Nunani: Now and then (Part three)



So the inlander family and the coastal family went to war with each other. The war was desperate and terrible, as wars always are, with loss of life on either side. And as atrocities mounted, either family at last began to give vent to the hatred it had accumulated toward the other over time.

The coastals fought to avenge themselves for the wrongs they felt the inlanders had committed against them over the years. And they fought to take back the coast itself, the land of their ancestors.

The inlanders fought to once and for all sweep the coastals aside, to finally rid themselves of that family that had always been a stumbling block in their migrations to the seashore. They fought to overcome a people who, they believed, would deny them their place in the sun.

In a sense, the coastals fought for their past, while the inlanders fought for their future.

But the simple fact was that the inlanders were too powerful. They were many, and were already well-settled along the shore. In time, the coastal family was forced to surrender, in order to avoid utter annihilation, leaving the inlanders to deliberate over what to do with the surviving coastal people. Some of the most hateful inlanders felt that the remaining coastals would always be a threat, unless they were finally exterminated. Some of the most humane inlanders felt that the remaining coastals should be protected, assisted in recuperating from the war. Between these opposing factions, the coastals over time were never quite obliterated, nor truly aided.

The ultimate fate of the coastals was that they became exiles in their own land, their children enduring the humiliation of having to beg the approval of their conquerors’ children for even the basic necessities of life. Theirs became a twilight existence, and in time, it became all but forgotten that any but one family had ever occupied all of the lands, from interior to seashore.

I hope you’re angry, or sad, or indignant, or something like that, upon reading the coastal-inlander story I’ve told over the last few articles, because that means you’re a decent person. But what I’ve just told is not some traditional Inuit tale; instead, it’s a parable that closely mirrors what the U.S. calls the “Lakota War.”

Why am I writing about it, and what does it have to do with the north? Probably much more than you would at first think. I’ve thought about it, off and on throughout the late 1990s, ever since I first read the Nunavut land claim agreement, and especially whenever I think about sub-surface rights. I’ve been thinking about it recently, with all the talk about water licensing.

Now, I generally have a policy of staying away from politics in my articles. Political issues are often subject to too many people jumping to too many conclusions, too fast, with too few facts available. I stick to culture and language, not only because that’s where the true Inuktitut lifeblood flows, but because there are already enough people talking politics around the clock.

But sometimes there are points where culture and politics overlap, where they become indistinguishable from one another, and such a point usually occurs where a smaller culture is forced to demand its due from the larger culture that dominates it. This forces the smaller culture to define itself against the larger, and thus does awareness at once become political and cultural.

So what is this Lakota War? It’s probably the single greatest attempt by aboriginal peoples of North America to repel a colonial power, and the tragic events leading up to it are something that every aboriginal person — man, woman, or child — needs to know about.

The violence of the war tends to be distracting. It saw amazing battles, ones wherein aboriginal peoples — the first true “army” of unified tribes — gave back as good as they got. And make no mistake: they were fighting a post-American Civil War army, one of the most formidable forces in the world at the time.

But, as I indicated, the war itself tends to distract from the really important events, those conflicts between aboriginal peoples and settlers that led up to it. Those events, in a nutshell, constitute a model for almost every aboriginal-colonial political situation in the world — even those of today.

(Continued next week.)

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