Over reaction by Canadian authorities to anti-fracking protests… what does it mean? First Nations are at a very different stage in their relationship with Canada than, say, Alaska Natives are with the US. If anything, entrenched Native institutions in Alaska would probably want, and get, their due piece of the action in drilling, mining, logging, etc.
The Canadian government’s heavy handed response is overkill; but something like this is to be expected. The mode of operation against such protests these days is for the authorities to legitimize their move to crush opposition by getting the courts to give the green light. Involved in this process is usually some form of negotiation with less radical elements while simultaneously marginalizing the more extreme radicals who won’t come to the table.
A report on Canada’s vulnerability to aboriginal insurrection says that their energy and transportation infrastructure is brittle and vulnerable to sabotage and attack by a “warrior cohort” of young, unemployed, criminalized Natives. A strike by this cohort could cost the Canadian economy tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars per week. The response suggested by the report is an escalation of the police state plus public project/welfare buy offs for First Nations and resettlement of some communities; basically a carrot and stick approach that would bring indigenous people’s in line and into the fold.
On their own peaceful protests and blockades won’t win us sovereignty. In the age of Idle No More they are great for spreading sympathy and news rapidly around the world, but they won’t force the government to the table with favorable terms for indigenous people. My suggestion, for what it’s worth, would be to use these events as catalysts to legitimize the threat of our own violent response. After all, that is what they do when they deploy heavily armed
paramilitary troops police. Indigenous people could either participate in the marginalization of radical elements, which is what they want us to do before we come to the table, or we could go to the negotiating table with a guerrilla militia capable of crippling the Canadian economy at our backs.
What would this look like? Well, it wouldn’t mean armed clashes at blockades. That’s a recipe for disaster and unnecessary bloodshed. Indigenous people couldn’t win such a fight and it wouldn’t win any hearts or minds to our cause. Instead, it would mean proving that we have the capability of inspiring a continent wide strike against economic infrastructure. This is a relatively peaceful demonstration (as in no one really has to get hurt) of 4th generation warfare. To some extent the Canadian Government already knows this. So in the short run it may look using tribal governments as cover while at the same time building alliances, building networks, rebuilding traditional, grassroots institutions such as clans, bands, houses and villages, and creating a shadow system of self governance. The ultimate goal would be to reassert true indigenous sovereignty over our territories through the establishment of de facto tribal nations that have the capability of striking back against the system when our sovereignty is threatened. Of course, alliances with non-indigenous people on the continent will be critical. The alternative is to simply continue going along with the kangaroo court that has been set up by colonial powers to continue robbing us blind.
I remember when you first wrote about the possibility of conflict like this in Canada. You really called it. And it’s so true that Alaska Natives are too entrenched in Western-style institutions to mount an effective response. I found a paper from 2002 by Thomas Thornton that explains how complex Tlingit politics is. Here’s a quote that seems apropos:
“…Tlingit sociopolitical organization has become so intricate, elaborate, and entangled that it risks becoming stagnant or inefficient, if not retrograde or maladaptive. This kind of critique has recently been leveled at the ANB, which critics complain has become too caught up in its own tradition and protocol (it is said that ANB officers know Robert’s Rules of Order better than anyone), is slow to promulgate resolutions, and often ineffectual in carrying them through, and thus lacks the capacity to adapt and respond effectively to pressing political issues. Systemic involution also affects the individual actor, who may desire to effect some political change, but finds the prospect of articulating and marshaling backing among all the various elements of the polity too daunting or wearisome. Hence stagnation may prevail.”
Thornton lists twelve layers in our tribe’s political organization:
Alaska Federation of Natives
Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood
ANCSA Regional Corporation (Sealaska)
Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA)
Nation (Weak political status based primarily on common language and culture)
IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) Tribal Governments
ANCSA Village Corporation
Thornton concludes that “…with increased competition for resources and clout within the crowded political sphere, the Tlingit political system risks becoming involuted unless key institutions are reformed, are realigned, or form strategic partnerships with other entities.”
The place to go for the goings on in Canada is Warrior Publications run by Zig Zag.
Thornton is spot on. I'll add that all power comes from human institutions/organizations be they religious, military, mercantile, social, etc. and that all revolutions involve counter-elites attempting to replace the current elite. In the case of the Tlingit a lot of the pressure for our revolution from clan –> Western Institutions came from America; but the impact the arrival of the Americans had may have been different if disease hadn't wiped out so many of us to begin with. It should also be noted that many of our leaders pushed for this revolution to occur. The tribe was in crisis mode and losing ground, fast. So a new generation of Tlingit arose, forming ANB, pushing for ANCSA and in the process moving closer, culturally and politically, to our colonizers. This may have been necessary at the time to hold on to as much as we could, or it may have been a betrayal of the very essence of what makes us who we are. More and more I feel that I'm certainly not the one to much such a judgement.
All of that said, it's not like we need to accept this arrangement in perpetuity. There are some serious problems with our current organizational structure, as many of us have noted. There's strong evidence that commercial fishery practices over the past couple of centuries have devastated our fisheries, and then we have other extraction industries threatening to turn Tlingit Aani into a some sort of resource colony for the corporate state. Somehow very little of the prosperity that arises from such economic activity manages to benefit the grassroots base of the tribe; the sort of people who will remain in the region long after extraction companies and their workers have moved on.
As to how to remedy this in the context of the institutions you point out; I'd think that a National/tribal awakening is needed as a broad identity combined with a revival of families and clans as the basic building block of the tribe. Even something as simple as the revival of the Koo.eex' as a common practice would restore a lot of the fabric of the tribe and clans. These sort of ceremonies and the resources they require would get us re accustomed to providing mutual aid to one another. Add to that a revival of the language and you have the basis for a tribal revival. From there you have a people who have a sense of who they are and where they are going. If, for instance, one community had a need to protect it's sovereignty, as in this case in New Brunswick, you could imagine the rest of the Nation coming to it's aid with people on the ground, donations, or parallel demonstrations, shut downs, strikes and blockades across the region. Then if you start connecting this network with neighboring tribes and alliances with friendly, non-Native entities then we all have the ability to exert our will throughout the region without using the established political channels. Within this web we could provide social services, build public works projects, coordinate economic activity, protect our resources, and accomplish a wide range of activities.
These are great ideas! As you say, we don’t need to abandon our Western-style institutions. We need to remember they are only tools. Our true power lies in the values we learned from our ancestors. We need to see and feel the love they had for us. When we feel their love we naturally want to return it by honoring their values.
Thornton predicts there will be a revitalization of traditional values as our tribe recognizes the limits of modern society and that this is a cycle that may happen many times. I think if we remember our roots, we will grow strong and our culture will endure.
The key, I think, is to reach back into our personal histories and find the Tlingits of old. In my case I only had to look as far as my mother and my aunt. Others may have to look back a bit further. We can imagine them looking at us, smiling at how well we’re doing, but also sad that our traditions and homeland are being destroyed. We can imagine them holding our hand and saying to us through tear-filled eyes, “Remember me. I loved you before you were born. I fought for you. Remember us all, your ancestors.”
Making this connection is how we receive their power. It gives us access to their wisdom and infuses our acts with bravery. It is the only way we can survive.
What to do? I agree that it is time to rebuild/reinforce clans/houses/villages and begin reasserting Native sovereignty over our TRADITIONAL USE AREAS and strike back at the system(s) that threaten our very existence AND sovereignty. Enough is enough. As a L’ingit born and raised, to know WHO YOU ARE and WHERE YOU COME from is key. Knowing your BLOODLINE too! With the AK Native (whiteman) Land Claims, many who denied their lineage became 1972 “Indians” and since they were raised white “educated” took an active part in decimating our TUAs for “economic development” and “jobs” — oh, and THEIR OWN advancement “to the top” enabling them to LOOK DOWN ON “their people” while the whites hang on to their every word as if it is gospel about “their people.” BEFORE ANCSA, Alaska Natives were THE PEOPLE of the LAND and WATERS. A L’ingit (The People of the Forest and Sea) comes from a clan, a house, a nation and have NEVER BEEN DEFEATED IN WAR. As opposed to the original Americans. The Tlingit & Haida LAND CLAIMS was initiated by clans/houses of those Nations who live in the Tongass Forest and created the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood as the vehicle to carry the suit forward since the U S didn’t recognize our social organization AS LEGITIMATE. Once the the T&H sett
lement was accomplished (pittance) the U S required a formal T&H org to administer the $, thus T&H Central Council with do-nothing “community councils” in each S E AK village. ANB/ANS continued their roll in political accomplishments thruout the battle for “NATIVE” land claims. Once ANCSA became a reality, the program changed and 1972ers who hated us then, still hate us today and have successfully stepped on the indigenous way of life – that they themselves NEVER understood OR RESPECTED. AFN is ANCSA driven and DOES NOT represent the clan houses or village voices. ANCSA HAS STOLEN OUR TONGUES! Does NOT mean that ALASKA NATIVES are sell outs, means that the non-Native thinking and influence is stomping all over us while they high 5 themselves for their “accomplishments.” SEALASKA’s “shareholder distributions” primarily gleen from the succsssful INCOME OF OTHER REGIONAL CORPORATIONS while they and the likes of the Huna Totem Village Corp (based out of Juneau, not Hoonah) is committed to infiltrating their 1972-er FAMILY (non-Tlingit) into the corporate office AND IRA VILLAGE TRIBAL GOV’T. Yes, just where does this leave the REAL PEOPLE of our continent?