Thoughts on Indigeneity, Empire and Decolonization

In preparing for this week’s IGOV382 class on Indigenous Resurgence I wrote a few thoughts on the first chapters of Taiaiake Alfred’s Wasáse, Alfred and Corntassel’s “Being Indigenous”, and Tuck and Yang’s important piece “Decolonization is not a metaphor”.

For the sake of reflection and posterity, here they are for all who might be interested. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

* * * * *

The readings this week seek to articulate broad themes about how we conceptualize and articulate resurgence within struggles for decolonization.

For Alfred, this involves identifying that the root cause of Indigenous suffering under colonialism is a “spiritual crisis” (31) in which we have become “disconnected from our lands and our traditional ways of life” and “divided amongst ourselves and confused in our own minds about who we are and what kind of life of we should be living” (31).

Seeking to move beyond state-centred institutional solutions and identities, like assimilationist “Aboriginalism”, Alfred sees the project of resurgence as deeply embedded in a struggle to re-strengthen (and ‘re-culture’) ourselves as Indigenous Peoples as we engage in acts of “creative contention” with the historical effects and present shape-shifting forms of contemporary colonialism.


In order to get “free from colonial attitudes and behaviours” – Alfred identifies this as the work of regeneration:

“Regeneration means we will reference ourselves differently, both from the ways we did traditionally and under colonial domination. We will self-consciously recreate our cultural practices and reform our political identities by drawing on tradition in a thoughtful process of reconstruction and a committed reorganization of our lives in a personal and collective sense” (34)

Regeneration is about “restoring connections” (34) to our homelands, languages, original teachings and natural laws, ceremonies, and cultures—but with the knowledge that this process will need to be creative, transformative, and liberating not only for ourselves, but for all our people.

Alfred and Corntassel, in their article “Being Indigenous”, propose a similar ethic and commitment to liberation through a process of reconnection to Indigenous ways of thinking and being in the world, but one that looks beyond the definitional frame of the colonial experience as either an end goal or objective. Instead, they suggest, that our “determined acts of survival” (597) against colonizing structures and states should be oriented toward restoring our autonomy as individuals, peoples, and nations. Decolonization is both a personal project of transformation and a commitment to building a movement that can transform collectivities and communities as it grows. They rightly observe that “there is a danger in allowing colonization to be the only story of Indigenous lives” (601).

So, knowing that this is case, that we collectively need to escape the colonial narrative “as the fundamental reference” (601) that limits Indigenous imaginings of freedom by prioritizing Settler power as a singular referent, the question becomes: how do we fight to overcome or transcend this normative conceptualization of the struggle to decolonize?


Here, Tuck and Yang’s piece is helpful in explaining some of they ways in which decolonization, when it is (mis)understood as a metaphor, provides a cover for Settler anxieties by masking accountability and responsibility for transforming colonial power relations; and that re-establishes Settler desires for a pre-emptive reconciliation that fails to address the underlying imbalance of the broader colonial project, which is the further encroachment onto Indigenous territories and the ongoing theft of land. Tuck and Yang describe this metaphorization of decolonization as part of a larger set of what they call “settler moves to innocence” that work to assuage settler guilt and complicity and restore a vision of a decolonized future that requires little of non-Indigenous peoples in the process of decolonizing. Decolonization, they argue, not only can be unsettling, it should be unsettling for all of us. It is about recognizing the specificity of lived historical and contemporary conditions of Indigenous erasure and dispossession that cannot be rectified through simply adopting decolonization as a discourse or as a limited practice of ‘decolonizing your mind’, or swapping/substituting the concept out for other (often unrelated) forms of oppression. Decolonization, they argue, has no synonym. It is a unique, place-based contention with colonialism that takes specific form and shape through struggles to reestablish and revitalize Indigenous presence on the land.

As they note on page 5: “Within settler colonialism, the most important concern is land/water/air subterranean earth. Land is what is most valuable, contested, required.” The colonial theft of land is a violent process that disrupts Indigenous relationships to land and is a multi-faceted form of violence—one that doesn’t end with the arrival of the settler but, instead, one that “is reasserted each day of occupation” (5). This is why, as Patrick Wolfe has succinctly argued, “settler colonialism is a structure not an event” (5).

Given that we are dealing with a structural violence of dispossession that is reproduced through ongoing occupation, decolonization demands nothing short of the return of Indigenous land: “Decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have…been differently understood and enacted” (7) by Indigenous Peoples. Taken to the logical conclusion of their argument, if all land on Turtle Island is Indian land and all of it has been colonized, then it follows, as they suggest, that “settler colonialism and its decolonization implicates and unsettles everyone” (7).

So, how then, should we fight?


In the readings from Wasáse (19-100) for this week, Alfred advocates for a “spiritual revolution” by Indigenous Peoples, that is, “a culturally rooted social movement that transforms the whole of society and a political action that seeks to remake the entire landscape of power and relationship to reflect truly a liberated post-imperial vision” (27).

This, he suggests, is to be accomplished through creative contention, resistance and resurgence: rebuilding our identities as Indigenous Peoples, challenging the colonial state, and protecting our freedom and our homelands. This demands not simply “unsettling” power relations in an easily reconciled way, but a profound and continuous set of commitments to action that transforms who we are and how we live: “Personal and collective transformation”, Alfred argues, “is not instrumental to the surging of state power, it is the very means of our struggle” (28).

What, then, does this transformation look like?

Alfred examines different forms of anti-colonial resistance struggles, and specifically analyzes the challenges of directly engaging the state through either violent and militant means or through non-violent strategies of direct action and resurgence, with the goal of building a movement that can achieve what Adolfo Pérez Esquival describes as: “an organized set of ruptures in the civil order so as to disturb the system responsible for the injustices we see around us” (64).

These ruptures must be carefully considered and coordinated in order to be effective. To analyze why such a movement has yet to emerge on a mass scale on Turtle Island, Alfred interviews several Indigenous land defenders and members of the West and East Coast Warrior Societies about their experiences attempting to mobilize, engage and build just such a movement. In this section he digs deeper into another key concept linked to the notion of creative contention with colonialism—and that is: warriorism.


Noting that the term warrior has very different connotations in English than it does in Indigenous languages, Alfred explores the concept as a way to understand what is required of us if we seek to pursue the path of resurgence and decolonization. To be a warrior, Alfred suggests, does not mean the blind pursuit of violence against the state or the reinscription of heteropatriarchal male aggression, even if anti-colonial in its focus. Rotsikenhrakete, the Kanien’kehaka word for warrior, connotes not militant fighters, but “sacred protectors” (79)—literally “those who carry the burden of peace”—whose duty it is to preserve territory, culture and the independence of the people. It is this spirit of warriorism that Alfred argues needs to be recuperated and re-strengthened among our people, of all genders, in order to be in a position to mount an effective challenge to colonial authority, legitimacy, influence and attitudes. We need, he claims, “a new concept of the warrior that is freed from colonial gender constructions and articulated instead with reference to what really counts in our struggles: the qualities and the actions of a person, man or woman, in battle” (84).

Alfred’s use of the language of battle, conflict, contention and warriorism is, in my view, not intended as a provocation toward, or an advocacy for, violent contestations with the colonial state or settler society but, instead, a language of defiance against the very violences of colonialism that, as we saw in Tuck and Yang’s piece, are reproduced daily through the ongoing occupation of, and continued encroachment into, Indigenous homelands by the state and its agents/agencies, resource developers, and other self-interested corporate entities. To this end, Alfred speaks of a “warrior creed” that is about the individual motivated into action “by an instinctual sense of responsibility to alleviate suffering and to recreate the conditions of peace and happiness” (86). The battle is as much about internal transformation as it is about confronting external threats and forces.

In order to be in a position to defend our lands and cultures, we need to be rooted and strong in who we are and where we stand: re-connected, awake, and willing to do the work.

To conclude, I want to return briefly to a couple of points that Alfred and Corntassel make in their piece, specifically around the form of organization and mobilization for action.


As they note on page 603, following Fanon, there is much debate and disagreement (especially among our own people) over how to fight and where to orient the struggle to decolonize:

 “the battles occurring amongst ourselves distract us from the bigger picture of decolonization and sap the crucial energy and solidarity that are essential to effective confrontation of imperial power in whatever form it presents itself. Large-scale Indigenous efforts to confront state power by mimicking state institutions…only deepen these divisions…Contemporary forms of postmodern imperialism attempt to confine the expression of Indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination to a set of domestic authorities operating within a constitutional framework of the state (as opposed to autonomously) and actively seek to sever Indigenous links to their ancestral homelands”.

The danger, here, is again that we—both Indigenous Peoples and Settlers—can adopt the language/discourse of decolonization in principle (or as metaphor) but misapply it in practice by mimicking the very colonial structures that we seek to challenge and transcend. Alfred and Corntassel remind us that we need to remain focused on where our real power lies, and that is not in the acquisition of governmental power and money, but “in our relationships with our land, relatives, language, and ceremonial life” (605).

If colonialism is all about breaking us from these relationships, then decolonization is not only about creating breaks and ruptures in colonial structures, but about the reasserting the power of restoring indigeneity in its own right—as a radical praxis of presence that both reconnects us to the spirit and ethic of “sacred protection” that our ancestors lived and calls on us to do the same.


The restoration of this strength and responsibility among our people is inseparable from our struggle to confront and overcome colonialism. We have to be strong enough to unsettle and to be unsettled by the reordering of colonial power relations, but we can’t end there. If colonialism is all about land, and if we follow Tuck and Yang’s argument to its conclusion—which I think both Alfred and Corntassel would agree with—“Decolonizing the Americas means all land is repatriated and all settlers become landless” (27).

This is a provocative claim, but one that is often considered unimaginable by settler society. It is unsettling and challenging to realize that the ways in which decolonization is understood and imagined by Indigenous Peoples and settlers are not necessarily (or perhaps even likely to be) commensurable.

If the objective of Indigenous resurgence is to overcome colonialism, that requires transforming not only the political relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples but also, at a deeper level, transforming all of our relationships to the land that sustains us. ‘Settlers becoming landless’, then, does not necessarily mean their expulsion from Indigenous territories but, a return of Indigenous presence to and throughout our homelands—and an unsettled and transformed relationship of settlers to the land which they have claimed and occupied as their new home.

Decolonization is a material, cultural, political, economic, and spiritual reording that, because it “sets out to change the order of the world, is”, as Fanon has suggested, “obviously, a program of complete disorder” (2)

Resurgence, by contrast, is a project of restoring a different order—one rooted in Indigenous languages, cultures, frames of thought, laws, and cultures. It is similarly rooted in both material and spiritual processes and seeks to regenerate our capacity to confront the “complete disorder” of decolonization with sufficient strength and rootedness to transform our people at an individual and collective scale and, in so doing, to build a movement capable of confronting and overcoming the colonial forces that continue to threaten our survival as distinct peoples and nations.

The #NationHood Mixtape

I just dropped a new project: The #NationHood Mixtape on SoundCloud and…really happy with how this one came out.

With a 90s NWA-style cover and a kick-ass lineup of Indigenous and allied hip-hop artists from around the world who got down with contributing music to make it happen, it’s been amazing to compile, it’s re-ignited my love for hip-hop as a global language for liberation, and it’s been amazing to see the response so far. Respect to everyone who’s supported and been involved.

Download listen share and enjoy: 


Also, RPM is back online! Support #Revolution2 and the return of Revolutions Per Minute—the only Indigenous music site of its kind.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s the previous mixtape I compiled for the Indigenous Leadership Forum last spring—the #ILF2013 Mixtape. It’s maxed out on SoundCloud downloads, but you can still stream it below:

Between freedom and oppression: connections across decolonization struggles

This piece was co-written with my sister in the struggle Luam Kidane and originally published at ROAR Magazine: Building connections across decolonization struggles

On October, 4, 2013 Herman Wallace, an Afrikan Freedom Fighter, died in the United States after being held in solitary confinement for 42 years. On October 7, 2013, Indigenous groups joined in an international day of action, to “proclaim the importance of indigenous sovereignty” and to mark the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation: a document claimed to be both a foundational recognition of Indigenous rights in Canada and “a British declaration of ownership.”

Two separate days and two seemingly disconnected struggles. In order for our stories not to die in the silences that separate them, our movements must move toward what Pamela Palmater has called the “fundamental change that is needed to keep the status quo from killing our people.” We must flip the script of our seemingly isolated struggles by connecting the pathways that transcend colonial borders, and by reflecting on the strategies we are employing in our shared struggles for freedom.

The rallying cry of the Idle No More movement first surfaced online in November 2012. Since then little has changed. Bill C-45 — the Orwellian Jobs and Growth Act against which the movement first arose — has become law. The 13-point Declaration of Commitments that ended Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike has yet to be implemented. The Harper government refuses to support a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. On October 7th, UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya was finally allowed to enter Canada to begin his inquiry. Where are we, as the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, since the first wave of actions swept across public consciousness?

Herman Wallace was released three days before his death. After 42 years of imprisonment, Federal Judge Brian A. Jackson ordered his release on a technicality because women were excluded from the jury in his trial. The release said nothing about the contradictions of a legal and penitentiary system built on slavery and genocide, holding captive an Afrikan activist fighting for the freedom of his people. To mitigate the tragedy of Wallace’s passing, many have tried to find comfort in the notion that he might have found peace and freedom in death. But in what state are our struggles if we somehow find reprieve in death?

Beautiful, but the struggle isn’t so lovely

[A]s architects of discourse and as builders of a movement, what do we know about the bottom of the barrel? How is that place of knowledge, clarity, injustice and violence reflected in our work? What everyday choices would we make if we were accountable to that place?

~ Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Colonialism, displacement, and the violence of the state has Afrikan communities under continual siege. The bottom of the barrel for Afrikans is a place of abject poverty, alienation from ancestral histories, and a place where every 28 hours an Afrikan person in the United States is murdered. The everyday survival of Afrikans, in a world that sees us as valuable only in terms of profit margins, is a revolutionary act in and of itself. But we must constitute our revolutionary struggles beyond just survival.

What everyday choices are we making as Afrikan communities? What structures of governance are we creating or replicating? How do these structures affect our fight for self-determination?

You say you wanna see the truth
But it’s so ugly
No way that I can hold you up
If you don’t trust me
But the struggle isn’t so lovely

Ian Kamau

Afrikan communities are in a state of emergency. Our people are being killed in the name of ensuring the growth of capital and, by extension, the systems of white supremacy that embody its cultural hegemony. We are seeing these patterns from Haiti to the Congo. The continual subordination of Afrikans is the basis on which white supremacy flourishes. There is an inherent contradiction in the fact that Afrikans’ continue to seek refuge from this violence by imagining our freedom within the state.

As Sem Mbah and I.E. Igariwey put it in their book, African Anarchism, “electoralism in Africa [and the Diaspora] is merely a diversionary tactic used to mask the transfer of power from one group of exploiters to the other. The fact that countries such as Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Malawi have lately installed multi-party electoralism is evidence that it leads to nothing really new.”

As architects of discourse and builders of movements, it is imperative that we shift our political paradigms and begin to act on alternatives that can provide for the material needs of Afrikan peoples, without further tightening the chains of our oppression. Our self-determination cannot be confined to systems of governance that require us to always be hungry in order to function.

Kai Barrow calls this contradiction “raw opposition” — a space that is created when people fighting to be free must navigate the reproduction of oppressive systems: “this contradiction creates a “raw opposition” that is explosive… As organizers, our challenge is to identify the nature of our raw opposition and build/create within the space between oppression and freedom. We are charged with entering the space of raw opposition with clarity, precision, and analysis, passion, energy, and generosity.”

The choices we make as organizers, if we were responsible to the explosive raw opposition, must incorporate anti-authoritarian alternatives. Our appeals to the state are precisely what allowed our Afrikan Freedom Fighters to sit in solitary confinement for 42 years to find freedom only in death. Our appeals to the state have gone unanswered. We must do things differently. We must, as C.L.R. James put it in his History of Pan-African Revolt, turn away “from protests by asking for reforms, to protests by revolutionary action.”

What happens when the call-to-action becomes the action itself?

The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island must also turn away from the endless cycles of protests and appeals to the state, by seeking new forms of revolutionary action. Before the glazed-eyed apathy of our media-haze became a stupor-induced refrain of endless proclamations, calls-to-action, proposed mobilizations and incessant repetitions of demands, there was movement. Indigenous people have long refused to be idle in the face of ongoing colonial violence. Our resistance remains a precondition of our survival.

And though our organizational networks have expanded through the recent upsurge in Indigenous activism, existing colonial power structures remain intact. Indigenous resurgence continues to be met with equal and opposing force. How are we enacting new forms of struggle in the face of state violence and corporate coercion?

The persistent survival of Indigenous nations has long been perceived by settler society as inherently outmoded, savage and obstructive. Yet the seeds of our strength can be found in the occluded spaces of this narrative of domination. Indigenous peoples’ collective capacity to obstruct, to interrupt and — substantively — to break from the destructive force of the colonial status quo, constitutes much of our “raw opposition” and regenerative political power.

Our strength is constituted in a pre-colonial Indigenous nationhood that remains rooted in our homelands and territories, manifest in our laws, ways of life and traditional systems of governance. Our power predates the state’s official revisionist histories. Indigenous nationhood exceeds the limits of the settler imagination.

The legacy of the Idle No More movement is to have given renewed voice to this disruption. When the movement exploded into public consciousness with the full force of our repressed histories of resistance, our struggles were made visible: colonial Canada was laid bare. And when thousands of our people lined the halls of parliamentary buildings, malls and public spaces, our multiplicity coalesced, powerfully, into the unitary force of a determined presence. We were many as one.

But emergent fault lines became visible in the silences that followed. While some fight for decolonization, others continue to pursue ideals of justice and freedom defined by settler paradigms of state-based rights and recognition.

Our movement has succumbed to new forms of stasis. We have been coerced into accepting the false promises of fulfilled treaty partnerships, revenue sharing agreements, Royal Proclamations, and United Nations declarations. Networks of Established Activism, and an accompanying phalanx of settler sympathizers, have infiltrated our movements at every turn. And this defanged form of contention is now performed through re-purposed protests, marches and re-branded public demonstrations. The “Indigenous rights revolution” has become a mechanical spectacle.

Yet, facing this crisis of credibility, the rhetoric of sovereignty continues to be called upon to designate all forms of Indigenous political action. Sovereignty is proclaimed with every neoliberal utterance of selfhood, public declaration of presence, and aphoristic status update. What happens when the call-to-action becomes the action itself?

Declarations of revolution remain trapped in their own enclosed rhetoric — abstracted from action and severed from the very doing and becoming that are necessary for us to produce alternative “possible futures”. Action becomes the production of affect, divorced from the more urgent project of transforming the material conditions of colonization that have produced our oppression in the first place. And as the recent crisis in Elsipogtog demonstrates, every assertion of Indigenous autonomy that disrupts the flow of capital sparks a new round of state violence and repression.

The louder my voice the deeper they bury me”

Our organizing demands clarity of purpose in our actions in order to mutually reinforce our shared struggles, as peoples and nations, seeking to reorder our world. Actions that do not move us closer toward these objectives have to be jettisoned.

If we can accept that raw opposition exists in the silences between battle cries and spectacularized public sentiments, we can recuperate the power of a potential found in interstitial disruptions of state-made memories. If we accept the current corporate form of Indigenous activism and Afrikan electoralism as the basis from which to articulate our political demands, we will encounter a form of colonial bondage which dictates that the struggle for freedom be waged in terms that are already accepted by state institutions.

What does this freedom look like? As George Manuel reminds us, “They say freedom has no colour. It’s pure white”.

Our survival as Afrikan peoples and the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island will be determined by how well we are able to build movements not for the sake of their own motion, but with the capacity to conceive and enact transformations of our existing political institutions. The textures of this transformation will require us to weave our resistance with fabrics of creativity and accountability.

These dreams of freedom mean that our acts of resistance are inextricably linked as Afrikan peoples and Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. But fundamentally, what this means is that we need to seriously, purposefully and with urgency begin look to each other — not to the state — for our self-determination.

As Kuwasi Balagoon put it, “freedom is a habit” we need to start practicing.

Luam Kidane is a queer Afrikan multi-disciplinary educator, facilitator, and writer who is currently based in the Occupied Territories of Missisauga of New Credit and Haudenausonee (Toronto). Luam’s writing has been published by AK Press, The Feminist Wire, Pambazuka, Reuters, and Racialicious. You can follow her on Twitter @luamkidane.

Jarrett Martineau is Cree/Dene from Frog Lake First Nation. He is a scholar, organizer, artist and media producer currently based in Brooklyn, New York, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. You can follow him on Twitter @culturite.

Hundreds Gather in Victoria to Reclaim PKOLS