear about Venezuela and the CELAC movement.

        I retrack my “shocked that Lynn-Cook could suggest…”

        Thanks for taking the time to respond!

        Very best wishes!

      2. Laara,

        You are, of course, welcome. I like your vision of small, supportive communities. It is rather the opposite of the drift of global capital. We so need those communities and their support! I hope this vision of warm, interconnected villages catches on, becomes a fire that sweeps across the world.

  3. Thanks Michael! ” vision of small, supportive communities sweeping across the world!” My dream too!! It has begun – Venezuela and Alternative communities in Canada, the U.S.A, and even an eco village – Vauban, Germany!

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