For hundreds of years, the Mohawk have defied the governments superimposed over their own. Since the 1600s, they resisted successive French, Dutch, British, American, and Canadian invasions, often successfully. And when the wars ended, they kept fighting. In the early 1900s, a Mohawk ironworker crossed the US–Canada border with his family to live and work in Philadelphia. When the Americans prosecuted him as an “illegal alien,” he insisted that free passage was his birthright as a Haudenosaunee party to the Jay Treaty of 1794. He won the case. Under the authority of that same treaty, my father emigrated to New York, where he met my mother. Without the Haudenosaunee, I probably would not exist. Today, the confederacy issues its own passports. And, most importantly, it insists that it has never ceded sovereignty to Canada, the United States, or any other nation or empire. It remains a distinct and prior government—and an alternative.
Amid intersecting ecological, economic, political, and cultural catastrophes, Indigenous alternatives look increasingly appealing. Against the ecological crisis, the Indigenous suggest we understand land, water, and all living things not as resources, but as relatives. As the gap between rich and poor widens, Indigenous economies foster subsistence, generosity, and redistribution against greed and exploitation. While the hollow promise of party politics turns away millions, far older participatory and consensus-driven systems developed by Indigenous nations feel more personal and fair. And as society splits along racial, religious, gender, class, and cultural lines, many Indigenous communities look comparatively tolerant and inviting. This is especially true for a diverse emergent majority who understand that so-called democracy was not built for them in the first place.
Where invaders once burned the longhouse to make way for the marble edifice of white hegemony, it is now possible to imagine the opposite: the return of the Indigenous. Three years ago, more than one million people used Facebook to check in to Standing Rock in solidarity with the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline—lending digital support to the rekindled council fires of the Oceti Sakowin. Thousands of British Columbians have turned to First Nations like the Tsleil-Waututh to stop the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which became a flashpoint issue for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party ahead of the October election. Through a sustained campaign, Native Hawaiians have recast Mauna Kea as not just a mountain but an ancestor—rebuffing plans to build a massive telescope on this sacred site. [Continue reading…]