I'm writing this from a town that was the location of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged here in December 1862 for "uprising" against U.S. settlers in response to a decade of treaty violations. These uprisings led to the Dakota War of 1862. Let's think about that statement for a second. Thirty-eight Dakota men, who were fighting as members of a sovereign nation against the invading United States, were executed as unlawful combatants, not treated as enemy soldiers. Originally 303 men were to be hanged, but President Lincoln reduced that number to 38. Yes, the president who is hailed for freeing enslaved Africans was responsible for the deaths of unknown numbers of indigenous peoples during the course of his presidency. Then after they were hanged, some of their bodies were dug up and dissected as part of William Mayo's medical studies. Yes, that Mayo. History is complicated.
I'm writing this as the descendant of settler-colonialists. If my ancestors had been in the U.S. at the time of the Dakota hanging, they would have cheered it on. Even though they immigrated later in the nineteenth century, they still financially benefited from those treaty violations, from the forced migrations and mass deaths. As a result, I have financially benefited from these same events.
I'm writing this as a white descendant of settler-colonialists, which is true of many of us who work in libraries. I cannot provide the perspective of an Indigenous American. In order to encounter that perspective -- and I should clarify this to say those perspectives, plural -- you need to read/listen to the words of indigenous people. Then you need to cite them when you use their insights in your research. And/Or hire them to speak at your library events. And/Or pay them so they can afford to share their insights, either by buying their books or putting cash in their paypal accounts.
I'm writing this as someone learning to recognize the harm caused by mainstream (white) narratives about indigenous people. As someone learning to recognize the silent places in my library's collections. As someone learning that no one owes me their words or thoughts or time; I have to earn it by being trustworthy and morally responsible.
I'm writing this with the knowledge that I do not have the skills, expertise, or moral authority to tell anyone how to decolonize libraries. Who taught me that my position as colonizer means I will always be in the learning seat when it comes to de/colonialism? I'm trying to keep a list. So here we go!
- Katherine Crocker - scientist and citizen of Kaw Nation
- Mari - SF/F author, tribally enrolled Ojibwe member, and making of fabulous threads
- Debbie Reese - librarian, tribally enrolled Nambe Pueblo member, who maintains a great blog about American Indians in Children's Literature
- Jody Gray (her twitter account is locked so I'm not going to post a link) - ALA Director of the Office of Diversity, enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation
- nina de jesus - Their twitter bio describes them as transpinay, so I'll go with their words. No, they're not Indigenous American, but this article they wrote a few years about about the relationship between libraries and indigenous genocide was eye-opening for me!
I'm hoping to add to this list of books over time. But these were a good start:
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - She's written a lot of books, but start with Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
- Andrés Reséndez - The Other Slavery, his book about the enslavement of indigenous Americans enraged me and broke my heart.
- Laurelyn Whitt - if you're interested in open access stuff, archives, or naming, I highly recommend her book Science, Colonialism, and Indigenous Peoples: The Cultural Politics of Law and Knowledge
Also, check out the work of AILA (American Indian Library Association)