In Danielle Smith’s fantasy Alberta, Indigenous struggle is twisted to suit settlers | Spare News

In Danielle Smith’s fantasy Alberta, Indigenous struggle is twisted to suit settlers | Spare News

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and not-for-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original website.


Author: Daniel Heath Justice, Citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Professor of Critical Indigenous Studies and English, University of British Columbia

What do an infamous Ku Klux Klan writer, right-wing libertarianism, the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the American Confederacy’s “lost cause” have to do with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s recent controversial statements on indigenous issues?

More than we can imagine.

Smith was recently forced to back down on comments linking the Indian Act’s ugly history to Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta.

Just a month earlier, her office had to publicly address her solidly disproved claims of distant Cherokee heritage. She also compared the deadly ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Alberta’s anti-Ottawa conflict as if they held similar moral significance.

These incidents are more than galling examples of studied ignorance or false equivalency. Smith’s understanding of indigenous affairs is detached from actual history. It appears not to be rooted in genuine alliance and justice, but in appropriating Indigenous experiences to advance white grievance politics in Alberta and beyond.

Justify false fantasies

White far-rights have long tried to hijack the struggles for indigenous rights to justify their own fantasies of being oppressed by overpowering globalist governments and driven out by people of color.

These attempts fit seamlessly into the more popular frontier mythology about the “conquest” of North America, the “savages” vanishing in the sunset, and the heroic white settlers, voyageurs, and pioneers who wrested modern Canada from its pristine wilderness.

In this self-justifying settler fantasy, indigenous peoples become historical symbols of a false past of inevitable disappearance, not the vibrant cultural and political First Nations that are still here today. When reduced entirely to the symbolic – and thus disconnected from actual indigenous life and reality – these stereotypes can be used for dangerous ideological purposes.

Rewrite Cherokee history

To illustrate, look at a best-selling book, The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter.

First published in 1976, the book was originally presented as a charming autobiographical reflection on a mixed-race orphan raised by his wise Cherokee grandparents in the mountains of Tennessee in the 1920s.

But Little Tree, his grandparents, and family friend Willow John appear to be the only Native Americans in the entire Southeastern United States. There is no mention of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina or other nations in the east, and the Cherokees forced west on the Trail of Tears are referred to only as a pathetic remnant of a nobler past.

The main antagonists in the book are not the native whites and their descendants who benefited most from the policies of Indian resettlement, but the distant but intrusive “Guv’mint” and their hated northern politicians.

Carter misrepresents the story to emphasize the violent incursion of the government and the arrogant townspeople whose economic and social interests she represents. He repeatedly portrays white Confederates and their descendants as being just as sympathetically and unfairly oppressed as Little Tree’s Cherokee family and ancestors.

In Little Tree, both white Confederates and Cherokees try to protect their shared mountain home from invaders, government agents and cynical politicians. The anger of white Confederate sympathizers and the fear of dispossessed Cherokees become one, and their identities are completely unified by a single common enemy: guv’mint.

In doing so, Carter ignores the fact that the Cherokee nation itself was violently divided by the Civil War and that many Cherokee Indians supported union or neutrality over an alliance with the Confederacy.

It also erases the uncomfortable reality that it was southern white citizens, not the federal government, who most enthusiastically supported and benefited most from the Indian Removal Act as Cherokees and other Indigenous nations were driven from the region.

Sneaky rhetoric

As you might expect, Forrest Carter was neither Little Tree nor Cherokee. His real name was Asa Earl Carter, a violent segregationist, white supremacist, and Ku Klux Klan leader who wrote the infamous 1963 speech “Segregation now, segregation forever” for Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

In the 1970s, he recast himself as “Forrest,” a genius half-Cherokee novelist with a big mustache and folksy Southern charm. Although he was more subtly libertarian in his fiction, his commitment to anti-blackness and pro-confederation propaganda never wavered.

There’s nothing remotely Cherokee in the novel, but Carter was a master storyteller who exploited ingrained white stereotypes. Although its true identity became widely known in 1991, The Education of Little Tree remains in print to this day.

It’s not much of a leap of imagination to see Carter and Smith draw on similar ideas that, for all their differences, take them in similar directions.

Smith, too, has cited the mythical Cherokee heritage as a reason for her distrust of the government. She, too, has misrepresented Cherokee history to conflate the trail of tears and their thousands of deaths with Alberta’s outrage against an increasingly intrusive federal government. She, too, has attempted to link the horrors of Native American genocide to legitimate grievance narratives long associated with far-right white nationalism.

That doesn’t mean Smith has read Carter’s book, knows his story, or supports the Confederacy or white nationalism. She may be genuinely invested in her unsubstantiated family history and her belief that Alberta and Indigenous nations share the same struggles and unique oppressor in Ottawa.

The appropriation of indigenous struggles has a long history in libertarian circles on both the left and the right.

The rhetoric that influenced Carter’s work and fueled white resentment in the United States and Canada is an unmistakable undercurrent in Smith’s own political vision. Regardless of the stated intent, you distort and arm Cherokee history to ugly ends.

Smith’s claims to the inheritance are at the heart of this problem. She has repeatedly invoked her supposed Cherokee ancestry and the trail of tears to link Native oppression to her Alberta libertarianism.

She draws on this shady connection to assert insight and common struggle while advancing a provincial sovereignty law that is on a direct collision course with First Nations treaty rights.

Dangerous by design

The separation is inevitable. And, as this year’s so-called Freedom Convoy protests have shown, language surrounding indigenous rights is increasingly being appropriated by the same people who are quick to condemn Indigenous land and water protectors.

It’s also happening elsewhere in Canada. Some of Canada’s more controversial “Eastern Métis” groups were founded by outspokenly anti-Indigenous whites who are now making false claims to Indigenous heritage in order to gain access to the treaty rights they have long railed against.

In Carter’s fantasy Appalachia—like in Smith’s fantasy Alberta—centuries of Native American just struggle are twisted into self-serving settler stereotypes that ignore the actual history, kinship, and basic reality of the Native people.

Reactionary white populism is inherently hostile to Indigenous rights because ultimately it is about settlers’ unilateral control of land and resources. But that goes unspoken in these circles. To speak of this would mean finally dispelling the false but comfortable illusion of a common struggle.

Whether intentional or not, Smith’s rhetoric is fundamentally anti-Indigenous. It distorts Aboriginal stories and themes for dangerous purposes, and Canadians would do well to heed that.


Daniel Heath Justice was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original website. Read the original article:

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