The Psychic Landscape of Contemporary Colonialism

A discourse which was much more profound than most of the audience will ever realize was set out like bait at the University of Ottawa 9 November 2011 by Taiaiake, a warrior who came disguised as a professor painting the Psychic Landscape of Contemporary Colonialism.

 The disconnected perhaps incoherent paragraphs which follow are what he provoked me to think, Bear Clan to Bear Clan.

While colonialism’s effects can be seen externally, the landscape of colonialism lies within us. Colonialism is spirit-sucking parasite which lives within our heart, mind, and soul. Unless we confront and dominate the colonialism inside, confronting it outside will be a futile exercise.  That is the struggle in which to be engaged.

This engagement requires self-knowledge. Knowledge of who we are, and what it is within us that must be transcended if one is to dominate colonialism and its debilitating effects. Who am I? What is my problem with colonialism? What am I going to do about it? Questions for the daily agenda. 

We must recognize ourselves as victim-beneficiaries of colonialism.

I must recognize myself as victim-beneficiary of colonialism. I must also understand how the indigenous baby which we all once were succumbed to the benefits of colonialism and thereby became its victim, voluntarily paying the price and then complaining about it.

The next time, Taiaiake, you are talking to Andrew Delisle about Mohawk rebirth, ask him to tell you about the school bus contract. That was one of the beginnings to the decolonization of Kahnawake. Early 1960s. Everything tightly locked down by Indian Affairs. The Delisles decided they wanted to engage in the unheard-of revolutionary activity of taking on the school bus contract. Strong reaction in opposition, internal and external. Somehow, the Delisles won the contract. It was the identifiable beginning of the unravelling of 20th Century colonialism at Kahnawake. There was pride, prestige, resources, a crack in the fortress. The council was not happy, as I recall.

Also ask Andrew to tell you about the “Indian Pavillion” at the 1967 Montreal Expo, celebrating Canada’s Confederation. I think Andrew was the “Commissioner”.  Andrew was chosen, I am sure, as the model of the “successful Indian”, proof of the efficiency of the assimilation programs, master of ceremonies for folkloric demonstrations of Indian culture by well-civilized Indians.  I don’t know how he felt when George Manual hijacked the organizing committee and put in its own chair.

Unfortunately for the planners, the exhibit provoked the international audience to consider the effects of colonialism. It greeted visitors with the equivalent of a manifesto. It was a coming out. Shocked the authorities! How could this have been permitted? But it was too late. The world had been let in on Canada’s dirty little secret.

Some visitors complained, saying a tour of the pavilion was akin to running the gauntlet, so unkind were the comments, such as “Our fathers were betrayed.” Buffy Ste. Marie gave an interview of her take on her involvement: “Basically, I’m performing the familiar Indian role of providing entertainment for white men.” She added, “Too many of our people think we have to beg when all we have to do is demand what is rightfully ours.”

That same year, Chief Dan George gave his Lament for Confederation before 35,000 people in Empire Stadium, speaking of the same personal anguish you described in the discourse I am reflecting on: 

“When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I

neither understood nor welcomed this way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried

to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority. . .

“Oh Canada! How can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years?

“Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests?

“For the canned fish of my rivers?

“For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people?

“For the lack of my will to fight back?”

Unfortunately, Dan George also spoke of the only way he saw available for him to deal with his situation: “Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.”


Reconciliation. You are “anti-reconciliation”. Ha! You have been victimized by “the enemy’s” seizing of the vocabulary in the discourse. As in “native”; “aboriginal”, “self­government”. “They” redefine the indigenous people’s own vocabulary to make words mean something else, and then they corrupt the discourse accordingly.

That’s what has happened with “reconciliation”, and we have to take the word back.

Before we can speak of reconciliation, we have to ask: reconciliation of what and what?

What are the two things being reconciled? A few years ago, I sent you a long paper of how that word has evolved in Canadian jurisprudence over the years. I think we won a tremendous victory in 2004 when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada used the “s” word, writing in Haida Nation of the need “to reconcile pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty.” Lawyers seem to have just kept trodding on the old well-worn trails, unable to swallow the immensity of such an admission. Mohawks never doubt their sovereignty, of course, but it is rare that the courts are able to speak of it.

So I recommend to you one of the battlegrounds in play should be the reconciliation of sovereignties which, of course, is what the Two Row Wampum has been all about for these many years.     

As you said, colonization is pervasive in its effects: cultural, spiritual, economic, psychological, social, health and not just political. The displacement of colonialism brings tangible relief in all those aspects.

Reconciliation of the peoples is quite something else. And as you say, attempting that now is premature.


Condolence. I think you have not yet finished with the rediscovery of the healing power of condolence. Your astonishing application of condolence in your earlier writing is much more profound than, I think, you yourself have realized. Revisit it. Remember that condolence was first an individual ceremony applied by the Peacemaker to Aionwentha.  He had lost his wife, a victim of war. The first of three wonderful daughters died of an incurable illness.  He was inconsolable in his deep grief and incommunicative when his second daughter also died of an illness. His third daughter died before his eyes when she was accidentally trampled during a lacrosse game.

Grief became anger. There were recriminations. “Why me?” A sense of loss, abandonment. It was his sobbing utterances of miserable grief as he sat alone deep in the forest which attracted the Peacemaker’s attention.

The Peacemaker went to Aionwentha and confronted him. Yes, confronted. With the skin of a white fawn, he wiped the tears from Aionwentha’s eyes, “so you can see clearly again.” He cleared his ears of obstructions “which keep you from hearing my words.” He massaged Aionwentha’s throat “so you can once again speak words which others can understand.” It was only then that he asked Aionwentha to tell him the reason for his sadness. That was when Aionwentha began to feel his spirit being lifted.

It is this individual condolence which is needed so much today so we can individually cease to be victims of colonialism and to engage in the reconstruction of the Nations. Aionwentha spoke of the effects of the grief which comes from loss. In the case of colonialism, it is the loss of nation, of self, the destruction of the earth and the fouling of the waters, the loss of spirit to the ravages of materialism and the inability to kick the habit. As Aionwentha put it, “I know from my own grief that grief is like a cover of darkness so that we wander around in the dark, lost, not knowing where to go.  My head was always looking down, facing the ground. I never saw the sky.” Condolence, he said, would “help them look up so they can once again see how beautiful the sky is.”

Did you know that in condolences, the persons in grief are placed so their shadow falls in back of them rather than in front of them?  That means they are following the healing power of the sun which lights the path before them.

Condolence is not something we can engage in alone. That is the natural law recognized by the Peacemaker after Aionwentha was feeling so much better that he could talk about what had happened to him, and how he had recovered. As the Peacemaker told him, we always need two people to provide comfort to each other.

Another neat trick from the Peacemaker. The Great Law reminds us that every young person should choose his/her own med
icine who can be a friend to help heal broken spirits. In this way, the choice of medicine is made when spirits are good, and the medicine is waiting to be a friend to comfort us when grief comes our way.

Thus condolence is not only an active verb, but it is also an adjective, a human condition, as in “a condoled chief”.  That term describes much more than a chief who has gone through a ceremony. It speaks much more to our ability to heal, to renew, to bring people together, to consciously have a good mind which is reflected in behaviour. It speaks to our human weakness and forgetfulness – the need to be condoled regularly. It allows for those who stray to leave without rancour, and to return without recrimination. It requires the past to be left buried and not raised again. It renews respect, it is cleansing, forgiving, for recognizing a new start.

Alienation, the psychological effect of feeling/being disconnected, is a flagrant result of colonialization. Condolence is very much a part of reconnecting.  Reconnecting to a source of power – the natural world. It requires a decolonization of the heart, and connecting it to the two aspects of nationhood: people and place.

This means converting “self” from a role as victim/beneficiary of colonialism to a constructor of a new nation on the foundation of the old. 


Cultural revival. So very shallow. Materialism causes culture to be seen as a material manifestation. A few beads here, a few words in Mohawk there, mukluks on occasion. Remember when denim jackets and an AIM button was proof of cultural revitalization?

My metaphor for this phenomenon is a culture as a tree, stripped of its leaves and fruit. Ah, so sad. So it must be revitalized with ornaments tied to the tree, redecorating it in an even more splendid fashion. And there it stands. A dead tree with pretty and sometimes exotic ornaments.  Ahhh. . . but we have forgotten the unseen half of the tree, the roots buried deep in the earth. That is where the culture lies, waiting to be discovered, revitalized, nourished. Culture from the roots up. Or is the tree dead for ever and the task before us the planting of seeds for new trees to grow?


Having said that, however, I cannot forget that the ceremonies – even when performed “for show” – have inherent powers which cannot always be suppressed. I think of the H’dui ceremonies in the winter, when the dancers are overcome with the power of the mask and are used as human instruments of healings. What about the power of the drums to bring tears? courage? strength? The power of the drums to speak even to infants, young children who start to dance before they can walk? These are powers which give meaning to people who are not looking for meaning. Powers which can overcome insincerity, ego, undeserved pride. Bring in the drums and the dancers!


When we were travelling in the 1970s as White Roots of Peace, seeking isolated quiet wells from which thirst-quenching tradition would be waiting for us, leaving in return encouragement and recognition to those who were struggling to keep the spirit alive, we heard and carried the word of “purification”. Even then, 40 years ago, the elders were warning of the purification which was coming when the Earth decided enough was enough and engaged in radical termination of destructive forces so a great cleansing could take place. So I ask, Taiaiake: is our own individual cleansing liberation enough, or must we also prepare for a purification that is inevitable?


You spoke of how the champions of cultural revitalization, the warriors with intent to throw out evil ways and rebuild the nations, etc., etc., can be so easily become diverted, co-opted, or otherwise lose their way that we end up building a new nation which looks suspiciously very much like the old. Indian control of Indian education! Yeah! Right on! And what happens is the outfitting of classrooms with rows of desks and a teacher up front with classes Monday-through-Friday September-through-June.

Marshall McLuhan spoke of it as “driving through the rear-view mirror”. The Hopi talk about the transition from the world below the lake to today’s world, with the people escaping by climbing up through hollow reeds. They were strictly cautioned: “Do not take anything with you.” But the order was disobeyed, and a bit of this and a bit of that were snuck into pockets and spirited up as contraband into the new world awaiting. This contamination from the past re-seeds the new world with all they wished to have escaped, and the stage is prepared for the creation of the next new and better world.


Franz Fanon! Good for Franz! I first read Wretched of the Earth 1965 and now Taiaiake mentions him 46 years later! Wretched is even more powerful than Black Face, White Mask. He offered as analysis what becomes metaphor: the only way to be decolonized is to kill the colonizer. You can’t be liberated by being granted liberation. You must seize it. You don’t ask for it, you don’t even demand it. You just take it!

That metaphor deserves much introspection when we think of nation-building.  Like Buffy said, too many people asking for “recognition” rather than just doing it.


 “Being an Aboriginal is a Hypocrisy”. Great button to hand out at conferences, eh? This is what Dan George was attempting to deal with. “Our gap,” you said, that void we feel both weighing on our chests and being an empty feeling, “is created by hypocrisy.

Ah, then the task we face is the resolution of the dualities which colonialism creates in our lives, in our selves. Skywoman speaks to that – made pregnant by the West Wind, now living on the back of a Giant Turtle, the sea creatures dancing to make Muskrat’s pawfuls of earth bigger so this land-bound woman literally from outer space, she now is to give birth to her twin sons.


The positive twin is born normally, the evil one comes out through his mother’s armpit in his first show of negative energy.  The cosmology continues with tales of the battles between these two boys, the two energies which is within each of us.

I am capable of using my life to deliver good.

I am capable of doing the most heinous things you can imagine.

The choice is mine, and I manage that choice not be conscience, but by “voluntad”. 

And so the natural world of the Mohawk is not symbolized by a Christ and a Devil, but rather by human beings, ourselves, who have both within us, the power to manifest great quantities of positive energy, and the power to do great evil and damage. And as the elders say so often when you ask how to deal with such heavy matters, “It’s up to you.”

The teaching goes further with talk of an internal mediator within us – I like the Spanish “voluntad” better than the English “will”. Voluntad = voluntary, right? We have this mechanism with potential to direct our lives in one way or the other, and in the absence of the application of will, a bit of both going on most of the time.

The teachings tell us that we must strengthen this mechanism if it is to do its work. Even English speaks of “a strong will”, or “will power”. The old Mohawk ways, the way of the indigenous nations to develop will to govern our lives are (conveniently?) not mentioned as much now as they once were. They are the application of self-denial – fasting – and of its own duality, self-sacrifice. Enduring, for example, the excruciating heat of the dark sweat-lodge, becoming spirit to subdue materialism, in order to crawl out that small opening into light as a reborn person. Even Christianity speaks of Christ’s vision-quest, 40 days without food isolated on a mountain, after which he gives a speech which would be welcome in any Longhouse.

Recipe for reducing hypocrisy.


And then Taiaiake spoke of redefining “indigenous”, of “becoming indigenous again”. Every person on earth is the descendant of indigenous persons. Every last ancestor goes back to indigenous nations.

So what happened? If an “ex-indigenous person” or a person who has “indigenous roots” can “decolonize” and “become an indigenous person”, why can’t any human being do the same thing?  When we contemplate the colonizing process, can we consider that every newborn baby is an “indigenous person”?


There are essential factors which are a part of the indigenous concept. They have to be present. Place. “Indigenousness” implies having a place that relates to the people and people who relate to the place. “Indigenousness” also implies the nation, the collective which is indigenous to the place.

Understanding this means understanding why the question about “urban aboriginal people” is coming from another mode of thinking.

If we understand all of this, what is it that we should be doing? If we want to do anything, that is. But before we can answer the
question of “what”, wanting to do something, voluntarily or involuntarily,  has to come first. Then we have to have the “voluntad” to do it. And then we can think about “what”.


Of course education is assimilative – in the societies of the colonizers.

But education in indigenous cultures is liberating.

The choice is yours. Pick the kind of education you want for yourselves.

– Rarihokwats