Reformism, Indigenous Activism, the Global Crisis, and System Change
By Wendy Lynn Lerat
Since December 2012, the social media phenomena Idle No More (INM) has been front and centre and in the spotlight as THE authoritative voice for the grassroots movement of the original peoples of Turtle Island. Over the past nine months, INM has spread its influence across Turtle Island and beyond; moving into areas of established local activists advocating unity under its brand of Pan-Indianism and reformism. In many cases, its messaging advocating for one voice for all has resulted in division not only within its own ranks but among Indigenous activists.
It is encouraging to witness a growing awareness of the need to challenge the position of the INM and reformist voices and to understand the risk these place on the establishment of an authentic people’s revolution driven by the people and for the people.
Neocolonialism & the Global System In the past, colonial powers sought to colonize areas of the world to gain access to land and the “natural resources” of the area. Since the beginning of colonization, it has always been about wealth generation through ownership of land rich in the “stuffs” that could be packaged and sold. Resource development is the colonial term we are all too familiar with today.
Peoples of our world can no longer be colonized as in the past by these colonial powers, however, colonization is still occurring. With the spread of global corporatism, a country and its people are now colonized, indoctrinated, into a global social/economic/political system that is effectively directed from outside by the most wealthy corporate elites who after centuries of accumulating material wealth today control the corporations who in turn are in control of this global system. The world has become one interconnected market fueled by the illusion that our world has an endless supply of “natural resources”.
These neocolonists perpetuate the social class, values and norms of the global system and accept its conditions placed on its social classes as the unchangeable reality of the “modern world”. It is not just the upper class of this social order that is perpetuating this system’s existence. Today, neocolonialism is the growing middle class movement spreading across the world. The colonized are now the colonizers.
The global system’s influence and power is far-reaching and well entrenched within North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia. Neocolonists seeking reform resist ideologies that address system change and instead align positions with established governing models and processes, colonial government legislation, legal systems, and to established government, economic and social structures.
Because of their position within the current social order, the Indigenous middle-class yield considerable influence. Yet, the Indigenous middle-class are the fence-sitters in the Indigenous peoples’ movement. These individuals have learnt to play the game of capitalism and individualism well and, unlike those lower on the social order, the Indigenous middle-class live very comfortably “employed” in “good jobs earning a good livelihood”, making car and mortgage payments, and of course going on annual holidays. The system enables them to live with excess. Any threat to the status quo is a threat to their social standing and personal security. These individuals have alot to lose if the system is changed.
For them, problems and solutions to the current issues facing Indigenous peoples are related to access to economic development initiatives that promise cash, jobs and of course wealth and security. Solutions include partnering with industry to access financial resources and/or develop the “resources” in the ground, “train” individuals to work within the system, and address the growing social crisis using prescription drugs, treatment, mental health programs, and building more youth facilities, larger mental health programs, and larger more secure jails. Problems are related to economic, social and political issues within the current system and therefore solutions are specific to reforming the current system.
This is where the reformist position among the Indigenous is rooted. The reformist seeks to change public policies of the colonial governments. It is from this indoctrinated mindset that the reformist movement of INM finds its roots.
Black grassroots activism in the United States is experiencing what is currently overtaking Indigenous grassroots activism within the nation-state of Canada – both have movements that propagate the idea that the crisis can be ‘fixed’ within the current system and social order. As a result, there is a stronghold on the minds of the people that maintains the status quo and perpetuates the current social order of this global system.
System Change not System Reform Yet, across Turtle Island among the most oppressed discussions are not of reform but of system change. Here among these peoples within many local communities the discussions are about disengagement from a fast-deteriorating global system. A global system that is driven by a way of knowing that separates the human being from the rest of creation.
Indigenous peoples of the world have a way of knowing that views what the current global system calls “natural resources” as beings each deserving of the utmost respect as part of the interconnected family of all life. All parts of creation are related and interconnected as part of an interdependent whole: One. Not hierarchical but rather part of a sacred circle of life. And just as in a circle no one is in front or behind, so too is no part of creation greater than another.
This way of knowing dictates that a vastly difference set of social, economic and governing processes be in place to safe guard the balance that exists among all things. A balance that today has been corrupted and disrupted by the activities of the human family. The Indigenous peoples recognize this way of knowing as a legitimate response to the growing global crisis and are seeking reengagement with traditional processes that once ensured the sustainability of not just the human family but all of creation.
Among the original peoples, those advocating for this more radical “system” change are calling for much more than reforming the system currently in place. They are calling for a recognition of the growing global crisis, the instability of global food systems and the urgent need for original peoples to move back onto their lands and live as sovereign and independent nations on unceded lands separate and autonomous from the nation-state of Canada. These peoples see this as the only viable solution to secure sustainable livelihood and a better future for future generations.
In my travels, I have witnessed both Indigenous reformist activists and system change revolutionists. From its beginning, INM and its founders have strongly advocated for system reform. And among the growing Indigenous revolution, this message is out of sync with local activist voices who are seeking Indigenous and non-Indigenous unity around system change not system reform.
If nothing else, common sense should tell us that using the constructs of the current system to address the crisis before us will ensure that though the names and faces of those in ‘power’ will change – the system itself will not. Using the same thinking that got us into this mess to get us out is a sure recipe for failure.
We have reached the point in our collective journey when we must choose who we are as Indigenous peoples. There are two paths before us. Which path will we choose?
The Global Crisis Out of the top one hundred of the largest economic units in the world, over half of them are corporations. Less than half are countries. Corporations are the driving force behind the global system in “colonizing” our world today. Corporations do not make decisions based on justice, truth, respect for life, and the sovereignty of the human being. A corporation has one goal and that is to increase the value of the corporation to its shareholders. This is global corporatism and the aftermath of its driving force and its social values have been and continues to be chaos and destruction of our world.
Indigenous people around the world not just here are under attack by resource exploitation companies and governments of “resource-rich” regions. This is a major factor in the current global struggle unfolding in every region of our world. Indigenous peoples around the world are rising up and uniting. And so too are the non-Indigenous. The illusion of globalization, corporatism, individualism is like a morning fog fast dissipating at the touch of the morning sun’s rays.
The government of the nation-state of Canada is under the influence and power of the corporate elites of this global system. Today, this government is using the resources of the nation-state of Canada to advance an aggressive national policy of resource exploitation in alignment with the goals and strategies of the most powerful economic units that control this global system.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is increasingly tightening its control over the affairs of Indigenous peoples through legislation and funding controls. As long as the nation-state of Canada can keep Indigenous people fighting among themselves, those in positions of authority in partnership with global mining companies can continue to manipulate elected officials toward aligning with their purposes.
The world as we all knew it is GONE. Climate change scientists are now openly stating that the climate is deteriorating faster at rates much beyond their worse case scenarios. Last August, the Arctic melt released so much melted ice into our world’s oceans that the weather patterns around the world were forever changed. Even more troubling is the predictions of widespread crop failures in many parts of the grain growing regions of our world as a result of the impacts of climate change.
Here in southern Saskatchewan, it is predicted that Tornado Alley, once 100’s of kilometres to the south, will now find its place among the grasslands of this region. Australia is feeling the impacts of climate change – the earliest of all the largest colonial countries. There, the climate experts are not referring to the droughts and widespread fires as anomalies: This is Australia’s new climate. Likewise, in the Midwest of the US the intense heatwaves of the past few years are what our new global climate will bring: fires and more fires.
For most of the last century, economies have become more globalized and interconnected as has global food producing and marketing systems. Interdependency on such a large scale places significant risk on local sustainability and food sovereignty under conditions when widespread global crop failures occur. Sadly, the global system’s public policies toward globalization, mass production, and the selling of food and water as commodities has compromised the ability of local areas to be self-sustaining.
Add to this the reckless and wasteful use of our world’s freshwater sources for mining operations, and there is no doubt among global economists that water over the next century will become more valuable than gold. Yet, public policies around the world have not come in line with the pressing global issues of the approaching global food and water crisis.
With each passing year, times will become increasingly more difficult and as much as there are those who refuse to acknowledge what is fast approaching it still is. And we need “leaders” who recognize the shortness of the time remaining to prepare our people and protect our people from starvation and hardship.
We need a revolution that forces a system change. A shift that completely turns upside down the current system’s model of governance and directly empowers the most oppressed, the poorest, the most voiceless. It must redefine human relationships, community as family, localization as opposed to globalization, and it must be driven by a spiritual awakening that shifts the internal universe of those who are champions within it to model selfessness – not ego. Not the witigo psychosis that has overtaken humans on Turtle Island since contact.
A New Way Forward Given the growing global crisis, this revolution must challenge resource exploitation of any kind. Instead, the human family must move toward social values that respect all life, away from exploitation, toward living in balance with all of creation, local sustainability, and the protection of our freshwater. We MUST move from globalization and growth to localization and self-sustaining communities rather than large scale “economic development” projects that promise lots of cash and jobs and the selling of “commodities” to other parts of our world.
Until we are completely independent and can provide our people with the basic essentials without having any of the essentials to life delivered in trucks, people of any local area are at significant risk given the unpredictability of climate change. It is foolhardy to support any public policy position that does not acknowledge the looming crisis facing all the human family: climate change will impact all people in every part of our world and it is irresponsible for any “leader” to advocate “development” that leads our people further down the path that leads to a dead end.
As climate change further destroys our world, the world we all live in will become increasingly harsher – selfish individuals will soon become those who place at risk the security of those around them. Communities that foster processes that build community interdependence will fair much better than those who perpetuate individualism. Time unfortunately will prove me correct in this.
Election, Selection & Tribal Governance Corporate governance is a top-down governance model. Indigenous people had a governance tribal model that was far superior to the one that is destroying us today. It was a model that provided opportunity for all voices to be heard because it consisted of various councils that made the decisions and directed the Chief. And the Chief was not the “boss.” Not the dictator. That interpretation is the colonial top-down construct imposed on us. It is not our way.
According to our tribal governance model the chief is the least of the people. He/she is the servant. The most selfless and as such the most able to set aside his/her ego and truly represent the voices of THE PEOPLE as represented by the various councils of the people.
When the nation-state of Canada imposed the election system on Indigenous peoples in the 1800’s it was done for the purpose of destroying our ability to govern ourselves. This is fact. The Indian Act election system must be dismantled and Indigenous peoples must re-establish selection processes for their spokespeople. The reign of the Indian Act chiefdom must be torn down and a governance model established that is driven by the voices of the people not AADC.
Imagine if you will a triangle. Under the Indian Act election system, the ‘chief’ is at the top, no different from the colonial rule elsewhere across the colonized world. We have far too many ego-driven, self-centred kings and queens, prime ministers and ministers, presidents and vice presidents, executive directors and directors, chiefs and councillors running around this beautiful world of ours oppressing those “below” them creating chaos and fanning injustice.
Under a tribal governance model, the point is on the bottom and THE PEOPLE are on the top. Each individual a sovereign FREE being. Personal sovereignly of each individual along the top ensures that the voices of each individual has a right and duty to be heard. And unless an individual is hurting others or his/herself the personal sovereignty of each individual was respected under tribal governance systems. And as such each individual has a voice in determining the direction on matters that directly impact that individual’s personal sovereignty.
This is the model that was destroyed with the purpose of destroying the ability of THE PEOPLE to govern ourselves. All people everywhere, must reclaim personal sovereignty, tribal governance, and rather than an election process, a tribal selection model that gives the power and authority back to THE PEOPLE.
Unless a problem is accurately defined, any solutions will at best be hit and miss.
INM & Reformism – The Elephant in the Room INM is top down. It is incorporated and by definition a corporation must submit as part of its registration its bylaws, its board structure and how it will operate its board. This is corporate governance. As such, INM uses corporate governance to carry-out its activities.
The focus of power within corporate governance is the point at the top of the triangle – the highest level of authority and power under that model of governance. This is corporate governance and this model of governance is colonial. Like election systems, corporate governance attracts ego-centric individuals to their positions of influence and power. INM is no different.
I have personally witnessed this tendency from its beginning. An ego-driven ‘movement’ is destined to fail. And from what I am witnessing the smoke-and-mirrors of the last nine months is beginning to reveal the shaky foundation upon which INM was built. It has not been an authentic response from the beginning. From its inception, INM has perpetuated the lie of the current system by fighting for change/reform of it. Will reforming the Canadian government’s policy agenda really affect lasting meaningful change that results in social justice? Climate justice? No. It will not. Why? Because the entire global system must be changed.
Only an authentic grassroots movement that awakens and empowers the most oppressed – those at the very bottom of the current social order – can achieve this. INM has not been effective in doing this and will never be. Why? It is top down. Any group that hopes to empower THE PEOPLE must be lead by the people.
INM took off because of social media. It did so not because the ‘founders’ had any strategy or real sense of the work that needs to occur to address the global crisis. It became a phenomena not because any one of the founders had any deep understanding of any of the global issues. INM piggy-backed on the work of countless activists who had been the ones turning the soil and planting the seeds. Yet, the founders claimed the harvest as their own and from the beginning have refused to work alongside of any of those who had actually laid the groundwork for the awakening that occurred. And in doing so, in my opinion have and continue to effectively misguide 1000′s towards a vision of a ‘new Canada’ not a new system.
As a witness to these events, I am quite confident in the accuracy of my assessment and I am equally confident that as a ‘movement’ it will not last. There is nothing to it.
The less any of us focus on INM and any other reformist voice and the more we focus on building a real movement of THE PEOPLE the better. Today, like no other time in the history of the human family, is it critical for THE PEOPLE to gather within local areas, form strategies and alliances, disconnect from reformist voices, and ensure that the local voices empower local system change.
History will look back at these times and write not of the efforts made behind any desk. The heros of this age are those who step forward not for personal glory but to lift the oppressed, forgotten, poor, homeless, hungry. Those who are not heard not because their story is not worthy but because the current social order disconnects these voices from the processes that affect change and as a result has built the current global system upon their backs.
Until the current social order plummets to the ground and the personal sovereignty of every voice is respected, there will not be justice anywhere. And as long as THE PEOPLE do not unite against the global system that perpetuates this social order NO ONE IS FREE.