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Selected excerpts from the final chapter of the book “Prison of Grass” (originally published in 1975 and revised in 1989) by Howard Adams (Métis)

Indians and Métis are generally inactive in elections and voting, because when they attempted to negotiate with the federal government before 1885 they were answered with gunfire. A conquered people learns to shun the politics of the conqueror. Through the years, parliamentary government has done very little to improve our social and economic conditions. Under both Liberals and Conservatives we have lived in poverty, without decent jobs or political rights. The New Democratic Party is very much like the other two bourgeois parties, except that it brings about small reforms in health, welfare, car insurance, etc.; it is equally a part of the capitalist system and therefore unable to bring about any real and basic changes in society. All governments regardless of their political affiliations have discriminated against Native people and denied them their rights as full citizens.

Parliament is an instrument of the ruling class and its main purpose is to support and protect the ruling class. For example, in the years 1967-75, the federal government gave “a total of $10 billion to the corporations, most of them large and wealthy” in the form of grants, subsidies, and income-tax concessions. Real changes and improvements for Native people cannot be obtained through Parliament. It is misleading to think that a capitalist government will ever bring any real freedom and equality to Natives; the ballot box is a fraud that tricks us into believing that the next election can relieve us of our oppression. This kind of thinking prevents the development of radical ideas and action and it is destructive to urge Indians and Métis to participate in “parliamentary democracy.”…

…As Indians and Métis, we must reject parliamentary elections as useless in the struggle for Native equality and autonomy. Party politics mocks us and exploits us on election days. To overcome this, we must work outside the so-called “established and usual channels” of Parliament. We can make greater progress using civil-rights methods such as picketing, demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, as well as confrontations and guerrilla activities.

A liberation movement must always deal with the question of reform politics. When Indians and Métis pressure the government through civil-rights action, the government will sometimes make slight reforms. However, we must be cautious about such token reforms because the government changes as little as possible – just enough to quiet the people. Regardless of how great the reforms seem to be, they will still serve to perpetuate the capitalist system and in some cases they may even improve the efficiency of the system that suppresses us…

…Among the Métis and Indians, nationalism has helped to create a certain unity and political consciousness. However, if it does not develop into a realistic attack on imperialism, it can only become a false consciousness, a breeding round for cultism, adventurism, and opportunism. We must not let the middle-class Native elites mislead us into believing that our people can achieve freedom and justice through assimilation, integration, a good education, small business ownership, etc. We must expose these reactionary leaders as collaborators of the imperialist rulers. They depend on the government for their privileges, not on the masses in the Native world. A class of red bourgeoisie provides an important means to continue colonialism and oppression. As long as governments continue to use Indian and Métis elites, it will be difficult for us to obtain our liberation from this kind of neo-colonialist rule over our people. Because these leaders pretend to be radical and militant, the result of their leadership is that the masses are kept in a state of agitation and expectation. This projects the erroneous idea that the Native people are about to rebel, and for the last few years these middle-class Indian and Métis leaders have made demands on the government, threatening them with the possibility of Native violence if their demands for financial grants are not met. The result has been increasing opportunism and corruption in the Native organizations: the restlessness of Native people has been exploited to advance the personal ambitions of opportunistic elites and the development of a neo-colonialist rule…

…The Indian and Métis movement must focus primarily on the destruction of imperialism and on the process of decolonization. There is no longer any question of whether the Native struggle should pursue a capitalist or socialist path of development. Liberation can take place only within a true socialist society. However, we must not let ourselves be turned against socialism by weak or oppressive examples of it in other countries. We need the socialism that leads to the liberation of oppressed racial groups and a democratic society for all people. It is certain that the New Democratic Party does not stand for true socialism. We know also that the Labour Party in England has a pseudo-capitalist ideology, and that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is an imperialist nation that oppresses minority groups. Only when the Native people have been politically awakened to a new socialist society will the struggle expand to a full revolutionary movement. The support of the masses is an absolute necessity before a complete transformation of society can be made.

Support from the people will come as soon as they can see the possibility of improvement in their conditions and have developed a desire to change the system. When this point has been reached, the people will have a clear understanding of the aims and purposes of the struggle. One of the greatest tasks is to organize around local grievances in order to improve the people’s circumstances and educate them politically at the same time. The basis of such organizations should be the local Native communities, reserves, or urban ghettos. In each of these a committee or council should be established by the residents. These local councils must make it possible for the greatest number of people to unite and take an active part; they will come into existence only when the local people themselves decide on such action. There is nothing complex or mysterious about a local council; it is a very simple and flexible organization of people in a large committee. There is no official executive: the people select a person to take the chair for a limited period of time, as required. This person acts as spokesman for the group and is responsible for the details of administration. All major decisions are made by the whole group or by committees established for specific functions. Every effort must be made to prevent power from being invested in one person and, similarly, the group must not become dependent on one or several individuals to make the decisions and do all the work. The position of secretary should also be rotated. Although the council is flexible, totally cooperative, and democratic, it is not disorganized or chaotic. Discipline is exercised by the individual, according to his or her commitment and loyalty. By their involvement, the masses of people will become politicized, and the first step towards liberation comes through this type of local organization and action.

All struggles must be about specific local issues that people feel are significant to them. Each struggle must relate to the people’s daily existence. It Is up to the local people to say how and where they are to struggle and what kind of confrontation they will employ. Since the movement must be kept flexible so that local communities are able to take action immediately and independently, no head office or central leadership can be allowed to direct the movement. Each community must follow its own distinct pattern. Central leadership only preserves and stabilizes the present capitalist system. Likewise, local councils should guard against the formation of any kind of hierarchy or bureaucracy or any distinction by age, sex, or education. A continuous exchange of ideas and information must take place among all local people as equal members in the struggle. We have to learn for ourselves through experience, rather than being dependent on the teaching and information of so-called specialists and experts.

The revolution has to be brought about by the masses through the unique struggles that embody their politics and culture. It is from locally based struggles that true revolutionary theory evolves, a revolutionary theory functional for those people who must liberate themselves. Similarly, the local people will create new kinds of social institutions so that they can relate to one another in a human and dignified way. By starting with local struggles in which the chances of winning a small measure of power are good, the people will develop a sense of hope and determination. Later, they will widen the struggle and challenge the larger structures of society. As the movement advances they will develop increased enthusiasm and allegiance to their struggle against oppression. People soon learn that political maturity comes from direct and immediate acts of liberation.

These local communities must always be free to engage in spontaneous revolutionary activities at any time. They know better than any central authority the right time and the right place to rupture the system. The development of confrontations must be the sole decision of the local people, based on their own experiences and priorities. Such decentralization allows the masses to organize their own tactics and to engage their people in serious political struggles that will advance consciousness, skills, leadership, decolonization, and liberation. Self-determination for each community means working at the level where the community and the people actually exist so that the masses become involved in decision-making…

…Indians and Métis know that the present institutions have failed them, and that they have a right to take control of these institutions and change them. The greater the number of institutions that are liberated from white bourgeois control and turned into liberated zones, the greater will be the base for expanded control. Once we gain control of such institutions, we will resist giving them up. At this time the local councils will form a base of Native power and will serve as the Native people’s local government. The larger and more united the local councils are throughout Canada, the more powerful the Native movement will be. The time is long overdue for Indians to take over their reserves but, instead of liberating themselves from the Indian Affairs Branch departments, they are becoming managers of social service and community programs that remain under white colonial control within the capitalist system. The successful development of the Native movement, particularly in the advanced stage, will depend upon the development of the revolutionary struggles of other groups in Canada. However, in this present early stage of the movement, the Native people are able to fight as an independent group because they are not seriously threatening the ruling forces.

To link the local communities together, a provincial coordination committee could be created from among the representatives of the local councils. However, this coordinating committee would not be given any authority over local organizations. Its primary function would be to channel information to local communities and to develop political analyses that would contribute to the understanding of the Indian/Métis liberation. It could synthesize the activities of the various local councils and broadcast them at a provincial or national level, but the coordinating committee would have no authority over the direction of the movement or over any local council. There is no room for an elite leadership.

In the struggle for liberation, the Native people are asked to put their confidence in the good intentions of the colonizers. While it is true that certain decolonization is taking place, it is false to pretend that it is the result of the changing nature of man and of the state. The optimism that prevails today for liberation is not based on the fact that capitalism is becoming more humane or that colonialism is becoming more just. It is simply that the advanced liberal corporate state is able to co-opt Native nationalism and revolutionary consciousness. Even our own revolutionary rhetoric has become an integral part of advanced capitalism…

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Other articles by Howard Adams on this site:

Thoughts on the Constitution and Aboriginal Self-Government – Howard Adams (1992)

No Surrender – Howard Adams on the Oka Crisis (1990)

The Need for a Revolutionary Struggle – Howard Adams (1972)

Articles that refer to Howard Adams on this site:

Canadian Imperialism and Institutional Racism: Connections between Black & Métis resistance

Maria Campbell’s speech to the Native Peoples Caravan in Toronto (1974)

Land Back: The matrilineal descent of modern Indigenous land reclamation

 

 

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