decolonization / lepblo

Indigenous Governance

Here is a blog post that I did for an amazing book named Peace, Power, Righteousness by Taiaiake Alred. It is an indigenous manifesto that argues that indigenous peoples need to once again embrace our indigenous ways of governing ourselves. I hope that some of the opinions I express in this blog post resonate with you!

The strength of Taiaiake Alfred’s Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto lies in its ability to effectively argue that indigenous peoples across the world need to once again place government and governance in their list of priorities. Spending time with my Chamoru community, I have seen how this deep-seated cynicism of the government is very potent in the current political landscape. I have been to many barbeques where the conversation turns into: “I have given up on the local government” or “I really do not care who wins this election because they are all the same.” As one of my mentors back home in Guam said: “But so many of the things that people say they lament, they don’t actually care about. Look at the way people complain about the government and how it is so corrupt, in order to feel that they are getting involved with the governing of the island when in fact they are not doing anything to contribute to the governing of the island.”

While I completely understand a lot of the cynicism, hopelessness and isolation are not the proper avenues for expressing this cynicism. Instead of simply giving up and deciding to separate ourselves from anything dealing with the government, we should seek to see how we can make the government work for us. Taiaiake Alfred suggests that “recovery” must include government, culture and land. We might see these as points of a triangle. As indigenous peoples, we cannot truly recover if we ignore one of the three points because if one point is not respected, the triangle will never truly stand. I would further add language as a fourth point, creating a square upon which we can stand.

Alfred rightfully cautions us about the limitations and boundaries of traditional cultural revival, when what can be revived and practiced in colonized, indigenous societies is still dictated by the colonizer. For instance, dances and chants may be easily funded by the settler-state government producing a false image that this ti magåhet (non-authentic) government supports the indigenous people. (To clarify, I am not saying that ti magåhet governments are comprised only of settlers; I am rather referring to the form of government as settling on our indigenous forms.) We, indigenous peoples, need to see through this smokescreen of false support and realize that the ti magåhet government will only support indigenous revival as long as it does not threaten the power/domination status quo. Giving money to host a concert of traditional dances does not directly affect the status quo, and may actually help with the tourist appeal of that particular place and settler-government.

I want to further address this specific point about Chamoru cultural revival and the catholic church. (I purposely do not capitalize the catholic church because they will be treated like a “proper” noun when they start acting proper). Back home in Guam, we have seen the revival and re-creation of our dances, jewelry, cooking methods, etc., and the church seems to be supporting these things. Many times the church will have a mass in the Chamoru language or be a co-sponsor for Chamoru activities, giving it the appearance of an amicable, indigenous-friendly institution. However, I bet that talks of reviving Chamoru traditions of taking the skulls of our ancestors into our homes and worshipping them or of re-establishing our guma’ ulitao (bachelor house) where boys learned adult skills including sexual acts would be absolutely opposed by the church. Reviving these particular aspects of our culture would threaten their hold over the people of the island. At this point, the smokescreen of support would come down, and we would see how these colonial institutions do not actually support indigenous values! This point serves to illustrate Alfred’s point that the limits of our cultural revitalization seem to still be in the hands of the colonizer.

Thus, we cannot sit there and concentrate on nurturing only one point of the triangle (or square) of indigenous recovery, because we can see how it creates a false belief that recovery will occur without anything additional being done. In order to experience a complete revamping of our current situations, we need to take the cynicism of government that dwells within us and realize that the form of government we despise so much is NOT OURS! This government model is a foreign one that is inconsistent with indigenous values, and thus we should yearn for something new. This is a call to action. Our cynicism should be an opportunity to imagine better systems and to realize that we had a form of government drastically different from what we have today. Governance is not something that should be ignored because we will just concentrate on “the culture”! The Chamoru people have existed since we walked out of the rock that our mother creator, Fu’una, became to give life to us, so we have ways of knowing that drastically differ from most imported, colonial governance values. As Taiaiake Alfred writes: “Just as we must respect and honour our songs, ceremonies, and dances, so, too, we must honour the institutions that in the past governed social and political relations among our people, because they are equally part of the sacred core of our nations.”

Governance has not always been a bad thing, and we need to be able to realize that. It is about time we as indigenous peoples give governance a new face that does not make our communities cringe with a bad taste in their mouths.


One thought on “Indigenous Governance

  1. Indigenous communities across Mexico threatened by the extraction industries & complicit “public officials” rise up. In the midst of official terrorism indigenous communities blossom. Still standing! They are the model for non-indigenous communities in Guerrero (last link is most recent entry).

    My heart is filled reading the work coming out of this blog.
    Saina Ma’ase for your work and your words…

    Autonomous Paths Converge in Cherán
    Published on June 3, 2012 in Cherán, Michoacán

    “I’ll just explain what they were doing there. Every Friday it’s customary for all the women to sweep the streets of the town really early in the morning, around 6 o’clock. So that day, the group of women sweeping in the area of El Calvario church were the ones who started the whole thing. There must have been about twenty of them. It was always a sad sight to see those trucks coming down the mountain loaded with wood, and that day several of them came down at the same time right around 6 o’clock in the morning. Those women just started throwing stones and fireworks at them. Nobody said, ‘Today’s the day’, or ‘We’ll begin at such and such an hour’. Things just kicked off. It was spontaneous”.

    Self-Determination and Self-Defense in Cherán, Michoacán
    Published on January 4, 2013 in Michoacán

    “Guarda Bosques” (Forest Keepers) – Complete Documentary – Manovuelta 2013
    Published on May 27, 2013 in Cherán

    Indigenous Self Determination Threatened in Michoacán
    Published on August 19, 2013 in Michoacán

    Community Ronda from Cherán, Michoacán Prevents Narco-Corrido Concert by “El Komander”
    Published on December 16, 2013 in Cherán, Michoacán

    Cherán K’eri: Political parties are dead to us in this town
    Published on February 9, 2015 in Cherán, Michoacán

    Liked by 1 person

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