Shoreline Entitlement: White Privilege and White Space in Northern Michigan

Before colonization the shoreline of the Great Lakes was 100% Anishinaabe, Algonquin, and Haudenosaunee operated and maintained.  Using the word “ownership,” has colonization and dominion attached to it so it is best to use English words that have a less colonizing tone.  Could you imagine how beautiful the shoreline was with no gigantic towering mansions or yacht clubs?  Could you imagine no hateful anti-Indian sentiment because we can do what we have been doing for thousands of years which is hunt, fish, and gather as our innate right as the original people of this land?  The beauty of Anishinaabe Aki before colonization was beyond words, cliché saying, but beyond English words more specifically, eh?  What would it be like if we could stand along the shore without getting the White gaze and racial macro-aggression from the penny millionaire tourists who think we shouldn’t be there?  The water was pure and there was no pipelines running underneath certain areas like the Straits of Mackinac near Mackinac Island, which was a ceremonial place for our Anishinaabe people for thousands of years. 

Then came the terra nullius (Latin for “nobody’s land”) believers and Christian inquisitionist to save us when we didn’t need saving at all.  Then came Father Marquette and Bishop Baraga.  Indians needed Christianity because we were sinners and not living according to the great patriarchal colonial and abusive father, who had long before broken down the tribes of Europe.  Then came land being divided up and sold.   “Manifest Destiny,” meant colonization, genocide, assimilation, and the creation of the biggest form of environmental racism, the reservation system.  Land allotments and land for sale for the hungry immigrant who ran from persecution only to persecute us.  Then came poverty created by White patriarchal settler colonialism.  Then our women were regulated to wear skirts and cook for men and no longer made the men cook for us.  As our traditional economies, harvesting, and gathering of foods prior to colonization had gender balance.  Then came abuse, silencing, denying depression, which led to greater oppression, because we were not allowed to speak about the abhorrent land, culture, and soul loss.  We had to “integrate” into patriarchal White settler colonialism only to be marginalized, oppressed further, discriminated against, denied access to our waterways, harvesting traditional foods, and denied existence in a consistent racially discriminating majority culture. 

What is Shoreline Entitlement?

“For those in power in the West… Whiteness is felt to be the human condition… it alone defines normality and fully inhabits it… White people have power and believe that they think, feel and act like and for all people; White people, unable to see their particularity, cannot take account of other people’s; White people create dominant images of the world and don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image; White people set the standards of humanity by which they are bound to succeed and others bound to fail. Most of this is not done deliberately and maliciously; there are enormous variations in power amongst White people to do with class, gender, and other factors; goodwill is not unheard of in White people’s engagement with others.  White power none the less reproduces itself regardless of intention, power differences and goodwill, and overwhelmingly because it is not seen as Whiteness, but as normal.” – Richard Dyer, White: Essays on Race and Culture

  1. White possession is a regime of power while infiltrates all larger systems.
  2. Whiteness is invisible to White people.
  3. White possession is hyper visible to Indigenous people.
  4. The beach and shoreline as a White masculine space.
  5. The Indigenous body and land as a White possession.
  6. The problematic racial Black/White binary as Indigenous erasure.
  7. Equal opportunity is defined under patriarchal White sovereignty.
  8. Treaty rights are limiting, partial, controlled, and monitored rights. 
  9. The denial of Métis identity in colonial and occupied United States.
  10. Denial of woman’s and Two-Spirit's space on the shoreline and waterways. 
USDA report ( Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007 )

USDA report (Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007)

The Disease of Colonization

“Race matters in the lives of all peoples; for some people it confers unearned privileges, and for others it is the mark of inferiority.  Daily newspapers, radio, television, and social media usually portray Indigenous peoples as a deficit model of humanity.  We are overrepresented as always lacking, dysfunctional, alcoholic, violent, needy, and lazy whether we are living in Illinois, Auckland, Honolulu, Toronto, or Brisbane.  For Indigenous people, White possession is not unmarked, unnamed, or invisible; it is hypervisible.” – The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty, by Aileen Moreton-Robinson

White possession is very visible to Native people as in land, when we want to hunt, when we want to put our boat on the water and fish, when we want to enjoy a walk along the shoreline of one of the Great Lakes, or knowing that the dialogue on “natural resources” focuses on patriarchal “environmentalism” as a special White middle class interest.  Often non-Native people will say things, “why is so and so defensive?”  The majority of Native people can personally attest to discrimination and racism which leads us to be on the defense at all times or we have severe trauma not just from the majority culture but within our own non-communities because of blood quantum, tribal politics, and internalized oppression.  We are survivors of genocide who are told to “get over it,” while being simultaneously discriminated against, stereotyped via mascots, and our issues blatantly censored in the lamestream media.  Additionally, we have to exist within White possessions, space, and entitlement while explaining our identity when we don’t fit into the stereotypical perspective of what it means to be Indian.  Finally, the visibility of White possession outright ignores sovereignty, land, and Native lives through colonial legislation, injustice systems, police, military, family systems, and “property rights.” 

Where White possession is most visible is along the shoreline of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan.  Think about the land before colonization.  I always am but my viewpoint is rare because it is not steeped in patriarchy but the strong foundation of my ancestors from a Two-Spirit matriarchal view.  In the summer I spend a lot of time on the shoreline.  Often engaging in prayer or running/walking.  This is one way to decolonize daily.  Decolonization is every single step.  When the White gaze comes my way from tourists who think Indians don't exist anymore I just stare right back at them.  I advocate for my serenity and peace.  With serenity I can counter racism and bigotry with love (zaagidewin).  Therefore, I stand on the shore while holding it down with decolonized love for the land, water, our relations, ancestors, family, community, and healing.  What is powerful is holding the space when as Native people we have very little space.

The Dawes Act of 1887 – Land for Sale, Private Property

The truth is that White space is backed by federal laws in the colonial United States.  Redlining occurred in the major metropolitan areas in the United States so there was concentrated poverty within communities of color and White space in the suburbs.  For Native American people White space took everything and blocked our beautiful way of life in terms of traditional economies.  Every molecule of our existence and livelihood was swallowed up and backed by federal laws.  The Dawes Act of 1887 has four important stipulations which occur in an order that describes colonization and land loss.  These stipulations include the following: imposed individual land ownership, heirship, surplus land was opened up to White settlement, and checker boarding. 

A poem I wrote in 1998.   I was 16 years old. 

A poem I wrote in 1998.   I was 16 years old. 

What Settlers Can Do

Settlers don’t think much about Native people.  The general theme is everything is fine, I’ve got mine, and I’ll feel good if I send $20 to the local soup kitchen.  Settler colonialism has purposefully erased us and established a colonial nation with States.  Within States there are Counties.  Within Counties there are Cities, Towns, Townships, Villages, and Unincorporated Villages.  The un-incorporation sounds like it business, eh?  It is a colonial business and it has gone on way too long.  Settlers play a part in this business as maintained by the federal government to local government.  It is all the same. 

Settlers seem to be in denial of the problem like an addiction.  This occupied land by the colonial business of the United States is an addiction.  Many countries around the world don’t like the United States.  You can see why.  Although these countries are not perfect in how they have treated Indigenous people yet Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have at least started working reconciliation issues.  Meanwhile in the colonial United States there has been no movement.  Resource colonization, environmental racism, and job discrimination is continued colonization.  If you think colonization is over you are colonization denial and need to check into a decolonization anonymous group!

Settlers don’t know where to start.  Usually they want to work more and disconnect from their children by working 80 hours a week.  They want to numb out in front of TV or eat toxic foods.  They believe the “history” books in high school and pledge allegiance to genocide.  This land is not your land as this land is Native land.  Actually admitting you have a problem doesn’t mean you are enlightened.  By acknowledging you see and want to listen to Native people you are on the first step to being a settler ally.  Most settlers in the United States have a problem.  

Efforts to Honor Us and Our Shoreline

I believe we are being honored more than my Grandfather’s time.  There are water ceremonies and awareness drawn to communities like Aamjiwnaang First Nation in occupied Sarnia, Ontario, to water walks in many of our tribal communities throughout the entire Great Lakes.  However we have a lot of work to do to fully bring healing and justice within our Anishinaabe communities.  The stereotype is that Indian’s have casinos so they are fine now.  This is not true at all.   Land loss is culture loss.  We need space for grieving and healing.  We need space to be honored and acknowledged.  We need more space to the shoreline without fear of dealing with racism whether enjoying the Great Lakes or fishing.  Honor us and work hard to do so because our existence is resistance in the persistence of this toxicity of settler colonization.  Some of us are working hard to survive in this great oppression and rise above.  Work harder for us and be aware of more than your privilege.  Like any addiction after you acknowledge you have a problem you work hard to heal the root cause.   


Works Cited

  1. Freire, Paulo (1970).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  The Continuum Publishing Company.
  2. Moreton-Robinson, A. (2015). The White possessive: Property, power, and indigenous sovereignty. University of Minnesota Press