top of page

Ep #1: All My Relations & Indigenous Feminism


MATIKA WILBUR: Hi, I'm Matika! I belong to the Swinomish and Tulalip people. I'm a photographer and the creator of Project 562.

ADRIENNE KEENE: And I'm Adrienne, I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a scholar and the writer behind the blog Native Appropriations.

This is All My Relations. Welcome.

MATIKA: All My relations is a podcast to explore relationships or relationships to land identity ancestors into one another.

ADRIENNE: In this space, we talk with amazing inspiring Natives to explore indigeneity, in all its complexities.

MATIKA: Thank you so much for joining us and tuning in. We're so glad that you're here. And let's just start out by saying, in case nobody's told you today, you're awesome, you're amazing, and you are so loved, and even more loved for clicking play on this podcast. Relatives, we have a really good pilot episode of the All My Relations podcast for you. We dive right in to discuss the concept “all my relations'' and how we approach the determining factors that lead to choosing this topic. By way of introduction, we discuss why representation matters to Adrienne and I and we learn how Urban Outfitters lead to AKʻs aha moment, we'll discuss why we are committed to representation work, even if it means consenting to learn in public. Next, we discuss the origins of Project 562, and how it affects the lives of the people that I care about. We gently transition into our discussion about Indigenous feminism, and you can listen as Adrienne gets super academic about colonization. She summarizes it well though, by describing it as yʻall left, but you left a big mess or y'all never left. We'll quickly discuss a few basic understandings of our current state as tribal nations and leave you with some overview of what's to come for the rest of season one. So thanks again for joining us, please like, share, subscribe, if you're into it, we like that.

Origins: All My Relations

ADRIENNE: Let's talk about all my relations. Why are we calling our podcast this? What's the story behind the name?

MATIKA: Thatʻs a good question, Adrienne. You know, “all my relations”s is a pretty popular topic throughout Indian country, definitely popularized by Lakota, Nakota, Dakota relatives. But actually, we know what that all throughout in Indian country and really, particularly, for me, in my travels, I've found that our primary identity is inextricably connected to our relationships, whether it be our relationships to land, or if we're defining ourselves as the people of the blue-green water, or the people of the tall pine trees or the people that live within the four sacred mountains or for us here, the people of clear saltwater, the people of the tide, that relationship to land, and water is our primary way of identifying ourselves. And then of course, we also see ourselves as our grandmother's granddaughters, and we see our role and responsibility and purpose, directly connected to our lineage. And I wanted to really explore this topic, because I think it's one of the best ways for us to uncover what those identities really are. And understand that all throughout Indian country, we have that, that understanding. I'm thrilled and excited to be talking about this concept with each and every one of our guests and also to be introducing this concept to not just our own Indigenous communities, but the visitors that now live here also.

ADRIENNE: Using that as the backbone for the podcast is really powerful because, as you said, it is something that we share across Indian country, these ideas of being relational people. Of not existing without being in relationship to a place, to people, to culture, it's always about those relationships.

MATIKA: We don't always have to reinvent the wheel. You know, there's these old concepts in our communities that we continue to pass down and continue to talk about, because these concepts were taught to us and we have a responsibility as our grandmothers granddaughters to continue to carry the conversations forward that were shared with us. I was raised with a very strong understanding of my place in my community as, as a member of the Wilbur family, as a member of the Joseph family. And also, you know, as a person of the tide as a person of the salmon people. And my relationship in my identity is deeply rooted in those concepts. And in our language in [need spelling] the way we say all my relations is [need spelling] and that concept I actually had to go back to the linguist in my community and ask them, you know, could you could you tell me how to say this? Because, you know, I, like many in our community, wasnʻt raised with the opportunity to have access to my own language. And so I think part of what we would like to explore in this project is, is talking with some of our guests about how, and one talks about their relationships in their own community.

ADRIENNE: And I know for me, as someone who grew up without those relationships, without the connection to community, not knowing what it meant to be a Cherokee woman to be a Cherokee person that has been the biggest anchor in my reconnecting journey is building and finding those relationships. So when we were talking about, okay, what are the equivalents to these concepts in our communities in our language, I had no idea. I had to go to my friend Patrick, Patrick del perseo, who works for Cherokee Nation doing translation. And I asked him what the equivalents would be in our language, and Iʻll try to pronounce it,Iʻm gonna stumble through them. He gave me three phrases, and I think they all kind of relate to different aspects of this idea of “all all my relations”, or “we're all related”. So sorry, Patrick, [need spelling for the Cherokee parts] which means let us all be careful with one another's wellbeing, or like, Let's love one another. Um, so I think that's beautiful. And then [need spelling again], which means Let's all hold one another as being sacred or important to one another. And then the last one is [need spelling] which means we all belong, or are all related to one another. I love that in our community, that there are these ways of thinking relationally as well, and that there are foundational concepts. And just the knowledge that is encapsulated in that like the idea of let us all be careful with one another's wellbeing is the translation of let us all love one another, I think is really beautiful. There's something very powerful about learning that understanding, too, and figuring out what it means to be in relationship, and how we each relate to these ideas of all my relations differently.

ADRIENNE: Both of us are people who care really deeply about representations and how our communities and our families and the just Indigenous people overall are represented in media and society. So maybe we can each talk a little bit about where those interests come from, and why we think that it's important, and then what we kind of hoped to do with this space of the podcast.

MATIKA: And really, why representations matter? Go ahead, Adrienne.

ADRIENNE: The like, the origin story, or like the creation story of Native Appropriations, always starts with me going to graduate school. And I was a first year doctoral student at Harvard. I had come from California. Yeah, Harvard. I had come from California, where I was at Stanford, and there's a big Native community there and a really diverse Native community, the campus still has a lot of work to do, but recognizes that Native people are there and are on the campus. And at Harvard, that just was not the case. I was the only Native doctoral student at the entire Graduate School of Education. There I think were only two other Native doctoral students at all 13 schools of Harvard. For the first time I had this very shocking reality check that most people don't know anything about Natives at all and don't encounter anything to do with Native people and hold really deep stereotypes about who we are. Those stories that you always hear people saying, “Oh, I thought you were all extinct or I thought you didn't exist anymore” actually happened to me during orientation. [I] had a classmate say, well, in the US, we just killed them all. That's why we don't have to deal with them anymore. Yeah, he was talking about versus Canada where, you know, they still have to “deal with them” up there. And so across the street from campus is an Urban Outfitters and you used to be able to cut through the Urban Outfitters to get to the other side of Harvard Square and so I would do that often. And one day, I was walking through the bargain basement sale area, and it was cultural appropriation [central]. Yeah, I remember this platform of totem pole jewelry stands. And then there were these neon dreamcatchers that were made in India, which I thought was ironic, fake mukluks, and t-shirts that had headdresses on them. And these dreamcatcher earrings. And just this total mishmash of awfulness, and something kind of clicked that day. And I was like, there's a connection here between the fact that right across the street from Harvard is this Urban Outfitters with all this fake Native crap and then my classmates don't know that Native people still exist. I'd always been someone who was interested in Native art design and the ways that weʻre represented in museum spaces. But then I decided that I wanted to start exploring more of these things that we see every day and don't really stop to question so the Urban Outfitters stuff, or the logos of sports teams, or on packages, or whatever, to start to make a case that all of these images collectively matter. And this is what people think about us, and that it affects everything that we're trying to do in our communities and trying to change is colored by the fact that non-Natives only think of us as those fake stereotypes. Once I started really digging in, you pull back the cover and then there is just it, it goes so, so deep. And it carries over in every sector in society. And if we want to make big strides in our communities, if we want to work towards goals of decolonization, of revitalization, we can't do that if in most settlersʻ minds, we're just these stock stereotypes that are rooted in cartoons and westerns, and the past.

MATIKA: So you decided to write about it.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. early days of the blog, were me, literally taking pictures of things. And I didn't really know what I was writing about or how to talk about it, because cultural appropriation was a phrase that I had come across in my anthropology classes. Back in 2010, when I started the blog, it wasn't the conversation that it is now people didn't know about it, I didn't even really know how to talk about it. So a lot of the blog posts are questions, I'll be like, I think this is bad, do you? And then slowly, through years, I kind of found my voice and my confidence on being able to talk about it more. And also work in these other conversations about identity and about health and about relationships, or whatever it is, that still to me, are related to these issues of representation. So it's now been eight years of writing the blog, almost 400 blog posts later. The conversation has definitely changed. I feel like the public knows more about cultural appropriation now, but the instances haven't stopped, there's still a lot of work to be done.

MATIKA: The idea of identity is really interesting to me is that it's the way I see myself, now myself come to know myself and then also the way that you see me. If I see myself in one way, and the world sees me entirely differently, thenthat means that our children are going to always have a conflict when they encounter folks in any space outside of their own comfortable identity space. In your con-, in your story about walking into urban outfitters and I'm sure 1000 other spaces, you know, that is a perfect example of how that is a it's like stirring inside all of us all the time and it's constantly around us and and then I love what you said about needing to have representation available, because we don't very, and very rarely we don't have the opportunity to see ourselves reflected in massive media, so when we turn on the television or when we listen to a podcast, or when we turn on the radio, or we see we open the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, it's very rare that we encounter any sort of publication or syndication that represents us, by Native people, self-identifying Native people that have a connection to community. How does that affect our children? And how does that affect our lives is a big part of the reason we're doing this is that so that, hopefully, there's some young Native folks out there that will have the opportunity to listen and engage and non-Natives as well. Right. So, Adrienne, before I tell why Iʻm doing this, tell us like, how Native Appropriations, writing the blog and, well, that learning journey you've been on has really, how it's shaped you and and what you've learned and why you're still committed to this work.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. I mean, I've learned so much in the process about, I mean, from the basics and the mechanics of like, how you build an audience and how you use your voice to actually make change, and how to use Twitter, like, all those basic things have been really important. But it's also been such a journey of, I guess, just finding my own comfort in my voice and my identity. And I think that's the power of like having our two voices together is that we come from such different Native backgrounds. Like for me growing up in suburban white, San Diego, where no other Natives around that I knew of, and then, because I'm white-coding and white passing, like, nobody even knew I was Native. So to be able to kind of own that, and not be embarrassed or ashamed by that and just realize that my perspective as a Native person is valid, because it is a Native perspective, because I am a Native person, and that being able to just sort of like release that shame of like, I didn't grow up with my traditions, I didn't grow up in ceremony, I didn't grow up with access to a lot of that stuff. But that's okay and not my fault. And the writing, I think, was what really allowed for that, that process of learning to happen for me. And to realize that there are a lot of other people like me, too, and that they feel those same feelings that I feel and that they're valid and important, and that those feelings of like shame and embarrassment are all part of the settler-colonial project, like we are supposed to feel that way. So I think the writing has been important for that. And just being able to find my voice, in general, and learn how to learn publicly. And that's something I talk a lot about on the blog is consenting to learn in public and what that feels like, and messing up publicly and learning how to apologize publicly. And those sorts of things have been really important, and carried through to my academic work, as well.

MATIKA: I'm super excited to be doing this with you, Adrienne. You have to know that I first discovered Adrienne, when I was first starting Project 562 and I found her on the internet and started reading her blogs. I was like, Oh my God, Who is this woman, I have to know her. I was so excited because I cannot. I don't think I'd ever in before reading your blog. I had never encountered a blog that was authored by a Native woman. And so it was so powerful for me. And then I got to meet you later in Arizona when after I'd started this project. And so I, back then would not have imagined that we'd be here in Seattle, doing a podcast. So how exciting. I'm super. Like, I love that. Yeah.

ADRIENNE: So tell us about the origins of Project 562.

MATIKA: Yes, yes, yes. Well, first, let me explain what it is -It's an effort to, to create a collection of images and stories that represent all of the tribes in the United States. Now, when I say that, you have to be careful the way I say that, because it would be, I think, impossible for me to represent all of the tribes in the United States. When I started this project, I thought, well, I'll go visit the federally recognized tribes, and at the time, there was 562 federally recognized tribes. And when I made the decision to visit federally recognized tribes, I was like, Well, if I visit state recognized tribes, like I don't know how I'll find them. So I'm gonna go to the places where there's an address listed, and that's why I chose that number. Now, when I think about it, I realize it's short-sighted, because now that I've been on the road for over five years, I've also gone to visit urban Indian centers and many state recognized tribes and also, you know, like communities that identify as tribes that maybe have a much different understanding of tribalism than I do. And so I think when I'm done with this project, I will have been to like 750 tribal communities, a ton. Project 562 started because I was a teacher at the tribal school on my rez. And I didn't start off really wanting to be a teacher, actually, you know, I started off, I studied photography in school, and advertising. And I did like we all do, when we go to a commercial program, I was trained to become a photographer that makes money. And I remember, distinctly remember, one of my professors saying to me, if you want to make money, you should photograph more white people, because you need skinny white women, a lot of them in your portfolio, if you want to work. That's what I did. And so when I graduated from college, I had this, I had this portfolio of really, really skinny white women. And then I went to Los Angeles, and I started working in advertising and celebrity photography. And, and I remember this one day, I was getting off on Sunset and La Brea. And I looked up at this, at this ad that I had created. And it was this woman who when we photographed her was crying on set, because she was so hungry. And I was like, Girl, it's not a big deal. I'll get you some carrots, you know, like, we have beautiful catering. And she was like, Oh, no, I don't, I don't eat. I don't eat before photoshoots. And I just remember thinking like, I can't believe I'm participating in this. And then I looked up at the ad a couple months later, and it said, live the life you've always wanted. And I immediately quit my job. And I did like you're supposed to do when you're having a sort of existential early life crisis, I went to South America. I traveled around, I got to meet a lot of really great Indigenous people, photographing them. And it was there, when I was there, working with Indigenous folks that I had this realization that I hadn't even photographed my own people. Because I come from a small community called Swinomish is my mom's tribe and Tulalip is my dad's. And we're island people, weʻre people of the tide, we’re people that rely on our relationship with the water for life. And when I left this community, I really didn't want to have anything to do with the rez when I left. And that's a whole different story. But it was many years later, that I finally came home and started photographing my own people. So I did some large exhibitions, I had a show here at the Seattle Art Museum. And then the elders in my community came to me, they said Matika we want you to be a teacher. We want you to work with these kids. And I said, I don't even like kids. And they said you don't have to teach ‘em. So I got the job and it turned out I love kids. I had a great time teaching while I was teaching. They said you know, we'd like you to put together an Indigenous curriculum, because I was teaching photography and, and oral narratives and we were actually doing photography, filmmaking and music. And I could not pull enough images from Native photographers at the time to put together a full year's worth of curriculum. And I certainly didn't want to teach from Edward S. Curtis or from Aaron Huey or from, you know, these terrible misrepresentations of Indigenous culture. And I didn't even at the time, I didn't even have the language to explain why I couldn't use it. I just knew that when I showed my students, Aaron Huey’s TED Talk, or pictures of Edward S. Curtis, that he had made, that my students had a visceral reaction of tears of receding into themselves, of feeling uncomfortable, of disassociation, of not wanting to participate and so I had to stop showing that type of imagery, because I was losing my students. In fact, I was literally losing my students, like we had so much death in our community. I buried so many of my own students. And I remember we would like we'd be asking ourselves, what are we doing wrong? You know, we'd be sitting in those lodges and praying and we'd have group meetings and we had meetings with the school board and we were constantly, it felt like constantly in angst and struggle, why are students killing themselves? What is happening? What are we doing wrong? And it was around that time that I was introduced to Stephanie Fryberg. And she doesn't know, she probably wouldn't even remember that the things that she was teaching I was in, but she was talking about representations and her work as a social scientist, and as a psychologist and her research, and she discovered the ways that representation was affecting our students. In fact, her studies found that they reduce the self-esteem of our Native students when shown false representations. When we had this realization, it was decided, we need more images, we need enough for a full year's worth of curriculum, so we can teach our students about themselves from our own perspective. And so if we start in Washington, and we just represent the tribes in Washington, how are they going to learn about Pueblo culture? How will they know about [need spelling]? How will they know about Dakotas? Or what's happening with the Wampanoags?Or the Seminoles or the Miccosukees? Or the Cherokees? Or how are they going to learn these things if we don't teach them. But in order to do that, we need representation from all of those places, and we can't, there is no Native American, there is no American Indian, those things don't exist. What exists is our original understandings of ourselves and so we have to understand those individually. And so that was why it was decided I would go to all of the tribes and when it was brought up, they're like, well, you're a photographer, you can go visit all of the tribes. Like, yeah, I have a fabulous apartment that I love, I just bought a pottery barn couch, I have a 401k. And like, I don't know, I got homies here in Seattle, I’m not tryna go anywhere. And, um, and they were like, well, if you don't do it, who's gonna do it? And so, we prayed about it. And, and then we decided, we, that's what we do, just like that. And I've been on the road ever since. And so for me, representations matter because they affect the lives of people that I love, in very real ways, in the sense that our bodies are affected, our safety of body is affected by the way that we're perceived, and our lives are valued and if Supreme Court judges, and Congress and the people that hold power in this country, know nothing about us and make decisions for us, that ultimately incarcerate us, or violate our bodies as women, and we end up, you know, with these terrible statistics are three out of four of our women are sexually assaulted, and our kids continue to commit suicide and we have these major social disparities, and achievement gaps. And those are my cousins and my best friends. And then it matters to me. And so representation is not the answer to all things, but it's what I can do, because I'm a photographer, and an educator. And so this is how I contribute, because I do think it matters.

Indigenous Feminism

ADRIENNE: Maybe we could talk a little bit about our relationships to this idea of feminism, and what it means as Native women to have that relationship.

MATIKA: Mm hmm. It's really fascinating to me to talk about feminism in general, because I don't generally identify as a feminist because when I think of feminists, I think of white women. And I think of the ways that Indigenous women were very much excluded from the benefits of the feminist movement. In my own snarky way, I've sort of rejected self proclaiming myself a feminist that when I say that from the stage that I would don't identify as a feminist people just get all worked up. I mean, people are aghast, they give me their crazy face when I say that, you know, and once I explain what, what we've just talked about here, then they kind of calm down a little bit, but it's still very frowned upon. And it's something I've had I've really grappled with I haven't. I haven't like, really openly and loudly discussed this topic on my blog, or, you know, with my tweeting fingers, not that I'm a tweeter. I'm a terrible Tweeter, but you know, just out loud. I haven't really had this conversation publicly.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. I think that's interesting, because you are one of the most feminist people I know, in terms of your desire for women and folks who are marginalized for their gender identities to be their full selves and to be able to have their roles in communities. And I think for me, I have very similar feelings. Like the feminists, the self proclaimed feminists in college were not people I wanted to hang out with. They were largely privileged white women, young women who were very obsessed with talking about their [unclear]. Like it just was something, this concept. And it took me many years of trying to understand why that made me so deeply uncomfortable and why I didn't feel like that was an identity that I could hold. And it really was reading other Indigenous feminists that brought me to my place of identity as an Indigenous feminist. And so, I think about people like Jessica Yee, now Danforth, who works with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and she was one of my early like Internet idols, like wrote some really amazing blog posts about what it means to be an Indigenous feminist. Um, so I realized that like, white feminism and white feminists, like you don't have to be white to be white feminists. I think white feminism is this idea of a lot of ways that your identity as woman should supersede your other identities. And this fight against patriarchy. But patriarchy is this sort of, like, nebulous thing that just sort of exists, and you're fighting against it. But the difference is for Indigenous communities, we know exactly what brought patriarchy into our communities. And that was colonialism. Like, we didn't have this history of oppression of women in our communities prior to settler-colonialism. We can imagine an otherwise, because we have a history of that, like, we have a model of what it looks like to not live in a patriarchal society. And mainstream feminism doesn't acknowledge that role of colonialism. So to me, to be an Indigenous feminist means that I'm not just fighting against patriarchy, I'm fighting against colonialism.

MATIKA: Can I just ask you to describe colonialism, what that concept means to you.

ADRIENNE: Like, no, that's important. Yeah. During the summer, the past couple of summers, I've taught this class for a program called College Horizons scholars, which is incredible. And it's for Native students that are about to start their freshman year of college. And I teach a lecture course called Settler-colonialism, Resistance, and Resilience. And it is so fun, because it's, for me as an instructor, is like the only time I need to teach a room of all Native students. And we get to talk about the experiences that we have. And I can arm them with the tools that they're going to need when they're going into college to like, realize that the spaces they’re in are colonial spaces. So we talk about colonialism has two different forms, there's extractive colonialism and settler colonialism. I'm getting academic at the moment. But extractive colonialism is what happened in places like in a lot of different countries in Africa, or in India, or in places where an outside nation-state, so like Britain, or Belgium, or whatever came in, and they extracted resources from this already existing place to send back to their home countries. So it built up the wealth and the power of that home country. And they establish a presence in those places and took over, but didn't establish a new nation-state there versus what happened in the US and Canada and Australia, and New Zealand, is the idea of destroying in order to replace. So that’s settler-colonialism where these folks came in, and they completely wiped out what was there in order to build a new nation-state. On top of that, the phrase that I gave my students is for extractive colonialism is the idea that y'all left but you left a big mess behind. And in settler colonialism, it's y'all never left.

MATIKA: And y'all came violently, too.

ADRIENNE: Right, in both situations, very violently. And so settler colonialism means that every single structure in what is currently known as the United States is an outside construction. It's not something that comes from within our communities. And we're obviously still here and still existing, but we are having to operate under a foreign power that was built on top of us without our consent.

MATIKA: So when you talk about Indigenous feminism and resisting colonialism, you're talking in a lot of ways about restoring our original identities and our original agreements with our own people, our land, our relationship-based identity and in those original agreements, we had built into our societies, a space in society that I would not say was the lacked equality, because, if feminism is the fight for equality between men and women, then I don't I would not say that that was an issue at all, like Adrienne said, until colonialism arrived here because for me as a Potlatch person, and as a longhouse person, we had very distinct and important and prominent roles, decision-making roles, power-holding roles in these societies. And I wouldn't go as far as to say that we were a matriarchal society, but rather that we were a balanced society. And so if I'm fighting for any type of rights, it's the right to restore that balance that was here, pre-1800s for us.

ADRIENNE: Because like, a lot of the mainstream feminist icons, like if you think of like the suffragists and stuff, like they were hella racist, and like, really, were fighting to exclude Black women from getting the vote, or whatever it was, and so those values are not something that I want to necessarily identify with. And I think the other misunderstanding is that a lot of times, non-Native folks look at our communities and the traditional roles that were assigned to different genders in our communities and see that as somehow being oppressive, without understanding that the entire cultural structures that go around it mean that the work of women was valued at the same level as the work of men, and that having those different spaces and roles wasn't necessarily oppressive. So the women like being in charge of the cooking, and the gathering was not seen as lesser than the men who are going to hunt. And also the fact that our communities traditionally had roles for folks who didn't necessarily fit into either of those gender roles. And that's something that our settler society has not figured out, obviously. And that that is part of Indigenous feminism too is having a space for folks who don't necessarily fit into a gender binary as well, because our communities understood that.

MATIKA: Right, we had, in some of our communities, five genders.

ADRIENNE: And yeah, so it's interesting when I asked my high school students, like if they identify as being feminists, they definitely don't, the Native high schoolers, but once we talk about this understanding of what Indigenous feminism is, and how it relates to our more, I don't even like using the word like traditional quote, unquote, like our, our community understandings of gender, I think it changes the way that they think about this relationship a lot. To be an Indigenous woman means that you understand that women have an equal position, an important position, have important roles deserve important roles, and that your community recognizes that, it's totally fine for you to just identify as an Indigenous woman, because inherent in that is an understanding of equality and gender roles that is not in mainstream white society. If it's the label that is uncomfortable, I think, clearly, everything that you do and your values and what you enact is, what would be called feminist. It's just a label of being an Indigenous woman covers all of those things.

MATIKA: Yeah, and that's so complicated, too. You know, in some communities, I've gone to, we see where there's a, you know, that the colonial thumbprint has become so deeply ingrained, that at times we adopt these principles, and we think they're our own. And so patriarchy is very alive and well in Indian country. And, you know, and in many of our communities, because we had to adopt a Western form of government to maintain our sovereign status, you know, that form of government, given that it's mostly male driven, and an electoral system, and, you know, our people were equally affected by Western concepts and ideas, those belief systems have not necessarily been wiped from our memory or wiped from the way that we're practicing as governments, as communitie, as societies. I would love to see an original order restored to my own community, where we move away from electoral system and go back to more of a clan leader chief, matriarchal system, where the clan mothers choose the chiefs. That to me is a very functional system and they're accountable to the clan mothers, like Haudenosaunee country, where they are still practicing a traditional government, and the clan mothers do still choose the chiefs and the best thing about that to me is that if the chiefs aren’t acting right, the clan mothers revoke their chieftainship. Is that a word? Chieftainship? Chief, chiefy? Chiefiness?

ADRIENNE: Yeah, their role as chief

MATIKA: They get chief-ed. That's dope that there's another way of doing things that's really functional and can be restored. And that to me is what I would love to work towards.

ADRIENNE: I don’t think people realize that like, our tribal constitutions were required by the federal government. So like the Indian Reorganization Act in the 1930s, like, the federal government said, in order to be a tribe, you have to have a tribal constitution. And they handed over these boilerplate constitutions that were modeled after the US Constitution and were like, this is how your tribal governments gonna work, you have to have the main leader, and you have to have a council and they're elected in this way and if you want to make your own constitution, you can, but it has to be approved by us and like, go ahead. But of course, during that time was like such a time of upheaval in our communities of land removals, and all sorts of things. So a lot of tribes still have this boilerplate tribal constitution that doesn't match their traditional form of governance. at all. And. so there wasn't an understanding that, of course, our societies functioned for thousands of years, prior to having a piece of paper that laid out this electoral system. And some of the communities that have continued to use it, it makes sense because it actually matches closely to their traditional governance system. And traditionally, they did have a main leader and a council that functioned in the same way and it was done by consensus and vote and so that made sense. But there's 570 plus different tribes, and we all had different ways of governance. So those systems come with them the assumption of patriarchy that, of course, you're going to follow the western model, which is men are in control, and it's voted on in this quote, unquote, democratic way, but that's not necessarily matching traditional values at all.

MATIKA: When we're on the healing road, it starts with learning our creation story, and that goes for Indigenous people and for non Indigenous people because the space that we occupy, has an Indigenous creation story and a place-based identity. All of us should learn the creation story and the place-based identity of the place that we're occupying, and figure out our role and place in that story and how to contribute to the reawakening of that agreement.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. And that made me think of Wayne Yang and Eve Tuck in their piece, which is called “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor” - it's a very powerful article I work with my students on, but they talk about how the difference between Indigenous people and settlers is that Indigenous people have origin stories have creation stories and settlers have colonization stories. So you have as an Indigenous person, the story of where you come from and how you came to be of a place. And for settlers, the only stories that they have are how their ancestors came to this place through a process of colonization and that that is the stark difference between settlers and Indigenous people is that relationship to land and being of the land, coming from the land versus coming to it in process of settling and that relationship really shows in all of the ways that settlers deal with the land and the people who come from it.


MATIKA: Adrienne, do I have a question for Adrienne? Adrienne, could you tell us a little bit about where you live and what you currently do?

ADRIENNE: Oh yeah, I guess that's important. I live in Providence, Rhode Island, which is Wampanoag and Narragansett lands I'm a faculty member at Brown University, where I teach in American Studies and ethnic studies and I am one of three Native faculty on campus, three Native women and we hold it down

And I had to teach really amazing students about Indigenous education, Indigenous representations, new media, critical race theory? Okay, Matika. What is something that you see in your travels and work that makes you excited about the future of Indian country?

MATIKA: You know, I mean, I am just so excited about all of the work I see happening in all of our communities, like the artists that I get to me to like Jared yazzie, and the work of Louis Gong, and the films that are being made, like [need name] was doing this dope film, “Call Me By My Name”.And, and I get super excited about all of the creative product projects that are coming that are like, I'm really excited to see how they are being unveiled. And I'm also really excited about the fact that we are living in a time where it's legal to be an Indian, you know, like, I was at canoe journey recently and the most beautiful thing happened the night before it ended. This canoe family brought in this dugout canoe and the kids spent three years digging out this canoe for the purpose of giving it away. And so, these kids were sort of weeping, and with joy, and I'm sure a little loss and sorrow about what they were doing as they carried it in and it was the middle of the night, and they said, “We made this for you, thank you for hosting us.”

And then the elder got up there and he said, “You know, when I was growing up, I never saw this. You know, I didn't ever I never saw canoes on the water. I didn't have the opportunity to hear my songs. I never, I never felt this feeling. I never stood before a council of elders and got to present in my language who I am. And now I look at these kids. And I've realized that they'll never be able to say that, though, they're always going to have this inside of them in their memory that when they were children, they dug out a canoe. They sang the songs that propelled it. They know how to speak the words to our ancestors and know these prayers.”

He says “I can, I can die now feeling happy, knowing that that's what's in store for us in the future”.

And so I think he said it best.

Shoutout Tacoma Art Museum!

MATIKA: Season one of All My Relations is being recorded at the Tacoma Art Museum, yayyyyy!

ADRIENNE: And we’re really grateful for the opportunity to be in this space, because it's definitely a space that Matika has had a really long relationship with.

MATIKA: To me, I think it's the best model and best possible outcome for a relationship between an artist and an institution like this. I think that the institution has a responsibility, especially when they are plopped on the illegally occupied lands of the Puyallup tribe, to foster, kindle, nourish and give back to its tribal community and I think TAM has done a really good job of that.

ADRIENNE: Well, thank you all so much for listening and for joining us. We're really appreciative of your support of this new project.

MATIKA: For real, we love you and we're super grateful for you. Tune in for our next episode as we bring our first guest into the studio, the amazing Valerie Segrest and start to think about the things we put in our bodies. Not those things you know, I'm talking about the food thing. We're talking about Indigenous foods, y'all, and you're going to love it. To support this podcast. subscribe, rate us on iTunes, comment, share it with your friends, your mama, share it with all your relations. But for sure, be sure to follow us on the Gram at @allmyrelationspodcast. We also put together a comprehensive blog post to accompany this episode on our website,, where you can find links to comment and reach out to us. Of course you're welcome to follow us individually. Dr. Keene is on Twitter @NativeApprops and I’m @MatikaWilbur or @project_562

Follow us on social media:

Support the show:

Listen to the next episode here!

4,386 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page