“Unions Aren’t Native” : The Muckamuck Restaurant Labour Dispute in Vancouver, BC (1979-1983)

[Photo]: Vancouver Indian Centre president Debbie Mearns (second from right) walking with strike leader Christine Price. August 12, 1978.
This fascinating article originally appeared in Labour/Le Travail. Formatting and spelling has been edited for clarity before appearing on Peripheral Thought. For citations please refer to the article as:
Janet Mary Nicol. 1997. ‘”Unions Aren’t Native’; The Muckamuck Restaurant Labour Dispute Vancouver, B.C. (1978-1983),” Labour/Le Travail, Vol. 40 (Fall): 235-51. 
Most photographs are from the Pacific Tribune, originally established by the Communist Party of Canada as the B.C. Workers’ News in 1935.
“IN THIS SOCIETY,” explained First Nations union organizer Ethel Gardner to a skeptical First Nations community, “being in a union is the only way we can guarantee that our rights as workers will be respected.” Ethel was an employee at the Muckamuck restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia when its First Nations workers decided to organize into an independent feminist union in 1978 and subsequently struck for a first contract against white American owners. The dispute allied First Nations people with predominantly white trade unionists and made an even wider community aware of their circumstances. The union picketed the restaurant for three years, discouraging customers from entering, while the owners kept the restaurant functioning with the use of strikebreakers, many of them from the First Nations community. When the owners closed their operation in 1981, the union ceased picketing and both parties waited a further two years for a legal ruling from the Labour Relations Board. Finally in 1983, the owners were ordered to pay remedies to the union, but sold the restaurant and pulled all their assets out of Canada, refusing to comply with the decision.

The Organizing Campaign

The Muckamuck Restaurant opened in 1971, and advertised “authentic” First Nations cuisine. The restaurant was located in a downtown Vancouver West End neighbourhood, at 1724 Davie Street. Three white American owners, Jane Erickson, Teresa Bjornson and Doug Chrismas also had investments in art galleries and other restaurants in California and British Columbia. The owners maintained an informal policy of hiring First Nations people as restaurant staff. At the time of the union drive an equal ratio of First Nations men and women were employed as restaurant workers. The managers however, were white. Eighteen out of 21 Muckamuck restaurant workers signed union cards with a local independent union, the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWUC) and were certified as a bargaining unit 21 February 1978. SORWUC, a feminist union active in the 1970s and early 1980s, formed with a primary goal to organize women in industries neglected by trade unions.
Teresa Bjornson’s Los Angeles home. She commissioned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki to design it, and it was later sold to Eric Clapton.
In an interview for this study, former Muckamuck employee and organizer Ethel Gardner described her role in the early stages of the union organizing campaign:
I was referred to an employment agency which recommended that I take a federal training program connected to the Muckamuck restaurant. I agreed and eventualiy was working in the cold kitchen making salads and drinks. A few incidents occurred which got the staff upset. The cook was charged for getting the soup burnt and I was fined for leaving the bannock out overnight. When the manager told me to serve the bannock to a customer, I refused because I had been fined for leaving it out. The manager agreed and 1 threw it out. Incidents such as these led a few of us to go to the Labour Standards Branch where we were told we needed a union in order to enforce our grievances. I went back to the employment agency and said I wanted to quit, that the employer was racist. The counsellor said, ‘Why don’t you join a union?’ She told me about SORWuCs organizing efforts at Jerry’s Cove and Bimini’s, I called SORWUC and met with two union reps. They talked about the union and suggested we talk to the unionized employees at Jerry’s Cove which we did.
Ethel said Muckamuck staff had tried to organize before with another union but were unsuccessful and the instigator had been fired. SORWUC was chosen because it had some success organizing in die restaurant industry; Jerry’s Cove and Bimi ni ‘ s, as mentioned, were two examples. When asked if there were First Nations groups the staff could have approached instead of SORWUC, Ethel said, “There just weren’t any out there.”
After the union certification, Muckamuck employee Christina Prince told the press that management had told workers they “should be happy” to have a job because of their race. Christina said the racial issue emerged when employees realized that the owners were getting rich off Native culture. Management responded, “If there has been any discrimination, it has been against the highly qualified whites who we’ve passed over to hire untrained Native people.”
Not only did First Nations people experience difficulty obtaining employment in the city, but when they were hired, often the jobs were in low-wage occupational ghettos. Notes taken by a SORWUC representative at an initial meeting with the Muckamuck workers show that most staff made between $3 and $4 an hour, averaging $60 a night with tips. (The BC minimum wage in 1978 was $3 an hour.) The head cook made $7. Notes on the high turnover and lack of training for staff also included this comment: “AH restaurants have a high turnover rate which is only proof of how much people need a union there and in other places. So some people are untrained. It’s not true for all and certainly implies a slur on Native people.”
The employer took advantage of government legislation and programs to save on labor costs. Workers under eighteen earned less than minimum wage and management made extensive use of the Canada Manpower Training Program, offering to “train” First Nations people to work in the restaurant and, in return, received 75 per cent of the trainee’s wages from the government.
As Ethel Gardner stated employees had approached the BC Labour Standards Branch with complaints of management practices. Although it is illegal, an employer in the restaurant industry will “fine” an employee for making a mistake (such as mishandling cash or food) and will deduct money from an employee’s pay cheque. Muckamuck workers were told that the Standards Branch had little power to enforce laws which forbid such employer practises. A local First Nations newspaper, The Indian Voice, published Ethel’s description of the situation:
Some of us went to the Department of Labour to have the law enforced. The Department of Labour would tell the employer to behave or to give the employees back their money, but there was nothing they could do to prevent any of the illegal acts from happening again, unless we had a union contract.
Ethel outlined the staffs grievances to the First Nations readership:
Breaks were few, if any. Heavy fines were given out for petty reasons, like not tying garbage bags, or forgetting to put tin foil over bannock. Staff meetings were held every week, and it was compulsory to go to these meetings. Employees were suspended two weeks at a time for not attending such meetings, even if it was their day off. At these meetings, employees were put down for every possible mistake that could have been made on the job, big or small, true or false. According to the owners, it seemed like the workers couldn’t do a thing right. Maybe it was because the workers were Indians? I doubt it.
Ethel stated that workers who complained were fired, bribed or harassed. Further, “We are also told that we must wear Native jewelry and if we do not we are badgered about not being proud of our culture. These extras are very expensive for us as we only make the minimum wage.” Scheduling, job security and fines were also major issues, Ethel claimed.
Ethel asked for the support of the First Nations community in the dispute and stated:
For too long the fact that Native workers in B.C. are badly treated has gone unnoticed. At the Muckamuck we are told by our management that we are slow, stunned, inexperienced and hard to train, rude, stupid and ungrateful for the beautiful place that they have built for us (the Indians) to work.
Connecting this situation with other First Nations issues, Ethel stated: “We are doing our part to add to the renewed struggle by Native people to gain the rights and respect that have been denied to us since Captain Cook landed here.”
The list of grievances goes on. According to an information leaflet distributed by SORWUC, employees sometimes received “non-sufficient funds” stamped on their pay cheques. The leaflet also stated: “Employees were proud of the restaurant, nonetheless because it promoted a good image of Native culture. They (the workers) only approached management and then SORWUC because working conditions were so poor that they could not feel proud of themselves.” In an interview with a California newspaper, SORWUC representative Muggs Sigurgeirson said: “The owner would tell the staff that she had 100 applicants from other Natives as a way of threatening staff. Workers could end up working twenty days straight. One worker refused to work the 21st day and had to wait 10 days to work again. She has children to support. Workers were told that whites would be hired if they were dissatisfied.”
A union leaflet contained further workers’ demands and reasons for organizing:
We want to have decent working conditions and to be treated with respect. Some of our grievances are: poor pay, no job security, no say in scheduling, short notice of changes in scheduled hours, illegal deductions for uniforms (T-shirts) and fired or intimidated into quitting.
Another leaflet indicated workers had political grievances as well: “None of the profits made from this sale of Native culture were put into the Native community.” Workers also wanted more input into the menu planning of the cuisine. Ethel Gardner stated in The Indian Voice:
It’s not so much they were white owners, it’s just they were giving the illusion … in their advertising it says ‘staffed and run by Native people.’ People really liked to believe it was owned by Natives—they think they’re contributing to the Native community and Native Indians, but they’re contributing to the pocketbooks of these three owners.
The Muckamuck restaurant employees organized to improve wages and working conditions but also organized as a reaction to their exploitation as First Nations people. While gender issues were discussed by First Nations women workers, it was racial issues which dominated the union agenda, SORWUC organizers recognized these layers of oppression because of their own experiences as women workers in occupational wage ghettos neglected by organized labour. And so out of this dispute came an alliance of white and First Nations workers as SORWUC organizers encouraged and supported Muckamuck employees to voice their demands for respect and autonomy.
What were the features of this situation which brought these groups together to challenge the status quo? As an independent local union, SORWUC had the autonomy and decision-making abilities lacking in larger unions. A larger union would likely have pulled out much earlier than SORWUC. Muckamuck staff chose a feminist, independent union, which suggests that First Nations culture is more readily linked to a small, “alternate” union than to a large, mainstream one. The structure of larger unions could have been alienating and counterproductive to organizing First Nations workers.
Furthermore, SORWUC was committed to class, race and gender struggles. Attempts by visible minority and women’s groups to set up their own caucuses within mainstream unions or to conduct separate organizing have provided some important initiatives in the struggle for workplace equity. However, an independent movement of women workers, even a temporary one, may drive these developments forward more forcefully, a contribution SORWUC can claim to have made during its short existence.
It was also important that the white working class and First Nations groups supported this strike. SORWUC activists had experience and expertise in trade union practices and were able to share this with the First Nations workers. They were able to access the resources of mainstream unions, which was crucial in providing financial and moral support. The endorsement of First Nations groups was also important and though there were conflicts, the dispute also provided an opportunity for the strikers to discuss the benefits of unions with First Nations people.

Certification and Negotiations

The Labour Relations Board (LRB) certified SORWUC as a legal bargaining agent on 20 March 1978 and on 3 April the union served notice to bargain with the employer. A Muckamuck employee summarized events in the Vancouver Sun: “The primary union organizer was fired the day that management was notified of the application for certification. Since then six more of us have been fired or intimidated into quitting. All seven are union members, most quite active.” The union launched charges of unfair labour practices on behalf of these workers on 21 and 23 February, and on 29 March.
The sequence of events following certification are noted in the SORWUC log book. The log book was used to make daily entries of union activities for potential evidence in legal dealings and was especially important during new organizing campaigns, contract negotiations and picketing. The book was available for union staff, officers and members to make records. An excerpt documented the workers’ treatment by the employer after the union application proceedings:
  • 21 February —application for certification Cay fired
  • 23 February —Ethel fired
  • 21 March—Rag suspended
  • 28 March— Rev fired 2
  • 9 March—Lauretta harassed into quitting
The log book described the first steps in contract negotiations from 17 April to the rapid breakdown of relations between the union and management by 20 May:
  • 17 April—first bargaining session (to negotiate a contract)
  • 2 May—second bargaining session
  • 10 May—first date of hearing (of LRB, re: complaints on firings)
  • 12 May—second date of hearing
  • 17 May—third date of hearing
  • 20 May—first date of leafletting (SORWUC information picket) —owner tries to bribe Marge and Christina (Muckamuck employees)
  • 21 May—second date of leafletting
  • 23 May—management walks out (of contract talks) —illegal picketing charge (against the union) —management puts out own leaflet
The union had organized an information picket, handing out leaflets to customers in front of the restaurant on 20 and 21 May as a means of applying pressure against management. Business dropped dramatically during the picketing. A LRB official contacted a SORWUC representative and made an informal request that the union cease leafletting until the board decided on management’s illegal picketing charge. SORWUC declined the request. Muckamuck employee Christina Prince described the LRB’s unfair actions in deciding to hear management’s complaint before the union’s:
It took us two and a half months to get in front of the LRB with our unfair labour practice suits. Yet when this leafletting started, they took us in front of the board within 24 hours. The management got an informal hearing. They called it illegal picketing. And since it was hindering business, the LRB had to automatically fall on management’s side. That’s what we were told. So we thought ‘forget it, we’ll get these people back to their jobs another way, at the negotiating table.’
Management retaliated further by distributing the first of a series of leaflets defending their actions and attacking the union. The dispute was described in the Vancouver Sun as one which “pits Indian workers against white managers.
In The Indian Voice, Ethel Gardner described the frustrations at the bargaining sessions with management in April and May:
Management generally came late, left early, complained about how long the contract was and generally treated us and our union rep with contempt. For example, they refused outright our suggestions that we bargain in the Indian Centre because it was ‘not devoid of colour.’ These were the words of their lawyer, Bill MacDonald.
Doug Chrismas wasn’t well liked in Venice, California either.
Management held a final meeting with staff before relations deteriorated completely. The records from a LRB hearing describe management’s interference, in contravention of the labour code, with the union campaign:
At a meeting of the employees in April or May, shortly before the strike commenced, all of the owners —Erickson, Bjornson and Chrismas—were present and Chrismas made a number of statements concerning SORWUC, the restaurant and its future. According to one of the employees present, Sandra Eatman, the gist of these remarks was that the restaurant provided considerable assistance to Native people, that the employees should work hard to make the restaurant prosper, that the employees could thereby earn much more money, and that the employees did not need a trade union. There were some further statements made by one of the owners to the effect that the restaurant had been opened for Native people, that die Native people should be grateful and that SORWUC would destroy the restaurant.
Management tried another tactic to undermine SORWUC as the bargaining agent for the staff. The owners contacted Russell Means, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to talk to the workers. Means met with the Muckamuck staff at the Indian Centre in Vancouver in late May. SORWUC representatives were not allowed to attend. Means suggested the workers buy out management and take over the restaurant, but it seemed impossible to get the money to do this.
Management contacted the Hotel, Restaurant and Bartenders Union (HRBU), Local 40 and, believing they would be a more “reasonable” union in negotiations, suggested they raid SORWUC. A raid did not occur, however, and the international unions, such as the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) and its leader Jack Munro, supported SORWUC’s efforts.
The Strike opens. June 2, 1978

The Strike

Muckamuck workers took a strike vote. A majority voted in favour of a strike and on 1 June began picketing in front of the restaurant. Christina Prince stated to the media: “We’ll be out for as long as it takes to get some serious bargaining done.” She called the management proposals at the initial bargaining sessions “unacceptable and unjust.”
The employer maintained an adamant opposition to the union and hinted at using strikebreakers early in the strike. On 7 June management stated they were prepared to sell their business rather than have a union in the restaurant. Management told the Vancouver Sun that seven workers were prepared to cross the picket line.
The employer also used racial issues to divide workers from each other and the union. SORWUC representative Ulryke Weissgerber said in an interview for this study:
Management promoted the idea that the workers were selling out in terms of their traditional culture by joining a white union. But I think the workers felt an alternative union was more in line with their traditional culture. I don’t think a big union would have held out as long as we did either. There was a huge sign in the restaurant window stating the workers were in a ‘white union.’ The strikers were really angry about this. We discussed things to do and went to Harry Rankin (a Vancouver lawyer [and member of the Communist Party of Canada]) who offered free legal advice. Many strategies were discussed.
A First Nations organization could have made a difference in maintaining unity. Sandra Eatmon, a Muckamuck employee, said in a recent interview that the workers did not have very many options in terms of choosing a union which would represent their interests as First Nations workers. She said, “I admire the dedication of SORWUC members but after the first year of picketing, most of the Muckamuck staff had left the picket line and white people were picketing while Native people were crossing the line and working inside.” She suggests that if a First Nations group had done the organizing, First Nations people may have stayed on the picket line longer.
Union of BC Indian Chiefs president George Manuel pledging his support to strike at a rally. August 8, 1978.
But Ethel Gardner believes many First Nations people did not have a union consciousness:
The Native population by and large is not a working population. There is about 90 per cent unemployment. Even getting a job is difficult, let alone a union job. Native people don’t have much experience with unions. There is a lot of anti-union sentiment. Even the Native community didn’t support the strike to the extent they could have. People say “unions aren’t Native.” There’s no union consciousness. The staff of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) came down to the Muckamuck picket line but that was due to George Manuel, the head of UBCIC at the time. The United Native Nations sat on the fence. They said Natives were working inside the restaurant and picketing outside so they weren’t going to take a stand. Bill Wilson was head at the time.
Picket, June 4, 1978
Support from the First Nations community was crucial to the strikers. The UBCIC expressed their support for the Muckamuck strikers in a public statement: “Problems being experienced here by our people are the same problems we have been experiencing all over B.C. for 100 years.” And farther, “The owners of the Muckamuck exploit our resources—Indian work, Indian culture, Indian foods— yet refuse to treat our people fairly.” Management responded: “It was with a sense of respect, not a desire to exploit that we put together a restaurant which most business people advised us against.”
The employer’s anger at the First Nations community was also expressed in a copy of a letter sent to the UBCIC and publicly displayed in the restaurant window. It read in part:
We, however, no longer want to be directly involved with Native culture in British Columbia to the degree of commitment required in the past by Muckamuck. We had tried on many levels to achieve a positive statement and seemed to be progressing well until recently when the labor dispute first arose. The amount of energy required to pull the now shattered situation back together is too much if possible at all, the financial situation to us simply does not warrant it and the desire no longer exists.
Workers picketed a closed restaurant for the First six months of the strike. They received $50 a week in strike pay. Voluntary picketers, members of SORWUC, other trade unionists and supporters, joined the picket line. Shifts were maintained from 4 pm to 10 pm seven days a week.
Christine Price (right) with strikers. August 8, 1978

Some of the strikers got other jobs. Sam Bob, 17, a bus-person at the Muckamuck, was hired at a nearby Polynesian restaurant, the Kontiki, but was fired when his former employer talked to his new employer. The Kontiki manager denied this to the media, stating, “He (Sam Bob) didn’t even know how to use his tray.” Sam Bob told the media that the manager asked if he was a union member. “I said ‘yes’ then he said ‘well Carolyn was in and told me you were picketing at the Muckamuck and I don’t want any of that here.’ He said I was a good worker and would have worked fine but because of the union bit I was fired.” SORWUC members picketed the Kontiki for a short time, but Sam Bob did not get his job back.

Ethel Gardner kept the First Nations community informed of the strike and wrote in the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs News:
Being able to bargain collectively with Muckamuck management, we can negotiate a just and equitable contract so that in the future Indian people who choose to work there will be treated with dignity and respect. In this society, being in a union is the only way we can guarantee that our rights as workers will be respected.
The city newspapers’ labour reporters maintained regular news coverage of the strike. One Vancouver Sun business writer, Eleanor Boyle, spoke out in favour of the owners. She accused First Nations workers of “using their Indian-ness to make money, exploiting their own culture if you like.” She suggested SORWUC was out looking for a cause and that management “should get a little credit for ensuring 90 per cent of its staff was Native Indian. It should also be spared from crucifixion for hundreds of years of Canadian neglect of Native people.”
In October, management re-opened the upstairs lounge and in November they re-opened the restaurant, employing a few former staff and hiring new workers, many of them First Nations people. The lounge was renamed the “Chilcotin Bar Seven” and had a “cowboy” theme. A Vancouver Sun headline read: “Cowboys Lasso Indians on Davie Street.”41 Strikers viewed these incidents as insensitive to First Nations culture and the union spoke out publicly against these actions.
While most customers did not cross the picket line and business was minimal, die strike took an ugly turn with the emergence of verbal and physical abuse between strikebreaking employees and strikers. The police were frequently called and numerous assault charges were launched in the courts during the ensuing months. Generally these assaults involved strikebreakers taunting, kicking and hitting picketers. In late November, counter-picketing by die strikebreaking staff brought more abuse—physical and verbal—on the street. Counter-pickets were strikebreaking staff, many of them Native, who came out on to the street and held signs critical of the union and supportive of management. For passersby, it was confusing “street theatre.”
A union picketer described the scene in a SORWUC newsletter:
They [management] seemed to particularly delight in pitting the Native staff against the picketers. For several weekends in a row now, the Native scabs [not the Caucasians] have been coming out to picket with strikers. They carry signs like—Muckamuck Open, We Support Muckamuck, etc. To passersby it looks like our line is bigger. One such passerby tried to give one of these counter-pickets a donation to the strike fund and she [the counter-picket] scuttled back inside!
As the strike progressed, fewer original Muckamuck staff showed up to picket. Many had other jobs and some felt a need to maintain a low profile. To keep their current jobs, they did not want to be seen picketing. SORWUC members, other trade unionists and supporters became essential picketers. Most were white and the core picketers, reflective of SORWUC membership, were female. As legal proceedings against the management dragged on, and picketing persisted into the second year, SORWUC members spent a lot of time clarifying the confusing appearances which emerged from the strike as many First Nations people crossed a white picket line to work inside. Picketers were motivated by their determination to establish unions, and by the knowledge that the majority of original strikers supported their efforts, attended the three separate decertification hearings over the duration of the dispute and were prepared to return to work. Some First Nations people chose to join the strikebreakers for a number of reasons, including the confusion created by divisions within their community regarding the dispute, a lack of familiarity with unions and contempt encouraged by the employer for the “white” union.
Entries in the log book by white strikers (unintentionally presenting racial stereotypes of First Nations people) described the picket line atmosphere:
October 12, 1978 — 3:00 — entry by Heather: … former waiter came by to check it out. Had been picketing first two months. Now has job. Got into a hassle with one of the Indian cooks who crossed the line. She said she wasn’t going on welfare and at least they paid her —she doesn’t care about anyone else—only herself. (She’s a young, slim Indian woman). 4:45 — Older Indian man (medium height-lean) went in, greeted by owner (?) in red cowboy shirt (full beard) who smiled and poured him coffee.
The employer hired Ben Paul, a First Nations employee of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs and his wife Evelyn, to assist the strikebreaking staff in composing anti-union leaflets and various labour relations complaints and applications for decertification. SORWUC attempted to charge the employer with hiring a “professional strikebreaker” (in contravention of the labour code) but the LRB ruled that Paul was not legally defined as a “professional.”
The strikebreakers, with employer encouragement, used the legal process in an attempt to stall and subvert organizing by applying on three separate occasions for decertification. All three applications were rejected by the Labour Relations Board because the union was able to prove that a majority of the original staff were still members of SORWUC. These proceedings had the potential to wear down the union as some of the original staff moved out of the city or province and were not always easily available to testify for the union.
The first of three applications for decertification to the LRB was made January 1979, seven months after the original employees had joined SORWUC. SORWUC was able to prove that only one striker crossed the picket line to work inside. At the second hearing on 25 August 1979 the LRB stated, “… in every lengthy strike there will be some employees who do not picket but remain interested and willing to return to work when a settlement is reached.” By the third hearing 14 May 1980, the strikebreakers applied as a new bargaining unit, the Northwestern Hospitality Employees Association. Five of the eighteen original strikers were working inside the restaurant. The remainder had other jobs and one was picketing regularly. Still, SORWUC was able to present testimony from a majority of original staffers that they supported the union and were prepared to return to work when the dispute ended.
Another legal tactic used by management was their application for an injunction in the Be Supreme Court on 1 June 1979 against SORWUC picketing in front of the restaurant. Justice Patricia Proudfoot agreed to ban picketing and then after a union appeal on 8 June ruled that only six pickets per shift were allowed. Muggs Sigurgeirson, speaking for SORWUC, told the press: “We don’t consider it a victory because the number of pickets has been limited. But we’re certainly ecstatic at being back on the street where strikers should be.” SORWUC appealed the limit but the court turned down the appeal. The reason given for the decision was that the picketers were “harassing” customers and employees.
Management distributed and posted leaflets in the west end community. The LRB described and commented on these activities:
The single most disturbing theme throughout the material produced by the (strikebreaking) staff is the persistent accusation that SORWUC is a racist organization or, at least, that SORWUCs position in this dispute amounts to racial discrimination against Native Indians. This accusation is asserted baldly in some of the material. For example, one leaflet distributed during the summer of 1979 is entitled “Stop Racial Prejudice” and its concluding words are as follows: “This issue is no longer a labour dispute. It has been escalated into arguments over the right to strike. Do not destroy job opportunities for Native People! Ninety per cent of British Columbia’s Native People are unemployed. Help our economy and stop inflation. Support the Native workers at the Muckamuck. Bring a halt to racial discrimination. Support Muckamuck traditional Indian food.”
While the LRB condemned these actions, the board did not provide remedies requested by the union which included a public apology in The Native Voice and Westender newspapers. SORWUC’s newsletter contains a description of the First Nations community’s support:
We have recent letters of support from the Vancouver Indian Centre and the United Native Nations. In April of this year when management put a sign in the window saying the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs supported the strikebreakers, the UBCIC lawyer threatened to sue and the sign was promptly removed. Wayne Clarke, the administrator of the Vancouver Indian Centre has walked the picket line along with other people from the centre. In a recent letter to SORWUC, Debbie Mearns (President of the Indian Centre) told the strikers she “admired their dedication to this complex issue.”
Muckamuck strikers solicited support from the First Nations community through fundraising, conference speeches and articles in First Nations newspapers. SORWUC activists also embarked on major fundraising activities within the trade union and political left community. Financial donations for strikers accumulated into thousands of dollars by the end of the dispute.
The strikebreakers faced working conditions similar to those of the original staff, with the added pressure of working behind a picket line and serving very few customers each night. Turnover among them was high. They were paid $3 to $5 an hour. The media reported on 19 December 1979 that the strikebreakers were laid off over Christmas with non-sufficient funds marked on their pay cheques at the bank.
As the dispute wore on the union declared the strike a “civil rights issue” for First Nations people. A leaflet by the union stated: “In their actions and leaflets they (management) make it plain that they do not believe Native workers should have the right to strike.”
On two occasions during the strike when the owners tried to meet with SORWUC, the strikebreakers attempted to stop them. One vocal First Nations strikebreaker, Florence Differ, told the local media, “If management negotiates with SORWUC, we’ll walk out. I think we had a dirty deal pulled on us again. The Indians are done in again.” Manager Sussy Selbst defended the owners’ actions: “We just want to talk to the union. It’s been 17 months— we had seven customers last night. But the staff turned on us and screamed at us and called us turncoats. I was almost in tears myself.”
Again on 25 April 1980 management made moves to contact the union and strikebreakers threatened to quit. The session was cancelled because the owners allegedly feared picketing by strikebreakers outside the negotiating meeting place. By this time, the restaurant was in operation Friday and Saturday nights only. Soon after, the restaurant shut down all operations.
May-June 1981 issue of Indian World
Finally on 25 April 1981, the LRB made a ruling on the various applications by SORWUC. Their main finding was that the Muckamuck management had not bargained in good faith. By October 1981 the owners had no assets in BC. On 1 March 1983 the LRB finally applied remedies to their previous ruling, having waited until they heard an application for certification by the strikebreakers as a new association. The LRB ruled that management owed the union $10,000 in compensation. SORWUC has never been able to collect this money, as the employer moved back to the United States. New owners set up a grocery store on the main floor of the property. Malcolm McSporrum, a local architect and supporter of First Nations issues* viewed the downstairs of the property and discovered that the setting and equipment of the restaurant remained. He contacted some former Muckamuck strikers and suggested they could be part owners in a new restaurant he would help finance. The Quilicum, a restaurant serving First Nations cuisine was reopened and a few First Nations people (including a former Muckamuck striker) have majority shares.
Justice finally caught up to Muckamuck owner, Doug Chrismas.


Many First Nations people have believed that “unions aren’t Native” partially because of the neglect by organized labour to campaign on their behalf. Consequently their working conditions have been exploitive on an economic and racial basis. But First Nations workers at the Muckamuck restaurant were able to form an alliance with the members of SORWUC to challenge their unjust status. SORWUC activists* ideological motivations, expertise, and links to the mainstream labour movement were key motivators to the workers’ efforts to resist the cultural and economic status quo.
The state’s institutions, however, failed First Nations workers as they were unable to protect workers from discriminatory and illegal employer practices. In this sense, as the strikers observed, the dispute became a “civil rights” issue for First Nations people. Although the federal employment centre attempted to address First Nations employment issues by setting up a program with local businesses, when told that the Muckamuck employer was discriminatory, the agency was only able to suggest informally that workers join a union. Similarly, the Labour Standards Branch admitted to being ineffectual in enforcing sanctions against illegal activities of employers such as fining employees for mistakes on the job, and again informally suggested workers join a union.
The LRB moved too slowly and provided remedies they were unable to enforce. The board’s decision to hear management’s illegal picketing complaint before the union’s charges of staff firings, and the delay in rendering a decision on the employer’s refusal to bargain in good faith undermined the union’s ability to be effective. The court’s decision to ban, then limit picketing, also hindered the workers’ efforts to establish a union. Furthermore police tended to view picketers as “troublemakers” so that picketers were more likely to be charged than protected in assault incidents.
The employer was not tied to the local community and institutions to the same extent as the union, so its attempts to seek legitimacy eventually failed. Their corporate values nonetheless were insufficiently challenged by the state as the long list of their illegal and unethical practices demonstrates. The fact that foreign owners can sell their business and move south without adhering to legal remedies indicates the global scope of workers’ struggle for justice.
The analysis of the role of the union can be extended further by examining the contradictions and conflicts First Nations workers experienced within SORWUC. Although SORWUC was ideologically committed to racial issues, the leaders and activists of SORWUC were female, mostly white and functioned within an adversarial and hierarchial trade union structure and culture. First Nations peoples’ ways of dealing with conflict, negotiation and decision-making were not introduced into the process. This imposition of values and culture on the First Nations workers could explain in part the eventual departures of strikers from the picket line. First Nations workers spoke on the specific strike situation in public forums, but did not speak on behalf of SORWUC as a union. Nor did First Nations workers take an activist position within SORWUC or other trade unions.
Further research by First Nations people could provide insights into how their community felt about this dispute and about trade unions in general. What were the repercussions of this strike within their community? How did the women strikers view the relationship between race and gender? Did the aspect of a visibly divided leadership among the First Nations organizations and among First Nations restaurant workers create long term problems, negative feelings about trade unions and distrust of the white community?
The closure of the restaurant and the loss of jobs for First Nations strikers does not suggest a victory for the workers. And while the LRB ruled in favour of the union, the monetary remedies were not rewarded to the strikers. Muckamuck workers, however, gained a sense of dignity and respect because they stood up for their rights. Restaurant employers elsewhere in the city may have improved their practices in light of the publicity and support for this dispute. The wider community had been made aware of First Nations, class and trade union issues. The First Nations and trade union communities found an opportunity to develop a bridge which can be crossed in the future.
Two of the original strikers spoke positively of their experience, Sandra Eatmon said she gained a respect for trade unions. “I learned about unions and workers’ rights,” Sandra said. “I thought it was the right thing at the time. We deserved better treatment.” Overall Ethel Gardner believes the dispute was a success. She said, “Looking back now, I see how we took it upon ourselves as a group of Native workers to make a statement that we weren’t going to be run in that way. So I think it was a success. We learned a lot, gained a lot and it was empowering.”


A 1987 story on Chrismas’ sketchiness by Douglas Coupland


[This essay excerpt was written by Jimmie Durham of the Cherokee nation.  Durham was a member of the American Indian Movement and founder of the International Indian Treaty Council that lobbied the United Nations in favour of decolonization of indigenous peoples worldwide. He is also a sculptor and poet.  The entire essay can be read here.]


“. . . The white left in particular has a tendency to take the words and concepts of revolutionary leaders from around the world instead of participating in the hammering-out of a true understanding of what is going on here, and how to use it.

That is especially true when we consider questions of culture in the U.S, either white culture or some other.

For example, a group of white leftists decides to hold a conference. They know, in an abstract way, that they have been robbed of their culture and that culture is important in revolution. Therefore they set aside one or two evenings during the conference as “cultural evenings.” Songs are sung and poems are read, but these “cultural activities” are not integrated into the conference itself, instead they are isolated as special events. More important, and more to the point, no one really sees and analyzes the ways in which the conference itself is a cultural event. . . . The reason people do not see the conference itself and its interactions as a cultural event in itself is because they have been robbed of their culture.

At the first level, the culture of the society is “Western.” That is, most structures of social action are like those of any other Western country, and are clearly unlike those of American Indians, Lapps, Masai, or even societies that have become “Westernized” in many aspects, such as the black population in the U.S.

But at the second level, the people at that conference are culturally part of a society that has taken the Western tool of “specialization” and changed it to what Paulo Freire has called “specialism” in his study of mass society. (The concept of mass society is not associated with the emergence of the masses in a historical process.) Freire describes this phenomenon in Cultural Action for Freedom:

“Mass society appears in highly technological, complex societies. In order to function, these societies require specialities, which become ‘specialisms,’ and rationality, which degenerates into myth-making irrationalism.”

“Distinct from specialities, specialists narrow the area of knowledge in such a way that the so-called ‘specialists’ become generally incapable of thinking. Because they have lost the vision of the whole of which their ‘speciality’ is only one dimension, they cannot even think correctly in the area of their specialization.

“In mass society, ways of thinking become as standardized as ways of dressing and tastes in food. People begin thinking and acting according to the prescriptions they receive daily from the communications media rather than in response to their dialectical relationships with the world. In mass societies, where everything is prefabricated and behavior is almost automatized, people are lost because they do not have to ‘risk themselves.’” . . .

Our societies, our culture, defines us, in large part, and our way of experiencing the world is through our culture. Politics, economics, science and technology, language, etc., are all cultural phenomena, and finally, of course, political phenomena. Many progressive people in this country, both whites and blacks, are not critically conscious of that process, and are a part of that mass society in one degree or another.

So, when white people look critically at the Indian Movement (as they should), it should be with a critical consciousness that they are looking through their own culture, which is a particularly alienating one and therefore difficult to see through.

As if the problems mentioned above were not enough of a barrier to communication and analysis, there are still two more blocks. The first is racism, which cannot really be separated from the cultural problems I’ve been talking about. Racism is used so effectively and insidiously as a tool of oppression that some people think that it is some absolute of human nature, or at least some absolute of white human nature. Most white progressives will freely admit that they carry some racist attitudes (whereas most Indians, also infected with racism, will not), but will not take the trouble to commit themselves to identifying and eliminating those attitudes, partly because that can be done only by the kind of praxis that U.S. culture makes so difficult. Those attitudes are especially obnoxious and destructive in white people who have the aggressiveness or self-confidence to be in leadership positions of one form or another.

Racism often takes the subtle forms of assuming Indian people to be just like white people, or totally different from white people, or other unspoken generalities, which further blind the people to the realities of Indian culture. It is also the primary cause of the most hateful piece of miscommunication now going on between Indians and white progressives: “political missionary-ism”. Particularly, by young white Marxists who have never been in real situations of struggle in a working-class movement, who in fact have seldom worked with anyone except fellow-students, and who come to us as though we were ignorant “lumpen proletariat” in need of being “taught”, not only Marxism, but the realities of our own struggle. . . .

The second block is the colonial tool that I call “romanticism.” The U.S. has used romanticism more effectively to keep Indians oppressed than it has ever been used on any other people. The basis of that romanticism is of course the concept of the “Noble Savage,” but the refinements over the years have worked their way into how every non-Indian thinks about us, and how we think about ourselves. In the U.S. there is a special vocabulary of English deliberately developed to maintain oppression of Indians. This vocabulary has connotations of “primitiveness,” backwardness, savagery, etc., and affects the ways every Indian and non-Indian in the U.S. thinks about Indians, whether or not people are conscious of them. This vocabulary has become so ingrained that the use of just one of the words conjures up the thought of Indians, and we have come to assume that these are “Indian” words, or at least direct translations from an Indian language into English.

Who decided that the word “chief,” which has the connotation of meaning the head of a land or tribe, is the correct translation of theconcept of the Creek Indian word “Enhomvta”? Did white people decide that was the correct word by studying the Creek political system? No. They decided because they wanted to show the Creek nation as a “primitive” body of people and “chief” carried this connotation. At first, colonists called Indian leaders “kings,” as in the example of King Phillip of the Wampanoag “tribe.”

Compare the two following sentences describing the same event and the reasons for a colonial vocabulary may be clearer:

1. Today Archbishop Tatanka Iotanka, Minister of Interior Affairs of the present government of the nation of Lakota and the most respected religious leader of the Lakota people, was assassinated by paid agents of the United States government.

2. Today Chief Sitting Bull, a medicine man of the Sioux Indian tribe, was killed by another Indian.

Of course, I am not suggesting that the word “archbishop” would describe Sitting Bull’s position correctly or adequately, but I am saying that it describes the Lakota concept for his position just as well as the English phrase “medicine man” in the English of non-Indian people.

The romantic colonial vocabulary serves to dehumanize us, and make our affairs and political systems seem not quite as serious or advanced as those of other people. The English vocabulary used to describe us is designed to prove that we are inferior.

Here is a list of English words used in the romantic vocabulary with parallel English words in normal vocabulary. . . .


Band—State or province

Medicine Man—Doctor, minister, psychiatrist, etc.

Chief—President, prime minister, secretary general

War chief—General

Warrior, brave—Soldier


Band of warriors—Army, regiment

Great council—Cabinet, parliament, central committee

Pow wow—Festival

Great Spirit—God, Allah, etc.

Some words refer to concepts specific to the way Indians are spoken about: “full-bloods,” “1/4, 1/16, 1/64 Indian,“ “mixed breed,” etc. This is a kind of racism that is not used against any other people. And even when white society as a whole has used words like “mulatto,” white progressives have not. But today they do speak of “full-blood” Indians and so on. It is no excuse to say that many Indian people themselves use those terms—many blacks in the South also used words like “mulatto,” “yallah,” etc., at one time and some still do now. . . .

As we in our struggle break out of isolation, we also break that language barrier, usually before the non-Indians know what has happened. Today we have learned what “tribes” really means so we refuse that definition. Non-Indians, including progressive whites, still use it. Tomorrow we will no longer speak of “full-bloods”; whites may still use that racist terminology. Those who are truly committed to liberation, however, will use the advantage of their outside position to begin an understanding of what we mean by certain words and phrases, such as “traditional,” and so work in solidarity with us in the process of coming back into the world. Those whose unconscious racism makes them decide that our specialized language makes us simple-minded or romantic, or Noble Primitives will continue to enhance their own self-image by “helping” us stupid Indians.

It is not an easy situation, nor is it completely one-sided. To add to the confusion there are many young Indians today who have been brought up in cities, sometimes in white foster homes, who have been denied their own culture and the education of their people. Romantic white society gives them their concepts of what “Indianness” is. Because these young people are so alienated, they are in many ways more oppressed than the rest of us, and so their zeal and desperation makes them our “revolutionary vanguard” in many ways. They are the people most articulate and willing to talk to non-Indians. They are also more visible than the “traditionals” on the reservations.

Because they are often in leadership positions and because what they say about our culture and politics fits the romantic stereotype, non-Indians sometimes take everything they say whole-cloth, and then either write off Indians as mystics or embrace Indians as fellow-mystics according to where they, the non-Indians, are politically.

All I have written so far should serve as a backdrop and framework for the main purpose of this paper.

The Founding Fathers of the United States equated capitalism with civilization. They had to, given their mentality; to them civilization meant their society, which was a capitalist society. Therefore, from the earliest times the wars against Indians were not only to take over land but also to squash the threatening example of Indian communism. Jefferson was not the only man of his time to advocate imposing a capitalist and possessive society on Indians as a way to civilize them. The “bad example” was a real threat; the reason the Eastern Indian nations from Florida to New York State and from the Atlantic to Ohio and Louisiana are today so racially mixed is because indentured servants, landless poor whites and escaped black slaves chose our societies over the white societies that oppressed them.

Beginning in the 1890s we have been “red-baited” and branded as “commies” in Congress (see the Congressional record) and in the executive boards of churches. That was a very strong weapon in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the Oklahoma area any Indian “traditional” who was also an organizer was called a communist or even a “Wobbly.”

So we have always defined our struggle not only as a struggle for land but also as a struggle to retain our cultural values. Those values are “communistic” values. Our societies were and are “communistic” societies. The U.S. government has always understood that very well. It has not branded us all these years as communists because we tried to form labor unions or because we hung out with the IWW or the Communist Party but because the U.S. government correctly identified our political system. It did not make that a public issue because that would have been dangerous, and because it has been far more efficient to say that we are savages and primitives.

Marx used our societies as examples of what he meant by communism on two different occasions in his writings. He said that we are “Primitive Communists.” The word “primitive” means “first,” but people who have skimmed through Marx often decide, because of theconnotations of the word “primitive” which come from political manipulation, that Marx meant that we were backward or “childlike” communists. Marx was, nonetheless, very Eurocentric, and he assumed that European history was the main body of humanity’s history.

We do not need Marx’s words to teach us how to live our lives in our own society. We do not need to go through an industrial revolution so that we can come out as communists on the other side.

We do need Marxism-Leninism as a method and system for knowing the human world as it is today and for knowing how most effectively to fight our oppressor. We do need to join forces with world Marxism-Leninism, because that is the liberation movement for the world. But we will not come into that world community as a “primitive” younger brother.

Our struggle has always been not only to maintain our own lands and culture, but to fight the political system of capitalism itself. That is evident in all the speeches and addresses given by our leaders throughout U.S./Indian history. The struggle to maintain culture is in itself a revolutionary struggle. It is a dynamic and positive struggle, not a passive holding action. We speak of our traditions, and because the romanticism of non-Indians always speaks of us in the past tense (What did the Cherokees eat?, instead of What do the Cherokees eat?), it is assumed that we are speaking of things that we used to do, such as “roaming the Plains” or making arrowheads. The traditions that we mean are not the exterior manifestations that are easily identified as “Indian,” not the “artifacts” and objects of our culture, but what we call our “vision”—the value system that makes our culture. In short, we mean our political system (but remember we have been taught a special vocabulary), not our well-made arrowheads. . . .

Taking new ideas that are useful is a very Cherokee activity. It is a very Lakota activity, or Mohawk activity. We took glass beads, horses, wool blankets, wheat flour for fry-bread, etc., very early, and immediately made them identifiably “Indian” things. We are able to do that because of our cultural integrity and because our societies are dynamic and able to take in new ideas. . . .

Another of our valued traditions is to take weapons from the enemy. Thus, in the 1920’s some “benign” branch of the B.I.A. decided that if properly controlled it would be a good thing if Indians sitting on barren reservations in Oklahoma were appeased and distracted by letting them hold a dance or two in the summer months. They reasoned that this would also give white people a chance to see “real Indians” doing “real Indian stuff.” The B.I.A. decided that it would be easier and less dangerous if these affairs were inter-tribal. In those days the different Indian nations which had been forced into Oklahoma did not have much contact with each other, and were relative strangers to each other. Therefore the B.I.A. decided that small groups from each tribe would find it harder to communicate or plan an “uprising” than one nation of people, or two neighboring nations. The B.I.A. named these events “pow wows,” after the word “P’houwah” which means “elder” or “medicine man” (the white trappers a century earlier made the mistaken translation).

To be able to sing together and dance together the Indians invented new dances and songs that did not require words in any one national language. The A.I.M. “song” is a pow wow song, but it should not be thought of as a contrivance because of that. It is a very real, valid and heartening cultural experience for us. The words are the “chant” part—the chorus—common to most Indian singing.

We were not degraded and made to feel like tourist attractions by these pow wows. We used them to create unity among us. We used the English our oppressor taught us as the most available common language. In that language we exchanged information and ideas. Now the pow wows are “our thing.” We hold them all over the country all summer long, and Indians from Maine meet with Indians from New Mexico to hear a political speech from an Indian from South Dakota. This century, pow wows have been our main tool towards forming ourselves into one confederation of people and reorganizing our struggle. What was meant to alienate us we used, in ourtraditional way, to strengthen our will.

Some people get the idea that “traditional” Indians want to go back to the “good old days.” Especially, they imagine that because of our grave concern over the environment we are escapists who want to reject technology and progress. That is another part of the romantic stereotype. We have, and have always had, technology. We accept all technology that contributes to the well-being of our people, whichmust include the well-bring of the Earth itself and all the life upon it; that acceptance is neither a new thing nor an “accommodation”: it is one of our traditions. . . .

Image result for idle no more

Something that few people realize is that our culture and our vision have not remained static during our five hundred years of oppression. Indian nations which were once large (the pre-Columbian population of what is now the U.S., not counting Alaska, was 20 to 35 million) are now comparatively small and are “inside” the illegal boundaries of a giant European settler regime. These nations have had to come together, and such factors make for important cultural changes. Before Columbus we were not “warring tribes” as the history books have it, but neither did we always have a clear and motivating concept of an international “brotherhood” of humanity. Many of us had a national chauvinism which was sometimes very destructive. Also, given that we are speaking of a large continent with many countries, naturally every one of those countries did not have a good political system. No one, of course, was or is perfect. Some nations in the Southeast had very ugly class systems; in other areas some nations had pretty strange “consumer societies.” However, those aberrations were distortions of real values in a political (cultural) vision (concept) underlying all Indian societies, just as the Aztec sacrifices were horrible distortions of a common Indian concept of “society cannot develop without sacrifice.”

Colonization and our struggle for liberation accelerated a process of unification and clarification that had already begun (witness the Iroquois Confederacy and its vision). That political process of welding together, and refining and improving a unified concept of society on the Earth, is a cultural process. It is a process that is going on right now.

But it is a process, of course, that is going on internally and is seldom seen or understood from the outside. Because it is a process in a struggle for liberation, inside the most oppressive colonization the world has ever seen, it is not a smooth, clear road towards an ideal. Remember that oppression is more than skin deep; it is not exterior to a person’s inner life. It gives us confusion, self-loathing, and a natural urge to escape, which in some people takes the form of a “mental” escape—into mysticism, alcoholism, suicide, reactionism. It does that to each of us to some degree at some time or another. Some of us, in our confusion, try to escape the oppression in ways that do not help our struggle but which are not often seen as escapism either by ourselves or by non-Indians.

Some of us, particularly Indians who have been cut off from their own roots (the “urban” Indians mentioned earlier), use guilt-trip tactics on non-Indian supporters. They can easily find valid reasons for verbally blasting white co-workers because those white people have racist attitudes which make such blasts easy and seemingly excusable. But the people who escape by doing that are taking an easy and “self-satisfying” role instead of really struggling with racism, and they also get locked into attitudes that can serve to maintain our isolation; and non-Indians who simply react to those attitudes, by acceptance or belligerence, hinder our struggle.

It is a universal truth that human beings do not exist outside of their culture, their society. A biologically human animal is not fully human without, for example, language which is a cultural/political phenomenon. To speak of an alienated society is to speak of people robbed of their culture, always so that some political system can exploit them. That is what makes culture so important to liberation, and that is why it can never be considered a separate piece of human activity . . . .

Those white people who would “teach” us Marxism should realize that we have come to understand these things because we struggle to break out of isolation. The fact that white people meet us and are in solidarity with our struggle is not because they came to us, but because our struggle to regain our place in the world is effective and successful. The more we struggle the more we learn of the things in the world that we need to know, because we have broken our isolation.

We have made and will continue to make mistakes, as individuals and as a people. We are using those mistakes to further our struggle and to learn more.

Progressive non-Indians in the United States cannot be either teachers or spectators in that process, but must stand with us in true solidarity, which means a commitment to clarity, Marxist criticism and analysis of actual situations. We are, by every criterion, colonizednations of people, whose culture is not Western. Blacks, Mexicans, Chicanos, and whites all have more in common with each other than any have with us.

Our culture and our political systems have many faults, and had many faults in pre-colonial times. We have never claimed to be perfect or to have the “secret of life”. We demand, though, an end to romanticism, paternalism, and racism. We must include in that a demand for an end to liberalism directed against us. We demand to be taken seriously as the people we are, by the world and especially by other peoples on this continent. We must demand criticism of ourselves.


Our “spiritualism” is a controversial issue right now. Marx said that religion is the opium of the people. We agree that for many, religion is a drug that exploits people for the State. That is why we have fought Christianity so vehemently. But we say that our own “religion” is a force of liberation. . . .

The basis, then, of what is called our “spiritualism” is the concept of Mother Earth. That is no more nor less than a formalized realization that we are human beings, whose sustenance and creation comes from the earth. This is not counter to Marxism. From this basis, built into our culture is a critical consciousness that our methods of production coincide ecologically with what is being produced. For this reason, in our farming methods we developed an agricultural technology which has not yet been approached by Western civilization. (The same holds true of our hunting methods in most cases.) So we maintain a critical consciousness and form our political systems by making sure that that relationship and the critical consciousness of it continue. We do this through our “mythology,” our festivals and celebrations, even by our social family structure. We formalize it and ritualize it in a non-static way. The ramifications of this process are what is translated into English as our “religion” or “spiritualism.” . . .

In the system described above there is an overriding value that is also a main ingredient in our “spiritualism.” We apply the same critical consciousness that I have been speaking about to a concept of what I will call the “quality” of things: the quality of actions, changes, systems, so on. We don’t accept ideas of “development” or “economic growth” unless we can clearly see both the long-range and short-range benefits they will provide to human beings. Benefit to some abstract notion of “society” or even “the masses” is not within our framework of understanding. We might also call this value the “spirit of things.” . . .

In our “spiritual” system we have come to know that human beings, to be fully human, must be integrated into society. We’ve also found out that society is nothing without personalized human beings. Our culture denies the concept of “masses” because it carries a connotation of depersonalization. Our culture also denies the concept of an “individualistic” society. “Individual” carries a connotation of objectification of persons. A person is a person, not an “individual”. One ant in an ant hill is an “individual”. Human beings are persons, and that is not the same as “individuals”.

This is an extremely important point. A person in U.S. society who thinks of himself as, or wishes himself to be, an individual will always be trying to prove/achieve his individualness. He will try desperately to be “different” from others in his society (while making sure that his “difference” is socially acceptable to his peer-group). What he is doing is volunteering to participate in his own alienation, his own victimization. It seems to us that the concept of “masses” is just the other side of that same coin.

It is our “spiritualism” that allows us to know that we exist only as human persons, and that our only way to be human persons is through our society. “Our way of being human is to be Indian, and that is our only way.” But we have no culture, no society, if it is not a society of persons. Our communism depends upon persons and our personhood depends upon our communism. We will not compromise on this concept; and there is no friction between this concept and Marxism.


Image result for american indian movementThere are about a dozen American Indians in the U.S. today who say they are Marxist-Leninists. There are quite a few more who are in Marxist study groups. But the very large majority are, to differing degrees, verbally, “anti-communist” whilst their actions are communistic. But we need to be able to use the tools of Marxism-Leninism if we are to see effectively and fight our enemy. I do not believe that we have time to “let nature take its course,” or to have that kind of liberal “faith in the people” which means escaping one’s own responsibility for leadership and action.

Disorganization, lack of perspective and clarity, and everyone “doing their own thing” are American phenomena which are destructive to our struggle. Lack of strategic unity plays right into the hands of the enemy. A Marxist-Leninist analysis of the detailed realities of our situation, I believe, is the only way to combat such phenomena. The greatest weakness of the American Indian struggle is our inability to analyze properly the enemy’s make-up, weapons and tactics, and to figure out how to use them against him. That weakness, of course, is a direct result of, and is part of, our oppression, just as alcoholism is part of our oppression. So it cannot be singled out and dealt with through “special programs.”

Progressive people, Indian and non-Indian, who take our struggle as theirs must have a commitment to see the particulars and take responsibility to engage themselves and others in a battle that will further changes. I have spoken repeatedly in this paper about “real situations,” “details,“ and ”particular situations,” because I am addressing what I have perceived as a serious weakness in the white American left.

A real situation: American Indians as a whole are suspicious of the English language, especially when white people speak it. Rightly so, because we have been deceived by that language. We are also suspicious of non-Indians or even Indians educated and articulate in the white society, who come to us with new plans and new answers. All of the new plans and answers over the past 200 years have been disastrous to us. . . .

These suspicions are well-founded, but they are a sizeable object to be overcome. I repeat, it is not for our few Marxists to overcome them; it is for all of us together to join the struggle that is already effecting changes—the struggle of the Indian people as a whole. And yet, neither am I willing to say that we “play it cool” and so let the government continue its indoctrination unchallenged. I am not going to suggest facile “solutions” to this problem because it does not make sense for one person to come up with solutions. We should commit ourselves to work, Indians and other Third World people in the U.S., and everyone whose goal is liberation, not as one nebulous mass nor as divided groups which cannot communicate with each other. Now is the time when we must begin the process of coming together as the peoples we are. No one group of us can be the student or the teacher of revolution, only the struggle—in unity, clarity, and commitment—can teach.”

Jimmie Durham, “American Indian Culture: Traditionalism and Spiritualism in a Revolutionary Struggle,” in A Certain Lack of Coherence: Writings on Art and Cultural Politics, ed. Jean Fisher (London: Kala Press, 1993).


With the Indigenous population on the rise in Canada, it becomes ever clearer that a key question for the Canadian “left” as it exists today is how to relate to the indigenous struggle and its associated process of “nativisation” and cultural revival. The pressing question is how does the left decolonize itself and its practice? In some ways, the anarchist left leads the charge here ahead of the Marxists, yet traditional anarchist organization and theory is not sufficient for addressing subjects such as the nation question for native peoples, descending into a kind of liberal performative “privilege” politics without being able to articulate how indigenous people will take ownership over their stolen lands and culture in a material way. Durham here proposes something akin to indigenizing political practice, no doubt a contentious and sensitive process.

A related problem is the question of the non-native, working-class population. How does this large demographic, and traditional base of the left, become indigenized? We know that in spite of genocidal policies, there is a growing status-native population in Canada and an even larger “non-status” population. Is this purely a question of land ownership and statehood? What role does acculturation need to play in working-class organization?


Nativistic Movements

This online version was posted on the Zero Anthropology blog, but was originally published as

ralphlinton“Nativistic Movements”By Ralph Linton and A. Irving HallowellAmerican Anthropologist, 45(2), 1943, pp. 230-240 (http://0- 272.pdf)


———-page 230———-

AT THE time that the centennial meeting of the American Ethnological Society was planned, the writer was invited to contribute a paper on nativistic movements in North America. When he attempted to prepare this it soon became evident that there was a need for a systematic analysis of nativistic phenomena in general. Although the Social Science Research Council’s Committee on Acculturation1 had made some progress in this direction much remained to be done. The present paper is an attempt to provide such a systematic analysis and is presented in the hope that its formulations may be modified and expanded by further research.

The first difficulty encountered in the study of nativistic movements was that of delimiting the field. The term “nativistic” has been loosely applied to a rather wide range of phenomena, resembling in this respect many other terms employed by the social sciences. For the writer to determine arbitrarily which of several established usages is to be considered correct and which incorrect is not only presumptuous but also one of the surest ways to promote misunderstanding of the theoretical contributions he hopes to make. The only satisfactory definition under such circumstances is one based upon the common denominators of the meanings which have come to be attached to the term through usage. With this as a guide, we may define a nativistic movement as, “Any conscious, organized attempt on the part of a society’s members to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of its culture.”

Like all definitions, the above requires amplification to make its implications clear. Its crux lies in the phrase “conscious, organized effort.” All societies seek to perpetuate their own cultures, but they usually do this unconsciously and as a part of the normal processes of individual training and socialization. Conscious, organized efforts to perpetuate a culture can arise only when a society becomes conscious that there are cultures other than its own and that the existence of its own culture is threatened. Such consciousness, in turn, is a by-product of close and continuous contact with other societies; an acculturation phenomenon under the definition developed by the above mentioned committee.2

The phrase “selected aspects of its culture” also requires elaboration. Nativistic movements concern themselves with particular elements of culture, never with cultures as wholes. This generalization holds true whether we re-

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-gard cultures as continuums of long duration or follow the usual ethnographic practice of applying the term “a culture” to the content of such a continuum at a particular point in time. The avowed purpose of a nativistic movement may be either to revive the past culture or to perpetuate the current one, but it never really attempts to do either. Any attempt to revive a past phase of culture in its entirety is immediately blocked by the recognition that this phase was, in certain respects, inferior to the present one and by the incompatibility of certain past culture patterns with current conditions. Even the current phase of a culture is never satisfactory at all points and also includes a multitude of elements which seem too trivial to deserve deliberate perpetuation. What really happens in all nativistic movements is that certain current or remembered elements of culture are selected for emphasis and given symbolic value. The more distinctive such elements are with respect to other cultures with which the society is in contact, the greater their potential value as symbols of the society’s unique character.

The main considerations involved in this selective process seem to be those of distinctiveness and of the practicability of reviving or perpetuating the element under current conditions. Thus the Ghost Dance laid great stress on the revival of such distinctive elements of Indian culture as games and ceremonial observances, elements which could be revived under agency conditions. At the same time it allowed its adherents to continue the use of cloth, guns, kettles and other objects of European manufacture which were obviously superior to their aboriginal equivalents. In fact, in many cases the converts were assured that when the dead returned and the whites were swept away, the houses, cattle and other valuable property of the whites would remain for the Indians to inherit.

All the phenomena to which the term nativistic has been applied have in common these factors of selection of culture elements and deliberate, conscious effort to perpetuate such elements. However, they differ so widely in other respects that they cannot be understood without further analysis. At the outset it is necessary to distinguish between those forms of nativism which involve an attempt to revive extinct or at least moribund elements of culture and those which merely seek to perpetuate current ones. For convenience we will refer to the first of these forms as revivalistic nativism, to the second as perpetuative nativism. These two forms are not completely exclusive. Thus a revivalistic nativistic movement will be almost certain to include in its selection of elements some of those which are current in the culture although derived from its past. Conversely a perpetuative nativistic movement may include elements which had been consciously revived at an earlier date. However, the emphases of these two forms are distinct. The revivalistic type of nativism can be illustrated by such movements as the Celtic revival in Ireland, with its emphasis on the medieval Irish tradition in literature and its attempt to revive a mori-

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-bund national language. The perpetuative type of nativism can be illustrated by the conditions existing in some of the Rio Grande Pueblos or in, various Indian groups in Guatemala. Such groups are only vaguely conscious of their past culture and make no attempts to revive it, but they have developed elaborate and conscious techniques for the perpetuation of selected aspects of their current culture and are unalterably opposed to assimilation into the alien society which surrounds them.

There is a further necessity for distinguishing between what we may call magical nativism and rational nativism. It may well be questioned whether any sort of nativistic movement can be regarded as genuinely rational, since all such movements are, to some extent, unrealistic, but at least the movements of the latter order appear rational by contrast with those of the former.

Magical nativistic movements are often spectacular and always troublesome to administrators, facts which explain why they have received so much attention from anthropologists. Such movements are comparable in many respects to the Messianic movements which have arisen in many societies in times of stress. They usually originate with some individual who assumes the role of prophet and is accepted by the people because they wish to believe. They always lean heavily on the supernatural and usually embody apocalyptic and millennial aspects. In such movements moribund elements of culture are not revived for their own sake or in anticipation of practical advantages from the element themselves. Their revival is part of a magical formula designed to modify the society’s environment in ways which will be favorable to it. The selection of elements from the past culture as tools for magical manipulation is easily explainable on the basis of their psychological associations. The society’s members feel that by behaving as the ancestors did they will, in some usually undefined way, help to recreate the total situation in which the ancestors lived. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are attempting to recreate those aspects of the ancestral situation which appear desirable in retrospect.

Such magical nativistic movements seem to differ from ordinary messianic and millennial movements in only two respects. In the nativistic movements the anticipated millennium is modeled directly on the past, usually with certain additions and modifications, and the symbols which are magically manipulated to bring it about are more or less familiar elements of culture to which new meanings have been attached. In non-nativistic messianic movements, the millennial condition is represented as something new and unique and the symbols manipulated to bring it about tend to be new and unfamiliar. Even in these respects the differences are none too clear. New elements of culture often emerge in connection with magical nativistic movements, as in the case of the distinctive Ghost Dance art. Conversely, messianic movements may lean heavily upon the familiar symbolism of the culture, as in the case of most

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Christian cults of this type. The basic feature of both messianic cults and magical nativistic movements is that they represent frankly irrational flights from reality. Their differences relate only to the ways in which such flights are implemented and are, from the point of view of their functions, matters of minor importance.

What we have chosen to call rational nativistic movements are a phenomenon of a quite different sort. While such movements resemble the magical ones in their conscious effort to revive or perpetuate selected elements of culture, they have different motivations. What these are can be understood more readily if we reintroduce at this point the distinction previously made between revivalistic and perpetuative nativistic movements. Rational revivalistic nativistic movements are, almost without exception, associated with frustrating situations and are primarily attempts to compensate for the frustrations of the society’s members. The elements revived become symbols of a period when the society was free or, in retrospect, happy or great. Their usage is not magical but psychological. By keeping the past in mind, such elements help to reestablish and maintain the self respect of the group’s members in the face of adverse conditions. Rational perpetuative nativistic movements, on the other hand, find their main function in the maintenance of social solidarity. The elements selected for perpetuation become symbols of the society’s existence as a unique entity. They provide the society’s members with a fund of common knowledge and experience which is exclusively their own and which sets them off from the members of other societies. In both types of rational nativistic movement the culture elements selected for symbolic use are chosen realistically and with regard to the possibility of perpetuating them under current conditions.

It must be emphasized that the four forms of nativistic movement just discussed are not absolutes. Purely revivalistic or perpetuative, magical or rational movements form a very small minority of the observed cases. However, these forms represent the polar positions of series within which all or nearly all nativistic movements can be placed. Moreover, it will usually be found that a given nativistic movement lies much closer to one end of such a scale than to the other if it is analysed in terms of the criteria used to establish the polar positions. If we combine the polar positions in the two series, the result is a fourfold typology of nativistic movements, as follows:

1. Revivalistic-magical
2. Revivalistic-rational
3. Perpetuative-magical
4. Perpetuative-rational

Forms 1, 2, and 4 in this typology recur with great frequency, while form 3 is so rare that the writer has been unable to find any clearly recognizable example of it. The reason for this probably lies in the conditions which are usually responsible for magical nativistic movements. The inception of such movements

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can be traced almost without exception to conditions of extreme hardship or at least extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo. Since the current culture is associated with such conditions and has failed to ameliorate them, magical efficacy in modifying these conditions can scarcely be ascribed to any of its elements. Nevertheless, a perpetuative-magical movement might very well arise in the case of a society which currently occupies an advantageous position but sees itself threatened with an imminent loss of that position. It is highly probable that if we could canvass the whole range of nativistic movements examples of this type could be found.

An understanding of the various contact situations in which nativistic movements may arise is quite as necessary for the study of these phenomena as is a typology of such movements. There have been many cases of contact in which they have not arisen at all. The reasons for this seem to be so variable and in many cases so obscure that nothing like a satisfactory analysis is possible. The most that we can say is that nativistic movements are unlikely to arise in situations where both societies are satisfied with their current relationship, or where societies which find themselves at a disadvantage can see that their condition is improving. However, such movements may always be initiated by particular individuals or groups who stand to gain by them and, if the prestige of such initiators is high enough, may achieve considerable followings even when there has been little previous dissatisfaction.

Although the immediate causes of nativistic movements are highly variable, most of them have as a common denominator a situation of inequality between the societies in contact. Such inequalities may derive either from the attitudes of the societies involved or from actual situations of dominance and submission. In order to understand the motives for nativistic movements the distinction between these two sources of inequality must be kept clearly in mind. Inequality based on attitudes of superiority and inferiority may exist in the absence of real dominance, although situations of dominance seem to be uniformly accompanied by the development of such attitudes. As regards attitudes of superiority and inferiority, two situations may exist. Each of the groups involved in the contact may consider itself superior or one group may consider itself superior with the other acquiescing in its own inferiority. There seem to be no cases in which each of the groups involved in a contact considers itself inferior. The nearest approach to such a condition is the recognition of mixed inferiority and superiority, i.e., the members of each group regard their own culture as superior in certain respects and inferior in others. Such a condition is especially favorable to the processes of culture exchange and ultimate assimilation of the two groups. It rarely if ever results in the development of nativistic movements.

The type of situation in which each society considers itself superior is well illustrated by the relations between Mexicans and Indians in our own South-

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west. In this case factors of practical dominance are ruled out by the presence of a third group, the Anglo-American, which dominates Indian and Mexican alike. Although the two subject groups are in close contact, each of them feels that any assimilation would involve a loss of prestige. The transfer of individuals from one social-cultural continuum to the other is met by equal resistance on both sides and the processes of assimilation never have a chance to get under way. Under such circumstances the life of each of the societies involved becomes a perpetuative-rational nativistic movement. Each group is conscious of its own culture and consciously seeks to perpetuate its distinctive elements. At the same time this consciousness of difference is devoid of envy or frustration and produces no friction. The members of each group pursue their own goals with the aid of their own techniques and, although the situation does not preclude economic rivalries, witness the constant quarrels over water rights, it does preclude social rivalries. It seems that the establishment of such attitudes of mutual social exclusiveness, without hatred or dominance, provides the soundest basis for organizing symbiotic relationships between societies and should be encouraged in all cases where the attitudes of one or both of the groups in contact preclude assimilation.

Contact situations comparable to that just discussed are not infrequent but they seem to be less common than those in which both groups agree on the superiority of one of the parties. It must be repeated that such attitudes are not necessarily linked with conditions of actual dominance. Thus the Japanese during the early period of European contact acquiesced in the European’s estimate of his own superiority and borrowed European culture elements indiscriminately although maintaining national independence. Again, the disunited German states of the eighteenth century acknowledged the superiority of French culture and were eager for French approval even when no political factors were involved.

When two groups stand in such a mutually recognized relationship of superiority and inferiority, but with no factors of actual dominance involved, the contact will rarely if ever give rise to nativistic movements of the magical type. The relationship cannot produce the extreme stresses which drive the members of a society into such flights from reality. On the other hand, the contact may well give rise to rational nativistic movements, but these will rarely if ever appear during the early contact period. At first the superior group is usually so sure of its position that it feels no reluctance toward borrowing convenient elements from the culture of the inferior one. Conversely, the inferior group borrows eagerly from the superior one and looks forward to full equality with it as soon as the cultural differences have been obliterated. During this period impecunious members of the superior group are likely to turn their prestige to practical advantage by marrying rich members of the inferior one and, for a time, genuine assimilation appears to be under way. In such a

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situation the nativistic trends will normally appear first in the group, superior which is naturally jealous of its prestige. The movements inaugurated will generally be of the perpetuative-rational type, designed to maintain the status quo, and will include increasing reluctance to borrow elements of culture from the inferior group and the increase of social discrimination against its members and those of the superior group who consort with them.

When such a nativistic movement gets well under way in the superior group, there will usually be a nativistic response from the inferior one. Finding themselves frustrated in their desire for equality, with or without actual assimilation, the inferiors will develop their own nativistic movements, acting on the well known sour grapes principle. However, these movements will be of the revivalistic-rational rather than the perpetuative-rational type. The culture elements selected for emphasis will tend to be drawn from the past rather than the present, since the attitudes of the superior group toward the current culture will have done much to devaluate it. In general, symbolic values will be attached, by preference, to culture elements which were already on the wane at the time of the first contact with the superior group, thus embodying in the movement a denial that the culture of the other group ever was considered superior.

We have already said that attitudes of superiority and inferiority seem to be present in all cases of contact involving actual dominance. Combining these two sets of factors we get the following possible situations for contact groups:

1. Dominant-superior
2. Dominant-inferior
3. Dominated-superior
4. Dominated-inferior

These situations assume agreement on the part of the groups involved not only with respect to dominance, readily demonstrable, but also with respect to attitudes. The frequent lack of such agreement makes it necessary to add a fifth situation, that in which the dominant and dominated group each considers itself superior. The other possible combinations, those involving attitudes of inferiority on the part of both dominant and dominated and those involving attitudes of mixed inferiority and superiority on both sides, may be ruled out from the present discussion. The first of these possible combinations simply does not occur. The second occurs rather frequently but, as in the cases where it occurs without domination, normally results in assimilation rather than the production of nativistic movements.

The idea that nativistic movements may arise in dominant as well as dominated groups appears strange to us since most of our experience of such movements comes from the contact of Europeans with native peoples. However, we must not forget that Europeans have occupied a singularly favored position in such contacts. Even where the European settles permanently among a

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native population, he remains a mere outlier of white society and, thanks to modern means of transportation and communication, can keep close touch with the parent body. This parent body is shielded from contact and assimilation and is thus able to send out to its colonial ruling groups constant increments of individuals who are culturally unmixed. Moreover, the technological superiority of European culture has, until recently, rendered the dominance of colonial groups secure. The nativism of Europeans has, therefore, been largely unconscious and entirely of the perpetuative-rational type. It has manifested itself in such things as the practice of sending children back to Europe to be educated or the Englishman’s insistence on dressing for dinner even when alone in a remote outpost of empire. Most dominant groups have been less fortunate. They have found themselves threatened, from the moment of their accession to power, not only by foreign invasion or domestic revolt but also by the insidious processes of assimilation which might, in the long run, destroy their distinctive powers and privileges. This threat was especially menacing when, as in most of the pre-machine age empires, the dominant and dominated groups differed little if at all in physical type. Among such rulers the frustrations which motivate nativistic movements in inferior or dominated groups were replaced by anxieties which produced very much the same results.

Returning to the contact situations previously tabulated, we find that dominant-superior groups tend to initiate perpetuative-rational nativism as soon as they achieve power and to adhere to them with varying intensity as long as they remain in power. Thus the various groups of nomad invaders who conquered China all attempted to maintain much of their distinctive culture and at the height of their power they issued repressive measures directed not only against the Chinese but also against those of their own group who had begun to adopt Chinese culture.3 It seems probable that revivalist-rational forms of nativism will not arise in a dominant-superior group, at least as regards elements of culture which were moribund at the time of their accession to power, although this form of nativism might develop with respect to culture elements which had fallen into neglect during the period of power. It seems possible also that, under conditions of extreme threat, some form of brief revivalist-magical nativism might arise in such a group, but information that might verify these conjectures is lacking.

The situation in which a dominant group acknowledges its cultural inferiority to the dominated is one which must arise very infrequently. However, examples of it are provided by such cases as that of the Goths at the time of their conquest of Italy. Such a group immediately finds itself caught on the horns of a dilemma. It can remove its feelings of inferiority only by undergoing cultural if not social assimilation with the conquered society, while such as-

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-similation is almost certain to cost it its dominant position. It seems probable that such a society might develop nativistic movements either when its desire for cultural assimilation with the conquered was frustrated or when it found its dominant position seriously threatened, but again information is lacking.

There is abundant information on nativistic movements among dominated groups and in discussing these we stand on firm ground. A dominated group which considers itself superior will normally develop patterns of rational nativism from the moment that it is brought under domination. These patterns may be either revivalist or perpetuative but are most likely to be a combination of both. One of the commonest rationalizations for loss of a dominant position is that it is due to a society’s failure to adhere closely enough to its distinctive culture patterns. Very often such nativism will acquire a semi-magical quality founded on the belief that if the group will only stand firm and maintain its individuality it will once again become dominant. Fully developed magical-revivalist nativism is also very likely to appear in groups of this sort since to the actual deprivations entailed by subjection there are added the frustrations involved by loss of dominance. These frustrations are somewhat mitigated in the cases where the dominant group recognizes the superiority of the dominated group’s culture. Such attitudes strengthen the rational nativistic tendencies of the dominated group and diminish the probabilities for magical-revivalist nativism of the more extreme type. Lastly, in cases where the dominant group concurs with the dominated in considering certain aspects of the latter’s culture superior but will not grant the superiority of the culture as a whole, this attitude will stimulate the dominated group to focus attention upon such aspects of its culture and endow them with added symbolic value.

A dominated group which considers itself inferior, a condition common among societies of low culture which have recently been brought under European domination, is extremely unlikely to develop any sort of rational nativism during the early period of its subjection. It may, however, develop nativism of the revivalist-magical type if it is subjected to sufficient hardships. The threshold of suffering at which such movements may develop will vary greatly from group to group and will be influenced not only by the degree of hardship but also by the society’s patterns of reliance upon the supernatural. A devout society will turn to nativism of this sort long before a skeptical one will. If the hardships arising from subjection are not extreme, the inferior group will usually show great eagerness to assume the culture of the dominant society, this eagerness being accompanied by a devaluation of everything pertaining to its own. Nativistic movements tend to arise only when the members of the subject society find that their assumption of the culture of the dominant group is being effectively opposed by it, or that it is not improving their social position. The movements which originate under these circumstances are prac-

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-tically always rational with a combination of revivalist and perpetuative elements. In this respect they resemble the nativistic movements which originate in inferior groups which are not subject to domination and there can be little doubt that the primary causes are the same in both cases. These movements are a response to frustration rather than hardship and would not arise if the higher group were willing to assimilate the lower one.

Rational nativistic movements can readily be converted into mechanisms for aggression. Since the dominated society has been frustrated in its earlier desires to become acculturated and to achieve social equality, it can frustrate the dominant society in turn by refusing to accept even those elements of culture which the dominant group is eager to share with it. Dominated societies which have acquired these attitudes and developed conscious techniques for preventing further acculturation present one of the most difficult problems for administrators. Passive resistance requires much less energy than any of the techniques needed to break it down, especially if the culture patterns of the dominant group preclude the use of forcible methods.

One final aspect of nativistic movements remains to be considered. The generalizations so far developed have been based upon the hypothesis that societies are homogeneous and react as wholes to contact situations. Very frequently this is not the case, especially in societies which have a well developed class organization. In such societies nativistic tendencies will be strongest in those classes or individuals who occupy a favored position and who feel this position threatened by culture change. This factor may produce a split in the society, the favored individuals or groups indulging in a rational nativism, either revivalistic or perpetuative, while those in less favored positions are eager for assimilation. This condition can be observed in many immigrant groups in America where individuals who enjoyed high status in the old European society attempt to perpetuate the patterns of that society while those who were of low status do their best to become Americanized.

In a rapidly shrinking world the study of nativistic movements, as of acculturation in general, has ceased to be a matter of purely academic interest. As contacts between societies become more frequent and more general, the need for an understanding of the potentialities of such contact situations becomes more urgent. The troubles which they usually involve can be traced, with few exceptions, to two factors: exploitation and frustration. The first of these is the easier to deal with and may well disappear with the spread of modern science and techniques to all parts of the world. The second is more difficult to deal with since its removal entails fundamental changes in attitudes of superiority and inferiority. Without these there would be no bar to the assimilation of societies in contact situations or to the final creation of a world society. However, this seems to be one of those millennial visions mentioned elsewhere in this report. Failing assimilation, the happiest situation which can arise out

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of the contact of two societies seems to be that in which each society is firmly convinced of its own superiority. Rational revivalistic or perpetuative nativistic movements are the best mechanism which has so far been developed for establishing these attitudes in groups whose members suffer from feelings of inferiority. It would appear, therefore, that they should be encouraged rather than discouraged.



Professor Linton has not only given us an illuminating analysis of the conditions under which nativistic movements among primitive peoples have been observed; his conceptualization of the problem offers a program for a much more systematic study and comparison of such movements than has been heretofore attempted. The social functions of these movements in particular need careful study. Perhaps today under the impact of Nazi-Fascist ideology, implemented by armed force, those of us living in the democracies can better appreciate the situation in which primitive peoples have found themselves when their fundamental cultural values have been threatened. Viewed in the broadest terms, the attempts on the part of any group to “revive or perpetuate the society’s distinctive culture” is not, after all, such a far cry from the reaction to the threat that menaces a large sector of western civilization today. In America we are finding fresh virtues in Democracy and there are more and more vigorous assertions of the values of our way of life being expressed in various ways. Potentially, this trend has some of the same elements and performs some of the same functions as the nativistic movements that Professor Linton has treated in his able paper.


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1. R. Redfield, R. Linton, M. J. Herskovits, “A Memorandum for the Study of Acculturation” (American Anthropologist 38, 1935), pp. 149-152.

2. “Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups.” Redfield, etc., op. cit.

3. Karl A. Wittfogel and C. S. Feng, History of Chinese Society, Liao, ms.

About ZA:

Maximilian C. Forte is a Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (2012) and Emergency as Security (New Imperialism) (2013).

See his publications here; read his bio here. He writes at the Zero Anthropology website, which is described on the  About page :

Anthropology after empire is one built in part by an anthropology that is against empire, and it need not continue, defensively, as a discipline laden with all of the orthodoxies from which it suffers today. Indeed, the position taken here is that there can be no real critical anthropology that is not simultaneously critical of (a) the institutionalization and professionalization of this field, and (b) imperialism itself.

Anthropology, as we approach it, is a non-disciplinary way of speaking about the human condition that looks critically at dominant discourses, with a keen emphasis on meanings and relationships, producing a non-state, non-market, non-archival knowledge.

Max’s interviews by various news media are listed here.

For select listings of his online essays, see:

See his page.

For more, please see the main site for the Zero Anthropology Project.

He can be reached at


From the Margins: False Security, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The October 2nd episode of From the Margins features interviews with authors and professors, Kent Roach and Jennifer Brant.

From the Margins spoke to Roach on his new book, False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-Terrorism, co-authored with Craig Forcese.

Brant spoke about the new book she co-edited with D. Memee Lavell-Harvard, Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.

False Security


Kent Roach is Professor of Law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He served on the research advisory committee for the inquiry into the rendition of Maher Arar, the Ipperwash Inquiry into the killing of Dudley George, and as volume lead for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report on the Legacy of Residential Schools. False Security won the Canadian Law and Society Association best book prize.

On 20 October 2014, a terrorist drove his car into two members of the Canadian Armed Forces, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Two days later, another terrorist murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo before storming Parliament. In the aftermath of these attacks, Parliament enacted Bill C-51 — the most radical national security law in generations. This new law ignored hard lessons on how Canada both over- and underreacted to terrorism in the past. It also ignored evidence and urgent recommendations about how to avoid these dangers in the future.

For much of 2015, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach have provided, as Maclean’s put it, the “intellectual core of what’s emerged as surprisingly vigorous push-back” to Bill C-51. In this book, they show that our terror laws now make a false promise of security even as they present a radical challenge to rights and liberties. They trace how our laws repeat past mistakes of institutionalized illegality while failing to address problems that weaken the accountability of security agencies and impair Canada’s ability to defend against terrorism.

Brant: Forever Loved

forever-loved-final-cover-smallJennifer Brant is currently employed at the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, as the Program Coordinator for the Gidayaamin Aboriginal Women’s Certificate Program. She is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Brock University, where she is researching barriers Aboriginal women face in mainstream education, and the vision for a holistic support model that honours the educational realities and familial responsibilities of Aboriginal women.

The hidden crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada is both a national tragedy and a national shame. In this ground-breaking new volume, as part of their larger efforts to draw attention to the shockingly high rates of violence against our sisters, Jennifer Brant and D. Memee Lavell-Harvard have pulled together a variety of voices from the academic realms to the grassroots and front-lines to speak on what has been identified by both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations as a grave violation of the basic human rights of Aboriginal women and girls. Linking colonial practices with genocide, through their exploration of the current statistics, root causes and structural components of the issue, including conversations on policing, media and education, the contributing authors illustrate the resilience, strength, courage, and spirit of Indigenous women and girls as they struggle to survive in a society shaped by racism and sexism, patriarchy and misogyny. This book was created to honour our missing sisters, their families, their lives and their stories, with the hope that it will offer lessons to non-Indigenous allies and supporters so that we can all work together towards a nation that supports and promotes the safety and well-being of all First Nation, Métis and Inuit women and girls.

LISTEN to From the Margins

About From the Margins


In more of an analytical / in-depth spirit, From the Margins covers issues of local, regional and international concern (present and historical), in that order. Over the years, I’ve covered issues revolving around workers, students, unemployed people, the arts and even sports. Buried in the heart of the From the Margins is an understanding that social problems are rooted in the socioeconomic system, capitalism, through which social relations are mediated. The show is about lived realities within this context and political challenges to these relations. That sense weaves in into many of the pieces, but can be subtle at times or can be completely in the background so perhaps no one can see it but me. The show features live and recorded interviews, recordings of presentations, the odd reading of something interesting, discussions and sometimes more creative approaches. There may be surprises.

H : I : S : T : O : R : Y

From the Margins originally started out as a radio show in the deep woods of Fredericton on the airwaves of CHSR 97.9 FM, the campus – community station amongst thickets of trees. It’s original concept was as an anti-poverty show that largely publicized and discussed the activities and ideas of the Advocacy Collective, an anti-poverty collective in Fredericton at the time. Eventually, the show’s issues became more generalized, discussing the struggles people faced at the expense of Capital. It weaved in and out of production in Fredericton, with the odd co-hosts here and there. Then, yours truly moved to Halifax and decided to re-start the show on CKDU 88.1 FM. And there it stayed for a few years…

But then we (me) started to realize how much we loved those old woods. And we were also unemployed and SOOL in Halifax. We sadly left CKDU, but were happy that it was safe and in capable hands. We trotted to Fredericton for another chapter of our existence. Trudging through the woods we found CHSR’s warm hearth and found an abundance of good things. Now, From the Margins is ready to embark on more of its critical news coverage, analysis and occasional creative approaches to addressing subjects. We remain venomous towards the dictates of capital. Ever our nemesis, we shall do our part against it: providing information and understanding of its lived reality, mechanics and ongoing resistance to its many facets. Well, we’ll try our best, “from each according to our ability … ” and all that jazz. We hope the journey will prove interesting.


Roland Chrisjohn – It’s Not Gonna Happen: The Indigenous Response to Capitalism in an Era of Unbridled Capitalism

An important intervention by Professor Roland Chrisjohn at St. Thomas University I found while browsing the STU Native Student Council archives. Chrisjohn has a long history of anti-colonial organizing dating back to the founding of the American Indian Movement (AIM). His academic works on the psychology of colonialism, a Marxist analysis of neo-colonialism in Canada, and a critique of “invented traditions” is also invaluable.

Full recording of the lecture


About Roland Chrisjohn

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Roland Chrisjohn is  is a member of the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida), a healer (“psychologist”), and the sole tenured professor at the Department of Native Studies at St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick where he focuses on a critical introduction to the history of colonization and its impact on the applied social sciences, particularly psychology and social work.

He is the author of The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada, which outlines the manner in which the Canadian state has intentionally misrepresented and obscured the history of residential schools. He frames the Residential School system in the wider context of settler-colonialism and the ongiong genocide of indigenous peoples.

Native Student Council

Dr. Roland Chrisjohn is a member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois). He gives his review of his lecture held during the 2011 STU Native Awareness Days in Fredericton, NB.

Press play to hear Roland’s lecture!

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