Andrea Smith- Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism

The essay “puts Native studies into conversation with queer theory to look at both the possibilities and limits of a postidentity analytic” (45) 

  • recent trend in critiques of Native studies to incorporate queer theory: “beyond representing queer peoples within Native studies” but to “queer the analytics of settler colonialism” (41)
  • ”queer theory provides a helpful starting point for enabling Native studies to escape its position of ethnographic entrapment within the academy” (44) 
  • indigenous scholars address this entrapment by calling for a “reformulation of Native studies [that] does not entail rejecting identity concerns, but expands its scope of inquiry by positioning Native peoples as producers of theory and not simply as objects of analysis” (43)
  • interdisciplinarity and alliances necessary for change (not intellectual isolationism)
  • Native Studies can benefit from queer theory’s subjectless critique…by placing focus “on a ‘wide field of normalization’ as the site of social violence,” helping demonstrate Native studies’ broad applicability, and moving beyond a politics of inclusion in the colonial academy (44)
  • On the flip side–Native studies and a decolonization project can prove useful to address critques of Queer studies deploying a “postidentity” politic and the white, middle-classed identity it reinstantiates/universalizes, and its lack of acknowledgement of “settler colonialism and the ongoing genocide of Native peoples” (45)

  • US politics rhetorical construction/use of futurity; protectionist discourse: “the investment in the future justifies contemporary oppression;” (46) this often relies on an appeal to a prior state (problematic)
  • ”the appeal to ‘tradition’ often serves as the origin story that buttresses heteropatriarchy and other forms of oppression with Native communities while disavowing its political investments” (46-7); normative futurity as dependent on an origin story

  • limits of subjectless critique for decolonization- the need for a political program: ”an anti-oppositional politic can quickly lapse into a leftist cynicism, in which all politics are dismissed as ‘reproductive’ with no disruptive potential….a politics of ‘opting out’ clearly privileges those who are relatively more comfortable under the current situation” (48)
  • what is the value of “no future” for Native peoples?
    -”this call for ‘no future’ relies on a primitivizing discourse that positions the [white] queer subject in relation to a premodern subject who is locked in history. The ‘Native’ serves as the origin story that generates the autonomous present for the white queer subject” (48)
    -”the Native queer…becomes situated at the ‘horizon of death’ within a ‘no futures’ queer theory: such individuals must free themselves from their Native identity and community to become fully self-determined subject” (49) –ideological and material death is required of racialized subjects in order for modern white queer subjects to live (or be free)
  • Challenge temporal linearity of “no future” framework made by Native scholars: “memories of alternative social organization exist[ing] at all helps denormalize our current social structure” (50)
  • primitivist discourse found also in queer of color critique and ethnic studies: “it is the primitive Native that enables a mature mestizaje consciousness” (52); and “mestizaje and queerness often intersect to disappear indigeneity through the figure of the diasporic or hybrid queer subject” –without an analysis of settler colonialism, it reifies Native peoples “entrapped in a logic of genocidal appropriation” (53)
  • cultural appropriation of indigeneity- based on a logic of genocide and required for successful colonization of land- or “a logic of bipower whereby Natives must die so that postmodern subjects can live” (54) 
  • can we think of indigenous nationhood as already queered? 
  • tendencies within many Native studies scholarship and Native communities to work through counteridentification (but has ramifications of political silencing)
  • Munoz’s “model of disidentification can inform Native studies’ emphasis on decolonization” -disidentification as “a strategy recognizing the shifting terrain of resistances” (56)
    -but it too has its limits (particularly for addressing settler colonialism) -because of its centering on the public sphere/counterpublic based on a minority whose goal is not necessarily to dismantle the public sphere ; additionally, the binarism = bad, hybridity = good may work against indigenous interests (57)
    -emphasizes the primacy of war of maneuver “implies that the time of direct colonization and subjugation has passed, thus erasing the current colonization..globally” (58) 
  • queer theory generally presuming the givenness of the settler nation-state, particularly the US and “indigenous nationhood is imagined as simply a primitive mirror image of a heteronormative state” (59)
  • Native activists’ visions of national liberation not tied to nation-state governance as potentially useful in challenging heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy because it challenges the naturalness of social hierarchy (60)
  • internalization of social domination logics > reification of neocolonialism (62)
  • “the logics of settler colonialism and decolonization must be queered in order to properly speak to the genocidal present that not only continues to disappear indigenous peoples but reinforces the structures of white supremacy, settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy that affect all peoples” (64)


  • Can we see how a subjectless critique might be useful (or limiting) for other populations
  • So how do we engage in theoretical practices that utilize the subjectless critique of queer theory while acknowledging settler colonialism in a ways that “contribute to solidarity work with contemporary indigenous struggles” (53)?
  • How do we utilize the disruption in temporal linearity that Native studies provides in thinking about the past and helping to formulate ideas for a future in practical ways?

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