October 26, 2022
The CBI Book Group has been reading As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, award-winning Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, activist, and author. The group selected As We Have Always Done to learn from one First Nation and Indigenous perspective, to inform our ongoing work with Indigenous communities, and to strengthen our understanding of different approaches to complex problems of identity, autonomy, and participation. The book explores Indigenous practices and theories that make the case for an “Indigenous resurgence.”
Our discussions have just scratched the surface of this text and the concept of "radical resurgence," which works outside concepts of Indigenous reconciliation and draws from a politics of refusal. We have reflected together on how Nishnaabeg practices might inform our work as Indigenous or non-Indigenous practitioners, in projects with or without Tribal stakeholders, and as people living and working on native lands.
Simpson argues that colonialism has dispossessed Indigenous peoples of Canada not only of their land but of their "political orders, thought, agency, self-determination, and freedom.” She offers a different approach through refusal and self-recognition. She cites, for an example, the Iroquois Nationals refusing to participate in the World Lacrosse League Championship tournament when the UK refused to recognize their sovereignty and Mohawk passports. She argues power and autonomy can come from refusing to convene with governments on their terms, at their speed, and with their articulation of the “problem.” She argues that Indigenous understanding comes from what the land teaches, and that recognition comes from First Peoples seeing themselves in relation with each other and the environment, not from recognition by others.
So, what does this mean for our practice? First, despite our desire as convenors and facilitators to bring people together, we must accept and seek to understand that refusal can be a legitimate response to an offer or request to participate in a dialogue. Second, we believe it means we need to listen carefully and be open to alternative ways of addressing and resolving conflict. That means ensuring space for Indigenous participants to join actively and fully in the design of processes. This may include intensive redesigns of process to honor the wisdom of elders, the voices of youth, the importance of ceremony, and the role of leaders. For example, in a current project on missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous peoples, for hearings for families and survivors, we as facilitators must step to the side and lift up and support those Native practitioners who can manage these hearings with cultural sensitivity, respect, and care.
Third, we need to respect and hold up self-determination and autonomy—a fundamental principle for US Tribes, though rarely achieved to date, as expressed in the concept of the sovereignty of Tribal nations and the government-to-government relationship between a Tribal government and the US government.
Fourth, we must be prepared to step back from a government convenor’s framing of a problem and create space and respect for Indigenous articulation of the history, context, and problem(s) at hand. In our work on the Wolostaq River restoration with the Maliseet on both sides of the Canadian and US border, we have been guided by our Tribal and First Nation convenors to seek to articulate a more Indigenous approach to watershed planning, where even the Maliseet language itself treats all living things as subjects and not merely objects to be acted upon.
We can, along the lines of the principle of reciprocity in the Mohawk-UK example, help design and facilitate processes guided by our AARC framework that provide for acknowledgement, agency, reciprocity, and clarity in situations shaped by a history of dispossession (https://www.cbi.org/article/cultivating-dignity-in-a-year-of-rupture/). Conversations such as those prompted by this provocative book also contribute to our reflections on how to infuse diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice (DEIJ) meaningfully and effectively into all our work.