Bidding Farewell

Roland Chrisjohn rchrisjo at
Sat Jan 6 01:58:51 MST 2001

I wrote in the day before yesterday in the hope of heading off what seems
to be happening now.  Apart from a nod or two, I don't seem to have made
any impact (maybe because what I'm saying is irrelevant).  However, in the
spirit with which I first wrote I will try again.

Again, I'm writing as an insider, someone who has been at these struggles
for almost 40 years now.  I have no interest in touting my past, so suffice
it to say that I'm currently the director of a Native Studies program in
Canada and that it is part of my job to keep as up to date as possible on
the issues that are being raised.  Of the 600+ reserves in Canada, I've
easily been on at least half of them, at one time or another.

The Canadian government policy is, was, and will continue to be the
elimination of indigenous peoples (whether Metis, Innuit, Innu, Status,
non-Status, or what-have-you), and toward this end it funds, funded, and
will fund indigenous organizations that will go along, wittingly or
unwittingly, with this elimination.  This elimination is sometimes called
"multiculturalism," or "anti-racism," or "breaking the cycle of
dependency," or "opening our arms to our red brothers and sisters," etc.,
but it is never called what it actually is: genocide.

Indigenous peoples don't generally realize this, any more than the average
Canadian understands that that's what its government is up to or why it's
up to it.  We were kept away from anything resembling education for a long,
long time, and now that some of us are making our way through what is
called education, in general (but not completely) we accept the
credentialling/certification/accreditation standards the mainstream
imposes, or go through their institutions rather than our own (which, in
comparison to mainstream institutions, have neither academic breadth or
academic depth).  Whether within our own meagre institutions or within the
mainstream's, then, an indigenous person is structurally (institutionally)
unlikely to develop anything like a critical consciousness.  A kind of
"carping" critical mentality is easily developed, however, since whether
regarding the government's policies towards us or the government's
compradors implementing them, there is plenty to be dissatisfied with.

This combination of conditions gives rise to a whole species of
marginalized peoples: unwitting insider compradors destroying their people
from inside the indigenous equivalents of governmental and non-governmental
organizations (all usually "well-qualified" with a post-graduate degree
gained from demonstrating their willingness to satisfy the standards of the
mainstream); unwitting outsider compradors confusing the bureaucrat who
implements their misery (and profits by it) with the capitalists that
dictate it; witting insider compradors, who have figured out how things
work and have decided to "get theirs" while they're still in a position to
do so; plus several other, including some who, at least from time to time,
are able to avoid being both a comprador and being witless.

Indian organizations recognized by federal and provincial governments are
in no position to bite the hand that feeds them.  They have no credibility
at indigenous grass-roots levels, and would thus close up shop the day
after any government decided not to fund them anymore.  (I am reminded of a
few years ago, when the "leader" of the Assembly of First Nations
proclaimed that Indian "passively resistant protesters" would "disrupt the
nation" if certain things didn't happen.  The government and the press
pretended this was a real threat, but nothing was done to accommodate the
leader.  Out on the reserves we had a big laugh on what a shithead
So-And-So was, as if we'd all run out in response to his call to
arms.)  The trickle of money fed into Indian Country through these
organizations is sufficient for a free-enterpriser to run off to Hawaii to
play golf, or to send the staff off on a Caribbean cruise, and similar
abuses, but it can't be enough to address the pressing issues within Indian
Country.  (This is because the real pressing issue is that Canada was, is,
and will continue to be stolen from the indigenous peoples, who are its
true "owners."  This is what my book on Residential Schooling is about.)
The mainstream government has the "Injun" governments jumping through hoops
simply by putting small packets of money on the other side of the opening.

What about "making changes from the inside?"  I hope I wouldn't have to
explain to a list of Marxists why this can't happen.  Even well-intentioned
people (unwitting compradors) can't "do the right thing" if they have no
grasp of what that might be.  Example: a few years back the federal
government proposed a national co-op education program for Status Indian in
high school.  The plan was to take the last 2 years of high school and make
them work placements for 'Skins, and it was touted as a way of "getting
First Nations students used to the modern work world."  An education
director brought by a copy and asked me what I thought.  I told her (1) 50%
to 75% of Indian children are not making it through high school now, and
we're supposed to believe the ones who've made it that far have learned so
much that they can put aside the last two years of high school?  Who are
they trying to kid? (2) what KIND of job are these kids going to be getting
"used to:" surgery, preparation of legal briefs, journalism, and the like,
or hamburger-flipping, car-washing, broom-pushing, and the like?  What kind
of "lesson" about the modern work world would be learned from all this? (3)
who would be displaced by a mob of high school students doing shit jobs
(now being called "education") for no pay?"  Very likely their brothers and
sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and parents, doing those jobs now
for minimal wage (the only jobs they could get).  They might be shit jobs,
but a shit job is all too often the difference between survival and
destruction in Indian Country. (4) the government was actually going to PAY
McDonald's and Wendy's and the like for the "angst" associated with them
putting up with Indian students on the job.  So "Indian education money"
was to be given to Canadian businesses undertaking the task of rubbing
Indian students' noses in their marginality, under the guise of
"education." (5) who was going to watch what actually went on in these
placements?  Either the government would have to establish a bureaucracy
nearly as large (and as costly) as the existing public education system for
'Skins (whose employees would then run about monitoring the operation of
the co-op), OR there would be little or no scrutiny, and thus the Indian
students would be helpless against the kind of workplace abuses that are
commonplace (sexual harassment, threats associated with bad work
evaluations, etc.).  After talking to me she went to a National meeting of
Indian Education Directors who, until she kicked the crap out of it, were
all set to approve the program.  A co-op program was eventually
implemented, but it was nowhere near as comprehensive and draconian as the
original had been.

Why didn't the first education director seen this herself?  She was
educated (a doctorate), thoughtful, and even militant.  But nothing in her
education encouraged her to look deeply into what was, in effect, another
parcel of program money that her organization would benefit from having the
responsibility to administer.

If asked, I can recite case after case of bad things that come to Indian
country, sometime done with the best of intentions, sometimes with the
worst, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes after careful thought.  These
will almost invariably emerge (only apparently, since someone else has
initiated the actions) from a "recognized Indian organization" like the
AFN.  This is because almost no one else has even the appearance of agency
around here, let alone a few bucks to spend on band-aids.

So, does Leona Freed's initiative have some kind of point?  Well, yes,
there is plenty to complain about with respect to financial malfeasance in
Indian organizations at all levels (band, regional, provincial, and
national), governmental and non-governmental alike.

So, should activists support Freed's initiative?  Well, not necessarily: is
her "agency" being purchased with Alliance Party funds, a party which has
the immediate and catastrophic genocide of indigenous peoples as a plank in
their platform?  If so, one set of compradors is being created to attack
another set of compradors.  Is her analysis broad and deep, or narrow and
particular?  If narrow and particular, this amounts to squabbling, not
change.  If broad and deep, maybe she's just suckering them along in the
hope of doing something that badly needs to get done.

So, am I against "accountability" in Indian Country?  Well, no, but I
prefer my friend Mickey Poslun's take on it: "Let's start with 1867 and
work forward," rather than what's taken for granted now, that
"accountability" means starting from the present and working backward.

So, are all who work for Indian organizations witting or unwitting
buffoons?  Not at all: Randy Kapeshesit (Winona LaDuke's ex) is a "Chief"
on his reserve in Ontario, a good head and a strong arm; the education
director I mentioned is generally hard-nosed and consistently doing the
right thing; and so on and so on (lots more people could go here).

So, are all those people going outside and/or working against "recognized"
Indian organizations dupes or co-conspirators with anti-indigenous
forces?  Well, no, the youth group Macdonald mentions is, indeed, doing
good work; and Jim Craven and his like-minded associates have already
accomplished more on the real issues of residential schooling than either
the AFN or the Healing Fund.  I could go on here, too, but it would require
detailing a host of issues and information not before the readers of this list.

I hope what this is beginning to sound like is "this is all very
complicated."  There's no royal road to understanding the particulars of
any event in Indian Country, no substitute for taking in as much
information as possible before presuming to have a grip on it.  Another
example:  I'm 100% against the Healing Fund for residential schooling, and
yet I've advised three different reserved-based groups to go ahead and
apply for money.  They simply have no options: what they want and need to
do is reasonable, and they can't allow themselves to starve to death while
doing it.  I've opined "take the money and do what you think is right,
regardless of what you have to say on the grant application in order to get
it.  It'll take them a year or two to figure out what you're doing, and
another year to decide they don't want to fund it, and by then you might
have been able to find some other way to make it happen."  I'm thus not all
that committed to "accountability" as a general principle, either.

I think it's important that I bring in here why I tried to stay out of this
fuss for such a long time, as well as why I'm throwing in again on it
here.  I keep my nose out of Indian business.  Yes, I have my opinions and
biases and analytic proclivities, but I keep them to myself unless
specifically asked about them.  Lou's admonition concerning the sad history
of Marxism with respect to Indians is exactly right; they blunder in
without knowing what's going on and expect some kind of gratitude for
troubling themselves with us.  If they had consistently followed the rule,
"answer the questions you have been asked," not only would Marxism be
greeted with a lot more enthusiasm these days, we would indeed be working
out real solutions to the real issues.  He's right that this is the only
way this is going to happen.

So why did I open my mouth here?  Because, dammit, you do have something to
tell us when (and if) Indians get around to asking you.  Things are coming
down in the immediate future that will be as bad as anything that happened
thus far.  We're going to need all the help we can get: moral support,
nickles and dimes, warm bodies on the ground, the whole shooting
match.  Even advice.  I begrudge the loss of even one potential supporter
in the fight to come.

I can be and am as irrational and hot-headed as anyone.  But do we have to
make trouble for ourselves here?  In the coming months, depend on it, I
will be asking this list for help, one way or another.  I like to think
we're on the same side in this fight, even if some of us don't yet
recognize who "our side" consists of.

Sorry for the length and late-nightedness of the posting.  I just got back
to Fredericton and my sleep habits are all wacko.

Roland Chrisjohn

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