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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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

America's Greatest Public Execution

The story of the executions in Mankato, Minnesota that would be the final chapter of the Dakota War of 1862 seems to always miss the mark, at least for me.

Thirty-eight Dakota men hanged the day after Christmas on an execution order signed by Abraham Lincoln has been characterized many ways even as this story, hidden from American history, began to gain attention leading up to the 150th anniversary last year. But, to be clear, most of this awareness is still only among a very small number of us.

But before I weigh in with my thoughts on the largest court/Presidential-ordered mass execution in the history of the United States, let's go back to last year.

Last year, the much-celebrated "Lincoln" movie was all the rage. No, I’m not talking about the vampire slayer movie. I’m talking about the "real" Lincoln story, the one that took place during the same time period that this "Indian" problem occurred in Minnesota. Of course, nothing of the Dakota 38 or Mankato is in the film. Apparently the image of 38 Native men dangling at the end of a rope while the good people of Minnesota wrapped up their Christmas celebration with what was described even then as "America's greatest public execution" was not sensational enough for Hollywood.

And as the 150th anniversary of the hangings drew near and came and went, barely a murmur was heard in the mainstream national media. But mere days after the anniversary of this horrific event, the media flocked to the National Archives building in D.C. to cover the free special displaying of the Emancipation Proclamation, all part of the 150th anniversary of its signing. No one ever suggested or even hinted at the hypocrisy of Lincoln's hand laid on the Execution Order for the hangings on December 26, 1862 set against his "Proclamation" just six days later.

Scholars will fall and have fallen all over themselves debating the "Great Emancipator" but let's look at the “Great Executioner” and "America's greatest public execution."

The trials where almost 400 "Indians and Half-breeds" stood as enemy combatants in a military court resulted in 320 convictions with 303 sentenced to death by hanging. Those condemned to death were characterized as murderers and rapists, although the latter seems to have been a gross exaggeration if not a complete fabrication. The trials lasted only a week with many individuals before the court for just 5 minutes. No defense was presented, no counsel provided and almost all were convicted on the word of a single accuser.

For the decade leading up to the Dakota War of 1862, the United States refused to make on time or appropriate payments for lands that were continuously encroached upon or otherwise swindled through treaties, congressional acts or outright theft. This was not a failure of U.S. policy. This WAS the U.S. policy.

Sixty years before the Dakota executions, it was Thomas Jefferson who not only laid the groundwork for the removal policies with the so called "Louisiana Purchase" — a scam sold to the Southern states as a place to “remove” the "Indians" to — but also actually encouraged running Native people into debt to further destroy them.

Thirty years before the executions, it was Andrew Jackson who fulfilled Jefferson's promise and drove thousands of Native people to their deaths in the forced marches of the Trail of Tears. Payments for the theft of Cherokee land would come years after the death marches.

It was now Lincoln's turn. The removal policy of Jefferson and Jackson combined with Jefferson's debt-to-destruction plan was perfect for the time. Disregard for timely payments and delivery of food to the Dakota exacerbated the tensions that exploded in 1862. Traders preyed on the slow-to-pay practice of the "Indian Agents" and had the Dakota so far in debt that the traders cheated them in their trades and ultimately managed direct payments from the agents so that no money ever made it to the Native people themselves and in many cases no goods either. Food distributions that were bound by treaty either never came or came spoiled and rancid.

Displaced and starving, the Dakota finally lashed out in the summer of 1862. The Dakota spent the next several months attempting to drive the White settlers from the Minnesota River valley. Lincoln would make claims that 800 men, women and children were killed in the conflict, although no official record backs up that claim.

Many of the websites and publications addressing this issue including those hosted or produced by Native organizations, suggest that Lincoln intervened in the death sentences and reviewed the trial records. Lincoln's role here is often described as humanitarian. The fact was that Lincoln was required to issue the execution orders but was more concerned about perception, domestic and abroad. He ordered the records of the proceeding with a plan to only execute those convicted of murder combined with rape to avoid the international fallout of an execution order for 303 human beings.

Disappointed to learn that the rape claims were wildly exaggerated and that only two were convicted of the combined rape and murder charges and knowing he needed to give the good people of Minnesota more than just a double hanging, he persisted. By using his own standard for distinguishing a massacre from a battle, Lincoln then was able to bump the number up to 39, ordering their executions for participating in massacres. One of these would join the remainder of the 303 originally sentenced to death and the others convicted of lesser crimes, avoiding the gallows but still to only die in prison anyway. In total, more than 1,000 Dakota were imprisoned.

Most would never see a trial. Those who did not die in prison were expelled to Nebraska and South Dakota to live on the concentration camps called reservations. The Dakota claims to Minnesota lands would be abolished by the U.S. Congress.

The next 30 years would see, most notably, the Sand Creek Massacre (1864), the failed attempted massacre by Custer at the Little Bighorn (1876) and the Wounded Knee Massacre, which occurred 123 years ago on December 29, 1890. This event took place 28 years to the week after Abraham Lincoln signed the Execution Order for the "America's greatest public execution" and the Emancipation Proclamation.

By 1890 the Native population of California had been reduced from an estimated 300,000 (in 1850) to 15,000. This 95 percent "reduction" was not the result of disease or natural disaster. It was U.S. policy. It was not a U.S. failure. It was a U.S. success story. While Lincoln "proclaimed" the freedom of the Black man as a strategy to cause slave revolts in the South, Native boys and girls were being bought and sold to the West. Boys were bringing $60 for slave labor while girls were getting $100 and more as sex slaves.

The next 100 years would see residential schools where Native identity and lives of our children would be snuffed out in the policy of "Kill the Indian and Save the Man." Some schools would show a 50 percent mortality rate. These schools would be the beginning of the "Indian" child market that continues today in the foster care and adoption programs of the U.S. and Canada.

So don't for a second think that the Dakota War or the executions at Mankato were failures of American justice or policy. Don't think for a second that “Honest Abe” was just in a tough spot in 1862 but emerged as an American hero. Lincoln did what they all did, all the US Presidents — he lived up to the name Rahnatakaias, “Town Destroyer.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pope Francis: A Gimmick or a Game Changer?

Also published in the December 24, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times
Pope Francis

We are hearing much about this new Pope and his radical support for the poor, but the truth is there will remain a gaping hole in his posture until the papal bulls responsible for the Doctrine of Christian Discovery are addressed. Only a full repudiation of the papal bulls of Pope Nicholas V (1452) and Pope Alexander VI (1493) will keep the bold statements of Pope Francis from ringing hollow for Indigenous people.

Pope Francis may win the Nobel Peace Prize to go along with being named Time magazine’s "Man of the Year," but let's be honest — these honors have less to do with real change and more to do with propaganda. Still, this Pope has the opportunity to follow the World Council of Churches and make the strongest statement on the subject yet.

It isn't enough for the Catholic Church to merely suggest, as it has, that the 15th century bulls are no longer church doctrine. The Vatican started this mess and it's up to this Pope to make a definitive statement rejecting the racist doctrine that continues to be the cause for much of the very poverty to which he speaks.

Of course, strong statements by churches or the Vatican will not undo the damage. The United Nations made its statement, stopping just short of a specific condemnation of the church doctrine in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) but still making their intent quite clear. The third affirmation of the UNDRIP states:

“that 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."

But while the U.S. rejects world opinion or international law confronting their "morally condemnable and socially unjust" laws, it seems to have had no problem codifying into its law church doctrine that clearly conflicts with its claim to a separation of church and state.

Both the U.S. and Canada have actually backed themselves into a corner on this. As these two countries attempt to promote themselves as the moral authority for the world even as the balance of world domination slips away and they actively destroy the land, water and air in pursuit of dollars, their ugly history and justice systems built on racist church dogma cannot be ignored.

The "house of cards" that is their federal Indian law cannot survive any legitimate scrutiny. And their oppressive policies that include raids, physical abuse, kangaroo courts and the general criminalization of all things Native are becoming harder and harder for them to explain away as anything less than a gentler form of genocide. Meanwhile, our people continue to defend the land and the future for all of our children while the U.S. and Canada continue to lose credibility with anyone not in their pockets.

I am not among those clamoring for reparations for all past injustices or for an absolute do over for the last 500 years. Both would be a great dream but neither is realistic. In fact some of our own people would be casualties of a toppling of the house of cards the U.S. and Canada is built on. I believe our leverage over their weakness should be used to press for honest and fruitful negotiations to solve the conflicts with the oppressive nature of these beasts.

There is much work we need to do to return to our ways of solving problems. Rejecting "Indian Act" and Bureau of Indian Affairs dictates and interference is an important start. Taxation and any outside controls of our economic development also need to be pushed back. And, of course, a seat at the table over environmental issues is an absolute must. The unfettered access to resources from our lands and practices that continue to place our children's future in jeopardy must end and any discussion for such going forward must include us.

As reasonable as this sounds to Native people, the U.S. and Canada are a long way from reasonable on these matters. Only a repudiation of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions and opinions that start in 1823 with Johnson v. M’Intosh can slap some sense into countries that allowed "racist, scientifically false, (and) legally invalid" church doctrine to become their laws of the land. This is literally their entire basis for their alleged diminishment of Native sovereignty.

So step up "Man of the Year" and take the big steps to address poverty. After all, it is the Vatican and other corporations of Christian nations that sit on the wealth and resources that have been and continue to be extracted from the lands of Indigenous peoples. And it is that accumulation and consolidation of wealth that is responsible for poverty. And it is the papal bulls from past Popes that paved the way for this unlawful subjugation that continues today.

Clean your house, Pope Francis, and we'll take it from there.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

There is No Victory for Us in U.S. or Canadian Courts

Published in the December 18, 2012 issue of the Two Row Times

The embarrassing failure of the U.S. prosecutor in the Three Feathers Casino trial is not a win. It's not even a draw!  Surviving the persecution and prosecution of their law enforcement agents, lawyers, judges and juries is a good thing, but it is not justice. It is not justice when someone jams a stick in each of your eyes and his system forces him to pull one out.

Kaneratiio and Rarahkwisere did not win in U.S. Federal Court last week with their acquittal in the Three Feathers Casino trial. They didn't get their year back. Kaneratiio doesn't get back the freedom that was restricted. Rarahkwisere doesn't back get the 11 months he was forced to sit in jail. Sakioetha doesn't get back the year he spent away from his home avoiding the same fate. Nor has the stick been pulled from his eye.

Their courts are for “them.” Their courts are for those who are part of their system — for those who vote, who fly their flags and pledge allegiance to it. The courts are for the people who come to America with hopes and dreams of striking it rich or escaping homelands gone terribly wrong.

These courts are not for us — people that have lived free and independent lives for thousands of years before a White man, his church and his laws washed up on our shores. They are not for a people that never consented to subjugation or incorporation to them or with them.

Neither the U.S. nor Canada can cite the date or the event that our sovereignty was transferred to them. They both claim jurisdiction over us but can't seem to come up with how or when they got it. Oh sure, they can cite a law or a ruling, but they can never quite explain how their lawmakers and judges obtain the authority to strip the sovereignty from a people outside their legal authority. Is it “might makes right”? Well, what happened to their "rule of law" claims then or those "unalienable rights" they declared?

It's all a house of cards. These claims to ownership of our lands and lives are simply false. When all is said and done, all the lands and freedoms of Indigenous peoples were claimed under the banner of "Manifest Destiny" and the "Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” the latter a racist concept put forth by the Catholic Church and clung to by all European "Christian" nations as justification for half a millennium of crime — crimes that continue today.

The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms "that 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." Yet the U.S. and Canada claim supremacy over us on what the entire world knows to be a premise that is racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.

So the question isn't, does the U.S. and Canada have jurisdiction over us? That would be an unequivocal NO! The question is, what happens when they jam their authority down our throats, forcing it at gunpoint or with bars and chains? Most of the time their courts have their way with us while the people of the world who know it is invalid, condemnable and unjust sit quietly in the corner hoping not to be called upon. And we survive another indignity and affront to who and what we are.

But sometimes they fail. Sometimes all their power and resources, all their false accusation and claims, and all their high paid lawyers and judges fail to complete another exercise in persecution through prosecution.

The Three Feathers Casino trial is one of those failures. But it is their failure — not our victory. We can be happy and even celebrate their failure, but a crime that is stopped before it is complete is still a crime. Surviving an attempted murder or rape does not mean that a crime was not committed.

Kaneratiio and Rarakwisere did not win a contest. They foiled a crime. The fact is that the U.S. Attorney's office attempted a crime and that, too, is a crime, a crime to which they will never answer. There is no justice when the Justice Department is committing the crime, even when a jury of their peers rules against them.

So congratulate our guys for standing up and for surviving the targeted assault against them and the Kanienkehaka Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne — our Longhouse. But until we stop the criminal assaults against our people there is no victory.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stop Trying to "Solve" the Great Mystery!

Previously published in the December 11, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

When you pull up my blog online, this is my intro:
"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 every day 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. [And] I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that."

We live in a world where one of the most overused concepts is "science." Now, the basic idea of studying and dissecting an object or a concept for better understanding is both noble and consistent with most forward thinking cultures, including our own. However, the problem isn't the open-minded approach to learning but, rather, the practice of cherry picking info or skewing the findings to backfill preconceived notions or spiritual beliefs.

Christian Scientists, the Church of Scientology, Quantum Healing and a host of other religious brands actually jam "science" or scientific terms right in their names; and you can bet they cite a ton of scientific data to "prove" their spiritual claims. I have heard plenty of the "born-again" experts detail scientific proof that evolution is false and that science supports creationism. But think about it — Papal Bulls from the 1400s also were based on scientific evidence of racial superiority. And we saw how those ideas were played out through the centuries.

But science isn't just being appropriated by desperate men trying to save their religions. The “religion” of power and wealth also has invested in “convenient” science. Governments and corporations – some intertwined with one another – and established religions, are finding ways to undermine Indigenous peoples by gathering scientific evidence to void the entire concept of Native populations.

One general concept currently being circulated is that if we – the original people of this continent – all migrated here only slightly before the White man or if we are really just White men with great tans then somehow our claims to land and resources are invalid.

The notion that we all left Europe, traveled through northern Asia and crossed the Bering Strait is still taught in schools as a "theory" when it barely qualifies as a hypothesis. The windows of time that were established by science for such a possibility have been slammed shut again and again but the "theory" is clung to regardless.

The unlocking of DNA is the next scientific breakthrough for solving the "Indian problem." You see it all comes down to, "if we can figure out where they came from that is not where they are now or at least make up a compelling story of such, we can cut the cord that ties them to the land." So connect us genetically to Europeans or Asians and who cares how we got here?

Now let's be clear that it isn't just the White man trying cut our legs off here. There are those among us touting ancient Egyptian connections, Jewish connections, African connections and connections to alien worlds through worm holes. Our own Creation stories have been altered to match up with other cultures and get promoted as an exact account of our creation rather than the lesson of Creation. Hell, there are those among us that suggest Tekanawida was actually Jesus Christ.

And that is the reason for beginning my column this week with my blog’s introductory statement. By all means speculate all you want about our origins. Create stories and fantasize but do so without creating dogma. The Great Mystery was never presented as a challenge. It is not a pass or fail test. It is like the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen — an acknowledgement not necessarily of a higher power but of things that are simply unknowable. In a world that presents itself with all of Creation so open and honestly, it is pointless to obsess on the unknowable.

If there is a point to this folly then what is it? Solving the Great Mystery is not only futile but also dishonest. I can point to an agenda and a strategy behind this mockery. Every major religion on Earth has made a claim to knowing the Great Mystery but how has the planet fared with these claims to knowing the unknowable?

The ties to our past have in too many cases been weakened by the attempted genocide of our people but the good news is that we can still know the present. The same Creation that produced the world of our people seven generations ago has also produced this one. The paths of those that came before us are still available to us. Our cord to our mother has not been cut. Who else can make that claim? Our "original instructions" are not from someone's account of the past. They come from Creation, every day!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Redskin Code Talkers?

Previously published in the December 4, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

To avoid arguments in the White world it is said to avoid talking about religion or politics. We may not have the same taboos against these general topics in Native communities but, certainly, there are two other subjects that most regard as off limits for criticism — elders and veterans and, especially if they are both.

Well, so here I go.

In the midst of National Native American Heritage Month — or as I call it our “special month” — and the continuing debacle over Native mascots and team names, the worst being the Washington, D.C. NFL team, we all got to experience a collective moment of cringe. The NFL and D.C. team owner Dan Snyder decided that it was somehow appropriate to dig up a couple of elderly Navajo Code Talkers, fly them to D.C., wrap them up in “Redskins” jackets and parade them onto the football field as the “49ers” beat up on the “Redskins” (I might add there’s a little irony there, too).

The sleaziness of taking advantage of these much-heralded figures in American history and folklore was certainly not missed by anyone. In fact, I agree with all the criticisms lodged against this publicity stunt.

But here is where I am asking for trouble.

What about the Code Talkers? What were they thinking?

Unlike so many across our vast lands, I am not so prone to heap adulation on every Native who enlisted in military service to the U.S. or Canada. It’s ironic to me — and it should be to you, too — that at the dawn of the 20th century it somehow became okay for our people to change sides. After a century of bloody conflicts, massacres, hangings, land theft, prisons and concentration camps/reservations, fraud and outright war, slipping into the uniforms of our enemies became fashionable. Today, it has been drummed into our heads that our enlistment rates are the highest per capita of any “ethnic” population and that we should be proud of this fact. Whether this is borne out of the residential/boarding school era, conversion to Christianity or a general “if you can beat them, join them” mentality or some desperate hope for acceptance…well, I’ll leave these theories for those with a whole lot of letters after their names to debate. But there is little question that throughout the 20th century our people began to buy into American patriotism.

In addition to the irony of Natives serving in the U.S. military, there’s an even higher level of irony associated with the Code Talkers. Consider this — take a people who were having their languages and identities destroyed by active government policy at a level that meets the standard for genocide. Here come some military analysts struggling to develop secretive communications in WWII with a great idea — “Hey Joe, do you think we still have any of those savages running around speaking that gibberish we been trying to beat out of them for all these years?” How opportune to “find” a collection of sophisticated languages that no one else knows. The greatest irony lies in the fact that these languages were actively being destroyed and there was virtually no written record of them. What a great idea!

What developed was the Native Code Talker Program. Grab up or otherwise convince some “Injuns” who still speak their languages to put on a U.S. uniform, put some in the field with radios and never — and I repeat never — let them be captured alive. Bingo! The U.S. has an unbreakable code.
Now don’t for a second think that this interest in our languages or our people would change the U.S. or Canadian policies of trying to destroy them or us. No, this was an opportunistic exploitation and appropriation of something that was ours for their use. While many praise this and take pride that we had something they needed, I just shake my head and think, yeah, like our land, our resources and even that gold the real 49ers were chasing after.

I don’t begrudge Code Talkers or any of our people who enlist. I have many friends and relatives who not only enlisted but also served in active duty with honor and distinction. But they weren’t fighting or enlisting for me or for Native communities. Perhaps their personal choices to fight for the good ole U.S.A. did involve some sense of representing Native people as noble or as “freedom fighters” but these military complexes aren’t about freedom or democracy. They are about defending national interests and the corporations with a stake in them, even back in the 40's.

The use of these young men and our language may have served a greater good in the eyes of many but, nonetheless, it was an exploitation of very young men and our Native languages.

Those men are not so young now. In fact, most are gone. In recent years, the Code Talkers have been held up as “American Heroes” and have earned medals and honors along the way. In a twisted attempt to take advantage of our “special month,” the professional sports franchise at the center of the team name and mascot debate decided to “honor” four Navajo Code Talkers in a much-derided ceremony.

My question to these men and their families is why did they go? Why allow this exploitation? Perhaps the exploitation of these men when they were young, the very thing that made them famous, is justified but being used as young men is one thing. The actions of those with a lifetime behind them are quite another. We can’t simply cry foul about how they were used as if these guys were incapable of understanding the situation. We can’t cherish the wisdom of these elders on one hand and then on the other hand suggest that they were somehow oblivious to the message they were sending, especially when a few decided to offer their unsolicited support for the “Redskins,” suggesting as Dan Snyder has that it's some sort of term of endearment.
I wrestle with the whole idea of honoring Native veterans of U.S. and Canadian military service as “Warriors.” And whether these guys believe it’s okay or not, I refuse to honor them as “Redskins.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

Our “Special Month” — Almost in the Bag

Originally published in the November 27, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times
So as we head into the final week of National Native American Heritage Month as proclaimed by the 44th Rahnatakaias, or as I call it, our “special month,” we get to witness another misappropriation of our culture or, at the very least, another great falsehood of American history, the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. History books, Disney and other tellers of fairy tales continue to promote a feel good fantasy of happy little Pilgrims inviting equally happy little Indians to the “first” Thanksgiving feast in the “New World” and that is just wrong.
To me, there is double irony in the fact that our “special month” neglects who we are today and then, supposedly honoring our past, caps it off with a complete misrepresentation of historical events that proclaims this holiday as a uniquely “American” concept.
I don’t want to talk about the heinous actions of these “lovable” little Pilgrims with their cute hats and shoes so suffice it to say that 50 years of tension between the Wampanoag and these people, including the spread of the white man’s illnesses, bad trade and sketchy land dealings, culminated in the bloodiest clashes that Turtle Island has ever known. The Wampanoag would become witness to savagery never known to the people of their land, including the slaughter of women and children by these “happy little Pilgrims.” This is not quite the friends and family dinner party you were taught about in kindergarten.
The images of the real history, including the decapitation of Metacom and the mounting of his head on a pole are now merely props for diehard sports fans when their teams take on the “Redskins” or the “Blackhawks.” And this may be the real problem with our “special month.” You see, unlike the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, we are still here. And if the President of the United States is going to proclaim a month to honor our heritage while who we are today is not just ignored but trampled on every day by American law enforcement, judges, lawmakers, teachers and even cheerleaders, then, Mr. Obama, stuff your proclamation and our “special month” in your pardoned bird! And don’t get me started on who really needs a pardon.
Yeah, I know. Rahnatakaias invited 567 “federally recognized tribal leaders” to D.C. recently to shake his hand. A dozen of them even got to go to the White House. Of course, barely half of the “tribes” bothered to send anyone. Who could blame them? Why bother making a trip to D.C. to hear Ray Halbritter trying to become the “Redskins” killer and Barack Obama tell us how much he is doing to us — I mean, for us.
But let’s get back to the “Presidential Proclamation” for a moment. So how did the President’s call for “all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities” work out? Well, there was this…

Oh, come on! Of course they weren’t talking about us being sent on another “Trail of Tears” where a third of our population would be killed in a forced migration. That would just be wrong, especially during our “special month.” This high school was just using the event as a theme for their football game against the Pinson Valley High “Indians” in Alabama.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what Mr. Obama had in mind as an “appropriate activity,” but tell me how appropriate is a trademark for the Washington Redskins? Or the state and federal policies that pretend to have successfully “killed the Indian and saved the man,” creating a conformable compliant American where a “wild savage” once stood? 
It’s fine to suggest that “Trail of Tears” reference crosses a line, especially during our “special month,” but where exactly is that line? If a high school, college or professional sports team can dehumanize us by appropriating a name or image associated with us for their own pleasure, how far is the line moved when their opponents mock a historical event associated with us for their pleasure, too? 
When federal agents dismiss the sovereignty of our people and the integrity of our lands with their gun toting raids, criminalizing not only an activity but also our freedom to engage in such an activity on our own terms, it is the same as suggesting that we no longer exist as a distinct people. So let the “Indians” stand with the Tigers and Cubs. And let “Redskins” take the field with the Patriots or the Vikings. It’s not like “real” Indians or Redskins exist anymore, not for Americans.

Just remember America — your President is only calling on you to commemorate our “heritage” — but not to really acknowledge our presence. In doing as he asks, you can be relieved of any guilt by simply stating how much you love our culture without acknowledging that we still exist to own it. This is White privilege as promoted by the White House and the first Black Rahnatakaias.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

“It’s Not What You Say. It’s What You Do”

Previously published in the November 13, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

Almost a year ago federal agents invaded the Kaniekeha community of Akwesasne, breaking into the Three Feathers Casino which had been closed for more than three months and charging members of the Men’s Council from the Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne (Longhouse). Rarahkwisere and Kaneratiio, duly appointed members of that Council, were arrested and taken into custody. Sakoietha, a third member of that Council, was charged but refused to be arraigned, opting to remain free and at-large so he could, at least covertly, tend to his child who has been battling cancer for several years.

Rarahkwisere was denied bail and only this week after more than 11 months of unlawful imprisonment did a federal judge finally release him on his own recognizance.

This commentary is not specifically about the Three Feathers Casino case or the trial concerning it that is currently under way. My thoughts this week concern the hypocrisy and the stark contrast of the image that the U.S. and Canada try so desperately to maintain set against the reality of the current circumstance that Native people find themselves in.

“Is Sorry Enough?,” Murray Porter’s powerful song questioning Canada’s “apology” (albeit not an admission) for the genocidal policy that was the residential schools, opens with the line, “It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.”

This is also my mantra this week. Apologies, congressional resolutions, proclamations, executive orders, U.N. declarations, treaties, speeches and invitations to the White House are just words. And these meaningless overtures made for public consumption are just adding insults to the injuries when measured against reality.

This week marks the middle of National Native American Heritage Month. Barack Obama proclaimed it so. “I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities,” the President said. Once again, it appears no one got the memo — unless in some twisted reality the prosecution of a Longhouse in federal court now qualifies as an “appropriate program or activity.”

The criminalizing and dehumanizing of Native peoples is so ingrained in the culture of colonization that the hypocrisy of “apologizing” for an act while continuing the very action is not even newsworthy.

In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an “official” apology for the residential school system of Canada, which stripped Native children from their families to place them in the prisons of this national school system. Yet the process of stripping children from Native families continues, only now rather than being placed in a government institution they are adopted out to non-Native families.

In 1993, a U.S. Congress Joint Resolution “apologized” for the unlawful overthrow of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii. President Clinton signed it ­­– also during our “special month” – on November 23. However, in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court codified into U.S. law just how pitifully meaningless these things are by ruling that such resolutions have “no binding legal effect.”

Beyond proclaiming our “special month,” the current Rahnatakaias has issued Executive Orders including a couple that demand executive departments and agencies developing policies with “tribal implications” to consult and collaborate with “tribal leaders.” The Treasury Department and the Department of Justice are both executive departments and unless indictments, subpoenas and tax assessments are considered consultation and collaboration then these orders either have no force or had no intent. Regardless of which, they have no effect.

The words, “recognizing tribal sovereignty” are spoken every day in Washington, D.C. and, I suspect, in Ottawa. Parades of senators, congressmen, department heads, appointees, advisers and representatives carve valuable time out of their terribly productive days to offer their patronizing blather while federal agents continue to assault our people and charge them with crimes against the U.S. for exercising that sovereignty that is not only more genuine than their own but also predates the existence of the U.S. and Canada.

Like Murray said: “It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.”

So Rarahkwisere is out of jail but he is hardly free and he will certainly never get those 11 months back. But at least he gets to spend his “special month” with his family. The federal judge who ordered his release had this much sense but can he show enough integrity to really “do” the right thing and toss out the whole case? Don’t be surprised to read that this federal court rules that the Longhouse is a criminal enterprise. They have been treating us as such for centuries.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Am Ready This Year!

Previously published in the November 6, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

Okay, I admit it. Last year when our special month of November rolled around, National Native American Heritage Month, I purposely kept quiet about it until December. I sat silently all month long and sure enough — nothing. So on December 2nd of last year I wrote, “November was what? Our month? Really? Who knew?” for my blog. I won’t use this column to restate my thoughts from last year but by all means, check it out.

But I am not sitting back this year. No sir! As soon as Mr. Obama offered his Presidential Proclamation  , I copied the press release from the White House website, pasted it to emails and sent it to everyone. I even posted it on Facebook. Now no one will be able to say, “I didn’t know.”

So let the “honoring” begin!

One of the big days for the Haudenosaunee in this special month is November 11. 

Wait! This can’t be. That’s Veterans Day.

How can a U.S. military holiday be scheduled on our Canandaigua Treaty Day? This is our big chance to march through the village of Canandaigua arm-in-arm with state and federal dignitaries to mark the most famous treaty of the Six Nations. What self-respecting U.S. politician will pass up Veterans Day to keep this charade going?

This is where we pretend it is an actual “Six Nations” treaty even though no Kanienkehaka (Mohawks) signed or participated in it. We pretend that it isn’t violated everyday by the very ones we are holding hands with. We also pretend that the basis of the treaty, which was the United States recognition of our lands and the promise by them to “never claim the same” somehow can be ignored as long as $4500 worth of “treaty cloth” shows up once a year. 

How can we fake the significance of this crappy document if all the white guys are going to be tied up war mongering?

OK, let’s just move on. Oh no, the American Thanksgiving is in our month. Well, at least we don’t have to see all those cutesy “pilgrim” and “Indian” cardboard cut outs all over any more. But  we certainly do still have to hear all the lies about the “First Thanksgiving” as though they invented the concept. And, of course, watch football. Couldn’t they at least have scheduled the Washington football team for a bye week in November so we could simply have had one less day of hearing about the “Redskins” in our month?

So, let me get this straight — we get a month proclaimed for us and they get two holidays out of it? Oh, wait, we do get a day. I just found it at the bottom of the White House press release. The President calls upon all Americans to celebrate November 29 as Native American Heritage Day.
Hold on a second. That’s Black Friday. How can our day be Black Friday? You call on all Americans to celebrate our day on Black Friday? How? By trampling each other at Walmart? Well, unless someone is picking me up a 65-inch flat screen TV at some unheard of low price, what is there to celebrate?

All right, so no real holiday, nothing really special about the month as far as we are concerned. Can we at least get a moratorium on attacking our people for the month? Can you stop harassing our hunters? Can you stop cutting our trees? Can you stop using your anti-mob laws and anti-terrorism laws against our businesses? Can you stop your tax agents from trying to force your laws and regs on us? Can you stop trying to steal or destroy our land? Can you stop trying us in your courts? And can you stop trying to claim us as your citizens? Just for the month?

Instead of “honoring” our heritage, what about respecting us? Just for the month.

Maybe I’m not ready for National Native American Heritage Month this year but I really would be honored to receive that 65-inch flat screen television.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Take a Hard Look at What a State-Run Casino in Your Town Won’t do, Then Vote “No” on the Gaming Referendum

An edited version of this commentary was published in the Albany Times Union 11/1/13

First, let me state for the record that I am a Mohawk, my wife is Oneida and I live on the Seneca Territory of Cattaraugus south of Buffalo, New York. I receive no gaming proceeds from any Native gaming nor does my family.

While I am not a fan of gaming, I will always defend the right for Native communities to be a part of the industry. And although I am opposed to casinos being an economic development objective I’ll concede some value to it as a means to creating revenue for so other community goals can be realized.

Native casinos face many of the same challenges as other non-Native gaming enterprises. But several clear distinctions need to be made between what exists now and what the Governor has proposed.
The reason gaming works for small populations supported by Native gaming is obvious — gaming revenue comes from outside these communities from larger populations that ultimately creates revenue for smaller populations. If Seneca, Mohawk or Oneida gaming had to rely only on their own small populations for patronage they would still only be operating tiny bingo halls.

With the exception of Las Vegas and maybe Atlantic City, casinos draw 90 percent of their patronage from within a fifty-mile radius of the venue. New York State will never be Nevada or New Jersey. That means all the revenue projections the gaming hawks are throwing around is not new money coming into an area. It will be local income, which will be spent by local patrons without much disposable income with false hopes of big wins — which will never materialize.

Where will the money made by these new casinos go? Native gaming operators are local, as are their shareholders, so every dollar of profit from Native gaming is essentially funneled back into the local economies. And that includes government programs, services and any indirect or direct benefit to the Native people of those communities.

By contrast, the proposed state licensed casinos and current racetrack casinos will be operated by large gaming corporations with interests, financiers, investors and shareholders from across the globe. While the idea of outside investment coming into an area sounds nice, it is not so great when that giant sucking sound starts pulling all of that gaming revenue out of the area. And speaking of giant slurping sounds, consider this — a tax of more than 40 percent by Albany will also ensure that even more money flows freely out of the host communities. Only this carved out portion will go into the state coffer’s black hole. I know, the Governor promised that portions of that revenue would return to the communities that get a casino in their back yards. But, in reality, that will be a very small portion.

The promise of jobs is also overstated. The vast majority of gaming jobs pay at or about minimum wage. Tips may push some of the salaries up to a more attractive level but the funny thing about tips is that they fade away with the novelty of the venue. The first waves of gambling enthusiasts are quick to flash the cash but as gaming losses add up — and they certainly will — the tips quickly diminish. No one ever sought help for tipping addictions. 

And the big salaried jobs that have been dangled in front of us? Reality check — they will mostly be imports. The specialized skill of “player development” and maximizing gaming profits has no room for on-the-job training. These highly skilled jobs will get filled by shuffling the deck within these lucrative gaming corps chomping at the bit for a crack at New York.

So while gaming supporters claim that billions will be made off the backs of upstate local gaming patrons they fail to suggest where those patrons will materialize with billions to lose on “entertainment.” Who will lose business as pending habits shift and just what won't get purchased so gaming dollars can materialize will remain to be seen. It’s easy to suggest just “build it and they will come.” But where will they come from?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Two Row Time

Previously published in the October 30, 2013 issue of The Two Row Times

Much has been made of the Two Row Wampum lately. The “Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign” and the launch of the “Two Row Times” are just two examples of the recent attention being given to it. Yet there seems to be something fundamentally missing from a meaningful conversation on the subject even as attention has spread.
Let’s be clear. The Two Row isn’t just about a ship and a canoe. It is about the paths of creation. This is important enough to repeat — the two rows symbolized in the Kaswentha are paths. They are not roads, highways, canals, pipelines, power lines, lines on a map, or a charted course on a body of water. A path yields to nature whether it is laid down by the feet of millions of our ancestors, a pair of chipmunks, or mighty glaciers. It widens, it narrows, it adjusts with time, and it provides the guidance for us in times of trouble or conflict.  
The message of the Kaswentha is respect, rights and responsibility. Respect of the paths for all of creation is what we remind ourselves of every time we say the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen — those words before all else. We respect not only those paths and our relationships to them but also the rights and responsibilities of those who travel those paths.
Our path, too, needs respect. Respecting that path shows not only respect to those who came before us but also a commitment to those who will follow us.
But this is the tough part. While we are quick to claim the rights we hold, we are not so prepared to uphold the responsibilities that come with them. And if we jump off our path or if one of those shiny objects from their vessel catches our eye, do we accept the responsibility for that pursuit?
We need to take a hard look at three specific examples of these shiny objects and how each one has affected us. Many seem to be oblivious to how far off our path they have strayed; yet, we all have been impacted.
Voting is one of those shiny objects dangled in front of us and  promoted on both sides of the imaginary line. Voting in non-Native elections is so clear an act of the assimilated that it is amazing to me it is even tolerated among our people; yet, in many places “tribal government” is so complicit that they actually assist in “Get out the Vote” campaigns for the non-Native elections. In my opinion, voting is a cop-out if not a sellout. It is simply  passing the buck for responsibility by giving your authority to someone else. By empowering an elected official you diminish your own rights and responsibilities.
Enlisting in the U.S. and Canadian armed forces is another shiny object, an act of indoctrination that began even while those same forces were barely done killing our own Onkweh Onweh brothers and sisters. Here’s an example. We ignored the attack and invasion of Hawaii when it was the U.S. doing the invading but rushed to sign up when the Japanese did the same.
Finally, we must avoid their courts. Now I realize that far too often we find ourselves as hostile participants in their judicial system and beyond our assertion of their lack of jurisdiction and our sovereignty, we do what we must to get out of it. But when we willingly enter their courts we wittingly or unwittingly give them authority over our lands, our environment and ourselves.
Land claims are prime examples of this. We do not have "Land Claims." It is they who have illegitimately claimed our land. Filing a claim for our own land is oxymoronic. And filing it in their courts is just plain moronic. The Onondaga Nation should agree with this, especially since their final attempt at even being heard in the U.S. court was dismissed a few weeks ago.
Their courts are not remedies for our conflicts with them. I would not give our authority to a court anywhere in the world. Conflicts between peoples are only "legal" issues only if there is an overarching set of laws that both sides acknowledge — and no such law exists. Otherwise the issues are political and require diplomacy; not litigation. One cannot just file papers to launch a diplomatic effort. The line must be drawn in the sand not by a "legal action" but with a real action.
So occupy your land, block an environmental crime, and stop an unlawful development! Win the battle in the court of public opinion if possible. Raise the cost of their actions. And find support for a cause to bolster a call for diplomacy.
Voting in their elections, enlisting in their armed forces and voluntarily submitting to their courts are not actions of a people who have survived the longest and most complicit act of genocide the world has ever known. These are acts of submission by its victims. It is important to remember that they have NO lawful act of subjugation over us. Those that continue to oppress us would love to suggest that these voluntary acts are evidence of the success of their "final solution" but we know better.

We must remain vigilant in many more areas to stay true to our path. We need to renew our commitment to the Kaswentha. And while our path must continue to yield to Nature we must fulfill our first and most solemn compact — the one with Creation.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Are Not Alone

This is the unedited version of my column submitted for the October 23, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

A few things need to be immediately taken away from the events of the past week. The first is that we are not alone.  The Mi’kmaq who are standing against fracking for natural gas in Elsipogtog do so not just with courage of their own convictions but also with support from places diverse in geography, culture and ethnicity.
Social media has made it much easier to reach across time and space connecting our Native relatives from the Mohawks to the Lakota but also to the Paiute, Ojibwe, Kumeyaay and hundreds of Native people familiar and unfamiliar to us all. We may not form an ever-ready unified military force at the drop of a hat but that is neither where our strength will ever be nor should ever be. Our strengths are in each of the territories or regions that we live. For some it is seizing the moment to take our own stand on a parallel issue that strengthens the fight for each. For many of us it is simply using whatever field of play that we find ourselves in to raise awareness, make a statement and build support.
As I wove the information on the raid at Elsipogtog into my previously arranged interviews in Albany, N.Y. on public radio and cable news, I was surprised at the interest that was piqued. And as I listened to public radio on my drive back across the state from Albany to Cattaraugus, I was moved by an interview with a local non-Native elected official in the area of the protest and raid who said, “God bless the First Nations.” This gentleman went on to describe how municipal leaders had voted almost unanimously for a moratorium against gas well exploration because of their concern over hydrofracking. He suggested that only the Native protesters were having success fighting this affront to land, water and the life of the region because his own federal government was working against the interests of the municipal governments. These local elected officials were standing with the Native protesters and quite literally so, as this man took a shot to the leg from one of the RCMP’s non-lethal weapons. While many enemies remain set against our fight for sovereignty, more and more non-Native activist are coming to the conclusion that Pamela Palmater once stated on my show, that we may be the last best hope for anyone interested in saving the planet.
Many of us hold some very specific iconic images from events of the past — the Warrior vs. soldier faceoff from Oka or Richard Nicolas standing rifle raised in his hand on a flipped over SQ van from the same conflict. But images these days come quicker than ever and travel the globe at lightning speed. There were immediate images from Elsipogtog of the conflict; among them some of the most compelling images of the last few decades. My good friend Gregg Deal may have helped immortalize one of them with his latest poster created for the “Honor the Treaties” project from the photo image of a woman holding an eagle feather kneeling in front of a line of heavily armed RCMP. Gregg, a Pyramid Lake Paiute, working from his home studio in the Washington D.C. area worked feverishly to get this new creation completed and posted on social media as soon as possible.

From Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to the capitals of New York and the U.S. the work in various platforms of social activism have taken hold. As I sit here banging on my keyboard I see a picture show up on a Facebook post from Hollywood, California of actor Adam Sandler holding a sign that reads, “We Support Elsipogtog.” 
We don’t need to win everyone over but as more people from outside our Native communities come to realize they need us, we add both their support to us and our responsibility to them. We are not alone but in the words of Uncle Ben Parker “with great power comes great responsibility.”
There are still plenty of racist and condescending views held of our people. Those with solid control of the mainstream media are among them but social media gives us a fighting chance. If we play it right and refuse to let anyone hijack our message or misappropriate our power and responsibility we may yet see major shifts in policies.
The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have made us all proud. And I for one feel stronger than ever when fighting for our land, water, women and children.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Change the Name or End the Genocide

From the October 16, 2013 issue of the Two Row Times

To suggest there are many and far more pressing issues facing Native people than being exploited and insulted by sports teams is an obvious understatement. Should the NFL franchise from the capital of one of the world’s superpowers change its name? Of course it should. As should all those high school, college and pro sports teams that appropriate their image of us as though we are a dead part of their history.

Personally, I have a major problem putting this issue out in front of the continued assault on our sovereignty, which continues to promote poverty, suicide, dependency and every other social ill known to man. The irony of the President of the United States suggesting he “would think about changing the name” of the Washington football team seems to be missed by almost everyone. Perhaps he should have “thought” about the 3,000 jobs killed on Native lands with the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act that he signed into law. Perhaps he should have “thought” about how his Executive Orders calling for consultation and collaboration with Native people are ignored by his departments and agencies as they stretch the interpretation of laws and send their enforcement agents into our lands. Or perhaps he should “think” about at least honoring the minimum standard for Indigenous rights as called out by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The “Redskins” should not be a distraction to our life issues. And for people like the Oneida Indian Nation of New York’s pathetic Ray Halbritter to make it his centerpiece publicity stunt with statements, such as “We deserve to be treated as we are – Americans” and to actually think this change will “make America better” is the worst example of a self serving attempt to salvage his image from the sellout fraud that most know him to be. I know no Native people in the fight to defend Native sovereignty who would make such sycophantic statements. I am not an American and I am not particularly concerned with making America better while my people struggle everyday from American oppression.

This is not about bad words. It’s about racism, white privilege and the need for the realization for Americans that we are still here. When a rich man like Washington’s NFL team owner Dan Snyder can claim the use of a Native image and a derogatory word as his and his fan’s tradition, this is the definition of white privilege. The suggestion that the “Hail to the Redskins” team song is somehow honoring us isn’t just racist — it is simply a lie. They aren’t “hailing” to us or our history or even our appropriated image. They are hailing Snyder’s team. Snyder should not be forced to change the name; his shame should compel him to do it. In fact, America’s shame should compel the change.

The problem at the root of all this is the fact that racism is alive and well in the U.S. and Canada. Obama made the point that this discussion is a numbers game when he said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team…was offending a sizable group of people I’d think about changing it.” So for America’s first black president, size matters. If a sizable group needs to be offended to affect change, let’s be clear — we are talking about non-Native people again. We are not a sizable group — not in DC, not in the Washington metropolitan area and, when compared to the rest of the population, not in this country. Forget about right and wrong, right and left, or even black and white — no one is more marginalized than the original inhabitants of this land. And every day politicians, law makers, law enforcement and judges yield to lobbyists, special interests and rich people like Dan Snyder to continue the forced assimilation and further marginalization of Native people.

Yeah, the name should change but don’t any of you dare check a box and say, “there, this one is for the ‘Indians.’” If anyone thinks throwing us a bone by changing the “Redskins” name solves anything for us then your delusional racism is safely intact.

I, for one, hope to point to the name of the U.S. capital’s multibillion dollar sports team for years to come as the perfect metaphor for the racist dominant culture — not just with their continued use of our misappropriated images but with everything else that serves to demean us — this land’s first peoples.

Not even the broadcasters have problems with these images

If  anyone can't see a problem with these images alone and on the face of them, then imagine being a Native person with your child at a game and having to explain this. If you still have no problem with this, and clearly the broadcasters are willing to televise these morons, then we should all be able to agree that we have a long way to go.