Alfred 99Taiaiake Alfred, professor at the University of Victoria, Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto, Oxford University Press, 1999.
To summarize the argument thus far, sovereignty is an exclusionary concept rooted inan adversarial and coercive Western notion of power. Indigenous peoples can never match the awesome coercive force of the state; so long as sovereignty remains the goal of indigenous politics, therefore, Native communities will occupy a dependent and reactionary position relative to the state. Acceptance of “Aboriginal rights” in the context of state sovereignty represents the culmination of white society’s efforts to assimilate indigenous peoples. Framing indigenous people in the past, as ‘noble but doomed’ relics of an earlier age, allows the colonial state to maintain its legitimacy by preventing the fact of contemporary indigenous peoples’ nationhood to intrude on its own mythology. Native people imperil themselves by accepting formulations of their own identities and rights that prevent them from transcending the past.The state relegates indigenous peoples’ rights to the past, and constrains the development of their societies by allowing only those activities that support its own necessary illusion: that indigenous peoples today do no present a serious challenge to its legitimacy. Thus the state celebrates paint and feathers and Indian dancing, because they reinforce the image of doomed nobility that justified the pretence of European sovereignty on Turtle Island. Tribal casinos, Indian tax-immunity, and aboriginal fisheries, on the other hand, are uncomfortable reminders that—despite the doctrine of state sovereignty—indigenous identities and rights continue to exist. Native leaders have a responsibility to expose the truth and debunk the imperial pretense that supports the doctrine of state sovereignty and white society’s dominion over indigenous nations and their lands. State sovereignty depends on the fabrication of falsehoods that exclude the indigenous voice. Ignorance and racism are the founding principles of the colonial state, and concepts of indigenous sovereignty that don’t challenge these principles in fact serve to perpetuate them. To claim the state’s legitimacy is based on the rule of law is hypocritical and anti-historic. There is no moral justification for state sovereignty. The truth is that Canada and the United States were established only because indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by imported European diseases and were unable to prevent the massive immigration of European populations. Only recently, as indigenous people have learned to manipulate state institutions and gained support from other groups oppressed by the state has the state been forced to change its approach. Recognizing the power of the indigenous challenge, and unable to deny it a voice, the state has attempted to pull indigenous people closer to it. Jt has encouraged them to re-frame and moderate their nationhood demands to accept the fail accompli of colonization, to collaborate in the development of a ‘solution’ that does not challenge the fundamental imperial lie. By allowing indigenous peoples a small measure of self-administration, and by forgoing a small portion of the money derived from the exploitation of indigenous nations’ lands, the state has created incentives for integration into its own sovereignty framework. Those communities that cooperate are the beneficiaries of a patronizing false altruism that sees indigenous peoples as the anachronistic remnants of nations, the descendants of once independent peoples who by a combination of tenacity and luck have managed to survive and must now be potected as minorities. By agreeing to live as artifacts, such co-opted communities guarantee themselves a role in the state mythology through which they hope to secure a limited but perpetual set of rights. In truth the bargain is a pathetic compromise of principle. The reformulation of nationhood to create historical artifacts that lend legitimacy to the political economy of the modern state is nothing less than a betrayal.
The alternative is to deconstruct the mythologies of current Native-state power relations. Thus we offer the counter history of imagining the US as having never existed