Friday, September 30, 2005

The Coming Storm

In my opinion, there is a significant absence of dignity in "aboriginal" politics these days. Despite the pride with which many of our politicians and bureaucrats (I’m one of the latter by the way) carry themselves there is no longer any dignity in their actions. This omission while not openly discussed is evident everywhere. For the most part, our people are detached and uninvolved in the “politics” of our communities. Our leaders accuse the majority of apathy, and the vocal minorities of negativism. The desolate and seemingly hopeless lives of many of our community members, despite a few success stories, is further evidence of a lack of genuine, dignified leadership.

The Chief Commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission (former judge Stephen Point) recently said, “we have come a long way since 1969.” As much as I like Stephen personally, I must vehemently disagree. After this statement he went on to state a variety of criteria proving our Aboriginal ascendancy – education, training, careers and such. These are all indicators of success in the mainstream society. All they prove is how assimilated we have become. In almost every major indicator of Indigenous success; language, culture, way of life, things have gotten worse and unless we do something drastic now, we are well on our way to oblivion.

Why should community members be excited about surrendering (willingly this time) 95% of their lands? Why should we agree to final primacy of neo-colonial laws? Why should we agree to indemnify the imperialists for their lies and deceit and treachery for a few million dollars and tax bills? Many of us have watched our way of lives – fishing, hunting, trapping – disappear and be replaced with tourists, whale watching and oil rigs. How the hell are we supposed to get excited about that?

The last time the Indigenous people of this country collectively felt excitement, hope and dignity on a grand scale was in 1990. Many who were not raised strongly Indigenous, in fact many who lived as “undercover brothers” suddenly stuck their heads up, puffed their chests out because of the actions of their Mohawk brothers and sisters. People were moved. Many became born-again Indians. Since then other conflicts, perhaps to a lesser extent, have had similar effects, and our leadership have become increasingly co-opted.

We felt proud because someone was willing to fight, to take a stand. We felt proud because finally, someone (who looked like us) had had enough. Negotiation (especially from profound positions of weakness) does not inspire. Paying non-Indigenous lawyers copious amounts of money to argue facts we already know does not inspire. Mimicking mainstream society in our band politics does not inspire. Action inspires. Standing up and saying enough is enough inspires.

A storm is coming. Treaty commissioners, Indian Act Chiefs, negotiators, consultants, lawyers, and brown bureaucracies be damned, a storm of Indigenous dignity, hope and action is coming.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Revolutionary Women

Fear not, loyal fans and adversaries. I will return with some original (is such a thing even possible?) thoughts soon, but I had to share this. The following is an excerpt from the Twelve Women in the Twelfth Year, March 11, 1996 (from the book, Our Word Is Our Weapon, selected writings:

Meanwhile, on the other side of the blockade, she appears.

She. Has no military rank, no uniform, no weapon. Only she knows she is a Zapatista. Much like the Zapatistas, she has no face or name. She struggles for democracy, liberty and justice, just like the Zapatistas. She is part of what the EZLN calls "civil society" - a people without a political party, who do not belong to "political society," made up of leaders and political parties. Rather, she is a part of that amorphous yet solid part of society that says, day after day, "Enough is enough!"

At first she is suprised at her own words. But over time, through the strength of repeating them, and above all living them, she stops being afraid of these words, stops being afraid of herself. She is now a Zapatista; she has joined her destiny with the new delirium of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which so terrorizes political parties and Power's intellectuals. She has already fought against everyone - against her husband, her lover, her boyfriend, her children, her friend, her brother, her father, her grandfather. "You are insane," they say. She leaves a great deal behind. What she renounces, if one is talking about size, is much greater than what the empty-handed rebels leave behind. Her everything, her world, demands she forget "those crazy Zapatistas," while conformity calls her to sit down in the comfortable indifference that lives and worries only about herself. She leaves behind everything. She says nothing. Early one dawn she sharpens the tender point of hope and begins to emulate many times in one day, at least 364 times a year, the January 1 of her sister Zapatistas.

She smiles. Once she merely admired the Zapatistas, but no longer. Her admiration ended the moment she understood that they are a mirror of her rebellion, of her hope.

She discovers that she is born on January 1, 1994. From then on she feels that her life - and what was always said to be a dream and a utopia - might actually be a truth.

In silence and without pay, side by side with other men and women, she begins to knit that complex dream that some call hope: "Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves."

She meets March 8 with her face erased, and her name hidden. With her come thousands of women. More and more arrive. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of women who remember all over the world that there is much to be done and remember that there is still much to fight for. It appears that dignity is contagious, and it is the women who are more likely to become infected with this uncomfortable ill...

This March 8 is a good time to remember and to give their rightful place to the insurgent Zapatistas, to the women who are armed and unarmed.

To remember the rebels and those uncomfortable Mexican women now bent over knitting that history which, without them, is nothing more than a badly made fable.

Tomorrow...If there is to be one, it will be made with the women, and above all, by them...

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Saturday, September 24, 2005

To Plant The Tree Of Tomorrow

There is a story told that, in a certain town, men and women toiled at work in order to survive. Everyday the men and women went out to their respective jobs: the men to the fields and the bean crops; the women to the firewood and the carrying of water. At times there was work that brought them together as equals. For example, men and women would join together for the cutting of coffee, when its time had come. And so it passed.

But there was a man who did not do that. He did work though, but not in the fields or bean crops, nor did he go to the coffee plantations when the beans reddened among the branches. No, this man worked planting trees in the mountain. The trees this man planted did not grow rapidly, all of them took entire decades to grow and to make all their branches and leaves. The other men laughed at and criticized this man quite a bit.

"Why do you work at things that you are never going to see completed? Better to work in the fields, which will give you fruit in months, and not in the planting of trees that will be large when you have already died." "You are a fool or crazy, because you work fruitlessly."

The man defended himself and said: "Yes, it is true, I am not going to see these trees full grown, full of branches, leaves and birds, nor will my eyes see children playing under their shade. But, if all of us work just for the present and for just the following day: who will plant the trees that our descendents are going to need, in order to have shelter, consolation and joy?"

No one understood him. The crazy or foolish man continued planting trees that he would not see, and sensible men and women continued planting and working for their present. Time passed, and all of them died, their children continued in their work, and those were followed by the children of their children.

One morning, a group of boys and girls went out for a walk and found a place filled with great trees, a thousand birds living in them and their great branches giving relief from the heat and protection from the rain. Yes, an entire mountainside was found filled with trees. The boys and girls returned to their town and spoke of this marvelous place.

The men and women gathered together and they went to the place in great surprise. "Who planted this?" they asked. No one knew. They went to speak with their elders and they did not know either. Only an old one, the oldest of the community, could give them the information and he told them the history of the crazy and foolish man.

The men and women met in assembly and had a discussion. They saw and understood the man whom their ancestors had dealt with and they admired that man very much and they were fond of him. They knew that memory can travel very far and arrive where no one can think or imagine, the men and women of that today in the place of the great trees.

They surrounded one that was in the center, and, out of colored letters, they made a sign. They had a fiesta afterwards, and dawn was already approaching when the last dancers were leaving to go to sleep. The great forest was left alone and in silence. It rained and it ceased to rain. The Moon came out and the Milky Way molded its convoluted body once again. Suddenly a ray of moonlight insinuated itself among the great branches and leaves of the tree in the center, and, by its small light, the sign of colors that had been left there could be read:

"To the first ones:

Those who came later did understand.

Health to you"

* * *

This that I am recounting to you was told to me fifteen years ago, and fifteen years had already passed when what they told me had come to pass. And yes, perhaps it would be pointless to say it in words because we say it with acts; but yes, those who came later did understand.

And if I am telling you this, it is not just to give our regards to the first ones, nor is it just to gift you with a little piece of that memory that would seem to be lost and forgotten. Not just for that, also to try and respond to the question of what the zapatistas want.

To plant the tree of the morning, that is what we want. We know that, in these frenetic times of "realistic" politics, of fallen banners, of polls that substitute for democracy, of neoliberal criminals who call for crusades against what they are hiding and that which feeds them, of chameleon-like transformations; in these times, to say that we want to plant the tree of the morning sounds foolish and crazy, which, regardless, has not become a theatrical phrase or an outdated utopia.

We know it, and, nonetheless, that is what we want. And that is what we are doing. How many people in the worlds that make up the world can say as we can say, that is, that they are doing what they want to do? We think there are many, that the worlds of the world are filled with crazy and foolish persons who are planting their respective trees for their respective tomorrows, and that the day will come when this mountainside of the universe, that some call "Planet Earth," will be filled with trees of all colors and there will be so many birds and comforts that, yes, it is likely that no one will remember the first ones, because all the yesterdays that are distressing us so today will be nothing more than an old page in the old book of the old history.

In that tree of tomorrow, a space where everyone is, where the other knows and respects the other others, and where the false light loses its last battle. If I were pressed to be precise, I would tell you that it is a place with democracy, liberty and justice: that is the tree of tomorrow.

- Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos from the Closing Words at the Encuentro in Defense of the Cultural Heritage, August 14, 1999 published in Our Word Is Our Weapon, selected writings

Monday, September 05, 2005

Action and Freedom

"A warrior is the one who can use words so that everyone knows they are a 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, Dine

Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred's third and definitive book, has just been published and I am currently on page 105. I will provide a more in depth review when I am finished but I want to take this opportunity to share some of the First Words and my reflections on the importance of living Indigenous, living as warriors, living the truth.

In particular, I want to focus on two quotes from the first chapter that shed some much needed light on the present state of Aboriginal/Indigenous politics. I will provide some brief commentary and invite you, my loyal readers to provide your thoughts. You can leave your comments anonymous or not at the bottom of each of these blogs.

From page 23: Consider the futility of our present politics and the perversity of what I will call "aboriginalism," the ideology and identity of assimilation, in which Onkwehonwe ("original people" in Mohawk) are manipulated by colonial myths into a submissive position and are told that by emulating white people they can gain acceptance and possibly even fulfillment within mainstream society. Many Onkwehonwe today embrace the label of "aboriginal," but this identity is a legal and social construction of the state, and it is disciplined by racialized violence and economic oppression to serve an agenda of silent surrender. The acceptance of being aboriginal is as powerful an assault on Onkwehonwe existences as any force of arms brought upon us by the Settler society. The integrationist and unchallenging aboriginal vision is designed to lead us to oblivion, as individual successes in assimilating to the mainstream are celebrated, and our survival is redefined strictly in the terms of capitalist dogma and practical-minded individualist consumerism and complacency."

(Me now:) Each and every one of us are assimilated to one degree or another, certainly by virtue of you reading this in english. I believe that is it critical however, that we begin to carefully, perhaps even harshly, examine our lives and ask ourselves: Am I living a good, meaningful Indigenous life? Since contact many of our people have unabashedly embraced the ways of the Imperialists, forsaking their Indigenous ways and in some ways you have to respect them for making a choice. I agree with Dr.T. however, in stating that if you are serious about being Indigenous and reclaiming your ancestral ways and principles, you need to check your self. It is the hypocrisy of "aboriginalism" that is ultimately distasteful and damaging. We need to look beyond the rhetoric, to the heart of our lives and actions and begin to make some changes.

From page 37: The framework of current reformist or reconciling negotiations are about handing us the scraps of history: self-government and jurisdictional authorities for state-created Indian governments within the larger colonial system, and subjection of Onkwehonwe to the blunt force of capitalism by integrating them as wage slaves into the mainstream resource-exploitation economy. These surface reforms are being offered because they are useless to our survival as Onkwehonwe. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a result of our goals being obsolete. Self-government and economic development are being offered precisely because they are useless to us in the struggle to survive as peoples, and they are therefore no threat to the Settlers and, specifically, the interests of the people who control the Settler state. This is assimilation’s end-game. Today, self-government and economic development signify the defeat of our peoples’ struggles just as surely as, to our grandparents, residential schools, land dispossession, and police beatings signified the supposed supremacy of white power and the subjugation and humiliation of the first and real peoples of this land.

(Me again:) This reminds of something that my friend Lana Lowe uncovered while researching the history of Indigenous resistance in British Columbia. I'm sketchy on the details but I will provide the essence. She found some verbatim meeting minutes from the 1800's between some Tsimshian and Nisga'a leaders and some senior colonial officials at the time, like Governor, Lands Commissioner etc. From the minutes it was obvious that the two delegations could barely communicate (although they had adequate translation) because their world-views were so diametrically opposed. Essentially, the primary concern of the chiefs at that time was preserving their way of life and limiting settler encroachment. The Englishmen, for the lives of them could not understand why the Indians would want to preserve their ancient ways of life, "roaving the hills like animals."

If I am correct, it was not until a white, christian lawyer-missionary from Toronto entered the scene and began working with the Nisga'a and others and helped draft their (now almost sacred) declarations, did the focus shift away from preserving an Indigenous way of life toward legal remedies of compensation and recognition of rights. It's easy to see then how we got from there to here, sometimes to the mystery of our community members, and upon the advice of high-paid non-native consultants and lawyers. Man, did we F$%k up or what? It's not too late. We can reinvigorate, re-establish, recover, regenerate and reclaim. Stay tuned.

Look in the mirror.

Restitution not reconciliation.