One conflation of terms that really bothers me a lot, which still seems to be plaguing the discourse, is the conflation of the term “nation” and the term “state.” You have this entity out there called “the United Nations.” It really should have been called “the United States,” because to be eligible even for admission to the Assembly you have to be organized in that centralized, arbitrary structure. No “nations” as such are even eligible for admission to the United Nations. “The United States” was a name already taken, however, and this was very useful in obfuscating the reality.
But the upshot of that is that you’ve got a whole lot of anarchists running around thinking they’re anti-nationalist, that nationality, nationalism in all forms, is necessarily some sort of an evil to be combated, when that’s exactly what they’re trying to create. You’ve got four or five thousand nations on the planet; you’ve got two hundred states. They’re using “anti-nationalist” as a code word for being anti-statist. With indigenous peoples, nationality is an affirmative ideal, and it hasn’t got any similarity at all to state structures.
You may have nations that are also states, but you’ve got most nations rejecting statism. So you can make an argument, as I have, that the assertion of sovereignty on the part of indigenous nations is an explicitly anti-statist ideal, and the basis of commonality with people who define themselves as anarchists. We’ve got to deal with our own bases of confusion in order to be able to interact with one another in a respectful and constructive way.
Upping the Anti: In the US in the 1960s, some people on the radical left saw that the elements that were moving first into struggle, the actual radical forces that could overthrow the system, were the movements that had the least to loose and the most to gain from such struggles: the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, etc. But how can we achieve the destruction of state power without the conscious, active support of the majority of the people, including significant sections of the white settler population?
Ward Churchill: You can’t win so long as the bulk of the population is actively in some fashion or another deployed against you. But that doesn’t mean that the bulk of the population ultimately has to actively join you either.
I think this is where the Weathermen misunderstood what the dynamic was at the time. They thought people were much more actively committed to physical engagement with the state than ultimately proved to be the case. In retrospect, it’s clear that they weren’t. The Weathermen thought they saw a parade and tried to position themselves to lead it. They were going to be the vanguard. What’s new? We’ve got three hundred white guys who decided they had their finger on the pulse of history, so they were going to jump in front. They said they were acting in solidarity, but they were defining themselves as a vanguard. The white guy is going to lead the Revolution. They just misdiagnosed the conditions that might precipitate revolution, and ended up isolating themselves.
This would also apply to the BLA, although they had far stronger base in the community than the Weatherman ultimately turned out to have. The significance of the role of the armed struggle was profoundly misunderstood at that particular juncture by virtually all of the actors. They believed that the armed struggle was going to be the catalyst in bringing about a comprehensive transformation of society. And that wasn’t the case at all. What led them to this false conclusion was a withdrawal of consent on the part of increasingly massive numbers of people. You really had a significant proportion of the population that was rejecting, in substantial part, the thrust of US policy. They weren’t going to go to war with it, they were just not going to contribute to it. That’s the key.
You don’t have to have the preponderance of the population engaged in some sort of a final campaign to bring down the government. What you do need is the ability to cause an increasing number of people to withdraw consent from some key sectors that keep the system functioning. And if an appreciable number of those people are going into more active forms of resistance and are supportive, at least to the extent that they won’t give you up to the cops and that maybe they will make a contribution, be it monetarily, or by providing you sanctuary, I think that’s attainable over the long haul. You have to have a much greater weight in order to take the structure intact and then rearrange its organization, than you need to have it begin to unravel and collapse, and that’s actually the aspiration that I hold.
You also have to create counter-models that people can look at, that they can be attracted to: ‘Oh yeah, there is another way of doing this and maybe I’d be more comfortable in that context. I don’t know for sure because I haven’t lived in it, but it looks like something I might like to explore.’ That leads to withdrawal, and creates doubt as to the inevitability of state structures and that’s what you’re trying to create.
Not that you’re going to supplant the structure of the state with co-ops, or little land occupations, collectives and so forth. In the 1970s in particular, there was this whole notion that you could simply create a society that you want within the shell of the old one, and eventually the old one will wither away. Well that ain’t going to happen either. You’re going to reach a certain threshold and then the state will begin to actively repress you and try to crush you.
The Black Panthers’ breakfast for children program, their community clinics, alternative educational institutions, job placement programs, housing initiatives, and all the rest, when viewed as a package in and of themselves may seem like a very liberal agenda. But it was framed in terms of a very coherent program of self-determination, of self-sufficiency, that sought to remove those service delivery sectors of responsibility from the state, and to place them in the hands of the community.
You don’t see a lot of that happening these days. For most people in the anarchist community who organize in their little collectives and get together and eat their bean sprouts and shit – it’s only for themselves, at the present time. If you want to talk to factory workers, you need to connect with them where they are, not where you think they should be. You need to get over your prohibition on ashtrays. You keep asking me why nobody shows up, except you, when you organize an event – there’s the answer. I’ve answered the question about 15 times. You may have ideas, you may have counter models and they might be constructive, but if people – coming from the bowling alley or something – have to spend 15 minutes reading your fucking signs about what they can or can’t do in exchange for the privilege of entering your sacred premises, they’re going to go bowling instead. Get over your bicycles and go down and bend a wrench with a gear head for a while. Do what he’s fucking doing. Maybe he’ll learn how to talk to you and vice versa.
But that’s like shedding the black uniforms. It’s a real psychological barrier to some anarchists, because they’ve got the solution to the world’s problems somehow in code form in their minds. They posit an implicit demand that people are supposed to acknowledge the superiority of their vision as the price of admission. So get the fuck off the university campus and down into a union hall. Put ashtrays on the goddamn tables. Make some babysitting services available. And try to package it in a set of terms that can appeal to the people you’re trying to reach. Call it spin if you will, call it packaging, call it Madison Avenue – but how you pedal it, how you try to reach people, is really important. They’re probably not about to put safety pins in their eyelids and all the rest of that shit. I understand why you’re doing it, and I’m not objecting: it’s just that you’ve got to realize that there are some other people out there you need to reach if you’re going to be successful, who don’t feel that way. And you need to respect that. Because you’re ultimately demanding that they respect you. That’s a reciprocal proposition.
The Hau de no sau nee has, over a period of 375 years, met every definition of an oppressed nation. It has been subjected to raids of extermination from France, England, and the United States. Its people have been driven from their lands, impoverished, and persecuted for their Hau de no sau nee customs. It has been the victim of fraudulent dealings from three European governments which have openly expressed the goal of extermination of the Hau de no sau nee. Our children have been taught to despise their ancestors, their culture, their religion, and their traditional ceremony. Recently, it has been a government-sponsored fad to have bi-lingual/bi-cultural programs in the schools. These programs are not a sincere effort to revitalize the Hau de no sau nee, but exist as an integrationists’ ploy to imply “acceptance” from the dominating culture.
Revisionist United States and British historians have cloaked the past in a veil of lies. The national and local governments of the Hau de no sau nee have been suppressed and usurped by the colonial authorities, and their neo-colonial Indian helpers, to carry out policies of repression in the name of “democracy.” Generation after generation has seen the Hau de no sau nee land base, and therefore its economic base, shrink under the expansionist policies of the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.
The European invaders, from the first, attempted to claim Indians as their subjects. Where the Indian people resisted, as in the case of the Hau de no sau nee, the Europeans rationalized that resistance to be an incapacity for civilization. The incapacity for civilization rationale became the basis for the phenomenon in the West which is known today as racism.
The Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas and immediately claimed the territories for their sovereigns. They then attempted, especially in the case of France and Spain, to make peasants of the Indians. The English, who had already experimented with the enclosure system and who thus colonized North America with landless peasants which were driven by a desperation rooted in their own history, at first simply drove the Indians off the land by force.
The European legal systems had, and apparently have developed, no machinery to recognize the rights of peoples, other than dictators or sovereigns, to land. When the Europeans came to North America, they attempted to simply make vassals of the Native leaders. When that failed, they resorted to other means. The essential thrust of European powers has been an attempt to convert “… the Indian person from membership in an unassimilable caste to membership in a social class integrated into Euro-American institutions.” (Francis Jennings, “The Invasion of America”, 1976)
We feel that the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere can continue to contribute to the survival potential of the human species. The majority of our peoples still live in accordance with the traditions which find their roots in the Mother Earth. But the Native peoples have need of a forum in which our voice can be heard. And we need alliances with the other peoples of the world to assist in our struggle to regain and maintain our ancestral lands and to protect the Way of Life we follow.
We know that this is a very difficult task. Many nation states may feel threatened by the position that the protection and liberation of Natural World peoples and cultures represents, a progressive direction which must be integrated into the political strategies of people who seek to uphold the dignity of Man. But that position is growing in strength, and it represents a necessary strategy in the evolution of progressive thought.
The traditional Native peoples hold the key to the reversal of the processes in Western Civilization which hold the promise of unimaginable future suffering and destruction. Spiritualism is the highest form of political consciousness. And we, the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere, are among the world’s surviving proprietors of that kind of consciousness. We are here to impart that message.
It is necessary, at this time, that we begin a process of critical analysis of the West’s historical processes, to seek out the actual nature of the roots of the exploitative and oppressive conditions which are forced upon humanity. At the same time, as we gain understanding of those processes, we must reinterpret that history to the people of the world. It is the people of the West, ultimately, who are the most oppressed and exploited. They are burdened by the weight of centuries of racism, sexism, and ignorance which has rendered their people insensitive to the true nature of their lives.
We must all consciously and continuously challenge every model, every program, and every process that the West tries to force upon us. Paulo Friere wrote, in his book, the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” that it is the nature of the oppressed to imitate the oppressor, and by such actions try to gain relief from the oppressive condition. We must learn to resist that response to oppression.
The people who are living on this planet need to break with the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation as something which needs to be extended to the whole of the Natural World. What is needed is the liberation of all the things that support Life — the air, the waters, the trees — all the things which support the sacred web of Life.