Pretty Much Pop #140: First Nations Culture w/ John Beaubien

Western pop culture has increasingly explored stories of Indigenous Americans (and Canadians), through a spate of TV shows and films like Reservation Dogs, Rutherford Falls, Yellowstone, Prey, and others. As a further installment in a series that began with Mark’s Partially Examined Life episode on American Indian philosophy and the previous Pretty Much Pop episode interviewing actor Jonathan Joss about Native representation, today Mark and Choctaw member Lawrence Ware talk to John Beaubien, a philosophy autodidact and “Iroqois propagandist” living in Manitoba who in addition to exploring philosophy has for 30 years been learning more about Iroquoi culture and its Mohawk language.

Our goal was to reflect on the current relation between Native cultures and American/Canadian pop and academic cultures. One of our literary touchstones here was Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks, a book which adapts the existentialism in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (which Mark and Lawrence previously discussed) to critique the current identity politics strategy of allowing Native Peoples to identify as such, i.e. retain and express traditional cultural practices, without actually addressing or repairing any of the damage done through cultural genocide. Another recommended book was Dancing on a Turtle’s Back by Leanne Simpson, which also addresses practical (and not merely symbolic) means to restore long-attacked Native cultures.

We talk about the relation between Native philosophy (largely based on oral tradition and visual recording devices like Wampum belts until relatively recently) and Western academic philosophy. Can real philosophy be expressed in other ways than through written treatises? (Lawrence brings up hip-hop songs.) Does philosophy necessarily have a self-critical aspect (as opposed to dogmatically delivered religious metaphysics and ethics)?

We also talk about “Pretendians” (there was some controversy re. the mentor of the guest on PEL’s Native Philosophy episode; we can’t speak either way re. the accuracy of the allegations, but it’s interesting that this is a thing that people argue about), how colonization relations to self-consciousness, practicing religion without religious belief, whether Westerners studying Native philosophy is cultural appropriation, being internally colonized,  and reading racist books (like Mein Kampf and the work of Charles Davenport on “race mixing) to be able to argue against them. 

The PEL series on symbols mentioned is examines the work of Suzanne Langer and Ernst Cassirer. Lawrence mentions the Native horror film Blood Quantum

Follow us @Winnipeg_John, @law_writes, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

Audio editing by Tyler Hislop.

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