Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Indigenous nonviolence and victories

My friend Walter Bresette and I had a decade of dialog about nonviolence and Native resistance. It was collaborative learning and strengthened our mutual respect and friendship via a long, involved vigorous discussion that began as almost complete disagreement.

Walter taught me enormous lessons about indigenous identity, rhetoric, posture, and political affiliations. I also learned what it was like to know and work alongside an actual charismatic. He could begin talking to a group of scattered and unfocused people and in five minutes they would be crowding forward to hear him.

While others in Native communities taught me further lessons about this, Walter was the first; Native identity is not an identity that appears to be calling for revolution, but rather for simple justice for vulnerable and deserving people. The general partisan approach is nearly always counterproductive with Native peoples and this is a great resonance with those of us who are committed far more to nonviolence than to a political party.

These are important overlaps, relationally with Native leaders and with the public. This identification lowers the levels of fear concomitant to raising the levels of sympathy and wish to support or protect (and sometimes the latter segues into the former on a good day). Walter showed me how to get Republican governors to back tribes and I showed him the power of nonviolence. As he began to use them in a complex weave, he began to agree with some of the points I was making, theoretically, even as I was learning all the other coalitional leadership and relational lessons from him.

Native leaders have also taught me the most about spirit and resistance.

I began to request that either Walter or Whitefeather come bless and smudge whenever we did nonviolent resistance, which they each graciously did for the rest of their lives. They showed nonviolent resisters a good road to becoming so centered that nonviolent resistance was like breathing; it became its own reward.

This made each act a victory in the sense that not only had the war system failed to make us apathetic or violent, but we felt so much more as if we were doing what Aldo Leopold advised in his essay, "Thinking like a mountain." Kneeling in the dirt, as John Trudell said, is really placing us in our power. For me personally, nonviolent resistance was never more powerful than when done in that attitude. Miigwetch, Walter and Whitefeather.

Pallares, Amalia. 2002. From peasant struggles to Indian resistance: The Ecuadorian Andes in the late twentieth century. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

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