By Vincent Rinehart
American Indian/Alaskan Native ATS
In the article The Quandary of American Indian Quasi Dual Citizenship at Last Real Indians, the argument is made for American Indian participation in the American political process. The reason given is that Indian policy and political policy in general is made through the American political process, and that these policies effect us, our children and our lands, and that we ought to have a voice in that system. I don’t seek to specifically refute or debate Ms. Hopkins points, but they are an excellent starting point for explaining why I, as an American Indian and Alaska Native, do not vote, and do not participate in the American political process. Some of these reasons are unique to Natives, some are applicable to the American population as a whole.
1 .The American political process and voting is an act of legitimizing the state, and I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the state. The state, or Empire, if you will, is an organism that exists for the sole purpose of controlling people and resources and funneling wealth to a ruling class. This should be self evident to Native peoples. Our entire relationship to the various Empires of European origin has been defined by their desire to control our lands, resources and people. After militarily defeating our respective tribes, the Empire needed a mechanism or idea (other than Manifest Destiny) to legitimize their control over us and ensure that we not rise up and fight them again. For Natives, blacks and even whites that idea and mechanism of control is Democracy. Democracy is the secular religion of our oppressors and voting is the ritual that Americans partake in to express their loyalty to the system and pretend like they have a say in it. Through this process they rationalize their exploitation of land, resources and people, be they Native, black, white or otherwise. In short, Democracy is just another way the Empire legitimizes itself at the expense of the people. They take from us at will because we would have voted harder if we didn’t want them to, right?
My contemporaries react to my appeals to cast aside the American political process with disgust. Just yesterday I turned away a pair of door to door campaigners appealing to me to vote. Their reaction to my statement that I do not vote was utter disgust and horror. In their eyes I was a heretic, a dissident (I am,) and dangerous (I am.) I was calling into question their secular religion of Democracy and voting. My people, the Pueblo people of what is now occupied New Mexico, fought and won a war against the Spanish Empire because we rejected their Christian God and refused to bend knee to their Catholic Empire. I view my rejection of voting as an extension of this same struggle.
Likewise, if in an alternative universe the Aztec Empire repelled the Spanish and expanded into North America, repelled the Americans and ruled our tribes, then I (or someone like me) would be writing this article criticizing the concept of the Aztec ruler as a mortal incarnation of the Aztec God. It was the Aztec’s theocratic system that they used to legitimize their control of land, resources and people; the idea that the Aztec Emperor was God incarnate. In Feudal Europe the excuse the Empire used was that it’s rulers were anointed by God. These ideas are just as fictitious as the concept that 250 million people have a collective will and that it can be represented and is represented by our rulers in Washington D.C. It’s a nice story, but given the consistent attacks against our people and taming of our independence into dependence, I’m not buying it.
2. Our rights are not protected by the government, they are protected from the government or 2. The Civil Rights Movement failed. Radical minorities maintain that the era of the Civil Rights Movement was actually a low simmering, relatively violent American civil war fought between underclass minorities and the US Government; a civil war that we lost. If you look at the actual casualties inflicted on and by the Black Panthers and AIM as well as the riots, physical occupations, and confrontations with local, state and federal law enforcement then you have a radically different picture of the movement than that of a non violent struggle for civil rights. On through today, after the Civil Rights Act we still have cases of police brutality against Natives, blacks and other minorities. We have underclass minorities being shot down in the street. We have outrageous rates of incarceration that makes the US internal empire an expansive for-profit incarceration state. If you visit reservations or underclass and working class African American neighborhoods in the rust belt then you will see that not much has changed. Our people are pacified, either violently by the police state, or passively through the welfare state. The era of civil rights, social programs, political correctness and even democracy is an era of pacification of underclass minorities who would otherwise be engaged in a domestic insurgency against our oppressors. Look at what we are asked to live through. Look at the laundry lists of assaults against our rights by the government. I’m not talking about the genocide that occurred centuries ago (though we shouldn’t forget that,) I’m talking about the genocide that is happening NOW.
There are upwardly mobile members of our race and of other minority groups. I count myself as born into this Native American middle class. It is my social and racial class that is asked to set aside grievances against the empire, administer social programs and tribal governments in our communities, throw some scraps to our commoners, and otherwise keep the populace in line and loyal to the empire. And yes, this social and racial class is also the one that asks you to go to the polls to vote to protect our rights. Obviously, I reject the values of my class, otherwise this would be an appeal to get you out to the polls to vote in support of Obama or Romney. Members of my minority class argue that we must go to the polls to protect our rights. How literally true those words are. The Empire crushed us, took our lands, took our resources, and took our rights. And now we go the polls and ask them to dole out our rights back to us? These are rights we already have, inherent in our existence as Indigenous people. I refuse to crawl to our oppressors to politely ask for them back. When I start to take back the rights of my people, they’ll know it. There will be no doubt in the enemy’s minds that our will is steadfast. It will be like the days of old when we drove them out of our tribal territories. Until that time I refuse to pretend like my rights are theirs to give to me.
3. Don’t we have better things to do? or 3. Start organizing, stay out of jail, and rebuild your clan/band/tribe.
The actual act of voting doesn’t take a whole lot of time. Most people vote by party affiliation. In Oregon, where I am registered (I registered years ago, and they keep re-registering me despite my having moved numerous times) you don’t even have to leave your house. You mail in your ballot and be done with it. So it couldn’t hurt, right? Aside from the satisfaction I get from the symbolic gesture of throwing my ballot in the trash every year, I don’t complete the simple act of voting because the oversimplification of complex matters is not a fair way to create laws or elect officials. Do we all really have the time and energy to research every candidate? Every policy? Every referendum? Why do the same defeated laws keep cropping up time and time again under different names until they pass? I could spend a significant portion of my time studying the various issues on the ballot and making an informed decision. But my time is better spent laying the groundwork for destroying the Empire that is intent on destroying my people. In her article, Ms. Hopkins writes something that I think all of us Indigenous people believe:
My grandmother once said that as long as we continue to follow the ancient ways, we as Native Nations will outlast any outside ‘civilization,’ including the current one that surrounds us.
Ms. Hopkins says that until this outside civilization falls we should participate in its Democratic process. I say that this civilization is a predatory one, and as it falls it will only become more dangerous, and that it is starting to fall right now. Yes, we will outlive this civilization, because the Tribal Organizational Model is resilient and hard to kill. But our tribes, clans and bands are no longer organized as decentralized cells in a vast network of alliances as they once were. We are top down, Anglo-style bureaucracies. Indian Country as it is today is hanging on by a thread. If the empire falls today we will be doomed. This is why instead of campaigning, instead of voting, instead of running for office, I advocate for a return to our traditional forms of self governance: loose alliances of kinship networks united under a common culture and language grouping; otherwise known as a “tribe.” This is why instead of being another progressive liberal Indian opining for Obama I am attempting to build pan tribal alliances between resistance groups and link them up with non Native movements such as the American Revolutionary Vanguard and Cascadian Bioregional Independence Movement. These sorts of movements are the only hope we have in surviving the decades to come. Empires come and go, savvy tribes last forever.