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An Indigenous Liberation Manifesto

By Rowland  Tupac’ Keshena of The Speed of Dreams/Red Path Society/ Menominee Nation

The Speed of Dreams is an avowedly revolutionary website currently based out of northern Turtle Island, aka Canada. Its author’s politics are hard to force into this or that category, but if you want to learn about the author, please read the Who I Am page linked to at the top on this following site

Resurgence & Liberation:

A Program for Building Brown and Red Native Unity, Decolonizing Our Minds and Liberating Our Lands

Brothers and Sisters, Comrades

Over the course of our movement’s history, one of our principle failures has been our all too often inability to recognize each other as brothers and sisters. One of the greatest victories of the colonial system over us has been its success in indoctrinating Indians – that is, people who the colonial government says are officially indigenous – into not seeing fellow indigenous people in Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other from so-called “Latin America” (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America). Likewise, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans are often unaware of their own indigenous identity. Primarily through its control of the schools, media and popular culture, the colonial system has divided and conquered us. It has called our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters things like Hispanic and Latino, linking their identity to Europe, and it has taught Indians to view them as illegal immigrants. If we are to rise up and shake off this system of oppression we must begin by recognizing ourselves and each other for what we are, regardless of whether we are called Indian, Métis, Mexican, Puerto Rican or anything else.

Now it is time to build for the future.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the debt that this manifesto owes to the revolutionary Indigenous-Raza organization, Union del Barrio, from who it is more or less lifted, though it was subsequently heavily modified, as well as to the work of radical Indian activists, especially Gord Hill.

Who We Are

I. From Alaska to Chile – We Are One People Without Borders.

As was noted above, we – Indians, Métis, Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans and others – are the descendents of the indigenous people of this continent and as such we are also the heirs of a long history of indigenous struggle against colonial domination. It is my hope and goal that we will be able to unite all oppressed people in occupied America, regardless of national origin and citizenship, to join in the process of building a unified revolutionary movement, ultimately being able to finally advance forward the dream of a unified, liberated continent.

Historically, within the borders of the settler states of North America, we have suffered under colonial oppression, isolation, and dehumanizing conditions. One consequence of the invasion has been the emergence of different terms used to identify ourselves, some imposed by the colonizer, others put forward by us in resistance to colonial imputations. English and French speaking brothers and sisters have been called many things throughout history: Indians, Aboriginal, etc. Those of us who were colonized by Europeans from the Iberian Peninsula have been called by many names as well. In the zone of U.S. occupation the terms placed upon our brothers and sisters initially colonized by Spain have often been designed to strip them of their Native heritage, and include such ones as Latin American, Latino, and Hispanic.

This project, related the idea of the Métis in Canada, and which is spread through out the Americas, is the extension of the 500 years of North American (white) attempts to break us down racially, and classify us based on our real or perceived influence from European and African populations. The more Native (and/or more African) an indigenous American is, the lessor they are on these imposed scales. The whiter they are, the better they are. As a result of the internalization of these colonial practices, many of our Spanish speaking cousins actively take up the terminology of colonization,  in a desperate attempt to assimilate into whitestream society.

Other terms though, such as La Raza and Chicana/Chicano have progressive connotations and were widely used during the Chicano Power movement, which often sought to reconnect those people to their true heritage. Even today, these terms are used by many in a positive and political fashion, with La Raza often used as described above. Today many indigenous people have also opted for the use of identifying terms from our ancient tongues, such as OnkwehonweNican Tlaca, and Anishinaabe, which are respectively Mohawk, Nahuatl and Ojibwa words meaning indigenous people.

Likewise, the name of this continent also varies. Widely used words from various indigenous tongues include Turtle Island, Anówarakowa Kawennote, Anahuak, and Abya Yala. From Spanish we also get the term Nuestra América, which in a geographical sense does was La Raza does linguistically and unites the people of Spanish-speaking Latin America with their Indian brothers and sisters in North America.

While a point should be made to recapture our cultures and our languages, we must also recognize the fact that not only have our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters within the borders of the United States and elsewhere been stripped of their original tongues by Spanish colonization (though there is a growing awareness of Nahuatl, Maya and others), but they have then subsequently had the use of that language suppressed in the United States and other English-speaking areas of the continent. As such, we should recognize the historical and political significance of all of these names, and respect any and all of the terms that our people choose to use.

For simplicities sake, and out of respect for all our struggles, I have opted to use the the phrase “Native” as the identifier for our people (for explanation of this and other terms please check out the Glossaries of Key Terms on this site). I will also use the indigenous derived “Turtle Island” for the name of our continent. I’ve also chosen to maintain Union del Barrio’s original linguistic formulation of “Raza Internationalism.” I know it may seem inadequate right now, but my goal in doing this is to avoid the privileging of one indigenous tongue over another (Nican Tlaca vs Onkwehonwe vs Anishinaabe for example), until such a time that we can self-determine our identity, and what we want to be called.

II. This is Turtle Island – We Are Indigenous Nations.

We must recognize and uphold the right to self-determination of all indigenous nations of this beautiful and vast continent. Turtle Island has been made subject to the genocidal violence, theft, and slavery imposed on us by European colonialism, United States  and Canadian imperialism, and global neoliberalism for 500 years. As indigenous people of these lands we are bound by our common history, struggles, and destiny.

The principled unification of our forces throughout this continent is not simply something to be desired – to produce joint statements or better coordinate protests – it is absolutely necessary to succeed in our struggles to overturn all manifestations of colonial, imperialist, and neoliberal oppression upon our people. In an international sense we must understand that the liberation of all indigenous people within the current borders of the United States and Canada will, and must, be tied to the liberation of all indigenous people and Latin American nations throughout  Turtle Island.

The indigenous inhabitants of this continent constitute the colonies of a number of illegal settler states that are essentially an extension of old European settler-colonialism. The United States, Canada and other states have funded and directed those settlers who exploit our labour, keep a disproportionate number of our people in prisons, stereotype us through the media, falsify our history, deny us a relevant/productive education, and militarise the borders in order to keep out the very same people from which this land was stolen.

This, along with ever present state terrorism in our communities (migra, police, border patrol, RCMP/FBI etc.), and the ever-increasing overt and violent expression of racism by reactionaries of the North American white nationalist population, are all characteristics and manifestations of the ongoing colonial nature of North American society. We must be cognizant of this and other current neocolonialist tactics employed by the oppressor, which include the use of our own people against us. These people, from Democratic Party politicians to the Band Councils of recognized Native nations, are puppets and lackeys of the colonial state, appointed or self-appointed, and financially backed by colonialism. Their primary role within the colonial system is to confuse indigenous people into thinking that we are making progress, and that we can actually achieve self-determination within the existing system. This ploy is central to the classic colonizer tactic of divide and conquer. Instead of focusing our energy on overturning imperialism, this method pits us against opportunists of our own kind, and other oppressed nationalities, each struggling against the other for beggar’s crumbs, petty concessions, and neocolonial positions.

III. Ours is a National Liberation Movement Rooted in Class Struggle – This is Raza Internationalism.

This struggle is first and foremost one waged against 500 years of national oppression by the settler-colonial states that have imposed on top of us. Our goal is complete self-determination and freedom from oppressor nations. Over the course of this historic struggle, nationalism has consistently emerged as one of the leading forces in unifying oppressed people to combat the source and symptoms of colonial oppression. Indigenous nationalism has been the ideology of warriors and strugglers as diverse and geographically removed as Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles and Howard Adams.

Like all political movements, indigenous nationalism has gone through a process of evolution and change in response to the conditions of our oppression. Today, in those communities recognized as officially indigenous by the North American settler states, debate is taking place over what form nationalism should take. Well known and respected Mohawk scholar and activist Taiaiake Alfred (as well as many of his contemporaries) argues for a nationalism that emphasizes our actual historical nations, like Cree or Mohawk, whereas Howard Adams, George Manuel and others have long argued for an overarching indigenous nationalism. The former critiques the latter by claiming that any sort of overarching indigenous identity has been created by colonization, and to decolonize means to resist that kind of homogenization. The latter argues back, looking to the examples of the national liberation struggles in Africa and elsewhere, by pointing out the ways in which unity of the oppressed is essential and basing identity on smaller units plays into attempts by the colonizer to divide and rule.

The true solution though, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between these two. Colonial oppression has forged us into one unified entity for the most part, whether it is called Indian, or “Aboriginal,” or Native, or whatever, and whether or not we choose to like it. This is the material truth. You have to have your head firmly planted in the sand to deny this. As such, any struggle for our liberation must be fought as a unified whole, of all Native nations. However, this is not to say that we should not also treasure our diversity – our different cultures, traditions, and languages. This diversity is one of the things that makes our people beautiful. Struggling together against oppression as one, as Natives does not have to mean that we stop being Cree, or Mohawk, or Lakota or Menominee, or Maya, or Mexica or end the project to revitalize and strengthen that which makes all our nations unique.

Returning to the original point, throughout the history of North American imperialism and colonialism, it has been the politics of nationalism that have united indigenous people as one in our struggle against terror, poverty, and other forms of oppression. The basic elements and historical commonalities of a nation are what bind us together as a people – culture, economic realities, geography, oppression, and struggle. Of course we would be foolish should we not fully understand that nationalism can lead to reactionary positions and race politics, particularly nationalism within an oppressor nation, for example Nazism and fascism. However the nationalism that can rise within the oppressed nation is, generally speaking, a progressive development, and an effective weapon in the struggle for liberation. This is despite what many anarchists, left communists and other revolutionaries may argue. It is these progressive elements within nationalism that we should uphold.

This progressive nationalism within the oppressed is called Revolutionary Nationalism. It is an ideology that calls for the establishment of a socialist society, built on the collective social, economic, and political development of the people, based on our historical, cultural, and present conditions and realities. A socialist society is in fundamental contradiction to capitalism, a system where a small, rich ruling class controls the wealth and power of a nation. Revolutionary Nationalism demands a complete transformation of the social, economic, and political institutions that presently form the basis of our oppression. It is Revolutionary Nationalism that must define the struggle for the total transformation of our lives – from a colonized and dependent people, to a life and future of a truly liberated and sovereign nation in the world community.

Further, as was noted before, we must recognize that our struggle is intrinsically linked, through history and practice, to the movements of all of the oppressed and colonized people throughout this continent. Therefore the term Raza Internationalism best describes what should be our political relationship to the rest of this continent, and by extension the world. Our obligation as we strive to build towards revolution is to recognize the right of all oppressed people to self-determination – to uphold the principle of continental emancipation of our people. In our work we will struggle to carry forth the fight on all fronts to bring about a democratic and socialist unified Turtle Island.

Finally, our continent’s history parallels and intersects with the experiences of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Our histories are burdened by our common experience of suffering under conquest, slavery, exploitation, and military intervention, as well as a shared challenge to win freedom. It is our duty to recognize these ties and our common enemies, and support all peoples struggling for self-determination and against imperialism.

IV. Dialectical and Historical Materialism Should Form the Basis of Our Strategies and Tactics.

As indigenous people we are overwhelmingly a working class people, and from our labour, along with that of all other oppressed workers – Africans, in Africa as well as elsewhere, the people of the Middle East, South Asia etc. – all wealth is generated. While some regressive and reactionary forces within our movement, such as Cultural Nationalists, who are essentially Native capitalists, may try to convince us otherwise, the truth is we share far more in common with other members of the working class than we do with rich Natives. As such, the essence of our movement is one of class war. Our enemy, and the enemy of all working class people is the ruling class.

Because of this, we must base our ideology, and the process of its evolution, on the material historical basis of all things and situations, as well as the material conditions within which our people find ourselves. The philosophy of Dialectical Materialism and its applied form, Historical Materialism, in this sense are essential to understanding our current reality, as well as forming strategies and tactics for our liberation.

A people’s capacity to create and reproduce our means of existence through the development of knowledge, technology, culture, economic activity, and governments to serve our collective interests is the driving force of human dignity. All social progress and meaningful development are a direct result of working class struggle. As such, in a world where opposites and contradictions are constantly affecting and influencing each other, it is the leading role of working class people to transform the very conditions of life, and not just for us, but all people. We should be dialectical in our approach to political work, and strive to constantly evolve and balance our theory and practice, and meet the challenges posed to us by colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

What We Need

I. Self-Determination, Liberation, and a Unified Continent.

Indigenous Chicano activists stand in solidarity with other oppressed people and nations threatened by U.S. imperialism

Our primary goal is the decolonization of our people. The means to this end is the advancement of self-determination, which can best be defined as collectively determining our history; economically controlling our destiny; controlling our social development by self-determining our culture, education and language; independently developing the content and direction of our political orientation; and controlling the political institutions that make the laws that govern us.

We must recognize the indigenous peoples of this continent as social actors and subjects of history. We must demand the self-determination of indigenous identities, cultures, spiritualities, customs, and languages on par with all national entities and interests. More precisely, these rights include the following: Self-affirmation as the right to proclaim existence, and be recognized as such; Self-definition as the right to determine who is a part of the group and define territorial limits; Self-organization as the right to develop and enforce laws parallel to the broader laws of other nations; and Self-government as the right to define and administer political affairs parallel to the broader procedures of other nations.

Any talk of decolonization that does not include these demands, which mean the fundamental deconstruction of the colonial system, can only lead in one direction, and that is greater assimilation of our people. While some, like our band councils and “chiefs” push so-called “self-government” as a realization of decolonization, the truth is that the demand for greater political and economic power by these groups and individuals only serves to enrich them and assimilate the rest of us even further.

Finally, if we are truly to defeat colonialism throughout all of Turtle Island, we must seek to advance the liberation and, ultimately, the unification of this continent under a revolutionary movement, immediately accountable to the people. This Confederacy of Turtle Island, to put it one way, would replace capitalism, patriarchy, earth destruction, empire and conquest with a society based on freedom, justice, equality and the fundamental worth of all living things. Furthermore, this movement must be committed to the liberation and unification of all oppressed peoples throughout the world. This end it must be in permanent solidarity with all oppressed people all across the planet, until the struggle is won through the end and the last vestiges of imperialism are defeated.

II. Participatory Democracy and Socialism.

Capitalism is our enemy. The solution is revolutionary socialism

We must strive to overturn the current Euro-American bourgeois definition of democracy as being exclusively limited to electoral procedure. Derived from our ancient traditions, our democracy is a participatory democracy, one that transcends narrow concepts of citizenship and imposed political borders. We must actively reject any and all governments, laws, national borders, and definitions of citizenship that deny us full enjoyment of our human and democratic rights.

We must demand freedom of communication and information. Control of knowledge and information is one of the keys to maintaining effective control over a colonized people. Through the domination of all means of transferring knowledge and ideas such as schools, newspapers, television, radio, etc., colonial institutions dictate and manipulate the ways of thinking and acting amongst ourselves. Without understanding our true history, culture, and identity, self-determination is impossible. This is why one of the most pressing tasks confronting our movement is making people aware of the basis of our oppression, to develop national, continental and international consciousness, and through this consciousness concretize a revolutionary process to the masses.

We must also seek social and economic justice, and defend the collective interests of the poor and working people of this continent. Fundamental to our independence is the development of an economic and social order that will see the masses of indigenous people as owners of the products of our own labour, and exercising collective control of the economy. We are victims of the common enemies of all working people in the world – capitalism and imperialism. It is for this reason that we must have a revolutionary organization, fighting for the liberation of our lands, our class interests, and on the side of all oppressed peoples. Under a unified, democratic continent we will share the human, intellectual, scientific, military, medical, and natural resources of the nations of our continent, and raise the quality of life for all people. We seek to advance political unity among the international working class, and will never unite with the bourgeois capitalists, or their neo-colonialists agents.

The eventual goal of this movement should be the radical de-centralization of power in society, namely through the deconstruction of the state. Autonomous power will be wielded at the local level – community and region, as well as the tribal nation. Such a society will also be classless. It would be the true fulfilment of communism.

III. The Absolute and Unequivocal Liberation of Women and Queer & Trans Folk.

Women warriors unite to fight!

Fundamental to any revolutionary organization and conscious social movement is the absolute economic, political and cultural equality between men and women, and between people of various gender and sexual identities. Prior to colonization our societies were much more liberating for women, queers and trans people (read up on the traditional institution of the Two-Spirited people if you doubt me), and as such the subjugation of women, queers and trans people is a major part of the overall oppression of our people under capitalism and imperialism. There exists a more intense oppression of indigenous women and Queer & Trans people – exploited and repressed not only by class and race, but also by gender and sexual identity. True liberation cannot take place until all sectors of our people are free.

Our women have always felt the most brutal effects and tactics of colonial violence. In a 2004 Canadian Native women reported rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous women. Studies suggest that assaults against Indigenous women are not only more frequent, they are also often particularly brutal. According to another survey, young First Nations women are five times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence. The picture is not much different in the United States.

Violence against our sisters was also not always quite as direct. With the onset of the European invasion of 1492 came European and Judeo-Christian social norms and structures, which were, and still are, based on a rigid patriarchal order. Sexism, male chauvinism, homophobia and heternormativity, which were more or less foreign to our people before contact, were forced upon us by the brutal Christianizing mission of the Europeans conquerors, and was later ingrained even more so into our societies through the experience of forced assimilation, especially residential and boarding schools. Today they have firmly been incorporated until our societies, to much ill effect. Macho approaches to warriorism in the original Red and Chicano Power movements drove women, queer and trans brothers and sisters away from the movements. Within the intimate setting of our own families and communities, queers and trans people, who were once widely accepted, even held to be of sacred importance, have been forced into the closet, and have suffered, unable to express their true selves, and love whoever they wish to love.

However, we must recognize that these are bourgeois traits. They must be completely rejected and overturned for any of us to win freedom. Subjugation of women, queers and trans people is an integral part of the current socio-economic order imposed on our people, and we must actively combat sexism in all its forms and manifestations, both within our movement and throughout our communities. Revolutionary examples from people’s struggles in Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, México, Nicaragua, and Vietnam educate us that women’s liberation is an essential part of national and class liberation, though unfortunately many have fallen short when it has come to queer and trans people. We must insist that without the full participation and leadership of revolutionary women, queers and trans people , there will be no victory in revolutionary struggle.

IV. Environmental Emancipation.

Native activists stand up for the rights of Mother Earth

Capitalism and imperialism has brought with them more than just class society, patriarchy, racism and national oppression, and empire, it has also brought about the greatest ecological crisis that have ever faced, and by that I am meaning not just to Natives, but the whole of mankind, and indeed most life as we know it. If capitalism is left unchecked the earth, the common mother of all, will be damaged beyond recognition, the poor masses of the world will be left to pick up the pieces, that is, if we are able to survive.

With this very real, very possible, scenario in mind, as a revolutionary movement for the liberation of indigenous people, we must defend the air, soil, and water of our lands. The correct approach to the struggle against environmental degradation has always been best summed up by the slogan of the Chicano Movement – “The Solution to Pollution is Revolution”. Our ancestors understood the importance of a balance between humans and our environment. As such, environmental justice is a part of our struggle against colonialism, capitalism and imperialism.

One of the consequences of European conquest, colonization, and imperialism is the transformation the environment into a commodity to be exploited for increased returns. This has propelled the massive exploitation of our natural resources, and forms the historical basis of the current disequilibrium between humans and nature. Furthermore, neoliberalism is only capable of promoting the interests of transnational corporations, and these have proven capable of destroying the planet in their insatiable quest for profit. As with every crisis born from capitalism and imperialism, capitalists reap wealth in direct proportion to environmental degradation, and poor people suffer from increasingly frequent catastrophic loss.

Only a continental revolutionary struggle can, and must, bring an end to the poisoning of the atmosphere, deforestation, contamination of the oceans, and the other causes of climate change. Only a socialist world economy can provide a socio-economic system where the accumulation of wealth is not the driving force of society, but instead prioritizes life with dignity and justice. Through the construction of a society that values all life, we must turn back the damage to the environment, and prevent the further destruction of our planet.

V. A Revolutionary Organization for Indigenous Liberation.

Warriors of the Brown Beret organization stand at the ready to defend our people

In political struggle, individualism is a bourgeois egotistical trait. We must raise the shortcomings and contradictions to those who profess being active in political work without accountability to an organization. Central to this point is the combating of liberalism, which in our movement represents itself as unprincipled and opportunistic struggle. Liberalism stems from selfishness, and places personal interests above the interests of the collective movement. We must uphold the importance of engaging in constructive criticism and self-criticism, as a way of identifying our weaknesses and shortcomings. We must adhere to the principle of collective decision-making within our organizations, and in our daily work. Only through this process can we achieve organizational, practical, and ideological unity.

It is of paramount importance that all indigenous liberation forces establish lines of communication and principled working relations. Without networking and coalitions we are wasting resources, duplicating work, and missing opportunities to effectively address pressing issues in a collective fashion, or from a position of strength. While our organizations may have different strategies and tactics, it is essential that we display the political maturity to put aside minor contradictions and work together. This is especially important when the attacks against our communities are of such intensity that our failure to respond collectively translates into more victories for our enemies and heightening the oppression of our people. Adherence to previously agreed upon principles of unity is especially important within coalition work. When it is necessary to work with organizations representing other movements, the resulting coalition work must be based on concrete objectives, mutual respect, principled association, and recognition of each other’s autonomy and right to determine the character and content of our own struggle.

Since unity building does require compromises, it is necessary for us and other revolutionary forces to approach any relationship with a clear, scientific understanding based on the facts that our fundamental goal is not for civil rights or mere reforms, but for an end to imperialism, and the advancement of indigenous self-determination.

In many parts of North America indigenous people are now once again beginning to form the majority of the population. Including brothers and sisters from Central and South America, we now total more than 50 million people within the current political borders of the North American settler states. Yet, even with these numbers, our present political condition forces us to exist in a state of virtual powerlessness. As Revolutionary Nationalists and Raza Internationalists, it is our intention to free all of our people from terror and oppression, and therefore we must involve every progressive element of our community in the struggle for self-determination. Only with a well organized, mobilized, and politicized people, will we develop the power necessary to achieve liberation. A critical aspect of this point is the need to channel our people’s energy and resources into a disciplined revolutionary organization.

In the Spirit of Total Resistance—Smash Capitalism!

Long Live the Class Warrior!

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