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Being Indigenous : Resurgences Against
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Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel
The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
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Table of Contents
The Movements of Movements
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition, 2016
Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Proem :
Shailja Patel What Moves Us
Introduction :
Jai Sen The Movements of Movements : An
Introduction and an Exploration
1.1 David McNally From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets
of Seattle : This is What Democracy Looks Like
1.2 Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mielants Antisystemic Movements
and Transformations of the World-System, 19681989
1.3 André C Drainville Beyond
: Anti-Capitalist
Dialectic of Presence
1.4 Tariq Ali Storming Heaven : Where Has The Rage Gone ?
1.5 Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel - Being Indigenous :
Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism
1.6 Andrea SmithIndigenous Feminism and the Heteropatriachal
1.7 Xochitl Leyva Solano Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Neo-
Zapatista Social Movement Networks
The Movements of Movements :
Struggles for Other Worlds
2.1 Anand Teltumbde Anti-Imperialism, Dalits, and the
Annihilation of Caste
2.2 Jeff Corntassel Rethinking Self-Determination : Lessons from
the Indigenous-Rights Discourse
2.3 Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson - The Tapestry
of Neo-Zapatismo : Origins and Development
2.4 Roma and Ashok Choudhary - Ecological Justice and Forest
Right Movements in India : State and Militancy - New
2.5 Emilie Hayes Open Space in Movement : Reading Three
Waves of Feminism
2.6 Virginia Vargas International Feminisms : New Syntheses,
New Directions
2.7 Lee Cormie Re-Creating the World : Communities of Faith in
the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds
2.8 François Houtart Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : Islamic Witness
in the Contemporary World
2.9 James Toth Local Islam Gone Global : The Roots of Religious
Militancy in Egypt and its Transnational Transformation
2.10 Roel Meijer Fighting for Another World : Yusuf Al-‘Uyairi’s
Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution
2.11 Peter Waterman The Networked Internationalism of Labour’s
2.12 Cho Hee-YeonFrom Anti-Imperialist to Anti-Empire : The
Crystallisation of the Anti-Globalisation Movement in South
2.13 Emir Sader The Weakest Link ? Neoliberalism in Latin America
2.14 Daniel Bensaïd The Return of Strategy
2.15 Peter North and David Featherstone Localisation as Radical
Praxis and the New Politics of Climate Change
2.16 Guillermo Delgado-P Refounding Bolivia : Exploring the
Possibility and Paradox of a Social Movements State
2.17 Alex Khasnabish - Forward Dreaming : Zapatismo and the
Radical Imagination
Laurence Cox ‘Learning to be Loyal to Each Other’ :
Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of
Compiled, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
Proem :
Shailja Patel Offerings
Introduction :
Jai Sen On Rethinking Our Dance : Some
Thoughts, Some Moves
Interrogating Movement, Problematising
3.1 Rodrigo Nunes Nothing Is What Democracy Looks Like :
Openness, Horizontality, and The Movement of Movements
3.2 The Free Association Worlds in Motion : Movements,
Problematics, and the Creation of New Worlds
3.3 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 1)
3.4 Anila Daulatzai - Believing in Exclusion : The Problem of
Secularism in Progressive Politics
3.5 Josephine Ho Is Global Governance Bad for East Asian Queers
3.6 Jeffrey S Juris and Geoffrey Pleyers Incorporating Youth or
Transforming Politics ? Alter-Activism as an Emerging Mode of
Praxis among Young Global Justice Activists
3.7 Tomás Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates The Anti-Globalisation
Movement : Coalition and Division
3.8 Stephanie Ross The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in
the Global Justice Movement
3.9 Michael Löwy Negativity and Utopia in the Alterglobalisation
3.10 Rodrigo Nunes The Global Moment : Seattle, Ten Years On
3.11 Ezequiel Adamovsky Autonomous Politics and its Problems :
Thinking the Passage from Social to Political
3.12 John Brown Childs Boundary as Bridge
3.13 Chris Carlsson Effective Politics or Feeling Effective ?
3.14 Massimo De Angelis PR like PRocess ! Strategy from the
Bottom Up
3.15 Matt Meyer and Oussenia Alidou The Power of Words :
Reclaiming and Re-Imagining ‘Revolution’ and ‘Nonviolence’
3.16 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 2)
Reflections on Possible Futures
4.1 Michal Osterweil “Becoming-Woman ?” : Between Theory,
Practice, and Potentiality
4.2 John Holloway The Asymmetry of Revolution
4.3 David Graeber The Shock of Victory
4.4 Kolya Abramsky Gathering Our Dignified Rage : Building New
Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood, and
4.5 Muto Ichiyo Towards the Autonomy of the People of the
World : Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate
People’s Alliance Processes
4.6 Samir Amin Towards a Fifth International ?
4.7 Rodrigo Nunes The Lessons of 2011 : Three Theses on
4.8 François Houtart – ‘We Still Exist’
Lee Cormie - Another World Is Inevitable… But Which Other
World ?
Complied, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition
made freely available for Discussion and Debate on a Not-for-Re-Publication / Distribution basis !
Being Indigenous : Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism
Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel
On Indigenousness
Indigenousness is an identity constructed, shaped, and lived in the politicised context of
contemporary colonialism. The communities, clans, nations, and tribes we call
Indigenous peoples
just that : Indigenous to the lands they inhabit, in contrast to and in contention with the colonial
societies and states that have spread out from Europe and other centres of empire. It is this
oppositional, place-based existence, along with the consciousness of being in struggle against the
dispossessing and demeaning fact of colonisation by foreign peoples, that fundamentally
distinguishes Indigenous peoples from other peoples of the world.
There are, of course, vast differences among the world’s Indigenous peoples in their
cultures, political-economic situations, and their relationships with colonising Settler societies. But
the struggle to survive as distinct peoples on foundations constituted in their unique heritages,
attachments to their homelands, and natural ways of life is what is shared by all Indigenous peoples,
as well as the fact that their existence is in large part lived out as determined acts of survival against
colonising states’ efforts to eradicate them culturally, politically, and physically. The challenge of
‘being Indigenous’, in a psychic and cultural sense, forms the crucial question facing Indigenous
peoples today in the era of contemporary colonialism a form of post-modern imperialism in which
domination is still the Settler imperative but where colonisers have designed and practise more
subtle means (in contrast to the earlier forms of missionary and militaristic colonial enterprises) of
accomplishing their objectives.
Contemporary Settlers follow the mandate provided for them by their imperial forefathers’
colonial legacy, not by attempting to eradicate the physical signs of Indigenous peoples as human
but by trying to eradicate their existence as
through the erasure of the histories and
geographies that provide the foundation for Indigenous cultural identities and sense of self. The
geographer, Bernard Nietschmann, has demonstrated the need for critical translations of the artificial,
state-created identities (such as ‘ethnic group’) that are imposed on original peoples in this
colonising process of redefinition from autonomous to derivative existence and cultural and political
identities. State-imposed conceptions of supposedly Indigenous identity are seen by Indigenous
peoples, from perspectives rooted in their own cultures and languages, not as moves towards ‘justice’
and ‘positive integration’ (as the strategy is framed in colonial discourses) but as indicators of an on-
going colonial assault on their existence, and signs of the fact that they remain, as in earlier colonial
eras, occupied peoples who have been dispossessed and disempowered in their own homelands.
For example, in Canada today, many Indigenous people have embraced the Canadian
government’s label of ‘aboriginal’, along with the concomitant and limited notion of postcolonial
justice framed within the institutional construct of the state. In fact, this identity is purely a state
construction that is instrumental to the state’s attempt to gradually subsume Indigenous existences
into its own constitutional system and body politic since Canadian independence from Great Britain
a process that started in the mid-twentieth century and culminated with the emergence of a
Canadian constitution in 1982. Far from reflecting any true history or honest reconciliation with the
past or present agreements and treaties that form an authentic basis for Indigenous-state relations
in the Canadian context, ‘aboriginalism’ is a legal, political, and cultural discourse designed to serve an
agenda of silent surrender to an inherently unjust relation at the root of the colonial state itself.
The acceptance of being ‘aboriginal’ (or its equivalent term in other countries, such as
‘ethnic groups’) is a powerful assault on Indigenous identities. It must be understood that this
assault takes place in a politico-economic context of historic and ongoing dispossession and of
contemporary deprivation and poverty; this is a context in which Indigenous peoples are forced by the
compelling needs of physical survival to cooperate individually and collectively with the state
authorities to ensure their physical survival. Consequently, there are many ‘aboriginals’ (in Canada)
or ‘Native Americans’ (in the United States) who identify themselves solely by their political-legal
relationship to the state rather than by any cultural or social ties to their Indigenous community or
culture or homeland. This continuing colonial process pulls Indigenous peoples away from cultural
practices and community aspects of ‘being Indigenous’ towards a political-legal construction as
‘aboriginal’ or ‘Native American’, both of which are representative of what we refer to as being
‘incidentally Indigenous’.
There are approximately 350 million Indigenous peoples situated in some 70 countries around
the world.
All of these people confront the daily realities of having their lands, cultures, and
governmental authorities simultaneously attacked, denied, and reconstructed by colonial societies and
states. This has been the case for generations. But there are new faces of empire that are attempting
to strip Indigenous peoples of their very spirit as nations and of all that is held sacred, threatening
their sources of connection to their distinct existences and the sources of their spiritual power :
Relationships to each other, communities, homelands, ceremonial life, languages, historiesThese
connections are crucial to living a meaningful life for any human being.
In this essay, we discuss strategies for resisting further encroachment on Indigenous existence
by Settler societies and states as well as by multinational corporations and other elite organisations
controlled by state powers and elements of the imperial institutional network and we focus on how
Indigenous communities can regenerate themselves to resist the effects of the contemporary colonial
assault and renew politically and culturally. We ask the fundamental question : How can we resist
further dispossession and disconnection when the effects of colonial assaults on our own existence
are so pronounced and still so present in the lives of all Indigenous peoples ?
Colonial legacies and contemporary practices of disconnection, dependency, and
dispossession have effectively confined Indigenous identities to state-sanctioned legal and political
definitional approaches. This political-legal compartmentalisation of community values often leads
Indigenous nations to mimic the practices of dominant non-Indigenous legal-political institutions and
adhere to state-sanctioned definitions of Indigenous identity. Such compartmentalisation results in a
“politics of distraction”
that diverts energies away from decolonising and regenerating communities,
and frames community relationships in state-centric terms, such as the aforementioned ‘aboriginality’.
Given that Indigenous identities are (re)constructed at multiple levels global, state,
community, individual it is important to recognise these multiple sites of resistance to encroachment
by states and other Settler colonial entities. The quest for definitional authority goes well beyond
state borders; the United Nations, the World Bank group, the International Labour Organisation, as
well as other global actors, also attempt to determine who is Indigenous.
However, as Taiaiake
Alfred has pointed out, “demands for precision and certainty disregard the reality of the situation :
that group identity varies with time and place”.
How effectively have researchers and theorists
accounted for the dynamic nature of being Indigenous ?
Theories rooted in Indigenous cultural and spiritual principles, such as the ‘Fourth World’ and
‘Peoplehood’ schools of thought, seem to offer promise. Yet it is ultimately our lived collective and indi-
vidual experiences as Indigenous peoples that yield the clearest and most useful insights for
establishing culturally sound strategies to resist colonialism and regenerate our communities.
Ground Realities
Colonial Powers as Shape Shifters
It is important to identify all of the old and new faces of colonialism that continue to distort and
dehumanise Indigenous peoples often pitting us against each other in battles over authentic
histories. Colonisation is the word most often used to describe the experience of Indigenous
encounters with Settler societies, and it is the framework we are employing here. However, there is a
danger in allowing colonisation
to be the only story of Indigenous lives. It must be recognised that
colonialism is a narrative in which the Settler’s power is the fundamental reference and assumption,
inherently limiting Indigenous freedom and imposing a view of the world that is but an outcome or
perspective on that power. As stated earlier, we live in an era of postmodern imperialism and
manipulations by shape-shifting colonial powers; the instruments of domination are evolving and
inventing new methods to erase Indigenous histories and senses of place. Therefore, ‘globalisation’ in
Indigenous eyes reflects a deepening, hastening, and stretching of an already-existing empire. Living
within such political and cultural contexts, it is remembering ceremony, returning to homelands, and
liberation from the myths of colonialism that are the decolonising imperatives. In their seminal
treatise, The Fourth World, Manuel and Posluns explained the effects of contemporary colonial
processes :
The colonial system is always a way of gaining control over another people for the sake of what the
colonial power has determined to be ‘the common good.’ People can only become convinced of the
common good when their own capacity to imagine ways in which they can govern themselves has been
From such a Fourth World viewpoint, the ‘common good’ becomes whatever it is defined as by
shape-shifting colonial elites. Nietschmann documents a number of shape-shifting strategies imposed by
Settler states that confront Indigenous peoples on a daily basis, such as creating a bogus ‘we are you’
agenda, calling for a vote to legitimise the occupation, referring to state camps as ‘economic
development’ and ‘new communities’, and offering amnesty to resistant military leaders and their
forces in order to co-opt their movements.
While some of these shape-shifting tactics may appear to
be mild or subtle, they, like other brutal forms of oppression, threaten the very survival of Indigenous
For instance, consider the government of Bangladesh’s official position that all of the
country’s inhabitants are ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Bengalee’, despite the existence of 16 different Indigenous
communities (collectively referred to as Jumma) in the area of the country known as the Chittagong
Hill Tracts (CHT) alone. In order to implement this ‘we are you’ mythology, the Bangladesh
government, with the assistance of international aid agencies, has engaged in a tactic of ‘swamping’ by
initiating a massive ethnic Bengalee settlement of the CHT region since 1971. Consequently, the area
has been purposely overloaded with over 400,000 Bengalee Settlers who have dislocated the much
smaller local indigenous populations from their homelands. (The Jumma population of the region, for
instance, adds up to approximately 50,000 people.) From comprising just three per cent of the
population of the CHT in 1947, Bengalee Settlers now constitute roughly half the total population of
the area.
Such new faces of colonialism encroach on Indigenous sacred histories, homelands, and cultural
practices in somewhat familiar ways, but use diplomatic language and the veneer of ‘economic
development’ to mask ugly truths. The great North African anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon
described this process as an ongoing dialectic :
Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and
content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and
destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.
It is these perverted logics and lies that must be confronted now, just as troops were fought
courageously with guns and bombs in previous eras of the struggle for Indigenous freedom. When lies
become accepted and normal, the imperative of the warrior is to awaken and enliven the truth and to
get people to invest belief and energy into that truth. The battle is a spiritual and physical one
fought against the political manipulation of the people’s own innate fears and the embedding of
complacency, that metastasising weakness, into their psyches. Fanon pointed out that the most
important strength of Indigenous resistance, unity, is also constantly under attack as colonial powers
erase community histories and senses of place to replace them with doctrines of individualism and
predatory capitalism :
In the colonial context … the natives fight among themselves. They tend to use each other as a screen,
and each hides from his neighbour the national enemy.
As Fanon illustrates, these battles occurring amongst ourselves distract us from the bigger
picture of decolonisation and sap the crucial energy and solidarity that are essential to effective
confrontation of imperial power in whatever form it presents itself. Large-scale Indigenous efforts to
confront state power by mimicking state institutions (via land claims and self-government processes)
only deepen these divisions. For a long time now, Indigenous peoples have been on a quest for
governmental power and money. Contemporary forms of postmodern imperialism attempt to confine
the expression of Indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination to a set of domestic authorities
operating within the constitutional framework of the state (as opposed to the right of having an
autonomous and global standing) and actively seek to sever Indigenous links to their ancestral
In Canada, for example, the so-called British Columbia Treaty Process (on-going for over a
decade) has been structured to achieve the legalisation of the Settler society’s occupation of unceded
and non-treaty lands that make up 90 per cent of the territory in that province, to have the
Indigenous peoples “surrender their Aboriginal title to the Crown, whereupon it becomes vested in
the province”.
The secondary goal of the process is to achieve a set of binding agreements that
accord the federal and provincial government legal supremacy over First Nations’ governments. In
fact, the Nisga’a Nation’s agreement, implemented in 2000 which was the culmination of a
negotiation that began much earlier than the current treaty process but which was conducted under
the same mandate and objectives was voted on by only 40 per cent of the Nisga’a people and
makes no mention of the word ‘treaty’ anywhere in the text of the document.
A similar process of ‘domestication’ of Indigenous issues is taking place in the United States,
during this era of widespread institutionalisation of the Indigenousstate compacts to legalise gaming
enterprises on tribal lands, a process Corntassel refers to as ‘Forced Federalism’.
As pre-
constitutional and treaty-holding nations, Indigenous peoples in what is now called the United States
have historically been considered to transcend all local non-Indigenous government jurisdictional
claims in matters of their homeland’s autonomy. However, since the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming
and Regulatory Act (IGRA), and the further integration of Indigenous governments into the state
system through the forced federalism process, non-Indigenous governments and officials have
increasingly asserted their jurisdictional authority over Indigenous people and the territories of
Indigenous nations that exist within arbitrary boundaries established by the colonial state.
Refocusing on Autonomy
How can we refocus and restore the original objective of Indigenous autonomy and nation-to-nation
relations between original and immigrant peoples to its orienting primacy ? In advocating a break
from the colonial path, Nez Percé / Chicana scholar Inés Hernández-Ávila speaks of the power of
Indigenous languages in articulating a transformative agenda in Mexico that is “dignifying, validating
and ensuring the continuance of their peoples’ languages and cultures”.
Hernández-Ávila’s interview with Feliciano Sanchez Chan, a Maya / Yucateco, highlights the
need for ‘zones of refuge’ that are immune to the reaches of imperialism and globalisation. These
zones of refuge are places where
knowledge has been historically guarded, exercised and sustained. These zones of refuge represent
safe (physical and psychological) spaces where Mesoamerican cultural matrices continue to find
expression, even as the advocates of the imaginary Mexico persist in their obstinate project of erasure and
This is a powerful conceptualisation of a strategic and cultural objective that remains
consistent with traditional goals yet stands against the integrative goals of the contemporary colonial
agenda. In addition to creating zones of refuge and other breaks from colonial rule that create
spaces of freedom, we will begin to realise decolonisation in a real way when we begin to achieve the
re-strengthening of our people as individuals so that these spaces can be occupied by decolonised
people living authentic lives. This is a recognition that our true power as Indigenous people
ultimately lies in our relationships with our land, relatives, language, and ceremonial life. As the
eminent Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr, asserts, “(w)hat we need is a cultural leave-us-alone
agreement, in spirit and in fact”.
Refractions and Reflections
Universalised Definitions, Compartmentalised Communities
The scholarly literature on being Indigenous predominantly focuses on identity constructions that
reflect the colonised political and legal contexts in which Indigenous peoples are forced to live and
operate. Academics tend to examine wider phenomena of what is known as pan-indigenism or focus
on theories of individual self-identification; very few are themselves grounded in real Indigenous
community life or perspectives. For example, Joane Nagel’s work describes ‘Red Power activism’ as
the “progenitor of an American Indian ethnic rebirth”
during the 1970s, and finds that so-called
‘Indian’ resurgence through the American Indian Movement had its roots in urban areas as a direct
response to federal assimilation policies of the 1950s and 1960s.
However, her work (though making
an important contribution) falls short when discussing relationships between urban and reservation
communities and overemphasises the role of urban people in this cultural renaissance. Anthropologist
Ronald Niezen attempts to overcome this kind of shortcoming in his study of what he calls
as he documents the widespread mobilisation and unity of Indigenous peoples in
global forums as they resist encroachment by the state and other Settler colonial entities. However, his
work neglects the grassroots dimensions of Indigenous mobilisation and emphasises colonial
narratives of ‘victimisation’ and ‘grievance’ as the cornerstones of Indigenous identity.
Other researchers have examined the identity choices made by individuals as they respond
to social, economic, and political influences around them. For example, Devon Mihesuah adapted a
‘life stages’ model, based on the work of African-American scholars William Cross and Thomas
Parham, to the identity choices of Indigenous people. In this four-stage, linear process, one strives to
reach the ‘internalisation’ stage eventually, where “inner security about their identity” is attained.
However, this approach emphasises interactions with non-Indigenous people in precipitating identity
awareness and personal change, and de-emphasises relationships with communities and family. As
Jace Weaver points out, Indigenous identity can only be confirmed by others “who share that
Cherokee sociologist Matthew Snipp also notes that the “boundaries of [Indigenous]
populations are best defined in social terms” and where “human beings are born into a closely linked
and integrated network of family, kinship, social and political relations”.
In their attempts to establish universal definitions of Indigenous peoples, scholars have
rewritten Indigenous histories and imposed political and cultural limits on the freedom of Indigenous
people to live lives of their own choosing. For example, Ted Gurr, a prominent scholar in the field of
international relations, established the comprehensive Minorities at Risk (MAR) project in 1988, and
tracked the activities of 275 ethno-political groups from 1980 to 1999. Upon closer examination, the
utility of Gurr’s conceptual scheme, which divides Indigenous and ethnonationalist phenomena into
mutually exclusive categories, is highly questionable. For Gurr, Indigenous peoples are defined as :
Conquered descendants of earlier inhabitants of a region who live mainly in conformity with traditional
social, economic, and cultural customs that are sharply distinct from those of dominant groups…
Indigenous peoples who had durable states of their own prior to conquest, such as Tibetans, or who
have given sustained support to modern movements aimed at establishing their own state, such as the
Kurds, are classified as ethnonationalists, not Indigenous peoples.
According to Gurr’s definition, being conquered and being dominated by another group are
preconditions for being considered Indigenous. However, not all Indigenous peoples were
‘conquered’ militarily by the colonial powers that now dominate them. Treaty-making, rather than
outright military conquest, took place in North America on a wide scale between Holland, France, or
Great Britain and the original peoples of what is now called Canada and the United States. Nor are all
Indigenous peoples non-dominant, whether one looks at the large populations of Indigenous peoples
within certain states, such as Bolivia (66 per cent), or in terms of Indigenous peoples mobilising to
pose a credible political threat to the survival of the state. As Niezen concludes, “(a) rigorous
definition [of Indigenous peoples] … would be premature and, ultimately, futile. Debates over the
problem of definition are actually more interesting than any definition in and of itself”.
Indigenous Foundations for Being Indigenous
What, then, does it mean to be Indigenous, given the colonial legacies of blood quantum
state assimilation policies, self-identification as a challenge to community citizenship
standards, acceptance of colonial labels of ‘aboriginalism’, and gendered identity constructions ?
Postmodern imperialists attempt to partition Indigenous bodies and communities by imposing
political / legal fictions on cultural peoples. How can we promote balance between political and
cultural notions of being Indigenous ? Cree / Métis writer Kim Anderson outlines several “foundations
of resistance” for being Indigenous, which include : Strong families, grounding in community,
connection to land, language, storytelling, and spirituality.
For Anderson, these form a basis for action.
However, we believe that the interrelationships between these fundamental principles must be
examined further in order to generate a foundation for effective resistance to contemporary
Peoplehood models, which discuss the interconnected factors of community, language, and
cultural practices, appear to have some promise for discussing the adaptability and resurgence of
Indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples themselves have long understood their existence as
peoples or nations (expressed not in these terms but in their own languages, of course) as formed
around axes of land, culture, and community. Scholars have investigated these traditional
understandings and derived theories based on such Indigenous philosophies. The concept of
‘peoplehood’ has its roots in anthropologist Edward H Spicer’s work on ‘enduring peoples’.
discussion of an ‘Indian sense of identity’ (as distinct from ‘ethnic groups’) centred on three key
factors : Their relationship to the land, common spiritual bond, and language use.
The peoplehood
concept was further developed by Cherokee anthropologist Robert K Thomas, who added ‘sacred
history’ as a fourth factor in community relationships.
Thomas also described the four components
of peoplehood as being interwoven and dependent on one another.
Current work by the Cherokee / Creek scholar Tom Holm, along with Diane Pearson and Ben
Chavis, revives the original peoplehood concept and develops it as the foundational concept framing
their view of the ideal direction for Indigenous research and teaching.
Holm and his colleagues
view peoplehood as four interlocking concepts : Sacred history, ceremonial cycles, language, and
ancestral homelands. Unlike the multi-part, ahistorical definitions of Indigenousness proffered by
most academics and practitioners, the Holm model is predicated on a view of identity that is both
dynamic and interconnected : “No single element of the model is more or less important than the
others… ”.
Apache scholar Bernadette Adley-Santa Maria illustrates this concept of peoplehood with
her grandmother’s words : “If you do not sing the songs if you do not tell the stories and if you do
not speak the language you will cease to exist as ‘Ndee’ (Apache)”.
Building on this notion of a dynamic and interconnected concept of Indigenous identity
constituted in history, ceremony, language, and land, we consider relationships (or kinship networks)
to be at the core of an authentic Indigenous identity. Clearly, it is the need to maintain and renew
respectful relationships that guides all interactions and experiences with community, clans, families,
individuals, homelands, plants, animals, etc in the Indigenous cultural ideal. If any one of these
elements of identity, such as sacred history, is in danger of being lost, unified action can be taken to
revitalise and restore that part of the community by utilising relationships, which are the spiritual and
cultural foundations of Indigenous peoples. Tewa scholar Gregory Cajete contrasts this Indigenous
sense of kinship and “ensoulment of nature” with the (relatively) one-dimensional Newtonian-
Cartesian perspectives characteristic of European and colonial worldviews : “[Indigenous] people
understood that all entities of nature plants, animals, stones, trees, mountains, rivers, lakes and a
host of other living entities embodied relationships that must be honoured”.
It follows that for many Indigenous communities, peoplehood, as we are describing it, is seen
as an aspiration rather than a recognised present reality. As Thomas states, “(a)mong some enduring
peoples the very absence of, or the losing of, one of these important four symbols can, in itself,
become a strong symbol of peoplehood”.
This somewhat counter-intuitive response to cultural loss
further illustrates the adaptive nature and contextual relevance of peoplehood to particular
Indigenous communities. This also reinforces our view that the peoplehood concept is a flexible and
dynamic alternative to static political and legal definitional approaches to Indigenous identities.
There are obvious strengths of the peoplehood model as a foundation for developing
Indigenous cultures of resistance. But where should strategies to generate a resurgence of Indigenous
nationhood be focused ? Manuel and Posluns’s theory of the Fourth World is again instructive,
revealing the unifying nature of Indigenous
in the struggle against colonialism throughout the
world :
My belief in the Fourth World is an act of faith. But it is no illusion. I have told you of the strength of
my ancestors. My faith is simply that the strength of the present generation and those who are still
coming toward us is no less than the strength of our forebears. The Fourth World is far more of a Long
March than an Eternal Resting Place. My faith is that we, and our children’s children, are willing and able
to take up the burden of our history and set out on our journey. Were there no more to it than that I
should ask no more of other men than to let us pass freely.
For Manuel and Posluns, the Fourth World is founded on active relationships with the spiritual
and cultural heritage embedded in the words and patterns of thought and behaviour left to us by our
ancestors. The legacies of their struggles to be Indigenous form the imperatives of our contemporary
struggles to regenerate authentic Indigenous existences.
A Fourth World theory asserting Indigenous laws on Indigenous lands highlights the sites of ongoing
state-nation conflicts while reaffirming the spiritual and cultural nature of the struggle. This is not
simply another taxonomy relating Indigenous realities in a theoretical way to the so-called First,
Second, and Third Worlds, but a recognition of a spiritual “struggle to enter the Fourth World” and to
decode state motivations as they invade under the “mantle of liberation and development”.
Canadian historian Anthony Hall describes this as a battle against the “empire of possessive individu-
alism” and the “militarisation of space” : “(T)he idea of the Fourth World provides a kind of broad
ideological umbrella to cover the changing coalitions of pluralistic resistance aimed at preventing the
monocultural transformation of the entire planet… ”.
Recovery, Regeneration, Resurgence
Corruption, Regeneration, and the Self
While the concepts of peoplehood and the Fourth World undoubtedly provide solid bases for thinking
about strategies of resurgence, the question remains : How can these be put into practice ? In Real
Indians : Identity and the Survival of Native America, the Cherokee sociologist Eva Marie Garroutte
discusses the concept of ‘Radical Indigenism’ as a process of pursuing scholarship that is grounded in
Indigenous community goals and which “follows the path laid down in the models of inquiry
traditional to their tribal community”.
This intellectual strategy entails utilising all of the talents of
the people inside and within a community to begin a process of regeneration.
The larger process of regeneration, as well as the outwardly focused process of
decolonisation, begins with the self. It is a self-conscious kind of traditionalism that is the central
process in the “reconstruction of traditional communities” based on the original teachings and
orienting values of Indigenous peoples.
Colonialism corrupted the relationship between original
peoples and the Settlers, and it eventually led to the corruption of Indigenous cultures and
communities, too. But our discussion thus far has, we hope, illustrated the fact that decolonisation and
regeneration are not at root collective and institutional processes. They are shifts in thinking and action
that emanate from recommitments and reorientations at the level of the self that, over time and
through proper organisation, manifest as broad social and political movements to challenge state
agendas and authorities. To a large extent, institutional approaches to making meaningful change in
the lives of Indigenous people have not led to what we understand as decolonisation and
regeneration; rather they have further embedded Indigenous people in the colonial institutions they
set out to challenge. This paradoxical outcome of struggle is because of the logical inconsistencies at
the core of the institutional approaches.
Current approaches to confronting the problem of contemporary colonialism ignore the
wisdom of the teachings of our ancestors reflected in such concepts as Peoplehood and the Fourth
World. They are, in a basic way, building not on a spiritual and cultural foundation provided to us as the
heritage of our nations, but on the weakened and severely damaged cultural and spiritual and social
results of colonialism. Purported decolonisation and watered-down cultural restoration processes that
accept the premises and realities of our colonised existences as their starting point are inherently
flawed and doomed to fail. They attempt to reconstitute strong nations on the foundations of
enervated, dispirited, and decultured people. That is the honest and brutal reality; and that is the
fundamental illogic of our contemporary struggle.
Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom
Indigenous pathways of authentic action and freedom struggle start with people transcending
colonialism on an individual basis a strength that soon reverberates outward from the self to family,
clan, community, and into all of the broader relationships that form an Indigenous existence.
Regenerating inter-Indigenous alliances might be one outcome of this process, which might include
revitalising Indigenous trade networks throughout the Americas as well as enacting new forms of
inter-Indigenous treaty-making, further illustrating the wide spectrum of Indigenous powers of self-
determination. In this way, Indigenousness can be reconstructed, reshaped, and actively lived as
resurgence against the dispossessing and demeaning processes of annihilation that are inherent to
There is no concise, neat model of resurgence in this way of approaching decolonisation and
the regeneration of our peoples. Nor are there clear and definite steps that we can list for people to
check off as milestones on their march to freedom. But there are identifiable directions of
movement, patterns of thought and action that reflect a shift to an Indigenous reality from the
colonised places we inhabit today in our minds and in our souls. Derived from experience of
Indigenous warriors old and new who have generated an authentic existence out of the mess left by
colonial dispossession and disruption, these pathways can be thought of as the general direction of
freedom, whether we have in mind the struggle of a single person or conceptualising an eventual
global Indigenous struggle founded on the regeneration of ourselves and our communities.
The following are the
of a resurgent Indigenous movement :
Land is Life
. Our people must reconnect with the terrain and geography of their Indigenous
heritage if they are to comprehend the teachings and values of the ancestors, and if they
are to draw strength and sustenance that is independent of colonial power, and which is
regenerative of an authentic, autonomous, Indigenous existence.
Language is Power
. Our people must recover ways of knowing and relating from outside the
mental and ideational framework of colonialism by regenerating themselves in a conceptual
universe formed through Indigenous languages.
Freedom is the Other Side of Fear
. Our people must transcend the controlling power of the
many and varied fears that colonial powers use to dominate and manipulate us into
complacency and cooperation with its authorities. The way to do this is to confront our fears
head-on through spiritually grounded action; contention and direct movement at the very
source of our fears is the only way to break the chains that bind us to our colonial existences.
Decolonise your Diet
. Our people must regain the self-sufficient capacity to provide our own
food, clothing, shelter, and medicines. Ultimately important to the struggle for freedom is the
reconstitution of our own sick and weakened physical bodies and community relationships
accomplished through a return to the natural sources of food and the active, hard-working,
physical lives lived by our ancestors.
Change happens One Warrior at a Time
. Our people must reconstitute the mentoring and
learning-teaching relationships that foster real and meaningful human development and
community solidarity. The movement toward decolonisation and regeneration will emanate
from transformations achieved by direct-guided experience in small, personal, groups and
one-on-one mentoring towards a new path.
and the pathways they represent will be put into practice by every person in
their own way, in response to the particular context and set of challenges that form each person’s
and community’s colonial reality.
Bringing it all together,
being Indigenous
means thinking, speaking, and acting with the
conscious intent of regenerating one’s indigeneity. Each Indigenous nation has its own way of
articulating and asserting self-determination and freedom. For example, in Kanien’keha, the word is
, which translates as the ‘way of the original people’. Tsalagi (Cherokee) have the
tradition of
, which translates into ‘I will always be up above in all things that influence me
in life; in the uppermost; for us to follow or emulate’. The Lyackson people have the term
, Hopis say
Hopit Pötskwani’at
, and Maori say
Tino rangatiratanga
As Indigenous peoples,
the way to recovering freedom and power and happiness is clear : It is time for each one of us to
make the commitment to transcend colonialism as
, and for us to work together as
become forces of Indigenous truth against the lie of colonialism.
We do not need to wait for the coloniser to provide us with money or to validate our vision of
a free future; we only need to start to use
Indigenous languages to frame
thoughts, the
ethical framework of
philosophies to make decisions, and to use
laws and institutions to govern
Taiaiake Alfred is the Director of the Indigenous Governance Programme and holds the Indigenous
Peoples Research Chair at the University of Victoria. He is Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk), and was born in
August of 1964 at Tiohtiá:ke (Montreal) and raised in the community of Kahnawake. Taiaiake served
as an infantryman in the US Marine Corps, and later earned a Bachelor’s degree in history from
Concordia University and an MA and PhD in government from Cornell University. He has long been
involved in the public life of his own and other Indigenous nations. He is the author of three books,
Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors : Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism
(1995) and
Peace, Power, Righteousness (1999), both from Oxford University Press, and from
Broadview Press, Wasáse : Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom (2005). He is a full Professor
in the Faculty of Human and Social Development and holds adjunct status in the Department of
Political Science.
Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee Nation) is currently Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor in
Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. Professor Corntassel's research and teaching
interests include sustainable self-determination and Indigenous political mobilization/Indigenous
nationhood movements. His research has been published in Alternatives, American Indian Quarterly,
Canadian Journal of Human Rights, Decolonization, Human Rights Quarterly, Nationalism and Ethnic
Studies, and Social Science Journal. His first book, entitled Forced Federalism : Contemporary
Challenges to Indigenous Nationhood (2008, University of Oklahoma Press), examined how
Indigenous nations in the US have mobilised politically as they encounter new threats to their
governance from state policymakers. His next book is a co-edited volume (with Professor Tom Holm)
entitled The Power of Peoplehood : Regenerating Indigenous Nations, which brings together native
scholars from Canada and US to discuss contemporary strategies for revitalising Indigenous
References :
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Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors : Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the
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University Press
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and Colonialism, vol 3 (2001)
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Broadview Press
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Rearticulating Indigenous Identity’, in Nationalism & Ethnic Politics,
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Resolution Strategies for Indian nation/state Disputes in an Era of Forced Federalism’, in
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in Duncan Ivison, Paul Patton, and Will Sanders, eds, 2000 - Political Theory and the Rights of
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Patrick Macklem, 2001 - Indigenous Difference and the Constitution of Canada. Toronto : University of
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Notes :
Ed : The original version of this essay appeared as : Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel, 2005 - ‘Being
Indigenous : Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism’, in Government and Opposition (Oxford and
Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishing), pp 597-614. © 2005, Blackwell Publishing. Reproduced with permission of
Blackwell Publishing Ltd. I very warmly thank the authors for reviewing and revising their essay in the light of
comments we sent them. For further reproduction permission, contact
The essay draws on analyses and concepts developed in Alfred 2005.
Nietschmann 1995, pp 228-31.
See, for instance,
Hingangaroa Smith 2000, p 211. For examples of classic colonial-liberal discourse with liberatory pretences, see
Macklem 2001; Taylor 1992; and Kimlycka 1995.
For more on the global nature of Indigenous identity construction, see Corntassel 2003a.
Alfred 1999, p 85. For the explanation of his concept of Indigenous identity, one that is often characterised as a
sort of strategic essentialism meaning that it is multi-faceted and flexible, yet rooted in Indigenous cultural
ground see also Alfred 1995.
Manuel and Posluns 1974, p 60.
Nietschmann 1995, pp 23637.
Minahan 2002, pp 845-50; Roy 2000.
Fanon 1963, p 210.
Fanon 1963, p 3067.
Alfred 2001, p 49.
Alfred 2001, p 41.
Corntassel 2003b. For a further elaboration of this argument, see Jeff Corntassel, forthcoming - Forced
Federalism : Contemporary Challenges to Indigenous Nationhood, Norman, Oklahoma : University of Oklahoma Press.
Hernández-Ávila 2003, p 56.
Hernández-Ávila 2003, p 38.
Deloria, Jr 1988, p 27.
Nagel 1996, p 113.
The fish-ins of the 1960s along with the occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indians of All Tribes from 1969 to
1971 marked the beginning of the Indigenous activist movement in the US, known as ‘Red Power’, and heralded
the rise to prominence of the American Indian Movement during the 1970s. This inter-Indigenous movement,
which occurred in cities and on reservations, entailed a reassertion of Indigenous identity, treaty rights, and self-
determination through direct action, such as protests, and the reoccupation of Indigenous territories.
Niezen 2003.
Mihesuah 1998.
Weaver 2001, p 245.
Snipp 1989, p 27.
Gurr 2000, p 17.
Niezen 2003, p 19.
Snipp 1989; Hagan 1985.
Anderson 2000; Mihesuah 2003.
Anderson 2000, pp 116136.
Spicer 1962.
Spicer 1962, pp 576578.
Thomas 1990.
Holm 2003, pp 7–24.
Holm 2003, p 15.
Quoted from Hernández-Ávila 2003, p 62.
Cajete 2000, p 178.
Thomas 1990, p 29.
Manuel and Posluns 1974, p 261.
Nietschmann 1995, pp 235236.
Hall 2003, pp 523, 530.
Garoutte 2003, p 144.
Alfred 1999, p 81.
See, for example, Maaka and Fleras 2000.