“White washed”, “apple”, “pretendian”: all these terms hold a specific space in Native life, they exist to delineate and fraction “real Indians” from “fake Indians”. This real vs. fake binary has been exemplified and reiterated through recent and past anti-oil environmental and Indigenous activism.
Activism can sometimes exist in a vacuum: passionate people make passionate statements that on occasion, are blind to important and critical critiques and lived realities. With the recent anti-Enbridge activism that is occurring, there has been heavy critique of Indigenous nations that allow for the extraction of natural resources from their land: “they’re nothing but white washed pretendians”, say activists, “they’re playing the colonizers game.”
Yes, they are, but when you have faced 500 years of brutal and violent colonization, sometimes communities have to play the “colonizers game” in order to survive.
I am from Northern British Columbia, from a small town called Dawson Creek. With a population of around 13, 000 we are a tiny community. Our economy is now supported by the oil and gas industry, not only does it employ either directly or indirectly many if not most inhabitants of Dawson, it also funnels money into the community for events and sports centres. The North is like this, oil and gas industry is the support that many Northern communities have been forced to rely on because people need food, people need clothes, people straight up need money to survive in this world. This is a reality that cannot be ignored. Now, my town is not an Indigenous community, but it can serve as an example of how the oil industry strategically buys its way into the economy of small communities. This is a reality that ignored, this is a reality that is lost in activist groups.
You see, there are certain lived realities that get pushed to the side, especially in urban mobilizations of environmental and Indigenous activisms; rural realities become ignored aspects of a much larger collective issue. Are you going to tell a single Indigenous mother that she shouldn’t accept a $800 cheque for access to her land, because she’s “playing the colonizers game?” when she has to put food on the table for her family? Or would you tell my mother that she should find jobs off rigs, because as a Native woman, she’s supporting the downfall of her people? When she has earned the education and training for a viable career? Or are you going to call them “white washed apples”: people who have lived realities that do not fit into activist manifesto? Or what about Indigenous communities who allow for drilling on their lands because promised employment opportunities for their people? In a perfect world, these questions wouldn’t exist; but we don’t live in a perfect world and Indigenous peoples whose lives depend on the oil and gas industry face these tough questions. This situation leads to infighting amongst Indigenous peoples, and this infighting is dangerous.
I am not pro-oil, I am not pro-destruction of lands, our lands, in order for a Settler government to flourish while Indigenous peoples sovereignty is stripped away in order for international trade, but I am a product of a Northern reality that relies on this economy. Instead of creating factions within ourselves and call one Indigenous community “white washed” while we call another “real, truth, Indigenous peoples” because they fit popular environmental activist rhetoric, why do we not turn the attention to the oil companies that impose and create these situations for Indigenous communities? Why must rural Indigenous realities be ignored? Especially because the realities of Indigenous peoples are shaped by the colonial country we live in: there are so many layers of power and oppression that questions and issues are never simple, there is never and will never be an ‘easy answer’.
Encouraging and nurturing fractions within Indigenous mobilization by creating these simplistic dichotomies of “real vs. colonized” not only serve as a means for the crumbling of Indigenous resurgence, but it also “plays the colonizers game”. We do their job for them; we separate, alienate and fight amongst ourselves to ensure our own downfalls, when in reality, we should shift our focus from fighting amongst each other to understanding and accepting different lived realities, even if they force us to ask and acknowledge tough and uncomfortable realities that challenge even the best intentions.
I do not have all the answers, I wish I did. I feel as though I could live for a thousand years and never receive a complete answer to all the problems I face as an Indigenous person, but also the problems our communities face as Indigenous nations. We exist between a rock and a hard place, and unfortunately, our government would like drill that place for oil.