Settler Anarchists Should Tread Lightly Around Indigenous Nationalism

From C4SS by Emmi Bevensee

To be an anarchist is to be anti-nationalist. It is no coincidence that national-anarchists have so often turned out to be white supremacists — the movement itself is crypto-fascist. However, our critique of nationalism and related critiques of things like tribalism must deeply understand the different strategies behind different forms of nationalism if we are to not alienate our allies and relegate our dynamic movement to the ethical pit of genocide apologism.

The nationalism that we oppose is Westphalian. It is neoliberal. It is authoritarian communist. It is anti-cosmopolitan. Its roots are in the sociopathic protection of geographic kin at the expense of those deemed “other” as a means of justifying colonial exploitation and expansionism. The nationalism we oppose is predominantly settler and colonial even if its ideological roots and practices are much older than the modern nation-state. Historical indigenous nationalism must be disentangled from this. The ideology behind indigenous nationalism isn’t always completely distinct from imperialist nationalism, but its differences are dramatic enough to warrant much greater nuance than the discourse currently has.

Indigenous nationalism is not homogenous but generally it’s rooted in relationships to the land. It is almost exclusively not in line with the laughable “blood and soil” banter of white nationalists, but is tied to land in the sense of going to a specific place every year to engage in rituals which are fundamental to maintaining and cultivating the connections of our networks. They’ve been doing this for longer than the idea of modern nations has existed. The indigenous dispossession and outright genocide in the U.S. and other settler nations was made all the more brutal by its forced relocation campaigns that tore people from these ancient traditions. Indigenous nationalism is about stories or collective memory. It’s about the complexity of relationships through time on a long-scale.

Both before and after these forced relocations, indigenous nationalism has always been much more fluid than settler nationalism. Generally speaking it is something much closer to the anarchist concept of cosmopolitan free affinity (indigenous empires excluded). Indigenous nations don’t subscribe to the kind of blood quanta and citizenship regimens of colonial empires unless they are forced to. Historically, in the land now known as the United States, the lines between many nations have often been quite blurry with people freely trading in elaborate markets, intermarrying, and even changing tribes. Former slaves joined many tribes in large numbers. Much of this is in line with the anarchist ideas of overlapping loose free affinity territories with fluid and changing open borders of exchange. Juxtaposed with the closed militarized borders, imperial creep, stilted neoliberal trade agreements, and bureaucratic regimes of rigid citizenship cartels of settler nationalism — it’s clear they are worlds apart.

Even when indigenous and global south radicals are forced to play the game of settler nationalism, we must acknowledge the power differentials at play. In most cases they are faced with the choice of genocide, both cultural and literal, or playing the colonial game. I’ve seen too many internet anarchists just haphazardly say fuck all nationalism without even slightly gesturing towards acknowledging what some of these movements were up against. So of course indigenous radicals and even indigenous anarchists often react angrily to these inconsiderate and nuance lacking gestures from anarchists. Imagine how you’d feel if someone implied you were stupid for choosing one of the last paths for survival afforded to you.

I’m not saying indigenous or global south nationalism is above and beyond critique for some sort of rigid idpol reason but that intersectionality and the subtle history of these issues does matter. Of course authoritarian ideologues from the global south deserve our ire. They brutalize and exploit the people they claim to defend against imperialism.

Similarly, of course indigenous nationalism can be critiqued. Many indigenous anarchists do just that. Crypto-fascist indigenous nationalists like Vince Rinehart and the broader Keith Preston milieu do and should get kicked out of anarchist spaces for their support of things like patriarchal traditionalism and white-secessionist movements, even if they disguise it with a protective veil of indigenous nationalism. But when white and settler anarchists ignore the nuances of such issues not only do we look like dicks, but we cut ourselves off from people who often have many similar non-hierarchical values as us even if they don’t use our words for it or use our words differently.

Even if the ultimate goal of anarchism is the elimination of the need for othering practices of team-based identity, we must prioritize and understand the subtleties of where we work. Anarchist organizing in the U.S. that does not have a deeply entrenched vision for reparations and land redistribution for BIPoC will suffer under the same haunted ethics of empire. Redistribution means things will change dramatically but virtually no indigenous radicals are actually calling for the kinds of retributive genocide that is obsessed upon by settler imaginations.

There’s no way we can make up for what was done to the indigenous peoples and slaves to which we settlers owe many of our luxuries, but we can center the voices of those who carry their stories, and we must if we are to have any hope of orienting ourselves in an ethically defensible direction. That will mean taking the time to read and listen to how indigenous radicals think and practice anti-authoritarianism and understanding the subtleties of how they relate to things like nationalism. We need to be cognizant and discursively generous when we’re in very volatile topics with people who have living trauma and face ongoing direct marginalization from the very topics we discuss. Twitter style hot-takes kill our position when we’re standing on the graves of the dead whose descendants we’re condescending to. We’re anarchists. We can do better than that.