the Sioux First Nation, in what is now South Dakota, in the late 19th Century, were re-located from their Holy Land (The Black Hills) in contravention of earlier treaties and agreements to make way for gold prospectors? What is the reasoning behind a society that will habitually and cynically brush aside the claims and title of the original inhabitants of this continent for industrial development or simply enclosed land for ranching and agriculture? A number of social culprits are brought to the docket: racism, classism, hold-overs from colonialism, and a mixture of “charity-fatigue” and cynicism regarding the motives of the First Nation(s) involved in a claim. These phenomena of inequality interrelate and prop each other up with their ideological overlap. There seems to be something more though: a factor that we have not considered before because its contemplation suggests the myth of essentialism in which one group of people are, at their core, different from others in their very nature. The world-views of the First Nations in Canada, the United States and around the world are differentiated from European-descendent paradigms in ways that are fundamental. They are tied directly into the bedrock of their beliefs and the relation of these beliefs to the surrounding world. First Nations activist George Manuel called this view and its adherents the “Fourth World” in his seminal work by the same name written in 1974. Canadian university professor Anthony J Hall has written a 1600-page, two-volume study (The Bowl with One Spoon series) of the colonisation of Canada and the United States. In it he catalogues the emergence of this Fourth World alongside the development of the machinations and superstructures of the forced occupation of Native land executed by European powers. There is an ontological disconnect or broken methodological “fuse” that prevents Fourth World claims from being acknowledged in the systems of redress in Western governments.
To gain insight into this political and cultural schism, it is essential that we come to a conclusive picture of the so-called Fourth World and its tenets. George Manuel noted that wherever he traveled in the global network of indigenous people “there is a common attachment to the land.” He saw the concepts of the Fourth World as being in sharp contrast to the “possessive individualism” of the world brought by European colonialism. Alongside this attachment to their land, Manuel notes the act of “giving” as the “most commonly recurring theme of social and spiritual relationships among every Indian society visited,” In his autobiographical account of life in the southeastern British Columbian territory of the Shushwap First Nation, he highlights the social esteem that his culture placed on the act of altruistic giving. He describes how, when a member of the band had hunted a deer, the hunter would keep only the neck (low-grade meat) for himself while packaging and distributing all the other meat and organs to his various family and friends in the area. The more an individual in the band gave to his fellow friends, family, and neighbours, the more he was esteemed as a person of solid moral fiber within the Shushwap community. It is a telling moment when Manuel writes of a member of the Nation who kept all the meat from a hunt for himself and was ostracised as a result. He then notes that this individual was the first on the reserve to buy a car. As constructed by Manuel, the Fourth World is a worldwide network of cultures defined through their respective relationships with the ecosystems from which they have always drawn spiritual strength and economic support. Altruistic giving is also a pillar of this network and set against the “possessive individualism” of European-descendent, capitalist culture.
In The American Empire and The Fourth World, Albertan historian and university professor Anthony J Hall writes of how the “empire of possessive individualism” cherished by European-descendent settlers was expanded during the colonisation of North America. This was done by way of “overcoming the resistance of Indigenous peoples through an elaborate process of bribing, demoralisation, and [the] co-opting of Aboriginal leadership…” The goal was to assist in the contravention of Aboriginal title that was then and is now central to the existence of the Fourth World. This world, as explained by Hall, is a multitude of indigenous polities that are defined by their relation to the ecosystems of their territories. There was and is, of course, activity in the Fourth World that ties it to the practices of the European colonial societies. Fourth World aboriginal nations traded amongst each other; made alliances with each other; warred against each other; forced captives into slavery and ran governments comparable to European governments in structure if not in spirit. Underlying all of this, however, was the various nations’ attachment to their ancestral homelands which was historical, economical, and deeply spiritual. This factor splits the Fourth World away from the European-descendent ethnicities and is a prime candidate for why many First World individuals are cynical to or ignorant of the intricacies of this global community and its causes. For Jews and Christians, God resides in Heaven. For members of the Fourth World; their land is the well-spring of their philosophies and religion. The Haida First Nation lives on the islands of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). This homeland is a collection of mist-enshrouded islands off the west coast of British Columbia. While most Europeans placed their deity in the heavens, the Haida, surrounded on all sides by ocean, saw their Gods as coming from beneath the waters. The Judeo-Christian God is attached to the world as its Creator but dwells in the Kingdom of Heaven. He resides in a place unseen to our eyes and experienced only after the journey of death and an ascent to its gates. Aboriginal deities are different in many respects. The dichotomy of God’s pure goodness and Satan’s pure evil is not present in many indigenous societies. The various spirits are amoral and can embody both good and evil. They reside in the various environs of our world and their own spirit world simultaneously. The “Trickster God” is present in many native cultures. He is represented as a raven by the Haida, a coyote by the Navajo and Pueblo Indians, and a mink in yet other cultures. The Trickster God is morally suspect and almost always in search of self-gratification. Yet he is not evil like the Devil and more times than not he ends up the butt of his own jokes and plots in folklore. He shatters the Judeo-Christian dichotomy of good and evil. Needless to say, the stories of the Trickster God and other indigenous religious teachings were beaten, literally and figuratively, out of young First Nations’ children by priests of the Catholic Church. This happened when the children were separated from their parents and home culture to be sent away to Catholic “residential schools” on orders from the federal government. Here they were taught that their culture was the work of the Devil and their spirits, dignity, and sense of self-worth were trampled on by priests and teachers. The schools were rampant with abuse: verbal, physical, and sexual. In The Fourth World, Manuel gives a harrowing account of the brute physical labor and hunger he experienced in one of these schools. Here we see the schism between European-descendent and aboriginal culture laid bare. We see the horrid lengths to which institutions of European-culture and power (in this case the Catholic Church) were employed by the government to combat the cultural underlay of the First Nations’ cultures. With the use of residential schools, the government of Canada declared war on the Fourth World, its philosophy, and the teaching of said philosophy to generations of aboriginals. The brutal saga of abuse by the stewards of this program still resounds today in the tortured memories of those who suffered at the hands of these merciless architects of cultural genocide. In the words of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, “…when people speak of class struggle, they never think of the class struggle in everyday life, the contempt, arrogance and crushing ostentation…the wounding indifference and injury, etc. Social misery and resentment – the saddest of the social passions – arise from these everyday struggles, in which the issue at stake is dignity, self-esteem.”
This quote brings us deeper into the alienation of the indigenous world from the halls of decision-making and law-writing in Ottawa, Washington D.C., and countless other capitols around the world. Something affirms the problems between the Fourth World (which fights for validation every day) and other ethnic groups (who find their issues and struggles addressed with uniform validation by the media, public opinion, and state). George Manuel, and countless other First Nations leaders in Canada, list poverty as the primary source of ills in their communities. Thus, the issue becomes one of class struggle. In Western society, seeing the environment and ecosystem firstly as a well-spring of your culture’s spirituality and sustenance survival is often met with a tired cynicism by socially-conservative elements of the government, mainstream media, and urban citizens. To them, such a view is developmentally backward. Seeing your natural world firstly as un-processed resources that can be made into commodities and sold (with the assistance of a capitalist market) is the acceptable and validated world-view in Western society. According to Hall, “The consistent aim [of European-descendent, Western states] has been to deprive space on the planet for the maintenance and renewal of any system or systems of economic relationship[s] which hold alternatives to the…ideals that animate the…empire of private property.” This is in direct conflict with the aforementioned “altruistic giving” that Manuel lists as central to the adherents of the Fourth World. This is, of course, not to say that non-Aboriginal communities in the Western world do not value their natural environments (the abundance of national parks across our country or the existence of the “Green Party” speak to that). This is also not to say that members of the Fourth World do not harvest and sell the bounty from their land in a market setting. Indeed, many bands in Canada and the United States have engaged in large-scale capitalistic enterprises on their reserves (such as the building and operation of casinos and luxury resorts). However, there is a spiritually-based, community-enforced attachment to one’s own ecosystem and altruistic code in the Fourth World that is simply not present to such a primal degree amongst other non-Indigenous communities. It seems that time and time again, the interests of the Fourth World in Western culture must bow to the political hierarchy of their national institutions of power and the public that these institutions inform. As Bourdieu says, “The purpose of the dominant discourse on the social world is not simply to legitimize domination but also to steer action designed to perpetuate it, giving moral and morale, direction and directive, to those who direct and who put into effect.” To paraphrase: the dominant discourses of the ruling class’s agenda serve to ensure their place in the socioeconomic pecking order. Thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn in the United States; John Pilger in Great Britain; Gwynne Dyer and John Ralston Saul in Canada; and, Paul Ricouer and Michel Foucault in France, remind us that ideology and knowledge revolve around power. All too often, the forces of the Fourth World, in step with their dictates and precepts, are left standing in the cold, forever locked out from the halls of ideological power. They are blockaded from launching an adequate defence of their world-view by the constructed cynicism and disbelief of the general public. While stemming from economic realities, the success or outright death of the Fourth World situates itself on power and its complex relationship with knowledge, belief, and ideology.
However, the picture is not uniformly bleak. Indeed, in many ways, the political clout of First Nations has been on the rise, in Canada, since the 1960s. As Manuel notes, the hallmark of the sixties were the “Hippies” who came in droves to the reservations to learn the, stereotypical, “deep wisdom” of the aboriginals. The Hippies that filled those eager ranks retained their political-conscience as they aged and now vote in droves. A significant portion of the Canadian public believes that greater attention, or at least due attention, should be given to native causes and protests. The crimes of the residential schools and forced relocation of native groups have been acknowledged and reparations have, in many cases, been paid out alongside admissions of mea culpa from the administration. A success story that we can point to has taken place recently in the form of the validation of an occupy-style protest by the Musqueam First Nation near the Arthur Lange Bridge in southern Vancouver. The Musqueam, who had never protested before, were fighting the proposed construction of a condominium development on the site of the “Marpole Midden” (a Musqueam graveyard and holy site dating back thousands of years). On May 3rd, 2012, members of the Musqueam Nation along with supporters from other First Nations and non-indigenous allies occupied a site at the northern side of the bridge which links Vancouver with its international airport and other cities in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. In a June 2nd interview, Cecilia Point, the protest’s spokesperson, remarked plainly that “We don’t want them to dig up our graveyard”. The Musqueam staged a blockade of the bridge that Point remarked was a “last resort” taken only after complete inaction from the government of British Columbia to acknowledge their pleas for intervention in the condo development. The Vancouver public, the local media, and even the municipal police voiced support for the Musqueam and the protest action was validated by everyone except the developers and the province. Before the legislature closed for the summer and Premier Christy Clark left for vacation, she brushed off the whole morass as a “municipal matter”. Clark’s dismissal was met with the stubborn endurance of Point when she declared, “We’re not going to leave, until it’s settled, until we get our land back.” She added that Clark’s behaviour was causing rising animosity at the site. Marches and occupations of other sites (including Vancouver’s cemetery) continued through the summer and the media, public, and municipal government of Vancouver reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Finally, on September 27th, the Province caved to Musqueam demands and refused to renew the development permits of the condominium developers. The “Marpole Midden”, much to the joy of the Musqueam and other Canadian First Nations, will remain a protected historical site.
Unfortunately, this victorious result to Fourth World protest action is very much the exception to the rule. First Nations protest in Canada, through a long and painful series of often violent and drawn-out confrontations, has built what noted sociologist Phillip Oxhorn would refer to as a “strong civil society”. By this he means a society in which interest groups representing the socioeconomic and politically disadvantaged are able to negotiate rights within the state by means of compromise over conflict. Even in such a liberal society as Canada, the incidents of the “Oka Crisis” in 1989 (in which 2500 soldiers were deployed to battle protestors of the Mohawk First Nation disputing the development of a Golf Course into their traditional burial grounds) or the “Battle of Gustafsen Lake” in Northern Alberta in 1995 (in which police and military special forces fired approximately 77 000 rounds of live ammunition at a handful of native protestors) stand as grim reminders of the aforementioned ‘disconnect’ between validation of First World versus Fourth World demands. In development-hungry emerging nations around the world, the demands of the aboriginal Fourth World are met with uninhibited state-sanctioned violence. Examples of this can be seen in the Niger Delta in Nigeria in which the local tribes are being forcibly and violently relocated to make way for the western oil and petroleum exploration of multinational companies such as American-based Shell. The tribes of the delta have turned to violent piracy of oil rigs and abduction of the rig-workers in a desperate attempt to have their demands addressed. Currently, energy-starved Brazil (a nation clawing its way into the First World), is building huge hydro-electric dams in the Amazon basin. Notoriously violent paramilitary forces are being used to quell aboriginal dissent and forcibly relocate Fourth World groups from their traditional ecosystems which are set to be flooded by the damming. These examples showcase the war that “development” wages on the philosophical backbone of the Fourth World (spiritual and material connection with ecological homelands). When membership in the elite club of economic power-brokers of the world is at stake, the very existence, let alone claims, of the Fourth World is annihilated.
In preparing a plan of action for the endurance of the Fourth World and its citizens within the “development race” of the 21st Century, indigenous groups can look to the Musqueam success for hints to the survival of their school of thought and being. Throughout the protest, the strategy of the Musqueam Nation was to relate their struggle to non-indigenous people. They were open with the media, forged links with non-aboriginal protest groups (such as the Vancouver chapter of the “Occupy” protests), and provided information packages to the public and anyone who was interested. Through these tactics, they sought to connect with non-Aboriginals on a very personal level. This can be seen in one of their riskiest protest actions: the occupation of Vancouver’s only cemetery. Through this, they risked huge public backlash should things get out of hand. However, the action was reserved and Vancouverites of all backgrounds got the message when the Musqueam asked if what they were doing was right, and, if it was not, why was it acceptable for developers to do the same to their burial ground? If the disturbing of a First-world, European-descendent cemetery is sacrilege, so would be the destruction of a Fourth-world, aboriginal cemetery. The Musqueam denied the essentialism that would drive a wedge between the two worlds and peoples as fundamentally different. They showed the commonality of the human struggle seen in every facet of human existence, regardless of ethnicity or historical background. This effort, which focuses on highlighting the similarities between superficially opposed societies, will be the route to validating and saving the unique intricacies of the Fourth World. That unity breeds tolerance is a lesson learned through the trials of history. The hope at forging reconciliation between social groups while retaining the distinct nature of those groups is paramount to the creation of a well-developed civil society. Its adherents stand only to gain from its practice.