Colonialism as Trickster

Indigenous Peoples don’t see the world as a state of bliss or happiness, but rather as a tense set of reciprocal relations that may be beneficial, but also can be harmful. Indigenous Peoples are not looking for heaven on earth, but rather well-being within a complex set of social, cosmic, spiritual and power relations.

Trickster figures often characterize the world as an uncertain place, especially when one tries to break cosmic, spiritual or social rules. When one breaks the rules, there is retaliation from offended power beings, human or otherwise. Colonization as a totalistic entity can be seen as a trickster. It promises a better future, a better world, and yet also requires Indigenous Peoples to break their own rules, forget their values, and worldviews.

Consequently, many Indigenous Peoples tend to accommodate to colonialism as a part of the present world. However, they do not want to give up their own ways. Hence, one makes accommodation with colonial entities, but at the same time seeks to maintain the order and balance of indigenous nations, as far as circumstances permit. In the same way the policies of nation states carry forward the trickster character through the engagement of two opposing and incompatible cultures, as well as differing views of history and cosmic order. Nation states want to transform Indigenous Peoples and cultures, and make Indigenous Peoples in their own image. Indigenous Peoples understand this enforcement of Western nation state culture and policy, as an aspect of the present-day world, but not necessary as the correct or proper way to live or to work toward in the future.

Like the trickster, the world gives and takes away. The cosmos, or creator, gives and takes life. In many cultures the activities of tricksters are both the cause of life and good fortune, but are also the generators of death and harmful restitution. Life has both good and bad aspects, like human character, or the character of the Universe, and that is the way of the world. One tries to avoid the worse, and by living in a respectful and observant way, so that people may realize knowledge, long life, and take part in the benefits of the world, such as children, family, and nation.

Colonialism is a trickster because it gives a way of life, but at the same time takes away a way of life. Trust responsibility gives protection for land, but takes away indigenous control over land. Treaties provide some protections and support to indigenous nations, but at the same time subordinates indigenous self-government, self-management, and restricts access to land, economic and spiritual expression. In this same frame, one can say that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a trickster. The Declaration acknowledges many aspirations and rights of Indigenous Peoples, but at the same time turns their ultimate resolution over the nations states, without formally recognizing indigenous nations or self-government.

Indigenous Peoples often do not use violence or even direct protest against the policies of nations states with their trickster-like administration and benefits. Tricksters are part of the universe, and one must respect them. But at the same time, one must learn from their example about what is good and bad. And often, one must avoid the way of the trickster, do not become a monster by fighting totally against the trickster as monster.

In general, many indigenous nations necessarily accommodate to trickster colonialism and the absence of indigenous rights within nation states. For Indigenous Peoples the trickster is not to be emulated, but rather one learns the proper path by avoiding the mistakes of the trickster. One waits patiently for the trickster to learn respect, order, and maturity. One engages it like a child, hoping it will adopt better and proper methods, and ultimately learn to respect the multiple ways of indigenous nations, peoples, cultures, and ways of the cosmic order.


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Colonialism as Trickster