Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Surviving the Alien Invasion

Stephan Hawking, noted celebrity physicist was quoted the other day as saying that contacting alien life is too risky. "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet," he says. Any alien species might burn through the resources of its home planet and search for new areas to exploit. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach," Hawking says. Far from being a benign visit by benevolent aliens, it might be more like Christopher Columbus' first trip to America, "which didn't turn out every well for the native Americans," he says.

Well no duh, huh.

And who would want to be oppressed? It sucks. Imagine all those poor white people, chained and broken, forced onto little plots of land to eke out what pitiful survival they could until the galactic masters either got bored with them and finished the job or simply drifted away to another planet to reap its resources.

Oh man, who would want that?

Ask me what it was like. It happened to my people, and countless others who were the indigenous people of a place. We know all about it, and could tell you some stories. Some of us died outright. Others were assimiliated. Still others prevail.

Here on Turtle Island, those of us who remain are survivors. Survivors of smallpox, war, genocide, conversion to the colonial invaders’ religion, residential schools, family breakdown, alcoholism, drug abuse, despair and racism. We survived all of that. And it wasn’t because we laid down and took it either. It’s because those of us who survived it cultivated a core deep inside ourselves made of resistance. We were able to find ways of sheltering our customs, languages, religions, rituals, and tribal lore. We were wily, adapting to what the other culture offered, taking from that what we needed to survive, to get our numbers back from the brink of extinction, to protect the languages from being lost forever, for teaching our children the legends and stories of our Old Days and ways, and defying the colonial government when it came to take the last of our lands. We survived, and thrive today, because some of us were able to live in defiance, in resistance.

That living in defiance has shaped so much of my character, it’s hard to see where I learned it or where it began. It seems to be inherent in so many of the people that I know, that I grew up with, in my family and the community that I come from.

Defiance and resistance are as natural to us as breathing. We’re formidable, tall and strong and stony in our silence and our resolve. But when you get to know us we are funny, and caring, and smart. There’s still so much more work to do in our communities, in remaking our culture and reclaiming what is rightfully ours, but we will do it. We can’t help it. We were made to defy, and to adapt, and to endure. And maybe that’s what is at the heart of it. A stubborn, firm belief in our inherent right to exist, to be the People Building a Longhouse Together, and to know that we will prevail.

The older I get, the more I realize that my individual choices – the music I like, the books I read, the politics I choose to practice, and even my job – all of these are representative of a person who is shaped by resistance, and by defiance. First and foremost, I have always been something of a rebel yell. And remain so. Even as I live in the colonizer’s world and speak their language and bend to their rules and their tribal customs, in my heart I remain a woman of the Kanienkah’keh, of the Haudenosaunee, and that identity is born in the blood. Even if I don’t, at first glance, look it -- this is what I am. A warrior, a survivor. A survivor of an alien invasion.

Now real alien masters -- that may be a tad different.

But take heart, Stephan. It can be done!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Public Service Announcement

This is completely off-topic, but I have to express my undying love and ecstatic joy for Amanda Palmer. The woman is a freakin’ Goddess, and if you haven’t experienced her, go out and get some of her music RIGHT NOW. I find myself so captivated by her, I want to write her fan mail and grovel at her feet and peel her a grape, that's how much I adore her.

That is all.

We will return you to your regularly scheduled blogging next week.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Your People have had two hundred years more experience than anyone else in negotiating"

I have been appointed lead negotiator for the next round of collective bargaining to renew the agreement at APTN. I am so honoured, and excited, and driven to get the best damn agreement I possibly can get for the membership. I can’t wait to start. I have been thinking about the process of negotiation and why I love it so. I think it’s because it’s psychological, and sportsmanlike, but at the end of the day, fundamentally crucial to formulating the ground rules that a living document can be based on. I love it. I’m really good at it. And I aim to get better.

At its heart, negotiating is a diplomatic art, a skill of finesse, persuasion, supple argument and brute force. It’s a metaphorical warrior skill. It’s supremely Iroquoian in nature. Perhaps this is why I adore it so.

We Iroquois have had a long history of negotiating, of reaching treaty agreements as exemplified by the Covenant Chain, one of the first treaty arrangements between us and the Dutch settlers, later extended to the British. The Two Row Wampum remains the basis of all our nation-to-nation agreements. We negotiated peace treaties with the French. We also have agreements, codified by wampum belts, between the nations of our Confederacy and other nations, like the Ojibway and the Abenaki, the Chippewa and the Susquahennock. We spend a long time in hammering out treaties and agreements with other nations through subtle, persuasive argument, backed up with war when necessary.

We drove mean, hard bargains. But where has that gotten us? An agreement is only as good as long as both parties are willing to live up to the spirit of the contract, and the British crown, and its descendent colonial power Canada reneged on their duty almost as soon as they were able to. Our rich, fertile lands were too tempting to resist for a land-greedy settler population, and the respect accorded to our people could not be sustained in the mindset of an expansionist, fledgling imperialist colony that saw its whiteness, its European sensibilities as superior.

So I reclaim my heritage as an Iroquoian diplomat. I reclaim that part of me that wants to bargain, mediate, and negotiate. My work as a labour activist lets me stretch these skills, forgotten and lying dormant in me. I think if more Iroquoian people were able to flex these abilities, Canada wouldn’t know what had happened to it. We should aim to empower more of us in this fashion. Because we are damn good at it. We just need to remember how.