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Fourth World Eye

Critical Analysis or Counter-Insurgency?


Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is now in the 21st day of her hunger strike, her demand to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper having so far fallen on deaf ears. It now seems that the chances of Spence becoming a martyr for her people (and thus all indigenous people) is looming menacingly on the horizon as news reports tell of her weakening state. In the meantime, other news and blog sites are emerging which are critical of Spence’s call to arms for the band council chiefs in Canada. One unnamed author of a blog called “Warrior Publications” seems to see it as a power grab by tribal leaders that disempowers the grassroots nature of #Idle No More movement, and even calls into question the motives of the movements leaders. Another notes the distancing of INM from the actions of tribal leaders, emphasizing instead the grassroots nature of the movement. Such positions minimize the sacrifice Spencer could very realistically make, assuming Harper continues to refuse to meet with her. The unnamed author at Warrior Publications seems to ridicule the power of non-violent protest, and is even critical of Ghandi’s use of hunger strike as a political tactic. It’s hard not to see this piece as counter-insurgent, dressed up in the language of anarchy disguised as an indigenous perspective. Regardless of it’s supposed critical analysis of Spence’s call, all it does is send a message of discord aimed at the INM movement. More now than ever Canadian First Nations peoples need solidarity, not division. We do well to remember that it was the agent provocateurs that brought down the social justice movements of groups like the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers.

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  1. I read the Warrior article and additional Warrior links posted at Wrong Kind of Green, and I think Warrior's perspective and argument is more nuanced than that. What I take from the series of articles by Warrior is that the movement for indigenous liberation in Canada involves disparate players with different agendas and goals. Some want to fully assimilate to colonization, others want to resist and build more authentic and autonomous societies consistent with their indigenous cultures. Given this scenario, it is inevitable that there will be disunity in terms of objectives, strategies and tactics. While Idle No More was conceived and organized by the establishment indigenous leaders dependent on Ottawa for their funding, power and influence, that doesn't mean they can control how the movement they catalyzed plays out. Calling for the establishment to control the activists was perhaps a poor leadership choice by Chief Spencer, but it is consistent with her role in the colonial indigenous relationship. That's what band chiefs are there for, to control indigenous peoples on behalf of Ottawa. Whether one advocates for reform or revolution, questioning the effectiveness and motivations of particular tactics isn't necessarily divisive, but it is necessary if activists are to comprehend what they are doing and what they are up against. Gandhi was not beyond criticism, and neither is Spencer. If indigenous peoples are to liberate themselves from oppression, they must engage in thinking and organizing for themselves, not blindly follow those who have been compromised by the system they seek to change.
  2. Reading the articles on Idle No More at Intercontinental Cry magazine, I think the division between indigenous peoples in Canada is more analogous to the division between Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement between establishment Black leaders in organizations like Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the grassroots organizers in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. SCLC tried to control SNCC, but because they weren't on the payroll in offices in Atlanta, but rather on the ground in the Mississippi delta risking their lives, SNCC activists did what needed to be done, not what they could get funded. As for 1960s agent provocateurs, they were on the FBI payroll, and paid to discredit activists as well as spy on establishment leaders. One wants to be very careful about suggesting anyone critical of establishment leaders is an agent provocateur. While in some cases that might be true, in most cases it is not.
  3. Point taken and I agree on some levels. However, despite its complexity the piece seemed cold-hearted and in very bad taste given the timing of it and the severity of Spence's situation. Ultimately, she is putting her life on the line for her people, not the colonial power structure of Canada.
  4. Again, using the Civil Rights Movement analogy, James Forman of SNCC, who wrote an excellent book about the experience, was leery of Martin Luther King's messiah complex and its potentially disempowering influence on grassroots activists in the delta, who were finding their voice and power of community for the first time in generations. King's oratory played an important role, as did Forman's organizing and the research of Jack Minnis. Even Rosa Parks had her differences with King and SCLC, who were very controlling and gender discriminatory. SCLC was reformist, and SNCC was revolutionary, and in the end that difference is partly why Blacks as a whole have since then gone backward and not forward in US society.

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