A fundamental question that has come up ever since the draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—and even back further into awakening of the state-sanctioned murder of Black and Indigenous people—is: do we even want to be in a union anymore?
It seems to not be working. For anyone. Conservatives want a civil war where they will triumph to establish their city on the hill—a new Jerusalem—to be able to own and kill Black and Indigenous people and allow women to die as child factories. Progressives want a utopia, a place where the state protects all rights and when that fails, they want to burn it all down. Both are symptomatic of a belief that perfection, and even the pursuit of such, is achievable; that there is a “right” way of being. It’s of colonization.
Being Indigenous and understanding my culture has helped me to understand not just that not everyone thinks the same way, but that space is made for those who disagree so vehemently that they must depart. It’s the principle of sovereignty to us. One belongs to a family or network of families with their own rules and protocols of behavior, one is selected to serve in societies and groups entrusted with the common tasks for the service of the community. But if one could not sublimate their own, individualist, desires to be in service to the greater good of the whole, they were invited to leave.
We didn’t demonize people, we didn’t reject them, we didn’t make a moral judgment. Sometimes, they held on until they could be with a new group of people, a new ospaye, a new tribe. And we missed them, but we understood they had to follow their own paths.
Colonization fucks everyone up. Back home today, if one seeks for a new life, there is a resentment that they left, even if they were encouraged to do so in order to get an education, experience and to come home to share knowledge. We have internalized the white Christians’ misbelief in what it is to belong. We have become afraid of rejection instead of celebrating each other’s visions of creating something new.
Legally speaking, one of the reasons why states are not allowed to secede from the union is, in large part, the reunion after the Civil War. In the 1869 case, Texas v. White, the Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot unilaterally secede from the union, that Texas had—in fact, never—seceded from the union. It made the union binding for the sake of a national identity. Practically speaking, the coastal states that experience hurricanes, floods and the western states that experience droughts and fires need a centralized union to seek financial relief and federal resources to rebuild.
But it is still a question worth asking with follow-ups. Do we want to be in a union? Can we practically survive as a loose alliance of sovereign states? Or can those smaller states with little to no resources then fall prey to authoritarians and despots? One parallel is the breakup of the Soviet Union, another part of the world obsessed with empire.
To have been radicalized as young as I was in the cause of tribal sovereignty means that I’ve had time to look to the rest of the world in order to see the patterns that repeat and to interrupt them when they become a threat. We’re living in the reality of a world leader who is desperate to reclaim what once was and in his wake is the war in Ukraine. If the United States falls, will we give birth to our own Putin in two decades’ time who will insist in recreating the false glory days of the American empire?
As with all things of the colonizer, I look to the British to see how they’re managing decolonization. Last year, Barbados, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (a former colony of the United Kingdom) removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and affirmed its status as a republic. And while there are elements within the UK that bemoan the loss of the empire, pining for the days when any white British national could travel to warmer climates in the cold months and insist the locals speak only English, the Commonwealth has come to function beyond a ceremonial state.
Its members do not need to be former British colonies (Gabon and Togo, former French colonies, have been admitted) and while many of its members bristle at the continued connection to the ultimate colonizer, its common interests outweigh even the most lackluster leadership. Secretary General Patricia Scotland held onto her leadership role in the most recent meeting of the heads of Commonwealth nations (CHOGM) despite a strong challenge from Jamaica’s foreign minister Kamina Johnson Smith.
What is possible without a continued union is more profound and wildly possible than what seems to be in front of us. From my perspective, I think of the Battle of Greasy Grass, where my ancestors defended ourselves against an invader who refused to listen to reason and abide by the treaties we signed with his government. That victory for us happened because we understood that while, yes we are stronger together, we are only as strong as our people are free.
Do we even want to be in a union? It’s a question worth asking.