Academic journal article College English

Resisting Relocation: Placing Leadership on Decolonized Indigenous Landscapes

Academic journal article College English

Resisting Relocation: Placing Leadership on Decolonized Indigenous Landscapes

Article excerpt

The U.S. military and the Georgia Militia forcibly removed my mother's family on September 24, 1838 (Clark and Baker). Their story, my story, is a good way to begin, one that honors the sacrifices of all Indigenous peoples, for me, for you, and the lands we now occupy. I acknowledge the Indigenous landscapes from which I write and within which the field of rhetoric and composition flourishes. Our work must attend to Indigenous losses, and the leadership of those who came before. That leadership informs my understanding of the possibilities of the work of our field. My great-great grandparents, Arch Vann and Susie Owens, lived through arrest and removal from their family homes in the Cherokee Nation1. The 1835 "Census of Cherokees in the Limits of Georgia" locates Arch living near the Etowah River, closest to Tensawattee Town (Nelson 45; Those 52). Susie lived with her family near Tuckahoe Town where the Taccoa River and Star Creek merged (Jones 3; Riggs 16; Shadburn 191; Those 47). Their land, now under Blue Ridge Lake, was so prized that Georgia legislator and federal Indian Agent Benjamin Chastain seized it for himself after their arrest and constructed Ft. Chastain on it where they used my family's land to contain arrested Cherokees (Jones 3; Riggs 16). It became a point of painful departure for many from the ancestral landscape the Creator gave the Aniyvwiya, the Principal (or Real) People, to love and nurture, to learn from and grow on (Jones 3; Riggs 16). As a Cherokee writer and writing teacher, rhetorician, and ethnographer of Indigenous spaces, I understand how story as a rhetorical practice can serve as a decolonial tactic for reclaiming these landscapes my ancestors lost. Indigenous leaders have historically used story as a rhetorical tool, and the stories of Indigenous leaders shape my understanding of the community-based leadership I work to facilitate.

As a Cherokee who grew up in the Oklahoma lands my people were relocated to, I understand this region as a cultural landscape of the Cherokee Nation. As I consider leaving Oklahoma for academic employment, however, I experience my historical placement as a Cherokee amidst the critical conversations about power that continue to shape the collective fate of Indigenous peoples. As a recent PhD in Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy at the University of Oklahoma, I face the point in my career when I am expected to put myself "on the market" and relocate in order to advance professionally. As a Native studies scholar who researches and serves Indigenous communities, I respond to this professional expectation by recalling my family's story, their embodied experiences of removal, and their struggle to remain in their own place. Market-based hierarchies follow a logic that parallels that of settler colonialism to destabilize the work of Indigenous and other underrepresented scholars who commit themselves, their research, and their service to their communities. I cannot help but experience the professional pressure to relocate as a reinscription of removal that demands that if I am to find a place in the profession, I must give up my personal ties to this place and the work that I have done here with the people whose history and aspirations I have sought to represent.

In 1820, George Owens, Susie's father and my great-great-great grandfather, voted with the elected leader of the Cherokee Nation, Chief John Ross, against the self-appointed leaders who favored ceding more Cherokee land to the United States of America (Thomas 12). I imagine George's political resistance led, in part, to the eventual seizure of his property for US military use. I think about the injustice George endured as he watched his family, his community, his people arrested and gathered on his fields. He saw stockades built to contain them like animals and witnessed his own home transformed into an operational center for settler colonial forces. Arch Vann had much less property than George. He resisted with his family of five until the last moment, refusing to vacate their home in what is now Lumpkin County, Georgia (Shadburn 217). …

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