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Did you hear the one about...

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Issue: 32 Section: Opinion Geography: Canada Topics: Indigenous

October 24, 2005

Did you hear the one about...

Deconstructing a Canadian Indian in the privacy of your own home

by Stewart Steinhauer

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Steinhauer hammer finishing around lettering at base of "Surviving Genocide".
A light snow was falling onto the green grass. Looking at it through the window, Steinhauer felt the familiar twinge of depression that always accompanied the first snowfall. Some like it hot, and that was Steinhauer's preference. On the other hand, the first snow was the Cree signal for the change of seasons; with an unexpected flicker of excitement, he realized that story-telling season had rolled around again, and Wesakeychak could appear at any moment, strolling across the cyber-landscape.

Hmmmm. Deconstructing Canadian Indians in the privacy of your own home? Reverse engineering intellectual property? That's a tall order for a short space. Flipping open the Master's toolbox, he grabbed the monkey wrench and tossed it into the cogs of the Machine. For a nanosecond, things lurched to a halt, and, in that short space, Steinhauer said:

"Canadian Indians, circa 2005, are a social construct created out of the remnants of Indigenous Peoples surviving genocide by subjecting them to a social engineering project spanning several centuries. As such, they can be properly thought of as the intellectual property of western civilization, Canada division."

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Steinhauer wet polishing syllabic lettering on "Surviving Genocide".
Steinhauer looked at his atomic clock; there wasn't much of that nanosecond left. Reverse engineering. Was it going to be like playing country and western music backwards, where your dog comes home, and your spouse and kids, too, and there's a great crop, and you get to keep the farm? Looking back in his own family lines, Steinhauer saw ancestors from the Cree, Ojibwe, Metis, Mohawk, Irish, and Scots Nations. In true colonial fashion, his only functional language was English, just like most other modern Cree, Ojibwe, Metis, Mohawk, Irish and Scots people.

With terrifying force, the Machine spit the monkey wrench across a half-vast universe, and time slouched on again. Enough day-dreaming on the job, thought Steinhauer, it's back to work. Getting out his reverse engineering tools, he sighted down that slouching time line of his ancestors, past row upon row of engineered humans. If he wasn't going to be intellectual property of the Canadian sector of western civilization, then who would he be? Tanya Wasacase had explained how identity is a function of a way of life, rather than a function of skin, hair, or eye colour, or any of the other theories of identity proposed by western civilization. Indigenous language activists, wishing to remain anonymous, had explained how language is the spiritual/ mental/ emotional/ physical story-telling voice which interactively shapes and describes that way of life. With a sudden startle reaction, Steinhauer realized that reverse engineering must begin at home; slamming shut the Master's toolbox, he got up and took the few short steps from his office to his home.

That night he had a dream. A medieval siege catapult was lobbing plague-bloated corpses onto Turtle Island, from across the big water. Countless millions of African Peoples were being dragged under that water, chained together in a seemingly endless line. The sky was dotted with mushroom-shaped clouds, while turbulent weather buffeted the surface of the earth. A full moon stood just clear of the weather, on the eastern horizon, and onto its surface a giant satellite-mounted projector was casting an alternating set of images, going from the Coca-Cola logo to Dick Cheney's face mouthing "War Is Peace" to the Pepsi logo, then back to Cheney, endlessly.

The following morning the first fall snow had melted away, but the chill of the coming winter had definitely stayed. While the Italian steam pot bubbled up espresso from the Zapatista coffee grounds, Steinhauer fired up the laptop and contemplated addictions. Deconstructing Canadian Indians has got to have something to do with addictions, doesn't it?

From liberalism he picked out individualism, and re-branded it as isolation. From the liberal concept of private property he picked out the enclosure of the commons, and re-branded it as dislocation. From the global order created by the crossing of individualism with private property he picked out labour as a commodity, and re-branded it alienation. Steinhauer was about to say "combine this unholy trinity, and you could make an addiction out of absolutely anything", but the steam pot started making those come and get it noises that all true coffee addicts can't resist.

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Finished work "Surviving Genocide" on display in Steinhauer's drive-through sculpture park. A note on drive-though viewing: please do not attempt to feed or pet the sculptor.

Around the base is carved: "Genocide has 2 phases: the destruction of a national identity, and the imposition of a new national identity on the land & peoples.

The uprights have the four pillars of western civilization at the bottom, racism, patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism, while at mid-point the four legs of some indigenous societies, humble kindness, sharing, honesty, and determination, appear.
If resistance is futile, then why bother trying to organize a resistance? Points #201 to #203 from The Final Report On A Study Of Treaties, Agreements, and Other Constructive Arrangements Between States and Indigenous Populations, United Nations Economic And Social Council, Commission On Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination And Protection Of Minorities, prepared by Miguel Alfonso Martinez, Special Rapporteur to the UN, the product of 25 years of study into the subject, said:
201. In this context, let it be said that the Special Rapporteur's historical research has shown, in his view, that not all indigenous nations made the wisest of choices at all times. That is to say, at some crucial moments in their history, some indigenous nations were not capable of putting the need to unite among themselves over their individual interests, even though unity was necessary to confront properly encroachment on their sovereign attributes. This was true even when the ultimate intentions of the newcomers were already apparent. The terrible consequences inherent in allowing themselves to be divided appear not to have been totally perceived.
202. In addition, on more than one occasion they seem not to have recognized the advantages and disadvantages, in all their dimensions, nor the final consequences, of a policy of alliance with European powers. This can be said both of those who adopted this policy of alliance in line with their own on-going fratricidal struggles and of those who decided to favour one of the non-indigenous powers over the others in the military confrontations that took place in their ancestral lands.

203. Further, it is also apparent that they could not fully appreciate (or that they widely underestimated) the questionable role played, and still played, in many cases, by religious denominations or their representatives as effective instruments of the colonial enterprise in its various stages.
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Finished work "Surviving Genocide"

Around the two-piece table top section, in Cree syllabics, is carved: "My grandchildren (says a spiritual being's voice speaking to a future generation yet unborn), the Great Mystery will always be here to help you. How? By you loving one another unceasingly, perserveringly, forever."

In the invisible space beneath the base lies the remains of 100s of millions of indigenous Peoples. By Raphael Lemkin's description, the survivors are in the second phase of genocide. The Master's tools, racism, patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, are labeled on the uprights, but, rising above them is indigenous law, labeled as humble kindness, sharing, honesty, and determination. At the upper rim, the rock spirit speaks, in a pre-columbian voice, to a generation far in the future. Above, the buffalo spirits (male energy) mount the mother earth sweatlodge (female energy), and new life streams from within her.
Then again, what if resistance is fertile? Inside Steinhauer's coffee-addled brain, a thought flitted past. "We can't get together to fend off the fiends, but we can sure get together to make babies". It brought to mind the old Cree couple who lived nearby the Catholic Church on their reserve. It was a Sunday morning, and the old woman was admonishing the old man to hurry, and change into his church clothes. The bell started to ring, and she rushed into the bedroom to urge him on, only to discover him half undressed, and in a peculiar state. When you're old, sometimes things don't work when their supposed to, and then, by surprise, suddenly do when they're not supposed to. The old woman grabbed him and threw him down on the bed. "What are you doing?" he cried. "We'll be late for church." Hoisting her long skirt, the old woman replied, "The church will still be standing there next week, but I'm not so sure that this will be."

But if le pièce de résistance, fertility, is futile, what then? Feeling at a loss, Steinhauer remembered old Pete Gregory's words, describing an experience he had one day, as he sat by the roadside watching life go by, on the Okanagan Indian Reserve # 1. A real estate salesman stopped to ask for directions. "Do you know which way to Kelowna?" Pete looked at him and said, "I don't know". "Well then, which way to Vernon?" "I don't know." Exasperated, the salesman said, "Don't you know anything, old man?" to which Pete responded, "I know I'm not lost."

Yeah. We're not lost. If we can stand our ground, keep our languages alive, keep on making babies, keep at least the memory of our way of life alive, we'll never be lost.

Part four: Panarchists to the rescue

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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