Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ethics, Mystification, and Idle No More

After facebooking with Cindi, Loreen, Michael, Jeremy and Sherry last Friday Jeremy asked for my email address. I met Jeremy a long time ago, while he was attending Western Christian College and living in my sister's basement in Regina. He's from Ontario, and we only sometimes hold that against him.

Hi Sheena
I hope you accept these reflections for what they genuinely are: A concern for Right.. the exploration and building up of an ethical approach, one that wrestles with a great deal of mystification.
In many ways it would be simple to reduce Idle No More to a treaty issue. In this way one may simply ask: “Have treaties made by the crown or those representing it been honoured?” But of course it’s much more complex than this. Even the article on your blog points out that many treaty partners had difficulty understanding the language of European treaty or were not even consulted when land decisions were being made. Now throw into the mix issues of disease, forced internment and Christianization, not to mention the systematic attempt to erase First Nation’s culture by the Catholic Church (not every representative of it of course) without interference (and perhaps its blessing) from the State, and you have quite a complex situation.
Now, in many ways, and perhaps every way, none of this is new. Since the beginning of recorded history this has been the pattern of conquest. You are familiar with the Jewish diaspora(s) related in scripture, and there are a great many more diasporic events in just the Middle East alone. Throughout time, it would seem, man (and I do use the gendered pronoun purposely) has been a wolf to man (and women and children). I tend to view the events of European colonization of North America within this history of conquest, sometimes events which were quite amicable, other times quite violent. But of course it’s not just a story of conquest. This is why I commented on Facebook about the use of “settlers” vs. “immigrants.” I don’t know about your ancestors, but mine were part of the “Great Migration” from England in the early 1800’s (before this they had immigrated from Norway- our original surname was spelled Fröst or Frosst, and later anglicised). They were victims of a now booming Industrial Revolution. They were unemployed basically, having been replaced by machines. During this time an influx of the Irish also immigrated because of failing potato crops. So Canada was a place of hope, a place to build a life. They were settlers in the older sense that they were settling in a new land, but any claim they had to this land came through their application to the crown. In other words they didn’t kill anyone to get this land, they didn’t steal it or deceive anyone to get it. In fact, the place they settled had not been settled by First Nations at all, but was rather a kind of hunting ground it seems. Canada after all, is a rather large piece of land and was by no means completely covered by First Nations people, as it is not even to this day heavily populated.
It has been pointed out before that European colonizers did not invent brutality or oppression. It has been shown that war among tribes was not uncommon before European arrival. This was later used by the colonizers to their great advantage come war time or when developing trade relations with various tribes. Not that far from here the Iroquois attacked the Huron people after making a deal with the Dutch for furs, and subsequently trapped their beaver practically out of existence. They turned on the Huron who had a better trapping area, and ended up pushing them out of their territories in a move that was only to be mirrored later by Europeans in search of natural resources. Between subsequent disease and war the Huron were almost completely decimated and left homeless.
Despite inter-Aboriginal conflict, however, was there a kind of complicity involved on the part of the European immigrants? After all, my ancestors may not have directly acted deceptively or cruelly, but the crown from which they purchased their land certainly had been involved in highly questionable relations with native populations, if not in my ancestor’s immediate vicinity, then elsewhere. Here I have to agree that there was a kind of complicity (even if my ancestors could not know extensively the maltreatment of the native populations), and by proxy, I’ve benefited from it in some way. So there seems I have an ethical duty to respond. The content of this duty is far from clear however.
Now in addition to this I have a concern. I am concerned about the status of First Nations people as “victim.” This is especially troubling when one considers the web of power relations in which such a designation comes about. There persists today a notion that First Nations people are inherently special victims, and it seems to me this is a racist notion if there ever was one. On the contrary, they were victims of “ordinary” status. Their oppression (oppression as such) was no different than the Iroquois oppression of the Huron.. What was different were the agents. This in itself indicates the privileged status predominantly white commentators continue to give themselves. Here I am suspicious of a kind of liberal-humanitarian narcissism in which the victim only serves to reinforce this status of privilege. The challenge for me then is to walk the thin line between the narcissistic political ideology of humanitarianism and what amounts to an authentic concern for fellow human beings. If Idle No More represents the former, I have to reject it as a reinforcement of elitist (and ultimately racist) norms. If it’s the expression of the latter it’s something to be embraced. Unfortunately it is no doubt a combination of the two.. its complexity increased by the fact that the very people designated “victim” may reinforce this status. This is why I’ve said before that one’s orientation toward the movement should be one of brutal critique. Not for the sake of critique, but in order to discern its true –human- potential.
This would have been very difficult to say on Facebook. Thanks Sheena.
Hey, Jeremy. I am just prepping for tomorrow morning's classes, but here's a real quick response.

1. Awesome discussion. Thank you so much.

2. Would you be interested in me publishing it on my blog with my response, and maybe we could have some back and forth dialogue-blogging... you raise excellent points, ideas, etc.

3. I am walking into Idle No More through relationships that I have developed (Kate and Sue as settlers) and many, many FN friends and people I admire at a distance (like Elder Mike Pinay). So, yes, it is very complicated and I don't understand it all, but, I do believe in the people I am walking beside, and like the "Wallstreet" movement of last year, this has a bit of potential to mean what each local group wants it to mean, sooooo... kinda sounds like cofC autonomy ha ha...

More later, but I really appreciate the "push back" and also, I am the queen of ambiguity, so I don't know if I believe in one "Right" when there are so many complexities. This is where I walk in faith that God has prepared me for such a time as this, to be a bridge, be a conduit for healing, be whatever it is He is calling me to...

Let's talk more... ah, only forty-five minutes before the school alarm will kick me out.

Blessings, brother,

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