By Julia Good Fox
Is a unified platform a political necessity for Indian Country?
Yes, of course it is.
Last week, National Congress of American Indians President, Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw), delivered the NCAIs 2012 State of Indian Nations. Entitled, A Vision for Our America, the address actually was remarkable for the forcefulness of its pro-Tribal rhetoric. Listening to President Keel, I was reminded of the adage that the people perish when there is no vision.
So what is the current political vision of Indian Country as formulated by Tribal Peoples?
This vision, a viable political platform for Indian Country, can be achieved and implemented with no loss to the crucial importance of Tribal nationalism. (This is also true to with regards to voting in U.S. state and federal elections. The eventual formation of an inter-Tribal political party, which will provide an increase in meaningful and relevant choices for Indian Country other than those offered by the Democrat Party or the GOP, will be another instance of meaningful self-determination; and again, these choices will not undermine the primacy of our respective Tribal nations. I will address these topics during 2012.)
The Colonized Handbook of Sayings is full of maxims designed to promote cynicism and, worse, apathy. This handbook includes missives along the lines that Indians are incapable of working together. True there have been a few missed opportunities, because as many of our Tribes names remind us, we are human beings. Overall, however, our shared histories are full of examples not only of inter-Tribal coalition-building but also of realizing great strides toward building the ideological leverage that Vine Deloria, Jr. argued was so important. A necessary tactic for fostering the political power of Indian Country, he maintained, was to focus on the ideological as it is vitally important that the Indian people pick the intellectual arena as the one in which to wage war. I believe in the words of Deloria, and so I believe that sustainable and intelligent political power spread over Indian Country is not only possible, it is inevitable. The only question is of when this will happen.
Several years ago, I wrote an open-letter about the possibility of convening a massive political conference in Indian Country. I would like to share part of this letter with the readers of the Last Real Indians (with a few minor revisions for clarity) because I believe that the answer to this question of When? is Now:
We had decided what we needed was a movement. Not an organization, but a movement. So said Mel Thom in 1968 when he was describing the flurry of pro-Indigenous doings at that time, including those activities that were aggressively resisting the U.S. policy of termination, relocation, and other forms of colonization and genocide. [ ]
As the decades have passed since 1968, it may be an opportune moment to ask ourselves if it is possible that certain Indian organizations have somehow become more important than the intertribal movement to put sovereignty into authentic action. [ ] If so, how did this happen?
This appears to be an ideal time in which to meet and to discuss and to earnestly begin working on articulating the strategy of sovereignty. To begin to coordinate activities which will result in strengthened and stabilized land bases, and perhaps even to envision the ways our Peoples can not only just survive, but thrive and flourish, as Tribal communities on our stabilized and strengthened homelands. We know that we have the people and we have the political and social theories to assist us with moving beyond colonization which is the default offering from the United States to the Nations and Tribes, and have the physical and material resources necessary to move forward on this endeavor.
We know that the opposition to our struggle for liberation is, as Mel Thom described, a monstrosity. We also know that there will be Natives, and maybe entire Tribes, that do not support this movement for actual sovereignty. [ ] Yet we cannot let those folks stop us.
If political power across Indian Country is to be achieved, a platform can assist us in this endeavor. To do so requires coordination and the willingness to work together, and to do so through the disagreements and conflicts that will occur. One such way to support the skill-building and networking needed for this movement is through convening an intertribal forum. This forum is, ideally, centered upon an Indigenous-based strategy of sovereignty, and the tactics of self-determination. In fact, such a forum could meet annually (with Tribes hosting regional meetings). The initial meeting of this forum could take place in the middle of Indian Country at one of the tribal colleges. Perhaps the NIGA, the NCAI, and selected Tribal Nations could underwrite the event, and to do so without charging attendees outrageous registration fees. For the remainder of this open letter, let us refer to this event as the Intertribal Forum (ITF).
The ITF can take many forms, and its only limitations are our collective imagination or our failure to believe in the liberation of our lands or our unwillingness to live as Tribal Peoples. Unlike many Native-organizations and IRA governments that mimic non-Native methods of leadership and governing (and thus are unable to truly realize self-determination), the ITF will operate from an Indigenous-based framework that fosters a system of connections important for political actions and the respective well-being of our Tribes. The ITF could encourage and foster:
conversation and debate, solutions and consensus;
conflict resolution and transformation;
proficiency in political action and political power;
persuasive uses of media;
critical inquiry and critical consciousness;
exchange of lessons-learned and best-practices; and
alliance-formation among Native movements and organizations.
ITF participants are those peoples, groups, and Tribes that engage in pro-Native self determination-based concrete actions, actions that contribute toward base-building, networking, participatory political engagement, and allegiance to our respective Tribal Nations and solidarity with other Indigenous Nations.
No matter where it is held, the ITF is an intertribal location that facilitates the process to intelligently maintain and enhance genuine self-determination. The ITF can be organized by individuals from well-recognized groups in places like D.C., but most importantly, can only be successful if people situated directly at the community and grassroots levels are involved. No matter their professional affiliations (or lack of these credentials), the organizers of the ITF understand that they work primarily for Native Peoples and in support of sovereignty and self-determination. They have experience in coordinating and collaborating in campaign development, in sharing and refining as necessary the tactics involved in strategy, and in sharing with others, including their tribal communities, about international Indigenous self-determination and social justice movements.
Do you believe in the transformative power of politics, in the viability of a political platform developed by Indian Country? Drop me a line to share your political visions.