Our original elders were all wiped out by the smallpox wars. They died first, and with them, all of our real traditions. What survives today from our old ways? I’ll tell you: nothing. - Siem Maquinna, Earl George of the Ahousahts, to the author, Port Alberni, May 1995
All of the data indicates that nations at war suffering mortality rates exceeding 25% are permanently traumatized and destroyed, for they are incapable of ever recovering their pre-war integrity. They become for all practical purposes ghost societies. - United States Air Force Manual on War and Counter-Insurgency, Washington, spring 1983
We’ve created a completely new Indian society and we’re the new leaders of it. It’s a done deal. - Wendy Grant-John, government Indian and “chief” of the Musqueam Tribal Council, April 2006
Indigenous nationhood, like Democracy or Christianity, is a wonderful idea; and wonderfully absent, in practice.
None of us have ever actually experienced these ideals – and yet how passionately we pretend to. In truth, we settle for cheap facsimiles of these visions that our various rulers convince us are the Real Deal. And sadly, we’ve believed their lie for so long that even now we teach it to one another, and to our children.
Let me leave aside the matter of Democracy, and Christianity, since I’m sure my gentle readers will need little convincing that marking ten ballots in one’s lifetime and sitting in boredom in a church pew for an hour doesn’t amount to much of anything. But I expect I’ll have tougher sledding when it comes to tackling the fallacy of Indigenous nationhood.
Putting aside political correctness and liberal white guilt – and how hard it is to do so! – if we are to remain on the path of truth and political realism and not slide into murky rhetorical swamps, we must see things as they are and not as we want them to be. And the hard historical truth is that all genuine indigenous nations were historically uprooted and expunged by European colonialism within a few generations of contact.
All of them.
On average, more than 90% of the indigenous people and their nations in the western hemisphere were eventually exterminated by European weapons and diseases, starting with the oldest people, the learned, and the carriers of tradition and authority. The butchery began in 1492 in the Caribbean and ended around 1910 on Canada’s west coast.
Killing off ninety percent of a people means, effectively, killing off all of a people. Recovery and continuity is impossible, especially after the children of the remnant populaces endure the massive brainwashing and cultural re-cloning fondly called Christian Education.
What remains today in the wake of this worst massacre in human history are not even pale imitations of those original nations, but something altogether new: namely, “ab-original” societies, manufactured by the conquering powers of church and state. For ab-original means, according to any dictionary, not of the original group.
Native people, like all of us, have been manufactured.
In none of the hundreds of native groups I’ve worked with over the decades have more than a handful of people known even a smattering of their original languages; nor do they practice their traditional ways, since those ways are gone.
None of them can live off the land, or practice ceremonies and rituals going back centuries. Their attitudes and hopes are the same as everybody else. They all flock into the same malls, buy the same pointless things, and poison their kids at the same fast food dumps as the “whites”. And most of them pay taxes and vote and call themselves Canadians.
But what’s most important, most of these aboriginals acknowledge that their traditional nation is dead and gone.
There are rare exceptions. But native men and women who aren’t caught up in the money-chasing game of aboriginal politics are the first to admit that they are not indigenous, and know nothing of who they are, and were. These people are denied the financial rewards that come to Professional Indians in the political, legal and academic worlds who posture as “First Nations” – a term created by the Canadian government – and who say all the right phrases and wear all the right regalia.
The vast majority of natives who don’t play the Professional Indian game are invisible to the rest of us. I only began to see and come to know them when I became an outcast from my own culture and began to share their alienation. The Professional Indians, contrarily, are the only ones that you are allowed to see.
After all, upon whom has your attention been riveted by the corporate media for many weeks now other than “Chief” Theresa Spence, the $85,000 a year pseudo-hunger striker who is the poster-person of the government-launched dissent-funneling operation known as Idle No More?
Of course, this kind of fraud is nothing new. Conquerors always create their own version of the ones they’ve destroyed. The same thing happened to my former people in the Gaelic Highlands after English bayonets and schools wiped us out after 1745. The British aristocracy invented the kilt and other Scottish niceties in their ab-original version of what they had destroyed. And they put into power the same kind of puppet chieftains like Ms. Spence who posture in Canada under the banner of the impotent “Assembly of First Nations” (AFN).
It’s all part of the deadly symbiosis set up when one culture exterminates another: the conquerors keep tokens of their victims around for their reassurance and consciences; and strangely, over time, they and their conquered learn to depend on and identify with each other.
In truth, that’s because a colonized people are no longer a people, but an appendage – that’s the Latin meaning of “colon” – of the bigger Body Politic of the Conquerors. The remnant ab-originals depend on that Body for their very life and identity. Ask any AFN chief what he or she would do without a pay cheque from Ottawa. Ask Theresa Spence.
In Canada, as in America, the Pale Eaters – otherwise known as white people, since Assimilation means to eat someone – keep chewing up and swallowing ever more of the colonized peoples. They do so literally, by grabbing their children, their future, their lands and resources, and symbolically, by making the colonized perform for them to assuage their guilt and maintain the lie that Genocide didn’t really happen in their country.
That fact strikes home to me with a vengeance whenever the AFN puppets open their mouths and the dead words of the Pale Eaters drop out.
But back to the realists: the mostly poor and dying authentic Indians who are honest about the fact that they have been killed and stripped of everything.
The hundreds of such people whom I work and live with never speak of their traditions, or of “the Elders”, or of “Protocol”, or any of the other Indigenously Correct terms thrown about in the Professional Indian world. They don’t exclude “whites” from their ranks in a false pride of being better, or demand more money from the government. Nor do they cozy up to the christian churches that killed their people and blabber about “healing and reconciliation” with such criminals.
On the contrary, the realists know what is true and they speak about it, which is why they, and not the Professional Indians, have been the ones to occupy churches, and demand that the guilty face judgement and return the bodies of the children they murdered. It has been these unassimilated refugees from a lost world who have forced the Canadian Genocide onto the world stage, while the Professional Indians cower and equivocate and avoid everything until the television cameras show up.
There is no authentic Indian leadership in Canada; how can there be, after all, in the wake of such a cunning arrangement? And so the AFN and other cardboard creations are collapsing, having zero credibility, starting with young native men and women. And that’s why the AFN has had to desperately create publicity stunts like Idle No More, to salvage themselves and the Pale Eaters who for now fund them.
But all is not lost. True Tragedy, taught the classical Greeks, is but the other side of Farce. And in the case at hand, the farce is best expressed in the game of Who’s Got the Elder that seems to preoccupy all the Professional Indians and their loyal Caucasian wannabees in these last days of collapsing illusions and slipping masks.
Who’s Got the Elder is rampant these days. For instance, last year, when I was asked by some of the Mohawk people around Brantford to help them locate the mass graves of the kids who were murdered by the Anglican Church at the local “residential school”, I was immediately immersed in the game.
Nobody in the three permanent factions among the Grand River Mohawks could agree on exactly who was an “Elder”, since they all had different definitions of the word.
To some of them, it meant “clan mother”; but day by day those who called themselves clan mothers would change, depending on who happened to show up to meetings and who bore a grudge against whom. To others, only certain families were the “true hereditary elders”, but nobody could agree on who those families were. I became confused, very quickly: as confused as all the Mohawks seemed to be.
Most of our gatherings at the Kanata Centre in Brantford were devoted not to the practical job of finding and bringing home the remains of the buried children, but arguing over what they called the “protocol” of how to proceed. But again, there were a dozen different definitions of what protocol actually was. As you’d guess, after a week or so of such endless verbosity, the original purpose of why we had gathered quickly became lost.
I hope you understand that I’m not picking on the Mohawks. To their credit, they have gone further than any other group in trying to bring the forensic evidence of the genocide they faced into the light of day. And naturally, the government operatives and divide and conquer experts were on hand quickly to scuttle everything and discredit me and the project.
But that wasn’t the problem, ultimately. The Mohawks simply got caught up in their own rhetoric and thought they were something they actually aren’t: just like the rest of us.
So what does it all mean?
Actually, a lot, once we drop all our blinders.
The indigenous nations that we all once were have vanished, chewed up by a corporate global machine, and we stand now in need of a new definition that embraces our collective humanity and the natural law that has always been our true bedrock.
We, humanity, are in a final war for survival. But as long as we cling to all the false divisions and labels imposed on us by the rulers, we’ll remain what we are: appendages of a thing that is killing our children, our souls, and our world. And we will all go under, regardless of our political correctness.
Who is an Elder, anyway? I guess we all become one, eventually. And I suppose that I am an Elder, now, after more than twenty years of struggle. But I don’t need anybody to tell me that I am.