Tag Archives: resurgence

Decolonization ~ Meaning What Exactly?

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By Pegi Eyers, Stone Circle Press

With all the dialogue happening on decolonization today, a reminder on baseline definitions can be helpful, before widening out to other personal/collective interpretations and actions. There are movements happening right now across ethnic and cultural lines (including the dominant white society) that use “decolonization” to describe a wide array of practices. Do we need to re-examine how we use the term? What does “decolonization” mean to you? The following definitions can offer starting points for discussion, and for action going forward.

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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

EZLN

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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For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must Die

SWN-Decol

By , Voices Rising (Indigenous Nationhood Movement)

There is a significant and to my mind problematic limitation that is increasingly being placed on Indigenous efforts to defend our rights and our lands. This constraint involves the type of tactics that are being represented as morally legitimate in our efforts to defend our land and rights as Indigenous peoples on the one hand, and those which are viewed at as morally illegitimate because of their disruptive and extra-legal character on the other.

With respect to those approaches deemed “legitimate” in defending our rights, emphasis is often placed on formal “negotiations” – usually carried out between “official” Aboriginal leadership (usually men) and representatives of the Crown (also usually men) – and if need be coupled with largely symbolic acts of peaceful, non-disruptive protest that must abide by Canada’s “rule of law.”

Then there are those approaches increasingly deemed “illegitimate.” These include but are not limited to forms of protest and direct action that seek to influence power through less mediated and sometimes more disruptive measures, like the slowing of traffic for the purpose of leafleting and solidarity-building, temporarily blocking access to Indigenous territories with the aim of impeding the exploitation of First Nations’ land and resources, or in rarer cases still, the re-occupation of a portion of Indigenous land (rural or urban) through the establishment of reclamation sites that also serve to disrupt, if not entirely block, access to Indigenous territories by state and capital for prolonged periods of time.

Regardless of their diversity and specificity, however, most of these activities tend to get branded in the media in a wholly negative manner: as reactionary, threatening, and disruptive.

Blockades and beyond

What the recent actions of the Mi’kmaq land and water defenders at Elsipogtog demonstrate is that direct actions in the form of Indigenous blockades are both a negation and an affirmation. They are a crucial act of negation insofar as they seek to impede or block the flow of resources currently being transported from oil and gas fields, refineries, lumber mills, mining operations, and hydro-electric facilities located on the dispossessed lands of Indigenous nations to international markets. These forms of direct action, in other words, seek to negatively impact the economic infrastructure that is core to the colonial accumulation of capital in settler political economies like Canada’s. Blocking access to this critical infrastructure has historically been quite effective in forging short-term gains for Indigenous communities. Over the last couple of decades, however, state and corporate powers have also become quite skilled at recuperating the losses incurred as a result of Indigenous peoples’ resistance by drawing our leaders off the land and into negotiations where the terms are always set by and in the interests of settler capital.

What tends to get ignored by many self-styled pundits is that these actions are also an affirmative gesture of Indigenous resurgence insofar as they embody an enactment of Indigenous law and the obligations such laws place on Indigenous peoples to uphold the relations of reciprocity that shape our engagements with the human and non-human world – the land. The question I want to explore here, albeit very briefly, is this: how might we begin to scale-up these often localized, resurgent land-based direct actions to produce a transformation in the colonial economy more generally? Said slightly differently, how might we move beyond a resurgent Indigenous politics that seeks to inhibit the destructive effects of capital to one that strives to create Indigenous alternatives to it?

Rebuilding our nations

In her recent interview with Naomi Klein, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson hints at what such an alternative or alternatives might entail for Indigenous nations. “People within the Idle No More movement who are talking about Indigenous nationhood are talking about a massive transformation, a massive decolonization”; they are calling for a “resurgence of Indigenous political thought” that is “land-based and very much tied to that intimate and close relationship to the land, which to me means a revitalization of sustainable local Indigenous economies.”

Without such a massive transformation in the political economy of contemporary settler-colonialism, any efforts to rebuild our nations will remain parasitic on capitalism, and thus on the perpetual exploitation of our lands and labour. Consider, for example, an approach to resurgence that would see Indigenous people begin to reconnect with their lands and land-based practices on either an individual or small-scale collective basis. This could take the form of “walking the land” in an effort to re-familiarize ourselves with the landscapes and places that give our histories, languages, and cultures shape and content; to revitalizing and engaging in land-based harvesting practices like hunting, fishing, and gathering, and/or cultural production activities like hide-tanning and carving, all of which also serve to assert our sovereign presence on our territories in ways that can be profoundly educational and empowering; to the re-occupation of sacred places for the purposes of relearning and practicing our ceremonial activities.

Although all of these place-based practices are crucial to our well-being and offer profound insights into life-ways that provide frameworks for thinking about alternatives to an economy predicated on the perpetual exploitation of the human and non-human world, at the micro-political level that these practices tend to operate they still require that we have access to a mode of subsistence detached from the practices themselves. In other words, they require that we have access to a very specific form of work – which, in our present economy depends on the expropriation of our labour and the theft of our time for the profit of others – in order to generate the cash required to spend this regenerative time on the land.

A similar problem informs self-determination efforts that seek to ameliorate our poverty and economic dependency through resource revenue sharing, more comprehensive impact benefit agreements, and affirmative action employment strategies negotiated through the state and with industries tearing-up Indigenous territories. Even though the capital generated by such an approach could, in theory, be spent subsidizing the revitalization of certain cultural traditions and practices, in the end they would still remain dependent on a predatory economy that is entirely at odds with the deep reciprocity that forms the cultural core of many Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land.

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Re-envisioning resurgence

Indigenous pathways to decolonization and sustainable self-determination

By Jeff Corntassel, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, Vol 1, No 1 (2012)

Amidst ongoing, contemporary colonialism, this article explores Indigenous pathways to decolonization and resurgence with an emphasis on identifying everyday practices of renewal and responsibility within native communities today.  How are decolonization and resurgence interrelated in struggles for Indigenous freedom?  By drawing on several comparative examples of resurgence from Cherokees in Kituwah, Lekwungen protection of camas, the Nishnaabe-kwewag “Water Walkers” movement, and Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) revitalization of kalo, this article provides some insights into contemporary decolonization movements. The politics of distraction is operationalized here as a potential threat to Indigenous homelands, cultures and communities, and the harmful aspects of the rights discourse, reconciliation, and resource extraction are identified, discussed, and countered with Indigenous approaches centered on responsibilities, resurgence and relationships. Overall, findings from this research offer theoretical and applied understandings for regenerating Indigenous nationhood and restoring sustainable relationships with Indigenous homelands.

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The paradox of Indigenous resurgence at the end of empire

By Waziyatawin, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, Vol 1, No 1 (2012)

In the twenty-first century, we are facing the unprecedented convergence of human-created crises. Climate chaos, fossil-fuel resource depletion, overpopulation, and the ongoing destruction of ecosystems threaten the very foundation of colonial empire, both creating emancipatory potential for Indigenous societies struggling against colonial subjugation and wreaking devastating havoc on the lands, waters, and ecosystems upon which our people must survive.  While the vulnerability and unsustainability of empire is clearly exposed, Indigenous people must wrestle with the continued cooptation of our people into civilization’s fallacies and destructive habits as well as the increasing threats to our homelands that jeopardize our capacity for a land-based existence. Thus, just when liberation may be within our grasp, the ecological destruction may be so complete that Indigenous lifeways may be impossible to practice. In this context there is a simultaneous and urgent need for both the restoration of sustainable Indigenous practices and a serious defense of Indigenous homelands.

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Towards the ‘tangible unknown’: Decolonization and the Indigenous future

Editorial from  Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, Vol 1, No 1 (2012)

By Aman Sium, Chandni Desai, & Eric Ritskes

On the occasion of the inaugural issue of Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, we examine the many contradictions, contestations and possible pathways to decolonization. In working to explore the many themes that the articles in this issue bring forth, we recognize that, despite our certainty that decolonization centers Indigenous methods, peoples, and lands, the future is a ‘tangible unknown’, a constant (re)negotiating of power, place, identity and sovereignty. In these contestations, decolonization and Indigeneity are not merely reactionary nor in a binary relationship with colonial power. Decolonization is indeed oppositional to colonial ways of thinking and acting but demands an Indigenous starting point and an articulation of what decolonization means for Indigenous peoples around the globe. This editorial works towards the possibility of a global Indigenous movement that strengthens and supports local moments for decolonization, and does so by exploring some of the many layers and questions that this necessarily entails.

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