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Indigenius Socialism for the 21st Century

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Issue: 61 Section: Opinion Geography: Earth Topics: Indigenous, socialism

July 9, 2009

Indigenius Socialism for the 21st Century

by Stewart Steinhauer

Mother Earth Circling Grandmothers: Women’s relationship roles, revolving around motherhood, are the key to understanding Indigenius Socialism. Photo: Stewart Steinhauer

KUTENAI TERRITORY, TURTLE ISLAND—First thing's first: “Indigenius” is not a typo in the headline; it’s an example of the syncretic nature of the Cree language. Cree uses building blocks called morphemes; the genius of the Cree language is that speakers creatively jam morphemes together to create new, more accurate words, with two focuses: humour and poetry. And it’s an action, not mulled over in quiet deliberation, but spit out in the heat of the moment. Language as performance art.


By the the beginning of the 21st century—after the imagined end of history, and much to Euro-origin intellectuals’ surprise—a call for socialism in the 21st century arose in Latin America, first among Mayan Zapatistas and then spreading southwards across the remainder of Turtle Island.

Socialism for the 21st century became Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s electoral battle cry, where, in spite of the complete and absolute opposition of the privately owned public media, he won election after election on the promise to redistribute oil revenues to the 60 per cent of the Venezuelan population that was desperately poor. Following Chavez’s program of Catholic liberation theology mixed with a smattering of Marx and topped off with hefty doses of pragmatic state capitalism, nation states across the southern continent tilted Left, with the notable exception of Colombia—after Israel, the largest recipient of US military aid in the world.

Like Evo Morales and the Bolivian Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Indigenous-led social movements throughout Latin America are openly anti-capitalist, because capitalism as a system of political economy means ongoing genocide for Indigenous Peoples and perpetual ecocide for the non-human portion of the Mother Earth Super-Being, of which humans are a part. (See CIBC and Me, Part IV for details.) Coming from a deep history of harmonious relations with Mother Earth, and having already spent millennia in systems of political economy based on simple egalitarian sharing, Indigenous Peoples have something to say about what a potential future steady state global system of political economy could look like.

The first thing I have to point to is the European model of industrial development. It doesn’t work for a multiplicity of reasons, and negates Marx’s theoretical explanation of how capitalism would automatically create a human society filled with workers who will, some day, transform capitalism into a socialist society. From an Indigenous perspective, the Euro-origin industrial model arises from a psychological pitting of human against nature, manufacturing an ideological division that does not exist in Indigenous reality. Further, it posits that something called "scarcity" exists, and that technological development is necessary to better this supposedly natural state of scarcity. Within this imagined dichotomy, nature is wild and humans are civilized; humans living in a state of nature are wild, and therefore not real humans. The real humans live in a state of technologically ameliorated scarcity, assembling vehicles for Ford, GM and Chrysler, with two mortgages and four credit cards. So much for Marx.

From the Indigenous-to-Turtle Island point of view, there is no dichotomy between wild and civilized. There is no such thing as wilderness. When Europeans arrived on Turtle Island they saw wilderness, while Indigenous Peoples saw the space as fully inhabited by culturally developed humans who were living in an active relationship with Mother Earth. Land that was fully, ethically, sustainably inhabited by Indigenous Peoples was seen by Europeans as undeveloped. John Locke’s labour theory of value claims that an Indian’s land is not worth one-thousandth of what the same acre of land would be worth were it located in England. Several hundred years after Locke’s writings, agricultural researchers are suggesting that, if all factors from the global industrial base are included, free-ranging a 60,000,000-head herd of buffalo is most likely the best agricultural use of the High Plains region of North America—exactly the use it was being put to prior to the introduction of Europe’s industrial development model.

From an Indigenous point of view, a logical recommendation for socialism for the 21st century is a complete redesign of humanity’s global industrial base. The redesigned industrial base has to abandon both the myth of scarcity and the myth of wilderness, while embracing the reality that humans actually are an integral part of an enormous Super-Being, whom Indigenous folks have long known as Mother Earth.

A quick dash back to reality for a moment: we humans aren’t going to voluntarily undertake a task of that magnitude while we are in our current antisocial state of mind. It’s easy to point to the global problems facing humanity and say that our self-induced trauma has shaped us to be the species we are now. The challenging part is imagining the way forward from here.

This brings my imagination to the crucial place: the crux of the matter; the originating point. The human vagina. Not being personally endowed with one, and certainly subject to the same forces noted by psychological studies concluding that a man’s imagination goes there at least once every 10 seconds, I realize I’m fair game for criticism.

However, as a once-popular song might have said had it been penned by an Indigenous lyricist, the vagina bone is connected to the stomach bone, and the stomach bone is connected to the heart bone. In an odd way, that just about sums up gender relationships while being anatomically correct, energetically speaking. Indigenous socialism arises from the relationship between mother and child, the first social relationship we humans experience. Looking into the structure of the social institution of Indigenous motherhood, prior to the cataclysmic assault staged by Christian missionaries hell-bent on their civilizing mission, I see some noteworthy features.

Connecting the heart bone to the head bone, I see the common thread of Indigenius Socialism expressed through a particular aspect of human sexuality. Modern medical researchers call it oxytocin, but you don’t have to name it to know it. Human females experience an inter-human bonding, or a primary socialism, during sexual arousal, sexual activity, sexual orgasm(s!), child birth, breast feeding, communal food preparation, communal feasting, and communal socializing in general, when the mood is non-violent. From the very specific Indigenous point of view found on the High Plains, where all those buffalos were roaming among the playful deer and antelope, pre-Christianized human societies practised a non-hierarchical matrifocal social form, where women’s relationships established the social norms. Men had roles, too, and I’ll get to that in time, but women’s relationship roles, revolving around motherhood, are the key to understanding Indigenius Socialism and the foundation of what I am proposing here as Syncretic Indigenius Socialismo.

In the human brain, there is a formation medical researchers call the limbic node; it is croissant-shaped, with one end arching around to almost touch the other. Almost, but not quite. Electricity-based human nerve impulses can jump the gap; stimulation on either end causes excitation on the other end. Oral receptors are at one end of the limbic node and genital receptors are at the other end of the limbic node.

Those crazy medical researchers! Their studies show that in societies with higher emphasis on general brain development, there is a corresponding higher level of oral-genital sexual activity. French and Cree societies both fit into the higher-brain development category and I’ll gamble a wager on the origin of the Metis Nation from the shared preference for oral sex. Is the Metis infinity symbol really just a clever play on a sideways 69?

The head bone is connected to the vagina bone, as many intelligent people know, and you don’t have to be able to articulate the mechanics of it all to get it. In pre-Christian Cree society, adventures in sexuality were separated from pregnancy by well understood and widely practised plant-based and practice-based birth control. You could have your cake and eat it, too. Women were free to choose when, where, and with whom they would conceive a child. Women chose to have children spaced about four years apart—two or three at most—in a lifetime and had children in age cohorts within their own circle of age cohort sister-cousins. Children grew up with an age cohort of cousins, without the burden of having immediate older or younger siblings and with the benefit of being born into a circle of similarly aged playmate relatives.

Women often chose to have a first child around the age of 16, when their mothers were about 32, their grandmothers were about 48, their great-grandmothers were about 64, and their great-great grandmothers were about 80. It was not uncommon for women to live to 100 years, so up to six generations of mothers could be present in an extended family, with the newborn infant representing the seventh generation. This meant that every new mother was surrounded by a depth of experience in the fine arts of Indigenous Socialism. She was certainly never on her own, without support, trying to care for several, or even a dozen or more children, all her own, often on her own, as was the European standard at that same time in history.

Out of this foundational matrix arose the basic form of Indigenous Socialism. By choosing fathers from across the bio-region, extended family villages were cross-linked with many other extended family villages, in an intricate web that formed the regional and national governance systems. It was literally all in the family. The genius of Indigenous Socialism was that it did not extend from an avant-garde of intellectuals as a theory imposed imperfectly, top down, on a mass population, but instead was an organic product of a matrifocal society. When Fredrick Engels travelled to upper New York State to see for himself Haudenausaunee society in action, he marvelled at how a territorially large and heavily populated region could self-manage without elected officials, judges, police or prisons.

Like technological development, the organization of daily affairs in human society was founded on a completely different paradigm. Men did have roles, but women’s expectations of men were adjusted to account for men’s inherent weaknesses, most notably a propensity towards violence and a severe shortage of oxytocin. The poor dears could only get a blast of the primal socialist juice during orgasm; all the more reason to assist them in attaining as many as possible during a lifetime. Along with frequent orgasms, ceremonial activities also played an important part in reducing the potential stressor on a socialist system caused by an overabundance of testosterone—for instance, the sweatlodge. This wasn’t just an Indigenous introduction; Scandanavian societies, too, recognized the social benefits of immersing men in energy-sapping hot steamy environments for prolonged periods of time.

The Indigenius twist was an emphasis on the latent altruistic nature possibly underlying male humans’ obvious violent nature, as a remedy to the anti-social behaviours otherwise all too dominant. Protocol rituals in a simple sweatlodge ceremony remind and reinforce the necessary immersion of humans in the natural world; many times I’ve heard Elders leading sweatlodge ceremonies ritually comment on how we humans must humble ourselves and crawl on our hands and knees into the lodge, re-entering the womb of Mother Earth. During normal sweatlodge proceedings, water, earth, wind and fire are acknowledged with gratitude, from the perspective of the human family, while reminding us of our survival-based obligations to the circle of natural forces we have emerged from. The combination of intense heat, complete darkness and an extraordinary soundscape often moves participants out of day-to-day mundane realities and into the immediacy of relationship with Mother Earth. Everyone simultaneously has a unique experience and a deeply bonding common experience. Real socialism.

The genius of Indigenous ceremony is that it intentionally creates a psychological space where Indigenius Socialism can come to life, rewarding co-operation, voluntary sharing and spontaneous acts of kindness, while penalizing greed, selfishness and violence. These actions are easy for women, but hard for men—that damn testosterone! Within the ceremonial space, Indigenous women have figured out a method, over millennia, for engaging men, by using the same tactics used with young children. Useful roles are identified and social prestige is offered, while steady, firm Elder female hands quietly steer the ceremonial proceedings from a discreet position in the background.

I realize that we seem to be a long way away from the way of life that Rosa Luxemburg called primitive communism; she was just looking at what Marxists call the mode of production and she didn’t mean the mode of reproduction of the reserve army of labour. A syncretic Indigenius Socialism for the 21st century has to account, in practice, for both the mode of production and the mode of reproduction and does so by putting the mode of reproduction where it belongs: first. You can’t build a socialist future among antisocial human beings; the 20th century is a fine illustration of that point.

Becoming pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth, nurturing a new life: here’s where we can see the transcendence of the notions of wilderness and scarcity. Mother Earth is not wild, nor is She short on essential items for Her existence. The same is potentially true for every human mother; the keys are sharing and co-operation. Exactly what a global human society would look like following those two simple concepts is not for me to say, but I can predict something.

Indigenius Socialism will be built by women, for humanity, utilizing everything now in existence, to rise above the barbarism of the present moment. We men can choose to be women’s assistants in this project; it could be an ecstatic experience. Imagine global human population plummeting in a women-led movement, while orgasms per lifetime are skyrocketing. Perhaps the Metis Nation is a signpost to the future: Indigenous Peoples will be Peoples indigenous to Mother Earth—one race, diverse, living locally while thinking globally, wickedly intelligent, one more species among many worth saving from extinction. There is a window of opportunity now, but, if we humans don’t take it, we will just create another one soon. We will eventually choose socialism over barbarism; our Mother told us to.

Gifted with a white privilege suit on his birthday, Steinhauer has been slipping back and forth across the invisible boundary between Turtle Island and Canada since 1952. And this is what he saw.

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thoughts on indigenius people

Great article. I was in the Southwset of the US recently and began to realise the 1000 year old culture there, was equal to or better than our own "modern" society. Who said things have improved on Earth since the europeans moved west? There is much we can learn from societies that spent time together and grew/fought/loved/struggled together.

Thanks for this, very well done


Thoughts on Indigenius people

This sensible re-evaluation of the compromise that socialists made with liberal capitalism, an agreement, as it were, to co-operate in imperialism-as-progress is very useful. Many of us, evidently, are thinking on the same lines, returning in many senses to the first responses of Industrialism's original opponents, both the factory workers and the (factory workers to be) displaced rural masses.
Whose modern equivalents in Asia, Africa and South America particularly are numbered in the billions.

Sorry, as a man I can't

Sorry, as a man I can't support the notion that we are to be treated as anti-social beings who have an "overabundance of testosterone" and are lacking in oxytocin. I will not voluntarily be treated like a child by the women, as your article suggests. It seems that your indoctrination into accepting matriarchy is fully successful.

Of course, when brute strength is required, as in times of conflict when discourse no longer works, the female Elders will stop the oral sex and sweat lodges so that the men will become what they truly are...violent killing machines who have no respect for life, including their own.

What stereotypical, trite nonsense!

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