It’s election season again in Indian Country. Here come the promises, policies and posturing of all the would-be Indian chiefs. We’ve seen it so many times before the election bubble gets pumped with hot air all Spring and in the middle of July, bursts in that debauched festival of hypocrisy and waste we call the AFN election. It’s all so played out.
Honestly, the problems we face heading into the new century have nothing to do with policies or initiatives or government funding. Instead, our problems are spiritual and moral conflicts rooted in the experience and attitudes of the previous century. The fact is, we have been colonized white men on a greedy and violent mission of domination have stolen our lands, broken our laws and warped our minds. We are suffering the consequences of this fact in our poverty, disempowerment and dysfunction.
The hard truth is that we have been and remain colonized because we allowed, and continue to allow, the white man to control us. Our basic problem is no more complicated than this. No amount of reality, denial or chiefs bellowing on about our Aboriginal rights can erase this fact from the horizon.
The white man controls our land, our governments and our minds. We need to break his power. But his hold is so firm and profound that most of us cannot even see an indigenous future out of the white man’s grip. We seem to think that in the year 2000, the white man is different than he was a century ago, or two centuries ago or 500 years ago.
It is not the white man who has changed; it is you and I. We have forgotten what it is to be free. Today, instead of trying to break free of the white man’s dominion like our ancestors did, we negotiate compromises to help the white man feel good about his power over us. Rather than rejecting his rule and dealing with the consequences, we’ve given in to the rule, and take jobs helping him enforce it.
Last year, the Assembly of First Nations and the National Congress of American Indians held a gathering to promote strategic cooperation among our peoples. The gathering was promoted as a fulfillment of ’’Tecumseh’s Vision.” What irony. If the great Shawnee warrior was suddenly resurrected and walked into that gathering, Tecumseh surely would have slain every one there as a traitor to his cause!
The AFN and the NCAI have become everything Tecumseh hated. Tecumseh never cooperated with the white government; he was a warrior who defended Native lands from white intrusions all his life; he organized independent Native nations to reject white law; he disdained the pretensions of the white man and died in a last ditch battle to preserve his confederacy of free people. How feeble do the voices of our so-called leaders sound compared to the spirit of resistance that was Tecumseh’s true vision?
Great changes are happening in the world today which make the time right for renewing our struggle to achieve Tecumseh’s vision of free and independent nations living on their lands and bound to the newcomers by fair and honourable treaties. But our freedom will never be achieved so long as we are led by the kind of people who are in charge of our organizations today.
We need leaders with integrity, character and courage; people who will not cower beneath the power of the white man. It is time to unify our people behind Tecumseh’s vision and begin an active campaign of non-violent resistance against the colonial vision. In doing so, we will recover our self-respect, gain support of world opinion and bring this unjust and hypocritical country to its knees.
Someone told me once that the first thing a man must do when he’s in a deep hole and wants to get out is stop digging. It is clear from experience and historical reality that the first thing we must do is stop cooperating with the Government of Canada in its program to exterminate our nations.
Canada’s institutions and policies have the fundamental objective of denying our basic human right to exist as free and self-determining peoples. By positioning themselves as policymakers and advisors to the government, under the guise of trying to “work the system from within” our leaders are in fact serving as the instruments of our ultimate destruction.
The logic of colonialism is obvious when we open our eyes to it; and in contrast the strategy of survival is clear and plain we must turn this situation around and confront Canada’s agenda by all means available to us. The Government of Canada is scared to death of a coordinated Native strategy to defend our rights and assert our power in the courts, on the ground, in the media and in the international arena.
The great Shawnee knew that if we ever got together we’d be dangerous. We need leaders with some of Tecumseh’s spirit, latter-day warriors who answer to their people and ancestors, leaders who have true hearts and believe in a reason to fight.
This election season, let’s ignore the would-be bureaucrats and tamed compromisers hoping for a business-as-usual future. Pray for a real leader whose vision extends beyond the horizon of our colonization. Pray hard. Brothers and Sisters, it is a matter of survival.
Taiaiake Alfred is director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria. Born and raised in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, he is widely known for his scholarly work on Native nationalism, Iroquois history, and Indigenous traditions of government. He can be reached at email@example.com