Postapocalyptic Peoples? COVID-19, Public Health, and Native Americans
Ms Anna KemballZoom
This paper locates the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon Native Americans within longer histories of settler coloniality and health inequities, in order to assert the need for greater collaboration between the critical medical humanities and Indigenous studies. I frame the practices of statistical erasure (including a failure to publicly report ethnographic data) during the United States’ first wave of the pandemic as a troubling deployment of the ‘Vanishing Indian’ trope. This cultural trope, which employs a settler colonial logic of elimination (Wolfe 2006), renders Native Americans invisible and consequently risks structural bias, cultural dislocation, and inadequate resource allocation as the pandemic continues.
Against this denial of the visibility and vitality of Indigenous cultures, I juxtapose a contradictory cultural trope. A strategic framing Indigenous peoples as ‘postapocalyptic’ – as having already endured the ‘end of the world’ – is employed by Indigenous Futurist thinkers (Dillon 2012) in order to celebrate centuries of survival amidst the failure of settler governance to fully assimilate Indigenous cultures. After an overview of health crises and mass extinction in recent works of Indigenous Futurist fiction, I will propose a sustained critique of this discursive erasure and denial of sovereign Indigenous health governance.