I read this book a few weeks ago but I didn’t write about it because I got engrossed in ‘The Shock Doctrine’ (I’ll do a full review of that soon – but as a preview, though I’m sure you’re all reading it, I’m finding it really brilliant. It started strong, with things that were part of conversations I’d had years ago – torture, war, Ewen Cameron, the dictatorships of South America, Chile – but once I hit the stuff about Poland and China, which I knew very little about, the book really took off for me. The way she weaves it all into a chronological narrative and follows people like Sachs through it all… it’s very impressive).
‘Wasase’ is an attempt by Taiaiake Alfred, a Mohawk scholar who works at the University of Victoria, to formulate a strategy for indigenous resurgence (that’s his word). How can a country like Canada, built on genocide and colonialism, be decolonized? That’s the question he tackles. And his answers are – through nonviolent political action, without excluding self-defense; by delegitimizing colonialism, starting with the colonized. To that end, he presents some very interesting points about how colonialism depends on what is happening in people’s minds, and if that can change, the system can become untenable.
Alfred doesn’t preclude the idea of solidarity from the settler society, but nor is he willing to count on it and, indeed, he presents arguments that settler society is so racist that it shouldn’t be looked to, at least not in the first stages of resurgence.
One aspect of the book, and of his work generally (I read ‘Peace, Power, Righteousness’ years ago) is that while he is confident and strong in his values and commitment, he is very intellectually humble and open. Much of the book is dialogues with other people, in which he faithfully presents their thoughts and ideas, before commenting on them. Much of the rest of the book is him giving a careful reading to the history of anti-colonial struggle in other places, and presenting his thoughts on these struggles and their thinkers. Reading along, you feel like you’re exploring something very important with someone who is exploring with you (that’s something of what I try to do in this blog, I suppose).
His openness also leads him to admit when he doesn’t have answers. When he explores the question of indigenous-run casinos, for example, he notes the importance the money has had for some communities, and he also notes the limitations and the problems that these have caused. He quotes proponents and opponents, both favourably.
Wasase is an attempt to open a conversation about one of the most important questions North American society has, all the more important because the society is so unwilling to face it.