Tag Archives: indigenous nationhood

Sage Against the Machine: Being Truth to Power

Hwy401 Blockade

By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

In the wake of two horrific world wars, American Quakers coined the phrase “speak truth to power” as part of a campaign for peace. The truth they wished to voice to the American public, its leaders, and to power itself was a familiar one: “love endures and overcomes.” Speaking truth to power stood in contrast to the silence of cold obedience as exemplified by the professional soldier. Here, the Quakers follow a long-standing tradition in western political thought of identifying speech with agency and disobedience.

This view of politics extends back to the ancient Greeks and reflects the guiding intuition behind contemporary democratic institutions. Throughout that long history, the disruptive potential of speech has been a mainstay of emancipatory movements, struggles for the full inclusion of the marginalized, and the fight for basic equalities that have been historically denied. Dominant communities have accordingly sought to protect their privilege by limiting the ‘voice’ of groups who seek to speak their truths.

But a very different strategy of power is deployed when contending with groups who seek collective autonomy as opposed to equality and inclusion. In the past half-century, settler colonial society has come to realize that excluding Indigenous peoples and their perspectives from public discourse has not stopped them from speaking to one another or from strengthening their nations. These nations are, of course, rooted in the very lands over which dominant society unilaterally asserts its claim of sovereignty. Formal exclusion has proven a limited strategy. And so Indigenous nationhood movements have inspired a distinctive and seemingly counter-intuitive response from dominant society: an invitation (sometimes even a demand) that Indigenous peoples speak truth to power.

Why would colonial institutions accommodate and in some cases encourage the voices of Indigenous peoples? Because at its core, what settler society fears more than the disruptive potential of Indigenous speech is the inevitability that Indigenous peoples, once released from an imposed duty to justify themselves to the colonizer, will turn that massive investment of energy back into being truth to power. Being truth to power is reflected in those embodied practices of love for community and for the land, diverse practices that undermine the homogenizing violence that sustains colonial privilege. Accordingly, colonial power increasingly works through sites of dialogue designed to sap the vitality from these embodied practices of autonomy. The goal is to lift Indigenous peoples out of communities and off the land and drop them into a permanent state of explanation, a limbo wherein they are compelled to talk endlessly to settlers about community and about land.

When Indigenous peoples are not engaged in being truth to power, then, it is often because they have been induced to explain and justify themselves to a colonial audience. They have been tireless and resilient at the podium, these elders, activists, advocates, academics, lawyers, artists, teachers, and children. They have tapped every shared register and common understanding available in the hopes that genuine reciprocity might drip, however slowly, into the rusted tin can of colonial institutions. They have argued for nationhood through the abstract lens of high philosophy, through the concrete immediacy of violence against women, and from every location in between. They have deployed the arcane legal language that colonial courts revere as authoritative and they have attempted to transpose Indigenous perspectives into every idiom that the general public might understand. They have been repeating the message at every opportunity and in every institution be it the media, grade schools, universities, courts, legislatures, international governance bodies, conferences, committees, commissions, corporate boardrooms and negotiating tables.

Indigenous peoples are prompted to reach across the colonial abyss by the urgency and immediacy of threats to health and well-being. Despite the fact that these efforts have led to some important gains, from the perspective of settler colonial power there are advantages to promoting still more dialogue. For one, such exchanges are an important method of maintaining surveillance and control. As mentioned, they also sap and divert vital energy. But there is another, less obvious reason why settlers champion more robust discourse: Indigenous ‘voice’ is the primary source of narcissistic settler redemption.

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We Belong to Each Other: Resurgent Indigenous Nations


By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

What happens when the salmon people can no longer catch salmon in their rivers? Or when the medicines, waters, and traditional foods that Indigenous people have relied on for millennia to sustain their communities become contaminated with toxins? And how will future generations view our efforts to protect and respect the places and relationships we value?  It’s no accident that in places where Indigenous nations thrive on their homelands and exercise their self-determining authority, those natural environments are biologically diverse and healthy. State-run environments, on the other hand, are often sites of unlimited extraction, freshwater depletion, desertification, deforestation, and the overall destruction of genetic and biological diversity. The fact that over eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity thrives on Indigenous lands is not a coincidence.

Whether disguised as states, corporations, non-governmental organizations etc., colonial powers treat the planet as a tradeable commodity to be militarized and exploited. In the quest for unlimited growth via new versions of the Doctrine of Discovery, each state/corporate extraction project attempts to disconnect Indigenous people from their collective and individual roles and responsibilities to land, culture, and community. Yet as resurgent Indigenous nations reclaiming and maintaining our place-based existences, we become credible threats to the future survival of the colonial system.

While state governments attempt to “claim” Indigenous peoples as citizens, workers, and/or rights-holders, Indigenous nations claim their own in a much different way: as relations with inherent responsibilities to our homelands, cultures, and communities. A Cherokee word that describes these lived relationships is digadatsele’i or “we belong to each other”. It is this sense of belonging that breaks through the colonial confines of the “nuclear family” and guides our relational responsibilities as clan mothers, chiefs, grandmothers, grandfathers, youth, children, parents etc. Mississauga Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson describes it as a “series of radiating responsibilities”, which require actions to reciprocate and renew these relationships.

Our self-determining authority as Indigenous nations is grounded in healthy, continuously-renewed relationships. For Cherokees, the notion of Gadugi expresses how our governance has persisted for over 10,000 years on the land: people working together in a spirit of community comaraderie. According to Cherokee Elder Benny Smith, Gadugi is a community-centered process that ensures “no one is left alone to climb out of a life endeavor”. This cooperative, place-based consciousness ensures that community is valued through respect, reciprocity and humility. As Indigenous peoples, we have long memories and despite state attempts to erase our presence on the land/water, we embody the struggle to reclaim, reconnect, and regenerate our place-based existence. Remembering life beyond the state and acting on those remembrances is resurgence!

When I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona, an official from the Mexican consulate gave a talk at the university shortly after the Zapatista (EZLN) uprising in 1994. At one point, the Mexican official said that there was no legitimate reason for the Zapatistas to rebel against the government because “we’re all Indigenous, we’re mestizo, and we all have some Native blood.” It was stunning to hear such ignorance and I realized later how prevalent this classic colonial tactic was. It is common for states to proclaim “we are you” in order to legitimize their continued presence on the land. And what the Mexican government official stated is the essence of a nation-state mentality – justifying their illegal occupation of Indigenous homelands by creating the illusion that the state and nation are the same things.

Over 500 years of experience tells us that state-building is about nation-destroying. An Indigenous nation’s self-determining authority comes not from the state but directly from the land itself and thousands of years of experience living in relation to the land, not just on it. States and corporations founded on the theft of Indigenous homelands are inherently unsustainable, which is why they utilize colonial mechanisms such as fear, repression and jurisdictional fictions. But our love for the land and our relations cannot be overcome by state violence, and we live on as Indigenous nations despite colonial attempts to erase Indigenous peoples and our place-based relationships from the landscape.

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Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee Nation, Wolf Clan) is an Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. Jeff’s research has been published in Alternatives, American Indian Quarterly, Canadian Journal of Human Rights, Decolonization, Human Rights Quarterly, Nationalism and Ethnic Studies, and Social Science Journal. You can follow him on Twitter: @JeffCorntassel

What Does the Land Mean to Us?

Wet'suwet'en Nation

A Warrior is the one who can use words so that everyone knows they are part of the same family. A Warrior says what is in the people’s hearts, talks about what the land means to them, brings them together to fight for it.

– Bighorse, Diné

By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

If the goals of decolonization are justice and peace, as is often stated by governments and people in Native politics, then the process to achieve these goals must reflect a basic covenant on the part of both Onkwehonwe and Settlers to honour each others’ existences. This honouring cannot happen when one partner in the relationship is asked to sacrifice their heritage and identity in exchange for peace. This is why the only possibility of a just relationship between Onkwehonwe and the Settler society is the conception of a nation-to-nation partnership between peoples, the kind of relationship reflected in the original treaties of peace and friendship consecrated between indigenous peoples and the newcomers when white people first started arriving in our territories.

Settlers rebuke attempts to reason logically through the problem in this way. Mainstream arguments about restitution (paying for crimes and giving back land) and reconciliation (creating peace) always end up becoming conservative defences of obvious injustices against even the most principled and fair arguments for restitution. Tolerating crimes encourages criminality. But the present Settler argument presumes that since the injustices are historical and the passage of time has certainly led to changed circumstances for both the alleged perpetrators and for the victims, the crime has been erased and there is no obligation to pay for it. This is the sophisticated version of the common Settler sentiment: “The Indians may have had a rough go of it, but it’s not my fault: I wasn’t around 100 years ago” or, “I bought my ranch from the government, fair and square!”

But this idea, so commonly held by white people, is wrong; it assumes that the passage of time leads to changes in circumstance. This is fundamentally untrue, especially when made in relation to Onkwehonwe, Settler societies, and what has happened between us. Between the beginning of this century and the beginning of the last, people’s clothes may have changed, their names may be different, but the games they play are the same. Without a real change in the realities of our relationship, there is no way we can consider the wrongs that have been done as historical. The crime of colonialism is ongoing today, and its perpetrators are present among us.

Where are we on these questions now, as Onkwehonwe? When our demands are put forward to the Settler governments accurately — not co-opted or softened by aboriginal collaborators with white power, Onkwehonwe all over the Americas have three main demands:

1.     governance over a defined territory;
2.    control of resources within that territory, with the expectation of sharing the proceeds of development with the state; and
3.    the legal and political recognition of Onkwehonwe cultural beliefs and ways in that territory.

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I Am Not a Nation-State

inm-raisedfist-4colours-highres1By , Voices Rising (Indigenous Nationhood Movement)

This past winter, Idle No More organizers in Toronto recognized that although Indigenous peoples have been talking about nationhood for years, the idea of Indigenous nationhood is a concept still very misunderstood by Canadians. In response, the Toronto organizers launched a dialogue called “Nation to Nation Now – The Conversations” which took place at the end of March in Toronto. They invited speakers from both the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinaabeg nation to come together and share about what nationhood means to us from within our own political traditions. Wanda Nanibush moderated a discussion between myself and Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle.

Robert and I were on first. I got up very early and drove into the city on the 401, following the north shore of Lake Ontario. I remembered our old stories of what the land used to look like and I wondered if my Great, Great Grandmother would even recognize her homeland with the nuclear plant, the condos, and the six lanes of traffic that never stop day or night. I wondered if she were here with me, in the car, driving as the sun came up if she’d feel home. It struck me at that moment that our nationhood, my nationhood by its very nature calls into question this system of settler colonialism; a system that is such an overwhelming, violent, normalized and dishonest reality in Canada and so many other places. It is the force that has removed me from my land, it has erased me from my history and from contemporary life and it is the reason we currently have over 600 plus Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada. I wondered if my Great, Great Grandmother would be proud of me for figuring that out. I decided she wouldn’t, because figuring out doesn’t count for much if you’re not willing to do something about it.

When I arrived at the conference venue several cups of coffee and two traffic jams later, I wasn’t thinking about my Grandmothers anymore. I was thinking about what I wanted for my own great grandchildren. It was very simple. It is very simple.

I want my great grandchildren to be able to fall in love with every piece of our territory. I want their bodies to carry with them, every story, every song, every piece of poetry hidden in our Anishinaabe language. I want them to be able to dance through their lives with joy. I want them to live without fear because they know respect, because they know in their bones what respect feels like. I want them to live without fear because they have a pristine environment with clean waterways that will provide them with the physical and emotional sustenance to uphold their responsibilities to the land, their families, their communities and their nations. I want them to be valued, heard and cherished by our communities and by Canada no matter their skin colour, their physical and mental abilities, their sexual orientation or their gender orientation.

I want my great, great grandchildren and their great, great grandchildren to be able to live as Mississauga Nishnaabeg unharassed and undeterred in our homeland.

The idea of my arms embracing my grandchildren, and their arms embracing their grandchildren is communicated in the Anishinaabe word kobade. According to elder Edna Manitowabi, kobade is a word we use to refer to our great grandparents and our great grandchildren.  It means a link in a chain – a link in the chain between generations, between nations, between states of being, between individuals. I am a link in a chain. We are all links in a chain.

Doug Williams, a Missisauga Nishnaabeg elder from Curve Lake First Nation calls our nation, Kina Gchi Nishnaabeg ogamig  – the place where we all live and work together. Our nation is a hub of Anishinaabe networks.  It is a long kobade, cycling through time. It is a web of connections to each other, to the plant nations, the animal nations, the rivers and lakes, the cosmos and our neighbouring Indigenous nations.

Kina Gchi Nishnaabeg-ogamig is an ecology of intimacy.

It is an ecology of relationships in the absence of coercion, hierarchy or authoritarian power.

Kina Gchi Nishnaabeg-ogamig is connectivity based on the sanctity of the land, the love we have for our families, our language, our way of life.  It is relationships based on deep reciprocity, respect, non-interference, self-determination and freedom.

Our nationhood is based on the idea that the earth is our first mother, that “natural resources” are not “natural resources” at all, but gifts from our mother. Our nationhood is based on the foundational concept that we should give up what we can to support the integrity of our homelands for the coming generations. We should give more than we take.

It is nationhood based on a series of radiating responsibilities.

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Indigenous Nationhood Movement


From The Indigenous Nationhood Movement



• We are a movement for land, life, languages, and liberation.

• We are fighting for the survival and independence of Indigenous nations.

• We are an alliance of mutual support and coordinated action that branches out in all Four Directions.

• We are an Indigenous-led movement that includes women, men, and two-spirited people of all ages, colours, and nationalities.


• We will protect the land, water, and air that provide the basis for all life.

• Indigenous cultures, spiritualities and governments are the foundation for our continuing survival.

• It is our responsibility to take action and to live according to our original teachings and natural laws.

• Colonial laws and systems must be abolished.

• Restitution must be made for the theft of our lands and the failed attempt to exterminate our peoples.


• Indigenous self-determination and autonomous nationhood.

• Re-empowering traditional governments.

• Defending and protecting the natural environment and all living beings.

• Reclaiming, renaming, and reoccupying Indigenous homelands and sacred spaces.

• Restoring nation-to-nation relations with Settler people and governments.

• Learning and teaching Indigenous languages, traditions, ceremonies and knowledge.

• Eliminating all forms of violence within Indigenous communities, including violence based on gender and sexual orientation.



In this campaign, we focus on actions supporting the reclamation of Indigenous cultural, historical, political and ceremonial practices that have been severed and impacted by colonial conquest including: reclaiming dispossessed lands in our territories; pursuing …

This campaign acknowledges that Indigenous place names offer a direct connection to our languages, sacred histories, and creation stories, and that the reclamation of these names is vital for the continuation of our cultures and …

This campaign calls on our people to re-presence ourselves throughout our traditional territories and homelands. We support Indigenous reoccupations of contentious sites facing urbanization, resource extraction and economic development; reoccupation of traditional hunting, fishing, trapping, …