Peter d'Errico: When to collaborate and when to resist colonialism

Brian Cladoosby serves as president of the National Congress of American Indians. Photo: NCAI

Has the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter-tribal organization, gotten too close to the United States government? Retired professor Peter d'Errico explores how colonialism affects indigenous peoples today:
NCAI ignored the opportunity to challenge Christian Discovery in its amici curiae brief for Standing Rock. And in challenging President Donald Trump’s labelling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” NCAI defined itself as “a bi-partisan organization that works equitably with both sides of the political aisle.” In the combination of these two actions, NCAI portrayed itself as part and parcel of the American political process, rather than standing apart from that process and speaking for Indigenous Peoples standing on their own ground. That portrayal—however NCAI might explain it—constitutes “collaborative colonialism.”

The collaboration becomes especially evident in contrast to other approaches, such as the Yakama Nation challenge to Christian Discovery in their appendix to the NCAI brief; and the advice of the late Muskogee-Creek Medicine Teacher Phillip Deer, who said, “As far as we’re concerned as elders in our council, we’re going to deal with the government on a spiritual basis. …We don’t approach the government as a good Republican or Democrat. …We’re going to approach them as American Indians, having our culture, having our identity, having our spiritual beliefs.”

NCAI has struggled with its stance in this regard since its founding. On November 20, 1954—when the organization was just 10 years old—NCAI held a meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, to discuss discrimination. One speaker, Peru Farver (Choctaw), chief of “tribal relations” in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said, “a lot of the time [discrimination is] our own fault.” Another speaker, Benjamin Reifel (Sioux), superintendent of the Pine Ridge Agency, said, “We’ve just got to get it out of our heads that we are a different kind of American citizen.”

If colonialism always involves collaboration; if colonial power always has “seductive” as well as coercive aspects; if colonial relations always require strategic calculations and deliberations; then we are in a position not so much to condemn NCAI (or any other indigenous organization) as to bring to light and explore the full implications of the symbiotic relationships between them and the U.S.

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: ‘Collaborative Colonialism’: A Way to Analyze Native/Non-Native Relations (Indian Country Media Network 5/10)