Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Until You Look

Published: April 9, 2011, Author: JayTaber

A lot has changed since 1996, when leading researchers, analysts and activists convened at the Daybreak Star Center in Seattle to discuss the politics of land and bigotry, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for tribal peoples to conduct ongoing investigative research on their opponents, adversaries and enemies. Monitoring the overt activities of official bodies that routinely oppose indigenous peoples’ sovereignty is still important, but looking deeper into the covert actions of unofficial networks bent on undermining the achievements and continuity of First Nations is a task that cannot be neglected if aboriginal peoples want to survive.

As tribal governments around the world seek to invoke jurisdictional authority to protect their territories, cultures and resources, a working knowledge of investigative research and communications in conflict are skills that can and must be learned and institutionalized within tribal educational programs. Mastering these skills — through formal studies, mentoring relationships, and the exercise of political influence through applied research — is a challenge that can be met. As tribal governance develops alongside tribal media and education, tribal research capacity must include these components in order for tribal leaders to make coherent strategic decisions based on situational estimates founded on facts. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Lacking the capability to enforce their borders, invoking tribal jurisdictional authority can be a dangerous political exercise. Some of the risk, however, can be reduced through strategic opposition research. By funding investigative research training and opposition monitoring, tribal authorities and institutions will be carrying on the ancient tradition of indigenous protector societies that maintain barriers against unhealthy influences on their people, including poisonous ideas.

The researchers, analysts and activists who gathered at the Politics of Land and Bigotry conference fifteen years ago, were effective in countering the anti-Indian/anti-environmentalist movement in the United States, because for a brief period of time they had the minimum resources necessary to conduct their work. With the collapse of those resources in the late 1990s, the void has allowed anti-indigenous organizing to continue largely unopposed. If the world indigenous peoples movement wants to succeed, this breach in its defenses must be repaired. As First Nations develop research and analysis capacity in a manner similar to intelligence and security capabilities conducted during military warfare, they will be able to look around and strategically target new problem areas, rather than have to scramble to react to events they never saw coming.

When Jack Minnis organized research infrastructure to support the heroic efforts of black liberation during Mississippi Freedom Summer in the 1960s, mainstream black institutions were reluctant to finance background work that didn’t garner headlines. What they later came to appreciate, was that those who were putting their lives on the line in the struggle depended on Minnis and his teams of trainees. Those trainees went on to mentor others, some of whom were represented in the 1996 CWIS conference. Whether or not they can pass on their skills and knowledge to indigenous activists and scholars today is up to tribal organizations. As renowned researcher Dan Junas once remarked, “It’s always worse than you think, and you never know until you look.”

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

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