August 09, 2006

Re-occupied Territory: Anarchist Thoughts on Indigenous Land

by crudo of D.A.A.A. Collective
Earlier in the year, organizers with Direct Action Anti-Authoritarians (DAAA) Collective, were invited to speak on a panel with other community based activists on the “Journey for Justice” tour. The journey was aimed at bringing attention to issues of health care, housing, homelessness, immigration, and other issues that were facing working people in the valley. One DAAA Collective member spoke on the panel, to the subject of “autonomous community and class struggle” in the area, and brought up examples of various community, labor, and social movements that were using direct action, and autonomous organizing tactics. Collective members also met organizers with AIM, (American Indian Movement), who also represented various Indian tribes and communities. These native people had joined the tour early on, and during their stop in Modesto, performed several songs, and also spoke to the group. Conversations were struck up, connections were made, and by the end of the night we were making plans to meet up with each other at a latter date.

These plans, luckily, did not fall through. Several months later, two organizers with the collective went up to meet with several elders, and sat on a “staff”, (a native term that can be used in place of how anarchists use “collective”). At the small gathering of elders, connections between anarchism and indigenism were discussed, and when explained what kind of society is proposed in anarchism, or a cooperative, self-determined, non-hierarchal society, the elders reply was, “that’s indigenism”! Several things were learned by those who attended the first initial meeting. The indigenous folks placed a large importance on what an individual feels, as opposed to what the person thinks about something. If a question is asked of you, you are supposed to respond to how you feel about what is being asked, not give a long, well thought out response about how you think. Intellectualism is looked down upon in this way, although many of the elders oddly enough carry PhD’s, and have undergone higher education, if not also military service. Children were given more autonomy than in ‘settler’ culture, and women were placed within a leading role within the community, being that many of the communities consider themselves a matriarchal society.

After this small gathering, we then were invited to a larger native gathering happening in the mountains just east of the central valley, on the second largest Indian reservation in California. We were to understand that to be invited to the event was a great honor, and our contact who was taking us had to get clearance with the elders before our arrival. When we arrived at our friend's home, (who we'll call Don), the night before heading up to the reservation, we were to undergo a crash course in indigenous culture training. This was to keep us from making any crucial mistakes while on native land. There were 12 of us coming with the collective, (although two of them were children of a collective member, and were aged 5, and 7), who’s ages ranged in age from 15-35. The group was mostly male with a few women, and included whites, Pacific Islanders, Chicanos, and one African American.

Upon arriving at our Don’s house, he right off the bat called us into his home, and sat us down, and began talking on a variety of issues. Touching on issues of colonialism and capitalism, and the continuing oppression of native people on reservations, into various cultural customs we were expected to observe while there. We were to stick to the trails that were laid out for us, and if we wanted to go walking around, we had to ask elders if that was okay, (sacred Indian burial grounds could be anywhere, and we didn’t want to risk desecrating a certain spot). We also had to be careful what area of the natural world we were using to camp on, being that certain forest areas might need time to heal, while others might be prime areas for camping. We were expected to not bring any alcohol or drugs into the reservation, and we also were not permitted to try and “hook up” with anyone while we were there. This was a respect issue, we were guests on native land, and we were expected to abide by there customs and ways of operation. The beginning talk was also designed as a test, for Don to feel us out, and see what kind of people we were.

After having faced “Indian torture”, as Don called it, meaning staying up till 3 AM in the morning being talked to, and being asked questions, we finally passed out. In the morning, we participated in playing/singing several traditional Native songs. Then, it was off to the Indian reservation, which was about 3 hours away. With a caravan four cars strong, we headed off to the destination. Indian land is basically a state within a state, with only federal officers being allowed onto the reservation, although there are reservation police, courts, tribal governments, etc. The area itself was physically breath taking, with waterfalls, forests, rocks, and valleys.

Upon getting to the reservation, the area itself looked like a large campground, with various structures built for large gatherings. There was a small stream with lots of rocks ran through the area next to our campsite, and to the north of us was the women’s camp, and to the east the elder’s camp. In the coming days, the collective participated in talking circles, in helping elders with chores, talking with people, and also participating in ceremonial activities. At night the camp came alive with ceremonial dances and songs. Time had little meaning up on the reservation, events happened when they happened, (although a schedule was made up), but generally people simply grabbed the mike, and announced what was going down, and then people went off to do the activities. When help was needed, it was asked for, and mutual aid was given. Elders and leaders walked around with everyone else, and sat with relatives and watched grandchildren.

There were several tensions. While the talking circles that we participated in were amazing, largely happening without formal leaders, and involving the passing of ceremonial sage around until everyone was finished talking, often when Don, our contact was talking to us, we were not allowed to talk back in a give in take conversation. This was because it was improper for us to interrupt Don while he was talking to us, (interrupt perhaps is the wrong term, but generally we couldn’t get a word in!) This was quite different from anarchist circles, where constant back and forth talking goes on. Another major tension was the fact that the event was largely based around the concept of sobriety on Indian reservations, and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous had a large presence. This is not surprising being that alcoholism and drug abuse are large issues facing native communities within the United States. One person within the collective had been through the AA program, and had largely a bad experience with the program, and disliked it’s foundation on Christianity. While this was an issue, we were able to talk with some people about alternatives to AA, and future contacts were made for showcasing those alternatives to indigenous communities.

By the end of the event, everyone in the group got a variety of lessons out of the whole experience. Many of us live in an urban environment, and the experience as a whole was very empowering and uplifting. Also, although we all identify as anarchists, anti-authoritarians, revolutionary anti-statists, etc, many of us are interested in our cultural heritage, be it African, Hawaiian, Celtic, Chicano, etc, and the experience within an indigenous culture made us think of our own. Experiences within the sweat lodges, and other ceremonial events also were deeply moving for many people. The collective also had a chance to hand out literature, and talk with various people about our experiences as organizers with an anarchist collective in Modesto. We look forward to a future collaboration with the indigenous communities we have met, either through cultural activities, or organizing work.

To re-cap, here are some things that we have taken away with us from the experience:

1.) Talking Circles: Talking circles are circles in which a large, (or small), group sits down and talks about their feelings on a certain issue, or just talks about whatever they wish to converse about. There is no leader, and no one talks until it is there turn. People wait their turn to speak in the circle, and people can talk as long as they want. While this process maybe cannot be used in anti-authoritarian circles as ways of deciding things during meetings, (should we do this, should a collective do this project, etc), we have used this method after the gathering as a re-cap for the group, and found that it has worked well. It takes discipline and seriousness however to not interrupt others, and fight the urge to correct and make points while other people are talking, (especially for men while women are talking).

2.) Respect for elders and children: In native culture, children are given much more freedom than non-native children have in settler culture. Children are allowed to make their own mistakes, and grow into their capacities on their own, (this of course is not to say that parents do not have a hand in raising them). However, children are seen more as autonomous individuals in their own right, as opposed to someone on the far end of the family totem pole. In our current society of modern cities, chemicals, and violence, letting children run free to make their own mistakes sometimes seems like a non-option, however the anti-authoritarian view that native people take towards child rearing is something that we should look closely at. Elders are also treated with a deep respect within their communities, not so much as “leaders”, but as people that have a role of teacher within a given social context. I think often we have lost this within our current circles.

3.) Sense of spirituality, and deep ecology: While probably hardly anyone, (besides us), would have considered themselves a ‘radical environmentalists’, or ‘deep ecologist’, at the gathering, the native worldview is very much grounded in deep ecology. A respect and understanding that earth based living is desirable and sustainable is central to their world view. A spiritual connection to the natural world is also important to them; be it with animals, the earth, or even plant life.

4.) Feelings, not Ideology and Intellectualism: Many of us in the anti-authoritarian movement are critical of rigid, almost cult like ideology, and also the upper crust leaning of some intellectuals. Armchair revolutionaries and coffee shop Marxist-Leninists often serve as our vision of “intellectuals”, although we also value deep analysis, understanding, and critical thought on revolutionary theory, practice, and history. However, the native view is based on feelings, and how they relate to people, groups, and on certain actions. They are interested in what a person feels because they see that as more important than what the person thinks, (perhaps because feelings give more insight into a person’s inner persona than well thought out arguments). There is a tension between the two positions. On one hand, we want to have well thought out arguments and beliefs that are based on critical and deep understanding and thought, yet on the other hand, we want to be in touch with our feelings, and how the two interact and reinforce each other.

Direct Action Anti-Authoritarians (DAAA) Collective
1 (866) 457-4230


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