Politics and Moral Justice within the Indigenous Struggle
By: Colby Tootoosis
Often used to describe various levels of challenges and travesties of Indigenous presence, the Indigenous struggle can often become a core foundation of identity, and strive. Whether people are aware of it or not, everyday we awaken to the Indigenous struggle- it is a good life. What makes the Indigenous struggle a good life? And what does the Indigenous struggle mean in its entirety? Obviously, the answers to these questions cannot be broadened. The answers are catered to each individual based on their unique circumstances. I can only describe and articulate what the Indigenous struggle means to me, from my own experiences and understandings. No one can articulate what the Indigenous struggle is for you. We all have our own unique experiences and awareness. The invitation is to reflect upon your own life in regards to what is articulated here.
Without getting into specific details of the controversial misappropriated history of Indigenous people in the Americas to highlight the specific arduousness- it is constitutional to state that Indigenous people have had to overcome many difficulties and challenges. Fed by characterized social patterns, these disadvantaged circumstances stemming from the early processes of detribalization, are still created and experienced to this day. These struggles reveal themselves in the social levels of politics, nationhood, family dynamics and individual decision-making. More specifically, they can include everything from defending the land, external systemic racism, and psychological manipulation by means of policy and propagandist education- to neocolonialism expressed through corruption, apathy, and generational traumas. Symptoms of the Indigenous struggle can be a sense of hopelessness, internal despair, and perceived unwinnable circumstances. What is it that keeps the front line technicians, crisis responders, and educators continue to serve the cause for indigenous liberation in the midst of this social turmoil? And how do we rediscover joy and happiness in the midst of these challenges? Let’s break it down in the areas of politics, moral justice, and faith.
Sharon Venn, a dear friend of mine, shared a story about how leaders were accountable to the people back in the day when the people were organizing in the early stages of today’s First Nation’s political structures. They would do a collection, where people would chip in to sponsor their appointed spokes person to travel to meetings. When the spokesperson returned the people would visit for a report, or there would be a community “report meeting” which would allow collective decision-making. Today things are different. There is a crisis of conformity that disestablishes the unique foundations of the Indigenous nationhood. Many leaders strive for a career in politics and as a result there has been a melting away of communal congruence. As a result of today’s system of funding, there has become a disconnection between a First Nation’s elected officials and the people they represent.
One thing for certain, the Indigenous struggle should not be confused with the stresses of living in a capitalistic society – meaning the suffering in a lacking of material wealth and vanity, or the striving for westernized ideas of success. Though capitalism, with its mechanical qualities and translucent benefits, has been imposed upon the Indigenous presence – it often plays as an obstacle for basic survival and liberation. An example of this can be recognized in the observation of Indigenous politics. Even though the relationship between First Nations and colonial governments is a major component to the Indigenous struggle. I’d like to take this time to focus on the internal politics within the First Nations arena. My brother Mylan Tootoosis amusingly came up with the term: ‘career chief’. It quickly became the moniker within our circles to title behaviors of conformity, selling out, and cliché campaign strategies. What is a career chief?
A career chief is one who simply seeks a political career in First Nations politics, however is driven by ego, attention, and corruption. There are amazing leaders out there who have been in politics for many years. The career chief should be not confused as a ‘peoples champion’, who has been re-elected or re-appointed as a spokesperson because of their success and character. A career chief is actually one who has been in politics for many years, however immorally occupied and defended their leadership title through insubordinate means. They know the system and are fully aware of the systemized dependency the people have become. They will often use that dependency to their advantage. A career chief will see the people they represent as an enemy- and will have a mentality of knowing what’s best for the people without allowing a space for dialogue or an avenue for communal collective decision-making. They value money and will work in whatever means to obtain more money and will accept any method of financially benefitting from the administration of poverty. This means a career chief will have no problems selling out to the very system that continues to exploit lands, sacred territories and impose legislative processes that dilute and dissolve indigenous nationhood. The career chief will work towards legalizing or getting approval for their actions because often times their actions are either illegal, immoral or exclude benefiting the people they represent. How can an individual aim to change a system that is damaging their nations, when they are economically benefitting from that very system? A career chief becomes a mechanism within the mechanics of the system that is utilized to continue the process of extinguishment reflected in the goals of a colonial agenda. What creates the character of a career chief?
Without re-iterating a previous article, “deconstructing the Indigenous ego”, we can go straight to the point and highlight the generational traumas many indigenous people have suffered through processes of detribalization– such as the residential schools. Here’s an example: if I am a child who experienced traumas from residential school, who was poor, and didn’t learn a means to heal and overcome these ordeals– growing up with close to nothing all the while surrounded by settler privilege– in which later I become a chief or gain another title of leadership- and even though I have the best intentions for the people I represent, would I have the internal willpower and education to overcome temptations of double dipping into available funds or say no to colonial government officials who put hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table to simply sign an insidious document or agreement? If the answer were yes the Treaty 1-11 movement of the America’s wouldn’t be spinning its wheels for the last 30-40 years. If the answer were yes we wouldn’t be witnessing corrupt leaders re-elected or re-appointed time and time again. If the answer were yes we wouldn’t see Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada have control over how First Nations govern themselves. It’s clear there is a difference between a “leader” and a “politician”. Yet the question remains, how do we over come, move forward, and strengthen Indigenous presence in spite of the circumstances and enhance to a level of righteousness?
Many people believe that political maneuvering within the colonial realm is vital for the freedom of our nations. I don’t feel there is a solution to move beyond the Indigenous struggle in the game of politics. In fact, I don’t feel freedom will come from anything outside our nations, outside us as a people. Freedom exists in everyone from child to elderly. Our Nations don’t need a hero, or hero chief and council. What our Nations need is to come together and morally work together. However, in many communities it is challenging to manifest moral justice. There is a presence of oppression and communal depression within our Nations. The reality is there is no anti-depressant medication that exists to cure this psychological indisposition amongst the masses. What will eradicate depressed mindsets, apathy and cycles of oppression will be the willingness of the people to take appropriate action. Many people are skilled at pointing out problems in leadership and community dynamics however deriving to a solution is often an issue. Often times the solution involves specific action that is beyond the confines of comfort. In the Indigenous struggle we have two options to choose from:
1) Play it safe, avoid rocking the canoes and do our best row these two canoes at the same time (“Living in Two Worlds”)– which often includes conformity, compromise, and silence.
2) The complete opposite of the first option, which isn’t comfortable.
To advocate, promote, and fight for moral justice is to face and overcome fear. It’s fear that binds and feeds the misappropriated realities of apathy and instills the programming that normalizes corruption. To often those who call out corruption for what it is experience repercussions from the administration offices of their very own community. The communal dynamic of families against families need to come to an end. It is going to be our young people who will take steps towards seeing each other with fresh eyes. The worst thing we can do to our children and young people is expect them to carry on the legacy of pain and resentment towards their own people. A demand for radical forgiveness, compassion, and a revitalization of indigenous values is in order, especially within our family circles.
Sometimes our values become reflected from the family we grew up in. However it needs to be realized that once a person learns about Indigenous values they are responsible for them. The accountability of these values then has little to do with their family, and everything to do with the relationship between them and creator. It is vital for our youth and children to witness these values in appropriate action. A conscious person is aware that who they are and what they do can have a determining impact on the psychological development of observing children. This impact is present whether we’re aware of it or not, or accept it or not. It also can’t be denied that there is also generation in our midst that refuses to sweep injustices within our families and Nations under the rug. It is almost like this generation is playing the role of a clean up crew. Those stuck in old paradigms will be annoyed and even fearful of this fresh presence of ruthlessness. The reality is many children already have higher values and morals then some career chiefs, councilors and chairpersons. The best we can do is support them and encourage them to not only voice their instilled truths, but to also allow the avenue for the liberation of their actions.
Through out history there have always been a handful of Indigenous people who have hung around the fort, who have conformed, and have seen solutions and ideal methods of life in the ideologies of colonial thought. We still see these behaviors and attitudes to this day. I’m not saying there is a right way or a wrong way of living – I’m simply highlighting that there is a way of life that works and there is a way of life that doesn’t work. The reality is we are alive and have maintained our Indigenous presence because of the ones who have not conformed, who refused the handouts from the forts, and have lived “Indigenously” while standing strong and rooted in the essence of Indigenous consciousness. It’s important for our young people to know this dissimilarity- and to make a decision based on what their heart tells them. What if at the end of the day the Indigenous struggle doesn’t have to be a struggle at all? What if it doesn’t have to be about overcoming the struggle, or coping with it, or simply having to live with it? What if it can be effortless simply by embodying our values and morals? What if it’s about having faith and practicing that faith– whatever that means to the individual. The righteousness of following through on ones morals and values, is just righteousness. Through faith, a person can enhance their moral code to divine consciousness and awareness– whatever that means to the individual. Our ancestor’s faith is the reason why we have over come so many atrocities since colonial contact. In faith and in prayer, peace of mind exists. A nation that is willing to invest and focus on exploitation of lands, economic development like resource sharing then on social liberation and education and wellness for our youth — is approaching annihilation to the colonial agenda. I’m not saying to sit back and pray and wait for things to get better. I’m simply encouraging to call out corruption! Call it what it is! Not from a place of resentment, but from a place of internal liberation! Part of that is seeing our own people for what they really are, not as their mistakes, labels and judgments. Moving forward is never about clinging to the past. It’s about highlighting the reality that Indigenous nations are still a target for assimilation and that there is system still looks down on us as if we’re incapable of seeing their immoral patterns of demise. The puppet masters of the system have been failing their objectives and have yet to see the flourished garden of our full potential as manifested from those prayers of our ancestors. Elected politicians come and go, but the needs of the people stays the same. Ascending beyond the Indigenous struggle will take truth, righteousness, and over coming fear with collective supports within our own means. We will endure and we will succeed as a result of our faith and the following through with appropriate action.