Walking to a Better Future: Survivance in “Pedagogy”

Throughout the years, indigenous and queer people have had to try and survive both in terms of actually living and in terms of representation in a world that does not want them. In Qwo-Li Driskill’s poem “Pedagogy” this sense of survival and trying to move forward is evident in the language used, specifically in the opening of the poem. Driskill opens with two quotes whose central theme is walking, one by Deborah Miranda, an Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen poet, and the other by Chrystos, a Menominee and two-spirit poet. These two quotes are connected through their common theme of walking.

“… I am still learning how to

walk in this world

without getting caught.”

Chrystos’ quote uses walking as how we move through our everyday lives. Specifically, this quote can be representative of what it means to be Indigenous, queer, or any other minority in a society where minorities are not always accepted. They’ve had to hid parts of who they are and learn how to get through live “without getting caught” or face sometimes deadly consequences. It is about survival and getting to the point where they no longer have to hid their full identity.

“We walk

alongside power, or

through it—carrying

our illnesses, fearing all

giving has gone to


Miranda begin her passage with the image of walking next to or through power. Walking implies moving forward and leaving the past behind to start fresh. By being beside power, it could mean that they, whoever “we” refers to, is getting closer to being equal to those with power. But what is interesting about this is that the second part of the quote brings in the image of “carrying our illnesses” that part of the past cannot be left behind and travels with individuals even as they move forward. Indigenous and queer people carry with them a long and painful history. They’ve had to carry that burden to get them to a place of power today, however I would not say that they hold equal power yet. They have sacrificed so much, so there is that underlying fear that “all giving has gone to the grave,” that all the sacrifices have led to very little improvement. But That fear has not stopped the walking, as shown by the present tense of the word, meaning that they are still there, not just as an image of survival but survivance.

Driskill chose to begin their poem, not with their own words but with the words of two Indigenous and two spirit activists and poets. Both speak of walk as how people move through life and toward the future. By beginning with these quotes before then leading into a poem that focuses on survival, Driskill is able to show two different perspectives on the future. One looks to merely surviving by hiding. The other acknowledges the difficult past but looks to not just survival but survivance, where the group is thriving.

2 thoughts on “Walking to a Better Future: Survivance in “Pedagogy””

  1. Hi! First of all, I found your interpretation of Qwo-Li Driskill’s poem “Pedagogy” to be incredibly insightful. Although I didn’t write about this poem, and instead focused on a specific stanza in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, I found several connections in how the stanza I analyzed relates to your analysis. I wrote about the stanza in Song of Myself that says, “I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,/To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand” and interpreted these words as Whitman’s ode to the joy of purely existing in the body and the world. I found this stanza to relate to your study of Pedagogy because of the shared theme both share of showing existence through a daily, monotonous task such as walking or, in my stanza, waking up. Although both poets experienced very different lives, there is a shared focus on moving through existences, and the joys and challenges of moving through life. They both also share a focus of looking towards the future and finding the happiness and hope that is to come. The themes of privilege and thriving seem to be apparent in both poems, as both play with how privilege is inherently existent in existence but also with how privilege is not universal and that it is important to recognize that surviving and thriving is not the same and, thus, do not quantify equally on the ‘scale’ of privilege.

  2. Your assertion of the two perspectives Driskoll includes in their poem is really interesting. Survivance is something that reflected in many of Driskoll’s poems. This concept rejects narratives of solely victimization and draws on resilience in art and life. While survivance is a unique term to Native Americans, the ideologies of resistance that appear in Exile and Pride share some similar elements. Clare rejects the portrayal of disabled people as victims without their own agency, as well as the portrayal of disabled people who “overcome” the hardships of their impairment being touted as inspirational outliers. Instead, Clare acknowledges the ability of disabled individuals to navigate a world geared toward the able-bodied and calls for the integration of disability politics in other political movements of resistance.

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