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Something in the Water: Thoughts on Indian Elections

My generation’s destiny is to bring about the death of colonization, neocolonialism, and any other forms of systemic government oppression. For centuries, our people have been oppressed by the federal governments of North America. With a lack representative population, relatively low network of wealth, and a lack of organized resistance—we all know that we’ve been losing “the fight with the west.”

As a result, that has put the consistent struggle for our rights and freedom to live our way as our focal point into the socio-political landscape in North America. Slowly, we are having our rights scrutinized, denied or legitimized through western legislation and court systems that never will represent our version of equity.

This 500-year-old battle is where most non-indigenous westerners experience our issues and our culture. Some empathize, some are indifferent and some (most?) resist our reinsertion into the discussions of the modern world, whether they realize it or not. Much of this we can’t control. The current modern governance systems prevent meaningful and actual change for our people. Whether in their day-to-day life, or as a larger representation of Pan-American Indigenousness, the anecdotes, media reports and statistics don’t lie. We’re way behind and the governments are to blame.

I’ve heard this since I was young. I now hear it as a professional. I spend many days researching the socio-political-legal landscape as part of my professional and personal life. When talking to non-indigenous people, business is just business. Laws are just laws. Well not for us. This isn’t what we subscribed to.

Simply put, I do not support or advocate for any western influence on our systems or ways of life. I’m committed to our ways and our peoples and do believe it is entirely possible to be a 21st century Anishinaabe AND a Canadian AND an American. We are all treaty people on this continent, after all.

I’m not alone in this notion and constantly was reminded at a young age that our “leaders” are fighting for our place in North America. Inspired, I wanted to join the protection and advancement of our collective peoples. I earned a Juris Doctorate. I was told to come back to the community and push forward, together. I did that, and did it well. The passion in making the world a better place is as real as it gets for my generation and I. It motivates us like no other goal in this world. I worked as hard as I could to get there, got there, and continued the passionate and righteous path to sovereign Indigenous Nationhood.

I went to school for eight years. Three degrees, countless designations and a strong grasp of business, law and politics in the “real world” and “rez world”. I was committed, passionate and driven. My indigenous colleagues are too. We worked to no end. Until it ended.

You see, after a solid career outside the rez, I was terminated due to what a Chief cited as “lack of follow-through” on a project that I sent no less than 13 e-mails and phone calls asking for next steps. As a program manager, I was to take direction from Council, and doing anything outside of their direction would fall outside my authority. I engaged anyone who would give me this direction. The “direction” never came and I was fired, without being tasked with ONE IDENTIFABLE goal… over nine months! I created my own mandate for review, I created a strategic plan that was actionable when adopted and I even trained myself. I thought that my experience working for cities, states, municipalities and provinces prepared me for working with our community as I was accomplished and motivated. Nothing could stop us now that we have one of our own armed with their knowledge with our heart.

I kid you not, when I arrived for my first day, the Council actually forgot that their new Economic Development Director started that day. Some didn’t know I was selected for the position, including the Economic Development Assistant. Nothing was ready, 500 years later.

This is where I figured out where we fail. We fail ourselves. Council was engaged in serious conflicts of interest and I was the one that took the fall. I had no authority and literally nothing to do with any of these decades old or more issues. Small minds needed to line their pockets with small handouts. Through the federal government’s “authority”, we have allowed our “own” governments to hold incredible amounts of power, with a result proving in many cases our “Leaders” and not their “Leaders” - ARE OUR PROBLEM.

We continue to face an uphill battle in so many ways. By way of settlement (of our lands and minds), our connections and place in the modern world is constantly downgraded. Whatever we do or say in the world is evaluated not as material knowledge – it’s either “native to non-native” or “native to native”. I’ve witnessed a Council receive information from myself and other native lawyers and dismiss it; only to turn around the following week where a non-native colleague of mine redelivers the EXACT SAME material and told the information will be “foundational to our success as a people”. What does that even mean? You didn’t understand the slideshow when an Indian presented it, but his best friend of European ancestry delivers the same content and now it’s going to change our history?

Or is it that it is easier to downgrade another Indian to appear more Indian than them? The topic had nothing to do with it, but I was judged on the only thing they thought they had over me—the “Indianness” of me.

Through colonialism, we have been taught to hate and distrust each other. The government has underfunded us and degraded our rights to the land and the glory it brings when influenced with our spirituality and connection to it. In a modern context, they encroach on our ancestral lands without compensation, fight furiously against our tiny beacons of economic hope, and ignore social issues brought on by the effects of colonialism. We cannot do this here or do that there, because the action isn’t Indian enough. Now we’ve created a world in our communities that we don’t do anything because we aren’t Indian enough.

Now we’ve all experienced this, in one way or another. Based on my daily conversations, most of our personal relationships with all governments, has made us feel “less than” in some way. That hurts. And will always hurt. But being called less valuable than something or systemically treated as an inconvenience to society usually brings people together. It builds a common foe and connects those with similar stories and backgrounds. We look for the strong, capable and willing to help us with these issues.

Well, where does my generation go? As many of my colleagues, friends and family embark on a path of indigenous value-based community support and progress, we see the sad and conflicted face of our own “governments”. Guising traditional values for election ballots. Intimidating the younger generation in order to keep their “job”. Putting up walls from the people they serve as part of their “regular but definitely not traditional” practice. We have countless experiences where Chief and Council, Tribal Chairpersons or public employees of our communities have bribed, lied and stolen from myself, my partners and the communities they live in. We’ve witnessed them steal from their own family. Then we’re told we’re the ones that cannot be trusted because we’re not “Indian” enough.

Well councilor or chairperson reading this—know that our generation is coming. And yes, we care about us all. I have been blessed to meet so many indigenous-hearted and minded people and am very proud to say I’m one in a million. We outnumber you. We have more skills than you. The good in the people is being restored and further realized with each passing day.

Please understand this isn’t a threat. It’s a certainty. And we’re more than willing to work with you, share knowledge and sit by the fires together. We want to and will create more love in this world and the lateral violence is stopping with us. We’re strong enough to hold onto the pain your generation felt. We appreciate it, we acknowledge it and our way of repaying you is by working with you – for all of us. If you don’t accept our invitation, be prepared for a war fought with this love. It will get nasty, because that is the norm. We don’t care. We know we have right on our side because our side is All of Us.

So all we ask is that if you say it, then you better own it. We will not let our communities be driven without our values in place or a plan to execute and protect our rights anymore. We will not accept closed-door meetings, the creation of a “career” built on your own communities’ backs and perpetual hate. We are the change. We are your change. We are our change. Suffice to say, you talk like an Indian, you walk like an Indian, you better start acting like one. Maybe there is something in the water.

Matthew Nahdee is an Aniishinaabe/Pottawatomi “recovering” legal practitioner with a network of colleagues helping indigenous enterprise through capacity-building, research, practice, access to capital, lobbying and networking. Matthew also develops and teaches post-secondary curriculum in his area of practice. Beyond that, an entrepreneur, avid writer and poet, he chooses to live a healthy and active lifestyle on unceded Bkejwanong Territory. His spirit name is “Beedoan Wazizi Nini” meaning “First Light After Dark Man” and is of the Turtle Clan.