Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Indigenous Nationhood: Beyond Idle No More

Common Dreams
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred
January 29, 2013.

Our collective action in Idle No More has shown that there is support among Canadians for a movement that embodies principled opposition to the destruction of the land and the extension of social justice to Indigenous peoples. When we as Indigenous people have a political agenda that's consistent with our Original Teachings – to have a respectful relationship with the land and the natural environment and to have a respectful relationship among all of the nations that share this land – we have seen that this is a powerful draw for many people in our own nations and in the broader society.

But it is clear too that the movement has plateaued. Much of the passion, urgency and attention Idle No More generated is dissipating in the wake of Chief Theresa Spence’s fast and the “13 Point Declaration” supported by Chief Spence, the Assembly of First Nations and the two Canadian opposition parties - which to many people in the movement represents a cooptation of the movement’s demands by the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in support of their ongoing negotiations and long-running bureaucratic processes.

The question in the minds of many people in the movement who are committed to more serious and transformational goals is how do we revive the momentum driving us towards fundamental change that we had at the start of the movement? I think that the only way to keep this movement going is for us to see our actions in Idle No More as part of a larger and long-standing commitment to the restoration of Indigenous nationhood.

We need to focus our activism on the root of the problem facing our people collectively: our collective dispossession and misrepresentation as Indigenous peoples. Now is the time to put ourselves back on our lands spiritually and physically and to shift our support away from the Indian Act system and to start energizing the restoration of our own governments. Our people and our languages and our ceremonies should be saturating our homelands and territories. Our leaders should answer to us not to the Minister of Indian Affairs or his minions. Our governments should be circles in which we all sit as equals and participate fully and where all of our voices are heard, not systems of hierarchy and exclusion legitimized and enforced by Canadian laws. Restoring our nationhood in this way is the fundamental struggle. Our focus should be on restoring our presence on the land and regenerating our true nationhood. These go hand in hand and one cannot be achieved without the other.

Read the rest here.
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk author, educator and professor at the University of Victoria where he specializes in studies of traditional governance, the restoration of land-based cultural practices, and decolonization strategies.  His books include Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto and Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors: Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism.  Read more of his work on his website. Follow him on twitter: @Taiaiake

Comment: Alfred ends his essay above with this powerful call: "Now is the time to transgress, reoccupy, rise… as Original Peoples."

It is an admirable position no doubt but it is also one that must be tempered by the reality that any radical move toward "reoccupation" will be resisted with outright violence and intractable institutional suppression.

The fact that Canada has joined Israel in its violent colonization of Palestine is a despicable reminder that those who rule now care very little for "Original Peoples".

But then again if you read Alfred really close he is not calling for a revolution.  Well not the kind that wrestles back the land from the settlers.

What he seems to be advocating is a greater self-governance of First Nations on the land that has been set aside.

To me this amounts to no more than a liberal assertion of identity rights inside the manufactured multiculturalism of whiteness.  It is the metaphorical chair that Malcolm X did not want at the table of whiteness.

If this is what he is pointing to then the "reoccupation" he envisions is hardly a real confrontation toward radical change.  It is rather a very institutionalized plea for the reorganization of Indian rights under occupation.

What kind of decolonization is that in a settler state headed by a prime minister (Harper) who declared publicly that "Canada has no colonial history."  See Bill Annett's article entitled "The Invisible People" (January 29) in Dissident Voice for more discussion on this point and its implications.


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