This Academic Webinar, presented by Sherri Mitchell and Tom Hastings, took place on Thursday, March 9, 2017, at 12 p.m. EST.
Watch the webinar below:
- Introduction of the Speakers: 00:00-03:25
- Presentation: 03:25-47:57
- Question and Answers: 47:57-1:17:52
Native Americans and First Nations peoples have distinct cultural methods of conflict management that vary from nation to nation, with specifically unique nonviolent strands apparent historically and presently. In our modern era, several Native Americans’ struggles have featured methods of nonviolent strategy to fight for rights oftentimes with surprising outcomes. They used nonviolent civil resistance to change dominant culture, laws and policies. While the struggle by the Standing Rock Sioux has elevated Native struggles in the public eye, much more has occurred during the long history of Native Americans’ mobilization for rights and justice.
In this webinar talk we aim to highlight this often unacknowledged history of nonviolent resistance, and show how the study of innovations and traditional methods of nonviolent conflict management, as well as direct nonviolent actions practiced by many of the tribes of the Native American Nations and First Nations, can benefit scholarship and practice of civil resistance.
Presenters’ responses to questions not answered during the scheduled webinar time:
1. Would you please recommend some further resources — books, websites, authors, workshops et cetera — to explore the history, practice and philosophies of indigenous practices of nonviolent struggle?
2. How do you collaborate with others involved who are coming from a nonviolent view but not solely a Native American struggle?
Tom: My own experience is that at times I drop almost everything else and jump in as a white ally. Then, when I come back to talk about coalition or mutual support, I am granted more of an audience. It isn’t a quid pro quo, just an authentic way to approach organizing.
3. I wonder if adopting the ‘Resistance’ motif is really that helpful when it comes to nonviolent action. After all, resistance seems to allow for the other to set the agenda and then blocks it, whereas the real power of nonviolent action is a positive way of life (seen to some extent in your list of cultural values) that pursues goals of the good, rather than driven by resistance to the bad. I think some of the ideas on Moving Forward tend in the positive direction but I wonder what you think about downplaying resistance since it seems to lock us into certain stances that may be too short-sighted.
Tom: I regard it as historically proven that it’s seamless, e.g., Gandhi’s transitions from obstructive to constructive actions. Updating that, I’d suggest that every solar panel reduces the need for oil pipelines. However, as Winona LaDuke suggests, there are times when, sigh, we just have to resist.
4. I am a non-Indigenous American citizen, living in Switzerland and consider myself an ally to indigenous rights. On a very practical level – what is the best way to show solidarity from overseas? I have felt frustrated in not being able to make my body available for the actions in Standing rock. Similarly, I have no money invested in financial institutions that fund dirty energy and trample on indigenous rights. How can one amplify the nonviolent activism from abroad?
- Write op-eds on the topic and send to American papers.
- Donate to indigenous groups–and promote the crowdsourced donating you believe to be most authentic.
- Organize local demonstrations and post the photos. My favorite is one that shows NoDAPL with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
- Use social media to promote the support of the tribes.
5. How important is it to have a 100% non-violent movement? Can you have people in your movement that believe that the destruction of property for instance is acceptable?
Tom: It is vital to frame everything as nonviolent, repeatedly, with logic. Rule 1: All violence backfires, whether committed by the armed forces of the state or by a movement. Having said that, with enough work, enough messaging, and repeated explanation, some property under some circumstances can be dismantled, interfered with, or repurposed so that it’s understood as nonviolent. It must be done transparently by people who claim credit and accept consequences for it. For example, I am an expert witness in an upcoming second trial in a series of them of defendants who transparently shut off oil pipelines. My deposition explains the role of nonviolent civil disobedience in successfully stopping violence, violations of human rights, etc. And I am personally a veteran of two Plowshares actions, both of which involved dismantling thousands of dollars of components of a thermonuclear command center. That was framed as nonviolent and accepted as such. Indeed, the closure of that command facility was due in large part to the growth of the coalition of peoples and organizations opposing it, including the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and their highly effective lawyers.
6. What the presenters have given us are just ad hoc ideas about what we can do with our elected officials, consumer choices, etc. That is too diffuse and weak. No, we need to pick a specific pillar and begin to chip away at that target with all our collective power. What is the weakest brick in the wall of the extractive industries raping indigenous lands?
Tom: I’m not the authority on what we must do right now, but I agree that a coalition of indigenous leadership should prioritize, if possible, and communicate that to one and all.
7. I believe that it is important to clearly define the enemy, so that the war can be won. The battles are many: pipelines, the fossil fuel industry when it is not working towards CO2 reduction, but actually seeking to export pollution, wage inequity, workplace inequity, nuclear power, waste and weapons, human rights violations and on and on the list could go. What do you think?
Sherri: I don’t believe in the idea of enemies. I see the actions of those harming the Earth as a spiritual and mental illness. War is what has brought us to this point. And, as Einstein said: You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it. We need to hold back the tide of harm in ways that don’t harm the other. We need to see them as our brothers and sisters and make space for them to shift their mindset. We’ll never change the current paradigm or reach critical mass if we continue to draw lines of division and create enemy scenarios that result in us engaging in more acts of warfare. If we want a different world we have to invest in its creation. It’s a three part process, holding back the current harm, working to change hearts and minds, and creating new systems to replace the old. We divest all of our energy from the harmful systems, divest our money from their structures, and divest our minds from the patriarchal narrative.
8. In the interest of “telling truth”, would in not be more appropriate to refer to the people from Christopher Columbus and following to be referred to as “invaders” rather than “settlers”.
Sherri: Yes, invaders is appropriate for some, especially Columbus. However, there are also many that came here humbly seeking a better life, many of those individuals had good relationships with the Native peoples. When we are unable to see the distinction in the actions of individuals we run the risk of demonizing entire populations of people. History has shown us where that path leads. We must also separate the actions of the limited few in power from the rest of the population. Would you want to be judged by the actions of Donald Trump or Stephen Harper? I wouldn’t. There is no question that Native people were intelligent, with sophisticated democratic governance structures, successful trade routes, and ways of life that were in harmony with the rest of the world. There is a great deal that Indigenous people can teach the rest of the world. Those stories can be elevated, patriarchy can be called out and diminished, without demonizing the entire population. Within our population there are the descendants of slaves, asylum seekers, refugees, and countless others who were either brought here or came here for reasons that were wrought with peril. It’s far more complex and deserves to be treated with a bit more complexity than applying blanket statements to an entire population of people. My hope is that we can engage that complexity with more humanity and find a more unified path forward.
9. Curious to hear about other specific ways for non-native people to ally or be accomplices in the nonviolent struggle of the native population
Sherri: There are countless ways. One of the best ways to determine how to be the best an ally or accomplice is to go to the Native people in your area and ask them what they need. Don’t ever assume that it’s appropriate for you to speak for them. There is a distinct difference between speaking for someone and speaking in support of them, learn that distinction. Find ways to create a platform for their voices, support them in their efforts to protect their lands, waters, and way of life. Oppose any attempts to further diminish their rights. The best thing that you can do is to befriend Native people, have conversations with them, let go of any romantic or biased notions that you have about who they are and what they need. Let them lead you in your efforts to be helpful. Otherwise, you run the risk of being paternalistic. We are all still figuring out how to address the intersectionality within our movements, how to support the rights of all people, and how to heal the wound of our shared history of violence – we need to allow for a lot of patience and learning in this work. My suggestion is that you approach the work with willingness to learn and to be guided. Approach those who are leading the movements that you wish to support and ask them how you can best do that. They will be best suited to tell you the specific actions needed to address the particular issues that they are working on. In the meantime, form coalition within your area and let your political and industrial leaders know that you will not support their continued efforts to take from Native peoples or to diminish their rights. Then, be willing to back that that up with divestiture, campaigning against candidates that engage in those actions, and making it impossible for them to continue behaving in such disgraceful ways.
Sherri Mitchell was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian Nation. She is an Indigenous Rights Attorney, and a global advocate for human rights and Earth rights. She received her JD and a certificate in Indigenous People’s Law and Policy from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. Sherri is also an alumnus of both the Udall Native American Congressional Internship program and the American Indian Ambassador Program.
Sherri has worked as an advocate for Indigenous rights for the past 20 years. She has served as a program coordinator and advisor to the American Indian Institute’s ‘Healing the Future Program, and Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth. And, she is currently an advisor to the Indigenous Elders and Medicine People’s Council of North and South America.
She worked as a law clerk for the Solicitor of the United States Department of Interior, as an associate with Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan, and as an educator for the Civil Rights Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office. In 2010, Sherri received the Mahoney Dunn International Human Rights and Humanitarian Award for her research into human rights violations against Indigenous peoples.
She is an accomplished writer and speaker, having been featured in numerous journals, anthologies and publications. She is a published poet and a contributor to both Indian Country Today, and Native News Network. She is currently completing her first book, Sacred Instructions, which is expected to be released in September 2017. She has worked with countless individuals and groups helping them to devise legal strategies for rights-based action, while also teaching in depth workshops that focus on the details of building strong, effective nonviolent rights-based movements.
Sherri is the founder and Director of the Land Peace Foundation. An organization dedicated to the protection of Indigenous rights, and the preservation of the Indigenous way of life. She also is co-host of the program Love (and revolution) Radio, a program that focuses on heart-based movements around the world.
Tom H. Hastings, with his undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, his Masters in Journalism, and his doctorate in Education, is Coordinator of the undergraduate degree programs in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. He is a former member of the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), former co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is on the boards of both the IPRA Foundation and the Oregon Peace Institute, as well as the Academic Advisory Council of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. He is Founding Director of PeaceVoice, a program of OPI, and has written several books and many articles about nonviolence and other peace and conflict topics. He is a former Plowshares resister, a nonviolence trainer, a founding member of two Catholic Worker communities, and currently lives in Whitefeather Peace House. His sons are African American, which literally colored his perspective on the world since the 1960s.
Cloud Morgan, Larry (1985). Prison meditations. Minneapolis, MN: St. Joseph’s.
Whaley, Rick, & Bresette, Walter (1994). Walleye warriors: An effective alliance against racism and for the earth. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.