Interviewed here by Craig Fortier for a research project on decolonization and Indigenous solidarity, Greg Macdougall has been active with IPSMO, the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa, for the past five years. Prior to that he was already involved in independent media organizing and media-making; he has published an Aboriginal Understanding booklet that includes some of his earlier writings, and you can find a complete collection of his writings and videos on Indigenous issues at this link.
Listen to the interview (70min) or download the mp3,
and/or you can read the full transcript below
This interview is divided into six sections (themes):
- (Personal) History + Background
- On Decolonization
- Ideas + Desires + Principles = Practices
- Historical, Political, Social, Economic Context
- On Relationships + Contradictions
- On Resurgence
Note: I want to thank Craig for doing this research (he’s interviewing a lot of people on these topics, and compiling the results into something that collectively makes sense, which will be a great resource). Personally upon reading this transcript a few months after the fact, I find there is a fair bit more that could be said – other things I’d think of to add in, but also some more detailed explanations of what I was originally saying. But that’s just the nature of having discussion / dialogue / conversation, there’ll always be more that could be said … hopefully at least some of this makes sense to you, and maybe helps you think about things at least a bit differently. Thanks for taking the time — Greg
Theme 1: History + Background
Question: Talk a bit about how you identify yourself, where you situate yourself in the movements that you are involved in and maybe a little history of how that came about.
Greg: I guess I identify myself, just as, a white male kind of coming from a privileged background, I guess, kind of like mid/upper class. And not really getting involved in any kind of activism until I was about 23 years old, no probably a bit younger, but around then. So, not when I was like a teenager. I think, two things that opened my eyes was hip hop culture and also Adbusters magazine. Those were things when I was a teenager that I was reading or listening to, but not really being socially active. But then what happened was that I went to Queen’s University for a year of teacher’s college and took a teaching for social justice class and that was more of a formal introduction to oppression and privilege and injustice. Cause I was taking math at University, so it wasn’t really … and I think I really liked it because it was more about problem solving, logical thinking, and that kind of thing, which are more transferable skills….and I interviewed Ward Churchill and he said that most systems of education are indoctrination, so they teach you what to think, and that’s something I agree with, so I think I’m glad that I didn’t go to university to learn how to think about injustice. I think it was better to develop it informally, in community and all that kind of stuff.
So anyways, I was at Queen’s for the year and I led a workshop on access to education and that was in 2000 and also at the same time I got started writing for the (Waterloo) student newspaper. I was on the track team and we needed someone to write articles about our meets, so I started writing and then I went back to Waterloo to end my original degree and started writing about other stuff for the student newspaper. So I got involved through that, just what was going on on campus in terms of things that I was interested in. I edited a Buy Nothing Day feature, wrote a piece on Anti-Car day or whatever it was and with the Buy Nothing Day feature I got involved in the media activism group at WPIRG (the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group) so that was kind of how I got involved in activist stuff. We started the Independent Media Centre in Kitchener-Waterloo, which was also the base for the Ontario Indy Media site, so I was doing media stuff for both the student newspaper and indymedia stuff and organizing in this group called Media Watch.
I was just writing about whatever I was interested in – some social justice stuff, some art stuff, some whatever was going on – but some of the stuff that I covered – the first thing was a talk by some Christian Peace Maker Team people who had been to Burnt Church. WPIRG put on this talk and they invited the student newspaper to cover it so I went – that was my first Aboriginal event I attended. And it wasn’t even an Aboriginal event, because it was allies talking about it. And then Ward Churchill came to talk; I got to interview him before the talk and that was kind of eye-opening and I think he had some good things to say.
I think really just picking stuff up along the way and kind of gradually informing my thinking. He was big on knowing your history, knowing how we got to this point so that we can understand what we can do about it. So anyways, that was early 2000s and then I left Waterloo, came to Ottawa, was kind of in and out of activism for a while and in 2008 I was doing media stuff again (2007-2008) and kind of getting involved more in the community again about what was going on locally in terms of activism or social justice work and I got involved in media stuff through Linchpin which is the newspaper for Common Cause, which is an Ontario anarchist group. There was a few events that were called “anarchist assemblies” here in Ottawa and at one point someone from Common Cause came down introduced what they were doing, they were based in Toronto and Hamilton at the time. It was actually some people from Ireland that came over and really got it started and they were part of, I think it’s called the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, but anyways, so I got involved in Common Cause and I remember the first thing I heard about Barriere Lake. Maybe it was the solidarity group, but they sent us a message in March 2008, I think it was, and that was when there was a coup on the reserve where the government was deposing their traditional council and putting in a new Chief and council and there was protests in the community and the SQ (Securité du Québec) was like escorting this new Chief and council onto the reserve against community pressure.
So anyways, that was the first I heard of Barriere Lake and then I guess it was a couple of months later, the community was coming to Ottawa to put pressure on the government. I think there was six of us, we didn’t have a group going, but there was six of us who got together to support those actions. There was a few actions over the summer, where community members would come from Barriere Lake, Barriere Lake (Rapid Lake) is situated 3.5-4 hours north of here in Quebec in the La Verendrye Park. We were doing organizing support around them coming to Ottawa to do protests and kind of in the fall we decided we’d like to form a group that would be able to support Barriere Lake on an ongoing basis, but also like do other Indigenous solidarity work. So we were having some meetings and we were getting 15-20 people and it just so happened that there was a group already called IPSMO (Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa) that was an action group of OPIRG-Carleton. Some were students and some weren’t and it had been going for a couple of years, but I guess that people had been away over the summer so no one of the IPSMO group over the summer had been involved in the Barriere Lake stuff, so when we started to have these meetings to form a group and some of those people came. We were trying to figure out what name we should have for this new group and we figured that IPSMO sounded good. So it was kind of like we formed a new group that was kind of continuing what they were doing, but different at the same time. It was like, more community-based and less on-campus, but we still are an action group of OPIRG Carlteon to this day, as well as OPIRG Ottawa. That’s how I got involved in what I’m doing now, and continuing to do media stuff as well, just covering issues for rabble or Dominion.
Question: What ideas, experiences, traditions underlie the practices that you engage in as a radical?
Greg: I got into it through communication, trying to raise awareness and get the word out about things. That’s really a principle of what I do and I think our group does it as well. Like I was saying before with Ward Churchill, I just picked up a few things there and every time I went to an event I picked up some ideas that kind of shaped how I view what solidarity is or what Aboriginal culture is or what we are fighting for.
Question: And what would you say are some of those ideas?
Greg: One thing that stands out was this workshop with Herb Joseph, who is from Six Nations, and that was in Hamilton. First off, it was at Ana’s Village which was an anarchist conference and I was presenting there with the Hamilton Media centre and they just had a thing saying “suggest other workshops you’d like to see” and I had started attending some Aboriginal events in K-W and at some point, I don’t know where this fits in, but I was taking a course in Ojibwe and I just suggested that they should have a Native workshop and I think that is why they ended up having Herb Joseph there. He was talking about a couple of things, like he gave some history about what had gone on and stuff, but I think he was talking about the importance of non-native people standing up in partnership with Native people has made a lot of difference, especially, I think, when Native people were so disenfranchised. Knowing that history and that it’s been collective efforts that have done stuff.
There’s a lot of different ideas that I picked up here and there that I can’t put a finger on.
Theme 2: On Decolonization
Question: I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about your own understanding of what decolonization means to you? and within the collectives you work with?
Greg: I think in terms of how we work as a group, its very much, there’s kind of like three different – I guess you could call it pillars – that we try to organize around. One is providing direct support to Indigenous struggles, efforts, and that’s been with Barriere Lake especially over the last few years, but it’s kind of like, taking leadership and providing whatever support we can offer – whether its communications, fundraising, whether its going to protests, rallies, coordinating other people to go. So, however we can support what communities are already doing. Also, the second thing, we recognize the need of education (both for ourselves and also the general non-native population) and that’s something that shouldn’t be left to Native people, to have to educate everyone about everything. So I think that’s a role that we’ve identified as important and take on. And the third thing is that we recognize it’s important to build relationships between the people we work with and try to work on that on an ongoing basis. To know that its not just about whatever immediate efforts, but actually trying to develop things over the long term – get to know people better.
Question: Can you talk about the role of relationship-building in decolonization?
Greg: Yeah, I was thinking about this and I was thinking about the role of community in relationships and how it seems that our communities are really fractured things and they are more like personal networks than it is like being in a community. I was just at a conference yesterday, it was on mental health, and we were talking about really good points (like about intersectionality) but the thing was it was all these people, I knew a few of them, but also many I’ve never seen before and will never see again. I think if you can actually be in spaces, I was thinking about it in terms of community as a geographical space, if you are actually seeing people on a day-to-day basis what kind of relationships you could have there. Where there is space to grow and develop understandings of what’s important to people and how they understand the world and how you can share your own perspective of the world with other people, whereas, it seems with activism it is very much based around having to do this thing – so we don’t really focus on the relationships. I dunno, facebook seems like a cool way to stay connected with people and just have that ongoing on again/off again conversations. I think we need better things than facebook, especially when we are not even in the same city, its hard to have good relationships. We’ve identified this as something that’s important, but I don’t know how good we’re doing at it, but it’s definitely something to reflect on.
Question: What are the outcomes we are seeking through decolonization?
Greg: It seems like it’s very much personal. You start personally and you are always interacting with all these different people everyday and you are on different wavelengths. So I think it’s important to centre it, figure it out for yourself how to approach the world and not relying on systemic change as something that is going to be the thing that solves things. Knowing for yourself what’s a process of decolonization, how you change how you see the world and also having space to share that. I was thinking actually, why I’m focusing on the individual thing, is because we don’t have, for lack of a better word, a school that accredits you in knowing what decolonization is. It’s kinda something that you have to figure out for yourself and figure out with other people who are interested. It’s very ad-hoc and everyone is going to enter through different ways and build different understandings. So it’s a mix of understanding it for yourself and looking into things, things that interest you. And also trying to build collective knowledge, whether that’s personal or impersonal. Looking at stuff online so that we can see how each other are thinking even if we don’t know each other. I think also building institutions, I know that at a conference I was at in Kitchener-Waterloo, it was called “From the Ground Up” it was in 2002-2003 about building healthy communities and I guess this has probably been said elsewhere too but you can confront the system and try to change the system or your can build alternatives, kind of new things, that will gradually outgrow the old problematic things. Building new structures and new institutions an new things that can actually embody some values that are different from this colonial thing and personally I look at it as though it’s kinda like a dominator culture.
It’s global, right? So there’s so many different cultures that get stomped on in different ways but also in similar ways. Just like with the residential schools, I was reading, I think the guys name was Rupert Ross, a lawyer that worked up north in Aboriginal communities, and wrote just what he learned – and just talking about the difference in culture and I don’t know if I’m remembering this totally right and its kind of like a stereotype, but it’s also an insight into a different cultural way of dealing with things – but if there’s painful experiences you don’t necessarily want to talk about them or focus on them. I think with residential schools people don’t talk about it, some survivors just don’t want to go there. And you can run up against a culture that says you have to focus on everything that’s bad and clear it out. So, just to know that there is different cultural ways to deal with things and so we’re brought up in one way, it’s pretty messed up, but we kind of accept it as normal, this is just an example that there is different cultures and different ways of living and to impose how we think things should be dealt with is not necessarily helpful.
Theme 3: Ideas + Desires + Principles = Practices
Question: I have a hunch that the ideas, desires, and principles we share with each other or develop collectively in radical spaces influences what we do, how we do it and who we do it with politically/socially. It’s not just what we want but how we do it that matters….I’m wondering if there are particular desires, principles, ideas that you organize under that help you to navigate your own understanding of what the process of struggle looks like?
Greg: Something I picked up from a number of places is about the role of healing. I don’t know if it’s especially true in activism, but I think it’s true everywhere, but people have all these wounds and act them out and maybe think that they can change everything outside of themselves and that will solve problems, but we have to understand that maybe people always have emotional wounds or whatever kind of wounds. But really that’s an important thing to focus on is healing, however you do that. So that’s one kind of principle I think?
Also, when you look at colonialism in Canada it’s obviously associated with Europe. European people came here and colonized it. I think looking at, like I was saying before the importance of understanding history … the two most telling ways I picked up this information was through John Trudell and Starhawk – just about the whole importance of burning times in Europe and that was like this huge colonization of tribes of Europe and over many generations of people living in this time where if you don’t conform to what is being pushed upon you, you get burned – especially women. So, I was talking about healing and wounds, and John Trudell just says that your whole mindset is based on religion but these people who’s ancestors went through that and now have a new way of living because of that history and coming here and the same thing happens again. It’s this whole societal wounding. So if you trace it back, and understand what there was before that – there was paganism and there was wiccanism and there was whatever. I think it’s a helpful thing to include in our understanding of colonialism. And also I saw an article by someone who had talked about their position as a Muslim person in Canada and how they approach colonialism, but then a comment was that Muslim culture was pretty colonial too and did all this stuff – but they didn’t do it here. So you might forget about it. I guess where I was going with this is to understand humanity and to understand that there’s a reason why these things are happening and to not blame people so much. To kind of have this empathy.
Question: How do you respond to criticisms that your way of thinking might be “utopian” or “ideological”?
Greg: I would say that those are definitely different things. Utopianism, I think, we can do a lot better than we are doing now so we might as well work towards that. And to have an idea of exactly what’s it’s going to look like, I don’t think we can know.
Ideological, I’ve seen some criticisms of dogmatism or whatever, and I think that’s very true. I was reading a thing about how our society might fall apart in the next while, however long that is, and how the really important thing is going to be what people do at a local level to build things that are alternatives to this really crushing system. What they were saying is that there are already all these positive local examples at work, whereas a big problem is that we often have this “ideology” that “this is how it should be done” – even if its not tested. Even if its not gonna work, maybe, we don’t know if it’s going to work, but if it’s actually like things that work on a small scale we can use those things because they are proven.
I think just believing in theory divorced from experience isn’t great. But I think Utopianism is having principles and values that you act from. That’s how I see a difference. Like I said, I think we can do a lot to improve the way the world is.
Question: What would you say the role of imagination is in all that?
Greg: I think it’s really huge, just because we’ve been raised in this limited way of thinking. So to challenge how we see things and to see other dimensions of things is important. I think, when you have this imposed religion and spiritual way of looking at things versus these really time-tested spiritual traditions that are based on nature and based on a totally different way of understanding things. I think if you can’t use your imagination to move beyond what you’ve been raised in, then we don’t have a whole lot of hope. It’s like unlearning, but it’s also being open to what might be true.
(end of part 1)
Interlude: Greg Macdougall Unprompted Thoughts
Greg: To jump back to how I identify, something I thought of is – I did this Myers-Brigg personality test and I got INFP, but whatever it was I remember that the person who did it said that I was the exact opposite of what is dominant in our society. So I think maybe there is more built-in empathy to understanding different ways of being and understanding if you don’t fit in and how that is.
It also made me think of something that I heard once, when people are really involved in activism and doing a lot of stuff, the regular person says“so how can I be involved, but not like how you do it”, like, “what can regular people do?” I think it’s important to understand that perspective – it’s not just people who are really involved and really active, you have to look at a broad understanding of where people are at and how people can be involved in this process. Whether that is through psychology or whether that’s through having different definitions of what inclusive means, I think that’s important.
A neighbourhood kid was just walking by while I was having a smoke a few days ago and she had her school book with her and I asked what was in it and it ended up she was going to study with a friend for a test on Aboriginal people. So I was able to give her two copies of my booklet, one for her and one for her friend and that also made me think – I think a lot of times people think of Aboriginal people as like other and not part of us and living out there or whatever, maybe on reserves – but they are just people like us, living in the same city and having a lot of the same experiences but also different experiences.
Going back to Herb Joseph, he was talking about the fact that spirit doesn’t see your colour. But I think identity, a good understanding that I got, when you talk about identity politics its not about really your identity – it’s about your lived experience and how that’s shaped by whatever group you might be put in. So understanding that there are these different experiences but that we are still all kind of the same as well.
I was thinking also, to not fetishize confrontational approaches. I think in activism a lot of it is based on “we have to resist” “we have to fight” but I know particularly Grandfather William Commanda, who was a spiritual elder of the Algonquin people and spiritual leader and a big thing of his was on forgiveness. And maybe even just like turning the other cheek kind of thing, but really recognizing people as people and not forcing things on people. Just kind of walking a good path and things will change. Still doing things right and working for a better way, but I think maybe the whole fighting thing (Judy Rebick had a good piece talking about Idle No More and the future of feminism) and this is a new way that is not necessarily so confrontational. You can often get caught up in that whole dominator behaviour pattern and then you’re not really changing things, so just understanding that there are different approaches. And I think, reconciliation, when you are talking about – because all these really bad things have happened and continue to happen – and how do we reconcile that with creating a better way forward. The state doesn’t represent people. You can understand where some people are coming from, just not knowing or really feeling disempowered and taking out this frustration on this group they see as other – which is more easier than understanding your own position as being disempowered and dealing with that themselves.
And another thing, when you are looking at culture, I was just talking to someone about – there was an Earth First! gathering somewhere in the States recently and a major focus of it was especially tar sands, but more broadly Indigenous struggles.
Craig: Oh, in Ohio?
Greg: Yeah. One major thing there is that it was actually a dry event – there was no alcohol and this is coming from an Earth First! culture that is very much based around drinking, a drinking culture and maybe drugs, I don’t know. But just having that respect, that maybe we have to change our social ways of being, because alcohol is kind of just like this really accepted way of being social with people and the impact it’s had on Aboriginal communities is pretty drastic. And to respect that and to understand that maybe we don’t want to impose that on them.
Theme 4: Historical, Political, Social, Economic Context
Question: What effects does the current historical, political, economic context (especially the rise of neoliberalism) have on your practices of decolonization?
Greg: The one thing that comes to mind, with Common Cause, we hosted a book tour that was called “Black Flame” and I haven’t even read the whole book, but it’s a very in-depth history of anarchism and syndicalism throughout the whole world with some focus on decolonial movements elsewhere. The parallels of decolonial movements, which I don’t really know a lot about elsewhere…but in Common Cause we really tried to have a focus on developing our internal politics and on self-education. That was something that was new to me, so much of the activism that I’ve been involved with historically and even in the present is about getting things done and its not about really developing a common base of understanding to do that work. It’s like you come in to the group where you are at, with your own understandings, people might share some things (you probably share some things just because you came together over a certain project) but I think the whole thing ideologically, tactically and strategically – its important that we come together collectively if we are going to work together and develop a common understanding of what we’re basing this action on. Whether it’s values or principles or ideology or whatever. I think that’s something that I obviously have been lacking and it didn’t work too well from my experience in Common Cause, we weren’t really cohesive enough to really get that going well (and this was in Ottawa which is a smaller group). I think that they had more success in Hamilton and Toronto.
I think a lot of activism is too much about “we have to do the next thing” and we don’t take the time to build and reflect and create a basis of understanding. Or if we do, it’s often in these one-off conferences and workshops or whatever, which don’t have the space for that ongoing building.
Question: Can you talk about what you’ve seen over the last 4-5 years that has been different in terms of how people have engaged with Indigenous struggles or processes of internal decolonization from within their movements?
Greg: I think one thing is that people are talking about it more and have that awareness and realize its importance. There’s a really good collective will to be working on this and trying to understand it more. I don’t get the sense that there is really a shared collective understanding of what we mean and what we are talking about. There was this discussion on ‘Queering and decolonizating anti-oppression’ workshops – anti-oppression is always a buzz word, it’s not really doing all that, but I think that even decolonizing is a buzz word and we don’t have a great understanding of what we are doing. Again, I think that everyone comes at it from their own perspective and their own experiences and their own learning that they’ve done and it’s all different. I think having these opportunities to really have conversations about that is important and that’s something I really think we need to do more of in our own group. I can’t really speak to what other people are doing, other than I know that (or I think) that people are taking it seriously – I mean, it’s on their agenda.
Question [Reworded]: What effects does the current historical, political, economic context (especially the rise of neoliberalism) have on your practices of decolonization?
Greg: The one aha moment I had, I was just downtown one time wandering around and I just saw this one person and it made it clear to me that people are in shock, like it’s hard to function sometimes, it’s hard to be really coherent, as John Trudell likes to say, and clear about what’s really going on because there’s so much going on all over. I think we have to deal with so much that it’s hard to really be diligent with keeping focus and I find it hard to have an ongoing focus on building anything – because there is so much going on. I mean, I do media work and I’ll do an interview on one subject then something on something else. While they are connected and while they compliment a building of a holistic understanding, it’s hard to bring everything together. I don’t want to say it’s a cop out, but to have one focus, you want to bring everything else into it but at the same time it’s overwhelming.
Question: There was an academic argument back in 2005-2009 between an article written by Bonita Lawrence and Ena Dua who wrote that radical communities need to put Indigenous struggles at the centre of their work. What do you think of that concept?
Greg: Yeah, to apply that you have to look where people are at and what they are struggling with. The immediate things that people are dealing with don’t necessarily afford everyone the opportunity to focus on centering Indigenous struggles or centering decolonization. I think that’s what I was getting at when I was talking about neoliberalism, just this all out assault on people’s lives and people’s communities means that you have to deal what’s in your own life and sometimes that ends up sidelining what we should be centering.
What I’ve experienced is that I almost put aside my own life or my own immediate concerns to do solidarity work. I think I’m working to see how they go together better, but it almost feels like its doing separate work. It’s kinda like, “What do I have to do for my own life today and what do I gotta do in terms of activism for Indigenous solidarity”. That’s also what I was saying about how people ask “if you’re not this full-time committed activist then where do you fit in?” I think a lot of times people don’t make the connections between their own life and their “change the world” work and I think it’s important to put those two together. So it’s a question of how you relate decolonization to all your different personal struggles and your community’s struggles.
Theme 5: On Relationships + Contradictions
Question: Can you talk a bit about the relationships that you’ve had that have helped you to think through your own processes of struggle and decolonization? What type of relationships you envision as being important to the types of autonomous spaces that you’re trying to create?
Greg: I think really having community spaces that are there on an ongoing basis and that bring people together is really important. It doesn’t have to be to bring people together to the next action or to do the next whatever or even to formally get taught about anything. Community is more that people have connections with all these other people but do we really have functioning communities? I think building those spaces, Alan Sears talks about “infrastructures of dissent” – do you know about that?
Greg: It’s just – what is the infrastructure we need to build movements? What are the physical spaces? What kind of resources, whether they are like learning resources or access to whatever. It’s just this whole concept of building infrastructures that hold together and provide space for these movements to really grow and for people to be a part of them – so that we’re not all fragmented. I think that’s a really key thing because I think if you have the space where people are connecting you can build community around that. And it’s kinda like, instead of framing things about what we are against and building communities around what we are against – you are kind of building community (and I can’t remember exactly) but you are focusing on the “we”, what are our values? What brings us together? And forming spaces around that.
Question: Can you talk about contradictions and failures that you’ve experienced while engaging in Indigenous solidarity work?
Greg: I’m not really sure if I have a good answer for that. The one thing I’m thinking of is the amount of resources that get devoted to going to court. So two things: one is, this is based on some blockades that happened just off the reserve for Rapid Lake, which is where the Algonquins of Barriere Lake are. So one thing is there were both people from Ottawa and I think from Montreal too and also from the community that were charged. In terms of solidarity support, we could mobilize, say like 10 people to drive up to Maniwaki to attend the court cases of people from Ottawa but when people from the (Barrier Lake) community would go [to court], say if they had different dates, no one from Ottawa would go up to support them. So that’s one thing where it’s like really kind of supporting your friends but not going broader than that.
The other thing that bugged me was that you can get 10 people to go to sit in court all day (making like a ten hour commitment) but those same 10 people won’t put 10 hours into trying to organize what we are trying to work on. So I don’t think that’s really answering your question, but its just those are experiences that we have that I think point somewhere.
Craig: Why do you think that is that people are more willing to do the 10 hour trip? Do you think it’s because they’ve built that relationship with that friend?
Greg: I think that’s part of it. Like, I gave a workshop on outreach and recruitment and it just occurred to me when I was going over there about how to open it up because I was doing it based on some marketing principles I learned about entrepreneurship. So the point I made in the workshop was that we could actually learn some things from business approaches because even though we aren’t trying to make a profit but businesses if they aren’t making a profit or they’re not achieving their goal they stop doing what they are doing. I don’t think we really challenge the way that we do things or think through what we do – we just kind of do what we think is expected or what we’ve seen other people do. We don’t think what’s the most effective thing we could do – ways we could spend our time, that kind of thing. So I think court support is just something that you do and it ends up taking way more resources than anything else that we do and it’s not all that effective. I mean, does it help that you have ten people sitting in the courtroom rather than three or four? Maybe that’s an answer?
Theme 6: On Resurgence
Question: Building on this idea of resurgence…remember ways of relating to each other outside of the capitalist logic in their day-to-day work. Can you talk about some of those practices of resurgence in our day-to-day struggles?
Greg: Seeing traditional Indigenous cultures as having things that are viable and things to think about today. Bonita Lawrence was doing a booklaunch and we hosted here in Ottawa and I think it was Bob Lovelace who was saying how basically they didn’t have a wage-based society. And that’s back to imagination and back to different ways of organizing society – you can see that that is a viable way of organizing – you don’t all have to go and work for a wage to live. Like there’s different ways of organizing society, they existed in the past, and they’ve kinda been stamped out. One of our members of Common Cause wrote an article about how residential schools were basically (one aspect of what it was doing) was to take this Aboriginal community and force it into the wage economy. So that there’s not this alternative existing in Canadian society that non-indigenous people can look at and say “wow that’s really different and maybe it’s better than our society” and instead they don’t want to have that in existence anymore.
That also made me think of stories of settlers who abandoned the settler colony to go and live with Indigenous people when those two cultures were existing side by side and Indigenous ones were still more in tact. They just saw it as maybe that’s a better way to live and I don’t have allegiance to the state. So I think that Aboriginal or Indigenous communities and ways of life really got stamped out because they were this alternative.
Craig: And that was dangerous?
Question: The context of resurgence among Indigenous peoples has some parallels and similarities with the ideas, desires and principles being practiced by a number of non-indigenous radicals within settler states. How does this particular concept resonate with you? What is the danger of remembering both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of being that exist outside the logics of capitalism?
Greg: Along those lines an Algonquin spiritual teacher was telling how when he is passing on teachings to non-native people, how its really a way for them to reconnect with their own lost spiritual practices because I guess they share similarities. There’s a whole lot to say about cultural appropriation and stuff but I think connecting with what was lost or what was stamped out in whatever ways could be pretty powerful.
Question: Others have suggested that instead of building something new, are we instead trying to reassert long-standing ways of engaging in relationships that are outside of the capitalist/patriarchical/heterosexist/ableist relationships we have grown up with? What role do you think this plays in your thinking about your actions as a radical? Are the two mutually exclusive?
Greg: I think a lot of people have these values that don’t fit into capitalism or to neoliberal society or however you want to say our society is organized. A lot of it is community and we’re really broken up. I think what you were saying about inside the home as an example of how you can treat each other differently. I think if you have strong communities where you have good relationships with people the stronger connections you have in an ongoing community the more chance there is to bring back those values. Because otherwise there is not really a place for them, if its more like transactional relationships.
Question: Do you have anything else that you want to add?
Greg: Yeah, I think I mentioned some of this – but we’re all kind of coming into learning about decolonization through different ways, having different experiences – so there’s not necessarily a shared understanding. So I was thinking about how is it an individual responsibility to build your own understanding versus a collective responsibility? Like are we gonna share our understandings and prioritize that? What that brought up to me was thinking about accountability and its like who are you accountable to? Because you might not have strong relationships with people you should be accountable to or are you just self-accountable – do you have to be responsible to bring things up with people you should be in relationships with because they’re not going to hold you accountable if you’re not doing it? So just some thoughts on that.