The Bowl With One Spoon, Part One
McGill-Queen's Native and Northern Series #35
Release date: 2003-11-10
Using 1492 as a starting point, Lethbridge University professor Anthony Hall takes various strands such as of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, socialism, environmentalism, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the Covenant Chain, and corporate globalism and weaves them into a tapestry that depicts the impact on humanity, placing the Fourth World in the foreground. Hall extends his synthesis right up to the current so-called War on Terrorism, which he sees as transcending 9-11, being deeply rooted in US history. The result is an ominous culmination between social-Darwinist forces and American capitalism: a “‘survival of the fittest’ meets Wal-Mart and Hiroshima.”
The historical role of US empire and its minion Canada are prominent in this opus. But the seat of hyper-empire is in the US and Canada is merely a neighbor with much shared history, especially relating to the Original Peoples. Canada is considered a friendly and, for the most part, compliant neighbor.
Those, however, designated enemies of the US are demonized, whereas less-than-angelic US allies are beatified. The Original Peoples of Turtle Island (North America) became the original demonized other, enshrined in the US constitution as “merciless Indian savages.” It did not matter that the settlers from Europe were invading a territory on which the Original Peoples had been living for centuries, that the Original Peoples had never threatened their homelands, had never obstructed intra-European trade, and had never harassed anyone outside the “Americas”; the Catholic Church through the Papal Bull of 1493, Inter Caetera, had given its blessing to the conquest of territory belonging to the “savages.”
Although the Papal Bull of 1537, Sublimus Deus, found that Original Peoples “are by no means deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ,” the fomenters of the American Revolution construed otherwise. Highly critical of the so-called founding fathers, Hall wrote, “In the very first act of [US] self-justification, the founders carved out in 1776 a special category to encompass a class of humanity deemed bereft of inalienable rights, a class of people thought to embody such potential for unpredictable violence and anarchy that they were placed outside the assertions of equal rights proclaimed as the raison d’être of the revolutionary republic.”
It was this republic that came to claim a divine right to unilaterally enact regime change in other lands and to pre-emptively attack those it designated a threat.
To efface the scourge of war there is a need for unity among Original Peoples and the masses of other peoples of the world. Such a unity is symbolized by Johnson Hall in New York State, named after William Johnson who was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies of British America. Johnson had earned the respect of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) by learning their language and ways, marrying Kanienke’haka (Mohawk) women, and pursuing treaties with Haudenosaunee in the region, establishing the Covenant Chain.
It was an alliance built to rival the French-Indian alliance in Turtle Island that served the British empire well during the Seven Years War and War of 1812.
Johnson grew prosperous from his dealings with empire and the Haudenosaunee. However, the Original Peoples of Turtle Island struggled against the European ideology of capitalism. Traditionally, Original Peoples observed a commonality of land and resources symbolized as the bowl with one spoon. Hall wrote of the “continuing struggle of Indigenous peoples to stand their ground. This deeply conservative resistance, rooted in the oldest surviving polities known to humankind, represents the outer edges of a moving frontier of pluralistic restoration that points humanity towards alternative models of globalization radically different from the moving frontiers of standardized property law. This assertion of the prior or pre-existing rights in turn represents the applied aspect of an evolving philosophy of ecological society -- a philosophical complex that, in my estimation, constitutes the last barrier to the totalitarian triumph of the unsustainable cult of possessive individualism.”
It was a totalitarian triumph built on the “greatest genocide in human history.” This “genocide [which occurred] through direct killing, ecocide, and the assimilationist strategies of cultural genocide, has been instrumental in the colonization of the Indian Country.”
Canada constitutionally enshrined Original Peoples’ rights in section 35 of the Canada Act but has otherwise tried to have such rights removed, ignored, or blocked the legal ramifications of the constitutional powers. This raises the matter of the legitimacy of the settler courts in arbitrating over jurisdiction of Indian lands.
The standoff at Gustafsen Lake, in central British Columbia, exemplified the perfidy of the state against the Original Peoples and their spirituality. A group of traditionalists, who came to be known as the self-titled Ts’Peten Defenders, was holding a Sundance ceremony that was profaned by local ranch hands. The aftermath witnessed the corporate media in collusion with the province, state, black ops, and state police orchestrate a smear and disinformation campaign against the Ts’Peten Defenders and their lawyer, Bruce Clark, who valiantly sought to raise a constitutional challenge to any level of Canadian government jurisdiction over unceded First Nations territory. (For an in-depth insider perspective, read Splitting the Sky with She Keeps the Door, From Attica to Gustafsen Lake, John Pasquale Boncore, 2001)
In the US, where Jeffersonian views presaged Manifest Destiny, doctrine held that Original Peoples had no right to their territory because of their reduced numbers and failure to fully exploit the land economically to contribute to Christian civilization.
Consequently, dispossession of their territory has seen Original Peoples marginalized, reduced to dependency, immiserated, and suffering high rates of addiction and suicide.
Hall argued that “in a world where cultural pluralism and the self-determination of peoples is respected, there must be a range of different economic systems to support the ecology of human diversity in all its many manifestations.”
That the Original Peoples were skilled and knowledgeable is without doubt. In partial evincement, Hall itemized a plethora of agricultural achievements that included tomatoes, avocadoes, vanilla, pineapples, peppers, cotton, corn, potatoes, and rubber.
The civilizations erected by Europeans in the “Americas” are built on the destruction of another civilization. The notion that the Original Peoples’ civilization was inferior is rebutted by even European accounts. The Mayans and Aztecs of Central and South “America” had developed science and culture to a high standing for the time. On the site of present-day Mexico City was Tenochtitlan, a city that was said to rival any of the great cities in Europe near the end of the fifteenth century.
Hall detailed what globalization in the corporate media context represents and how it militates against the harmonic traditions of Original Peoples. Original Peoples had a “view of human relations with other species that emphasizes the attributes of liberated pluralism over the enclosure of commercialized monocultures, of diversities over the imposition of standardized forms in life’s reproductive processes.”
Corporate globalization is not benign. “The subordination of the global rights of peoples to the global imperatives of money and commerce is more than accidental. It is rooted in the continuity of the ongoing Columbian conquests which has made universalist, neo-liberal economics the primary medium to perpetuate the gross inequities born of European imperialism.”
“Ecocide, no less than genocide, constitutes a type of crime whose perpetration must be removed from the obfuscations of the kind of moral relativism that has thrived in justifying the expanding frontiers of the American empire and of global capitalism.”
“The fundamentalist aim of the neo-liberal crusade is to replace multicultural pluralism and biodiversity with an expanding civilization of possessive individualism and commodified monocultures.” Therefore, the philosophy of Original Peoples is starkly at odds with neo-liberalism and it is no wonder that they are excluded from treaty making, being notably absent from, among others, NAFTA, WTO, and FTAA negotiations.
If it were only the indignity of marginalization that the Original Peoples suffered, but the sustainability of the Original People’s way-of-life was targeted. Hall held, “The theme of enforced dependencies merges with the theme of ecocide in those many instances where environmental degradation was purposefully advanced of inadvertently perpetrated, with the outcome of denying Indigenous peoples their traditional means of economic self-sufficiency and political independence.”
On Turtle Island, the attacks on the Original Peoples have been bi-pronged. “In the US the American Indian Movement was the target of a secret campaign of disinformation and assassination that easily qualifies as state terrorism conducted within the United States.” In the state of Canada, the government has pursued constitutional disempowerment and marginalization of the Original Peoples.
Hall’s examination of Original Peoples is not limited to upper Turtle Island but includes, among others, Zapatistas, Ogoni, Maori, and Australian Aborigines (of various self-designations such as Koori, Yamaji, Nunga, Murri, etc.). Comprising the Fourth World, the political reorganization of Original Peoples on a global basis, seeks to solve such issues as dispossession, decolonization, territorial theft, and cultural protection that originate in the Columbian conquests.
Some scholars excuse the racism of the “discoverer of ‘North America,’” Christopher Columbus, as being merely a product of his times. If such reasoning exculpates Columbus from the racist ideology that gave rise to eventual genocide then it would also seem to exculpate him from consideration as a great man.
Hall cited the work of Hugo Grotius, a natural rights theorist who came on the scene a couple of generations after Columbus. Grotius steered towards a system that advocated the sovereign rights of peoples. Hall also noted that in the mid-seventeenth century, a white settler named Roger Williams had already recognized aboriginal title. One wonders who is the great person, the person who can recognize the fundamental principles of human rights ahead of supposedly enlightened society or the man who is merely a product of his society.
Enlightenment, however, did not guide the European settlers of Turtle Island. Hall cited the genocidal plan for bio-terror by Major-General Jeffrey Amherst who, faced with fierce resistance from Ottawa leader Pontiac, asked and attempted to legitimize his request: “Could it not be contrived to send some small pox among the tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.”
The American Revolution, contended Hall, was “one of the biggest land grabs in human history” whose “ultimate aim was to create a new global framework to widen the Lockean frontiers of a New World empire of possessive individualism.”
Yet as William Johnson wrote, many Original Peoples had “never been conquered … nor subject to Laws” and therefore considered themselves free. Johnson pursued the making of treaties marked by shell-work wampum belts. But much as international treaties are disdained by the US today, so were the wampum belts and treaties.
In 1763, Britain’s King George III issued a Royal Proclamation that set aside territories for Indians in which they were not to be “molested or disturbed.” The proclamation explicitly forbade colonists from buying land or settling in Indian territory because of past “great Frauds and Abuses.”
Nonetheless, land speculators -- one of the most notorious identified by Hall was General George Washington -- exploited Original Peoples.
The situation was also dire in Canada. Wrote Hall, the “Canadian government blatantly violated its fiduciary responsibilities by pressuring Aboriginal groups to extinguish their Aboriginal titles rather than seeking ways to negotiate practical means whereby Indigenous peoples could exercise their Aboriginal titles with due regard for the rights and titles of other groups and individuals.”
Since law apparently did not apply to Indian territory, it was not surprising that crimes against Original Peoples including murder were not legally punishable, an above-the-law position maintained by US personnel today in Iraq and worldwide by US snubbing of the International Criminal Court.
Legal niceties were deemed irrelevant in the expansion of US empire by President George W. Bush. It is the implementation of first president George Washington’s vision of “an imperium -- a dominion, state or sovereignty that would expand in population and territory, and increase in strength and power.”
Original Peoples betrayed by their allies in the Treaty of Paris (1783), a betrayal cemented in the Treaty of Ghent (1814) in which Indian territory south of the Great Lakes was transferred to the US. Merchants from Upper Canada noted the injustice: “They are the true proprietors of the territory. Their rights have never been acquired by us, could not be transferred to others without manifest injustice.” What rights did Britain and France ever have to hand over Indian territories? Needless to mention, Indians felt unbound by any such treaties.
The sovereignty claims of Original Peoples have not much mattered as the Original Peoples have been shunted across the border at the discretion of settler governments in Canada and the US -- from Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull) to Leonard Peltier. Currently pending is the case of John Graham of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation in Yukon. However, there is hope from the landmark decision by Oregon Judge Janice Stewart who turned down the request for the extradition of James Pitawanakwat to Canada because of “uncontradicted evidence that the Canadian government engaged in a smear and disinformation campaign” during the Gustafsen Lake standoff. Stewart depicted the standoff as “an organized group of Native people rising up in their homeland against occupation by the government of Canada of their sacred and unceded tribal land.”
The Dark Reality
Hall characterized an array of distinguished Indian leaders including Pontiac, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, the scholar George Manuel, and skilled orator Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker). Hall also described the strategy for co-optation of such leaders among Original Peoples for the “deliberate cultivation of class differences in Aboriginal societies.”
The Indian removal policy of Andrew Jackson -- which Hall noted was a steppingstone for some men to the US presidency -- “signaled that both within the United States and in its relations with the international community, the rule of law would be treated as a contingent apparatus to be used or discarded according to the higher needs of political expediency.”
“Until there is some basic constitutional reckoning with this fundamental flaw at the nation’s foundation -- some honest effort to address politically the reality that the United States’s position in the world is founded on a primal exercise of power over the Indians that was exerted without legal justifications -- the American republic will continue to lack the capacity to pose without hypocrisy as a proponent, let alone as an enforcer, of the rule of law in the international community.”
“There is no escaping the dark reality that, beneath the policy distinguishing international treaty making from the making of treaties with Indigenous peoples, lies a theory of government distinguishing higher from lower orders of humanity.”
In 1987, the US shut the door on legal avenues of redress for Original Peoples when it formalized the doctrine of “conquest” in the UN, casting a “puzzling” shadow over the 367 treaties it had already made with Original Peoples. It followed-up on the Congressional law passed in 1871 rejecting recognition of Indian tribes or nations within the US.
The ideology that spawned a racist genocide against the Original Peoples has also attacked the weaker members among the settlers. Recent years have seen an erosion of middle class status, increasing rates of incarceration, and an undermining of the social system while the haves in society luxuriate.
Hall lamented that no nation-state yet constitutionally “embraces the heritage of Indigenous peoples as the primary tap root of juridical legitimacy,” seeing this as revelatory of the Columbian conquests ongoing in the guise of corporate globalization.
How relative newcomers treat the Original Peoples speaks manifestly to what underlies the society of the newcomers and what kind of society the newcomers themselves will live in.
Hall’s book is a monumental work that provides the reader a widely encompassing perspective on what role the Columbian conquests have played in leading up to the corporate globalization being foisted upon an unsuspecting or unwilling citizenry of the world. The book is invaluable in casting light on the historical context crucial to understanding the underpinnings of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, territorial theft, and greed, which are natural selections of capitalism.
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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