By Brian Jay Snyder
Jeannette Armstrong, an artist, author and anti-Tar Sands activist of the Okanagan Tribe in British Columbia, pleads with us to become indigenous again:
We think about indigenous people and we think about, “Oh, yeah, I support their right to be indigenous, their right to do their culture, their right to do their things and I’ll stand with them to help do that, but I’m going to turn around and go back and live the way I live and the way I think and the way I am.” I think that there’s something really wrong with that, because indigenousness isn’t just about culture. I don’t even think it’s about race. I don’t think it is about ethnicity. I think it is about how you respond to living things in the place that you live. It is a set of values and you cannot live those values unless you have knowledge about that place. Knowledge about what lives there and why you need to be in tune with that and why you need to protect that with your life, like some of our people are doing–and protect that against all odds. We don’t have things to gain in the material world, when we stand in front of those trucks, at those roadblocks, and with those guns pointed to us, which we have done up there and every other place in the world. You need to be standing there with us and you need not only to stand there with us and go back home. You need to think about what it is to live that way… There is a depth of experience from being indigenous… As Okanagan people, we invite everybody to come to (our) ceremonies. We don’t close them. We say, “You need to feel that. You need to understand that you can be at home here. You don’t have to be the alien here–the colonizer here. You don’t have to long to be home. You can belong, but there is a way to do that and it has to be about the life of the land in the places that you occupy, the living things. They’re indigenous because they learned how to be there over millions of years and thousands of years. And, we, as indigenous peoples learned that road, learned that path with them. That spirit has to be there planet-wide. One of my mentors, John Mohawk said: “It’s not about indigenous peoples as ethnicity or race, it’s about re-indigenizing the planet.” We have to confront that and learn how to do that. And I know that most of you have that in your hearts. I know that most of you feel that.
The rise of the Trump presidency gives me a sense of hope rather than fear. Not the Trump trademarked delusional hope: “Make America Great Again,” but hope that derives from the fact that people are now realizing that no president, politician, corporation, or institution will save us from the horrors that may come, brought to you courtesy of the red, white, and orange. At this very moment, as I write this, there are profoundly courageous people all over the United States and around the world who have Jeannette Armstrong’s sentiment deep within their hearts and are actualizing it by nonviolently protesting the election of Trump and his equally toxic metaphorical counterparts, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. As history has shown time and time again, social change like Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement were made possible by a determined group of people composed of less than 1% of the entire population.
Most importantly, the current obstacles to social change that are emboldened by Trump are hate, racism, and violence. That hate, racism, and violence must be met with compassion, empathy, and nonviolent resistance. Why? For two reasons: Firstly, any movement for social change cannot forcefully take on a militarized police force or the National Guard with all their military hardware, intelligence gathering tools, and multi-agency resources at their disposal. Violent insurgencies are futile efforts that the masters of Trump ravenously desire and it will only end in misery for all. Moreover, it has been proven that in any violent conflict, more innocent civilians (mainly children) lose their lives than military combatants. Secondly, nonviolent resistance works as proven statistically in Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan or in Ralph Nader’s book, Breaking Through Power, or within the writings of the Peace Leadership Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, former U.S. Army Captain Paul K. Chappell.
In her book The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert points out that because human beings have been able to interpret the world through symbols, they have the ability to change it and change it we certainly have. Now, in this moment of crisis, we have a real opportunity to transform into something truly beautiful because the upsetting surprise of POTUS: Donald Trump and the specter of the sixth extinction can propel us to do so. What are we going to do with this surprise right now? Ivan Illich’s book, Tools for Conviviality may give us some hopeful guidance:
The alternative to (Trump’s) “managerial fascism is a political process by which people decide how much of any scarce resource is the most any member of society can claim, a process in which they agree to keep limits relatively stationary over a long time, and by which they set a premium on the constant search for new ways to have an ever larger percentage of the population join in the doing ever more with ever less. Such a political choice of a frugal society remains a pious dream unless it can be shown that it is not only necessary but also possible: (1) to define concrete procedures by which more people are enlightened about the nature of our present crisis and will come to understand that limits are necessary and a convivial lifestyle desirable; (2) to bring the largest number of people into now suppressed organizations which claim their right to a frugal lifestyle and keep them satisfied and therefore committed to convivial life; and (3) to discover and revalue the political or legal tools that are accepted within a society and learn how to use them to establish and protect convivial life where it emerges. Such procedures may sound idealistic at the present moment. This is not proof that they cannot become effective as the present crisis deepens.
Brian Jay Snyder is a de-professionalized humorist, poet, and organic gardener that resides within the Sierra Nevada of Central California. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianJaySnyder