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WATCH: Recognition Politics | A Lecture on Resurgence by Taiaiake Alfred
Video Published December 12, 2015
7:50 “The essence of being part of a resurgence movement comes out of that kind of feeling; it’s rooted, it’s accountable, and it’s transformative. […] Those are the three things that I think define the difference between resurgence and the other alternatives out there for what decolonization and colonization [are]; basically recognition politics, and, hate to say it, reconciliation….”
10:03 “Recognition politics is basically the idea that is driving Aboriginal rights, land claims and so forth. It didn’t start out that way. It started out as a strong nationhood movement to get our land back, to have our nations, our laws recognized, and to have them enlivened again and to have them govern our people and govern the lives of our people.”
“But through process of politics and so forth it’s come to be a process of recognizing Indigenous peoples only to the extent that they conform to the basic ideas of the colonial society. And so what you have is an idea that when you have a land claim, or a self-government claim, or you’re negotiating some kind of agreement, or the Supreme Court is considering our presence here and our rights, it’s more a recognition of the fact that we are now a part of Canada, and a recognition of our fact being here, but not any substantial transformative importance to that decision.
And so Glen Coulthard does a really good job of elaborating the problems with this and also I think builds on the notion of this idea of co-optation. About how Canada has structured the whole relationship, the decolonizing relationship in Canada to make it very enticing for people to want to follow that pathway rather than to stand on the strong principles that our ancestors defended our nations on. And so it’s not only intellectually seductive to think that … to be offered the idea of inclusion, recognition, validation, and so forth, but it’s also financially motivated as well in the sense that there’s a lot of programming dollars and a lot of money behind the whole process structured into the negotiation of these recognitions. That’s one element. I’m not going to focus too much on it. Just in jist that’s what it is.
The reconciliation. I think everybody is becoming very familiar with that. I mean when we talk about reconciliation, it kind of builds on recognition, on that whole structure of recognition and Aboriginal rights and so forth. It’s oriented towards inclusion too but in my reading of reconciliation too, it’s Canada’s effort to assuage the guilt of colonization. It’s Canada’s effort to turn the page on Canadian history. It’s Canada’s effort to make the suffering of residential schools the centrepiece of an effort to make us forget that our existence is rooted on the land, in nations and that we are collectivities and that there is a vast injustice still present.
Whether or not individuals are compensated or healed from the experiences and the horrible experiences they had in residential school, it’s Canada’s attempt to make it about cultural survival and healing, which are two things which no one is going to complain about and say shouldn’t happen, but when you stop there and you don’t talk about the land and you only talk about cultural revitalization and healing, it’s a further injustice. Because the root of all of our problems as Indigenous people, as we’ve experienced them growing up in our communities and even in the urban context, is dispossession.
I remember when I worked, I’ve said this many times in public but I always will every time I talk about this and give credit to Rosalee Tizya, a Yukon elder from Old Crow, who used to tell all of us who worked at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the young people at that time in the nineties, that it’s all about the land. It’s all about the land. So we were talking then about Aboriginal rights, self-government, the origins basically: the nascent idea of reconciliation was hatched in the Royal Commission in all the discussion forums that we had there and recommendations that were put forward. She would always remind us that it’s all about the land. Don’t forget that.
Don’t let them convince you that social justice is a substitute for land justice. Don’t let them convince you that programming dollars and being accepted and being allowed to dress and sing and do your ceremonies and all that is a substitute for your nation’s laws being the laws that govern your territory again. Don’t let that happen.
And not many of us paid attention at that time and I think that now is the time where if we don’t pay attention to that message, everything could be lost for our nations. It’s getting to that crucial point where there’s so little left of our nationhood as it manifests in reality on the ground, on the land, and there’s so much of an overwhelming threat of assimilation through laws and being overwhelmed culturally and all of these things happening to our people and our future generations that if we don’t pay attention to our connection to the land and our rootedness in it intellectually, spiritually and physically, we may not be talking about indigenous nationhood a generation from now. We may not be able to talk about it because it might be a memory for our nations, for our people, for the next generations coming up. So it’s imperative of us younger people, especially younger people, to understand how important and then to begin to live that in a very serious way.”
[Taiaiake Alfred (Gerald R. Alfred), born and raised in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, is a faculty member at the University of Victoria, and is also the Program Director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University. His scholarly work focuses particularly on Native nationalism, Iroquois history, and indigenous traditions of government.]