Project Runway is a guilty pleasure of mine – I’m not generally a huge fan of the reality tv genre, but I do love shows that showcase expertise (Julia Child on The French Chef is my tv chicken soup when I’m sick.) This season, a native woman, Patricia Michaels, made it to the final round of the show, and was quite vocal about the importance of “a native woman showing in her own country.”
Today, I had the pleasure of attending the Rethinking Land and Language symposium at Columbia. Through two round tables – one on the idea of land, and one on the idea of language in native studies – panelists discussed the current state of indigenous studies. I’m a latecomer to the field – most of my familiarity with indigenous studies has been born of the article I’m finishing on the Cherokee and Choctaw donations to Irish famine relief – so I spent most of the day scribbling down references for things I must read, and must do, before this article gets sent out. Even so, one of the most significant moments for me was J. Kēhaulani Kauanui talking about the ways in which the historical profession sometimes treats colonialism, and particularly the colonization of native peoples, as an historical, rather than a present phenomenon. The audience was challenged to think about why scholars who write about native peoples don’t engage with theories of indigeneity, and why early modern Americanists in particular seem reluctant to present at native studies conferences. There’s a lot to think about coming out of this symposium, but I was happy to see, when I got home to watch Project Runway, the presence of native voices on popular television, and not just native voices, but a native woman, and not just a native woman, but a native woman critiquing settler colonialism.