A Clear Conscience

A Clear Conscience

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January 1, 2013

In Steven Newcomb’s June 2011 critique of a doctrine of reconciliation, he reviewed the Christian domination paradigm, and the assimilation/reconciliation process. As a destructive legacy of church and state domination, says Newcomb, it is senseless to speak in terms of reconciliation with such illegitimate religious ideologies. Yet, unresolved crimes against humanity by church and state are increasingly absolved from responsibility by truth and reconciliation commissions from Canada to Guatemala. If reconciliation is meaningful, it must be preceded by restitution.

Writing this morning at Indian Country Today, Waziyatawin — a Dakota professor in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria — argues that reconciliation is inappropriate while injustice continues. Specifically addressing the December Dakota memorial ride to honor Lakota warriors hung at Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, Waziyatawin says the warriors are better honored by Dakota resistance to oppression that continues to this day, rather than forgiving oppression that happened yesterday. If the Dakota of the future are to achieve justice and liberation from this oppression, she admonishes, they will do so by fighting, not forgiving. Contrary to the rhetoric of reconciliation, she notes, justice must precede forgiveness, not the other way around.

In her 2010 Guernica magazine essay Living with the Enemy, Susie Linfield discussed what Jean Amery called “the moral necessity of undying resentment”. Examining the modern obsession of truth and reconciliation, Linfield discovers the only truth is that “forgiveness and reconciliation are of far less interest to the victims than they are to the perpetrators”.

Given the ongoing betrayal of treaties and trust agreements throughout North America, it is not surprising that some First Nations in Canada are mirroring those of Oaxaca, Mexico through the use of direct action to bring the unsatisfactory situation to international attention. Over the last four years, highways and railroad lines have been blockaded by First Nations in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. Meanwhile, the Blackfeet of Montana proved systematic embezzlement of American Indian resource royalties by the US Department of Interior, only to have a federal court tell them, “So what”.

First Nations of Bolivia now have a government that acknowledges and supports their inherent rights as indigenous peoples, and is finally using that country’s assets to benefit them. In fact, they have been directly involved in revising Bolivia’s constitution, as well as in official acts to redistribute the wealth that was originally theirs alone. Indeed, the entire process of governance is being democratized in ways corporate-controlled Americans can hardly imagine.

But Bolivians were not handed this power over their lives by the landed aristocracy or the US corporations that helped them steal the indigenous wealth in the past. Rather, it was the indigenous people themselves who decided they’d had enough, and took to the streets to put an end to the infamy that plagued their lands.

North American Indians are not in a numerically strong position as the indigenous of Bolivia are, but they are in a morally and legally superior position to the states of Canada, Mexico and the US, and in the end that is likely to be the key to victory over corporate autocracy and official corruption. They will, no doubt, need some help from mainstream civil society to implement economic security and environmental sanity, but the leadership on human equality is theirs to take, and they are apparently headed in that direction. It now remains for the rest of us to decide whose side we are on; fence-sitting is going to become increasingly hard to pull off with a clear conscience.

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