Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Wretched of the Earth

I have just finished reading The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. I agree that it is an important and influential book. It has inspired many African and Indigenous thinkers and revolutionaries, most notably perhaps Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. It was first published in 1961 when Fanon was 36. Incidentally, that was the same year Fanon, who was a psychiatrist, died of cancer.

Fanon largely draws upon the Algerian war for independence (with France) for this book and while there are some slow parts (chapters on National Consciousness and National Culture) he offers a brilliant description and analysis of the colonial relationship that will have you thinking he is talking about your own band council and Indian leadership. It is here that I wish to refer to some of my favourite quotes. I will follow each quote with some brief commentary.

"For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity."

You always hear Indigenous people speak of the land and its importance. I believe this is an issue that we should not lose focus on and we ought to go back to how our elders spoke of our relations to the lands and waters of our peoples. From the beginning of colonial-Indigenous relations there has been a fundamental chasm on our respective relations and connections with the land. You will often hear old school Indians say that we do not own the land, that we belong to it, that we are a part of it. I fear that our current leadership has gradually, out of practicality many say, moved over toward a colonial relating to the land and her resources.

"Truth is that which hurries on the break-up of the colonialist regime; it is that which promotes the emergence of the nation; it is that which protects the natives, and ruins the foreigners."

Of all the things one can think of doing when feeling overwhelmed by the weight of colonization and our desire to decolonize, the truth is where we must start. Alone we may have great difficulty changing the world, but alone and slowly with others, we can tell the truth and live the truth more and more. It is a simple, if difficult thing that with its absence, all other efforts are in vain.

"And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization a simply a question of relative strength."

The gaps among our people is becoming more and more evident: on reserve and off reserve; bush Indians and urban Indians; middle income Indians and no income Indians. I agree in principle that those with nothing to lose and everything to gain make appropriate revolutionaries and we had hoped to see this in BC but it has not yet happened. When the BC Liberal Government made changes to the welfare program, many feared (some anxiously awaited) the rush "home," a flooding of people from the cities to the reserves in search of services and basic human needs (shelter, food). The anticipated effect has not really occured. I believe that we also need leadership with "something to lose" to actively decide to sacrifice and lead the fight (like Fidel the lawyer, Che the doctor and Marcos the professor).

"We have seen that inside the nationalist parties, the will to break colonialism is linked with another quite different will: that of coming to a friendly agreement with it."

This phenomenon is rampant, not that hard to understand and seemingly difficult to challenge. In our case the "nationalist parties" can be likened to the AFN, Summit, UBCIC or your Tribal Council or Band Council. Despite the good hearts and intentions of many of the people involved (I used to be one), you cannot ignore the most influential factor: government funding. Until we break this cycle of dependence (without selling our souls to the corporate interests), we will always have relatively weak political institutions.

"They are so used to the settler's scorn and his declared intention to maintain his oppression at whatever cost that the slightest suggestion of any generous gesture or of any good will is hailed with astonishment and delight, and the native bursts into a hymn of praise."

This issues creates the most ire and cynicism among young people when watching their elder leaders kiss the white man's ass and sing their sacred songs for him time after time. I once referred to this practice as "pimping our culture" and it has to stop. We must keep our songs and dances sacred by sharing them only with those whom we have respectful and honourable relationships proven over time. This does not preclude sharing in the future with our white neighbours, only for the time being while they continue to rape, steal and pillage.

"The native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing...moreover, the native ought to realize that it is not colonialism that grants such consessions, but he himself that extorts them....if need be the native can accept a compromise with colonialism, but never a surrender of principle."

If ever there were a tao of W, this would come close. My obersevation of the way the world works always tells me that the only way we will get what we want; assume our sacred responsibilities; and truly come to the table as men and woman, strong and principled is if we take it. I know there is a lot of room for debate on this issue, particularly as it relates to violence and lesser forms of conflict, but I believe the fundamental formula is true: If we want it, we must be prepared to take back what is ours and defend it.


At 7:44 PM, Blogger Kris said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have been reading Fanon recently and it is making me think of all the links between his work and the colonial context in Canada. I found your writing to be helpful, especially in the connection you highlighted to land. Thanks again!


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