Decolonization in theory and practice

Indigenous Nationalism in Taiaiake Alfred’s Wasáse

I. “Nations” v. “Cultures”

A. The idea that Aboriginal peoples are “Nations,” not just “cultures,” has begun to influence the federal government, the courts, and the study of law and political science.

Central idea: the importance of an Indigenous homeland and the difficulties of the
displacement from that homeland

B. Media representations tend to divide “Native culture” and “Native politics” into separate spheres.

Problem: “Culturalism” as an approach is often cut off from politics.
Dominant culture depoliticizes Indigenous people by “stressing legends and myths…to
direct Natives’ attentions away from revolutionary nationalism.”

“America loves Indian culture. America is much less enthusiastic about Indian land title.” Craig Womack, Red on Red

II. Political and Power Relations: Action-Or iented v. Theor etical

A. Some academics have often stayed away from the Political topics within Native literature, such as land ownership, law, and governance. They tend instead to focus on power relations – and on large-scale issues such as colonization, sexism, and so forth.

General concepts of colonialism, versus the specific contexts and thus aims and political
priorities of Indigenous nations in settler colonies. Easier for non-Natives to condemn generalized Native dispossession, though less easy to support Native people’s specific claims to self– determination, claims that have material consequences.

Question to ask to move from theory to practice: Does the work exert a force for change outside the text itself?

“Decolonization cannot be limited to deconstructing the dominant story and revealing underlying texts, for none of that helps people improve their current conditions or prevents them from dying.” Linda Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies

B. Nationalism as Ethically Suspect

1. Suspicion of “truth claims.”

2. Resistance to action-oriented political writings, because nationalism is typically seen in today’s political climate as a tool used by one culture to obliterate another

3. Differences between American nationalism and Indigenous nationalism in settler colonies:

American is based on a shared governmental structure and a presumably shared sense of national community, despite citizens’ different national origins, races, ethnicities, regional identities, religions, and innumerable other forms of diversity. Consider Indigenous nationalism. Tribal communities often do not have a government in place that reflects their status as nations. Each Indigenous nation, however, does share a genetic connection, as well as a certain sense of a shared history and culture.

Do you support nationalism and nationalist claims?

A. Argument: Personal power by working within colonial system, but entails giving up power in the Indigenous sense because it doesn’t adhere to Indigenous traditions.

B. Context
Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) context/conception of nationhood

Six Nation Confederacy, Peacemaker, Great Law of Peace
Elaborate system of governance with 50 chiefs and 50 clanmothers, consensus-based process.

Still supported by a large portion of communities.

Core values:
1. Closest word to nationalism is “tewatatha:wi,” meaning, “we carry ourselves”
2. Communication and debate, can be seen as a conversation with Indigenous community.
3. Consensus and ability of a person to argue both rationally and convincingly
4. Criticism of leaders to be held accountable, health of system depends on how governance
system can incorporate dissent

“Sovereignty is the act. Sovereignty is the do. You act.” Oren Lyons

C. Critiques of Alfred:
Alfred is clearly action-oriented but focused on leaders and in previous books has been criticized for not providing a pathway for concrete action. Wasáse is clearly intended to answer to that, to a point.