The freedom of religion »« A little immature snicker

Priorities: Indigeneity or Secession?

A post by Jamie

How exactly do I even begin? My language choices throughout this piece are applied conscientiously. Selection of terminology used here is neither made carelessly nor in jest. I am struggling daily with a profound and genuinely increasing sense of  dread, and this particular piece of writing is an attempt to account for this as concisely as possible.

We’ve got indigenous peoples in both Brazil and Canada essentially declaring war against their respective colonial governments and other occupiers with corporate interests (Brazil, Canada). While indigenous peoples in Canada are being neglected (see this… oh, and thisand this, too) and starved (see here), indigenous peoples in Brazil and neighbouring countries are being fire-bombed and gunned down — though media reports on indigenous peoples in South America are apparently often misleading (as in the title of the article about a Brazilian indigenous tribe declaring a fight to the death for their land) or false (like this case); thus generating its own set of problems around media accountability and the visibility of issues effecting these communities. Such as the Belo Monte mega-dam threatening the extinction of up to 40,000 indigenous people (see this) — Gee! Does this sound, to anyone else, like exactly the same conflict between the Canadian government (and corporate interests) and the Cree over the James Bay project? Or the current conflict between the Canadian government (and corporate interests) and the Coast Salish (and many other indigenous communities) over the pipelines projects proposed to run directly underneath their reserves and territories (some of those territories being unceded and yet, the deal was conspicuously proposed without the consent or acknowledgement of the communities who hold title)?

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defence Force is actively perpetrating a genocide against Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Gaza, citing—tell me exactly when all of this starts to sound familiar—”self-defense” and “fighting terrorists” (read this article from Mehdi Hasan and this one from Omar Baddar about the conflict to catch up if you haven’t been keeping track). The colonizer in the Gaza Strip has rapidly become the oppressed over the past 50 years, in a very deeply unsettling and highly publicized conflict characterized by drone strikes, soldiers calculating exactly how much food they can deprive the Palestinians of without starving them to death, and children (who make up the majority of the population in the area) walking around plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder. US President Obama condemns the IDF’s air strikes while himself overseeing drone strike operations all over the Middle East (and you remember why the US is over there, right?) What is happening to the Palestinians is being compared to Rwanda and even the Holocaust — a sentiment that most certainly was helped along by the Israeli deputy defence minister himself threatening to exact a Holocaust upon the Palestinians three and a half years ago.

And while all these anti-colonialist conflicts are going on in relatively increasing magnitudes in Canada, South America, and Gaza respectively, throughout the United States, we’re all watching a bunch of disenfranchised white people (and a bunch of internet trolls making fun of them) in every state, petitioning the White House website (see here) for secession since the day after Obama’s re-election. Or in the case of at least one troll petition, a pizza party for everyone else if the Missouri secession petition is successful (I’m not kidding). Add two separate petitions to either strip US citizenship from or deport everyone who signed a secession petition, and where the race lines are being drawn in this conflict is suddenly not so clear as it first seemed. The first petition appeared the day after Obama was re-elected (honestly, where were these petitions when Bush was re-elected?), and after one week, all fifty states had some angry secessionist posting a petition on their behalf. Many transparently lack any concrete complaint, although that Texas one at least mentions the NDAA.

Obama is being heavily scrutinized for the use of drone strikes; and yet, the Vox Populi’s alternative was Mitt Romney—a far worse choice, on every count. While racial privilege is an undeniable factor of this slowly escalating conflict within the US, and while this conflict is hard to take seriously on the surface, I’m inclined to believe the scope of it is much further-reaching the scope of racial inequality all on its own, and that this conflict runs much deeper than the surface. Take for instance that the effects of colonialism on indigenous communities are still conspicuously missing from both sides of all this secession talk. And yet, even the most superficial understandings of Gaza (as I will be the first to admit, my own is thusly described for the time being) and/or the drone strikes all across the Middle East reveal a common thread of This Is Happening Because Colonialism (optional add-on: Is Bad). I find myself at a loss to even begin to formulate a guess at how exactly one constructs a set of tunnel vision goggles so that s/he can see clearly what’s going on half-way around the world and yet not see the exact same thing when it’s taking place in hir own backyard (and has been for centuries). That’s a dangerous context to be wholly steeped in without even being aware of it. This is how history repeats itself, as we are seeing in Gaza and the rest of the Middle East.

I can just about understand and empathize with the person filing a secession petition in the event that Romney was voted President, but because of Obama? Secession demands under the Obama administration have all the appearances of an unconsciously driven knee-jerk reaction that’s as far from graceful as a panicked, over-acted, pretend-death-rattle by a population suddenly being confronted (as if for the first time!) by what colonization has been doing to indigenous communities for the past 500 years. It’s cognitive dissonance finally wearing off in relation to the US invasion of the Middle East. It’s the narrator of the movie Fight Club describing the mental image of Marla Singer, throwing herself around in a drug-addled haze in her crumby little apartment. The most pathetic part of it all is that secession isn’t even the answer to fixing a broken democracy (a solution that will still leave aboriginal peoples behind). But like [spoiler] Ed Norton not even realizing he’s been Brad Pitt [/spoiler] for the entire length of the film, North America is watching Gaza in horror, largely oblivious to having a secret trigger quietly tripped in their own minds, that the same thing will happen here if we keep treating indigenous peoples across the continent (and in South America) as disposable human beings.

I think I just heard the entire collective of my many previously annoyed readers suddenly let out an annoyed huff all at the same time; all rolling their eyes together, but that’s OK. I’ll just remind the rest of you again that indigenous peoples have essentially declared war to the North and South of the United States. Oh, and there are still a lot of indigenous peoples in the US, some of whom have even successfully claimed their own sovereign republic within your borders because they had nothing to lose by renouncing support they weren’t receiving anyway — see this blog post about the formation of the Republic of Lakotah (and their more recent Keystone pipeline blockade) in case you missed this at any point in the past 5 years (although I would expect RoL to take issue with their sovereign republic being describes as land that is “owned” by them). Then come back and read some more.

You back yet? OK. Let me be clear about my intentions here: I’m not writing all of this to suggest that Native Americans are going to form some sort of a violent uprising like the Israeli occupation of Gaza in the near future (although Brazil might suddenly start to feel a lot closer to home than it has traditionally felt by virtue of its geographic distance alone); rather, I wrote this piece to suggest that the reason why so many people are writing and signing secession petitions is that they can subconsciously sense, as they watch Gaza, that something huge is building momentum on home soil. They feel backed into a corner by increasingly persistent threats to their racial and settler privileges (i.e., descendants of colonial settlers), and demanding secession is the ultimate way to avoid and deny those privileges without actually doing the work of letting them go or doing anything to subvert them (except that doesn’t make them go away). It’s also, at least in their own minds, not a clear-cut demonstration of deep-seated racism (except that it is). In other words, here’s a picture that paints a fair portrait of what’s going on:


Now back to that sticky little detail about being so steeped in your un-interrogated racial and settler privileges that you can see what’s going on when it’s half-way around the world but not when it’s the identical thing right in front of your face: this is seriously problematic; especially so when its name is colonialism and your backyard is anywhere in North America—where we pretend colonialism is this Thing™ that happened 500 years ago and that it remains there, even though our entire society is a testament to how persistent and current it still is. There are so many oppressions and injustices in North America, that while not at all unique to this continent, are nevertheless rooted here in the relationship of colonialism to current distribution of sociopolitical power. Not being able to see what binds it all together becomes a battle against the Lernaean Hydra.

We have a problem of social inequality all across North and South America, and the solution to that problem is neither secession nor invading a foreign country to steal its natural resources (I have every confidence in the audience of this blog, that this statement was already self-evident). While we’re scrambling for a quick and dirty solution to whatever we want to call “oppression” in any given week, injustice anywhere is and always will be a threat to justice everywhere. There is no quick and dirty solution to 500 years of oppression against indigenous peoples. And on a related note, I couldn’t help but notice nearly five times as many supporters for de-funding Planned Parenthood than, say, for declaring that the mass murder of 30,000 Indian Sikhs in 1984 (for the actions of just two in the assassination of India’s first female Prime Minister, for which those two were both executed) was an act of genocide. It should seem obvious that sentencing 30,000 people to death to punish two is an act of genocide, and yet, this has been denied by the Indian government just as justice has been withheld from indigenous peoples by the colonial governments across North and South America. It’s time to set an example and change our relationship to the First People.

Follow Jamie on Twitter!