Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Mr. Paterson

Mr. Paterson, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can appreciate that you were not elected into the position you now hold, but don't be so limp about it. You are a blind, black man that managed to become the governor of New York State. How could you crumble into being the legislature's lapdog? Did somebody tell you that the State's checks and balance system disappeared when you took the oath?
There is a reason that most Native territories within the State won't sit to negotiate a "deal" like other states have with their Indians. We aren't your Indians. We will not allow you to take anymore from us. We stopped being pushed around by New York over thirty years ago. Hell, we pushed back against Rockefeller on I 81. Only Attica prevented a major conflict between us. We fought to carve out a small piece of the tobacco trade; a trade we originally developed through respectful cultivation, incorporation into our customs and trade with other nations centuries before the white man prostituted our sacred medicine. We are not going to dance for you on this. We are in this business to stay.
Even if you illegaly stop finished products from making it to our territories for resale we have enough Native manufactured product to carve out a significant business. Perhaps you are doing us a favor by drawing the line in the sand. I believe we can take more market share from big tobacco so more of our revenue stays at home. Of course you will lose more MSA funds but hell, this isn't about money any way. Right? It is about your concern for the public health and safety. You certainly would not try to use a public vice to raise money for the State budget; oh yeah there is that "Crack Draw" thing you want to expand and the increase on tax and availabiliy of alcohol. On second thought, maybe you and Elliot can figure a way to tax postitution. Just remember to pay your fair share and pay tax on all that you use and consume in the State.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Tobacco Businesses Will Not Just Continue to Survive, They Will Grow

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the State can and cannot do with regards to Native retatil of any products including tobacco. The State has no more authority to tax the sales of tobacco on our lands today than it had when we started. What the State is hoping to do is prevent product from getting to us without their tax already applied. By and large most cigarettes sold by Native retailers have the Federal excise tax paid. The product comes to the wholesalers with the tax applied or in the case of imported product it is paid when clearing customs. The bottom line for the State is that they can only control their State licensed wholesalers and even these entities that they control must have their regulations legally and evenly applied with particular scrutiny paid to the interstate regulations. Any commerce conducted that involves products coming or going from our communities is interstate commerce. New York State does not have the authority to regulate interstate commerce or commerce with "Indians" specifically. This is is not called out in some overly debated treaty interpretation. It is mandated in the US Constitution. The signifiacance of having the State's wings clipped by the Constitution on both Native commerce and interstate commerce is that any "Indian" specific regulatory scheme must also abide by interstate commerce regulations. The State can do nothing about our manufacturing or our wholesale and distribution without violating Federal law and well established standards for interstate commerce. I do believe it is illegal for New York State to block non-native manufacturers, including Big Tobacco, from doing business with us and I also believe Philip Morris and the others are illegally discriminating against Native retailers by denying us product. However, I strongly believe we should bouycot these manufacturers and steal as much market share from them as we can and we should likewise avoid purchasing from the State licensed wholesalers to stay as far from the State's reach as possible. The tobacco business was ours first and it will be ours last. We will find ways to capitalize on the this industry that was hijacked from us and continue to develop products and markets that will susutain us. As we continue to develop in this business we will find more ways to keep more of the revenue from our manufacturing and sales. I look to the day when neither the State nor the Feds collect a cent of tax revenue from our commerce.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The State Should Be Careful for What It Wishes For

Paterson's signature of the tax bill will not end Native retail of tobacco. It will, however cost the State billions of Master Settlement Act funds. These are funds that George Pataki borrowed against years ago for previous budget woes. These funds come to the State from Big tobacco as a additional tax to the states based on sales. Since the MSA does not apply to products we manufacture, the State will be cutting its nose to spite its face. This new bill will force Native retailers to do what they should have done years ago when big tobacco began its campaign against Native retailers. That is; stop selling their products. There are more than enough Native products to stock our shelves and keep our tobacco businesses successful. Native product has been chipping away at the market share held by the big guys on its own accord. We would be in a better position, however, if our retailers would make more of a concerted effort to drive their customers toward Native products. A famous author and Indian hater once referred to Native people as those that "lick the hand that smites them". Our retailers that cling to their Marlboro sales do just that. Philip Morris has used us, abused us and laughed all the way to the bank as we built our businesses. We need to ween ourselves from those that "smite" us and from State licensed wholesalers as well. Our Native manufacturers have a strong position against any State or Federal restrictions of trade of Native manufactured goods for sale on Native lands. That is the battle we should be fighting and it is non-negotiable. If the State wants to criminalize our businesses they will spend millions while they continue to lose millions. If our businesses are forced to operate in the shadows, they will. And the State will be worse for it. Native leadership will be forced to reevaluate their cooperative agreements, including their gaming compacts and the revenue the State collects from those agreements.

Mr. Paterson; be aware, this bill will not exist in a vacuum. The State legislature; be careful what you wish for!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Seven Generations

I responded to a request for an explanation of the "seven generations" moral guide on the Seneca Voice blog. This is a repost of that explanation.

The seventh generation is the one we will never see. We have a responsibility to those unborn faces that will show themselves after we are gone. If I claim to accept that responsibility and then expect the Nation to solve my problems, fight my battles, defend my sovereignty and, of course, cut me a check, then I am a fraud.
We say we are the Nation, yet still always refer to the Nation in third person. How often do we say what the Nation should do rather than what we should do? Our ancestors invented the concept of "a servant of the people" for those elected or selected to be our representatives. When winning an election is like winning the lottery, it begs the question; who is serving who?
We historically are referred to as a People with an oral tradition as if that is something primative. The key to an oral society is having and exercising your voice. Our ancestors recognized that our power of communication made us distinct from all of creation. Our ceremonies are intended to remind us that we are neither the lords or masters of nature nor separated from it.
A man becomes an unnatural being when he becomes solely interested in the power and position of man. When we give up our voice for a vote, when we fail to be responsible for ourselves, let alone those unborn faces, by passing the buck to some man-made institution (the Nation, courts, police, CPS, NYS), we forget who we are.
The key to the Longhouse is the fire. The fire represents the place to have your voice heard. The right to a fire is our right of assembly. Men, women, the youth, clans, medicine societies, councils, communities; we all have the right to the warmth, the light and the protection that a fire provides so that we can talk and be heard.

One commentor added that at the center of it all was love and in particular a love for a higher power. This was my response.

I beg to differ with the love comment. At the center was personal responsibility. Many will challenge another's assessment of their love for those around us. Being responsible to the elements and people around us may be a demonstration of love, but it is more. In our culture it says that we will never know the face or the place that the power of creation dwells, only the evidence of that power. This is to remind us that our first compact or covenant is with nature. There is nothing supernatural about our belief systems. I am very cautious when people attempt to inject religion into our beliefs. We don't need faith that the creator will take care of us. We need to acknowledge creation and our place in it. Creation has provided all we need to "carry ourselves" the rest is choice.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Solution to the Cayuga Land Status Issue

If the Seneca Nation still wants to claim to be "The Keepers of the Western Door" then they should step up to help their younger brothers. The Seneca Nation could use their unique ability to avoid the Fee to Trust process and set up a permanent land trust for the Cayugas. The Senecas could take the title to the Cayuga sites for a minimum fee, remove it from the State control and place it in a permanent land trust on a Seneca title to the Cayugas. Otherwise the fee to trust process would be placing the title into the hands of the federal government for "use and enjoyment" of the Cayugas.

The problem with this scenario is that the land acquistion process that the Senecas have has been compromised by their Gaming Compact. The Act of Congress that created the process should not have been altered or encumbered by a State agreement. It had no business being added to the negotiations and any reference to land use or acquisition in the Gaming Compact should be struck from the agreement. The State had no right to request such restrictions and the Interior Department should never have let it go through. More evidence on why they shouldn't be trusted. Not to mention the fact that the State has failed to live up to several elements of their end of the bargain and continue to work against Native interests.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Does It All Mean?

On top of the Seneca Allegany Casino is a lighted depiction of the Guswentha or Two Row Wampum. In the lobby of the Seneca Niagara Casino the Two Row is tiled into the wall and is even worked into the lighting system of the Three Sisters Cafe. The Hiawentha Belt flies as a flag in front of the Seneca Nation administration offices. The casinos are the antithesis of the Two Row. They exist because permission was granted by the State and federal governments. They exist because the State and federal governments are allowed to regulate their operation. The Seneca Nation of Indians rejected the constitution represented by the Hiawentha Belt and adopted a system crafted by the white man. If the Seneca Nation is "The Keeper of the Western Door", then the question is; the door to what? I don't raise these questions specifically as a criticism, but more as an opportunity. Perhaps it is because these institutions bear these symbols that we need to revisit or learn their meanings. Perhaps the use of these symbols is not a mockery of their meanings or intents. Perhaps, whether intentional or by accident these Wampum Belts say something to us from where they now perch. I can't accept them just as decoration; they mean too much. Are they a message to us or to the non-native public? I am quite sure the people who decided to display these images don't know why they are there, so maybe the message is to the casino executives and the SNI officials. The Wampums were not created for historical puposes. They were created for the future. The casino executives and tribal government do not decide if the People are still Haudenosaunee or if they ride in the canoe or the ship. The People decide if they are the Keepers of the Western and Eastern Doors, if they will defend each other and protect ourselves. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that we have created certain entities that operate outside of our canoe and that those entities must follow the Two Row and stay in the ship where they have been placed. We, the People steer the canoe.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two Counties Attempt to Crush the Cayugas While the State Sits Back

On a previous post I wrote of what we learned supporting the Cayugas. For those of us that went to the support rally, on October 4th, we saw the anger and blatant racism that the Cayuga people were up against. I wrote that the 60 or 70% of the non-native population that support our position will not fight for us but the 30 or 40% that oppose us will do what ever they can to put us in our place. In the case of the Cayugas it is out of their homeland. Yesterday morning at approximately 10 oclock sheriff's deputies from Cayuga and Seneca Counties seized property from the Cayuga people. Cigarettes, computers and other equipment essential to the operation of the only revenue generating vehicle the Cayuga have was taken from their recently acquired lands. It appears the State refused to participate or prevent in the incident and that it was primarily a local action specifically carrying out the wishes of UCE members and those of a similar racist background. I wrote last time that the minority that oppose us represent the segment of American society that typically dictates to the majority of their people. They are the prominent businessmen, the school board members, the church deacons, the county officials, the judges; those pillars of the community that will say what is appropriate and what is not. So when D.A.'s Swinehart and Budelmann made their overatures to Albany about what the citizens who elected them expected of them you can be assured that they were not referring to the customers that support and patronize the Cayuga enterprises or those that generally feel that the small parcels of reclaimed land and the tiny market share of a local economy carved out by the Cayuga people is the least they deserve. It is unfortunate that the predjudices of the few have the effect of polarizing people along racial lines, but it will. Native people are pissed, not just the Cayuga people. I called for action after the rally out of my concern for this very thing. We need to become more informed and more willing to support each other. Educating ourselves and those around us is critical. The lies and propaganda spread by hate groups must be challenged with truth and honesty. This is not a legal issue. It is a political issue. Criminalizing our autonomy serves no long term pupose. We are here. We have always been here. We will always be here. We were not Americans 1000 years ago. We were not Americans 200 years ago. We are not now and we won't be tomorrow.
(See the side bar for news coverage of the incident)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This was an email set to the Center for Public Integrity regarding their "Tobacco Underground Project" (see sidebar)

Your characterization of sales on Native territories is not only wrong, it is intentionally wrong. You call these sales illicit, but you left the word out of your glossary. If by the term you mean illegal, isn't it curious that we are not all operating in shadows of your ominous black market? Our sales are as legal as are our purchases, our manufacturing, our distribution and our importing. This seems to have been missed in the reporting. Perhaps Mr. Bloomberg's maniacal obsession with smoking and his blatant racism towards Natives skews your objectivity in this area. The fact that Native people have carved out a tiny market share of an industry that hijacked a product that we originally domesticated for trade and consumption also seems to be missed and is at least ironic. The vast majority of our sales are to the end user and are legal. Those that claim that we have no right to market our regulatory advantages to those that do not live in our communities must not be aware that cities, counties, states, countries and continents have been doing the same thing for centuries. The global economy and those that benefit from it prey on labor practices that are tantamount to slavery, environmental permissiveness that is leading to a global climate crisis and tax evasion and avoidance that puts your Tobacco Underground to shame. The United States is only one of four nations of the world that rejected the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Perhaps if they move quickly they can stomp out one of the only private sector industries that has ever prospered in "Indian Country" before the international pressure to sign the Declaration (which protects indigenous economies) overcomes the "Change We Can Believe In". We have a million stories of injustice to tell you that don't involve how much we are screwing the tax man. Did you hear the one about how Lincoln signed the largest mass execution order in the history of the U.S. Justice system (39 Indians sentenced to death after over three hundred were tried in a single day)? Come on you guys! Don't fall for this crap. Even if Bloomberg is funding you, show some journalistic integrity. 98% percent of our population was wiped out in the largest and most participated in act of genocide the world has ever known and this is what you want to include us in. Why don't you write about how our 2% are doing?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What We Learned From the Cayuga Evtent

Most of us who have had the opportunity to live or grow up in a native community have become a little sheltered to the racism that not only exists outside the immediate area of our homes, but how open it is. Most non-native people that live near us have grown to know and, to some extent, understand us. By and large they support our positions and are very encouraging in our battles for autonomy. For the Cayugas and even the Oneidas that have either a new or very small presence in a given area, the intolerance and open racism is right at their door step. Several hundred of us had the opportunity to show solidarity with the Cayuga people and get a harsh education at the same time. We witnessed over two hundred car loads of old, hateful, white people brandishing signs calling for the abolishion of Native identity. They want Seneca to be name of a county or a falls. They want Cayuga to be just a lake and let Mohawk just be a haircut for overly expressive youths. Let the military name aircraft or squadrons and platoons after these warring savages. They want America to own the words and let the images be of something in the past except when used metaphorically or as mascots. We have no right to exist as a distinct people in their view. We should be happy to be Americans and should be grateful for the history that has been so good to us. Our land should be available to all Americans and all State and federal laws should be uniformly applied to our land and people. God and Manifest Destiny called for our eradication. It's true read the history books. Eliminating 98% of the Native population on the continent was not a holocaust, it was a necessary cost. Who knew that the remaining 2% would still manage to survive and not just fade into some other part of the American fabric. After all, some of them could pass for white(trash) and the rest could fit in with the blacks or Mexicans. Either way they would be more manageable that way and they couldn't keep trying to "claim" sovereignty. Our people, for all the success and support we have had cannot kid ourselves about the security of our future. Polls have suggested that most Americans support our view and position, but they won't fight for us. The 30 or 40% of them that oppose us, will fight us. Those car loads of old, bitter, white folks were also affluent. They represent the spheres of influence. We must stay active and continue to educate ourselves and those around us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Was Deganawida's Purpose For Peace Or Survival?

Just a few thoughts I’d like to share… lately I’ve been thinking about the confusion that exists in our communities. There are so many versions of the “Great Peace” or the “Great Good” or the “Great Law“. There’s confusion about what version to follow or what the real translation of what Kaienerakowa even is.
Many people believe the founding principle of the Great Law is peace. Many would say our lives are based on peace maintenance. I beg to differ.
When the message of the Great Law or Great Good was brought to us it was at a time of war. Our people were constantly battling till death. We were surely killing each other off. The end of the existence of Ogwehowe was imminent.
Until the Peacemaker brought the message of the Great Good.
The Great Good simply laid out every aspect of who we are. There are rites and responsibilities for death, burial, birth, marriage, “adoption”, war protocol, language, culture, education, ceremonies, clans, nations, men, women, children, nature, animals, water, weather, counseling, etc… Nothing but a whole lot of common sense and respect.
This message brought to us a clear definition of who we are and how we are to relate to one another and the world. I believe this message was sent to let all Ogwehowe know we have a responsibility to all aspects of life.
One must realize not every aspect of the Great Good involves peace. Nature and weather is not always peaceful, neither is the water.Death is not peaceful for the living or dead. Ask any woman who has carried a child and given birth about whether or not they experienced pain through this process.
Black wampums are not peaceful, either.
Peace is not a consistent part of the Great Good. However, our existence as Ogwehowe is.
The Great Good constantly mentions the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, why’s and how’s of everyday life for us. I believe it was brought to us in order to maintain our existence and every aspect of life Creator and Mother Earth has offered.
People today mention we must constantly maintain peace. My question is at what cost? The cost of our existence as Ogwehowe? Do we have our future generations pay the price of us “keeping the peace”? Our Great Good has protocol to deal with threats to our existence. To deny that is to deny the Great Good.
The eagle sitting atop the tree of peace has fulfilled it’s duty for centuries. It has been crying for a long time, warning us of oncoming threats to our future generations, our very existence. We’ve all heard those cries. We’ve seen those cries. We’ve felt those cries.
Yet, what have we done to respect the eagle and let it know we are listening? How do our actions let the eagle know we’ve heard those cries and are ready as Ogwehowe to uphold our responsibility to life?
We all need to sit down and seriously think about these things. Is our responsibility daily peace preservation or is our responsibility to maintain our existence as Ogwehowe? They are two completely different responsibilities. These are also two very different aspects of the Great Good. How do we "peacefully" find fit water to drink, clean air to b reathe, healthy soil to plant and safe food to eat? How do we "peacefully" deal with our men, women and children being murdered, kidnapped, beaten and raped? How do we "peacefully" deal with the Crown stealing our land and resources for her use and benefit while our families are poverty stricken? Where's the peace in hunger?
Is it really the first principle of the Great Good to be "peaceful"? Does being "peaceful" mean living in denial and not being angry at your abuser? I think not because that would mean you would have to deny your very existence.
That's why I believe the sole intent of the Great Good is for us as Ogwehowe to maintain our existence and get rid of anything that poses a threat to our future generations and all aspects of life.

Janie Jamieson November 16, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Katahtawi: I carry myself

As we adopt non-native words to describe Native concepts we get so caught up in defining their words that we move away from what we believe. At some point we began using (or over using) "sovereign" to describe ourselves. The word became almost synonomous with being Native. But soon it was all about sovereign nations and sovereign governments and the question arose; who was the sovereign? With all the talk of government to government relations, the people started taking a back seat to their representatives who increasingly were being referred to as the Nation. There soon became a debate over where sovereignty was vested; with the people or the government? There is no debate if we go back to our language and back off a word that was used for kings. Katahtawi means "I carry myself". This is the concept and practice we need a return to. When we carry ourselves, the concept or definition of sovereignty becomes moot. To carry yourself you accept responsibility to support yourself and help others. If we as individuals can be neither dependant on Native government nor non-native institutions we keep our Nations strong and impossible to be hijacked or sold out.

Time To Learn

Or time to relearn. We have lost our way, not our ways. We have let others define us with their telling of history, their view of spirituality, their laws and their economy. Our belief systems are not lost. They are covered with ignorance, fear and shame; just dust. It is time to Remove The Dust. This is the expression our ancestors used when it was time to remind ourselves who we are. By removing the dust from our old wampums we could revisit their meanings and most of all, talk about it. We are referred to as an oral society as if that is some how primative. Our voices are the most powerful tool we have. The ability to speak and listen is the power to teach and learn. For all the writing and reading we will ever do, it would teach us nothing if we couldn't discuss it. Technology now allows us to have voices in this new medium. So let's talk. Let's teach. Let's learn.