“It is easier to defeat a hundred men than one alone, especially if they strike suddenly and disappear mysteriously. The police and army will be powerless if Moscow is covered in these small unseizable detachments[…] Do not occupy strongholds. The troops will always be able to take them or simply destroy them with their artillery. Our fortresses will be internal courtyards or any place that it is easy to strike from and leave easily. If they were to take them they would never find anyone and would lose many men. It would be impossible for them to take them all because they to do this they would have to fill every house with cossacks.”
—”Warning to the Insurgents”, Moscow, December 11 1905.
“There is a significant and to my mind problematic limitation that is increasingly being placed on Indigenous efforts to defend our rights and our lands. This constraint involves the type of tactics that are being represented as morally legitimate in our efforts to defend our land and rights as Indigenous peoples on the one hand, and those which are viewed at as morally illegitimate because of their disruptive and extra-legal character on the other.
With respect to those approaches deemed ‘legitimate’ in defending our rights, emphasis is often placed on formal ‘negotiations’ – usually carried out between ‘official’ Aboriginal leadership (usually men) and representatives of the Crown (also usually men) – and if need be coupled with largely symbolic acts of peaceful, non-disruptive protest that must abide by Canada’s ‘rule of law.’
Then there are those approaches increasingly deemed ‘illegitimate.’ These include but are not limited to forms of protest and direct action that seek to influence power through less mediated and sometimes more disruptive measures, like the slowing of traffic for the purpose of leafleting and solidarity-building, temporarily blocking access to Indigenous territories with the aim of impeding the exploitation of First Nations’ land and resources, or in rarer cases still, the re-occupation of a portion of Indigenous land (rural or urban) through the establishment of reclamation sites that also serve to disrupt, if not entirely block, access to Indigenous territories by state and capital for prolonged periods of time.
Regardless of their diversity and specificity, however, most of these activities tend to get branded in the media in a wholly negative manner: as reactionary, threatening, and disruptive.
What the recent actions of the Mi’kmaq land and water defenders at Elsipogtog demonstrate is that direct actions in the form of Indigenous blockades are both a negation and an affirmation. They are a crucial act of negation insofar as they seek to impede or block the flow of resources currently being transported from oil and gas fields, refineries, lumber mills, mining operations, and hydro-electric facilities located on the dispossessed lands of Indigenous nations to international markets. These forms of direct action, in other words, seek to negatively impact the economic infrastructure that is core to the colonial accumulation of capital in settler political economies like Canada’s. Blocking access to this critical infrastructure has historically been quite effective in forging short-term gains for Indigenous communities. Over the last couple of decades, however, state and corporate powers have also become quite skilled at recuperating the losses incurred as a result of Indigenous peoples’ resistance by drawing our leaders off the land and into negotiations where the terms are always set by and in the interests of settler capital.
What tends to get ignored by many self-styled pundits is that these actions are also an affirmative gesture of Indigenous resurgence insofar as they embody an enactment of Indigenous law and the obligations such laws place on Indigenous peoples to uphold the relations of reciprocity that shape our engagements with the human and non-human world – the land. The question I want to explore here, albeit very briefly, is this: how might we begin to scale-up these often localized, resurgent land-based direct actions to produce a transformation in the colonial economy more generally? Said slightly differently, how might we move beyond a resurgent Indigenous politics that seeks to inhibit the destructive effects of capital to one that strives to create Indigenous alternatives to it?
In her recent interview with Naomi Klein, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson hints at what such an alternative or alternatives might entail for Indigenous nations. ‘People within the Idle No More movement who are talking about Indigenous nationhood are talking about a massive transformation, a massive decolonization’; they are calling for a ‘resurgence of Indigenous political thought’ that is ‘land-based and very much tied to that intimate and close relationship to the land, which to me means a revitalization of sustainable local Indigenous economies.’
Without such a massive transformation in the political economy of contemporary settler-colonialism, any efforts to rebuild our nations will remain parasitic on capitalism, and thus on the perpetual exploitation of our lands and labour. Consider, for example, an approach to resurgence that would see Indigenous people begin to reconnect with their lands and land-based practices on either an individual or small-scale collective basis. This could take the form of ‘walking the land’ in an effort to re-familiarize ourselves with the landscapes and places that give our histories, languages, and cultures shape and content; to revitalizing and engaging in land-based harvesting practices like hunting, fishing, and gathering, and/or cultural production activities like hide-tanning and carving, all of which also serve to assert our sovereign presence on our territories in ways that can be profoundly educational and empowering; to the re-occupation of sacred places for the purposes of relearning and practicing our ceremonial activities.
Although all of these place-based practices are crucial to our well-being and offer profound insights into life-ways that provide frameworks for thinking about alternatives to an economy predicated on the perpetual exploitation of the human and non-human world, at the micro-political level that these practices tend to operate they still require that we have access to a mode of subsistence detached from the practices themselves. In other words, they require that we have access to a very specific form of work – which, in our present economy depends on the expropriation of our labour and the theft of our time for the profit of others – in order to generate the cash required to spend this regenerative time on the land.
A similar problem informs self-determination efforts that seek to ameliorate our poverty and economic dependency through resource revenue sharing, more comprehensive impact benefit agreements, and affirmative action employment strategies negotiated through the state and with industries tearing-up Indigenous territories. Even though the capital generated by such an approach could, in theory, be spent subsidizing the revitalization of certain cultural traditions and practices, in the end they would still remain dependent on a predatory economy that is entirely at odds with the deep reciprocity that forms the cultural core of many Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land. […]”
On this day in history, December 15, 1890: After a lifetime of resistance to the U.S. genocide of Native peoples, Sitting Bull (Thatháŋka Íyotake), was murdered by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during an attempt to arrest him for supporting the Ghost Dance movement.
He lived a truly amazing life. Here are some of his words for reflection:
“Behold, the Spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed is awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.
Yet, hear me, people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own and fence their neighbors away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse. The nation is like a spring freshet that overruns its banks and destroys all that are in its path.
We cannot dwell side by side. Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo country should be left to us forever. Now they threaten to take that away from us. My brothers, shall we submit or shall we say to them: “First kill me before you take possession of my land…””
‘The huge mobilizations in June 2013 in 353 cities and towns in Brazil came as much a surprise to the political system as to analysts and social bodies. Nobody expected so many demonstrations, so numerous, in so many cities and for so long. As happens in these cases, media analyses were quick off the mark. Initially they focused on the immediate problems highlighted by the actions: urban transport, rising fare prices and the poor quality of service for commuters. Slowly the analyses and perspectives expanded to include the day-to-day dissatisfaction felt by a large part of the population. While there was widespread acknowledgement that basic family income had risen during the last decade of economic growth, social commentators began to focus on economic inclusion through consumption as the root of the dissatisfaction, alongside the persistence of social inequality.
In this analysis, I would like to address the new forms of protest, organization, and mobilization from a social movement perspective. These new forms emerged within small activist groups composed mainly of young people that began organizing in 2003, the year Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took government. Unlike political parties, trade unions and other traditional organizations formed in the early eighties, the new social movements are key to the June mobilizations because of their ability to organize beyond their local scene, to involve the broadest sectors of society in the struggle, and to employ forms of action and organization that sets them apart from the groups that went before them.
In most cases, media coverage and analysis have been guilty of overgeneralizing, often giving an almost magical role to “social networks” in mobilizing the millions of people in the street. “With nimble fingers on their cell phones, youth have taken to the streets all around the world to protest, connected by social networks,” said former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (Da Silva, 2013) “Beyond social media, the people are unorganized,” said leading intellectual Luiz Werneck Vianna. (Vianna, 2013 : 9) Others analysts linked the “revolution 2.0” to a new middle class and argued that the June struggles in Brazil form part of the Arab Spring and the Spanish indignados or indignants. (Cocco, 2013:17)
In this essay I assert — in tune with James C. Scott — that the key to what is happening in the public arena is to be found in the daily practices of the popular sectors and particularly in what Scott calls “hidden spaces” where the subordinated develop discourses antagonistic to power: “The acts of daring and haughtiness that so struck the authorities were perhaps improvised on the public stage, but they had been long and amply prepared in the hidden transcript of folk culture and practice.” (Scott, 2000:264) To focus on the continent behind and below the visible coast of the political, says Scott, is a necessary step to understand a new political culture. The new forms of protesting and organizing in Brazil can better be understood if we look closely at the practices of the small activist groups forged over the span of more than a decade. […]
Autonomous activism requires a greater level of dedication than is usually considered by observers like members of political parties. Furthermore, everything must be done without any institutional support so it relies heavily on collective work and creativity. Strong bonds of trust and solidarity emerge in these collective groups, to the extent that some activist groups could be considered living communities. Activists will often share a house or live within the same neighborhood and frequent the same social spaces, and this level of co-existence is a powerful cohesive factor which blurs the line between friendship and militancy, creating a climate of fraternity that is reaffirmed with the various regional or federal gatherings. Needless to say, this militant lifestyle goes together with a consistent ethic that does not separate words and action, the personal and the collective, or decision-makers and activists. It is a way of doing things that is counter to the hegemonic political culture, including the left parties.’
“I’d like to thank all of you for coming here tonight and sharing this evening with us. And tonight I’d like to talk in honor of the water and the earth and our brother Leonard Peltier.
We’re faced with a very serious situation in this generation. There are insane people who wish to rule the world. They wish to continue to rule the world on violence and repression, and we are all the victims of that violence and repression. We as the indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been resisting this oppression for 500 years. We know that the black people have been resisting it for at least that long. And we know that the white people have had to endure it thousands of years. And now it’s come full swing to this generation that we live in: the nuclearization of the world.
You see, this cannot be. We cannot allow this to go on. We cannot do it. We cannot expect that the pro-nuclear oppressor, that other side, we cannot expect that they’re going to change for us. They are going to become more brutal. They are going to become more repressive because it’s a matter of dollars and their illusionary concepts of power.
We have to re-establish our identity. We have to understand who we are and where we fit in the natural order of the world, because our oppressor deals in illusions. They tell us that it is power, but it is not power. They may have all the guns, and they may have all the racist laws and judges, and they may control all the money, but that is not power. These are only imitations of power, and they are only power because in our minds we allow it to be power. But it’s all an imitation. Racism and violence, racism and guns, economics- the brutality of the American Corporate State way of life is nothing more than violence and oppression and it doesn’t have anything to do with power. It is brutality. It’s a lack of a sane balance. The people who have created this system, and who perpetuate this system, they are out of balance. They have made us out of balance. They have come into our minds and they have come into our hearts and they’ve programmed us. Because we live in this society, and it has put us out of balance. And because we are out of balance we no longer have the power to deal with them. They have conquered us as a natural power.
See, we are power. They deal in violence and repression, we are power. We are a part of the natural world. All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth. We are power. But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless. We look at the oppressor and we look at the enemy because they have the most guns and the most lies and the most money. People start to feel powerless.
We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people we’re forgetting what the purpose is. The purpose is to honor the earth, the purpose is to protect the earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the earth, the earth is our mother. And we will never free ourselves as human people, we will never free ourselves as sexual people, we will never free ourselves until we address the issue of how we live in balance with the earth. Because all our resistance and all of our struggle is hollow, it’s false, it’s another one of the oppressor’s hypocrisies. If we do not look out for the welfare of the Earth first, because I don’t care who it is, any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion. The Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth.
They pollute- this oppressor, this machine that has gone mad and run amok, it is beserk. They keep telling us, “progress.” They keep telling us “face reality.” Well, let’s deal with reality. Reality is the Earth can no longer take this attack. We can no longer allow this Thing to continue when it’s polluting the air, it’s polluting the water, polluting our food. They pollute the air, they pollute the water, they pollute our food, they pollute our minds. They put us out of balance.
They have made us be insecure with ourselves. They have put us into a situation where we have to play many roles. You know, we gotta be chauvinist, or we’ve got to be on some kind of a class trip, or some kind of illusionary power trip. We’ve gotta play a role, see? We’ve gotta play a role to communicate with other people. We’ve got to go through this charade because they have attacked our self confidence. They have attacked our self confidence and they have made us to listen to *them.* They have made us to believe that they are power. But they are not- they are violent and they are brutal, but they are not power.
We are a natural part of the earth. As a natural part of the Earth, we have the energy and the power that IS the Earth. The Earth will take care of us if we will remember the Earth- in more than just our words. If we will remember the Earth in our way of life; we are all here to play a role. And all of the animals, and all of the life on the earth is playing it’s proper role except the human people. Somehow we are betraying, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion that we live in. They tell us, they want us to believe, that we are powerless.
We are a natural part of the earth, we are an extension of that natural energy. The natural energy which is Spirit, and which is power. Power. A blizzard is power. An earthquake is power. A tornado is power. These are all things of power that no oppressor, no machine age, can put these things of power in a prison. No machine age can make these things of power submit to the machine age. That is natural power. And just as it takes millions and billions of elements to make a blizzard to happen, or to make the earthquake, to make the earth to move, then it’s going to take millions and billions of us. We are power. We have that power. We have the potential for that power.
I remember in the 60s and 70s I heard all these things about “power to the people” and I never really understood because everyone was saying “power to the people” when they were talking about demonstrating, they were talking about votes, they were talking about dealing on the terms of the oppressor. Our power will come back to us, our sense of balance will come back to us, when we go back to the natural way of protecting and honoring the earth. If we have forgotten how to do it, or we think that it looks overwhelming, or think that we can never accomplish it, all we have to do, each one of us, an individual, is to go and find one spot on the Earth that we can relate to. Feel that energy, feel that power. That’s where our safety will come.
The Earth will take care of us. We have to understand that the American Corporate State will not take care of us. They do not care about us. Maximize their profit, that is where their whole life’s balance is placed upon- maximizing the profit. They will turn us against each other to maximize the profit, because they have done it in the past.
Nuclear energy. It’s the final assault. Nuclear energy should tell each and every one of us that they have gone beyond the reasons of sanity. That they are no longer sane. That they no longer deal with the real, natural world. Because they want to create a radioactivity that is going to make it impossible for the mother earth to take care of our life. We will not destroy the world. We are arrogant and we are stupid and we are foolish if we believe that we will destroy the world. Man has the ability to destroy all of the people’s ability to live on the Earth, but we do not have the power to destroy the earth. The earth will heal itself. The earth will purify itself of us. If it takes a billion years to get rid of the radiation the Earth will do it, because the Earth has that kind of time. We do not.
Our obligations and our loyalty have to be to the earth, and they have to be to our sense of community and to our people and our relations. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that will not take care of our needs. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that has proven time and time again that it is the enemy of the people unless the people are rich in dollars. That has been the consistent history of Western civilization and the American Corporate State Government- that’s reality. They are not our friends, they do not care about us. We have to face the reality that we have an enemy.
We all want to talk about nuclear war, everyone’s afraid of nuclear war, and it’s going to come between the Americans and the Russians or the Chinese or whoever. But are they not waging nuclear war on us now when the miners die from cancer from mining that Uranium? Are they not waging nuclear war with Three Mile Island? When they release that stuff into the air? Are they not waging nuclear war when they build these nuclear reactors and it’s not safe? Are they not waging nuclear war when they attack the Indian people on their land, militarily attack the Indian people, racistly attack the Indian people, so they can get at the natural resources to feed their radioactive machines? That is war, and they are waging it against us. They bribe congress, they bribe your elected officials, they terrorize and intimidate your elected officials by getting the FBI to blackmail them. Those are acts of war. We have to come to a time in our lifetime, and it will come in our lifetime, where we are going to have to deal with the fact that the enemy has taken over your government. The government is not your ally. The government will use you, chew you up and spit you out.
You think that we are wrong? You think that we are talking unrealistically? Then go look at your elders and see what has happened to your elders in your machine age society. See what kind of respect that they get. See what kind of a voice they are allowed into your society, what kind of input they have. See what their final reward of happiness is after working for this slave state for 30 or 40 years and allowing someone to exploit their labors.
What is racism? Racism is an act of war. What is sexism? Sexism is an act of war. It’s a war against our human dignity and our rights to self respect. This is the war that they wage there. War! They are war-like. And we have to understand that the American Corporate State got to where it’s at through the act of war. The next war… you wanna worry, you wanna think about a war? The next war that you better be concerned about is the one that they’re gonna fight here. Here in the continental United States. They have fought many wars here. They fought us all along, see, because we said ‘it’s ours and you haven’t got a right to it.’ They fought us. Now you all are claiming that it’s yours under this illusionary concept of private ownership of property and they’re gonna fight you. But they’re going to call it “national security” and “national energy crisis.” They’re going to call it “constitutional rights” and they’re gonna call it “judicial proceedings.” They’re going to nationalize… you know, your military coupe is going to come there. They’re going to nationalize the police departments, there’s your military coupe. In the name of “violence.” “Rising crime.” But all we must do is look in the corporate office and see the rising crime that is taking place there and nobody’s going to jail for it. So we’ve got to understand that they are arming themselves to wage a war against us and it’s going to be called the war of “law and order.” Because they’re twisting it around.
For 500 years my people have resisted. For 500 years we will resist again if it becomes necessary. We want to be able to relate and communicate with all of the people who are living on this land, but we want to be able to relate and communicate from a position of truth. You all gotta face the truth. We have had to face it through 500 years of genocide, we have had to face the truth, we have had to live the truth. We have had to die the truth. Before we’re gonna ever see our evolutionary liberation, the people that call themselves Americans are gonna have to face the truth also.
They tell us to “be realistic,” that “progress” means that all these things have to happen. They tell us that we can’t go back to the old way. They tell us “be realistic.” But there is no old way, no new way, there is a way of life. We must live in balance with the earth. We MUST do it. We have no choice. If we allow ourselves to be apathetic, or we allow ourselves to be lied to, or tolerate their lies about what they’re doing to the earth, then we are betraying our intention. We are betraying our purpose here. We cannot protect that 7th generation if we do not protect the earth. We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.
They want to break our spirit. They will do everything and anything to break our spirit, our will to live. We must learn to resist, we much learn to see, we must learn to look. We must learn to step out of this reactionary-ism. All of our lives they’ve had control of us through their schools, their tv, their electronic media. They’ve had control of us all of our lives. They have programmed us, they have made us become reactionary. We don’t think, we react to what they do. We don’t think, we react. To everything that they do- we react to it. They’re setting us up in the 80’s because they know consistently throughout the past the people have always reacted to their manipulations of circumstance. They know that the people always react. They’re counting on it in the 80’s.
See, and they outnumber us with guns, They outnumber us with money. They outnumber us with votes. They control all the machines that count the votes. They’ve got it all stacked in their favor. Except there’s a key. The key is we must start thinking, and stop reacting. The oppressor has no thinkers, they have no philosophers, it’s all scientific, it’s all economic, it’s all manipulative. They have no thinkers. You go look and you deal with the enemy and what the enemy does is: the enemy will send somebody out on the street to hit you in the head and the guy says “I’m only taking my orders.” And if you can come from a position of strength to this guy whose hitting you in the head and say “Hey, you’ve got to stop hitting me in the head, we want to talk.” then he says “Well I have to go to my superior to see.” They have no thinkers, either.
If we will start to think we will learn to see, to see what reality really is, and we will outnumber them through the thinking process. We will take our minds away from them. Because through their manipulation of our minds they control our spirit, and they know this is true. They tell us, see, they want us to believe that we are powerless. They want us to believe that we are becoming overwhelmed, that they can overwhelm us. You see, but they are paranoid. They are more paranoid than any of us are, no matter what happens to us. You see, because they have to put people in here to come and listen to what we’re saying, so they can go back and tell.
See, so they’re afraid! They’re afraid because they know we’re talking about reality! Now why are they afraid? They are afraid because they know they are dealing with the illusions of power which are based on the realities of violence and brutality. They’re afraid! See, they don’t want people to think, they don’t want people to be talking, and they don’t want people to think about what they talk about.
Because they know. They’ve known it all along, that they built their whole Thing on illusions. And because they have drawn us in to giving this illusionary world all this power, they have taken our power away from us. Because we believe in the illusions.”
Today hundreds of indigenous peoples representing Brazil’s native communities converged on government buildings in the nation’s capital to decry unprecedented and growing attacks on their constitutional rights and territories. The historic mobilization coincides with the 25th anniversary of the founding of Brazil’s constitution with its groundbreaking affirmation of indigenous rights and aims to preserve these rights in the face of powerful economic interests behind a spate of pending laws seeking access to resources on native territories.
Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous People’s (APIB) called the mobilizations – staged simultaneously in various cities across the country such as São Paulo, Belém, Rio Branco – to protest the attack against territorial rights of native peoples. Emanating from the Brazilian government and backed by a powerful congressional bloc representing agribusiness known as the bancada ruralista as well as large mining and energy interests, a series of new proposed laws seek to undermine Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution, which assures the indigenous right to an exclusive and permanent usufruct to resources on their ancestral territories.
“We are here because Congress wants to take our rights and extinguish our people,” said Chief Raoni Metuktire, a legendary Kayapó leader from the Amazon. “This assembly is important because it aims to unite our peoples against this threat.”
Hundreds of planned laws and constitutional amendments targeting the rights of indigenous and traditional communities are under debate in Brazil’s Congress and risk being passed this month before lawmakers go into recess, making this week’s mobilizations both urgent and timely.
Among the proposed changes are Proposed Complementary Law (PLP) 227 which would modify Article 231, eliminating the indigenous right to resources in cases of “relevant public interest,” clearing the way for industrial farming, dam-building, mining, road building and settlement construction on indigenous lands. Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215 would roll back the demarcation of new indigenous territories by passing the authority to demarcate lands from the Executive to a Legislative branch that is increasingly hostile to indigenous rights.
“These amendments and new laws that the government wants to pass will destroy indigenous rights enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution and the international treaties of which Brazil is a signatory,” said Maíra Irigaray Castro of Amazon Watch. “If Brazil denies the rights of these traditional populations they risk extinction, something the world cannot afford. These are the guardians of the rainforests for the benefit of all humanity.”
“We’re not going to stand by and watch our territories being stolen, our houses being invaded and our rivers being destroyed,” said Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of APIB. “Rather than calling Congress the house of the people it should be called the house of agribusiness.”
In addition to presiding over this unprecedented assault on indigenous rights, the Rousseff government has demonstrated the worst record of indigenous territorial demarcation since the nation’s dictatorship era. Further undermining the integrity of these territories, the office of her Attorney General proposes Ordinance 303 in order to veto any expansion of demarcated lands while authorizing the construction of roads, energy transmission lines, and military installations within their borders when such projects are deemed relevant to “national security.”
These moves coincide with increasing government backing and finance for projects and industries, exemplified by Brazil’s dam-building boom in the Amazon, that are entirely at odds with indigenous rights.