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Taiaiake Alfred's 'Wasase'

I read this book a few weeks ago but I didn't write about it because I got engrossed in 'The Shock Doctrine' (I'll do a full review of that soon - but as a preview, though I'm sure you're all reading it, I'm finding it really brilliant. It started strong, with things that were part of conversations I'd had years ago - torture, war, Ewen Cameron, the dictatorships of South America, Chile - but once I hit the stuff about Poland and China, which I knew very little about, the book really took off for me. The way she weaves it all into a chronological narrative and follows people like Sachs through it all... it's very impressive).

'Wasase' is an attempt by Taiaiake Alfred, a Mohawk scholar who works at the University of Victoria, to formulate a strategy for indigenous resurgence (that's his word). How can a country like Canada, built on genocide and colonialism, be decolonized? That's the question he tackles. And his answers are - through nonviolent political action, without excluding self-defense; by delegitimizing colonialism, starting with the colonized. To that end, he presents some very interesting points about how colonialism depends on what is happening in people's minds, and if that can change, the system can become untenable.

Alfred doesn't preclude the idea of solidarity from the settler society, but nor is he willing to count on it and, indeed, he presents arguments that settler society is so racist that it shouldn't be looked to, at least not in the first stages of resurgence.

One aspect of the book, and of his work generally (I read 'Peace, Power, Righteousness' years ago) is that while he is confident and strong in his values and commitment, he is very intellectually humble and open. Much of the book is dialogues with other people, in which he faithfully presents their thoughts and ideas, before commenting on them. Much of the rest of the book is him giving a careful reading to the history of anti-colonial struggle in other places, and presenting his thoughts on these struggles and their thinkers. Reading along, you feel like you're exploring something very important with someone who is exploring with you (that's something of what I try to do in this blog, I suppose).

His openness also leads him to admit when he doesn't have answers. When he explores the question of indigenous-run casinos, for example, he notes the importance the money has had for some communities, and he also notes the limitations and the problems that these have caused. He quotes proponents and opponents, both favourably.

Wasase is an attempt to open a conversation about one of the most important questions North American society has, all the more important because the society is so unwilling to face it.

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Comments

The entire socio-political fabric of colonial countries is so profoundly incapable of addressing ndgns issues of self-determination that to continue to expect that the government (and society) will suddenly, miraculously gain the essential capacities for understanding and thus, working with ndgns communities as allies, is too far from reality to be given any serious consideration.

This is not to say that individuals cannot come to an understanding, only to say that institutionally (and this includes culture & language as well as legislative and governing bodies), colonial governments are incapable of reconciling their agenda (which is the anti-thesis of ndgns self-determination which requires a settlement of land claims as well as civil injury claims & a repositioning of our relationship with the government from one of ward to one of peer) with the agendas of many FN communities.

This disparity in goals is the result of a cosmological clash. For myself as a Cree person, I do not want the focus to be solely on "economic development" because I have seen what capitalism does to cultures and to the environment. As such, economic development is a red flag to me and what I understand my traditional values as a Cree are.

Capitalism is a parasitic, self-aggrandizing, destructive economic system that is also a cultural system. I think ndgns people are smart and inventive and adaptable enough to think of something better and that is far more congruent with traditional values and cultural beliefs (which are the foundation for the self-determination struggle, after all, if all we want is to be good little capitalists, then there is no reason to struggle against the colonial government, just continue to assimilate as scheduled) than simply adopting this foreign system and giving it a brown face.

The work that needs to be done is profound, and Taiaiake's work fulfills a much needed function: to offer a different vision for First Nations people than to continue on with the soul- and land-killing status quo.

Migwetch,
nehi katawasisiw
pipikisis cree nation
file hills, saskatchewan

I appreciate your respectful opinion of Taiaiake. There is a point that many people are completely blind to: native people do not have to accept the sovereignty that was claimed over this land. With sovereignty came control over these lands and the complete disregard of native people as being nations. This disregard manifested at many points in history including the Indian Act, the reserve system, the residential schools, the white paper, and the disregard for the royal commissions on aboriginal people; more recent accounts include the new aged racist movements founded by Flanagan, Cairns, and Widdowson – all of whom implicitly claim that native people today only have a preselected list of cultural traits they may retain. What Taiaiake does is expose this historical pattern and shows how it still exists today, in turn calls into question the very legitimacy of North America.

The point that many people miss is that at every point in history where these horrific acts toward natives were being made, the aggressors always believed that what they were doing was right. In these points of history, every cruel act toward the native race was followed by one word: necessary. It was always believed that the unjustified acts toward native people were necessary, and that is still the case today. Taiaike knows this and makes his suggestions based on the reality that there is no evidence which supports the claim that native people (as a whole) are better off assimilating into mainstream society, especially when these same racist historical patterns of oppressive are still in full force. Offering native people dignity by allowing them to rejuvenate their traditions is the only way.

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