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Indigenous Perspectives

Written By: - Date published: 1:55 pm, May 29th, 2016 - 30 comments
Categories: activism, colonialism, community democracy, culture, democratic participation, economy, Economy, Environment, Ethics, human rights, International, law, political alternatives, political education, Politics, religion, Social issues, sustainability, us politics, vision - Tags: , , , , ,

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe mother of three, environmentalist, indigenous rights’ activist, economist, writer and past two time vice-presidential candidate (with Ralph Nader). In a speech last year, LaDuke presented an overview of the key areas of expertise that indigenous peoples bring to the table. (Speech begins at 6 min) She’s funny, educational, conversational and above all political, and she speaks with a native voice without adjusting her language for non-natives. This is not LaDuke mythologising the Noble Savage. This is LaDuke reminding her audience that they too have brought much to the world.

The English-speaking West is largely unaware of how indigenous societies have functioned, and the strengths they possess that industrial cultures have lacked. Notions of progress are insistent that high tech equals better and that industrial cultures are somehow more advanced socially. So let’s take a look at some of the cultural tools and world views that Native Americans have used.

Representational democracy

“We are the people who of course contributed representational democracy to the United States. Now you all know that, but a lot of people do not know that in public office, right? The fact is that the people who came to this country they had no experience whatsoever with democracy. They came from monarchy and feudalism. They came from being imprisoned and treated like third class citizens. And so they came here and where did they go to learn about democracy? They had sources from different places but they went to see the Iroquois Confederacy , who had developed a representational democracy and a confederacy, right? And what they knew, after many years of battling each other, the Iroquois Confederacy knew enough to put their weapons down at the foot of a tree and make peace. That is a lesson that has never been learned by the United States, has it.”

“And when those guys came to see our people, they took notes on representatives and such but they had a pretty significant omission which I think most of us in the room know. Which is that the clan mothers are who appointed and removed the chiefs. And this country of course, when the created their representational democracy the only people who could vote were white men who owned property. And some of that property was also people.”

Restorative justice

“If we had learned something in America a little bit better from indigenous people, we would know something about restorative justice. And the idea for instance in the case of Crow Dog vs Spotted Tail, where Crow Dog assassinated Spotted Tail. In 1882 the Lakota justice system said that the descendants of Crow Dog had to now care for the family of Spotted Tail. Because they had denied them the man, the head of their family, who would care for their food. And so that family was now responsible… the Crow Dog family.”

(The US government reacted and created the Major Crimes Act, which subsumed the existing indigenous systems on reservations).

“In our next evolution, if we continue the process of understanding what indigenous people bring maybe we can create a multi-cultural civil society, where some of these teachings exist as a part of public policy.”

Economics

“What we know is that in indigenous economics your wealth was attributed to how much you gave away, not how much you accumulated. Your status and your recognition in society is not based on your hoarding like the Koch brothers. Your status is what you do for your family, what you do for your community and how much you give away of yourself and of your wealth.”

Public Policy

“In each deliberation we consider the impact on the seventh generation from now.”

“Everything we have today we inherited, we are very very fortunate today that our ancestors were strong people. We’re very very fortunate that our ancestors took care of this land so well.”

“We also know that those who are not yet here are counting on us not to mess this up… they’re counting on us to make sure that there will be water for them to drink, that there will still be fish, that the air will not be so poisoned or so hot that they cannot live. It is important that we consider how we make public policy that is not based on today’s election years, but is instead based on a long term view of how you protect the commons.”

Environmentalism

“I believe, like many of you do as well, that rivers have a right to live. Salmon have a right to continue to exist, and not be over allocated to fishing trawlers and have their rivers poisoned. All of life, all of our relatives, have these rights.”

“What fossil fuel companies are doing is to combust the planet to oblivion. It is our spiritual moment to stop them. It is our moment as the people who are here, where we can stop them from doing that… it’s our moment, and we get to be the people who do that.”

[Indigenous peoples the world over are at the forefront of stopping fossil fuel extraction.

Spirituality and activism

“That is part of what I see this opportunity as, this opportunity of enlightenment… I think of our relatives to the South… who conduct world renewal ceremonies. And I think about the beauty of somebody who renews the world through their ceremonial commitment every year, and I’m grateful to them because I think that the world is renewed each year because of those prayers and those ceremonies.”

“So as the forces of the unenlightened and the evil and the greedy oil companies and the chemical companies try to poison our water and poison our air, remember that our resistance is what stops them. They get what they want unless you stand up.”

Weka

30 comments on “Indigenous Perspectives ”

  1. Ad 1

    The extras in the movie The Revanant have 45 minute documentary on native peoples in North Dakota. Particularly a massive dam built by the US Engineer Corps in the 1960s. Was an excellent analogue of reality to the movie, which incorporated the native families of many of the actors. Recommended.

  2. gsays 2

    thanks weka for highlighting this.

    the words above resonate and penetrate.
    contrasted with the words and ways of our current crop of leaders, the indegenous politics are far more powerful and natural.

  3. Bill 3

    Just immediately thinking intersectionality…again, and thinking that energy could be spent in much worse ways than simply resisting any promotion of a single sectional interest above all others, and insisting that no sectional interest becomes the a dominant framework or focus through which all political analyses ought to pass.

    And then secondarily thinking how so much energy is wasted by so many trying to negatively elevate their pet analytical framework, as though a single lens could capture all the depth and breadth of human political experience.

    Thirdly thinking what a dangerous joke all the cultists are – and how damned many of them there are.

    • weka 3.1

      Good point. I came across this quote from LaDuke,

      “I find that I have more allies on the left than on the right, and that is because the left is, by and large, filled with people who are challenging the present paradigm and power structure. I’m interested in totally transforming the structure that exists now, because it is not sustainable.”

      Which immediately reminded me that it’s easy to assume that she is left wing, but what I hear in that quote is that she has her own indigenous politics and she sees herself allied with some left wing people. Which is great. Maybe intersectionality is at core what you say, the willingness to let people have their own frameworks, and being willing to work with people who have different ones without having to impose ours. This is the shifting paradigm. There is no one right way to do politics, yet we are completely dependent on being able to work together. Maybe this is what is coming after the shambles that is currently the left, the learning to work across frameworks and agendas.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        This is a drum I’ve banged on a fair wee bit recently, but I’m reckoning it’s worth banging…much of what calls itself ‘left’ is no more left than fly and a huge swathe of it should more correctly labeled as statist. That’s not some hair splitting btw.

        Statism acts in a fundamentally opposite direction to the myriad politics of the left…centralism as opposed to autonomy, or to put it another way, authoritarianism as opposed empowered cultures/politics of interdependence.

  4. greywarshark 4

    Rituals keeping in touch with our spiritual relation to the planet, and that the other living things have a relationship with us and the planet, are important to keep such matters to the front of the mind. Then sharing knowledge, experiences and methods so all are part of Action for the people, and losing a leader for some reason will not result in a setup. Thanks for the piece and the story it tells.

    • Chooky 4.1

      +100 greywarshark…well said…we should take heed of the old indigenous lore of the land and their reverence for landscapes

      ‘Arctic Dreams’ by Barry Lopez is another classic which celebrates the indigenous peoples’ values of ecology and views of landscape in particular the Eskimos’ and the American Indians’

      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16878.Arctic_Dreams

    • greywarshark 4.2

      I meant setback. My fingers put set up. That sounds tricky which I didn’t mean.

  5. Incognito 5

    This is very good!

  6. Mrs Brillo 6

    The Brillos really appreciated this piece. We have much to learn.

    Thanks Winona for enunciating this, and weka for keeping it circulating.

  7. Thanks wake there is indeed much we can learn and find very useful within indigenous knowledge.

  8. mauī 8

    Nice, in lots of ways we’ve become a very sick society, and many of these just and common sense ways of dealing with society’s issues would seem completely foreign to 21st century NZ.

    I watched a doco on the Aborigines not so long ago and they said one of the Aboriginal ideas was the importance of giving to others. That act would start a relationship between two groups/or persons, or make the bond stronger. Maybe like the setting up of a social contract, and the knowledge that you would at some stage receive something back from the other party.

  9. Colonial Viper 9

    The corporate effort to destroy all non-commercial culture progresses at pace. Also, we can be confident that the Founding Fathers, several of whom got filthy rich from the extermination of Indian tribes, had no interest in actual democracy. They did want a system where proper and appropriate people (definitely not Blacks, Indians, women or non-land owners) had some limited say over who ruled.

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    The top 1 per cent now own 48 per cent of global wealth, but even they aren’t happy. A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78 million found that they too are assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness.1-2 Many of them reported feeling financially insecure: to reach safe ground, they believed, they would need, on average, about 25 per cent more money. (And if they got it? They’d doubtless need another 25 per cent.) One respondent said he wouldn’t get there until he had $1 billion in the bank.

    For this we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

    That’s in the first chapter of Monbiot’s How did we get into this mess? where he’s commenting on the fact that loneliness is now a major disease and probably kills more people than smoking.

  11. Jamie 11

    “Indian Chief Two Eagles was asked by a white U.S. government official, “You have observed the white man for 90 years. You’ve seen his wars and his technological advances. You’ve seen his progress, and the damage he’s done.”

    The Chief nodded in agreement.

    The official continued, “Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?”

    The Chief stared at the government official then replied,

    “When white man find land, Indians running it, no taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, plenty beaver, clean water. Women do all the work, medicine man free, Indian man spend all day hunting and fishing, all night having sex.”

    Then the Chief leaned back and smiled, “Only white man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that.”

    Too bad I had the misfortune of being born into this rotten, corrupt, and degenerate era.
    As far as I’m concerned….

    Take Me Back Then

    • weka 11.1

      Jamie, I appreciate that many of us hate the society we live in for how corrupt it is. However the story you have just told reinforces inaccurate stereotypes about Native Americans, and frames them in a way that centres on men’s experiences at the expense of women’s. That’s pretty inappropriate on a post sharing a Native American woman’s political perspectives.

      • Jamie 11.1.1

        Lolz

        Um the blokes had to go out hunting coz the woman had more important business to attend to like running the tipis, or having kids [not good having a pregnant woman trying to bring home the bison – that’s not sexism, it’s biology]

  12. locus 12

    Thank you for posting this. Winona LaDuke is a passionate and influential indigenous American.

    She certainly inspires more thought about the topics presented in this speech.

    Do I agree with the ideals of restorative justice, representational democracy, environmentalism, and the need to ‘consider the 7th generation’…… yes absolutely!

    Do I agree with restorative justice that imposes responsibility for the ‘crimes of the father on the sons and daughters’ … no, but we do need a justice and prison system which cares about restorative justice and rehabilitating offenders

    Do I agree that representational democracy can learn useful lessons from ‘clan mothers appointing and removing chiefs’… no, but we need to value compassionate and considerate politicians more than populist liars

    Do I agree with environmentalism that lays blame for global warming ‘combusting the planet’ directly on fossil fuel companies … no, but we need to stop our addiction to the products of fossil fuels

    Do I want a world where people drum up ‘spiritual’ activism by invoking emotions like hatred and fear … no, oil and chemical companies are not evil, nor are they “trying to poison our water and our air”, but the people who run them have varying degrees of responsibility and ethics.

    imo we must work hard to ensure environmental legislation is fit for purpose, understood and complied with by all polluting industries, and I am very grateful for, and respect, indigenous people who are taking the lead in demanding futher and better regulatory control

    • weka 12.1

      “Do I agree with restorative justice that imposes responsibility for the ‘crimes of the father on the sons and daughters’ … no, but we do need a justice and prison system which cares about restorative justice and rehabilitating offenders”

      I think we should not stop indigenous peoples from using their own justice systems. In a time and place where one’s survival was literally dependent on the family unit and the people that you know, the Lakota ruling makes sense. Who else in that situation would make sure the family of the dead man would survive? The placing of that responsibility of care onto the family of the murderer, including the murderer himself is a big incentive to other people to not murder. It also means the victim’s family are less likely to retaliate. This is a socially intelligent solution for a culture where everyone has to live in close proximity.

      I also think that the story is being told in the context of cultures where the family is the core unit of society not the individual. This can be very hard for people raised in an individualistic society to understand (I struggle with it).

      “Do I agree that representational democracy can learn useful lessons from ‘clan mothers appointing and removing chiefs’… no, but we need to value compassionate and considerate politicians more than populist liars”

      As a woman, I’d like to see true gender equity in governance. We’re still a long way from that in NZ. There is a whole post in whether the track we are on (equal numbers of representation, one person, one vote) could ever achieve that, and whther it would just reinforce the patriarchal system that we have. But I think the point that LaDuke was making was that those cultures had their own ways of ensuring that there was gender balance. Equal numbers of men and women in positions of power and the same roles is a specific cultural construct. It’s not necessarily the best way of arranging things.

      “Do I agree with environmentalism that lays blame for global warming ‘combusting the planet’ directly on fossil fuel companies … no, but we need to stop our addiction to the products of fossil fuels”

      I think the thing to bear in mind here is that LaDuke and many of her people have companies trying to build pipelines onto their land as we speak. They are literally standing up in their backyards to say no. So perceptions of evil probably vary compared to our relative distance. Besides, the fossil fuel companies knew decades ago that they were making money from something that was causing climate change. They chose to do it anyway. How is that not them combusting the planet?

      • locus 12.1.1

        Lots more to think about – thanks weka. The family/tribal survival rationale for restorative justice as you’ve presented it makes sense in a historic context, but I wonder if would work in today’s world? Assuming that family members are free to walk away, I think many might choose that option rather than living face to face with people who have committed a crime, or to avoid paying the consequences of a family member’s crime.

        I would imagine that cultures where the family is the core unit of society, are equally as likely as nuclear family cultures to be inhabited by powerful or evil people wanting to dominate or hurt others. And in principle, while I understand it’s right that each society tries to find its own deterrents and controls – I do struggle (and often fail) to keep an open mind to justice systems that don’t have the same view of human rights that I do

        Gender equity in governance and in most other facets of life, is an ideal which I’d like promoted and nurtured in all societies. Given the chasm that exists in most countries right now – any experience or example that demonstrates successful working alteratives to the patriarchal system should be shouted from the rooftops.

        I take your point about the local context – and the contentious and insensitive plan to lay oil pipeline across culturally valued and environmentally sensitive land, is perceived as evil. But imo, on a whole different scale of ‘evil’ are those who actively undermined climate change science:
        http://gu.com/p/4jtn6?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

        Another very real ‘evil’ in my view are governments worldwide that continue to subsidise and reap royalties from fossil fuels extraction with no demonstrated commitment to phasing it out and replacing it with sustainable clean power within say 20 years.

  13. xanthe 13

    unmitigated racist crap

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