A former professor of mine, C. A. Bowers (1935-2017), was a brilliant and prolific writer who wrote 27 books. He cautioned against people applying to themselves the arguments that a formidable opponent or enemy has skillfully created, and successfully used against them. If you use your opponents’ arguments against yourself, he warned, you will have done nothing to defeat your opponents. This becomes even more difficult if your opponents have passed their arguments on to heirs and successors who continue to use them against you.
Bowers’ insight made me realize something else. If you accept a system of domination that’s been successfully imposed on you and your people, your acceptance of that system will do nothing to liberate you. A similar point can be made somewhat differently. If you fail to question or challenge the main narratives and arguments that hold a system of domination in place, then your failure to oppose those narratives and arguments will most certainly ensure that the system of domination will be maintained and used against you.
As the narratives and arguments of the system of domination get repeated over and over again, the endless repetition of those narratives knits together, in the neural mappings of each person’s brain and nervous system, “the collective tapestry” of thought and behavior that perpetuates that system. Such storytelling will ensure that the idealized mental images, norms, and expectations of the system of domination are maintained and used against us. This is the role of the narratives that get repeated by law schools and lawyers, from one generation to the next, in U.S. federal Indian law.
But let’s suppose we decide to challenge the narratives and arguments that hold the system of domination in place. Let’s suppose we figure out how to challenge the ideas, arguments, and lies that have been told and retold about our nations and peoples. Let’s say we learn how to contradict those narratives on the basis of our ability to remember our original independent existence, as free nations, before the invading system of domination was ever imposed on us.
What narratives and arguments shall we decide to make in the language of the dominators? What positions shall we take? What words will we use? Will we affirm that we have the right to live free from all the forms of domination which the dominating society has imposed on us?
Will we reject the vocabulary and arguments that the system of domination has been directing at us? Will we decide to stop using the colonizers’ arguments against ourselves in a self-limiting, self-dominating manner? When we stop accepting a reality system of domination? – All Our Relations, Steven Newcomb