Radical sovereignty, rhetorical borders, and the everyday decolonial praxis of Indigenous peoplehood and Two-Spirit reclamation

Ian Khara Ellasante, Bates College


As settler colonialism has forcibly constricted vast expanses of Indigenous lands, criss-crossing them with superimposed borders, it has sought to redraw the boundaries of Indigenous identity by imposing definitions and categories that invariably lead to Indigenous diminishment. Strategic and eliminatory categorization is essential to the settler-colonial imperative. This essay explores settler-colonial exercises of rhetorical imperialism that deploy language, connotation, and categorization to dismantle Indigenous cultural systems. The author discusses the political stake in who is designated Indigenous, the drive to remake Indigenous nations in the image of the settler-state, the enforcement of cis-heteropatriarchal capitalist norms, and assimilationist strategies aiming to disrupt Indigenous formations of gender and kinship. The author argues that Indigenous assertions of peoplehood as a definitional and unifying framework and Two-Spirit as a self-identifier are acts of resistance that they term “oppositional identification” and “contrast mechanisms.” They are exercises of rhetorical and radical sovereignty, tantamount to everyday decolonization.