This week, we explore various spaces of exception. We spoke with Matt Peterson, a documentary filmmaker and contributor to a multimedia project called the Native and the Refugee. Along with Malek Rasamny, he has worked in both native reservations and Palestinian refugee camps, drawing links between each as spaces of exception, excluded from the national constitutional order, but also drawing strength from deep connections to the land and a surviving communal order. They emphasize this positive aspect of exceptionality, and Matt describes first hand the collective resilience he observed at Standing Rock. We were inspired by this resilience, and it again reminded us of the collective dignity demonstrated by prisoners in the face of institutional violence and degradation.
To pursue these connections farther, we interviewed an ex-worker from Indiana’s New Castle prison who was present during the 2007 uprising there. She describes the protests of Native prisoners who were shipped to Indiana from Arizona as part of a for-profit deal by the GEO corporation running the prison. As part of their transfer, guards desecrated sacred objects important to these prisoners, and anger about this desecration was central to the uprising. She reveals that the rebellion was not about “pornography” and was not a race riot, the red herrings presented by the DOC, but was instead an act of resistance by native prisoners collaborating with local prisoners of other races. The uprising ultimately forced the DOC to return the prisoners to Arizona. This story from Indiana reinforces Peterson’s point that native ways of life are a living exception within a society dominated by the logic of governance and the economy.