Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 197: The Climate Imaginary: We Survived the Night — with Julian Brave NoiseCat

Speakers: Kathy Feng, Alyha Bardi, Am Johal, Julian Brave NoiseCat

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Kathy Feng 00:14
Welcome to ‘The Climate Imaginary,’ a Below the Radar series. As we navigate our future within the ongoing climate emergency, we seek different frameworks to help guide our learning and our actions. In this series, we bring together guests from across artistic and academic disciplines to speak about their approaches to working in solidarity amidst the climate crisis. We feature conversations that range from the unique power of creative works to mobilize people, to the importance of collaboration and interdependence across fields.

Alyha Bardi 00:50
Hello listeners! I’m Alyha with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of our Below the Radar series: The Climate Imaginary, our host Am Johal is joined by Julian Brave Noisecat, whose work cuts across the fields of journalism, policy, research, art, activism and advocacy. Julian talks about coming of age in a time of several prominent Indigenous movements that combined political and environmental activism, as well as working in policy making for projects such as the Green New Deal. Together, they discuss where environmental movements fail to capture the imagination of the broader public and talk about Julian’s upcoming book. We hope you enjoy the episode!

Am Johal  1:45
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar delighted that you could join us again this week on our special series that climate imaginary we have with us. Our guests today our special guest Julian Brave NoiseCat welcome Julian.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  1:49
Thanks so much for having me.

Am Johal  2:00
Yeah, Julian wondering if we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  2:05
Sure. [In Secwepemctsín] Weyt-k xwexweytep. Julian Brave NoiseCat ren tsetswe7. Secwecwpemc-ken ell St'itlimix-ken. Te Tsq'escen re tste7kwen. Te Samahquam re tste7kwen. Le7 ren pupsmen ne7elye tek tm’cw, w7ec re Suqamush-ulucw w7ec re Bremerton, Washington. 

Hello, everyone. My name is Julian Brave NoiseCat. I come from the Shuswap and St’at’imc nations. My family comes from two specific places. One of them is Tsq'escen'—Canim Lake, which translates as broken rock in our language. The other is Samahquam, which is an old St’át’imc village on the Lillooet river. I am residing currently in Bremerton, Washington. It’s a navy town in Washington state that's on the traditional territory of the Suquamish in a county called Kitsap, actually, which is named after an old Salish chief who got revenge on the northerners who used to raid in this area. So thanks so much for having me.

Am Johal  3:02
Thank you, Julian. I’m wondering if we can begin with you and talking about your connection to environmental movements and your relationship to political organizing. You, of course, are involved in journalism, in working with your own communities, but working at many scales and in different ways. But wondering if you could talk a little bit to how you see yourself situated within the broader climate justice movement.

Julian Brave Noisecat  3:33
I ended up doing climate justice work via the Indigenous rights movement. So when I was coming of age, there were a number of high profile Indigenous movements, beginning with Idle No More. And then continuing with the campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline. And then, of course, the NoDAPL movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock that really were sort of the core political energy that was coming out of Indian country at the time. I grew up in Oakland, California, where at Thursday night from a dance practice at the Intertribal Friendship House, we would sing the American Indian Movement song at the end of drum and dance practice. And there were still elders around and still are a few elders around who participated in the Alcatraz occupation from 1969 to 1971, which was– which is still to this day sort of cited as a starting point for the Native rights movement in the United States and Canada, to a lesser extent, but also in Canada. And so, you know, I had grown up with the memory of this very significant moment of political activism for Indigenous peoples, you know, right, in my hometown, with people who remembered it, were part of it, who I looked up to who, you know, would drive me to powwows and, you know, come over for food all the time, that sort of thing. You know, then when when I was a young man, there was this resurgence of activism in native communities that I wanted to be part of, and supportive of, and so in, in sort of a very minor way I was. A lot of that activism in my generation happened to be focused on environmental issues, you know, related to pipelines quite often, but also related to opposition to mining projects. And then, you know, in British Columbia, where my family comes from, there's a long history of organizing related to forestry. And that sort of part of the economy. I remember when I was a little kid, actually, in Canim Lake, we would jokingly—me and my cousins would be walking around the rez and then we'd like, you know, block the road when a car was coming. We'd say Indian blockade, because that was, I don't even know what we were really talking about—I don’t think any of us really knew what we were talking about. But it was because there were all these Indian blockades that were happening in the 80s and 90s of logging roads. So, you know, all of those sorts of things sort of drew me towards eventually environmentalism. But I would say that I still don't really identify as an environmentalist, per se. I think I am very engaged in the intellectual and political parts of the environmental movement. But I came to environmentalism via the Indigenous rights movement, via the Indigenous movement. And that is still the primary way in which I engage and I'm interested in it. 

So it was mostly via the Native rights movement. And, you know, there was a lot of interest in environmental issues, so to speak, mostly related to land, mining, oil and gas, still a certain extent to forestry. And sort of the ways that those extractive industries, you know, infringe on Indigenous rights, what might be called Aboriginal rights and title in Canada, sometimes it's treaty rights in the United States. But essentially, threatened to pollute and poison and disrupt Indigenous lands and sacred sites. And so that was, you know, that was happening a lot when I was young, it still is a big sort of focus of activism. And that was something that I got involved in. And that led me later into the broader sort of environmental and climate justice movement, or I would, I shouldn't say broader, the adjacent environmental and climate justice movement.

Am Johal  7:18
Yeah, I'm glad you brought up the roadblocks in the 80s because I remember those. Growing up, just my dad worked in a sawmill and saw some of those movements which were fascinating at the time and have continued and you see the tension still play out and old colonial structures and industry working in the same ways as they did before. I'm wondering, as we look at the evolution of these questions and ways of working, when you look at the potential for productive solidarities with the environmental movement, there clearly are also fragmentations and difference on how to work. And certainly I remember that from the 80s and 90s. but you could probably put that into context of now as well. And I'm wondering if you could speak to the areas that you see as sites of productive solidarity with the environmental movement, and other areas where there are sort of fragmentations, and perhaps difference in terms of ways of working or in terms of what might be solutions in particular contexts?

Julian Brave NoiseCat  08:30
Yeah, sure. So the big thing that I think has shifted has been the environmental movement over the last decade or so, particularly in the United States. And I think to a certain extent, Canada, as well, although I don't work as much in Canada, at least politically, the environmental movement has essentially started to correct for its sort of legacies of racism and colonialism that were sort of formative to the environmental movement. So the environmental movement, listeners of your podcast are probably aware, but I can just recap it real quickly, is sort of originated in this time and this set of ideas that essentially views the path to conservation as one wherein you don't only keep people and industries out of lands, but you also keep Indigenous peoples off of those lands. So the national park system in the United States, and then, you know, various sort of conservation efforts elsewhere, very much dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands, and further the project of colonialism. And then sort of the way that John Muir, and a lot of these sort of formative figures in the environmental movement speak about Native people, is also in very derogatory and racist term. So John Muir, for example, you know, describes the Miwok people who live in Yosemite as like squatters, and, you know, sort of looks down on them as not really fully human. 

And, you know, over the last decade, the environmental movement has started to incorporate more ideas about environmental justice, specifically. So it's the the environmental movement is, is overwhelmingly white in the US, and as well as Canada, and some of the national nonprofits that work on environmental issues that started to acknowledge and recognize that issue, started to try to, you know, incorporate more Indigenous people, Black people, people of color, in their leadership and to reach out to those communities. And then at the same time, specifically, with respect to native peoples, they have started to advocate for more solutions that are sort of Indigenous led. So one of the ones that is increasingly of interest, particularly in Canada, where it's actually been implemented to a large degree and, and to a growing degree in the United States, our notions of like land return or land management by Indigenous peoples. Which is, it's actually a pretty effective model for— so, as it so happens, conservation, and then also for, you know, maintaining ecosystems that we need in the fight against climate change, and also for- to maintain biodiversity and all these other very important public and environmental goods. So that's, I think that's sort of the main, the main thing with the environmental movement, and I think the environmental movement has gotten better. On that front, you know. I think that part of the the challenges, though, that, that I see is often that Indigenous peoples are not, we're not like, necessarily just a monolithic, you know, like proto environmentalists where we aren't just like, all green/ We obviously live in some of the most impoverished conditions and in North America, and our people need jobs, our people need revenue to support you know, all the different sort of services that that one deserves, you know, good schools, good health care, good housing. All of which are very hard to come by, in native communities. And so this, you know, sort of places before many First Nations in both the United States and Canada sort of Faustian bargain wherein, you can either try to protect your people's ancestral lands and waters and territories—If there's still something there to protect—or you can participate in extractive economies to get the kind of revenues that you need to build the homes and create the healthcare system and to, you know, create decent schools in places where there aren't those things. And so that is very much the sort of Faustian bargain that my people, the people of Canim lake face. And one wherein, you know, we are one of the many First Nations— I'm not proud to say this—but my First Nation is one of many in Canada. And sorry, in British Columbia, specifically, that is now going to be co owners or part owners of the Trans Mountain pipeline. On a certain level, I kind of understand the economics that lead us to that decision. There's a serious housing crisis on our reservation. Many of my family members live with, you know, a dozen people in their homes. And, you know, maybe three bedrooms between, you know, a dozen people. And in that kind of a context, you know, if you're presented with a way to make revenue, and with something that feels like it's already there, it's inevitable, you might sign up to something like that.

Am Johal  13:13
As a journalist, and a storyteller, you talk to a lot of people in terms of stories that are on the margins and the periphery and need a wider audience. And you do an amazing job of highlighting these stories in a really public way. And I'm wondering if you could talk about ways in which this notion of a climate imaginary– in terms of, we talk about environmental issues, how it's too narrowly framed. And what are other ways we ought to be thinking of the crisis? Or I guess I could ask more specifically, when you think about this broader climate crisis that, you said, you come out of organizing with Indigenous communities and bring that particular framework to it. But if you could speak to, you know, where does the environmental movement maybe fail in capturing the imagination of the broader public, because I guess in some ways people need to see themselves inside of the movement for change. And, and part of that is storytelling. And part of that is organizing in a broader way. And it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on how you think about this.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  14:26
The way in which I kind of illustrate this point is that in the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the participants in that movement insisted that they should be viewed as water protectors, that this was their, their term for their role, rather than activists or protesters, because there's a lot of connotations that come along with those terms. And then a number of them also latched on to, and viewed themselves as fulfilling this role of warriors in the modern age who are fighting the black snake, which was the sort of term that was often used for the Dakota Access Pipeline. You know, sort of essentially viewing themselves as participants in this fulfillment of Indigenous prophetic mythological tradition. So I think that that kind of way of looking at the world is very compelling to me personally, because of my own background. And also because, you know, those sorts of narrative traditions were very much, you know, were nearly obliterated by the residential schools and the project of colonialism more broadly. 

And so a whole section of the book I'm reading actually right now, the third section, the final section is called Trickster, and it's about Indigenous peoples, living across and making worlds living across colonial worlds and Indigenous world simultaneously and in trying to bring back the Indigenous world amidst one that is still colonial. And in so doing, especially in an era of immense geological change– of climate change. We are, I would say, sort of part of a generation of people who are living amidst the return of the tricksters and transformers of our mythology of our deeper history. Of course, the trickster and transformer stories themselves come from a very particular, they actually recount essentially geological events, they explain how the world came to be generally at the end of the last ice age and and explained like sort of the major features in the landscape and also why the world was not perfect, essentially, you know why- Why was creation? Why did creation have all these flaws? And why? And how does that make room for us in our humanity, both the good parts of it and the bad parts of it. And so, I'm very, like the water protectors and the people who participated in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, I am very interested in ways of looking at, interpreting and telling the stories that suit within Indigenous narrative and artistic traditions and are in conversation with those as opposed to with other frameworks of seeing things. 

So I think that that's really important. I'm not going to pretend that that's like the secret to getting a majority of the electorate to support these policies. I think that that's a different kind of, you know, project, one that I think is also worthwhile, but that is, you know, engaged in from another sort of perspective that I've worked through in which is, you know, just a more traditionally political, electoral, data driven, media oriented kind of thing. What I will also say, though, is that my thinking on this subject more broadly, is very influenced by this writer Amitav Ghosh, who wrote this. In particular, he wrote this book called The Great Derangement, which is essentially…

Am Johal  17:56
He's been a guest on our show before

Julian Brave Noisecat  18:00
Oh, yeah, I love his work. And his, especially the essay, the first one in the in the great derangement, where he basically talks about how climate change is not just a crisis of science in nature, but also a crisis of imagination. And a crisis of imagination that is brought about because of the sort of Western literary tradition and the conventions of the novel, and how, you know, climate fiction or, or fiction more broadly, and storytelling more broadly need to move beyond those conventions. And that that might open our imagination to the kinds of actions and solutions and stories that we need to fit this new moment, I find it to be really compelling and super interesting. And it was the first time I'd really, fully engaged with that, or someone had articulated that idea, you know, in a way that like, felt super fresh. And, and I remember I ripped through that essay in like, a few hours. So, you know, I think that that idea is also sort of, undergirding part of what I do. 

And, you know, again, I think the tension for me is like, I think for particular communities and stories, and traditions that need to be brought back. I totally see these new approaches as being– or old approaches, actually, if you look at it, you know, more full sense of time, as being the right way to tell the stories, the way that is most interesting to me. You know, whether or not that is going to be compelling to an electorate of voters, the majority of whom are still white. And, you know, probably don't have the same tastes as I do. You know, I think that's another question and whether that can actually, you know, whether you need something more more vanilla, in the context of, you know, big electoral politics, you know, that's probably still true that we need something a little bit more vanilla.

Am Johal  19:54
I know in the past, you've been involved in some conversations around Green New Deal. And that can mean a lot of different things to different people and also the context in which those ideas emerge. But I'm wondering if you can speak to what you imagine a green new deal to be and its political possibilities in the ways in which you engaged with those ideas.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  20:20
What's interesting about the Green New Deal is it was kind of whatever anyone on either side of the aisle sort of put on– projected onto it in their imagination. You know, I got interested in the Green New Deal at a time when the left part of the climate and environmental movement were very oriented around fighting fossil fuel projects, essentially. And at the time, I thought that it made sense to try to reorient the movement around ideas of like building a more just, equitable, sort of socially democratic green economy. And that there could be a positive vision for that one that, you know, created jobs, strengthened labor unions, promoted civil rights, environmental justice. And that that might be a generative way to reorder to reorient a lot of the organizing at the time. And I had these friends who were part of, at that time, a very sort of unknown youth climate group called the Sunrise Movement, who had just sort of launched about a, like, a few months before– kind of at the same time as these conversations about what would become the Green New Deal. What people were starting to refer to as a Green New Deal were happening. And they told me, I remember I had—I used to drink—So I had drinks with, went to a beer garden in Washington, DC, when I lived in DC with a few of the youth leaders in the sunrise movement. We were all like, you know, young people engaged in politics at the time. And they told me this crazy idea that they had around 20- the 2018 midterms to hold a sit-in in Nancy Pelosi’s office and to call for a Green New Deal. And of course, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the representative from New York's 14th congressional district ended up joining them and became, you know, this really significant moment that sort of catapulted climate change up the priorities of Democrats. And I think that story essentially ends up ending with Joe Biden passing, not Green New Deal, but, you know, a significant green stimulus in the form of the inflation reduction act just a few months ago. 

And essentially, what's interesting about the Green New Deal is that like, for the right wing, you know, it was this plot to take away pickup trucks and to slaughter cows in mass and to foist whatever sort of version of bogeyman left wing ideas that are in vogue at present. And they really went off on it on Fox News on those grounds. And then I think, for people who are left of center, you know, Nancy Pelosi obviously called the Green New Deal, the green dream, or whatever you call it, whatever they want to call it. You know, Joe Biden and various presidential candidates, you know, sort of did this dance about whether or not they wanted to associate themselves with it, because it could be seen as a sort of, like, quasi communist idea. Or it could be seen, as, you know, sort of aligning themselves with young activists. So it was this weird thing that actually was never particularly well defined. I mean, there's now been a few pieces of specific legislation, a couple of them that I worked on the resolution itself, and then I also helped work on the Green New Deal for public housing that actually fleshed out real policy ideas around this agenda. But broadly speaking, I think it'd be still accurate to say that what a Green New Deal is, is actually not particularly well defined, although everybody in American politics needs to have some sort of position and opinion on it. And it's this weird wedge in the Democratic Party. And I think part of what it did also was that it staked out ground that was, you know, to the left of where the establishment of the Democratic Party was willing to go and thereby made things that would otherwise have looked more radical or more left wing look less radical by comparison, which made it possible to to imagine and then enact, you know, not trillions of dollars with a stimulus but, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars of green stimulus that includes fairly strong labor provisions. And it's going to benefit—depending on how the rules are written and how it's implemented—environmental justice communities and has sort of some of the same ideas, but like it as sort of diet form, that were part of the Green New Deal. So yeah, it's, what's the Green New Deal? I mean, it depends on who you ask.

Am Johal  25:10
You mentioned that you're working on a book and you work on so many different registers. I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit to projects and things you're currently working on? And I guess the second question would just be– what have been some of the influences that you've had in your life in terms of reading, people, mentors, etc. I know you studied at Columbia and Oxford, but it's fascinating to me that you have this connection with activists, you work as a journalist, you have academic connections, just hope you don't get too tired, because you're working in so many different ways.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  25:45
So I'm writing a book for Alfred A. Knopf. It's titled ‘We Survived the Night’, which— the title is derived from the traditional Secwépemc way of giving the morning greeting. So in Secwepemctsín, the Secwépemc language, we say “tscwinúcw-k”, which does not literally translate to ‘good morning’ or something like that, it actually literally means you survived the night. So that is where the title comes from. It's about Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada today. It combines reportage. So some of my writing and reporting over the last seven-ish years, eight years, along with elements of memoir and family history. And then the sort of third thing that it includes is what might be considered mythology or trickster stories, coyote stories, those sorts of things, which in my reading, and sort of Indigenous reading of nonfiction is totally fair game. Because in our artistic and narrative traditions, those are considered nonfiction. Those stories are our recounting of how we explain the world and how it came to be and why it is the way it is. So there are some of those– my own retelling of some of those that are going to be sort of braided together with the reportage and the memoir. And it's going to have sort of three thematic parts. 

The first part is called ‘Apocalypse’. It's about Indigenous peoples, as post-apocalyptic peoples as people who lived through the near total destruction of our worlds, but who are still here, and who still honor, remember, and carry forward the potential of those worlds in our being. The second section is called ‘Odyssey’. And it's about Indigenous peoples returning to, reclaiming, and remaking home and homeland in various ways. So it's about the journey home, and why that is such an important imperative. And somewhat, in certain ways a paradoxical one for people who are called Indigenous. You know, we are in a certain sense, also diasporic peoples, because of forced removals because of policies that pushed us off reservations into cities. And because, you know, in a broader sense, our homes and homelands were largely taken away. So even if we do live in our homes, and homelands, we are still alienated from a great deal of them. And then the third section is called ‘Trickster’. And as I was saying earlier, it's about Indigenous peoples living across and having to shapeshift across multiple worlds. So the colonial world, the Indigenous world, and also, you know, sort of, in a sense, being time and space travelers across those worlds, so, you know, we are trying to remember and bring back pre colonial past into a post colonial future but at the same time being in this sort of still colonial present. And you know, how we make and inhabit worlds across those different realities is sort of a main focus, particularly in the lives of different activists and artists and folks like that, who are really doing that kind of work. In that section, I sort of frame this idea in conversation with the trickster figure or the transformer figure that is really central to the creation of the world in the last epoch of immense geological and climatic change, which was the end of the last ice age, that the Trickster in transformer stories generally come from. And what I argue is actually related to climate change. And that's that in this moment of, you know, tumultuous transformation in the natural world and an era where we're going to have to also transform our societies to adapt to and mitigate that warming, the trickster and transformer figures may very well be returning if we if we look at these stories in the way that our ancestors may have. 

So that's the book. And then at the same time, I'm also co directing a documentary that has brought me to, actually, Williams lake, a lot. And that documentary follows the search for unmarked graves at the Indian residential school that my family was sent to, where my father's life began. St. Joseph's mission, which is just south of Williams Lake. So those are the two things that I'm really focused on. And then all the other stuff that I used to do a lot more of, related to politics and policy and sort of covering a beat in journalism, those have all taken a backseat as I focus on those two really big book and documentary projects.

Am Johal  30:21
And I want to ask you, who would have been some of the influences in your life in terms of people or books that you read? Because you work in so many different ways? 

Julian Brave Noisecat  30:33
Yeah, I mean, there's so many people who really inspired me. I think that in school, I was really drawn to the intellectual production of left of center, scholar activists who were producing scholarship and public writing in ways that were supportive of and engaged with various social movements. So that was a big, big thing that influenced me. And there were particular professors who I got the opportunity to work with, particularly in undergrad who were doing that. So Eric Foner, for example. Sorry a historian at Columbia University, I got to take his last Civil War and Reconstruction class that he ever taught. And, you know, to this day, he's on The Nation's editorial board still I believe, and you know, he's very sort of engaged and comes from a family of Marxist historians who are engaged in that kind of work. 

I had another professor named Audra Simpson, who's a pretty prominent figure now in the field of native and Indigenous studies. She was a more junior professor who was working on her first book when I was her student. That book is called Mohawk Interruptus. and it makes this very interesting argument about not just the act of political refusal of refusing the sovereignty of the colonial state, but also the methodological act of refusal. Of refusing the—how should we say this—the anthropological gaze, of her own field. So it's like a very radical book for an anthropologist to have written because essentially argues that like, I should not tell you some of these things when anthropology is essentially the field of observing Indigenous peoples and you know, making theoretical models out of your observations. So she was very influential, as was another historian I studied with, Mae Ngai, who is one of the leading historians of immigration in the United States. Her first book was about the formation of the notion of the illegal alien in American law and jurisprudence. And now she has a second book that I would really like to read about global Chinese migration to sort of settler states in the Pacific, so to the United States to Canada, Australia, and the sort of emergence of anti Chinese sentiment and laws, and how that really shaped immigration policies transnationally and other political questions transnationally. So she's really cool. 

And so basically, you know, all these things that I said I was really interested in when I was a kid—the Alcatraz occupation, the Indigenous movement—I realized that there was a way to be engaged with those things from sort of, from my naturally nerdy and curious kind of intellectual orientation. And that was a big, big shape. And then, you know, the other thing is that I really like writing and storytelling, and the unfortunate reality of a lot of academic writing is that it's very boring. And so, you know, the kinds of writers that I learned from. You know, I was, I'll be honest, I was obsessed with Sherman Aexie's work when I was a little kid. And then, you know, as an adult, trying to figure out, you know, what, what I like in nonfiction, there's a lot of different writers who I picked up and read. Evan Osnos at The New Yorker, for example, really, really good writer. And then there's a lot of, I think, also for writing scenes. And then for the documentary, there's a lot of films and TV shows that I really love. So I watched Atlanta, which I think– what I think is genius about that show is that it took the sort of surreal quality of hip hop, like the way that, you know, rappers talk about this world that they're that they're moving through, you know, on the one hand of, like, you know, opulent, flaunting of like, recently earned wealth, and on the other hand of like, you know, potentially existential violence, and puts it into a surreal TV show. That is like a really fascinating examination of a major American city. But in a way that is like, totally resonant. I think with hip hop, I listen to a lot of rap. So I frickin’ love that show. I also really liked some of those sort of classic HBO dramas, rewatching The Wire again. And also, like, you know, we've watched a lot of the native like, classic cinema, so like Smoke Signals. You know, all those sorts of films, I watched Beast of the Southern Wild recently, also, really frickin’ good movie, one that people who are interested in climate justice, I think should watch because it has a lot to do with climate change and climate justice. And it's aesthetically like fucking awesome. So yeah, those are kind of my influences, broadly speaking.

Am Johal  35:55
Yeah. Our time is coming to an end. So I'll just ask you one last question. If there's anything you'd like to add, or is there any sort of stories around Indigenous rights, climate justice that you're particularly inspired by right now?

Julian Brave NoiseCat  36:13
I don't know if inspired by would be the right term per se. But as I was sort of, gesturing at in my interest in the sort of living across and existing across multiple worlds. You know, there's a couple of very prominent Indigenous women who have high positions in both the American and Canadian governments right now. So in the United States, I actually originated the idea and helped advocate for the appointment of Deb Haaland as the first ever Native American cabinet secretary. She's the Secretary of the Interior, which is a highly consequential role for the environment and for Indigenous peoples. The interior department manages about a fifth of the United States landmass, vast reserves of natural resources as well as the nation to nation relationship of the more than 570 federally recognized American Indian, Alaska Native Tribal communities with the federal government. So that's a big, big thing. And I think that the way that she navigates, you know, being the first and the sort of political limitations of that role. Obviously, they're not going to let her give a fifth of the nation's land back to native peoples despite the fact that I think my assumption would be that that would be something that she’d be interested in doing. I think that that's, that's a very… I'm very intrigued by how people in leadership positions with, you know, with generally, you know, left of center politics engaged with the limits of politics in these institutions. And I think that she's doing it very well. But I also think that, you know, it is a naturally constrained situation. 

And then the other one is that Canada has a position called the Governor General, because Canada never really swept from the British Empire. And the governor general is this weird Imperial institution wherein someone is appointed as the representative of the monarchy in the Canadian state, and is therefore— actually the Governor General is technically the sovereign, the embodiment of the sovereign, because, of course, in any Commonwealth country, the the crown is the sovereign still. And, right now, actually, Canada has an Inuk woman as Governor General. Her name is Mary Simon, she's the very first ever Indigenous Governor General, which raises all kinds of fascinating questions, because, you know, when the sovereign is an imperial and colonial institution, but then is represented by an Indigenous person, you know, what do we make of that, particularly in this era, when there's so much going on, with respect to, you know, unmarked graves being discovered at residential schools, and, you know, at least in Canada sort of effort towards reconciliation, which Mary Simon, I think, is a literal embodiment, of that idea as well. But is that the direction that Indigenous peoples actually want to go, you know, being incorporated into the origins of a colonial entity? You know, I think that's a really fascinating question. And one that I'm actually trying to sort of sort through because I’m writing a profile of her. 

So I'm very interested in people who, throughout their life, have fought for really good things. And then, you know, those things, bring them into conflict with the state and with industry and with these things that are perpetuating injustice, and then are, when they're faced with the choice of, you know, how do I continue my life's work in that direction, you know, they, they get, finally, now are getting the opportunity to become part of the state. Sometimes it's policymaking, you know, pieces, and sometimes it's ceremonial, and other sort of high ranking roles. And I'm really curious how, in particular, you know, women who I see as very remarkable, Indigenous leaders, and also, you know, who are women, you know, grapple with that tension and the limitations of that space. And also the potential of it, you know, how do they take these new roles and, and try to advance good for Indigenous peoples and all peoples. Yeah, so that's something I'm really interested in. Again, I don't think that's really– maybe inspired by is the right way to look at that. But yeah, that's something that I'm very curious about right now. And it's still unfolding, of course, because they're both still in those roles.

Am Johal  40:51
Julian, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

Julian Brave NoiseCat  40:56
Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, really interesting conversation.

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Alyha Bardi 41:02
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to our conversation with Julian Brave NoiseCat. Head to the show notes to check out the resources mentioned in the show. We release episodes every Tuesday, so subscribe to Below the Radar on your podcasting app of choice to make sure you never miss an episode. 

Tune in next week for the seventh and final episode of The Climate Imaginary, with guest Karenna Gore!

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Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
December 06, 2022

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