The Sustainability of Indigenous Resistance
by Eric Ritskes
“We resist not to overthrow a government or to take political power, but because it is natural to resist extermination, to survive. We don’t want power over white institutions; we want white institutions to disappear. That’s revolution.
– Russel Means -
A common dialogue has been running in opposition to the current #IdleNoMore protests and actions. A friend of mine recently said,
The Idle No More movement will go the way of the Occupy movement…it is not sustainable and most of the demands will never be met.
She went on to give reasons why: how Canadians were unwilling to part with their hard earned money and politicians aren’t looking out for what’s right but for their own political interest.
These are not uncommon thoughts: there seems to be an undercurrent that sees the hashtags, the flash mobs, and the blockades as unsustainable and unproductive in the long term. Undoubtedly, the Canadian government is betting on the same thing – that Idle No More will fizzle out and things will return to ‘business as usual’.
My friend, in her misplaced comparison of Idle No More and Occupy, highlights both the reason why people believe Idle No More is unsustainable, as well as the reason why Indigenous resistance is sustainable: history.
Many have mistakenly placed Idle No More in a historical trajectory of protest movements, the most recent example of which was Occupy. This is a historical lineage of mostly White protest, a lineage of ‘popular’ movements that failed to recognize the very foundations and conditions that there continued protest was enabled by: settler colonialism. These movements, despite their insistence on social justice, were undercut by their failure to recognize the injustice embedded in the land they protested on.
Why Indigenous resistance is sustainable is because it actually stems from a long history of Indigenous existence and resistance to colonialism, some of which Dene scholar Glen Coulthard laid out in his article. As many have noted, Indigenous people have never sat idly by in the face of colonialism, they have survived and persisted in the face of a persistent colonialism that sought to erase their presence in any way possible. Idle No More is not a self-contained unit of analysis but the newest phase of a long standing resistance to settler colonialism.
Imagine a graph. Perhaps Idle No More is a peak, or maybe it’s only on an upward trajectory. As with all long term movements, there will be ebbs and flows, seasons to speak loudly and seasons to quietly strategize – but the movement never stops. It never dies.
Why will resistance to colonialism never end? Because the very presence of Indigeneity is threatening to the colonial state, which makes existence an act of resistance. This is why thinking and acting as an Indigenous person is a subversive act – “everything you do is political“.
The very existence, voice, and thoughts of the people are what drive this resistance. It is not politicians who drive this resistance – so it cannot be stopped by their weakness in times of crisis. It is not dependant on Canadians’ good will – because Indigenous existence is not legislated nor ‘given’ by Canada but inherent in the sovereignty of each Indigenous nation.
This isn’t to say that there must be steps taken to build up capacity, to ensure that resistance is building (on) capacity and going further, the goals have not yet been fulfilled. Education is vital in capacity building, as is Indigenous languages. Sovereignty and resurgence movements depend on a increased reliance on culture and the land. Recognizing the long and sustained history of Indigenous resistance in Canada doesn’t demand rose-colored glasses, it’s simply a statement of reality.
Idle No More is part of a resistance that has sustained itself for hundreds of years. There may be uncertainty in what the next move is, a certain ‘unknown‘ in the method, but you can be certain that there will be a next move.
Eric Ritskes is a PhD student in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and a Managing Editor of the Open Access, online journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. You can follow him on Twitter @eritskes.