The Tribal Organizational Model & Open Source Tribal Insurgency

John Robb at Global Guerrillas has written a couple of pieces on “manufactured” tribes. That is, using a tribal organizational structure to advance a group’s goals and protect its members. He writes:

How do you manufacture a strong community that protects, defends and advances the interests of its members? You build a tribe. Tribal organization is the most survivable of all organizational types and it was the dominant form for 99.99% of human history. The most important aspect of tribal organization is that it is the organizational cockroach of human history. It has proved it can withstand the onslaught of the harshest of environments. Global depression? No problem.

We Indian people maintain our tribal identities and have in our collective memories our recent tribal past. While we hold onto many of the cultural aspects of our tribal past, the dominant form of social organization in our Indian communities today is that of hierarchical institutions (many tribal governments, for instance,) not tribes. The problem with hierarchical institutions is that they are easily co-opted and easily corrupted. I’d argue that this is one of the fundamental reasons that our Indian communities are not thriving like they should. “Our” institutions don’t work for us. They work for the US Government, which set them up in most cases, and they serve the interests of a few individuals in our communities. Even though we have resources flowing through these institutions and services being provided, very little changes on the ground. They work just well enough to ensure that our die off is slow and less noticeable. Enter the tribal form of social organization.

In a tribal organization, there is no hierarchy. There are common bonds and known leaders, but leadership is based on an individuals ability to move the tribe toward its goals, it is not based on a bureaucratic title or privilege. An example of this is found in the history of the Comanche and the wars on the Great Plains. Among the Comanche bands, war chiefs were not appointed, they were discovered. War parties were not commanded and directed, they were led by example.

S.C. Gwynne, in his book Empire of the Summer Moon writes this about Comanche warriors, war parties and chiefs:

The head war chief, meanwhile, was a grand and glorious warrior but was not actually in charge of many of the war or raiding parties that went out, nor could he determine who joined them or where they went. These were gathered by individual warriors with individual notions about where they wanted to go. In Comanche society, anyone could be a war chief; it meant simply that you had an idea to raid, say, Mexican ranchos in Coahuila, and were able to gather a sufficient number of warriors to do it. Head war chiefs got that way because they were good at recruiting war parties. They would inevitably lead the most important sorties, and would lead the most important expeditions against powerful enemies. But they did not control, nor would they have wanted to, the martial plans of individual braves.

He also has this to say about the Comanche:

There was no big chief, no governing council, no Comanche “nation” that you could locate in a particular place, negotiate with, or conquer in battle. To whites, of course, this made no sense at all. It resembled no governing system they recognized. Across the plains, they insisted on making treaties with band headmen – often very colorful, strong-willed, and powerful ones – assuming incorrectly that the headmen spoke for the entire tribe. They would make this mistake again and again.

What emerged from this social organization was a fluid, adaptable network of bands and warriors capable of striking anywhere at anytime. Those leaders who were good at leading raids were followed into battle. Because of this, the US Government could not defeat the Comanche Nation as a whole on the battle field or through diplomacy or through peace treaties. There were no institutional leaders to buy off, corrupt, or assassinate. It was instead a scorched earth campaign that subdued them.

As a people we American Indians faced extinction. We’ve come out the other side somewhat intact in some cases, and facing a slow decline in others. In many of our communities our survival depends on throwing the US Empire off of our backs and re-establishing genuine, independent tribal nations. To achieve this goal I propose we move back to a tribal social structure as we go on the offensive against the colonizers.

Here are two modern day examples of this, already in place, from among members of my tribe, the Tlingit. I’m sure there are others:

First is the various projects undertaken by Ishmael Hope. He is starting his own language nest to expand the number of native Tlingit speakers by two; his own chidlren. Looking For a Nanny: Working on the Tlingit Language. He is also taking up the idea of a Tribal College as originally conceived by his father, Andrew Hope III. In both cases, he proposes not waiting for grant funding, or for any institution to act on preserving our language or cultural knowledge. He’s just going out there and doing it. Another is his Kickstarter project to write a play on the Alaska Native civil rights movement.

Next is the Old Growth Alliance and their annual Abolish Columbus Day protest. Again, we have a group of leaders who have simply taken the initiative to organize an annual protest.

There are a number of people in the Tlingit tribe taking on similar projects, and others in the tribe are following these successes in everything from building a subsistence based economy to building new tribal houses. This is not coming from the tribe’s institutional structures, these entities are not the tribe, even though they may throw their weight around with the State of Alaska and Federal Government. No, the tribe is something else that exists in our hearts, minds and actions. The young people taking on these projects are the tribe and their actions are a demonstrations of true tribal leadership. No one appointed them or gave them a fancy title. They are not working from within the context of a tribal government or ANCSA Corporation. They simple saw something that would advance the goals of the tribe and did it, and people have followed them.

To make this a true Open Source Insurgency against the empire we need a variety of projects and actions going on. Most important, we need a plausible promise to unite all of these various elements. In the Occupy Wall Street movement that promise (or goal, if you will) is to actually occupy Wall Street. In Egypt it was simply to remove the Egyptian dictator Mubarak. During the war of the Great Plains it was to halt the advance of white settlers. All collectives, bands, and individuals then swarm around that target or goal, attacking and advancing the group toward the objective. What should be the one unifying goal of the American Indian’s new open source insurgency against our oppressors? I have often spoke of establishing true tribal nations. That could be our goal: “Tribal Nationalism” or “Tribal Independence and Sovereignty.” But I am open to ideas.

Next we need more than just cultural projects and protests. These are all well and good, but we will also need to start preparing to defend our respective nations and go on the offense when necessary. Soft line Indians will tell us that we should be working through our tribal governments and with the US Government to uphold long broken treaties, but if you’re with me this far then you know that’s all a bunch of bull shit. They’ve been killing us off since 1492, and those broken treaties and tribal government tail chasers will finish the job if we let them. Furthermore, do you really think they’re going to give up control of Indian Country? They own it in trust, and take from it at will. In this regard, I advise becoming a true Tribal Warrior for you clan and people. Learn to use a weapon and start networking with like minded tribal warriors. Start a small band of warriors from among your closest and most dear friends and relatives. Be prepared. Don’t do anything stupid. Remember to protect the innocent on all sides of any conflict. Read this in detail for more instructions and remember how the Comanche organized and executed their armed struggle.

We will also need counter institutions in all realms; law, economy, and education to name a few.

Lastly, here’s John Robb again, this time on Open Source Leadership:


Real Open Source Leadership

It's important to understand that open source movements do have leaders.  But these leaders operate differently than the leaders we are used to seeing.  To understand this better, here's something that I wrote up about the Egyptian open source protest back in January.  It applies to the Occupy movement as well:

Open source protests are composed of people with very different views of the world brought together by a single achievable idea. In Egypt's case, that's the removal of Mubarak. Unfortunately, as a result of this diversity of views, open source protests are messy. Nobody is formally in charge.

However, this DOESN'T mean they aren't any leaders in the protest. In fact, there are lots. The extent that anyone is a leader in a open protest like Egypt's is based on:

Does the leader provide ways to move the protest forward, towards completing its goal?

Do they provide good innovations and great examples of what to do?

How closely does the leader's stay to the protest's goal? If that is what they focus on, they gain stature. IF their goals begin to grow and become more detailed (ideological), they lose support.

Do leaders coach or command? If they coach, they gain support. If they command, they lose it. If they attempt to seize control, the protest will turn on them.

What this means is that leaders can emerge in Egypt's protest. They offer the chance to break the stalemate brought on by Mubarak's survival strategy.  

So. when does an open soruce protest reject a leader?

When a leader attempts to fork the protest, by trying to lead it towards an agenda or policy or politics only they care about, they should be ignored/rejected/blocked.

About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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3 Responses to The Tribal Organizational Model & Open Source Tribal Insurgency

  1. Pingback: Why I Don’t Vote; an Indigenous Perspective | American Indian/Alaska Native – Attack The System

  2. Jonathan Barney says:

    Wow. Completely Wow! I’m so impressed with you that’s about all I can say. I mean this sincerely. You have nailed the idea perfectly. Please, continue living life your way. Use what you’ve got inside and around yourself. You will outlast civilization, as the Mira El, “Pagans”, the Hopi, your people, aborigines, and more have. All have far outlasted Rome. Because they have forgotten how to live on Earth, and you have not, your people will remain after the natural consequences commence on those who forgot. Nature will provide.

    • Jonathan Barney says:

      One more thing. I think you might benefit from an idea. Eliminate your need and your people’s need for money. When money has no power, wealthy entities are weakened in their attempts to control you. Donations, bartering, re-establishing hunting parties, whatever it takes. I hope this helps and I’m not just sending you dumb ideas.

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