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Summary: Aragorn! – “Locating an Indigenous Anarchism”
Aragorn! – “Locating an Indigenous Anarchism” in Uncivilized: The Best of Green Anarchy (2012).
This is one of the first pieces of writing that attempted to bring anarchism and indigenism together (that I know of). It’s written in a non-academic style, without citations or jargon, and it’s pretty short. It engages brings together theory, practice, and political traditions in a nuanced way, and there’s a lot packed into a few pages.
The piece is framed as an imagined story, about what an indigenous anarchism would look like. It begins with the destruction of civilization, and the burning of cities. This is the precursor to an indigenous anarchism: “once we get beyond the flames we will have to craft a life together” (49).
“Indigenous” means “of the land we are actually on” and “anarchist” means “without authoritarian constraint” (49). The three main principles of anarchism, for Aragorn!, are direct action, mutual aid, and voluntary cooperation (50).
He is wary about setting down principles of indigenous anarchism: “If I believe in a value and then articulate that value as instrumental for an appropriate practice then what is the difference between my completely subjective (or self-serving) perspective and one that I could possibly share usefully? This question should continue to haunt us” (51).
But he cautiously states some first principles of indigenous anarchism:
- Everything is alive. There are no objects, and there are no dead things: “Alive may not be the best word for what is being talked about but we could say imbibed with spirit or filled with the Great Spirit and we would mean the same thing. We will assume that a secular audience understands life as complex, interesting, in motion, and valuable. This same secular person may not see the Great Spirit in things that they are capable of seeing life in” (51)
- The ascendance of memory. He means something very specific by “memory” here, and suggests that our society is characterized by forgetting, but doesn’t say much about what this memory is… (51-2)
- Place: similar to memory, he argues that contemporary civilization places us nowhere (suburbs, stripmalls and airports are the ultimate examples of non-places). An anarchism of place doesn’t necessarily mean living in one place; it might entail moving with the seasons, or “travelling every year as conditions, or desire, dictated” (52). These choices would be dictated by people, and not “the exigency of economic or political priorities” (52).
- Family: the extended family is an extension of the principle that everything is alive: “the connection between living things, which we would shorthand call family, is the way that we understand ourselves in the world. We are part of a family and we know ourselves through family” (52).
- Self-determination and radical decentralization: “Self determination should be read as the desire for people who are self-organized (whether by tradition, individual choice, or inclination) to decide how they want to live with each other” (53). Aragorn! argues that these principles are often adopted in anarchist discourse, but they aren’t lived up to in practice. Anarchists often refuse any conception of ‘race,’ and this entails a refusal to understand and deal with indigenous people and people of colour, for whom these categories are very real. He’s not saying that these categories are real (or that they aren’t); he’s saying that anarchists often fail “to apply the principles of self-determination to the fact that real living and breathing people do identify within racial and cultural categories and that this identification has consequences in terms of dealing with one another… the answer is that these anarchists do not expect to deal with anyone outside of their understanding of reality. They expect reality to conform to their subjective understanding of it” (53).
He is also critical of the anarchist tradition for what he calls “repetitive criticism”—this form of critique is useful for “getting every member of a political tendency on the same page,” but its effect is often to generate suspicions and detachment from anarchistic events, rather than affirmations of them: “the form that anarchist criticism has taken about events in the world is more useful in shaping an understanding of what anarchists believe than what the world is” (54). Anarchist criticism is often turned in on itself, comparing the world and peoples’ efforts to an Anarchist ideal, and the world is always found deficient.
Aragorn! articulates a paradox of indigenous anarchism (and other anarchisms): “Anarchists would like to have it both ways. They would like to see their tradition as being growing and vital, along with being uncompromising and deeply radical. Since an anarchist society would be such a deep break from what we experience in this world, it is impossible to perceive any scenario that leads from here to there. There is no path” (54).
In other words, the vision of indigenous anarchism is so radically different from the dominant order that there’s no way to invent a strategy that would bring those conditions into existence. You can’t get there from here: “I will not finish this story with a happy ending that will not come true. This is a sharing” (55). He seems to call for patience, in the end, recalling his teachings: “The reason that I sit here and drink is because I am waiting for the white man to finish his business. And when he is done we will return” (55).
In the final paragraphs, he notes that the only indigenous anarchists he’s met have been native people, not because it’s impossible for nonnative ppl to live this way, but “because there are few teachers and even fewer students” (among the settler population) (55). This is another reason why settlers need to engage with indigenous peoples: “If learning how to live with these values is worth anything it is worth making the compromises necessary to learn how people have been living with them for thousands of years” (55).