In Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought Sandy Grande presents an important contribution to critical theory with the intention of bridging the ostensible gap between “whitestream” theory and Indigenous philosophies and approaches to education. Drawing on her experience and knowledge as a Quechua woman living in the United States, Grande offers a critique-al (p. 2) analysis of the history of American Indian education and “democratization” policies as well as theories of critical pedagogy, feminism, and identity. Her historical materialist approach is clearly informed by “revolutionary critical pedagogy” as she understands the transformation of capitalist social relations as essential to the fundamental project of Red pedagogy: decolonization, self-determination, and sovereignty that is grounded in the spirituality of Indigenous nations.
Grande further initiates the articulation of a critical theory of indigenista in response to feminisms that overlook colonization as the primary basis of current and historical oppression of Indigenous women. Focusing instead on a “universal” patriarchy or postmodern “linguistic play and difference” (p. 137), recent formulations of feminist thought constitute what Grande calls “a theory of property holders” (p. 148) that denies the persistence of economic exploitation and, accordingly, colonization. While revolutionary feminisms (those with a Marxist, materialist foundation) maintain this economic understanding, they are altogether insufficient for addressing the far reaches of colonization and its consequences. Therefore she proposes undertaking a Red pedagogy that encompasses valuable knowledge contained in Indigenous experience and world-views, seen as essential by Grande for transforming capitalist social relations between humankind and all of Creation.
I certainly appreciate much of Grande’s thought, as her writing resonates with some of my own critiques of postmodern and critical theory. I also welcome her historical materialist analysis of past and present social relations. This text indeed marks a significant contribution to critical education theory and Indigenous academic work, yet I cannot help but ask: who is it written for?
Though she positions herself among other Indigenous scholars, Grande’s theory is articulated through a Western epistemic frame. The language and content is accessible only to an academic audience and as such, seems to be written “for” critical theorists rather than Indigenous people or communities.
As an Indigenous woman negotiating my way through academia, I have come to understand what Grande calls the “Native theory of antitheory” wherein “engagement in abstract theory seems indulgent – a luxury and privilege of the academic elite. Further, theory itself is viewed as definitively Eurocentric – inherently contradictory to the aims of [I]ndigenous education” (p. 2). While this “theory of antitheory” persists in our communities – and with good reason – Indigenous ways of knowing and being still form the basis for resistance and emancipatory projects across Turtle Island. Our world-views are rich and complex, full of theories that are merely ignored and devalued in the academy, the space for them “conscripted by academic colonialism” (p. 103). Yet these theories have made their way into universities, albeit ever slowly and not without struggle. Our voices grow stronger beyond the boundaries prescribed for us.
Grande calls for an expansion of “the intellectual borders of [I]ndigenous intellectualism” (p. 3). I hope that this does not mean that Indigenous intellectuals – our Elders, knowledge keepers and emerging leaders existing primarily outside of the university – are insufficient in their “intellectualism” and must engage with critical theory as Grande has done in this text. Certainly it is important that Indigenous people create and find spaces within the academy to formulate and share knowledge grounded in their own world-views. Most of us will have no choice but to engage with whitestream theories, though some of us will find ways to work through or around them. Universities are important and difficult places for that reason. In the same way, Grande’s text is an incredible contribution. But academia, critical theory and the university are not the only means by which we can remember, revitalize and share our knowledges for the purposes of decolonization, a promise of “the good life” for generations to come.
We must be careful in how we relate to our own people, how in our own theorizing we ostensibly place value (or not) on the rich knowledge sometimes hidden in our families and communities. How we write reflects how we relate, just as who we write for reflects who we consider as part of that relation.