Tuesday, April 15, 2014
During the past week I have had more conversations about "decolonization" than I have had in my whole life. As I mentioned in one of my Facebook conversations, I am not entirely comfortable with the expression.
Clearly as Native people continue to carve out our existence with the dominant societies, cultures and politics around us, we find ourselves getting caught up in the next word, policy or social theory of the day. Sovereignty became almost synonymous with Native rights. Self-governance and self-determination also began rolling off the tongues of every "tribal leader" and "Indian expert." Oh yeah, and let's not leave out “nation-to-nation” and “government-to-government” relations. Those were good ones.
For me, the "trust relationship" with a complete lack of the "trust" part makes that one problematic for me but that one was easy to call. This decolonization thing was a little more troublesome for me. I mean, I get it and the whole "decolonize your mind" slogan does have a nice ring to it but for me it still didn't feel right.
I was finally able to put my finger on it today when my good friend Kerry Hawk Lessard used University of Michigan Associate Professor of Psychology and American Culture Joseph Gone's definition in our discussion. Gone uses decolonization to describe “the intentional, collective, and reflective self-examination undertaken by formerly colonized peoples that results in shared remedial action.”
Well, there you have it. Decolonization felt to me a little too much like the abolition movement and Gone confirmed the problem for me. Just like abolition was all about addressing and ending the very successful dehumanizing institution that was American slavery, decolonization is about remediating the problems associated with "formerly colonized peoples" as though the act of colonization was both complete and successful.
I understand that colonization is a clear and well-defined concept, but at its core it is about claiming land. Just as the Doctrine of Christian Discovery really had nothing to do with converting the pagans into Christians but rather converting their land to Christendom, colonization was less about colonizing people and more about taking their land for the colonizer.
So having said that, I certainly acknowledge that almost all of our lands were stolen, defrauded, claimed and/or swindled from us for THEIR colony and most Native communities, on either side of the imaginary line (U.S./Canadian border) are led to believe their lands are held "in trust" for them by the colonial powers. But the keyword here is "most" — not all.
One of the little-known facts about Native people is that 70 percent of them do not live on Native lands and most of the remaining percent that do, live on lands that the colonizers claim to hold the title to. But that is not the case for the Haudenosanee territories I have lived on. Although our ancestral lands have been greatly reduced, all of the peoples of the Haudenosaunee still retain a portion of those once vast lands and they OWN it.
The lands of which I speak are not under U.S. or state title. And they are not "held for the use and enjoyment" of our people. Our people OWN them. So to say it more clearly and in the context of this discussion — our land is not part of their colony. The land we still occupy has not been colonized.
Now I am not suggesting that we are the only people who can claim to have not been colonized but I would say that if they can't claim our lands then they can't claim us. I will also state for the record that I have never ascribed to the notion that the U.S. and Canada hold our lands for us. But I will say if you view yourself among the formerly colonized peoples then the first step you need to take is to assert your connection to your homeland.
Beyond the inability of the colonial powers to render us landless, I maintain that there is no legal basis to claim our subjugation or cite just when our clearly recognized sovereignty was ever transferred to them. It is laughable that the foundation of U.S and Canadian "federal Indian law" is still ONLY based on papal bulls from the fifteenth century. In 1823 when the U.S. codified the Doctrine of Christian Discovery into U.S. law via Johnson v. M'Intosh, Chief Justice John Marshall literally suggested that Native sovereignty was diminished upon discovery. And in the wake of Marshall's legal dicta on this ruling there began this absurd assumption that discovery could be viewed as tantamount to conquest.
Of course, even with this weak rationale building the foundation for the imperialistic belief in Manifest Destiny, neither the U.S. nor the state of New York ever claimed to own the land we retained. In fact, even when attempting to relocate the Seneca during the Removal Act era, the U.S. was forced to include language in its offer of lands west of the Mississippi that even those lands would never be claimed by the U.S. or incorporated into any state (an offer that was nonetheless rejected). As late as the second half of the nineteenth century, New York State still acknowledged in its State Judicial Reports that Seneca lands were not part of the state, that the Seneca were not represented in their legislature and that the state could not tax them.
I have many reasons for refusing to be considered a formerly colonized person. I maintain that there are many of us that are among a long line of people who have resisted and rejected subjugation and the assumption of colonization. So excuse me for not embracing the decolonization movement. My sovereignty is a birthright. That whole unalienable rights thing? That came from us. The concept of seven generations doesn't just suggest that we consider the effects of our actions on those unborn faces — it prohibits and denies any legal and legitimate authority of anyone to sell out their future generations.
I can't decolonize. That would suggest that I was colonized in the first place. I wasn't and I'm not.
Three years ago a couple of "Let's Talk Native..." regulars and I made the trip to the Albany to try to get some straight answers to a couple of simple questions. Matt Hill, Paul Delaronde and I met with New York State Senator George Maziarz, Republican from the 62nd Senate District of New York, to see if a State Senator could get an answer to a question that the State's tax department refused to give us. We sat with the Senator and first queried him on his position on Native-to-Native trade and the State's authority over our commerce and our manufactured goods.
Senator Maziarz made it very clear where he stood on the issues. Despite legislation that the State legislature had recently passed that was to shut down State-licensed wholesalers from continuing a 30- year practice of selling unstamped (untaxed) cigarettes to Native retailers, he felt strongly that the State had no authority to interfere with Native-to-Native trade and he was in full support of the trade we had established with Native-manufactured product.
The problem that we encountered was that we could not get a straight answer out of the Governor's office, the State Attorney General's Office or out of the State's Department of Taxation and Finance clarifying the State's legal, political or regulatory policy on Native-to-Native trade or on Native- manufactured goods. They flat out refused to tell us.
So we figured, surely a State Senator could get us an answer. The Senator agreed to let me work with his staff to draft a letter to Thomas Mattox, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance requesting clarity on the State's position and intent. While at the State Capital, I also decided to pursue support for answers from across the political aisle and asked State Senator Timothy Kennedy, Democrat from the 63rd Senate District, if he would sign onto such a letter. He agreed. So now we had Senators from both political parties pressing for a public announcement of a policy that by law should have been clear and unambiguous in the first place rather than a military secret.
The letter sent from Senators Maziarz and Kennedy on May 16, 2011 stated clearly that:
"It is our view that the State should not pursue an effort to collect taxes on Native Brands because such an effort would be contrary to the sovereign rights of the Native American Nations, and would be a severe blow to the Native retail economy."
The letter proceeded to make a specific and quite reasonable request.
"[W]e request that you provide clarification to us as soon as possible and in writing. It is very important that all of the citizens of the State of New York and their elected representatives know what the intention of your Department is with regard to the collection of State taxes on Native Brand cigarettes and tobacco products."
To my surprise I learned that even the guys who are credited with making these stupid laws couldn’t get answers about their implementation or covert exaggeration.
More than a year later I convinced Senator Maziarz to follow up on his prior unanswered request. This inquiry was made in light of an absolute refusal to respond to his first letter and action from the State Attorney General attempting to stop Native manufacturers from shipping, selling and distributing products to Native territories. This "cease and desist" order came in the wake of a court ruling by the New York State Supreme Court ordering the State to release a seized truckload of Native-produced cigarettes.
Senator Maziarz on June 27, 2012 again wrote to the Tax Commissioner:
"In my view, the recent court case acknowledges that Native Brand cigarettes that are produced and sold on lands owned by Native Nations constitute commerce that is Native to Native. As such these transactions cannot (and should not) be regulated and taxed by the State of New York. To do so would be contrary to the sovereign rights of the Native American Nations, and have significant negative impact on the Native retail economy."
And the Senator once again restated his request:
"Although the NYS Supreme Court case starts to provide some direction on the status of the taxation of Native American cigarettes, there is still much uncertainty in this area. Consequently, we request that you provide written clarification to us as soon as possible."
As we approach three years from the original request there is still a refusal by the State to provide a written explanation of their policy or intent. This is not rule of law. Hell! The lawmakers themselves can't get an answer from these extortionists.
This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his new get tough policy/propaganda against cigarette smuggling. He announced the formation of a 13-agency task force dedicated to keeping illegal cigarettes out of the State.
“This new law-enforcement strategy will help to crack down on these illegal cigarette sales and capture those smugglers who seek to evade the law and rob the state of the revenue it is rightly owed,” Cuomo said.
The problem is that neither the mob boss nor his minions will say where the Native tobacco trade fits into this conversation.
A recent study by a non-partisan tax policy think tank, the Tax Foundation, revealed that almost 57% of the cigarettes consumed in New York State are brought into the state illegally. Nothing in the Tax Foundation's report suggests any of this percentage includes Native brands or Native sales nor does it imply that Native sales are illegal or considered smuggling. The report clearly assigns the vast majority of "smuggled" cigarettes to Virginia and three other low-taxed states that do not affix tax stamps to cigarettes.
So there we have it — New York State policies so covert that the actual lawmakers from either party are denied access while the “Boss” chases his tail on what is real revenue leakage and where his revenue is actually leaking to.
Monday, April 7, 2014
One of the biggest challenges for any people is broad participation in the issues that affect everyone. And when you stop and think about it, there is very little from the smallest ripples in a family to major calamities in a community that occurs without impacting others.
The notion of "mind your own business" or "let someone else handle it" has become commonplace in many cultures. As we observe the flaws of some of these other cultures and societies there are those among us that would like to think the Haudenosaunee lived in a utopian society where conflict and controversy could never find a home. We speak of "the good mind" as though our ancestors never had bad thoughts.
Of course, this was not the case. And a proper inspection of concepts captured in our language and our ceremonies make it clear that both were developed to provide the necessary lessons to avoid repeating the mistakes of those that came before us.
Their wisdom is demonstrated in the timeless metaphors drawn upon generation after generation, not only without losing their meanings but also actually gaining in significance as time goes on. "Fire" is an example of this.
A fire in its most basic form serves as a symbol for family. A fire provides warmth and protection. With its light wisdom and learning are provided and the soothing, almost hypnotic effect of dancing flames and glowing embers is something unmatched in nature.
But beyond the family, the fire represents a council. In fact, the fire is a symbol for our right of assembly. We refer to our process of deliberation as an issue being handed across and around the fire.
And while the fire and the tending of it is a significant part of ceremony, council and the very foundation of our "Longhouse," there are some very basic concepts associated with fire that are either missed, ignored or are interpreted far too narrowly.
Poets, songwriters, storytellers and holy men have crafted messages and sermons with images evoked from "stirring the ashes." But one of the most compelling and pragmatic cultural connections to this expression is neither spiritual nor loaded with spooky connotations.
As it was explained to me, one of the concepts captured in the act of stirring the ashes is specifically associated with inclusion and encouraging participation. The very act of stirring ashes and poking around in the almost dormant embers of a fire livens up those embers. By exposing them, those not quite extinguished embers are made to glow with their own fire and even those that seemed to have lost their fire can be re-ignited.
Many of our people are like those dormant or extinguished embers. While the hot flames flash and dazzle with flamboyant energy, many settle in to the quiet places allowing our fire to be fed primarily by the hottest coals among us. By settling into the ashes, we preserve our thoughts and opinions, protecting them from scrutiny. And in doing so we often believe we retain the right to criticize quietly, away from direct engagement.
The concept of stirring the ashes gives energy and life to those hiding from responsibility when their contribution to our fire is needed most. Stirring the ashes lights those up that may feel neglected as well as those that wish to be. It is a symbol for inclusion and participation. Yet as much sense as the image makes in this application, it is not widely held or shared.
I am extremely fortunate to have people around me that continue to share and explain these things. And because of these special relationships, my responsibility becomes to continue the conversations offered to me and to encourage this very concept of inclusion and participation above all else.
It is through these conversations that like-minded people gather and those that are compelled to action can genuinely know that their actions are either supported or condemned. We need not fear or ignore the darkened embers. We need to stir the ashes to find the latent sparks among us. There is no real consensus on any issue if the light of so many is left buried in the ash.
In the same way that we remove the dust with a seagull wing from the knowledge passed down from those that came before us, we stir the ashes of our fire to remove this dust from the knowledge quietly held right beside us.
For those of us strong in their — and our — convictions, we should welcome those voices rarely heard. And if they challenge us, then such a challenge should be seen as an opportunity to teach those who have not as yet been engaged or to learn from those waiting to become engaged.
A bed of hot coals is a strong foundation for a fire just waiting to flare. And that sea of glowing embers is far more powerful than any single match, torch or beacon.
We need participation far more than we need leadership. Strong leadership is only needed with weak-minded people.
The great men and women who came before us knew all this and that is why concepts and expressions such as "removing the dust" and "stirring the ashes" were specifically captured in our language and incorporated in our stories and ceremonies. These are not phrases coined for prayers to the sky world but rather concepts developed for teaching and avoiding the mistakes common to the nature of man on Earth.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
"The most consistent theme in the descriptions penned about the New World was amazement at the Indians’ personal liberty, in particular their freedom from rulers and from social classes based on ownership of property. For the first time the French and the British became aware of the possibility of living in social harmony and prosperity without the rule of a king." – Jack Weatherford, "Indian Givers"
Almost immediately, all that was known about society, government and social order had come into question for the Europeans who washed up on our shores half a millennium ago. Social order without a hierarchy? Equality? Even between genders? Unalienable rights bestowed to all by Creation?
In the absence of a system born out of beliefs in gods, kings and emperors, an entirely different philosophy developed and shaped the culture of the Onkweh Onweh. As a result, some very foreign concepts were embraced by the newcomers to our lands. Our view of relationships, respect and commitments to our future and the future generations were ultimately understood and welcomed by settlers. Our concepts of liberty and equality would represent such a departure from what was known and, in many ways, at the core of the problems with their "mother land" that they would become not the reason but the rationale for a Declaration of Independence for settler colonists from the rulers of their homelands.
Of course not all of our concepts were embraced and many that were would be altered beyond recognition. But the fact of the matter is that a nation was born out of our lands and our values, both of which were previously unknown to the white man. The reason our lands and philosophies had such value was because they had not been contaminated by European ideas.
It was separation — time, distance and space that would allow a people to develop with such distinction from the norms of Eurasian societies. And now, centuries after the cultural exchanges that would lead to the creation of nations that would make claims to world dominance, democracy and global standards for human rights we, the original people, the Onkweh Onweh, fight everyday to maintain our distinction and autonomy. Five hundred years of atrocities that earn the label of the American Holocaust has not resulted in the successful genocide of our people. And our fight is not the fight of armed insurrection. It is not an insurgency of terrorism or vindictive vengeance. No, our fight is peaceful but strong. We resist the controls of the dominant societies around us. We utilize our sovereignty as an asset and exploit the regulatory advantages we fervently refuse to concede.
But why the fight? Do the U.S. and Canada really consider us a threat? If so, to what or to whom are we a threat? Even as we put our sovereignty to use in our economic development, our economies serve your people! Our gaming, our retail, our manufacturing — all of it depends on the patronage of Americans and Canadians. And how do your people feel about our sovereignty? They support it and, in many ways, depend on it. Our economy employs more of your people than our own. Our economy doesn't just count on your citizens as patrons; we purchase from your vendors; we contract with your suppliers and we hire your contractors. So even as we fight U.S. and Canadian police, government agents, politicians and courts for the elements of our sovereignty that provide the distinction and regulatory advantages necessary to sustain our still limited economy, it is our solid and loyal relationship with your own people that provides our market and much of our supply.
The problems with our economy are many. For one, it's narrow. For another, it is always under attack. If it weren't under an unlawful constant assault it wouldn't be so narrow. Gas, gaming and tobacco are not the only things our people, our lands and our sovereignty are good for. We have much more to offer and, frankly, none of us are comfortable being dependent on two vices and reliance on the oil industry. Nor are we comfortable with them being our legacy.
So here is my point of the week. If our autonomy and distinction could create a philosophy that could change the world centuries ago when change was slow, what could genuine respect and support for our sovereignty and autonomy produce today? In a world where the very regulatory advantages we fight for are sought after for outsourcing, why trek halfway around the globe for what's in your own backyard? Our sovereignty is not a threat to anyone's national security. But it may be a proving ground for the new economic models that everyone is desperately searching for. Back off and see what a clean slate in the neighborhood can do. No need for bureaucratic economic development zones, White House "Promise Zones" or New York State "tax-free" zones. No bipartisan bickering over legislative fixes. Just simple respect for the sovereignty that predates your very existence.
The Haudenosaunee was the model for what would be. We need the respect and support for our autonomy and distinction today so we can be the model for what will be. Fighting us slows down our development but it won't stop us. Fighting us is a battle against the will of your own people. Embrace our distinction and abandon your genocidal tendencies.
Although I cannot embrace the rape of the planet and obscene support for the rich lords of capitalism that seems bound to Republican DNA, there is no question that some of the worst actions and most aggressive policies our people have seen toward our trade and commerce has come from a Democrat as Governor of New York State and a Democrat as President of the United States.
Racism and the arrogant ignorance behind it seem to know no bounds. Neither race nor political party affiliation affects the moral compass or the conscience of elected officials in the American system.
It was under David Paterson, Democrat and New York State's first black governor that the State pushed through enough of its legal hurdles to shut off its State-licensed wholesalers from selling tobacco products to Native retailers. This plan was put into motion by Governor Mario Cuomo almost 20 years earlier and seemed to be held up by his successor, Republican Governor George Pataki.
Now don't get me wrong, we also clashed with Pataki. But this guy changed his stance on attacking our commerce and got elected two more times in spite of it. In other words, caving in to those his predecessor planned to attack militarily under "Operation Gallant Piper" cost him nothing in political capital.
But after 10 years of relative peace and even a huge growth of Native tobacco retail due to remote sales (Internet and mail order), back came the socially responsible Democrats. Democrat Eliot Spitzer got elected as the tough "Sheriff of Wall Street" with every intention of shutting us down but resigned in disgrace after a prostitution scandal. So that's how New York ends up with its first black (un-elected) governor at the same time the U.S. gets its first black president.
Now, one would think that Democrats with even some personal insight on racial discrimination would be "sensitive" to Native issues. Not a chance. Obama killed that retail growth of which I spoke by signing into law the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act), outlawing our remote sales and killing 3,000 jobs in the process. No one said a word about the job losses. No one said a word about killing the revenue flow into Western New York or the wiping out of the Master Settlement Act payments that the State was getting from our sales. The PACT Act was pushed through as an anti-terrorism bill and that sealed the deal.
Paterson tried to choke off supply by pushing through the dormant work of Mario Cuomo and then handed it off to the next his successor, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo "The Younger" came into office with more than just the normal dismissive attitude toward Native issues. He came in with a chip on his shoulder. He proved that the only thing worse than two Democrats named Obama and Paterson were Democrats named Obama and Cuomo.
While, nationally, many Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recognized tribal leaders were falling at the feet of the first President "of color" every chance they got and a fair number made sweetheart deals with New York State's "Prince Andrew" over gaming dollars and land claims, record numbers of armed raids by federal agents and seizures by state authorities piled up under this Democrat rule. Law suits, indictments, tax assessments and even a multi-million dollar federal sting operation over tobacco; not guns, not drugs, not funding terrorism but tobacco, has been the hallmark the Obama/Cuomo era.
As I said from the start, I am certainly no fan of the Republican right. I'll never understand how middle class (and below) white Americans can support these guys under the ridiculous belief that they stand for freedom. Freedom to subject an entire nation of people to the prison of consumerism that destroys the planet and only makes the rich richer is not freedom. But the Democrats are right there in defense of American capitalism, too.
I have come to the conclusion that American political party affiliation is all just window dressing. So whether the Republicans want to play the arrogant, know-it-all, abusive dad under the cloak of conservatism or the Democrats want dress up as the whining, let-me-take-care-of-you, incompetent mom in her liberal house coat, we aren't playing. We aren't your children, your wards or your subjects.
As more and more Americans and Canadians see the mess of things their government officials have made and continue to make, the colonial powers may be in for trouble with their own people. The "Great Experiment" in democracy is failing as is the free market and the global economy. While many patriotic Canadians and Americans talk about resisting government abuse, we have been doing it for 500 years. Politicians come and go, as do empires and wealth. We have lived here for tens of thousands of years. You should never start a fight you can't finish.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
On my "Let's Talk Native..." radio show on Sunday, March 9, I announced my new campaign. No, I am not running for office. My campaign is about truth telling and clearing away false assumptions about what the United States and Canada believe they have reduced us to — namely, their subjects.
In spite of the lop-sided "deals" and, more often than not, fraudulent acts committed by Europeans and their descendants to gain access to the lands of our children, the characterization that we are dependent on them is false. The very existence of the U.S. and Canada depends on their claim to a land base. The fact of the matter is that they are completely dependent on lands that we allowed them to occupy — but that occupation was and is conditional. And neither of these "colonies" has been released from the debt of those conditions.
In the egotistical view of Christian Europeans, the Earth was created to be subdued and owned by man. With that assumption and with their own view of such things, treaties were entered into with a people who by and large were willing to help a poor and wretched class of humans that washed up on their shores. In later years, these white men, cloaked in their religion, would attempt to claim certain ownership of lands under decrees of their church and the tenets of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. But in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court's attempt to codify this racist and unlawful policy that literally says a Christian people can just claim ownership of the lands of pagans, the early American leaders crafted law after law acknowledging Native lands and our exclusive ownership of those lands as well as the distinction of our autonomy and sovereignty.
There is no reconciling on the attempt by the U.S. or Canada to create some uniform body of "federal Indian law" with the realities of their own inconsistencies, ambiguities and outright lies. The crumbling foundation of the concept of federal Indian law is built upon religious and racist dogma addressed in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as follows:
"all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust."
We are not wards of the state. The U.S. and Canada are not our custodians, our guardians, our trustees or our superiors.
Those who choose to be victims of the American genocide are certainly free to do so and the U.S. and Canada are happy to oblige. But for those of us who continue to not just survive but actually fight back, we do so to affect change and not just to find a kinder and gentler master. We fight and defend our sovereignty for our children and those unborn faces to come and also to transform those victims among us into survivors.
As I spend the next several months exposing the absurdity of state, U.S. federal, provincial and Canadian federal policies and showing how these policies are born out of blatant racism with a clear objective to eliminate our claim to distinction and autonomy, I ask that others join me to advance this campaign.
My goal in defending our sovereignty is to turn the tables on those who attempt to criminalize us or assert unlawful controls over us. Let them produce their documents defending their positions. Name the event that transferred our sovereignty to them. Give us a date, a time and a place. When and where was our consent given to their governments "instituted amongst Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed?" When did we concede to subjugation?
Even the self-righteousness of the U.S. and Canada cannot give them the right to legislate or adjudicate away the sovereignty of another people. It's fine to cry "rule of law" with mouse eyes but we have been watching with the eyes of the eagle from a thousand feet in the air. We see where justice stops and where law is used as a tool or a weapon against us and others. If man's laws are needed at all, they need to be built on a foundation of truth and integrity and must be just to be valid.
When New York State claims our trade must abide by their laws with no legal basis for making such claim and when the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sends armed and masked agents into our lands to bolster the State's claim, this is not justice. This is not rule of law. This is manipulation of law. This is secret oppression — undeclared policy.
It has been almost three years since two New York State Senators (Senators George Maziarz and Timothy Kennedy) asked the Commissioner of New York State's Department of Taxation and Finance to disclose and provide in writing what the State's policy was on Native-manufactured goods and Native-to-Native trade. Commissioner Thomas Mattox has refused to accommodate this request even as the New York State Attorney General pursues lawsuits against Native manufacturers. These are not the actions of governments and agencies demonstrating just powers. These actions are political and discriminatory, and based on policies hidden from the view of those affected, their own citizens and their own lawmakers.
Hold on. It is going to get nasty around here. This ends only one way — with our sovereignty intact!
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
It is particularly ironic that participation in a trade industry that has been ours for thousands of years — actually introduced to their ancestors by our ancestors — has been under attack since the moment we began realizing any significant economic gain from it. But the attempt by the U.S. and Canada to deny this inherent right is not the only egregious act by two of the world's biggest hypocrite nations.
Kidnapper, hostage holder and pedophile John Rolfe (d. 1622) of Pocahontas fame took the first steps to bastardize our tobacco by commercializing the product for the European market. Philip Morris, Lorillard, R.J. Reynolds and others finished the job by turning tobacco into nicotine delivery systems praying on chemical addiction for market security. Governments and government officials raked in billions with taxes, fees, surcharges, settlements, political contributions, tobacco lobby perks and campaign contributions. Lawyers saw the same; and both tobacco and anti-tobacco lawyers got rich and famous. And while all this money was being spread, Big Tobacco continued cranking out cigarettes. These guys played every angle possible to keep up demand, supply and distribution. They even courted small, almost insignificant Native smoke shops and the low or no-tax environments we operate in. Anything for sales. But that all changed.
Soon the unholy marriage between Big Tobacco and small Native smoke shops bore an offspring that would destroy the bliss — Native-manufactured brands and products. Soon the very companies that used our people to skirt state and provincial law were writing the federal legislation to snuff us out of the business.
Now don't get me wrong, even with Big Tobacco kind of in our corner the U.S. and Canadian governments were hell bent on not letting us build an economy on this or anything else. A few Big Tobacco executives even got prosecuted for bending rules and breaking laws in dealing with the "illicit reservation tobacco trade." But once these guys lined up with the top cops it didn't matter where tobacco originally came from since Team USA and Team Canada were going lie, cheat and steal to keep us out of the game. We were now terrorists or at very least funding them. What ensued were stings, seizures and set-ups of all kinds, including creating sell-outs among Native businessmen and in tribal councils.
But our shops continue to operate and Native brands and Native-produced generics continue to roll off our shelves. Criminalizing our businesses has not stopped them. It has just made it easier to call us criminals.
And while the tobacco sideshow keeps everyone distracted, Canada and the U.S. eye what's left of our lands and resources all the while calculating how they might separate us from both. Even as most territories wallow in poverty and the majority of Native people live ghetto lives in the cities where they have been removed, coal, gas, oil and tar are raped from our lands leaving destruction that would make George Washington and John Sullivan proud. While people freeze to death in their homes due to the very extreme weather caused by the world's "fat takers," diamonds, minerals, lumber, water and energy resources are stripped from our lands leaving wastelands behind as well as cancer, tainted fish and wildlife, polluted water and a stench in the air. And this while poison seeps out of our own Mother in radioactivity and other seen and unseen dangers.
Almost no economic benefit ever makes it back to the people from all this exploitation and the little that does only seems to validate or encourage the practice. More jobs are created for cleanup of the inevitable disasters associated with raping the planet. But, of course, real cleanup is impossible. The fact of the matter is that Americans and Canadians are neither the users of these energy resources nor are they beneficiaries of their revenue either — except those Americans and Canadians that pocket the money on the sales to China. The U.S. broke records last month exporting more than a billion gallons of crude and petroleum products in a single week ending on February 21. So all the hype about domestic supply and energy security is as big a lie as the whole "Tobacco and Terrorism" scam.
China has invested billions of dollars into the tar sands oil extraction in Alberta and it's not to build a better Canada. It is to pull billions and billions of dollars out of our Mother and do it at the greatest rate and scale possible. The majority of Americans and Canadians are ignorant about the issues at stake. Even in the liberal state of New York a recent poll with more than 10,000 online participants had over 51 percent saying "Frack Away," obviously believing the hype over the jobs and benefits to be had destroying the Earth. The same goes for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Far too many Canadians and Americans have bought into all the lies and propaganda associated with this international crime against humanity because they have been duped into believing they will somehow benefit from the dirtiest oil on the planet flowing from Canada to the Texas Gulf so it can be sold to China.
This is not irony. This is criminal. While the U.S. and Canada legislate to prevent any economy from developing or meagerly continuing on Native lands they rape the land they stole from us or are stealing from us. This is all being done while they lie to their own people and destroy the ground beneath their feet.
I am not a fan of what the white man did to our tobacco but I would rather be a criminal farmer, even of tobacco, than a lawful destroyer of the planet.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
I really like the expression, "Remove the Dust." Its most basic meaning evokes the image of sweeping away the dust accumulated over years of neglect from our wampum belts or any other reminders of our shelved knowledge. We use it as an expression that is generally associated with maintaining our culture. But at some point the line between the survival of our culture, distinction and autonomy and just plain survival will be brushed away like a line drawn in the very dust we seem covered in now.
We may not feel the need to learn survival skills for the short time many of us have left before we go home to our Mother, but the incredible short-term benefits and long-term needs should be clear. It's fine to talk about conservation and consuming in moderation, but how is it even possible when people are told every day that the very fabric of the "American Dream" or of the "Global Economy" depends on consumer confidence and consuming far beyond any ability to pay? And I am not just talking paying in dollars; I'm talking about the debt incurred on society, mortgaging our health and bankrupting the planet's resources.
Survival is about returning to reality — to real life. It is about understanding our place in Creation. This is where we find out whether the centuries of indoctrination into whatever belief systems you follow were real or BS. Has your religion or culture or, more importantly, your interpretations of them, prepared you to understand your place in Creation? Or are you simply relying on prayer and tobacco burning to be the problem solver?
Learning survival skills isn't just about doing with less. It is about realizing what is important. If removing the dust does not help us reassess our priorities then perhaps we need a better broom. If we hold sacred a planting ceremony but don't plant and if we perform our harvest ceremony but don't harvest then I say we have missed something. We need to give sincere thought to the lives we are living now if we have any hopes for our children and grandchildren. We need to rethink what a home is, what a family is and what a community is. To be Haudenosaunee or Rohtinoshoni does not mean you have a longhouse. It means you are of the way of the longhouse.
It is fine to speak of sovereignty and standing to defend it. But our word is "Tewatahtawi" and it means “we carry ourselves.” When do we fight not just for the right to carry ourselves but fight and prepare to actually do the carrying?
The world is changing around us. Capitalism and industrialization have driven our environment over a cliff. All the conservation in the world isn't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. However, the world isn't coming to an end. This isn't about fear mongering or predicting the apocalypse. It is about acknowledging the changes that are coming.
Removing the dust isn't just learning the songs and the ceremonies. It is learning what they acknowledge and taking the time to, indeed, acknowledge those things. Maybe we don't need to grow our own food and build our own homes but the time is now to begin to learn or relearn. We cannot expect to build that skill set at the drop of a hat. That genetic memory and knowledge handed down from those before us evolved over time. Much of that knowledge can still serve us today but if we don't get our hands in the dirt now we will be ill equipped for the changes that are coming.
Empires rise and fall. We have seen plenty in the 500 years since European contact. We saw tremendous changes in the 10,000-plus years before that, as well. The descendants of those that came long before us are neither entitled to a sustainable future nor exempt from the fury of a changing earth. We call ourselves Ohnkwe Ohnwe and we say it means “real” or “original” people, but it is more than that. It is a description of a human being who stays true to the world in which he lives. He has a future that is connected to his past. He is real forever.
Archaeologists and anthropologists speak romantically about the ancient civilizations of the Americas and hypothesize about where they came from and what became of them. Yeah, we did the same things other cultures did, too. We built cities and monuments. We created religions and disparity. We waged war against man and Creation. But then we stopped. We learned. We removed the dust. As we cast off the false reality we created, the true Ohnkwe Ohnwe once again came through. It didn't happen by accident or by divine intervention but by planning and acknowledgement.
Many of those we now call our own people will not change their ways. They will march arm in arm in their sycophantic delusion with their capitalist overlords or "Trustees" off the economic and environmental cliff they have created. Choices will be made and continuing down the same path is a choice. If we don't like what we see in ourselves when we remove the dust, then Creation, the same teacher that brought wisdom and knowledge to those that came before us, will teach those willing to learn once again.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
My Let's Talk Native column for the February 19, 2014 issue of the Two Row Times
Now wait a minute. Tell me, how do any resources on our lands get tallied up as a percentage of someone else's resources?
Well, let me tell you how…
First, it happens through blatant theft. That’s theft pulled off through fraud and extortion...with a little religion thrown in.
Then we get the same theft continuing with a penny on the dollar's worth thrown at an impoverished people and/or their corrupt leaders to, somehow, legitimize the theft.
And then we get to where the bought and paid for among us wheel and deal our resources away for a fast buck with those claiming to be "tribal leaders" calling it economic development or worse; calling our resources not ours at all but rather the resources of the nation that has stolen almost everything we hold dear and essentially pledging our resources to make America proud of us.
During the annual State of Indian Nations address delivered by the National Congress of American Indian’s (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby there were repeated references to what "we as Native people" mean to the United States. He boasted about the revenue that Washington State receives from "tribes," including his own Swinomish Tribe. And during all of this talk of our place under the skirt of America the Beautiful was the reference that 10 percent of the "Nation's" energy resources lies within our territories.
Now this isn't just a problem of misplaced or misspoken possession, it is a problem of intent. Even as many of us draw a line in the sand, not just tar sand, on mineral extraction and environmental degradation, we have those among us who are surrounded by lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and investors making million-dollar deals to sell off every barrel, every ton and every cubic foot of anything worth having.
And the biggest factors on negative environmental impact, profitability and investor interest are scale and rate. How much can be extracted and how fast? Of course, throw in a little "no one lives there but a small number of marginalized people and a reduced requirement for real oversight” and bingo! You've got the next hottest thing on the reservation since...well, since bingo.
This brings me to the place where I have to point out the obvious. Now, I get it about who and what these "tribal leaders" are. The federal government gives them their "recognition" and, therefore, their authority. And while their jobs may be to find a cozy spot within the colonial power that uses them, mine is not.
Feminist activist Nikki Craft said, "The task of activism isn't to navigate the systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible, it is to dismantle those systems."
And our task as survivors of the longest attempted genocide the world has ever seen and defenders of our future generations and protectors of our Mother is certainly not to lie down with our abusers and negotiate a comfortable spot in a system that uses everything up for profit. Our job is not to protect the American or Canadian “Brand" or deliver "Made in Canada" or "Made in the USA" to the global market. And it is not our job to look the other way while greed rips into our lands to support "Made in China" either.
If we do choose to pursue a use for these resources they should be used to produce as much value to our communities and our people as possible. Raw materials should not stripped, piped and hauled out of our lands to quench the insatiable appetites of those that would destroy the planet for profit. Our small populations and the small areas of land we still control should not only have a secure energy future but also the scale and rate required for our own needs and desires should never exceed what the environment can support.
Yet for all the vast amount of energy resources boasted about by Mr. NCAI President, we have our own people freezing to death not on forced marches or out in the wilderness but in their homes. Freezing to death in the very lands that Mr. Obama and the French President chuckled over just this week as they shared funny little stories of the Louisiana Purchase and what a great deal it was while Mr. NCAI President looked on honored to be among them.
So as the energy debate and the fight to block the Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sands oil rages on we need to look at those faces close to us — not just industry moguls. We need to shake them out of the delusion of subjugation and the lure of the American dream. We need to be a beacon of hope, not just for our own but also for the ever-increasing number of people looking to us to help break the status quo.
A gas well in Seneca territory should not be filling the pipeline for the American utility companies. It should be supplying Seneca people. It should be producing heat, electricity and automotive fuel. The people should not be sucked dry by National Fuel to pay back investors funding the contamination of Seneca lands and risking the health of the people and life of the region.
The same should be said for coal, oil, gravel, water and trees on every one of our territories. Selling off our land by the truckload, pipe or rail is still selling out our future generations. And that is a system of power that needs to be dismantled.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
By John Kane - from the February 12, 2014 issue of the Two Row Times
Last week two stories about the ongoing battle by New York State and the U.S. federal government against the Native tobacco trade hit the papers.
Last week two stories about the ongoing battle by New York State and the U.S. federal government against the Native tobacco trade hit the papers.
In the state case (http://www.mpcourier.com/article/20140204/DCO/702049802), the government prosecutor joined with defense attorneys in a motion to dismiss felony charges against two men attempting to transport tobacco products from Mohawk territory to Seneca territory in March 2012.
District Attorney Mary E. Rain told the St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards that she had determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Among several issues that Rain described as representing "all kinds of problems with this case" was evidence she found in the case file that was favorable to the defendants. She specifically cited emails to and from the former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve dated August 14, 2012 where "She indicated in the emails that the Mohawk tribe was being singled out and local law enforcement was being unjust."
At the federal level, the Kansas City Star reported that a "New York company admits guilt in contraband cigarette case" (http://www.kansascity.com/2014/02/06/4803205/new-york-company-admits-guilt.html).
Aaron Pierce, a Seneca and former candidate for the President of the Seneca Nation was referred to as an unindicted co-conspirator in a large federal sting operation ran out of Kansas City between June 2010 and January 2012. His company, AJ's Candy and Tobacco LLC is the "New York state tobacco wholesaler" that is the subject of the article.
According to the Star, the "wholesaler pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Kansas City to trafficking contraband cigarettes and agreed to pay up to $1 million in fines, forfeitures and restitution."
The dismissal of the charges in the New York State case demonstrates what many of us have suggested for years about the discriminatory nature of law and law enforcement in the state. But even with the sweeping of this case under the rug, there is still a failure to address any state policy, regulation or law that clearly establishes any legal authority to criminalize the Native tobacco trade.
In May 2011, I worked with New York State Senators George Maziarz and Timothy Kennedy, both from Western New York, to make a formal request the Commissioner of the State's Department of Taxation and Finance to state clearly and in writing exactly what the state's policy was on the Native tobacco trade and Native product, in particular. That letter and follow- ups to that request remain unanswered but clearly lead authorities away from Seneca territory and resulted in the concentration by State authorities on Mohawk territory.
The federal case involving Aaron Pierce and AJ's Candy and Tobacco raises more questions than it answers. The identity question for Aaron Pierce alone could fill volumes but the core question here, too, is whether there is any clear and legitimately established policy, regulation or law that criminalizes Native trade?
The crux of this case is the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA). This law characterizes at a federal level, any cigarettes found in a state requiring a tax and stamp indicating the tax has been paid without a stamp as contraband with very specific exceptions, none of which include Native trade, Native product or Native people and lands. So what is created is an unclear federal law that uses unclear state law to criminalize Native trade that supports the economy on lands that both the state and federal governments know is not theirs.
So whether "AJ" pleads guilty to a crime, cooperates with state and federal authorities to get convictions on him and others or buys his way out of his fear of jail or a fight for sovereignty, does not mean a crime has been committed.
The question that I have for "AJ" is how can purchasing unstamped cigarettes in Kansas City for sale on Native lands be a crime between 2010 and 2012 while AJ Candy and Tobacco buys and sells unstamped Native brands everyday – including today? Is a pack of Marlboro's on the shelf of a Native smoke shop contraband while a pack of Seneca's is not? Where is that written?
Where is the line? Who draws it? And who is willing to defend it?
My immediate assessment of these cases was there could only be one of three explanations here. Either this is completely arbitrary with no real law behind it with the state and feds making it up as they go along. OR they are conceding that Native product in certain undefined areas can be traded by some people under a different set of undefined laws from non-Native product. OR the entire Native tobacco trade is criminal and they just don't know what to do about it or when to do it.
I honestly think it’s the first one but would love to hear them admit the second.