29 September 2015
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Blinded
by Allan Reeve
[This piece has
been adapted for CPTnet. The complete reflection is available
“I am not sick. I
am not a victim. I have been colonized. I am a member of a strong and resilient
people. The effects of being colonized have made me sick. I have been victimized
but that is not who I am. I have been healed, and continue to heal, by the
traditional ways and medicines of my ancestors—given to them by the Great
Spirit.” (A paraphrase)
Larry Morrissette of Winnipeg’s Bear Clan (one clan among
many) explains how colonization has attempted to destroy his culture and
eradicate his people’s claims on the land we call Canada.
Larry is the
founder and president of Medicine Fire Lodge Inc., an Indigenous organization
involved in cultural revitalization through education and training. He teaches
at the University of Winnipeg. One day, he tells us, he showed up to give a
lecture and a security guard stopped him and asked him if he was looking for
the Food Bank.
He says this kind
of thing can trigger memories of abuse suffered in the residential school by
“mean” nuns. His hope is that the young people—including his children and
grandchildren—who learn the traditional teachings and use the medicines of
their people will be better able to protect themselves from such attacks on
“They thought we’d
be gone by now—but we’re still here.”
Larry generously shares the four directions teachings of his
Bear Clan with us. Each clan, he explains, has it’s own variations of the four
directions teachings. We’re a small group of international witnesses visiting
the Grassy Narrows blockade of the clear cutting Whiskey Jack forest. CPT has been accompanying this blockade
since it began in 2002.
That’s when young
members of the band decided to put at risk any potential benefits of
cooperating with the Federal and Ontario government. The Band Council had no
success in effecting change working through the official channels of engaging
the Federal and Provincial governments. The young people took direct action.
Larry gives us a
Canadian history lesson outlining how official policies have served corporate
interests in first conquering, then starving, then taking the Indian out of the
Indian, then assimilating, and now treating the Indian problem as a sickness—as
something to be cured through pharmacology and sociology. From the start,
European settlers’ economies led to hardship for indigenous peoples. (Clearing
the plains of bison, overhunting the forests, clustering the people on
reserves, and later on, clear-cutting the forest and poisoning the land.)
“The only reason
first nations people were given the vote in 1969 was that Lester Pearson was
pursuing status with the United Nations.”
colonization complex—and de-colonization so difficult—is a series of trade-offs
that benefits some—while discriminating against any who might stand in the way
of corporate interests. The first treaties were a trade-off. Band leaders
sought a way to feed their starving people. Then, parents looked for ways to
educate their children to equip them for colonial life. Leaders and parents
today want what’s best for their children. Because it works for some—it means
there is no unity among the people.
An example of this
“divide and conquer” strategy that works at all levels is how a few teachers
managed to control hundreds of students in residential schools. Larry explains
that the nuns would “employ” select students to serve as taskmasters, snitches,
enforcers. By adopting the tactics and serving the interests of those in power—life
was easier for them.
The question, says
Larry, is “what privileges are you prepared to risk and lose in order to be a
part of the de-colonized solution?”
“You can’t make
deals with Judy.” He’s referring to Judy DaSilva one of the blockade leaders.
“She won’t trade her rights for the privileges offered.”
colonialism is about a communal worldview. While colonialism serves the rights
and interests of individuals—breeding consumerism in its wake, indigenous
traditions are all about taking care of the community. In a communal culture
every individual understands their identity and role in the context of the
For me, as a
Christian who desires to follow Jesus, the choice of communal versus individual
benefits is at the crux of the question.
The rich young man
asks Jesus what he must do. Jesus tells him to give away all his possessions.
The young man goes away sad because he has many attachments.
But is that the
end of the story? What seed did Jesus’ instruction plant in that young man’s
life? Did that young man begin to dig deeper into his indigenous heritage? Did
he begin to understand the connections between his personal privileges and the
poverty of his people?
Larry works with
gang members in Winnipeg’s North End. And he works with over-educated white
boys like me. He asks, “What privileges are you willing to risk and lose in
order to be part of the solution?”
I am sad—for I
have many attachments. I am sad—for those attachments are intrinsically part of
a globalized systemic corporatization of the resources I call Mother Earth. I
am sad—for I am no longer a young man and for all my years of working and
protesting and educating others about how to change this system—the planet, the
forests, the creatures, the peoples of the land suffer more and more.
Larry asks, “What
privileges are you prepared to risk and lose in order to be a part of the
The Roman soldier
standing with spear in hand beside a row of crosses asks the same question.
My bank manager
looking at my mortgage application asks the same question.
unable to eat the fish from polluted rivers and lakes ask the same question.
I am no longer
blind. I can see. This is the bad news about the good news of the full life
offered in the kin-dom of all my relations.
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