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(DV) Petersen: Resisting Capitalist-Imperialist Assimilation







Resisting Capitalist-Imperialist Assimilation
Interview with Stewart Steinhauer
by Kim Petersen
December 17, 2005

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Stewart Steinhauer is a self-taught stone carver who lives on the Saddle Lake “Indian Reserve” northeast of Edmonton in central Alberta province. Steinhauer is active in and inspired by the spiritual ceremonies of his people. 

In 1876, the Indigenous Peoples from several Nations, for instance Cree, Ojibwe, Dene, Lakota, became a signatory to Treaty Six with the Crown of Canada, acknowledging a new sharing relationship in a specific mapped out territory. Canada enacted its illegal Indian Act one month after treaty-signing, creating Indian bands and Indian reserves; Saddle Lake Indian Reserve is one of 54 reserves inside of Treaty Six Territory. Indigenous Peoples, including people at Saddle Lake, now Saddle Lake First Nation, dispute the wording of the English version of Treaty Six. The Indigenous Peoples inside of Treaty Six Territory insist they never agreed to “cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for Her Majesty the Queen and her successors forever, all their rights, titles, and privileges whatsoever, to the lands.” The federal government, which has assigned itself fiduciary responsibility for First Nations, later transferred those federal Crown lands and resource rights to the province of Alberta. The Alberta government thereby retained complete control, use and benefit from the territory of the Saddle Lake First Nation. Whether or not there was a treaty in place is inconsequential, as the dispossession of the Lubicon Lake First Nation demonstrates. 

But to the “rescue” of the Saddle Lake First Nation came Western Lakota Energy Services (WLES). For a 50 percent share in two oil rigs, Saddle Lake First Nation pays WLES the cost of constructing a drilling rig. WLES puts up the money in loans, and profits further from operating the rigs, carrying out contract drilling, and collecting management fees.  

The Saddle Lake leaders sought to create jobs for band members. According to Steinhauer:  

[C]apitalist jobs equal assimilation equal genocide. Grass roots band members haven't fallen for it. Saddle Lake's on-reserve unemployment rate ranges from 70% to 90%, but very few band members have stayed at the drilling rig work. Those who tried to work on the rigs have found the combination of racism, patriarchy, imperialism and exploitative labor overwhelming. As a result, WLES primarily employs non-indigenous people to perform contract drilling with Saddle Lakes' 2 rigs. 

Let's check the score card. Saddle Lake gets a 50% limited partnership in two rigs, with an accompanying debt of about $7 million, no permanent jobs, and few temporary jobs, while WLES gets paid in cash what it costs them to build these rigs. WLES then gets to perform contract drilling with these rigs, being paid a premium by Saddle Lake to manage the rigs, as well as being paid interest on the loan that they've made to Saddle Lake so that Saddle Lake can purchase the limited 50% share.

Possessive individualism has been a bane for most of the Original Peoples of Turtle Island. Steinhauer notes, “Under capitalism, with its planned scarcity as a cover for the ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ rise of privilege, enshrined in individualistic liberal philosophy, there can never be enough to satisfy even one man’s greed.”  

The following interview is from a recent e-mail exchange between Steinhauer and I. 

Reporter: What do you think of western civilization?

Mahatma Gandhi: I think it would be a very good idea.

Kim Petersen
: I much like the Gandhian notion of western civilization but you have a described western civilization as built on four pillars. Could you please elaborate.

Stewart Steinhauer: There is a certain wistfulness and wry humor in Gandhi's response, although, some 60 odd years later I'm not sure that anything can help, if I've understood correctly which Gandhian notion you are referring to. As to my notion of western civilization, and the four pillars on which it stands, about these much has been said, but little has been done. Racism, patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism are widely lamented, but the underlying substructures are never seriously challenged. Capitalism is the new kid on the block, but probably the most dangerous; the other three Edward Said has traced back to Ancient Greece, with the invention of the notion of the Orient, the "other". I'm not sure how far you want to go in deconstructing this thingy, but, to give just one tiny illustration of racism, in the 1500s and 1600s Europeans debated over whether the Peoples whom they had “discovered” on Turtle Island were real people, and, from there, real Peoples or nations of people. The decision was taken to wipe Turtle Islanders off of the map of humanity, and so it stands, today. When the UN decreed decolonization after the Second World War, there was never any mention of decolonizing Turtle Island. In fact, right at this moment there is no such place as Turtle Island, according to world opinion. As for patriarchy, I believe that this is the first of the four; it was certainly the first imposed by the “civilizing” mission from Europe. 16th century Jesuit missionaries recorded their horror at finding matriarchal societies, and set to work immediately to lay the ground work for a shift to the European notion of woman as property of man, man as property of the priest, priest as property of the nobility, nobility as property of God, as construed in Christian ideology. In the 16th century, the Jesuits laid out the framework for the Indian Residential Schools, which didn't come into being for another three hundred years. This “education” system was clearly seen as essential to the transformation from a matriarchal, non-violent, sharing-based society, where folks practiced what today is called deep ecology, but that is really just common sense, over to the European system. Who said Europe was allowed to go around the world doing this? This action was self-authorized by European males, with sword in hand. It's not that easy to sort this stuff out in a neat timeline, because, by the time Europe got around to producing its first book, Homers' Iliad/Oddessy, we're already seeing a racist patriarchal imperialistic society, with the pre-cursor to capitalism, class. At that time, new born upper class baby boys were thrown violently on the ground, because the society believed that it would be a waste of effort to raise any boy if he couldn't make it in an ultra-violent world. Survivors of the birth experience were raised as warriors. Here we see the interference with the natural birthing and mothering processes, still evident today. Humans aren't naturally violent. It takes a lot of effort to make humans violent, and the modern industrialized world has perfected that process. From here, I could go off on capitalism as the culmination of these other “human mistakes,” humanity's greatest mistake so far, but I like the way Noam Chomsky deals with it. No such thing as textbook capitalism actually exists; it's just an ideology, but powerful. We humans are odd creatures; we have a brain but for some unknown reason we're reluctant to use it. To complete the circle opened up by your question, Turtle Islanders are said to be animistic or shamanistic, or primitivist, I would guess sometimes in well-meaning ways. In my opinion we are none of that, and what we really are has been lost in translation. In my own cultural teachings, the bear plays an important role, and during ceremony, the bear is said to have given gifts to the human, and these gifts are remembered, and their significance pondered upon. When, at home with my Elders, mentors, family and friends, we offer our pipe to the universe, we often, as part of that acknowledgment of broad connection, remember, and by so doing, reaffirm, our foundation, our way of life. The bear's four legs symbolize our four laws, humble kindness, sharing, honesty, and determination. These four laws are what our society used to walk on, and still struggles to hobble along on. The inculcated violence of western civilization has riddled our bear with bullet holes, but it mysteriously totters on.    

KP: Western “civilization” (what Mohandas Gandhi thought “would be a very good idea") totters on and seeks to consolidate its imperialist conquests in Turtle Island. You have written that when you were about ten years old you were “arbitrarily” made a citizen of Canada. You noted that several professional sources indicate that there is no legal mechanism for this in international law.  

Elder Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee [Six Nation Confederacy] has said that for First Nations there is no United States and Canada and therefore no border -- that the border is a colonial construct. The 1794 Jay Treaty recognizes this notion by granting Original Peoples the right to unimpeded passage over this colonial border. Lyons also pointed out that the Haudenosaunee have their own passport.  

Professor Rudolph C. R˙ser of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, a specialist in Fourth World matters, noted in the1980s that 64 percent of Canada is unceded territory. Given all this, by what right, if any, does the Canadian state push its commodification of the land and resources as well as the municipalization of First Nations territory?  

SS: Under the spreading chestnut tree/ I sold you and you sold me.

The right to torture spreads from the legal profession's, law societies' and law schools' right to torture language in order to extract the moment's needed meaning. If George Orwell had written a funny, fast-paced, witty 1984 it might have had more influence on pushing back the age of the memory hole. I'll start with the word “cede”, add a pinch of “territory” and stir with a spoon hand carved out of some of the softwood lumber sawn out of the Great Tree of Peace, from Haudenosaunee Land. Indigenous Peoples cannot cede territory. Indigenous property law does not include the notion of “ceding territory.” 100% of Turtle Island is unceded territory, from the Southern Cone to Baffin Island and beyond. In law, the modern nation-states of Canada and the United States exist at the pleasure of the Haudenosaunee, but these two nation-states, and in particular the United States, reserves to themselves the right to torture.

In Canada, the gulags are called “reserves”, and the special treatment includes a well-known and well-documented list of atrocities, ongoing for several centuries in the eastern regions of Canada, and for about 140 years, here inside of what is now modern Alberta. I think of it as the continuation of the counterinsurgency model of low intensity warfare, and, although I don't have the documentation at my fingertips, I see a cross-pollenization bouncing back and forth between Colonial North America, Nazi Germany, Latin America 1960s to 1990s, Israel in Palestine, and the US in the world. Looking around at my Rez Zone family and friends, I see the future for Palestinians; we have been “pacified”. I see El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, zoned out, the African de-colonizer's “dead man walking.”

As the torturer says to the tortured, in chains, in an impenetrable fortress: “go ahead and scream all you want, because there is no one to hear you, no one to come here and set you free.” I guess the right to torture is the right that Canada uses to push its agenda, whatever the changing nature of that agenda may be, over time. Yesterday morning both my ten-year-old son and my wife awoke from horrifying nightmares; my ten year old, despite my best efforts, is learning the “real men don't cry” rule, but he cried when he remembered his dream. A nuclear bomb set to detonate in ten seconds got sucked up into a tornado and was carried towards our house, here on the Rez. He and his oldest nephew, my seven-year-old grandson, were playing outside, and ran away from the house, seeking shelter before the explosion. When it happened, somehow he and his nephew survived, but his mother and I were killed, and this was the hardest part for him, in remembering the dream, his mother's death. Immediately after the explosion, he and his nephew were attacked by poisonous snakes, who bite the boys relentlessly all over their arms and upper bodies. The two boys found a medical kit, with anti-venom medication, then the dream ended.

My wife has asked that I not include the story of her dream here.

Where does the dream world stop and the real world start? This spring, Canada invited the Israeli Air Force to come and teach NATO air forces how to perform targeted assassinations from 25,000 feet. My Rez is a short flight away from the NATO training base, at Cold Lake, and I regularly get overflights of military aircraft, low, right over my house. Israel is studying Canada's Indian Act, with a mind towards constructing the future “pacified” relationship with Palestinians.

I would like to find a detailed answer to your question, “by what right.” I feel that it is a very important question. 

KP: On 7 May 2003, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced C$787,500 in federal funding for the Saddle Lake First Nation to “take a historic first step into the oil and gas drilling business through the acquisition of a 50 percent interest in an oil and gas drilling rig.” Given the assault of Big Oil and government into your neighbor Lubicon Lake First Nation, why the difference?  

SS: Seeing several lines of tortured words in a row makes me shudder, but I'll try to sort some of my meaning out for you. First, and most importantly, behind the public relations facade there is no difference. Secondly, as a small illustration of the facade, the term “First Nation” was coined by legal experts in Canada's Justice Department, professional word torturers, as part of the effort to sidetrack the indigenous self-determination movement. The word torturers are now hard at work developing Canada's “Aboriginal Doctrine.” I'm an admirer of Hugo Chavez, but I was shocked to see Venezuela following Canada's “duty to consult,” an essential feature of its “Aboriginal Doctrine,” in exploiting new resource areas. Exxon-Mobil is here, there and everywhere. Remember, Turtle Island is 100% unceded territory, and so it shall remain. Thirdly, during a torture session it is quite normal for individuals to agree to all sorts of things being suggested by their torturers. Saddle Lake First Nation's current crop of individuals in the local positions of power that are recognized by Canada's Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development have been groomed as such for decades. After the Second World War, during the de-colonization period referred to above, self-determination was intentionally conflated with economic development. As a reaction to the crisis of democracy during the 1960s, that is, too much democracy, at least as seen through the eyes of the business class, an economic ideology was developed in right wing think tanks giving raise to what the Mayan Zapatistas have named neo-liberalism. This form of economic development is used to cut off self-determination, wherever local elites will accept it. I see that the business class is now “decolonizing” the mainstream populations of the United States and Canada by this method.  

I guess the difference we see on the surface, on this side of the facade, between Saddle Lake Cree and Lubicon Lake Cree, is that the Lubicon leadership hasn't agreed to accept this pseudo-self-determination, while the Saddle Lake leadership has agreed to accept it. However, the actual band populations of both bands reject it wholeheartedly. At a deeper level, and this ties back to trying to make sense out of captive populations undergoing counterinsurgent special attention, what we are seeing is two intentionally isolated gulags of Cree people at different phases of pacification. For instance, to see the kinds of counterinsurgency activities seen in Guatemala in the 1980s, we would have to travel back in time here on the northern prairies to the 1870s. Here at Saddle Lake we are over one hundred years ahead of the curve; we are what a tortured population looks like after five generations in the torture chamber. Lubicon Lake is two generations behind us: they'll get with the program. If there are any Palestinians who happen to read this, I invite you to come to Canada to have a look at what your descendents will be like in 100 years, the few who survive, that is.  

I've already discussed at way too much length the mechanics behind the Saddle Lake drilling rig deal; perhaps you could place a link button here to the Dominion article “Drilling For Oil And Gas,” for readers who want to know more about the sordid details. Saddle Lake's current Chief, a proponent of the deal, is my cousin, and we get along well. He is well-intended but does not seem to have the capacity to comprehend the bigger picture, something I do not find fault with him for. It's an effect of torture. When I use the word “torture”, I don't mean it as a rhetorical device, although I also don't mean the “hanging by your arms tied up behind your back while an electrode is applied to your genitals,” although direct physical torture used to happen in residential schools, for basically the same reason it happened, and is still happening, all over Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The counterinsurgency pacification stage, random torture of the insurgent public, is followed by the pacified stage. Here's where the torture gets exquisite. I mean living in your homeland, in captivity, with your way of life, complete with language, customs, and social institutions, forcibly stripped away from you, at first literally imprisoned in gulags, and then, as signs of assimilation begin to set in, socially imprisoned in gulags, and then the list of effects. … I'm not going to bother going over the list, because its been gone over thousands of times, and the memory hole never tires of swallowing up more of the same. 

KP: Lastly, you have said that the solution to the malevolence wrought on Original Peoples is to respect international law and recognize their title to land. People like lawyer Bruce Clarke, the Ts'peten Defenders, and others have pursued this route in the courts of the ethnic cleansers with limited success. Do you have any thoughts on how this adherence to international law may be realized? 

SS: This is the question that currently occupies a lot of my time. From a pragmatic perspective, no court of law exists in which to pursue this case. I say “case” singular because it is the same from north to south on Turtle Island, although the indigenous nations involved are many. If humanity survives the US policy of full spectrum dominance, probably more by the same combination of ignorance and arrogance that has hobbled the most powerful and heavily armed military force in human history, where a relative handful of poorly armed and funded Iraqi “insurgents” are successfully fighting off a class of war criminals who make Hitler's happy gang look like Sunday School boys on a mission from God, than by anything intentional, then we will have to work together to build global institutions with a bottom up format, starting from Mother Earth. When I say title to land, I am speaking about indigenous property law, an area of law not yet clearly articulated within mainstream discourse. How could this indigenous property law system have yet been articulated when the Peoples who have and hold this system of law are not even recognized as Peoples on the world stage? I'm watching the upcoming election in Bolivia with mixed dread and excitement. There, the voting majority, indigenous Peoples, are going to form the next government, with an indigenous man, Evo Morales, as the next president. Hugo Chavez has proven that it does make a difference to take state power, and the lesson is not lost on the indigenous of Bolivia. The US has military forces poised to enter into the Santa Cruz area, where the natural gas is, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Euro-ancestry Bolivian elite in that area call for secession, and then plead with the US for military assistance to fend off the savage indigenous onslaught. 7th Cavalry, anyone?

Meanwhile Evo Morales is very timid in comparison to where the main body of the indigenous Peoples are in their thinking about the State. Unthinkable a couple of years ago, indigenous of Bolivia are calling for an “Indian Nation.” This is their right by international law, but existing nation states and their transnational institutions will close ranks to prevent this from happening.   

There will be no international law until the US Empire, and its not-too-well-hidden puppet master, the Empire of Capital, have lost credibility, especially with the general population in the US, Canada, and western Europe. Perhaps the neoliberal “decolonizing” treatment being dished out right now to normal North Americans will radicalize the sleeping middle classes in these countries, as it did, however briefly, in Argentina, when the IMF put a sleeper hold on that nation's economy. Or maybe not. Americans seem to not be fully aware that the huge mirror that they are prancing up and down in front of is actually a one-way window, and that many “pacified” Peoples of the world sit chained in straight-backed chairs, with eye lids taped open, watching the ridiculous performance. How many reruns can we endure? If the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision 20/20 comes true, then we may be in for many more reruns.

As for me, I'll continue to spend my time dialoguing with Elders, attending ceremony, and thinking about it all. There are some magnificent puzzles here to examine. I often wonder what it means that Europeans have come to Turtle Island, destroyed indigenous heaven, created hell on earth for the survivors, built Utopia for themselves, and yet, on any day of the year, indigenous Peoples can be seen to be having more fun in the Whiteman's Hell than the Whiteman is having in the Utopia he made for himself out of Indian Heaven. Very curious.  

Kim Petersen, Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in the traditional Mi'kmaq homeland colonially designated Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: 

Stewart Steinhauer lives and works at Saddle Lake Whatever, carving stone, reading and writing, engaging in regional discussions about what-the-hell-do-we-do-now, and generally trying to avoid violent confrontations. Some of his work, play, home and spirit can be seen at which includes an e-mail link. Steinhauer welcomes dialogue.

Other Recent Articles by Kim Petersen

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* Elementary Morality and Torture
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* Syria in the Imperialist Crosshairs 

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* Gizen: Perverted Principle in Japan
* The Need to Speak Out: Canada’s Governor Generalship
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* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Five
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Four
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Three
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Two
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part One
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