In the beginning of their article, Alfred and Corntassel describe indigenousness as “an identity constructed, shaped and lived in the politicized context of contemporary colonialism.” The authors go on to describe indigenousness as an “oppositional, place-based existence.” Acknowledging this is an important step for future steps to be taken. The readings thus far have given us a glimpse into the questions and the answers which indigenous peoples should be asking themselves and each other. Alfred and Corntassel provide building blocks to the questions by writing that indigenous existence “is in large part lived as determined acts of survival against colonizing states’ efforts to eradicate them culturally, politically, and physically.” From this analysis, one of the main questions that we should be asking is “How can we transcend an oppositional-based existence to one where our people are truly free?” It is at this critical juncture that we can begin to examine the readings for possible answers lying in “decolonization, alienation, and resurgence.”
To answer this question, one must first attempt to understand the main obstacles that will impede these processes and their origins. Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks,” can help illuminate an assortment of issues that indigenous peoples believe are “normal, everyday circumstances.” One of Fanon’s most important interventions is that his work helps to destabilize the normalization of colonial psychologies and the demonstration of the alienation process. To use a graphic metaphor, indigenous peoples have become immune to living in the shit of the colonial elephant, and Fanon shows us the clean, shit-free, elephant-free living rooms which we could inhabit one day. To borrow from Freire, Fanon’s psychological analysis of the inferiority complexes created by colonialism helps us to see that “reality is not static, but rather a process of transformation.” Things do not have to be this way now that we know the origins of our pain; we can transform and have a conscientious voice in the decision.
When indigenous peoples wonder why their tribal or government leader is agreeing to the selling of ancestral land to its destruction or not fighting for the resolvement of political status questions, Fanon enters the picture. In discussing schooling in the Antilles, he writes, “In the Antilles, the black schoolboy who is constantly asked to recite “our ancestors the Gauls” identifies with the explorer, the civilizing colonizer, the white man who brings truth to the savages, a lily-white truth.” At this notion, Fanon begs the question, “is it really any surprise that the black man hates the black man?” For many indigenous societies, we have all been subjugated to colonial education systems where we learned the historical figures of the colonizer before our own. We have all been taught that our histories are lesser than theirs.
Simply put, we were conditioned to achieve “equality” with the colonizer, even though that was never part of the colonizing agenda. This serves as the alienating process. When we finally come to the realization that we may never be “equal” we feel alienated and a complex of psychological problems stem from this realization. To borrow from western mythology, many indigenous peoples embody Icarus with the metropole and its customs beyond the sun. We strive to fly and reach the metropole only to get close to the sun and perish. To take this metaphor further, it becomes relevant to question two particular points. First, how do we stop the burn and damage the sun has caused to our wings? Secondly, should we even aim to fly to the sun or should we set our sights on i pilan (the moon) instead?
For attempting to engage in the first inquiry, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples” comes into play. In her book, Tuhiwai Smith inspires revolutionary thinking that will help supplement the decolonization and self-determination agenda. A part of this process is her critique of using the “master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.” For example, she argues if “history” is important for indigenous peoples? Most people would swiftly respond with a resounding “Yes, it is absolutely important.” Tuhiwai Smith, engaging in poststructuralist critiques of history, then argues that it is not important for indigenous peoples if it is being utilized in the notion of history most commonly understood and perpetuated by the western institutions. The version of “history” that privileges the stories of the colonizer and assumes that “their” history is “our” history is definitely not useful for us. However, coming to know the past, not necessarily “history” is important for us so we can form the basis of alternative ways and knowledge.
She then argues for praxis, which she defines as the collective process of “theory, action, and reflection”, rather than simply concentrating on the intellectual theorizing. In the earlier sections of her book, she argues that simply deconstructing western scholarship is not enough for any sort of transformative action because “taking apart the story, revealing underlying texts, and giving voice to things that are often known intuitively does not help people to improve their current conditions…it does not prevent someone from dying.” Her argument, while appearing brash, contains useful advice for indigenous peoples. There needs to be a relationship between acting and thinking because only together can effective change be implemented. Uninformed action or unimplemented thought only serves as further obstacles to indigenous peoples. To continue with the metaphor, in order to help ease the burn of flying too close to the sun, Smith helps to show that we need to create and navigate a different path.
A synthesis of dealienation, decolonization, and resurgence can serve as the path towards flying to the moon instead. Here, we return to Alfred’s and Corntassel’s article to engage with the concept of resurgence and peoplehood. Throughout their article, they argue that indigenous identity has been co-opted and repurposed throughout the years to serve the colonial benefit. The colonial machine is a shape-shifter that changes as time and contexts shift. Thus, while the colonial preoccupation of the past has been to eliminate native bodies through genocide and removal from land, it has changed to one of eliminating native peoples. By this, it attempts to erase the status of indigenous peoples and replace it with ethnic group or minority effectively nullifying their status as the first peoples of their land. Alfred and Corntassel identify this as a “We are You” strategy. Duane Champagne in his article, “Rethinking Native Relations with Contemporary Nation-States” adds to this by writing, “The treating of indigenous peoples as ethnic or racial groups ready for nation-state assimilation and integration has resulted in considerable abuse and much resistance from native peoples.” He argues that the current model of the nation-state homogenizes and forcefully deals with those who resist these homogenizing processes.
If not necessarily erasing the status of indigenous peoples, the colonial machine wants indigenous peoples to follow its rules. Alfred and Corntassel write “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 the constitutional framework of the state.” Examples of this from Guåhan include following state-defined routes to deciding which political status is best for the island. We have been putting all our eggs in baskets meant to be stolen.
Resurgence attempts to place the indigenous community and their ways of life to the center. Rather than concentrate on the narrative of our oppression, what other paths are we taking to heal our communities and regenerate ourselves? They discuss peoplehood as a methodology towards resurgence. Peoplehood describes the interlocking relationships of land, language, sacred histories, and ceremonial cycles. By concentrating on resurging these 4 important concepts, we can achieve a level of empowerment that cannot be offered through ONLY living in oppositional existences. Through land, we trace our genealogy and take care of the soil of the memories of our ancestors. Through language, we peek into the window of the worldview of the ancestors. Through history, we come to know the past and ultimately to know ourselves, and through ceremony, we maintain the relationships that are important to our way of life. Resurgence involves regenerating these aspects, nurturing our relationships and acknowledging our inter-dependency, and ultimately seeking change on an individual level, with hopes for it to spread to a community level.
What is the difference between decolonization and resurgence? Alfred and Corntassel argue that decolonization is an outward focused process. Decolonization tends to focus on its namesake: eliminating or removing colonization. Thus, it is a process of resistance and opposition to something. I argue that decolonization and resurgence must go hand in hand since they are rather necessary to a proper liberatory strategy of indigenous peoples. We cannot ignore decolonization entirely for resurgence because the state is always making moves to oppress us within its system, and we need to have a presence to resist it. At the same time, we cannot ignore resurgence because if we do nothing to nourish our cultural roots, are we simply replacing white bodies for brown bodies but keeping the same white institutions? The two processes are intertwined with one another. Decolonization helps us to veer away from the sun, and resurgence is our navigator on our way to the moon.