Being and becoming Indigenous: Resurgence against contemporary colonialism

The 2013 Narrm Oration, “Being and becoming Indigenous: Resurgence against contemporary colonialism”, was delivered by Professor Taiaiake Alfred on 28 November.

Professor Alfred is the founding Director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He specialises in traditions of governance, decolonisation strategies, and land based cultural restoration.

The Narrm Oration has been hosted annually by Murrup Barak, Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development at The University of Melbourne with the support of Rio Tinto Australia since 2009.

Speakers (in order of appearance)
Professor Glyn Davis AC, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Melbourne
Professor Ian Anderson, Director Murrup Barak and Assistant Vice- Chancellor Indigenous Higher Education, The University of Melbourne
Professor Taiaiake Alfred, Founding Director, Indigenous Governance Program, University of Victoria, British Colombia
Professor Marcia Langton AM, Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, The University of Melbourne

“There is a danger in allowing colonization to be the only story of Indigenous lives. Colonialism is an effective analytic frame, but it is limited as a theory of liberation. It is a narrative in which the Settler’s power is fundamental and unquestioned; it limits the freedom of the colonized by framing all movement as acts of resistance or outcomes of Settler power. For Indigenous peoples, colonial systems have always been ways of gaining control over Indigenous peoples and their land for the sake of Western notions of progress and Settlers’ interests. We now live in an era of post-modern colonial manipulation; the instruments of domination are evolving and elites are inventing new methods to erase Indigenous identities and presences. While on the surface subtle and non-violent, these strategies deny the ability of Indigenous people to act on their authentic identities, severing Indigenous lives from vital connections to land, culture and community, and offer Indigenous people only one option: dependency or destruction. Far from being a post-colonial era, the very survival of Indigenous nations is threatened today just as in earlier more brutal eras of colonial oppression. The current discourse and framing of Indigenous peoples in Canada is an example of this new reality. A façade of “reconciliation” is being used to buttress white supremacy, pacify and co-opt Indigenous leadership, and facilitate total access to Indigenous lands for resource development. Against this, an ancestral movement has re-emerged among some Indigenous thinkers and Indigenous and Settler ally activists in North America: Indigenous Resurgence. These people are dedicated to recasting Indigenous people in terms that are authentic and meaningful, to regenerating and organizing a radical political consciousness, to reoccupying land and gaining restitution, to protecting the natural environment, and to restoring the Nation-to-Nation relationship between Indigenous nations and Settlers. This reframing of Indigeneity as Resurgence promotes the kind of action and provides the spiritual and ethical bases for a transformative movement that has the potential to liberate both Indigenous peoples and Settlers from colonialism.”

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  1. Perhaps the conceptual reservation onto which Native Americans have been forced is called Art: like works of art, they are expected to exist either outside of time or in the past tense of classics and masterpieces, to be on exhibit, to be public property, to be seen and not heard, to be about the spiritual rather than the political, and to embody qualities to which everyone can aspire, whether they are the Czech and Slovak “Indians” of John Paskievich’s 1996 documentary film, If Only I Were An Indian, or sports teams such as the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chicago Blackhawks (to say nothing of Chevrolet Apaches, Jeep Cherokees, Pontiacs, and Winnebagos).

    From Rebecca Solnit’s essay, The Postmodern Old West, or The Precession of Cowboys and Indians, in Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2007), p. 33.

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