Don’t start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right
Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation?
-Elvis Costello “Olivers Army”
Basque author Mark Bieter grew up in Boise and shares his experience of hearing the Basque people described as the “Indians of Europe.” Avoiding too much colonial equivocation, he insightfully remarks:
The Basques are the Indians of Europe: I liked the idea. I’d grown up in the Western United States with Basque ancestry, and I suppose I felt a kind of solidarity with Indians. But when I did my own amateur archaeology and dug into it, the solidarity crumbled. I looked at my own life. Shoshone and Bannock tribes lived(sic) close to my childhood home in Boise, Idaho. They might have been on the same spot where I played as a kid. What happened to them? Looking even further back in history, I knew Basques had a role in Spanish colonization in the Americas. It’s hard to stand with the indigenous when you’ve had all the advantages as a descendant of the newcomers.
Echoing the Irish experience on this side of the pond, I appreciate the time and willingness it take to explore the tensions created by a history of colonization intersected by the assimilation into whiteness and it’s advantages within the Empire. Sleuthing out the grounds for solidarity while not overlooking the cultural gaps created by settler colonialism is touchy, but this article turned up a gem; one that resonates deeply with the Gael:
A German doesn’t have to do anything to be a German. A Basque or an Indian has to do something more. That can be a blessing or a curse. An Apache woman can move into a city, do nothing, and a piece of the tribe dissolves. Or she can do something else. Basques and Indians, separated by thousands of miles and years, actually might have a few things in common, a similar past and some of the same questions: Does your background mean something to you? And if it means something, what are you doing about it?
Of course this made me think of Elvis Costello’s song with the words “white n*gger” and certain Indians referring to us Irish as the “Blacks of Europe.” Really? The only real answer is Yes and No. No because whiteness is a very effective mechanism that cannot be ignored. But YES because our stories do present a grounds for solidarity that has a past, present, and future that needs to be actively cultivated. Much like the Mi’kmaq and Acadians together in Elsipogtog, a willingness to understand each others stories has more power to bring people together in solidarity than it does to perpetuate the divisiveness of privilege.