tequila sovereign

More Musings on Why “Settler Colonialism” Doesn’t Work (For Me)

3-15-11
 
Some examples.
 
Nowhere the politics of “settler colonialism” more pronounced for me than when I consider the apology syndrome affecting nation-state relations with indigenous peoples in the United States, Australia, and Canada (just for an instance).
 
§The 103d United States Congress passed Joint Resolution 19 (Public Law 103-150) on November 23, 1993. The purpose of the Resolution was, “To acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the January 17, 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and to offer an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.” It stipulated to several historical and legal facts regarding the sovereign status of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the U.S. congressional and military backed overthrow of its government, which violated U.S. constitutional and international treaty law. It also provided a disclaimer that, “Nothing in this Joint Resolution is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States.”
 
§In Australia, the members of Parliament passed a motion in February 2008 to apologize to Aboriginals “for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.” The motion focused on the painful history, that took place through the 1960s, of the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children abducted from their homes by the state to become servants for whites.
 
§In Canada, a formal apology was delivered by the Prime Minister to First Nations people in June 2008: “I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history…. We now recognise that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologise for failing to protect you…. The government of Canada sincerely apologises and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. We are sorry.”
 
§In December 2009, U.S. President Obama signed the Native American Apology Resolution, which states that the U.S. “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.” It “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.” The Resolution included a disclaimer that nothing in the Resolution authorizes or supports any legal claims against the United States and that the Resolution does not settle any claims against the United States.
 
The Stolen Generation Action Group in Australia has sought financial compensation through the courts for individuals who were illegal taken from their families and placed in white homes. A lawsuit from victims of Canada’s residential schools resulted in an award of financial compensation, and another has proceeded to court in Newfoundland and Labrador.
 
But in the United States, the disclaimers about legal or financial culpability in the 1993 Hawaiian apology and the 2009 Native resolution has made it impossible for indigenous peoples within the U.S. and its occupied territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean to make any claims for restitution or reparation, financial or otherwise.
 
The point in the United States, as an imperial power, is that the rhetoric of state apologies has allowed the U.S. to coopt the issues to its ends. So that, whether you read the apologies as articulated through dominant religious dogma about “forgiveness” or a more secular humanist claim to the “public good,” what the apologies work to “restore” is not healing and empowerment of the abused and the oppressed. What they work to “restore” is the formation of the very same interpersonal and social structures that uphold the nation-state’s power (like certain kinds of families and certain kinds of communities) and in which violence against women, children, and racialized groups is made possible (rationalizing and warranting ever-expanding forms of state control).
 
So that, while indigenous peoples have welcomed (for the most part) the apologies as an acknowledgement of the severe historical wrongs and grossly unlawful actions of their states in regards to their self-determination and territorial rights, the apologies have completely cut off the possibility for any restitution or reparation of indigenous governance and territories in the context of those wrongs and actions. In effect, then, the apologies have been about recusal and amnesty for the imperial state, providing for the operationalization of state power to disclaim and be recused from any legal obligation or responsibility to redress their historical wrongs and illegal actions in court.
 
It is as if powerful imperial states like the U.S., Australia, and Canada are saying, “sorry,” but ultimately I/we have no legal responsibility or culpability in the historical wrongs and illegal actions committed against you as individuals or as sovereign nations. I/we apologize and might be willing/able to pay you off, but any other real restitution is simply not going to happen. So get over it. It happened in the past, anyways.
 
As I wrote previously, “settler” belongs etymologically to “reconcile.”
 
Imperial Privilege
 
I think a great part of the disclaimers at the heart of nation-state apologies to indigenous peoples is inseparable from the historical and ongoing efforts of nation-state governments to protect their legal and economic entitlements to indigenous governments, lands, and bodies. The nation-state has, after all, been able to establish and maintain its privileges and access to indigenous peoples’ governments, lands and bodies without any real fear of international accountability or legal consequence.
 
So, while costly and difficult, it would seem that indigenous peoples should simply stop asking the nation-state for apologies and demand a full court legal redress. For unless or until the state is genuinely prepared to make legal reparations, apologies are disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. There can be no “restoration” or “reconciliation” without responsibility and reparation.
 
And that difference is the difference between “settler colonialism” and the imperial state. It is the different between understanding a nation-state as a polity that has transformed itself from a colonial, imperial historical past into a liberal humanist democracy. Albeit still colonial, but ultimately reconciled within itself to its ideals.


A Conclusion…
 
“Settler” belongs etymologically to “reconcile.” It suggests an internal consistency and making right within the colonialism it qualifies as “settler colonialism.”
 
I think a great part of the disclaimers at the heart of nation-state apologies to indigenous peoples is inseparable from the historical and ongoing efforts of nation-state governments to protect their legal and economic entitlements to indigenous governments, lands, and bodies. The nation-state has, after all, been able to establish and maintain its privileges and access to indigenous peoples’ governments, lands, and bodies without any real fear of international accountability or legal consequence.
 
So, while costly and difficult, it would seem that indigenous peoples should stop asking the nation-state (or its churches) for apologies and demand a full court legal redress of their self-determination and territories. Unless or until the nation-state is genuinely made to make these kinds of reparations, its apologies are disingenuous at best and insulting at worst: there can be no “restoration” or “reconciliation” without legal responsibility and reparation.
 
It is not about understanding the dynamics of “settlement” quasi- or neo- colonial, but the need to understand and strategies the anarchy of the empire.

Why “Settler Colonialism” Isn’t Exactly Right

02-13-11
 
In his groundbreaking book, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event (1999), Patrick Wolfe defines “settler colonialism” as the structure of permanent invasion focused on usurping indigenous land rights. On their website, the settler colonial studies blog (http://settlercolonialstudies.org/about-this-blog/), Edward Cavanagh and Lorenzo Veracini define “settler colonialism” as  describing a social formation and political order in which settlers claim sovereignty over a territory and seek to eliminate indigenous peoples’ rights from those territories (2010).
 
In numerous books and articles published in between these definitions (1999 and 2010), authors have sought to flush out the specific historical conditions of when, how, and why settlers have claimed sovereignty and territorial rights over indigenous peoples. These conditions have been located within settler programs of genocide (Patrick Wolfe’s 2006 essay “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”), settler segregationist land rights laws (Sherene H. Razack’s 2002 edition, Race, Space, and the Law: Unsettling a White Settler Society), settler theft of indigenous children (Margaret D. Jacobs’ 2009 book  White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940), and settler assertions of jurisdiction over indigenous lands and crimes (Lisa Ford’s 2010 book Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836).
 
I have not been entirely convinced by the arguments about “settler colonialism” in these works, and have been thinking much about why that is so.
 
I have learned a lot about the important historical differences between what is described as “imperial,” “colonial,” “settler,” and “nation-state” understandings and claims of their own sovereignties and territorial rights against those of indigenous peoples. I have also had lots of unease with the claim that something new or unique has happened within “settler colonialism” from the empire/imperialism of the nation-state.
 
So I begin with the etymology of “settler” as a thing or person that settles within the etymology of “settle” as a thing or person that “comes to rest,” that establishes a “permanent residence.” Fair enough. That would seem to be in line with the important efforts of scholars like Wolfe, Cavanagh, Veracini, Razack, Jacobs, Ford, and so many others to figure out the kind of “colonial” structure and social formation that has been historically articulated through the ascension of the Nation-State and its usurpation of indigenous sovereignty and territorial rights through criminal jurisdiction and violent programs of genocide and child theft.
 
But “settle” also belongs etymologically to “reconcile” or “reconciliation,” which means to “bring together” (again), to “make friendly,” and to “make consistent.”
 
And here is where I have troubles with “settler colonialism.” Because it suggests not merely an important set of contingencies within the historical genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples, but because it anticipates a reconciling of those histories within the current structure and social formation of the nation-state. A nation-state that is, albeit colonial, but by implication no longer imperialist or colonialist proper. The nation-state is treated within “settler colonialism” as having moved beyond its own tragically imperial and colonial history to be something else, still albeit colonial, but not quite entirely colonial because it is “reconciled” and “consistent.”
 
I guess I am wanting to hold onto harsher terms like “imperialism” and “colonialism” proper to describe the current relationship of the United States to American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, and the indigenous peoples of its occupied territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. I think it is important and necessary to secure indigenous self-determination and decolonization to hold onto the “empire” in our understanding, describing, and strategizing ways of empowerment and revolution.
 
Of course, the U.S. as an empire has gone through many transformations since the 1770s. Of course it is important to understand those transformations in all of their historical contingencies and cultural specificities. But I do not think “settler colonialism” helps us understand the current structure or social formation of the U.S. as a global force or in relation to indigenous peoples within its various kinds of borders.

Liquor Sovereignty Manifesto

2-26-11
 
Having smashed the offensive against the people’s right to liquor, We the People, have launched a large-scale counter-offensive against the lies of the enemy. We are on the advance, working through the World’s Dives Handbook, moving out from our centers in all directions. United, the enemy flees before us in fear and trepidation.
 
The situation between the enemy and the people has fundamentally changed over the last several hundred years.
 
The enemy would like the people to believe that there were no intoxicants or hallucinogens in the Américas before they arrived with theirs. The enemy would like the people to believe that — unacquainted with such substances the people quickly became addicted and lost their self-control. The enemy wants the people to believe that they killed all the animals for their fur to trade for the enemy’s liquor. That the people gave up their women to trade for the liquor. They want the people to believe that, over time, the people became drunk, lazy, and useless. All because of liquor.
 
The enemy is good at telling lies. Especially about itself. They want the people to believe that hundreds of years ago the enemy was reformed by a new consciousness as radically democratic revolutionaries. That they warred against the evil empires of the day and were victorious, forcing the empires to withdraw and establishing a New Nation (a “united states”) based on the democratic principles of personal freedom, liberty, and brotherhood (yes, brotherhood, for the New Nation was misogynist and sexist!).
 
But this New Nation quickly passed its oppressive laws to take away the people’s rights. They called these laws the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts (from 1790 to 1847) and said that the people needed them because they had become lazy, stupid, and useless on liquor (ignoring its own criminal indiscretions during the prohibition era).
 
These laws did not help the people. They forbade the people from enjoying their rights, to possess liquor on their own lands and in their own homes. They criminalized the people’s rights to liquor. They forced the people to trade only at posts where the enemy could be present to control them. They took away the people’s rights to control their own trade, lands, and economies. All because they said the people were powerless to resist the liquor—prone to addiction as the people were, without any immunity to resist against such a disease, succumbed to and even demanding liquor as currency.
 
The enemy tells lies about the people that are not even clever. It tells these lies so the people will blame themselves for the poverty and the despair they live in. These lies work to legitimate the violence, fraud, and greed of the colonial-imperial state that is still at the heart of the New Nation. These lies represent the people as inferior and weak, sexually wanton and lazy, violent, given to impulsive and self-destructive behavior. After all, if the people are these things, then certainly the New Nation is justified in responding with all its force to civilize them.
 
The people must tell their own histories about liquor to be truly liberated. They must be united and aligned with others committed to the truth!
 
They must tell how the colonial and imperial structures of domination made them poor and engendered violence between them.
 
This is not a lie.
 
It is not to say that poverty and violence were absent before the enemy came (that would be stupid and wrong). This is to say that the image of the people as naturally and culturally inferior refuses to acknowledge the ways that the New Nation’s colonial and imperial forces produced the conditions in which liquor was used as currency with the people. That the enemy enabled and then exploded control of the fur trade across the continent with liquor; that liquor as currency was responsible for the people’s economic indenture and exploitation; that the illegal sale of lands by the people’s councils to speculators, and then their cessions by treaties to the New Nation, meant in part to alleviate those debts and secure foods and supplies to alleviate the people’s poverty and despair.
 
It was all part of the New Nation’s attempt at total genocide of the people.
 
The people must be liberated from the lies of the enemy!
They must overthrow the enemy’s lies!
Take back the liquor!
 
Every person must rise up, their shot glasses held high in the air, and pronounce together in spirit:
 
Liquor sovereignty is decolonization by the exercise of self-determination over what one puts in one’s body.
 
The people and their allies demand:
 
(1) The people unite amongst themselves and with their allies against the enemy’s racist lies to proclaim that the people are not biologically or culturally inferior or prone to alcoholism or the interpersonal violence it engenders. These lies about the people fuel structures of oppression and exploitation. There is no post-colonial! No post-imperial! No “settler society.” There is only Empire.
 
(2) The people proclaim that sobriety and abstinence in and of themselves are not their goals. True self-discipline is an ethic of personal and collective responsibility. Drink and play responsibly!
 
(3) The people do not believe that anyone “gets off” (forgiven or otherwise excused by the enemy’s religion) for the interpersonal violence and other crimes committed when drinking or drunk. Take responsibility for yourself and your drink!
 
(4) The people seek to abolish the enemy’s dictatorships over their bodies and spirits and those of their allies. Personal freedom and liberty are the desired values, but not when their terms are dictated by the enemy and privilege heterosexual domination (aka the brotherhood). Non-heterosexuals and women (not necessarily mutually exclusive) must be empowered!
 
(5) The people assert that true liberation will come when the status-quo order is steadily and non-violently disrupted and disturbed. Liberation takes stamina!
 
(6) The people and their allies seek to abolish (not to co-opt) the institutions and policies of the enemy’s regimes, they are what is responsible for the people’s oppression. Self-administration is now self-determination!
 
(7) The people proclaim that the terms of all personal desires must be reclaimed. Rediscover your bodies and spirits, your intellects, your passions and desires, your eroticism and play. That is decolonization!
 
[This manifesto seeks comrades and collaborators to contribute and edit……]