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(en) US, Modesto, Re-Occupied Territory: Anarchist Thoughts on Indigenous Land

Date Wed, 09 Aug 2006 11:18:40 +0300

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
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