Citation for Rebecca Nagle
Rebecca Nagle. Author, teacher, performance artist. Indigenous and women’s rights activist. Fearless upsetter.
Upsetter? I’m borrowing, of course, from the name of one of your most visible projects: FORCE — Upsetting Rape Culture, an art and activist collective you co-founded and co-directed, dedicated to ending sexual violence.
To upset in this case means more than to disrupt. With the creative and deliberate use of radical public art, online campaigns, and direct action, you and your fellow upsetters set out to turn rape culture in upon itself by offering empowering antidotes and a clear alternative: a culture of active, joyous, necessary consent. This approach was exemplified by your hijacking of a Victoria’s Secret campaign to sell a line of underwear with problematic slogans by inventing a line of your own with phrases like “No means no.”
In another FORCE tour de force, you displayed dozens of red quilts on Washington D.C.’s National Mall, each comprising the stories of hundreds of rape and sexual assault survivors. The project may have upset some onlookers while upsetting the narrative of privacy and shame — and that was part of the point. You have built a legacy of bringing long-held secrets into the open, forcing the world to confront them, and upsetting our complacency enough to bring about change.
In this sense, you have never caused more upset than you have with your podcast, This Land. This Land grew out of an opinion piece you wrote for the Washington Post about a Supreme Court case, a murder trial that had the potential to lead to the formal restoration of tribal sovereignty over nearly half of Oklahoma’s land.
In eight packed and brilliant episodes, you not only detailed the facts, contexts, and potential consequences of the case — you did so by examining the United States’ difficult and complex history concerning tribal lands, and by telling the stories of the people it affected — including your own ancestors. You upset the quiet this history has been trapped in. And your reporting arguably influenced the ruling in a related case in 2020 that resulted in a win for Native rights.
It also all happens to be personal. You are a proud citizen of the Cherokee nation, and you identify as a two-spirit, queer woman. In your day job, you work to revitalize the Cherokee language, and as a writer and podcaster, you illuminate contemporary Native realities for all to see. A survivor yourself, you advocate fiercely to end violence against women and especially Native women, who are two and half times more likely to be raped or abused. And you do it all with passion, humor, intellectual clarity, tactical precision, and tireless dedication. As you urge at the end of This Land, we are certainly paying attention.
Rebecca Nagle — for bravely upsetting expectations about what we think we know about our past and our present; for your determined quest to make what is sometimes invisible, visible — it is my pleasure to present you with a 2021 Barnard Medal of Distinction.