‘No One Goes Hungry’: Sustaining the Struggle
I come from an isolated part of Turtle Island, in Arctic and Subarctic Canada (Nunavut and Denendeh, respectively). We are isolated geographically, which contributes to a sense of social isolation from the rest of the country and the world; but in many ways, we are also isolated psychologically. We often take up our “otherness” as an inherent part of our cultural identity, setting ourselves – and our struggles – apart from our relations in other parts of the world.
But this is not just a self-perception found in the North. I have witnessed people from various Indigenous nations throughout Turtle Island express this same attitude and I have come to understand it as a collective issue. The ‘Nativer Than You’ mentality, in its various iterations (more Indigenous, more “decolonized”, more culturally, spiritually or land-connected, more “authentic”, etc.) is itself characteristic of a colonized mentality.
I write this with the recognition that addressing an important issue with a close relative or within your community is an act of honouring that relationship. I write this because we need to address the division within our Indigenous community and because I see this as a major distraction from our responsibility to confront the pressing issues and states of emergency that our peoples continue to face everyday. Our cultures and homelands are as unique as the issues specific to our regions, but our struggles are interconnected. We must recognize that our efforts toward resurgence and liberation are, necessarily, collective.
I am not advocating for an erasure of our cultural identities or calling for a new Pan-Indianism. There are significant differences between our nations, cultures and societies that we need to respect and recognize. Also, our sources of division are extremely complicated – embodied within us, our families and communities, and in relation to the wider world. Disagreement is of course natural, but fragmentation is part of our collective colonization and we must find ways of respectfully overcoming our differences in order to establish a network of cooperative action and support. Our diversity is a strength against the hegemony of colonial domination, racial discrimination, and the imperial exploitation of our homelands. Our movement also requires diversity in our tactics and creative ideas for taking action.
Our people have different ways of living and doing things in relationship to the land and waters, depending on their culture and location. By contrast, the federal government in Canada, for example, has interacted with Indigenous nations uniformly, unilaterally exerting power and force over our lands and peoples, regardless of who we are and where we live. Relating with each of our nations on a nation-to-nation basis presents an overwhelming challenge that the Canadian government has found neither the courage nor the capacity to address.
As the Indigenous activism during this past winter made clear, when we assert our nationhood and cultural pride in line with our respective customs and values, the celebration of our widespread diversity bolsters and affirms our efforts and our greater sense of power.
Honour our relations – we depend on them
We may have different words to identify ourselves in our own languages, but each meaning usually signifies us as “the people” or “the human beings” in relationship to “the land”. We each have our Creation Stories and our own ways of living in relation to the world. We are no better or no worse than one another, no more deserving of a connection to our traditional land or somehow more capable of decolonization.
One of the most fundamental teachings throughout Indigenous cultures is a recognition that we exist within relationships. Our very identities come from the land that we come from, and our interconnections with other forms of life, the spirit world, and all of Creation are what inform our cultural means of expression, our land-based and spiritual practices, our bodies of knowledge, and our governance systems. There are borders between cultures, between life forms, between individuals and our relations of all kinds, which exist, importantly, to enable mutual respect and autonomy. However, there are no borders to our common sense of indigeneity, to our shared humanity and rootedness in our homelands, to our love for our people, for this world, and our commitment to protecting life.
When I see individuals expressing “holier than thou” attitudes towards other Native people, or diminishing someone’s worth to aggrandize their own ‘decolonized’ reputation, I feel a deep sense of disappointment. We impoverish ourselves by relating this way. Not only does it disgrace the teachings that have been passed down by our elders and respected leaders – teachings that urge us to honour our relations, to respect our brothers and sisters and to take care of them as best we can – it also blinds us to the reality that we depend on these relations.
This is further illuminated by the fact that we are greatly overshadowed by the non-Indigenous populations living throughout our homelands. In a very real sense, none of our nations or communities can successfully resist colonial or imperial domination independently. We need one another. We need to learn from one another and we need to coordinate our efforts to enact strategies for liberating ourselves – all of us – from the forces that continue to dominate and destroy our communities and our homelands.
Communities are putting themselves on the line to assert their rights and protect their lands and waters from destruction, and we all need to pay attention – including those who remain or feel isolated and those who have not yet been overtaken by the resource development industry, urbanization, or militarization. It is clear that colonial expansion, exploitation, and forcible acquisition do not recognize or adhere to any bounds.
Imagined boundaries appear to separate us and may feel firmly fixed but they are not. My nation provides a good example. As my father recently reminded me, we Inuit have our own federally-recognized territory (Nunavut), an enormous land-base, a majority population in the territory, “our own government” (which is mistaken because it is a colonial form of government, not an Inuit system, and only seems to be ‘our own’ as long as Inuit remain the majority), our language is secure and is the primary language spoken in schools and throughout government institutions and, despite high rates of poverty, Nunavummiut benefit directly from several economic operations.
I understand my dad’s pride: he was influential in ensuring that many of these things became a reality, including the creation of Nunavut itself. I also recognize that these are ‘privileges’ in relation to many other Indigenous communities that have been stripped of their lands and languages or had their territories overrun by foreigners, superimposed by major cities, or destroyed beyond repair.
Considering all of this, I understand where many Inuit are coming from and feel very fortunate. I am proud of the people and the places that I come from, and my spirit is rooted in those Northern lands. But I also understand that Northerners are not unique in our pride – this is how Indigenous peoples throughout the world feel about our homelands and our cultures! It is our great love for the earth and for our people that gives us the courage and the strength to fight for their protection and vitality.
The signifiers of privilege or difference that underlie separatist and ‘special-case’ attitudes often disparage the greater community of Indigenous peoples and undermine our collective well-being. The struggles that we face are the same regardless of our specific nationality or location: have we not all suffered the same myriad forms of colonial violence, subjugation and destruction? And do our people and communities not continue to suffer in exactly the same ways? Why do we see ourselves as separate when our struggles are the same?
‘How can I be free if you are not?’
My dear friend and Eritrean sister shared a refreshing perspective that clarified and affirmed an important point for me. After sharing my frustration with this prevalent mentality in Native activism that undermines our collective ability to effect change, she simply responded: “More decolonized than you – what does that even mean? How can I be free if you are not? And if it is based on having land, you should offer to host gatherings, training and workshops on your land for others who don’t have the same kind of access.” What she said was refreshingly simple, and it resonates strongly with a sense of community that is essential to many Indigenous ways of life.
I was raised with these values from all three sides of my family, and the other day, my dad shared how this way of being continues for Inuit. He lives in Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) in northern Baffin Island and, despite surviving a heart attack earlier this year, he continues to spend most of his time on the land and water, hunting and fishing. He is a very skilled hunter and the land provides most of his food, but he told me that he gives most of it away, keeping just enough to live on and to feed his dogteam.
“That is part of our culture,” he reminded me. “We share most of the meat or the fish with the community, so no one goes hungry. Nobody begs.”
This is the essence of what I am advocating for, on a collective level. We must see ourselves as members of the same community, enacting humility, honour and respect in our relations with one another. We must share what we can, and do it generously. Whatever our individual or unique resources, we must offer them in support of our relations in other communities and nations who struggle for justice, protection, survival, and regeneration. None of us can achieve liberation on our own – it is a collective process and it requires ongoing, coordinated action.
If we can set ourselves aside, set our differentiating egos aside, and recognize that the resurgence of our nations is dependent on our ability to channel diversity toward a positive purpose, we can infuse our movement with unique sources of vitality, wisdom, and resilience, and share in the rising of our strengths.
Siku Allooloo is a Haitian/Inuk who was born and raised in Denendeh and is also a member of a large Dene Sųłiné family. She is part of a strong lineage of leaders and activists on all three sides. She has a BA in Anthropology and Indigenous Studies from the University of Victoria. Her work continues to support Indigenous resurgence and autonomy, with particular focus on the strength, resilience and power of Indigenous women in the healing and emancipation of our communities. Follow her on Twitter: @quietninja_