Excerpt from "Warrior Societies in Contemporary Indigenous Communities" by Taiaiake Alfred
Membership in a warrior society is fluid and situational. The size of the membership varies with the degree of interest the core group or an issue can arouse. Some warrior societies consist of only one or two core members, with its ranks swelling in response to
an external threat or crisis, such as that experienced at Esgenoopetitj in 1999-2000, only
to contract once the crisis is over. The core membership of the warrior society usually
consists of a handful of young men at a local level. These warriors are often distanced from the colonial power structures within and outside of their community.
b. Strategies and Tactics
The strategy and tactics employed by warrior societies are generally community and/or
land based. That is, they are bound to the territory and community from which they originate and which they exist to protect. Only in times of intense crisis will a warrior
society conduct its actions outside of its territory (the various warrior societies’ presence
at Esgenoopetitj for example). Once outside of their territory, members will defer to the
warrior society or community in which they are working. A warrior society’s primary
concern remains its own territory and any outside involvement is contingent upon peace
in its own territory.
The overall strategy of a warrior society is to act as a security force at the blockade or frontline and use any means necessary to protect the lands and people. A warrior society will take an offensive or a defensive position, as the situation warrants. For example, a warrior society might take offensive action to repossess and re-assert jurisdiction over their territory, or it may erect a barricade to defend the territory from invasion. Both strategies are carried out with the intention of protecting the land and its people from external threats.
The tactics usually employed by a warrior society include: 1) barricades and roadblocks to prevent non-indigenous people from entering their territories 2) evictions or removal of unwanted people living within their territories 3) occupations to repossess territory and/or prevent others from use or access 4) physical engagement to protect indigenous people from state repression or other physical threats.
Insight into the strategic vision of contemporary warrior societies can be gained through the following conversation with Sakej Ward, the head of the East Coast Warrior Society.
TA: How are you preparing yourself for confrontation?
S: We are rebuilding and re-empowering warrior societies. We know what the threat is, and based on that knowledge, it’s clear that we have to redevelop warrior societies--build them, recruit, train, organize--so that they can be capable of conducting physical resistance against the colonizing state. That’s the process we’re in now.
TA: The kind of “empowerment” you’re talking about is, well… illegal. Does this cause you difficulties in your life?
S: Sure it does. Almost everything we do is on the run. What happens is that our activities become like shadow activity--almost like a guerrilla movement. The Canadian state sees us as a threat and rightly so: we contest their sovereignty and dominion. Think about it: Is organized crime really a threat to national security? It’s a threat to the social environment, for sure, but not national security. Whereas we have far less resources than the Hell’s Angels, for example, but we’re even more of a threat. It’s not our resources that make us powerful--we don’t have any--it’s the cause that we’re fighting for. We’re talking about immorality and injustices at the very foundation of the Canadian state’s legitimacy, and we can bring these truths out in the open. That’s more threatening to the Canadian government than the Hell’s Angels ever will be.
TA: When you use the word “fighting,” what exactly do you mean?
S: An actual physical fight. At Burnt Church, we were in the middle of a firefight with non-native fishermen. They came into our area with the intent of cutting our traps. There were 55 of their large 50-foot boats, and we responded with seven dories--little home-made wooden boats. They immediately shot at us when we got within 100 meters of their flotilla. There were eight shots taken at the boat I was on, and the other boats were being shot at also. So we said to ourselves, “Our people are in danger here, we’re being shot at, and this is going to change.” So there was returned fire, and about an hour of fire exchanged back and forth--the RCMP emergency response team just sat around and watched the whole thing. Before the night was over, one of their boats had chased one of our little boats, and their boat grounded on shore. The occupants were removed from that boat, and, somehow, it ended up in flames. That type of consequence was exactly what was needed at that time.
TA: So it seems obvious from that example that there’s a direct connection between taking action and the preservation of your rights, something that’s just not there in conventional forms of protest?
S: You know, there was a plea from some of our people that we should just pursue the politics of pity and try to get Canadian society to somehow identify with our issues so much so that they would put a stop to their government’s actions against us. Obviously, it didn’t work. In fact, the reason we made such a huge stand against the non-native fishermen was because on every Sunday, right after Mass, they’d come in to try to destroy our traps. There would be no consequence for them. The idea of appealing to their morality just did not work. We tried civil disobedience and protest and arguing with them, but that didn’t work. They did not stop until the day there was a consequence imposed on their actions, the day we shot back, and the day their boat ended up in flames. From that day on, there were never any non-native boats trying to come in and cut our traps again.
TA: Do you see any limitations that may constrain your strategy? I’m thinking that it’s one thing to take on some fishermen, and a whole other game to confront the force of the Canadian military.
S: Yeah, it’s easy to take on a small, untrained, and not very well equipped force. And it’s easy to create fear amongst them too. Taking on police forces and the Canadian military is a much harder task.
TA: Are you addressing this problem?
S: Obviously we’re not going to have 60,000 warriors ready to go any time soon. I’m recruiting, but I just don’t see it happening in the near future! So, we’re looking at quality, and we’re looking at training our guys to be better than the average Canadian soldier coming out of boot camp. We can never let ourselves become psychologically defeated, no matter how small our numbers are. It’s all a question of strategy and the best way to fight.
TA: So, it’s your belief that indigenous people can train and equip a fighting force to physically confront the state as a means of advancing our cause, which is forcing the colonials to recognize our nationhood and to respect our rights?
S: Yes it is. And to dispel the fear-mongering and the delusion that we can’t take on the military, all you have to do is conduct a simple analysis of the Canadian Forces as an actual fighting force. Right now, there are 57,000 soldiers in the Canadian military, of which there are 24,000 in the army, and only 4,500 of those are infantry soldiers. At any one time, many of those infantry soldiers, roughly one-third, are deployed overseas. Another one-third is always on the rest-refit-recovery cycle. That leaves only 1,500 soldiers, a brigade size element…
TA: That’s what the Canadians used against the Mohawk Nation in 1990.
S: That’s right. Now, think about it, if we had multiple “Okas” happening simultaneously, how are they going to handle that? That would be military overstretch. They couldn’t handle it.
TA: What’s your sense of the potential for building an effective resistance movement that draws in large enough numbers of people not only to stand up to, but in the longer term take advantage of liberated spaces to transform our relationship to society as a whole, socially, politically, and culturally?
S: I definitely see some potential in this new generation. They’ve seen that all the cooperative avenues have been tried and that’s it’s led us nowhere. They’re all starting to realize that we have a connection to each other and that we have obligations to each other and to our ancestors. You see among them an unconscious rejection of the colonial reality. I have a lot of faith in the youth. The question is how do we direct and shape all of that to create the force we need to stand as a deterrent to the colonial enterprise. I don’t see us having a strong enough military power to conquer Canada, but I do see us having the strength to create a condition of deterrence where colonial domination becomes very difficult for Canada to continue. This will create the physical and political space for us to pursue our own definition of our rights and our ways of life.
TA: So what is it going to take to organize the youth into this kind of movement?
S: It’s just a matter of time. It’s happening as we speak. We’re going through a process right now of growing political awareness, of social and political organization, of making people realize that they have obligations and duties as warriors. Our ancestors are just waiting to see us retake these roles and revitalize these obligations. The youth understand that completely. They want to take their place of honour beside their ancestors.