The approach of this photo-journalist stands in stark contrast to the history of taking photos of Indigenous peoples, which was recently expressed beautifully in “No, not even for a picture.“
Dang, I was pretty wary about academia’s intentions toward Indigenous people before reading this, and this is disappointingly justifying that wariness. Nothing against you, OP. Does the syllabus really say just, go find an Indigenous person, any indigenous person, and ask them about their cultural knowledge? Is there… compensation for this knowledge? Or any sort of transparency in how it will be used? (Again, OP, I know you’re just trying to fulfill a school assignment; I’m not shooting the messenger here, but I’ve gotta say my piece about the message.)
I’d be really curious to see the questions that you were given, but I probably wouldn’t give my answers. If you feel comfortable, I would be okay with you sharing my sentiment with your instructor: It is a perversion of ethnobotany to approach it as though Indigenous knowledge is a resource, and not a framework with which to understand plants.
“Over the past two years, High Country News has located more than 99% of all Morrill Act acres, identified their original Indigenous inhabitants and caretakers, and researched the principal raised from their sale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We reconstructed approximately 10.7 million acres taken from nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities through over 160 violence-backed land cessions, a legal term for the giving up of territory[…]
“There would be no higher education as we know it in the United States without the original and ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands, just like there would be no United States,” said Sharon Stein, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “There is no moment or time or place or institution that is not deeply entangled with the violence of colonialism[…]”
To be sure, land-grant universities have accomplishments to celebrate[…] If it’s hard to deny that the Morrill Act expanded access to higher education, promoted economic development, and improved quality of life, it’s just as hard to believe that it all happened without cost[…]
“There’s a basic, underlying need for settlers in settler colonial states to have these kinds of mythological narratives about the benevolence of their own governments and about the progress that they supposedly brought to this place,” said Sharon Stein. “Having a conversation about the colonial foundations of those nation states really complicates those narratives, and it starts to bring into question our very right to be here and our right to make claims on this place and on the institutions that we are generally so attached to[…]”
In this context, Indigenous people are an inconvenient truth. If you look at the law and the treaties, then you raise an existential question about the United States and its very right to be here. It’s a question most people would rather ignore.
It’s disappointing to see that so many settler-folk are suddenly able to talk about Native issues, now that it could potentially affect them and their colonialism, in response to McGirt vs Oklahoma. Take a lesson from the ruling, wašíču, and step outside your little settler-sick thinking and make an appreciation for other cultures and other legitimate justice systems something you can’t forget. Better worlds than yours exist.