Tag Archives: Idle No More

ndn: From Internet Abbreviation to 21st Century Identifier


Debbie says:

This article by Lou Cornum is two weeks old, which means that in Internet time it’s practically last year’s news; fortunately, Cornum’s analysis goes back to 2010 and earlier and will not be out of date any time soon. I wanted to write about it because so much of this is new to me — and shouldn’t be.

Though its meaning may at first have been unclear, “ndn” is now widely understood online to mean Indian. But how does anyone know if they’ve ever actually heard ndn? The word is hard to say aloud in a way that marks its divergence from Indian. I sometimes jokingly exaggerate the undertones of French pronunciation in the nasalization of n-dee-n (or Indienne). Otherwise, I am content to say “Indian” and hope that those I speak to, those in the know, can hear what I’m really saying: ndn.

This difficulty in articulation indicates how well-suited ndns are to the internet. Ndn is a subtraction made substantive, marking how terms made to describe Indigenous peoples are always lacking — indeed how we are made to lack and always feel lacking. But in the word’s notes of subversion and irreverence, as well as its widespread use in forming digital collectives and connections, ndn also signals the ways in which ndns build worlds even as ours are invaded and denigrated. This remains true in the ways ndns emerged on the internet and continue to use internet spaces for cultural expression, consciousness-raising and political organization. In my time on the ndn internet, the term has come to signify not just a clever transfiguration but also a digital model for how ndns might form new kinds of relationships at the outer limits of colonial categories.

I am, of course, familiar with reclaiming terms that are historically used pejoratively. In a week that just saw the Dyke March, and a lot of queer culture, that transformation is easy to see. This struck me as a qualitatively different kind of reclaiming and transformation: not simply reframing a term in common usage, but repurposing an abbreviation-for-convenience and recognizing the effect of its content: as Corum says above, using the way terms for their people are “always lacking.”

I also appreciate the way ndn takes advantage of current technology in a culture rightfully known for upholding ancient traditions:

Ndn was born on the internet. Like multiplying fungal fruits, new language forms sprout from disturbances and cross-fertilizations. I can’t pinpoint when or where ndn began, but my feeling is it popped up in various patches simultaneously. Once a large number of Native people got on the internet, we began to build ways of connecting and alerting ourselves to our own mass. Again and again, #ndn emerged as the node we extended into a solidifying network. By the mid-2000s, Ndn Country had arrived. …

As a hashtag, #ndn has been forming an archive of Indigenous people’s missives and creating portals to click through to each other. It provides a sense of multitudinous widespread groups of ndn people, much more in excess of what a word like Indian attempts to contain. Each #ndn is like a little land claim, staking out as Indigenous a much different kind of space than is usually associated with Indigenous territories. In cyber space our claims to collective presence across many tribal and national affiliations may be bound by the constraints of code and tied to physical IP addresses, but an online network also allows people from disparate territories to hold and shape a new kind of digitally-grounded, diffuse territory together.

Cornum’s article is long and thoughtful, and goes into contemporary politics (including Idle No More and Standing Rock), their internal experience, research into the history of ndn, and more. If you aren’t already familiar with this term and its resonances (as I really was not), or if you swim in these waters, you’ll appreciate the whole piece.

I appreciate the effort of this particular ndn exploring their own digital landscape and personal history in public, and being gracious enough to let me watch the process.

Living in Weimar 2: Creative Ferment


Laurie and Debbie say:


We’re not the only people thinking about the Weimar Republic while reading the news. Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker just before the Republican National Convention, turned an art review into an analysis of both historical Weimar and contemporary U.S. politics.

Two thoughts, not strictly political but social, come to mind …: First, that the Weimar Republic gets a very bad rap for how it ended and insufficient credit for how much creative ferment and intelligent thought it contained. The notion that it was above all, or unusually, decadent was a creation of its enemies, who defined the creative energies of cosmopolitanism in that way. All republics are fragile; the German one, like the Third French Republic it paralleled, did not commit suicide—it was killed, by many murderers, not least by those who thought they could contain an authoritarian thirsting for power. And, second, that the United States has been the ultimate home of so many cosmopolitan citizens rejected by Europe. People expelled by hate from Europe wanted desperately to get to the American Midwest, to cities like Chicago…. Cosmopolitanism is not a tribal trait; it is a virtue, as much as courage or honesty or compassion. Almost without exception, the periods of human civilization that we admire as we look back have been cosmopolitan in practice; even those, like the Bronze Age, that we imagine as monolithic and traditional turn out to be shaped by trade and exchange and multiple identity.

It is always easy to fall into despair about the world, and ever easier as the news becomes more global, more instantaneous, and more omnipresent.  That’s why it’s so deeply important to take a wider view.

Our times also get insufficient credit for how much creative ferment and intelligent thought we contain. We live in a time that is

  • bringing indigenous movements to protect and sustain the earth (Idle No More is just one example) into prominence and some power
  • going completely over-the-moon about a radical hip-hop musical about the role of brown people in the time of the U.S. founding fathers
  • seeing the principles of the Occupy movement of a few years ago resurface as a powerful and perhaps lasting wing of a major American party
  • moving Black Lives Matter into the forefront of the national conversation
  • creating grassroots movements which force more and more municipalities, counties, and perhaps soon states to ban coal terminals, prohibit fracking, protect and restore clean water

The list is much longer, but you get the idea. All of these victories have costs; all are balanced by defeats, obstacles, and naysayers, but they are happening. And they only happen to the extent that people — here as in Weimar — are engaged, passionate, committed, and thoughtful.

As Gopnik says later in his article, “While the habits of hatred get the better of the right, the habits of self-approval through the fiction of being above it all contaminate the center.”

In our first post of this series, we quoted from Harold Meyerson’s article in The American Prospect. Here’s another piece of his analysis:

… the Nazi regime, [Ernest] Thälmann, [leader of the German Communist Party from the late 1920s until the Nazis arrested him a few months after they took power in 1933] argued, should not vex leftists, as the Communists would quickly overthrow it. “After Hitler, Us!” was the Communists’ slogan throughout 1932 and early 1933…

In a sense, Thälmann, was right. After Hitler’s death in 1945 and the Nazi surrender, the Communists, through the strength of the Soviet army, did come to power in East Germany. By then, of course, close to 60 million people had died in World War II and the Holocaust, and Thälmann himself, at Hitler’s command, was killed in Buchenwald in 1944.

Thälmannism, then, is the inability (be it duplicitous, willful, fanatical, or just plain stupid) to distinguish between, on the one hand, a rival political tendency that has made the compromises inherent to governance and, on the other hand, fascism.

If the habits of hatred get the better of the right, and the habits of self-approval contaminate the center, the habits of thinking in purist terms were a major piece of the downfall of the effervescent progress in Weimar.

That mistake was disastrous then, and must not be made now.

Thanks to Alan Bostick for the pointer to the Gopnik article.