Kim Tallbear on an indigenous logic of relationality

I just walked home from a talk at ConcordiaU entitled Distrupting settlement, sex, and nature: An indigenous logic of relationality by Kim Tallbear (PhD). This was a talk where your heart explodes exponentially and you cannot stop nodding your head and jotting down the messiest, but most connected notes of your life. This talk invigorated me in the best and worst of ways, having me face some of my own contemptuous thoughts, mostly in regards to nonhuman animal ethics. It was a special talk in that Tallbear is in the crux of playing around and thinking about what she spoke about tonight so the question period was as enlightening to us as it was to her. It is notable that she sat uncomfortable with a lot of the key words on her poster-ad such as “sustainable”, ‘are we going back or forth’ and also her taking up sci-fi. As someone who is really into relationality, she was surely supportive of collaborating on thoughts with her audience (there must be a better word).


Where do I begin, to boil down her talk into a few key words which by no means, intend to be deflating, circling conversations around intimacy and the erotic (in a good Audre Lord fashion). Tallbear touched on the most prominent themes in my life: intimacy and the question of kin. She takes both of these concepts and throws them into the realm of contemplating relationality, meaning, to see oneself as partial and always co-constituted by other(s). To see the world in terms of this, as I am learning more and more, is to ‘not have faith in scarcity’ but to not hoard to paraphrase Tallbear.

That is it- that hits the point. Most of our relationships with the world are enclosed by some sort of normative and acceptable politics of how to orient and operate oneself in the world. A deep seated fear is to blur what is ‘reality’. But many of us cannot handle this reality that the status quo report on time and time again. It is exhausting, it is restrictive, it is full of shame and it is constantly asking us to ‘take-away’ from ourselves in order to behave accordingly. This singular reality that is asked of us is one that is stressed and created continuously resulting in the naturalized settler  heteropatriarchal monogamy that both Tallbear and David Delgado Shorter speak to. Tallbear offered the term ethical non-monogamy as the best place holder she had at this time to counter the master narratives of heteropatriachal monogamy. I cannot exclaim how beautiful it was to encounter these words. Heterosexual monogamy has made no sense in my life, and it has been about promiscuity but in line with her definition that speaks to plurality, not excess, not randomness, but openness to multiple, partial connections. This carries throughout my relationships with a point to demystify the spaces and scripts we create that differentiate lovers and friends, to create hierarchies were you dispense love and care.

Moving a few steps in a different, but relatable direction, I was particularly struck and excited about conversations of kinship. As somebody whose biological family has become non-existent, and incredibly minute where it remains, defining my understanding of kinship has been incredulous to remaining a capacious person. Tallbear speaks to this language we lack, that we are slowly developing… This feeds into us appointing particular arrangements in order to define what we are experiencing, however, from a simple understanding of performativity- this is followed by an effect- and when/where does this effect be decided up? The heteropatriarchal capitalist white settler society has been defining these effects for far too long.

Leaving us with no choice to move towards creating new languages, new arrangements that do not have embedded obligations but prioritize responsibilities that surpass the nuclear family. We need to collect our communities and that includes nonhuman lives.

This brings me to the most impactful aspect of Tallbear’s talk, my nonhuman animal ethics. What are my nonhuman animal ethics based on? An inclusion into the human? Is this why I study hated nonhuman animals, to further amend the inclusion? Is this the right pathway? Is inclusion the right framework? Inclusion seems mighty different than thinking in relationality terms. The more and more I think on this, and relocate moments were my position was challenged (ie. a rereading of kinship with monkeys: the guaja foragers of easter amazonia by loretta a cormier and some eduardo kuhn are necessary) I find myself embace a relational position towards nonhman animal life. However, as both Tallbear’s talk and even Val Plumwood’s work on troubling the edibleness of humans suggest, there is the potential for consumption of each other, in some sort of endocannibalistic act. I am arriving at this point but require more, something to build upon this relational ethic with nonhuman animals that in an attempt to create a multispecies worldview, still renders them as consumable. I am more than excited over Val Plumwood’s attempt at designating humans as also consumable, but the conditions of today would never, ever permit that (however, human cheese and breast milk tasting parties are indespensible in challenging these designations).

I will continue from these thoughts shortly in upcoming posts, especially after having some needed conversations with radicals in my life about troubling our animal ethics as nonhuman animal scholars and because as I am learning to be a geographer spatial emancipation is becoming my compass in understanding what tools I want to pick from this discipline and Tallbear’s words fit into the world I am striving for.

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