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Tribalism is not Fascism

Writers need to learn the difference



One of those glossy magazines I sometimes consult had a headline the other day that read: “Our Constitution is Being Thwarted by Tribalism.” That probably sounds reasonable to a lot of native tribal citizens who gripe and complain about the IRA governments instituted by the feds in the 1930’s on every reserved enclave in the country. What we must remember is that such a form of government is not “tribalism” as our ancestors understood the process of governing. It is our native challenge to sustain ourselves as “Tribes” and object to the denigration of the word “tribalism.”

This magazine writer, however, in his ignorance of what “Tribalism” really means, was using it as an example of the ugly group behavior that has been seen and witnessed by the U. S. senators in Washington, D. C., who are at each other’s throats concerning the recent nomination to the Supreme Court. As these writers describe what is happening between Republicans and Democrats in the U. S. Congress, they say “where loyalty to one’s own Tribe reaches a tipping point, it curdles into resentment and hatred. “ How do you describe the Senate as a Tribe?

The odd thing about American History is that it has accused the indigenous tribes of bad behavior when, in fact, it is America that has in its greed and hatred reached for the imperial power expressed in its own current governing behavior. Colonization and constant war are the characteristics that feed into this discussion about our current national dilemma, and we should not delve into America’s racist past concerning tribal behavior to try to explain the situation of the Trump administration.

Another writer of International History has given the example of Tribalism as cause, in describing the genocide perpetrated by Hutu militants in Rwanda, blaming ideological adversaries (Hutu vs Tutu…’African Tribes’) when most scholars know that genocide in Rwanda was the result of colonization by Dutch forces who had finally left the scene following their years and years of occupation and plunder.

Robert Reich’s new book about the current national debate on the subject of chaos in the Trump administration is being called The New Tribalism meaning a time of chaos and struggle for power in U. S. politics. All kinds of public commentators are screaming about Tribalism “polarizing America,” when in fact what we are witnessing is the rise of Fascism.

If you want a definition of that word, you should understand that Fascism is the major political innovation of the twentieth century and it has no resemblance to Tribalism, which may be one of the most interesting of traditional forms of democracy known in our time. Hundreds of tribes occupied this continent for a very long time and developed civilizations based in connections to the land. What does that mean to the US Senate?

It is really difficult for American people to accept our objection because of the way our school systems have talked about so-called “primitive” cultures coming into contact with “advanced” cultures, the language of Anthropology. It brings up the question of how the American public and its institutions use language in reference to Indian-white behavior. Is there a bias toward indigenous people in using the word “tribalism” when describing people and events in a specific way without caring how words are defined?

Tribalism is a way of life known on this continent for thirteen hundred years until the eighteenth century (and before) when white Europeans started giving the word a bad name. As these aggressor white Europeans invaded sovereign lands in the name of colonization, kings and Christianity, they called what they didn’t understand “primitivism.” They referred to Indian religious ceremonies (about which they knew nothing), as savagery.

What about the rise of Fascism in our time? To understand what the word Fascism means, we must incorporate the vocabulary of totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, tyranny, autocracy, all words that mean aggression, greed, hatred. America is facing Fascism NOT Tribalism at this moment of time as other nations have in this century, namely Germany (Hitler), Italy (Mussolini), and now Russia (Putin). Dare we say America (Trump)?

What most of America refuses to get is that Tribalism on this continent describes the reality of how people sustained themselves on specific land bases prior to the invasion, a way of Life and Being that is shared by hundreds of nations each one held together by religious and social customs, language and mythology which connected each one to specific geographies, distinctive cuisines, kinship, laws and group experiences.

The word “tribalism” is still used that way by over three hundred Tribes in this country, survivors of invasion, external attacks and periods of occupation, and they are ancient civilizations sustained by their own histories and experiences. There are millions of Indians who live on this continent. It’s not really only about old white men sitting in committee meetings in the nation’s capital and screaming at each other.

Shouldn’t we as writers be careful about how we use language?

(Contact Elizabeth Cook-Lynn at

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