I am personally ambivalent regarding Mr. Bundy’s specific claims to grazing lands and cattle grazing in Nevada. I feel certain there are environmental issues with cattle grazing practices in an arid region. As an Alaska Native and American Indian (descended from two distinct tribes) I would also be very sympathetic to any current indigenous claims to the land in question; but I am not aware of any.
I have seen two different reactions to the situation through social media from fellow Natives. The first has been unabashed support for anyone fighting the Feds. We have our own history of armed standoffs with government forces. Consequently, our organizations have been the target of intense repression by COINTELPRO and law enforcement. Additionally, a number of incidents, from entrapment of indigenous trappers to raids on hemp farms in sovereign territory have put the native population at odds with the Feds; nevermind the centuries of conflict between the United States and Native tribes.
The second sort of reaction I have seen is one of distaste for Mr. Bundy, calling his claim to the land as illegitimate and hypocritical; that it is federal property and the government is in the right for evicting him (as if it is legitimately the federal government’s in the first place? By right of conquest?) Again, I have no opinion on his claim, but there’s an interesting quote from Russel Means that I think applies here: “’Indian policy’ has now been brought down upon the American people, and the American people are the new Indians of the 21st Century.” Ranchers and farmers, once encouraged to settle Indian lands and offered protection by the government, have largely outlived their usefulness to the American ruling class. I won’t go so far as to say that this is anywhere near the level of oppression and out right genocide (in some cases) carried out by the US against Native people’s, but I’d like to say one thing to the American people in the spirit of Russel Means’ quote: welcome to the club.
I find it ironic that some Natives would support the federal government’s claim to the land over Bundy’s claim that the State of Nevada, Clark County or his family owns the land. Again, I am fairly ambivalent on the details of this point. Which settler institution gets the land by right of conquest? I don’t know, nor do I care. What I find relevant to Native struggles for sovereignty is the willingness of citizen militias to come to the defense of their people, who they perceived as being mistreated by Bureau of Land Management Agents. And it worked.
We’ve seen a number of tense stand-offs in Indian Country from the US and Canada. The stand off and eventual break up of Elsipogtog First Nations shale gas blockade in New Brunswick, Canada by Royal Canadian Mounted Police is probably the most significant example in recent memory. During this operation we saw attack dogs, fully automatic weapons, and riot police descend on a mostly peaceful protest. We see what happens to our people if we have no warriors willing and able to respond to government violence and intimidation. What we need is the capability for armed response, not unlike that of the citizen militias to the BLM’s actions in Nevada.
What would it take? For one, it would require a community supported, community backed, all volunteer warrior society. Preferably this would be in line with our traditional means of organizing self defense. Such a defense force would have to have legitimacy from the people, otherwise it is little more than a street gang. Additionally, I think it would be most appropriate in the context of a wider cultural awakening. The indigenous self defense groups in Mexico are an excellent example. I could imagine that a network of such groups, in alliance with one another, would be able to respond quickly to mistreatment of our people. Of course, we do have and indeed have had such organizations, and the government has responded with severe repression. For that reason I’d recommend remaining as underground as possible. In many tribes there may not have been an official organization. Rather, being a warrior was just a way of life, something you trained for with your brothers, cousins and fellow tribesmen. Secondly we would need allies. Other groups of people with a mind toward sovereignty, autonomy and self determination would be ideal; preferably other oppressed peoples, but in troubled times considerations around good, old fashioned realpolitik would have to be made. While I’m certainly not going to rush off to Mr. Bundy’s aid anytime soon (and I doubt the militias coming to his aid would come to ours,) I certainly won’t be getting in the way of their warriors; and really I can’t help but be glad that they and I have the same enemies.