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Thoughts on Waabaagbagaa, the Leaves Turning Moon

Dylan Miner

The seasons have begun to change. As Anishinaabemowin speakers know, we are right in the middle of Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon). This moon or month began on September 16, if you are using the Gregorian calendar. At MSU, much begins to happen during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Classes are fully underway and, after a slow start to the semester, campus life begins to take shape during late-September and early-October.

We also begin to feel the weather change around us during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Warm summer winds begin to shift, as the days are shorter and the weather is cooler. The leaves turn various hues, making the banks of the Red Cedar a beautiful and multicolored environment. For MSU sports fans, Saturday football games become important gathering spaces in and around Spartan Stadium. Soon enough, the leaves will begin to fall from the trees, marking another important transition and begin another giizis.

With the next full moon, it will be Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon) and then, after that, it will be Baashkaakodin-Giizis (Freezing Moon). Autumn will turn to winter and winter will turn to spring. As has happened since time immemorial, the seasons will transform the natural world. Even if climate change makes the Indigenous practice of marking time more and more complicated and difficult, the seasons will remain paramount to Indigenous knowledge of the world and one’s place within it will remain.

Our current month, Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), becomes an important time to think about the proverbial leaves of change, especially in relationship to Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island. The American Indian and Indigenous Studies community at MSU engages in important work, both on and off campus, as we remain attentive to happenings throughout Indian Country and across the Fourth World.

As they begin to change, aniibiishan (leaves) reveal their brilliant and beautiful potential. The leaves have been waiting all summer to disclose what they haven’t previously shown: their profound, striking, and colorful potentiality. As scholars, artists, and teachers, we see within our students and within ourselves and communities the same profound possibility to show our individual brilliance. However, the beauty and potentiality of a single leaf can only be fully revealed when in concert with a community of other leaves. Similarly, our own human potential is collective in orientation. Indigenous knowledge illuminates the importance of community relationships and ties shared not just with other humans, but with all things around us.

Individuality means little without the whole. Shawnee leader Tecumseh is credited with saying that “a single stick is weak, but a bundle of twigs is strong.” While the provenance of this quote attributed to Tecumseh can likely be contested, the metaphor here is significant. If a single twig is weak, the collectively of sticks increases its strength. Likewise, the shared beauty and power of leaves – or members of a community – are more significant and meaningful than any one single individual. Reaching one’s potential is a collective and shared endeavor.

Let me leave you with an Anishinaabemowin word that, as I reflect upon the importance of American Indian and Indigenous Studies within the university, begins to seem more and more relevent. Waatebagaa is a verb that means “there are bright leaves.” As the leaves change color, as we collectively learn with and from one another, and from the leaves themselves, bright leaves line the banks of the Red Cedar and can be seen throughout Michigan. American Indian and Indigenous Studies helps us see these bright leaves – as well as students – and disclose the potentialities we all have to share our individual and shared brilliance.

Practicing Descolonización: A Few Thoughts from Wallmapu

Dylan Miner

In her recent book Sociología de la imagen, Aymara sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui writes that ‘la descolonización solo puede realizarse en la práctica.’ Rivera Cusicanqui maintains that the only way to enact and realize a decolonized existence is by living and practicing decolonized ways of being in the world. I hope that many of those reading these reflexiones, without needing to be convinced, agree with this propuesta. In fact, I believe that this is exactly what many of us our searching for – a way to be in the world that is neither fully prescribed nor circumscribed by either the market or the nation-state. And it is precisely from Indigenous societies and ontologies and epistemologies, not surprisingly, that non-Indigenous peoples can learn important ways of practicing descolonización.

Throughout her scholarly and community-based work, Rivera Cusicanqui facilitates the locating of a space where we can think and act in ways that are neither fully contained by capitalism, colonialism, nor heteropatriarchy. Even if we cannot wish away these structural oppressions, we can still imagine and enact a world a beyond/before them. As a theorist and activist, Rivera Cusicanqui – and many Indigenous feminists in the global south – is simultaneously writing some of the most interesting and important anti-colonial theory today, as well as living at the heart2 of the movement to imagine new/old worlds. Unfortunately, many of the Spanish-language texts written by Indigenous feminists like Rivera Cusicanqui, Julieta Paredes, andAdriana Guzman, to name only three important voices, remain untranslated into English. So, how do monolingual Anglophone readers gain access to these important views?

During a recent Working Group in Santiago, Chile – titled Territorio-Cuerpo y Cuerpo-Territorio: Comunitarian Feminism and Indigenous Sovereignty – participants collectively worked through the four-point constellation that makes up the cruz del sur of the central ideas of feminismo comunitario. As Julieta Paredes so intimately discussed during the group, we worked with the following cardinal points:

– cuerpo-territorio;

– territorio-cuerpo;

– descolonización, and;

– despatriarcalización.

For more on the brilliant and transformative work of feminismo comunitario, watch a few episodes of Despatriarcalización Ya!, a Bolivian television program hosted by Julieta and Adriana, or read one of their books. For shorter texts, I’ve written brief encyclopedia entries on both Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Mujeres Creando, a previous anarco-feminist collective that Julieta helped found in Bolivia.

During our time working together in Chile, we spent significant time translating back and fourth between Spanish and English – languages that already struggle to understand and describe those Indigenous ways of being that are outside both patriarcado and colonialización. In our Working Group, we had participants from across the continent who were Indigenous, settler, and arrivant, as well as those who straddled multiple categories. Julieta drew beautiful constellations and diagrams, of the cruz del sur, as well as of the cuerpo-territorio and territorio-cuerpo. Although we met only for a single week, we actively practiced descolonización – something I struggle(d) to do, both before, during, and after the Working Group.

During the group, Adriana Guzman – a feminista comunitaria from Bolivia – offered a propuestafor those of us working in English: to not translate the main conceptual ideas of feminismo comunitario into English. Instead, we should keep these terms in their original Spanish. For her, and many in the Working Group agreed – myself included – we frequently reducedescolonización from an active process (verb) into an object of study, decoloniality (noun). Although part of this has to do with translation, another aspect has to do with the centrality of certain ideas in English-language discussions of decolonization. Once this linguistic transformation happens – and descolonización becomes decoloniality – the object (decoloniality) becomes both knowable and obtainable. As others have been asking, from where did this dominant discourse on decoloniality come? Who are its main thinkers and actors and why them?

As an example, I only have to think about the Michif language, one of the primary languages of the Métis Nation. In Michif, a post-contact Indigenous language, nearly all nouns and noun structure are drawn from French, while verbs and verb structure come from Cree. Unlike creoles and pidgins, Michif is a mixed-language that illuminates the fundamental ontological differences between Western societies and Indigenous ones: actions versus objects. Adriana’spropuesta – to not transform (or translate) descolonización and despatriarcalización – maps well onto my own constellation of Indigenous and anticolonial ways of being in the world.

But, postcoloniality and decoloniality need to be Indigenized from an inherently feminist perspective. Perhaps, this responds to part of the dilemma we are facing at this moment. During graduate school, I studied postcolonial and decolonial theory and artistic practices throughout the Américas. A decade later, however, I am still waiting to see methodological and theoretical frameworks that adequately serve those of us hoping to understand the interrelationality and intersectionality – we may need to think about ways to make sure we do not objectify and thingify these processes – of art, culture, politics, and sovereignties across Turtle Island.

What emerged during my time in Chile, and this has been rising among Indigenous activists, intellectuals, and artists for a few years now, is the potential incompatibility of elements of the decolonial option with those of Indigenous sovereignties and their relationship to the cuerpo-territorio and the territorio-cuerpo. Many of my peers, and I would include myself in this collectivity, are disappointed by the ways that Bhabha’s postcoloniality and Mignolo’s decoloniality diverge from the overtly anticolonial and anti-heteropatriarchal framework of that offered by feminismo comunitario, Both postcoloniality and decoloniality – those prefixed (meaning those terms with prefixes, as well as those concepts that have become fixed) forms of coloniality – are neither inherently anticolonial nor noncolonial.

What many Indigenous feminists are doing is articulate – in their respective languages and epistemologies, as well as in European languages – ways of being in the world that are not fully contained by the ‘coloniality of power’, as Anibal Quijano would have it. The active process of contesting colonialism or, as it seems more appropriate these days, actively living in non-colonial ways, as Rivera Cusicanqui reminds us, can only be realized through practice.

All too frequently, decoloniality – the ‘thingification’ of active resistance and survivance – transforms active anticolonial resistance, as well as those alternatives that exist outside this violent system, into a knowable (and ownable) thing. In the same way that descolonizaciónand despatriarcalización are untranslatable, so too are Indigenous ways of being non-objectifiable. In a manner that resists being transformed into capitalist labor-time, Indigenous and non-colonial actions can never become ‘things’ and, therefore, can never become commodities of either the market or the nation-state. By practicing descolonización, we are, in fact, living the world we want to have.



1. I offer the preceding reflections with the caveat that they were written a few days after returning home from time spent co-convening a working group in Chile with Julieta Paredes,SkawennatiRodrigo Hernández Gómez, and Dot Tuer. My reflections are quickly developed thoughts that I offer publicly as a way to commence conversation in an equitable and open way. As part of my living body of ideas, these thoughts are neither fixed nor permanent. I just needed to share them at this moment. As such, also forgive me for any typographical or grammatical errors.

2. Tzeltal theorist Juan López Intzin is doing interesting work on Mayan conceptions of the heart.

CHANGE: Mapuche territory is known as Wallmapu. Although, I initially used the term ‘territorio Mapuche’ in the above subtitle, there was some concern over my employing a non-Mapudungun term to describe ‘Mapuche territory’ or more appropriately ‘Mapuche territories’. I fully understand and agree with this critique of my use of language. When initially writing this reflection, I employed the term ‘territorio Mapuche’ to think about the ways that Wallmapu – and other Indigenous territories across Turtle Island and Abya Yala – link up with the ideas put forward by feminismo comunitario. I used the term ‘territorio Mapuche’ to connect it with ‘territorio-cuerpo’ and ‘cuerpo-territorio’. I wasn’t using the ‘territorio Mapuche’ as a place name, but rather as a way to think about Indigenous territories in relationship to the ideas of territorio-cuerpo and cuerpo-territorio. I don’t think this was directly communicated in the reflection very well, if at all. As such, I have have re-named the article to include the term Wallmapu.

Medicinal Plants in Chile

Dylan Miner

On Saturday night, I took the redeye flight from Detroit to Santiago. I am hanging out in Chile for a week, where I am co-convening a Working Group at the Tenth Encuentro Hemisferico.While here, I am collaborating with Aymara feminist Julieta Paredes, Mohawk artistSkawennati, Mexican artist Rodrido Hernández Gómez, and Canadian art historian Dot Tuer.We are collectively convening a Working Group on ‘The Body Territory and the Territory as Body: Communitarian Feminism and Indigenous Sovereignty,’ Some Aymara and Mapuche members of Feminismo Comunitario are also working with Julieta Paredes to organize an acción estética-politica this Thursday. I will hopefully write more about all of this once this busy week is over.

For now, however, I wanted to quickly share these photos of urban medicinal plant usage here in Santiago. Yesterday, I took these photos near the Mercado Central along the Río Mapocho. I don’t know much about them, so if anyone knows the makers of these posters or has pictures of additional plants in this series, I would be interested in hearing from you. As you may know, I have been collaborating with plants and am thinking intensely about Indigenous plant medicines, especially around the Great Lakes and north of US-Canada border.

What is interesting about the plants  included in these three wheat-pasted images is that none of them are indigenous to Chile or the Américas. As far as I know, two originate from Europe (ruta graveolens and calendula officinalis) and one from Asia (ginger). This sent me on the hunt for books on Indigenous plant usage in Chile and I purchased this book. If anyone has good sources or connections, please share those.