“My name is Aragorn! and I was born in Michigan. My parents were hippies who named me after the Lord of the Rings character. I have added the exclamation point (or bang in hacker parlance) as a distinction and an homage to several aspects of my life (punk & technology). I was raised primarily by my angry/ sad Odawa (Anishinaabe) mother who at some point snapped and chased me out of the house. I then walked through the snow and ended up in the white world I live in now. Since then, I moved to California, fought Nazis, read books, counter-cultured, got shit jobs, and have been around anarchism ever since.” (p. 96-97).
Aragorn! passed away on February 13th, 2020, a few months before turning 50. In Berkeley, California, where I met him, he founded Little Black Cart (LBC) and Ardent Press with two partners, Leona and Ariel, who are now responsible for taking the projects forward. He became an important source of anarchist production and distribution in the US. As founder, organizer, supporter, other, or all of the above, he was involved in the website anarchistnews.org, the podcasts Anarchy Bang and The Brilliant, Repartee Press, the BASTARD conference, the anarchist study group at the Long Haul, and many other projects.
The Fight for Turtle Island was one of his last publications. It was an attempt to find common ground between native and anarchist practices, both being parts of his own life experience. The book, according to Aragorn!, is a conversation between people who live in liminality, between a white world that they fight, and a different experience toward the land that they want to reinforce. All the interviews took place two years before the book was published. During this time, many things changed, including losing contact with some people. Nonetheless, the book is still relevant and fresh, telling stories that did not get lost, and opening spaces for new conversations.
Besides organizing/editing the book, Aragorn! talks to the people included: Alex (Tohono O’odham), Anpao Duta Collective (a Sioux Dakota couple), Corinna (Chochenyo, and Karkin Ohlone), Dan (Haudenosaunee Mohawk), Danielle (Anishinaabe), Dominique (Anishinaabe), Gord (Kwakwaka’wakw), Jason/Jaden, Kevy (Tohona O’odham), Klee (Diné), Loretta (Anishinaabe Odawa), Lyn (Anishinaabe), Ron (Anishinaabe Odawa). With the exception of Loretta and Ron Yob, who were his relatives, all the interviewed were people he met through the anarchist scene.
The book was organized into categories: The People; Anarchism; What Exactly Are We Fighting: Race; Indigeneity and Decolonization; The Fight for Turtle Island, and the conclusion. Although it was not what he initially planned, this organization promotes an open-end conversation. This is not a recipe or a how-to book. As Aragorn! addresses, “There was plenty of, this is how it works for me, and very little, this is how it should work for everyone.” (p. 10).
The book is against ONE (in the sense Pierre Clastres suggests). In the first section, The People, theres is no attempt to define one pan-indigenous identity. If, on the one hand, it recognizes the possibility of a conversation between different practices from different people, on the other hand, it also recognizes that those are distinct, and that a hegemonic way is not wanted nor possible. If anything, those differences can only strengthen the fight for Turtle Island. Aragorn! addresses briefly the use of terms such as indian, indigenous, native, native-american, etc., emphasizing that these terms accommodate a uniformity that does not exist. He chooses to use the term Indian, partly for the irony it carries about the colonizers’ mistake. Each of the interviewed refers to themselves with the name of their particular people. In this review, I chose to use the term indigenous in synch with Aragorn’s explanation: “When I refer to indigenous in most of my conversations I am talking about ideas of how to live as a native in this world.” (p. 14)
Turtle Island, as the introduction explains, is more or less both a place later named North America, and no place, a place that does not exist today, since it refers to life prior to the imposition of Manifest Destiny. “I believe that Turtle Island is so much more powerful than the violence being done to it, that I believe it will continue on after Manifest Destiny finishes manifesting and fades from human history.” (p. 7-8).
Turtle Island, therefore, is connected to a relationship to the space where one lives. Starting from this spatial relationship, and rejecting the use of convenient new technologies, each interview was conducted during a motorcycle trip through this territory; from the border imposed between Mexico and the United States to Canadian territory.
The stories, some of them passed down through the generations, show the arbitrariness of borders, imposed by official languages and the institutionalization of different peoples, confined in each territory, in the name of their recognition by the State.
Kevy – a Tohono O’odham, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona – talking about the movement of his people, claims that, “Tenategum [the mystery, for the Tohono O’odham] gives us, not freedom, but the inherent right to move freely across the land (…)”(p. 61). In addition, “On tribal lands there are traditional routes, dirt roads that lead into northern Sonora [in Mexican territory] and that go into other villages in Sonora. (…). [But today] There is border patrol presence, and not just the border patrol but also the federales, the police, and also unknown militia groups as well as the cartel.”(p. 61).
From Canadian territory, Danielle, Anishinaabe, highlights the western effects on the relations of the peoples who survived centuries of massacre in the territory: “here in Hamilton, a lot of the Haudenosaunee people will say ‘it’s Haudenosaunee land.’ And a lot of the Anishinaabe people will say ‘it’s Anishinaabe land.’ Meanwhile, we’re all still distinguishing territory by Canadian standards.”(p. 34-35). She also highlights the continuity of the massacre of the people by the State through state education and bargaining for rights.
In the section “What Exactly Are We Fighting: Race,” the definition of indigenous identity appears as another form of control. The race discourse, or “pure blood,” is presented as a way to limit the culture and power of different peoples, dividing instead of strengthening. Jason/Jaden says that racial liberalism is that of hierarchical inclusion structured by white culture, it does not allow an outside (p. 158).
Instead of emphasizing the hereditary inheritance, the bloodline, as the government wants, many interviewees then pay attention to the importance of practices. The Dakota couple, Anpao Duta Collective, recall that “there are plenty of people who are full blood, but identify as Americans, and didn’t give a shit about Dakota culture.” (p. 131). In another moment, Gord, Kwakwaka’wakw, recalls that many people are perfectly fluent in their native language, “but they are sellouts.” Alex, Tohono O’odham, uses as an example the conflict with some immigrants who arrive in the territory named as the United States. They use their indigenous ancestry to guarantee rights and an “aura,” but they do not want to talk to the others around them, they ask for more State and dream of becoming part of another urban center; in this way, they end up reproducing the same logic that afflicts them.
In the book, there is an appreciation of the practices of the different indigenous groups, especially in their relationship with the land, but the participants don’t lose sight of the fact that identity is nothing more than a part of the extermination game against these cultures. Loretta, Anishinaabe, Aragorn!’s aunt, states that many natives took up the position of blanket Indians, in reference to the Indians who preferred to wait for blankets outside the forts, instead of confronting the soldiers (p. 67 and 103).
Loretta says she first lived in a community of people who had chosen to adhere to peaceful and religious life. At a certain point in the history of the Anishinaabe, they were given the option of leaving the territory or staying and becoming part of religious life, that is, pacifism with subjection and adherence to State rules. A bit later, she was surrounded by those who preferred to fight. That was important to set her road away from conformism and to open up the prospect of revolt.
In the chapter “Indigeneity and Decolonization,” Dominique, Anishinaabe, talks about the process of pacification through the assimilation of aspects of indigenous culture from religion. He says: “I don’t think they’re the same thing [Christianity and indigenous mythology]. But, if our pre-contact ancestors were interchangeable with the monotheists we would have to rebel against them too” (p. 198).
Gord claims a different perspective on the term decolonization. Aragorn! emphasizes at the beginning of the chapter his discomfort with the term and how it is used today. However, he values Gord’s different perspective on the subject. Gord presents decolonization as something that should not be exclusive to so-called indigenous peoples. He says that all people came from the land. “Culture comes from the land. The root word of culture is actually ‘from the land.’ That’s why indigenous cultures are all similar even though they’re all different. Because it depends on the land that they’re in.”(p. 181). In this sense, we are all, in one way or another, involved in a colonization process, and decolonization is also the resumption of the relationship with the space in which we live.
The second section, Anarchism, is the shortest, however, the relationship with anarchist practices runs through the entire book and shows itself, for example, in the possibility of relating differently to the environment.
The dissociation from a consolidated identity also allows distancing from a discourse that, in opposition to the demotion of indigenous peoples and anarchists, tries to cover them with an aura. On the one hand, as Alex says, he was once interested in the conversation with certain white anarchists who lived in the neighborhood and appeared every time there was an ongoing confrontation. They did not try to become the saviors, as many non-governmental organizations do. On the other hand, he criticizes what he calls parachute anarchists, the ones who travel thousands of miles to take part in the cause of others, but do not seem to have the ability to see what is happening around them.
In the chapter “Fight For Turtle Island,” Aragorn! seeks to approach more explicitly what interests him in the relationship between certain indigenous and anarchist practices, going back to the question of space (present throughout the book). He affirms the importance of the relationship with place, and takes up the question of language (not merely as spoken words), which was broached in the introduction and also runs through the book. He refuses the language of war (different from fight) that informs so much Western thought on conflict and even disagreement. Here Aragorn! borrows a term from Klee (Diné), to situate the relationship between anarchists and indigenous people as accomplices. The accomplices, as Aragorn! describes, are not the ones you need to convince to join the fight and add to the masses, a common practice among many activists, but are the ones who show up when you need them because they are connected through the relationship with space (p. 208-209).
Kevy, Tohono O’odham and DOA member (Diné, O’odham, and Anarchist Anti-Authoritarian Bloc), shows the threshold at which these practices cross: “in the past, me and several other friends, we’d be approached by nonprofits, NGO types, who are also native people as well, or indigenous people, I should say, who tried quite hard to coerce us into their agenda, talking about how they needed us. We’re like, ‘No. we’re not going to get paid for this.’ Why would we want to be paid activists? We’re not the type of people to connect with police, or liberal types, or politician types. We defy that, we reject that, you know.”(p. 227).
The conclusion of the book has a pessimistic tone because of Aragorn!’s own struggle within the anarchist movement at the time. Not only in the US, but in other parts of the world, conversations have been undermined by anarchists trying to turn anarchism into something homogeneous, according to their own definition of anarchism.
The relationship between anarchists and indigenous peoples is not new. Since the 19th century, science and politics have brought them closer by categorizing both as savages. To use a term by Pierre Clastres, the approximation may be because both are against the State, and more than that; because they know from experience that the state is not a necessary evil; that life is more exuberant where the state does not exist. Aragorn! may have lost sight of this long-standing connection between anarchists and indigenous peoples due to a certain disappointment expressed in more than one moment of the book, but it is worth remembering. For example, there was the fruitful relationship that Louise Michel established with the Kanak, in which neither was interested in colonizing or abducting the other, but in which both got stronger by generous reciprocity.
This book is precious. It opens up possibilities. The stories are many and they resonate in the lives of those who want to reject the government of life.
This book does not intend to represent the thinking of all different indigenous and anarchist groups. Some of those who refuse to negotiate with the State in exchange for identity recognition are present in the book. The ones who live a liminal life. As Dominique says: “Since we can’t fit in, in either place. So we’re in this strange position, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.”(p. 153).
It is not a book for indigenous people or a book for anarchists, but a book for accomplices. It reflects relationships that started long before its publication and does not end on its final pages. It is a living book of living peoples and individuals. Our conversation doesn’t end here, my friend, Aragorn!
The review was published originally in Portuguese in verve magazine, n. 37, the year 2020. (www.nu-sol.org/verve).
review of the book: Aragorn! (ed.). The Fight for Turtle Island. Berkeley, CA, Ardent Press, 2018, 240 pp.