CURING THE WÉTIKO SOCIETY: A CALL TO REVISIT JACK D. FORBES
Jack D. Forbes was of Powhatan-Renapé and Delaware-Lenape ancestry, born and raised in New Jersey. His occupation as a professor in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis propelled him in directions of lasting legacies. Dr. Forbes is a central figure in both Native American Studies and Chican@ Studies in the United States. His writing, activism, and advocacy for Indigenous peoples places him in a radical position in the academy and the Native community as a whole. Here I make a call for undergraduates, graduates, professors, community activists, and all those who align themselves with the Xican@ revolutionary tradition to revisit Dr. Forbes and his monumental work.
Till this day, there is hardly any talk about a Xican@ intellectual project, not even generally a discussion on Xican@ thought and practice in the twenty-first century. In the spirit of the Black Radical Tradition coined by Black scholar Cedric Robinson, I wanted to give name to that system of praxis that informs a Xican@ revolutionary tradition. This tradition as I articulate is radical, is revolutionary, is focused on community/pueblo/barrio, is liberatory, and is Indigenous. It is revolutionary because it detaches itself from western thought and systems and actively works toward abolishing it to resurge Indigenous knowledge and being. For Jack D. Forbes, he can arguably be seen as one of the pioneers of this Xican@ revolutionary tradition. As with the many other Xican@ poets, organizers, and activist, Forbes carved his own place within this tradition that radically shifted the origins and identity of Xican@s in the US Southwest.
Dr. Forbes was one of the first voices as an American Indian to recognize and assert Xican@s as an Indigenous people. Not only this, but he was actively organizing with Xican@s to bridge solidarity between American Indians and Xican@s as relatives and freedom fighters. Dr. Forbes was one of many who organized and founded the Chicano-Native project for creating an Indigenous community university called DQ-University, located in Davis, California. DQ-U was a great achievement in making available an Indigenous school that embraced Xican@s alongside their American Indian relatives. This school, although not centered on Indigenous curriculum, allowed the presence and community-building between American Indian and Xican@ students. DQ-U would be remembered as one of the first attempts at building a Native-Chicano college.
The scholarship produced by Dr. Forbes, such Aztecas del Norte: the Chicanos of Aztlan (1973), was a crucial contribution to Chicana/o Studies. Dr. Forbes would influence the thought and activism of Xican@s throughout the US Southwest, that included major figures such as Gloria Anzaldua. I stress these contributions to Xican@ intellectual thought because Dr. Forbes made it clear that “the Chicanos of Aztlan” were Indigenous peoples, and he would write and conduct research that pointed to these conclusions. We as students and community-scholars have an imperative to revisit Dr. Forbes and begin including his work in our collective discourse. He aids our understandings of our history, our material conditions, and how we can re-conceptualize who we are in the US.
Our Xican@ revolutionary tradition starts with the very questions Dr. Forbes asked 50 years ago, and what he continually critiqued in the twenty-first century. Whether it was his question on Aztlan or the conditions of Xican@s in the US Southwest, he made sure to understand the historical, theoretical, and future of Xican@ people on Turtle Island. In his recent book, Columbus and Other Cannibals (2013), he pointed to the Wétiko disease that plagued Turtle Island. His unique Native perspective gave voice to new language that was not predicated on western knowledge that gave an analysis of Native conditions within settler colonialism. This Wétiko disease after Dr. Forbes’ passing still remains and has been violently poisoning the lands, waters, and all of our relations for the last 525 years. What will it take for our people, our Nations, nuestros pueblos, our tribes, and our familia from these lands of Turtle Island to recognize our responsibility to heal not just ourselves but the Wétiko disease? For Xican@s, what strategies are we to imagine in today’s political climate? What will become of our Xican@ revolutionary traditions? Dr. Forbes, if we are to revisit his work, may offer us some clarity in times of confusion and collision in our ever expanding global world. He offers us rigor and radical thought in a world that seeks to eliminate Native peoples.
Unfortunately, much of Dr. Forbes’ texts are out of print, such as Aztecas del Norte: the Chicanos of Aztlan, or they are hard to find and inaccessible. This is due partly to demand, and we must demand Dr. Forbes’ work be available. Not many Native writers have spoken about Xican@s like Dr. Forbes had, and we owe it to his memory and legacy to read him and juggle with the ideas that he introduced 50 years ago.
For us to advance the Xican@ revolutionary tradition we must refocus our lens. We have a lot of work to do to provide a holistic paradigm that articulates Xican@ politics in the 21st century. Dr. Forbes contributed to that conversation, it is our duty to only push it forward, transform it, and regenerate it to give us a map of our futures.
“The oppressed peoples of the world are struggling to liberate themselves from both the material and the psychological forces of imperialism” (Forbes, 1973).
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
Collective members of Xicana Tiahui.
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