John A. MacDonald wrote, in 1870: “These impulsive half-breeds … must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of settlers.”
I did not ask to be born into this colonialist mess. I’m not of First Nations heritage but I’m here - a first generation Canadian with a strong love for the earth, doing what I can to live gently, with compassion and understanding.
I do not feel a connection to the imperialists who “founded” this land, administering genocide to realize the theft of its territory and resources. My blood relatives are from Britain’s working class, my parents immigrated after WWII when, returning home after “fighting for their country,” they were met with unemployment and a lack of housing options. They came to Canada wanting to make a better life for their children. They weren’t educated about the theft of land and near genocide of the people who already lived here, it was a sophisticated public relations campaign that invited them to consider living elsewhere in the colonies. If they had any education at all about the First Peoples of Turtle Island, it was through the Cowboy and Indian movies they, as children, enjoyed at the movie theatres. Subtle imperialistic indoctrination, that.
Likewise, I wasn’t encouraged to comprehend the Indigenous perspective from grade school textbooks. It was later, at university and with activist and indigenous friends, that I began to see the historical story from a different angle. Riane Eisler’s book, The Chalice and the Blade, really helped me understand how agrarian partnership societies, over many millennia, have been destroyed by dominant warrior cultures.1
All over the world co-operative pagan cultures that honoured the feminine principle were replaced with competitive patriarchal hierarchies. Consider that many of today’s major religions share a belief in a male deity with absolute control over His creation. It follows that human structured institutions have us believing (consciously or not) in the superiority of the male species (followed in rank by women, then animals and the earth). Women in industrial societies are still paid less than men, are still reduced to body parts to sell consumer goods or worse, just to survive. After much historical struggle women are now invited to play the game of patriarchy - to vote, or pretend at equality as Queen or President or CEO. Occasionally we’re able to change some of the rules of the game. But we don’t dare consider there might be an altogether different game to play.
In an effort to comprehend the Idle No More movement, it’s important to realize the vast philosophical chasm that exists between the North American Indigenous and Settler cultures. Author and artist Stewart Steinhauer explains:
“From an Indigenous perspective, the Euro-origin industrial model arises from a psychological pitting of human against nature, manufacturing an ideological division that does not exist in Indigenous reality. From the Indigenous-to-Turtle Island point of view, there is no dichotomy between wild and civilized. There is no such thing as wilderness. When Europeans arrived on Turtle Island they saw wilderness, while Indigenous Peoples saw the space as fully inhabited by culturally developed humans who were living in an active relationship with Mother Earth. … The genius of Indigenous Socialism was that it did not extend from an avant-garde of intellectuals as a theory imposed imperfectly, top down, on a mass population, but instead was an organic product of a matrifocal society. When [Friedrich] Engels travelled to upper New York State to see for himself Haudenausaunee society in action, he marvelled at how a territorially large and heavily populated region could self-manage without elected officials, judges, police or prisons.”2
The Idle No More movement, like the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements, offer a fundamental challenge to the dominant cultural game. And they’re winning hearts and minds because the tactics are peaceful and non-violent, leaving little for the patriarchs and their allies to condemn. The claims are simple, and universal: We the people want systemic changes in the way business is done and the way democracy is enacted. We are un-learning patriarchy with its autocratic decision makers, and re-learning grassroots consensus building. We realize that majority rule results in tyranny of the minority, and we’re willing to invest more time and resources reaching decisions that result in something other than more inequality, more bailing out of the wealthy at the expense of the poor, more war and less peace.
We ask tough questions, and demand new and different responses, and because of this we meet enormous, and often violent, resistance. Patriarchs (some in women’s clothing) cling tightly to the power-over status they enjoy from within their invented structure. The mere existence of grassroots activists who stand up, speak truth to that power, and go beyond imagining to organize themselves laterally into leaderless movements, is an enormous philosophical threat. Governments and corporations, and their military and media, realize this. Their divide-and-conquer tactics are nothing new. They plant agents provocateurs to incite violence at rallies, encouraging fear to keep people from participating. They hire “trolls” to write inane comments on web blogs and facebook posts, to waste valuable time and resources and distract people from the issue at hand.
And recently, for Idle No More, they’ve released a financial audit intended to discredit Chief Theresa Spence, the Attawapiskat people, and anyone associated with the movement. Aside from the fact that the audit is 2005-2011, and Chief Theresa was elected in 2010, there are deeper and more significant issues to consider. With the introduction of the Indian Act, Indigenous peoples were forced (while challenged with new diseases, the abusive residential school (indoctrination) system, and the 60s sweep which removed many native babies from their parents) to accept the patriarchal hierarchy and restructure their societies. Sociologist Ron Bourgeault suggests it was Canada’s Dominions Land Act of the 1870s that provided the foundation for the apartheid South African Land Settlement Act of 1912 and 1913:
“It is significant that South Africa came to Canada ... asking and getting permission to study the Canadian system by which Indian people were controlled and managed separately from the politically dominant white population. South African took what it needed and applied it to its own situation: first to segregation, and after the Second World War to apartheid.”3
The Indian Act is a racist document. It forbade First Nations peoples from “acquiring property or trading their goods off the reserves. They also deprived Indians of the vote, and even established a kind of pass system for exit and re-entry to reserves. Small wonder that apartheid South Africa was interested.”3 Canada’s colonialist government demanded that natives retreat to their reserve lands, establish a “band government” to be “controlled by a chief councillor and council,” and even offered specific procedures for elections. Tribal organizations then ended up with elected band chiefs, plus the more traditional hereditary chiefs. This divide and conquer tactic has, some argue, had the effect of “preserving the power of corrupt cliques and, in many cases, of excluding women; and also excluding hereditary leaders.” And, to add fuel to the paternalistic fire, “band council resolutions have no effect unless endorsed by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.”4 No wonder they quest for autonomous self-government!
As Steinhauer further explains, “the genius of Indigenous ceremony is that it intentionally creates a psychological space [that rewards] co-operation, voluntary sharing and spontaneous acts of kindness, while penalizing greed, selfishness and violence.” These are quite different values than those promoted by industrial capitalism with its “system of political economy [that] means ongoing genocide for Indigenous Peoples and perpetual ecocide.”
For 500 years First Nations people have been victims of various forms of genocide, some subtle, some quite blatant. If there is corruption on the reserves, we can thank the colonialist government and its Indian Act for inspiring it. And while we’re opening the books, let’s have a good look at the Federal Government. I’d like to start with the Senate … who are all these appointed individuals, what do they do for us really, and how much have they cost us in salaries and pensions over all these years?
Bill C45, the catalyst for Idle No More, amends the Indian Act “to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister [currently non-native] would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band’s territory.”5 Idle No More is not merely a Native or even a Canadian issue. It’s a global issue - the final battle to protect this region’s wildlands and water resources for all the creatures who depend on a sustainable planet for their survival. Still on the fence about Idle No More? Go to a round dance rally, talk to people, inform yourself. Or watch the discussions on Facebook and Twitter. 2013 is a time for big changes, and they’re happening. Get on board!
1 The Chalice and the Blade: www.rianeeisler.com/chalice.htm
2 Stewart Steinhauer: www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/2742
Janine Bandcroft founded the Street Newz (where this article was first published) in 2004, and has been an activist for peace, environment, and social justice for over two decades.