Halting Mass Deforestation:
Paths Toward a Decolonial Revolution
Committee for the Defense and Decolonization of Territories
For four years, the Committee for the Defense and Decolonization of Territories has been compiling the reflections of participants in territorial defense struggles on Turtle Island. Driven by the force of alliances struck between different peoples bound to the same territories, we have tried to pursue a possibility present in everyone's life: to go and encounter, with humility, from where we are, those whom we perceive as inhabited by a force oriented towards the growth of life, even if it is a mutilated one. The journals we publish bear witness to the path we have travelled, to the questions we ask ourselves, to the encounters that transform our way of being in the world. The text below constitutes the conclusion of the last journal, "La force des forêts” [the Force of Forests]. We hope that reading it will awaken the same energy that led us to write it. —CTDD, August 2021
Part of our ongoing series Desertions, which maps the manifold forms of treason, refusal, and defection from dominant images of community.
Other languages: Français, Deutsch
For many of us, taking the world back seems impossible. The destruction of all forms of life proceeds like a train towards the void pulled inexorably forward by the infernal engine of modernity. Even the usual forms of struggle seem obsolete and incapable of halting, even momentarily, the catastrophe. In 2017, in the first edition of the journal put out by the Committees for Territorial Defense and Decolonization, we laid out a plan of action in three steps: investigate, build autonomy, and block flows. Today, this course of action is just as relevant and necessary. And over the last few years, it has proven useful in multiple situations.
Before attempting to block a project, we must first investigate, identifying the political and financial interests behind the crumbling facade of economic progress. We must identify the openings and exits in spaces and situations; learn to recognize friends and enemies; determine how to connect to the people who inhabit the territory in order to defend it; understand and share what they love; and hate that which threatens them. At the same time, we must also build autonomy. This means bringing together forces in order to fight the destruction of territories, and disseminate this struggle. However, in order to definitively block the catastrophe and to permanently undermine colonial sovereignty and its extractive infrastructure, we must push our political reflections further. The subtitle of one of the articles of the first edition of the journal borrowed the Zapatista expression: ‘walking while questioning.’ It was back then clear to us that putting new ideas into practice would take time.
In the native Zapatista communities of ‘Mexico’, there are said to be three kinds of times, superimposed onto one another. Exact time is that which criss-crosses our lives and attempts to synchronize the entire world; the time of clocks, organizing the economy and the disciplinary apparatus. Real time is determined by the forest, and provides an organization for the community. It is the time of seasons and the rhythms of the sun, the heartbeat of life that lends a cadence to each life. Finally, there is a Revolutionary time. This time has not yet come, but it is already circulating in the world. It is an ancient time, but its echo still resonates. And it is this time we must make manifest today.
The neoliberal ‘end of history’ is just a dead fragment of the past, but its cadaver is constantly trying to raise itself from its grave. This fatal suspension of time must be interrupted, permanently. It is not the time to behave like Christian millenarian or nihilist environmentalists, who live with their eyes fixed on the apocalypse or the end of the world. Instead, we must remake the horizons of our existence.
Return. Restart. Recreate.
To begin again is never to reclaim something, or to return to a situation exactly as we left it. To begin again always represents something new; this movement is always unprecedented. We are not produced by the past, but by that within it that has not yet occurred. To begin again means casting aside our state of lived suspension, and re-establishing contact with our futures, moving once again from where we find ourselves at the moment.
This idea of a new beginning is inspired by the idea of the ‘back to the future' so central to the indigenous resurgence movement. Firmly in opposition to ‘reconciliation’, which is fundamentally asymmetrical and instrumentalized by the colonial states of Canada and Québec, resurgence can only be understood as total decolonization. According to elders, this resurgence is supported by tradition: languages, cultures, know-how and ways of organizing, including a reparation of harms and the historical dispossession that has been inflicted on native communities. This is not simply a question of people 'finding themselves' or recovering a lost identity, but instead of bringing back worlds and ways of life that were lost, preserving the knowledge of elders, remaking connections to language and the earth — and most importantly, a renewed commitment to community.
Far from the nation-state sovereignty of modernity, native sovereignty, as put forward by the resurgence, combines a re-appropriation of territories through use and an affirmation of native identity, including a cultural and spiritual revitalization.
A new beginning holds something that precedes what came before and returns to that moment to deepen and remake time itself.
We count ourselves among those who refuse to let the living and the sacred be destroyed, and as such we reject the pointless forms of protest that do not block this destruction. Our role is to create ‘events.' Empire is a global hegemonic system, the web of power that constitutes the modern and colonial apparatus of domination. Empire is everywhere nothing happens, everywhere emptiness reigns, everywhere things ‘work’ as they were intended to.
Provoking Empire means throwing a wrench into the normal functioning of things, where ‘normal’ means daily exploitation, creeping destruction, the silent increase of atomization that enshrines the dominance of the individual. Bringing about revolutionary time means creating confrontation, by attacking the enemy symbols and infrastructures that threaten the forms of life we hold dear. We must harm the expansion of the capitalist-extractivist economy to such an extent that it becomes untenable, and we must do this in the metropolis, in the cities, in the reserves, in the countryside, as well as in the forest.
We must also anticipate the new fronts of capital in the form of the ‘green economy’ in which, despite its utopian promises, winds and tides wind up monetized nonetheless, strangling our futures. The continuation of this economy depends on its ability to (i) extract resources and (ii) make them circulate. Our tactical considerations must flow from these seemingly obvious findings, but they require extraordinary thought and action.
Our ways of organizing must allow us to support current struggles across the territories beyond colonial borders, so that these struggles can flourish by providing them with resources that will allow them to hold out.
What does ancestral sovereignty mean, beyond simple recognition? What role does each of us play in the current fragmentation of Canada? Is it enough to lend strength to the resurgence that is underway? We believe a basic question must be asked: should each community find its own way to fragment ‘Canada’ and ‘Québec’, while creating links among fragments?
Responding appropriately to the situation demands that we take seriously what it means to live in this or that space, in the context of a community. This is not a question of principles or personal opinions, but simply ways of living. The urgency of the global climate situation and the way it puts the conditions of our life into question only confirms that we must return to traditions that are far older than those of modernity.
The density of our group allows us to collaborate with other groups during struggles, whereas those allies who relate to themselves as individuals often have limited effect. Decolonization and ending modernity demand something beyond these individual positions. We must ask: how are we to live, not as claimants but as protectors of the territory, not as citizens but as people dwelling within the territory? How can we function as groups, collectives, tribes, bands, gangs, and networks bound together by oaths taken in the course of living and struggling in common?
Lastly, we must remember that allies are, by definition, those bound together by a promise of alliance, that is, a group that ‘gives its support to another, and takes its side.' For thousands of years, native communities have been organized through alliances. These days, the role of the ally seems to have taken the form of a caregiver characterized by politeness and self-effacement to the point of semi-invisibility. But allyship shouldn’t mean stepping back, but instead ‘stepping up’ and ‘standing next to,' recognizing ancestral sovereignty and following the directives of elders in order to concretely take action.
It should mean finding ways of living and paths of action that lead to decolonization, starting from our diverse positions within the current colonial order. On the ground, alliance should not mean disappearing, which would only lead to a new way of dodging the real questions. Instead, allyship must mean becoming that thing that will put an end to the destruction. Becoming something so powerful that it is no longer necessary to identify explicitly as anti-capitalist or anti-colonial because, in the war against the modern colonial order, our lives speak louder than words. It means becoming what we all must be, in order that the imperial machine is relegated to a nightmare from the past.