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Resistance is Not Futile

Stages of Resistance
Yvette Nolan wears a brown jacket and a necklace with a charm in the shape of a cube. Behind her, a pale purple background lit in a gradient.

This piece is part of a new Lark blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called 
"Stages of Resistance." This salon welcomes reflections and articles on issues and themes related to making work for live performance in political and 
​aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor and/or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this blog series hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and early April 2017.

Resistance is futile, the Borg said to – well, to pretty much everybody in Star Trek.  Your culture will adapt to service us, the Borg said.

I come from a long line of people who have resisted assimilation for hundreds of years.

Survivance – the port-manteau of survival and resistance (as suggested by Jace Weaver) or of survival and endurance, as suggested by others. Anishinaabe scholar Gerald Vizoner, who ushered the term into more common usage in the 21st century, names “an active sense of presence” as a part of survivance.  Regardless - or irregardless, as my late mother Helen Thundercloud woulda said, tongue firmly in cheek - resistance is how we survive, how the things we value survive. Things like ceremony, like songs and language, like stories. Like free speech, and bravery, and generosity.

I have a complicated relationship with Buffalo Bill, that old showman, who hired “Indians” and put them in his Wild West Shows. Yes, he is largely responsible for the continuing “beads and buckskin” representation of Indigenous folks that we still combat today, but – When Indigenous people were being starved and murdered and corralled onto tiny pieces of inhospitable land, the Wild West Show offered a way to eat, a way to live, a way to survive.

And we hid things in there. We hid dances and songs, ceremonies and knowledge, tucked them away inside the performances. Yes, sometimes they were transformed by the act. I hold Buffalo Bill responsible for fancydancing, imagining him looking at a traditional dance and suggesting improvements, sexing it up with more feathers, more complicated footwork, more spins. But performing our lives gave us the opportunity to survive and endure.

We live in dangerous times. Each of us will have to choose just how much we can do in the face of the danger. Making art will become even more dangerous. Some of us will decide it is too risky, that we need to protect our families or our finances or our facilities, and some of us will have to be generous with those who make those decisions, refrain from shaming or blaming.  But whatever is going to happen, is going to happen to us all, whether we choose to take up artistic arms or not. I think of Malcolm’s statement “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, the rock was landed on us”. We do not have a choice but to participate in this history that is being made.

But courage, friends. Resistance is not futile. We do not have to deliver our culture to the service of the administration. We can resist in so many ways, by “standing with” as Randy Reinholz has articulated, by supporting others, as Cecilia Copeland has exhorted us, by expressing gratitude as Lila Rose Kaplan has, by refusing to be silenced, as Christina Quintana states. By listening to each other, and to others, by supporting those who are fatigued, and those who are out in front, exposing themselves to the dangers.  By remembering our teachings, and our values, and putting them into our work, every day.