native perspective on “occupy” movement

September 24, 2011

An Open Letter to the Occupy Wall Street Activists
Thank you for your courage. Thank you for making an attempt to improve the situation in what is now called the United States. Thank you for your commitment to peace and non-violence. Thank you for the sacrifices you are making. Thank you.

There’s just one thing. I am not one of the 99 percent that you refer to. And, that saddens me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I would like to be one of the 99 percent… but you’ve chosen to exclude me. Perhaps it was unintentional, but, I’ve been excluded by you. In fact, there are millions of us indigenous people who have been excluded from the Occupy Wall Street protest. Please know that I suspect that it was an unintentional exclusion on your part. That is why I’m writing to you. I believe that you can make this right. (I hope you’re still smiling.)

It seems that ever since we indigenous people have discovered Europeans and invited them to visit with us here on our land, we’ve had to endure countless ‘-isms’ and religions and programs and social engineering that would “fix” us. Protestantism, Socialism, Communism, American Democracy, Christianity, Boarding Schools, Residential Schools,… well, you get the idea. And, it seems that these so-called enlightened strategies were nearly always enacted and implemented and pushed upon us without our consent. And, I’ll assume that you’re aware of how it turned out for us. Yes. Terribly.

Which brings me back to your mostly-inspiring Occupy Wall Street activities. On September 22nd, with great excitement, I eagerly read your “one demand” statement. Hoping and believing that you enlightened folks fighting for justice and equality and an end to imperialism, etc., etc., would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land. I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land – never mind an entire society. See where I’m going with this? I hope you’re still smiling. We’re still friends, so don’t sweat it. I believe your hearts are in the right place. I know that this whole genocide and colonization thing causes all of us lots of confusion sometimes. It just seems to me that you’re unknowingly doing the same thing to us that all the colonizers before you have done: you want to do stuff on our land without asking our permission.

But, fear not my friends. We indigenous people have a sense of humor. So, I thought I might make a few friendly suggestions which may help to “fix” the pro-colonialism position in which you now (hopefully, unintentionally) find yourselves. (Please note my use of the word “fix” in the previous sentence. That’s an attempt at a joke. You can refer to the third paragraph if you’d like an explanation.)

By the way, I’m just one indigenous person. I represent no one except myself. I’m acting alone in writing this letter. Perhaps none of my own Nishnaabe people will support me in having written this. Perhaps some will. I respect their opinions either way. I love my Nishnaabe people always. I am simply trying to do something good – same as all of you at the Occupy Wall Street protest in what is now called New York.

So, here goes. (You’re still smiling, right?)

1) Acknowledge that the United States of America is a colonial country, a country of settlers, built upon the land of indigenous nations; and/or…

2) Demand immediate freedom for indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier; and/or…

3) Demand that the colonial government of the United States of America honor all treaties signed with all indigenous nations whose lands are now collectively referred to as the “United States of America”; and/or…

4) Make some kind of mention that you are indeed aware that you are settlers and that you are not intending to repeat the mistakes of all of the settler do-gooders that have come before you. In other words, that you are willing to obtain the consent of indigenous people before you do anything on indigenous land.

I hope you find this list useful. I eagerly await your response, my friends.

Miigwech! ( ~”Thank you!” )

JohnPaul Montano

Read original blog article and comments here:

and he added this:

Since publishing this Open Letter on September 24, 2011, several hopeful developments have occurred. I’d like to share with you three in particular:
(1) On October 1, 2011, in response to Jessica Yee’s related article, ‘OccupyWallStreetProtestor’ ( ) wrote of their intention “to bring these issues before the General Assembly
this afternoon…

-America, as a nation, was built, and continues to be built, on land stolen from people still exploited and oppressed under the current system. This fact should be acknowledged and vocally opposed by Occupy Wall Street.
-The nationalistic language of phrases like “take our country back” is something that should be examined in terms of its associations with imperialism and colonialism.
-Occupy Wall Street should oppose and seek to end colonialism as much as it opposes and seeks to end unregulated capitalism, imperialism, war, or institutional racism.”
Quite articulate, indeed, my friend. Thank you! I’m excited to hear how it’s going.

(2) On October 1, 2011, again in response to Jessica Yee’s related article, ‘Valenciennes’ (  ) points out that the “one demand” statement (which I mention in my Open Letter)
is “in no way an official release from the NYCGA/OWS.” According to Valenciennes, the apparently official statement is called the “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” and was posted on the 30th of September: Referring to corporations, one line in this document reads as follows: “They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.”
This is an encouraging  start, indeed! Thank you!

(3) On October 3, 2011, in response to my Open Letter, Leslie Radford ( ) mentions that she has opened up the topic at OccupyLA, and will bring it to the General Assembly.  Thank you Leslie, for taking the time. I greatly appreciate your effort.
To all of you whose kind words are expressed in this post’s comments: Gchi-miigwech! (~”Thank you very much!”) It is truly my pleasure. In writing this Open Letter, I have attempted to be one of the many voices working to assist Occupy Wall Street in remaining true to its noblest goals. For me, this begins by acknowledging whose land we are on. For others, it perhaps begins someplace else. I hope I am succeeding in contributing positively to this *ongoing* debate while remaining true to my Nishnaabe ancestors.
To rephrase the last two sentences of the second paragraph of my Open Letter: I believe that you are making this right. (I’m still smiling.)
I leave you with this song by Ulali.
Miigwech. 🙂


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