By: Alicia Montellanos
“Why I Teach ‘The Walking Dead’ in American Indian Studies Classes”: Settler Colonialism, Zombies and the End of the World. This is the title of the lecture given by Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, who is a new professor in the Department of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She includes The Walking Dead in her American Indian Studies Classes, as the title of her lecture clearly states. But, it is at first odd to see what the relationship might be between The Walking Dead and American Indian studies, that these two things have anything in common with each other.
Dr. Risling attempted to explain what these two subjects have in common, and did so quite successfully. Her hour-long lecture took place at the Center for Intercultural Studies, located inside SDSU’s Aztec Student Union building, last Thursday night. Dr. Risling arrived around 5:30 p.m. The room was already overcrowded by students, most of them attending for extra credit.
Naturally, I thought Dr. Risling’s lecture would turn into a compact lecture of Native American history. This can get boring if you’re already associated with the history or if this just wasn’t what you had in mind about the lecture. However, I thought wrong, and I’m glad. Dr. Risling’s lecture didn’t assume the audience to be associated with the history of Native Americans, and it wasn’t necessary to be very familiar with it.
She opened her lecture with the question, “What the heck do you say to someone who tells Native Americans to just get over it?” Dr. Risling attempted to define what the ‘it’ in the question stood for. Did it stand for the genocide (as opposed to death of Native Americans)? The alcohol abuse? The invasion (as opposed to taking of the land)? That is when she made the connection between traumatic experiences of the characters experiencing the apocalyptic scenario they are situated in.
At first it sounds like a bit of a stretch. How can you compare the experience of Native Americans to the experience of a zombie apocalypse? It almost sounds absurd, but the real question is, how can you not compare them? The language barrier, the genocide, the stealing of the land, the drastic turn of morality, the trauma. These are some of the aspects that characterize the world of The Walking Dead and the history of Native Americans.
Dr. Risling showed images of The Walking Dead, and maps to locate the regions where genocides and other atrocities caused by colonialists took place. Although she did go into the history of Native Americans, it didn’t feel like a lecture, as much as it did like necessary contextualizing, putting tragic historical events into this new and modern perspective, (because, really, who thought zombies could have anything in common with colonialists?).
I hope Dr. Risling offers this lecture again, and I strongly urge Walking Dead fans, and folks interested in Native American history to attend it. You won’t regret it and, I can assure you, you will leave appreciating the new insight gained.