Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Red Revolution: Indigenous Anthem, A Song for National Aboriginal Day




The Indigenous Revolution will be a long and slow event that will take many years and incredibly it will not be a violent revolution. It will be a revolution of the mind. It seems that Aboriginal peoples in Canada may have attained a critical mass in their demands for Human Rights. As Louis Riel said it will be the artists who will awaken my people. This song is not about Cree people, Anishnaabe people, Inuit or Métis but the common cause of all Canadians. The philosophy of Indigenous peoples offers a means to all peoples to create a better world. Vine Deloria wrote the Western world would not face defeat in war or battle, but the philosophy which guides the west will be defeated by the holistic Indigenous thought. It will be the Indigenous thought which will allow the flowering of all human beings as valuable members of society.

All revolutions take a spark, something to ignite them; to push them forward. While song is not the usual spark I hope that it will offer words of comfort. I suspect that it must be a charismatic individual that will offer self sacrifice. This individual must be above reproach so when they are attacked those attacks will ring hollow.

Aboriginal authors for the past forty years have been writing about colonialism and its devastating effects on Aboriginals. Among the first books was one that profoundly impacted the way Aboriginals and Canadians see themselves and their condition: The Only Good Indian (Waubageshig, 1972).

This was a revolutionary book. Waubageshig, in an effort to force Canadian society to wake up to the terrible suffering of Aboriginals in Canada, wrote about the works of Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), which have become the “handbooks of revolutionaries throughout the third world.” Waubageshig explains Fanon’s theory of decolonization in stages.

According to Fanon, the first stage of colonization-decolonization is traditional Aboriginal culture. It is conservative, and innovation in both technology and society generally moves very slowly. Social values and norms are in accordance with the natural environment (Waubageshig, 1972, 65-66).

Stage two comes with the arrival of the settlers. Their arrival creates a very volatile social structure with the introduction of a “new breed of men” and technology. For the settlers and Natives, it is a time of great innovation although generally the Native loses out in any power struggles over the long term. These power struggles often involve violence between Natives and settlers, as Natives attempt to maintain their status and culture. Settlers attempt to impose their culture and create status for themselves in this new land. Over time, more and more of them arrive, giving more weight to their culture and military/economic power (Waubageshig, 1972, 66).

With stage three, there is a dichotomy in relations between Natives and settlers. The new economic and social power is in the hands of the settlers. Natives are often exploited legally, economically, and politically. They are not seen as being human, but as the “Other.” They have become rejected as inferior and forced to occupy low-status positions. Violence is less pronounced, but often takes verbal and socially structured forms. In the third stage, a Native bourgeoisie has also developed and is given multiple responsibilities in administering and controlling other Natives. This bourgeoisie assumes most of the outward appearances of the settlers, except for skin colour (Waubageshig, 1972, 67).

The fourth stage is the use of violence by the Natives. This stage is perhaps the most difficult to reach. According to Waubageshig, prior to decolonization, there is a noticeable increase in the crime rate and violence among Natives. The Native culture also enjoys a revival with traditional dances and songs, as rites of the Native’s religion are performed more. Eventually, this idea of the “Other” takes hold among the Natives, whereby the settler becomes the Other. It is not the Native bourgeoisie who is the prime instigator of decolonization, but rather the peasants. The peasants have almost nothing to lose through violence and much to gain. Eventually, the bourgeoisie’s intellectuals identify with the peasants, their own people. The latter will lead the revolution towards “its nationalistic outcome; which is stage five of the theory” (Waubageshig, 1972, 67).

Waubageshig then lays out how the Canadian situation meets many of the requirements of Fanon’s theory, thus providing a wake-up call to the 1970s system of treating Aboriginals. Waubageshig says: “Indians will have the opportunity to adequately gauge the limits of peaceful negotiations. Then it will be possible to discern if decolonization will occur and if so, whether or not it would be a violent process” (Waubageshig, 1972, 67). Under the Canadian system, many Aboriginals (but not all[1]) have been unwilling to use excessive violence when demanding their rights over the past 40 years. Instead, very pragmatic Aboriginal leaders have used public desire for justice and fairness to make political and economic gains against colonialism. Many Aboriginals still believe this process has not gone fast enough and have advocated concrete action against the Canadian state (Chief Gilbert Whiteduck, personal communication, February 7, 2007). At the same time, Waubageshig does not believe that Canadian Aboriginals are willing to use any large-scale violence to achieve their ends (p. 83). Perhaps, this is due to their philosophy of life or because they see the benefits of negotiation and talking within an increasingly pluralistic society that is more and more willing to allow difference.

The need to decolonize Aboriginals and their communities is widely accepted by almost all Aboriginal philosophers and leaders. Battiste and Henderson have suggested that acceptance of Eurocentric thought process will eventually result in a single world centre (2000, 21). They feel, as do others such as Kennedy (1989) and Dimont (1962), that even North America wholly relies upon Europe for much of its knowledge and understanding. The problem for Battiste and Henderson is that “as a theory it [Western worldview] postulates the superiority of Europeans over non-Europeans. It is built on a set of assumptions and beliefs that educated and unusually unprejudiced Europeans and North Americans habitually accept as true, as supported by “the facts,” or as “reality” ”(Battiste & Henderson, 2000, 21). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights demands difference of opinion and life.

Tapwe






 [1] May 18, 2010 there was a firebomb attack by “Native radicals” (FFFC-Ottawa) on a Royalbank in the Ottawa region before the G8 and G20 summits to be held in Canada that summer denouncing the stealing of land by “colonial British Columbia and the RBC” for the winter Olympics (FFFC, 2010).

4 comments:

  1. If I may add my thoughts about the Indigenous Revolution and the process of decolonization. I think indeed there is an Indigenous Revolution happening in Canada, and I do see it picking up momentum. Weather of not the Revolution will prove beneficial and fruitful to the aboriginal community will be seen. I wonder too, what is meant by Waubageshig’s definition of de-colonization. How far do Waubageshig and other aboriginal leaders want to decolonize? Do they wish to return to the exact state that their ancestors lived in prior to European contact? Do they wish to keep some aspects from the European model? How do aboriginal leaders decide which Western (and therefore colonial) systems to keep in place and which ones to reject? When colonization is so adamantly rejected today, it seems to be somewhat unfair to use aspects of Western culture that will benefit aboriginals, while verbally tearing down the whole system.

    Let me be the first to admit, that there were abuses by Europeans towards aboriginals since the first days of European colonization in the 16th century. Also, there were many bigoted white-men who treated aboriginals shamefully. Each and every deplorable crime and action committed against aboriginals must be totally rejected. However, I think it would be a major error to not think that Europeans had much good to offer aboriginals. Equally, it would be a serious error to think that aboriginals did not have much to offer to Europeans. I definitely see a positive mutual relationship that the colonial era produced, despite the abuses that took place in this period.

    Lastly, I suggest that the desire to decolonize and to establish a parallel aboriginal system in Canada has a religious connection. Does not the desire to decolonize also include a return to the traditional aboriginal religion? Europe was at one time the beacon of Christianity, and so European culture was permeated with the teachings of the Gospel. That would mean that rejecting the traditional Western culture would necessarily mean rejecting the religion that built European culture – Christianity. Perhaps the Indigenous Revolution also hopes to completely undue Christianity in aboriginal people throughout the country, or am I exaggerating?

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  2. I found reading the Red Revolution: Indigenous Anthem, s Song for National Aboriginal Day interesting in the introduction of The Only Good Indian, which speaks of a revolution through 5 steps; colonization-decolonization, arrival of settlers, dichotomy, violence, then nationalistic outcome. The reason violence is in these steps for a revolution is because traditionally violence has ignited change. For example, WW1, WW2 were both battles over land and power which settled issues forcibly. Let us hope that we are past using violence to solve issues, as WW3 has the potential to destroy all life on earth. With changing times, and our civilization at the peak of our intelligence, we should have the wisdom and influence to talk out our issues. I believe aboriginals understand this, and which is why they fight for their rights and culture through song and dance. As Robert states, aboriginals do not wish to use large scale violence because of their philosophy of life or perhaps they see the benefits of negotiation through today’s society. It could be because westerners have made the aboriginals depended on the Canadian government by use of grants, treaties, and holding their land in trust. Regardless, I feel as though Canada as a nation, which has been working with aboriginals has made great strides, and my hope is that we continue to negotiate and make life here better for all. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights attempts to give all humans free from fear and free from want. These 30 articles protect us all and our rights as human beings, all the way from stating that all human beings are born free and equal to everyone is entitles to a social order where rights are realized fully. The next step is to create equity and equality for all.

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  3. In reading this article I find myself quite impressed with the predictions of Waubageshig, in regards to the four stages of decolonization. It is interesting to look back on our Canadian history and see how social structures such as reserves and residential schools can be attributed to these decolonization stages. In stage two he describes the influx of new innovations from the meeting of the Native and settlers, similar to the exchange of French firearm technology with the indigenous knowledge during the settlement of New France in the 1500’s. Stage three describes “the dichotomy in relations between Natives and settlers” and the establishment of a “Native bourgeoisie”, which is consistent with the establishment of reserves and the integration of Aboriginal people into government and other positions of authority. Stage four he describes the “increase in crime rate and violence among Natives” an unfortunate reality of today, with 23.2% of our federal inmates being Aboriginal. He also mentions the revival of Native culture, an undeniable fact of today, with the prevalence of moccasins as a new fashion, the increased visibility of Native cultural events (e.g. APTN’s coverage of the Sun Dance), or even the increasing recognition of Aboriginal music (e.g. Juno nominated electronic group A Tribe Called Red).

    By all of Waubageshig’s predictors we stand at the precipice of decolonization, but what form will this take? Although decolonization could mean the complete withdrawal of European peoples and culture from Canada and a return of the lands back to the Native population, I believe that this is impossible. I believe our decolonization will come when the fight for Aboriginal rights stops being fought by primarily Aboriginal peoples and instead rallies all Canadians behind it. When we stop making the fight for Aboriginal rights a matter of “us” vs. “them” and instead the collaborative effort of all the peoples of Canada for the pursuit of the ideals laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, than maybe we will stop being “Europeans” and “Natives” and become true “Canadians” together.


    References:
    Govt. of Canada, (2013). Aboriginal Offenders. Retrieved from http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20121022info-eng.aspx.

    A Tribe Called Red (2014). www.electricpowow.com.

    Unite Nations, (2014). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/.

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