The reconfiguration of nations will soon be as radically changed as the original platting out of the North American states into the familiar borders we know. Remember they began only a few hundred years ago as barely persisting little colonies on the East Coast. Then in a gradual tide came “territories” which gradually hardened into states by excluding reservations into little internal nations, or so they were called in those days.
The implications of that hardening and drawing of lines for the indigenous peoples meant that the notion of them as tribes with boundaries being nations was withdrawn and the idea of treaties were redefined into “agreements.” Then most recently the “agreements” with “tribes” became incorporation documents, except that the corporations were all supervised and funded federally. Not by the states, who resented the incursion. Thus was the march of colonies who gradually erase the indigenous by manipulating words and their legal implications.
I want to continue thinking about the remapping of the continent in terms of implications for indigenous people, who are now diluted by the idea of blood quantum (which is a perversion of provenance by inheritance, nothing to do with actual blood) and scattered into a diaspora, some of whom have broken their connection with place and some of whom hang onto their tribal enrollment because so many advantages are defined by it, including their pride.
By now the “nation” which is an agreed upon coalition of “states” — the United States of America — is morphing into something new: megacenters. This is global. Instead of boundaries — to be marked by surveys, wars, patrolled edges —the seed pattern is a “center” around which develops a web of connectivity. It is magnetic, defined by attraction and careless of boundaries. Economics are the politics, and there will be changes in who has advantages. We’re going back to pre-European and Chinese patterns where boundaries and barriers are not the limits.
Passports will be replaced by plastic cyberchip cards indicating connection, maybe by degrees of status or categories of skill. Function will count more than inheritance. “Money” in the physical manifestation -- green bills -- will be replaced by credit cards and imports/exports will be handled by delivery channels. These things are already happening. When bitcoin and other internet strategies of money handling are perfected, when objects are created by “3D printers,” there will be less need for people to move around, as things will come to them: ordered on ebay and delivered by UPS. This is happening now. We will be as microchipped under the skin as our pets and order-keepers will carry bar-code readers.
What will count in the future is GPS, satellite surveillance of the planet itself, and the sources and protection of power, which will be increasingly “produced” by wind, sun, magnetism, surf, but with mechanisms that need maintenance. We are neglecting the maintenance aspects of all our systems, including homes. I cannot find a competent plumber. I cannot keep up with three-foot tall grass in the yard.
coastal erosion in the north
So I’m taking an indigenous point of view on all this. Which means that the next force for change will be climate change, particularly in the north and the coastal areas. The Inuit are already having to move villages inland to keep from being drowned. I don’t know how the tundra people are coping, but wooden frame buildings are twisted into debris and roads built on permafrost are impassable.
Another major impact will be on the caribou, their numbers and patterns of migration, their calving grounds and sources of food. On the other hand, waterways will open up, including the Arctic Sea, and maybe it will help the salmon and species like the narwhal — though it’s not helping polar bears. The fear is that though it’s interesting for frozen mammoths be thawed out of the ground, the tiny insects and viruses also entombed may be released, as well as methane and carbon monoxide.
The real onslaught of insects and diseases are more likely to come from the South. In the past these have prevented development and eventually shaped nations. When something like plague or Spanish Flu is released to sweep continents, the harrowing goes deep and when the area is repopulated, it can be quite different.
Homeostasis is the basis of responsive complexity as in human habitation. We are good at adapting but not inexhaustible. We have been in a long period that has stayed the same though tested by economic bulges caused by war, by industrial invention, by cyber-development, by new energy sources, and even by drugs for disease and recreation. Homeostasis is never permanent. Rarely does it last as long as a human lifetime. Human adaptability and simple available space to expand can restore homeostasis, but human character flaws can destroy it.
Against this background, tribes and the nation see arcs of creativity and then disaster rise and fall. Sometimes the disasters open new venues. I’ve been impressed by the history of Heart Butte, a long-time summer-settling camp that became a little mission outpost for old-timers, then was nearly swept away by flood, which was the impetus for paved roads across the gumbo soil that had nearly guaranteed isolation. The addition of housing projects made a place for lightly supervised population density but also a clinic, school and church growth, and commerce in recreational drugs. Now it is stranded in overlapping jurisdictions between county and rez, which persists because of the irrigation project that begins with Swift Dam on the rez and is the basis of wheat crops off the rez.
Browning has similarly evolved. At first it was simply the headquarters of the BIA and a settlement of traders, both groups largely white. The incorporated town, white, thought of itself as an outpost of the state and observed state laws. When the BIA began "Indian preference," it was about the same time the WWII veteran tradesmen were ready to retire. Many simply sold out their inventory and left. The town police were taken over by the BIA and then the tribe. The identity of the town began to erode and then dissolve -- by now bankrupt and nonfunctioning.
While we think about these “concrete” issues, the theoretical federal government is struggling with the three-part checks and balances that the tribe recently rejected, fearing change. The same kind of fear has shattered our three-pronged federal constitution. Because we elected to the executive office — the section that is supposed to manage the daily administration of a huge and complex coalition of states — a man who refuses to govern as is his defined job, not much is getting done. Yet we are in a time of planetary change.
Because our binary political system — based on the Greek idea of logical thesis/antithesis/synthesis — is so internally and emotionally divided on both sides, neither can reach a consensus. No strong third option has developed yet. In the past it has been the idea of progress, “progressivism”, that has been a source of renewal, but no one has the confidence to propose a new future with any clarity.
In the meantime not only our voting system but also our courts, the third prong of homeostasis maintenance, has been gerrymandered. Not just our voting districts and boundaries, but the very nature of the human beings in their roles has been labeled, forced into loyalties, and compromised. The cultural ideals of fairness, justice, and statesmanship have been blown away by the Trumpian notion that this country is as bad as any other and therefore excused from being better.
So the morphing forces are coming from economics, government, transformative technology, and the exhaustion of ideals. What are the sources of restoration of homeostasis? If they are last-ditch efforts they are likely to be authoritarian.