March 25, 2009

Indigenous Struggles: Learning From Canada


[As FotM is partly responsible for this article, it's a pleasure to post it here. It arose from conversations between Rowland Keshena Robinson of the By Any Means Necessary blog, and Jimmy Higgins, on line and then on the phone. Rowland, a prolific young radical now based at the University of Waterloo in Canada, raised the question of why the Canadian left--socialist and anarchist--is so much more advanced in line and practice on issues relating to the First Nations, than those of immediately to Canada's south. Jimmy and Rowland came up with the idea of posting links to some of the best stuff from Canada for those in the US. Rowland's first shot was a large compendium of links to articles from The New Socialist, published by the New Socialist group. That got whittled down to five key articles presented here, with an introductory commentary by Rowland. He modestly did not include any of his own writings on the subject but you can find links to them here.]

After posting my big long list of readings yesterday on this subject, reader Jimmy Higgins commented, wondering if I could whittle it down in anyway to a “Top 5″ of sorts. I have obliged, and so here is my top 5 must-reads about the current wave of native struggles in Canada. I have tried to cover a wide range of issues about Indian resistance in Canada, including: armed resistance to colonialism (warrior societies, AIM, NYM); the current state of the struggle for native self-determination, especially as it pertains to the new “politics of recognition; the gulf that currently exists between native activists and socialists and revolutionaries who come from the Stalinian traditions and the idea of socialism from above; the rising tide of native feminists, who are fighting not just patriarchy in their own traditional communities, but in wider Canadian society; and finally a look at how native traditions actually came to influence Marx’s thought near the end of his life, and how socialist activists can show solidarity with the current phase of radical indigenism. Four of the articles are from Issue # 58, which was a special edition of the current resurgence of militant native struggles, while the fifth article comes the latest issue, # 63. I have also given a quick descriptive paragraph next to each article.

From New Socialist Issue # 58, September/October 2006

* What Are Warrior Societies? by Taiaiake Alfred and Lana Lowe - This article looks at the rise of the modern Indian warrior societies in Canada and the United States, with a particular focus on the Mohawk Warrior Society, which was on of the first and became a clear model for others to follow. The article also contrasts the rise of the warrior societies, which took place in the traditional, reserve based Indian communities, with the rise at the same time of the American Indian Movement, and other, later groups like the Native Youth Movement, which began, and remained as, groupings of urban based Indians. Taiaiake Alfred is Kanien’kehaka and a professor in the Indigenous Governance Programs at the University of Victoria. Lana Lowe is a member of the Fort Nelson Dene First Nation and works with indigenous peoples in Central America.


* Indigenous Peoples and the Politics of Recognition by Glen Coulthard - This article examines the current mainstream of Indian-Canadian relations, which is often cloaked in the vocabulary of “recognition”. The author of this article employees the work of anti-colonial revolutionary and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon to challenge the idea that the colonial relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian state can be transformed via a politics of “recognition”. He takes the “politics of recognition” to refer to the now expansive range of recognition-based models of liberal pluralism that seek to “reconcile” indigenous claims to nationhood with Crown sovereignty by accommodating indigenous identities in some form of renewed relationship with (and within) the Canadian state. In other words, rather than leading to true self-determination, the “politics of recognition” is just recreating the current colonial state of affairs in Canada. Glen Coulthard is a Dene activist and PhD student in political theory at the University of Victoria. He teaches in the Indigenous Governance Programs.

* Socialism From Below and Indigenous Peoples by Deborah Simmons - This article examines the fact that during the peak of the Red Power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many newly radicalised Indian people became interested in exploring various theories of revolution and socialist organisation but that by the mid 1970s however, many of these same activists had become hostile to socialism, advocating a separate path to liberation rooted in indigenous traditions. This article takes a critical stance with regards to the relationship between indigenous peoples and the tradition of socialism from above advocated by the various pro-China and pro-Soviet parties in Canada. The author also tackles the problem of Stalinian socialists who argue that Indian peoples’ struggles for self-determination are the actual problem and that they must assimilate into Canadian society. While I may not agree with everything that is said in the article (such as the reference to Ward Churchill’s book “Marxism and Native Americans), I think overall this article is a good look at why Indians do not identify often with the mainstream of North American socialist thought. Deborah Simmons has recently returned to live and work in the Northwest Territories. She is a member of the New Socialist Group.

* Indigenous Feminism Without Apology by Andrea Smith - This article examines the often heard claim that Native women aren’t feminists. Those in native communities who make this claim feel that supposedly, feminism is not needed because Indian women were treated with respect prior to colonization, thus, any Indian woman who calls herself a feminist is condemned as being “white.” However, this article looks at how many community-based activists are now describing themselves as “feminists without apology.” They are argue that feminism is actually an indigenous concept that has been co-opted by white women. The fact that Native societies were egalitarian 500 years ago has not stopped women from being abused now, and since Indian women are the women most likely to be killed by domestic violence, it is an issue now more than ever. This article poses the question, “when we talk about survival of our nations, who are we including?” This article asserts that these Indian feminists are challenging not only patriarchy within native communities, but also white supremacy and colonialism within mainstream white feminism. That is, they’re challenging why it is that white women get to define what feminism is. Andrea Smith is Cherokee and a professor of Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and co-founder of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and the Boarding School Healing Project.

From New Socialist Issue # 63, 2008


* Indigenous Traditions in Freedom by Deborah Simmons [requires downloading]- The main thrust of this article is how native traditions, especially those of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, came to influence the work of Marx in his later years, especially on one of his final pieces of writing known as the Ethnographic Notebooks. The article also looks at the history of indigenous resistance to colonialism and capitalism within Canada, and how modern socialists can best show their solidarity with current native struggles for land and dignity. Finally, this article also looks at the rise of modern forms of radical indigenism in North America, in particular the new Wasáse movement, which is inspired by the work and theories of Taiaiake Alfred.

1 comment:

Rowland Keshena said...

If people are interested in digging further into this sort of stuff, definitely make sure to check out the longer list on my site. I do not pretend that it is some sort of definitive list, but I think it gives an excellent insight into the situation. Most socialist groups with a presence in Canada though at least do some writing on the topic (I modestly listed on two other groups, FightBack and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist)). I am also flattered that FotM decided to link to my own modest attempts to write on the subject.

I also can suggest a number of books (readily available in the States) on the topic of the new Native militancy. Just a quick suggestion with regards to this would be the work of Taiaiake Alfred (who wrote several of the articles listed, as well as guest edited the New Socialist # 58), a Mohawk scholar and activist, who has three books that have been highly influential on Native activists and militants here in Canada. They are "Heeding the Voices of our Ancestors: Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism", "Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto" and "Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom".