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Title: “Decolonized Afterlife”: towards a new understanding of the political processes surrounding Indigenous death

Authors: Deondre Smiles*, The Ohio State University Department of Geography
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Political Geography
Keywords: Indigenous geographies, settler colonialism, science/technology studies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the settler colonial state, both historically and in the present, the deceased indigenous body and indigenous sacred spaces are viewed as lacking political agency, and free to be made of use to the settler colonial state, through invasive medical testing/procedures and the data that is then taken from the body via these procedures, or through the remaking of ‘sacred spaces’ into spaces that are useful to the settler colonial state (e.g. construction/infrastructure projects). In fact, through these actions, the deceased Indigenous body becomes subject to a whole new set of political processes, many of which are disrespectful and disruptive to sovereign Indigenous nations. The questions that arise include: What can be done about these disrespectful and disruptive practices? What might a potential ‘end goal’ look like, and how are Indigenous nations working towards this? This paper, through a theoretical framework of settler colonial studies, Indigenous studies/Indigenous resistance, science/technology studies, Afro-pessimism and critical human geography, points out one potential way of understanding just how Indigenous peoples defend their deceased relatives. Inspired by the idea of ‘decolonial afterlife’ (Kowal, 2019), through a combination of traditional Indigenous knowledge and ‘modern/Western’ political and scientific processes, Indigenous nations can pave the way for their deceased relatives to enter what I call a “decolonized afterlife”. In this “decolonized afterlife”, I argue that the deceased Indigenous body emerges as something that can inform and inspire effective Indigenous resistance against the eliminatory nature of the settler colonial state.

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