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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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Liars, Thieves and Ingrates, Welcome to New York!

So New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo admits that he has been lying since he took office when characterizing the Senecas as refusing to pay what they owe and insisting that it was the Senecas that were not upholding their end of the deal on exclusivity payments to the State. Of course, this admission comes only after he beats the Senecas into submission to accept the three facilities in direct competition with Seneca Gaming and still continue to pay in spite of the clear breach of the exclusivity provision of the State/SNI gaming compact. This "grand bargain" also has the Senecas giving up most of the funds that have been held because of the breach.

On the day after this revelation, Niagara Falls Mayor, Paul Dyster, flat out lies about threats he has made to the Senecas over the last few years and gets pissed at the suggestion that he owes the Seneca People an apology. This after getting promised $89 million from payments held back from the State and a promise for $30 million a year going forward. He called the suggestion "Outrageous" on live radio and denied his half dozen threats to deny fire department protection to the patrons, employees and facilities of the Seneca Niagara Casino.

When anyone asks how this dispute could rage on for so long, one only has to look at the integrity of these two at the center of the controversy.

What many fail or refuse to realize is that the State is entitled to no revenue from Native gaming. They can charge for services, and do. But these facilities are neither beholding to the State nor do they exist because of the State. The State could no more grant or authorize Native gaming than they could for State gaming. New York State law prohibits casinos. Seneca Gaming exists because the Senecas are a sovereign People. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), a federal law, only authorizes the states to be involved in the regulations by calling for a gaming compact to be worked out between the states and Native peoples. The states cannot prohibit gaming nor shut down existing facilities operating on expired compacts.

What states can do is offer something of value to a Native gaming operators in exchange for some consideration, including the possibility of revenue sharing. Among those "somethings of value" are non-compete agreements or exclusivity zones. When NYS saw millions of gaming dollars fleeing the State and country across the the Niagara River gorge into Canada, there was a strong mutual interest in the Senecas doing what the State could not; open casinos in Western New York. The State wanted the flow of WNY dollars into Canada to stop and hoped to pull some of those dollars directly into the State's coffers. The State ultimately wanted 25%, a number unheard of in State-Native gaming agreements. For such a large piece of the action the State offer an exclusivity zone from Lake Erie to East of Rochester. A smaller percentage would be paid to the State in the beginning but would ramp up to 25% as the gaming was developed.

The problem is that as the State was trying to create loopholes around its laws prohibiting State run casinos, someone decided these loopholes could circumvent the Seneca exclusivity provision as well. The bottom line was that NYS believed they could compete directly against Seneca Gaming in the non-compete zone and still squeeze them for exclusivity payments.

The Senecas protested and ultimately began withholding the payments. Now of the 25% that the State was to get from this exclusivity provision, 25% of that was to come back to the municipalities in the area of the Seneca gaming sites. In total, $630 million dollars have been withheld to date. The three host communities have been denied over $150 million by the State even though the State was still raking in dollars from its own facilities. The City of Niagara Falls has missed out on almost $90 million dollars over the last four years.

The current State Governor and the Mayor of Niagara Falls have called down the Senecas on almost a weekly basis over this dispute, never once acknowledging any validity to the Seneca position. They have threatened to drive them out of business, take more market share and even allow their facility to burn down while they watch.

Some of this changed last week when in an upset victory for Andrew Cuomo, the Senecas offered to give up over $400 million of what they have held, pocketing a little over $200 million for the State's breach, but agreeing to concede the breach going forward while paying the full 25%, all so the governor would be nicer to them going forward. The host communities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca would get the full shot the State had cost them and never look back at what was said or done during the conflict.

While many Seneca people feel betrayed by their elected officials, those same officials have said sure we gave into the State but we got to keep almost a third of our money and if we quietly pay the 25% going forward and ignore the market share loss to the State facilities that operate in breach of our exclusivity provision they won't steal anymore than what they are currently stealing.

Is this a good "deal" for the Senecas? If paying $200 million a year to Albany while they still compete, still interfere with Native to Native trade, still tie up Native businesses in frivolous law suits and continue to suggest they are entitled to gaming revenue, for a promise, the likes of which that are never kept, is "good"; then, Yes. Yes, it is a good deal.

Is it a good deal for Western New York? Well, if $200 million per year is sucked out of the region to Albany and only $50 million comes back, that is still a net loss of $150 million to the region. If the Senecas kept that money, it most certainly would be spent in Western New York if not invested in more and diversified economic development. Do we ever really know what happens to money that goes to Albany? Keep in mind that this is not "free" money. It is money from the people of WNY. It is not from international tourists or "high rollers" or investment bankers. It is from the common guy who lives within a 50 mile radius of these facilities that buy into the "dollar and a dream" campaign but justify their losses as entertainment. No, this one is a farther stretch than the previous question. No, its a bad deal for the region but if you are hater of Native people or just don't like the idea of "uppity Injuns", then maybe it's worth it. Especially if you only have to appear gracious at press conferences.    

Friday, June 7, 2013

Member of Native American community warns of possible Thruway demonstration

Eileen Buckley WBFO News
"This isn't just a function of annoying the Seneca leadership.  The Seneca people are very angered by this," said John Kane, host of Let's Talk Native. 
As a Native American, Kane has close connections with those in the Seneca Nation Community. 

John Kane, host of Let's Talk Native
Kane said New York State has been stacking up too many issues against Native Americas, from gaming issues to lawsuits against native brands, taxes and seizures. 
"There is talk of a Thruway event because if the governor is going to try to interfere with their national commerce, in terms of gaming, and their private sector commerce, in terms of're going to see reaction and there is a lot of talk of a Thruway event," said Kane.
WBFO News asked Kane when this demonstration could occur and what members of the Senecas are planning.
"What I'm hearing is there is a plan to close the Thruway from a demonstration standpoint.  I don't think anybody is talking tire fires or bulldozing the Thruway.  But I think there is talk about doing an event that is going to spill out on the Thruway and clearly grab the attention of the media and grab the attention of Governor Cuomo," said Kane.
In 1997, the Senecas demonstrated against the states sales tax on native lands shutting down a section of the Thruway. Protestors lit fires and got into scuffles with state police. 
Kane said Cuomo continues to threaten the Seneca's for failure to provide casino revenue payments. But Kane noted that this issue remains in arbitration.  Kane claims the governor is failing to follow a gag order recommended by the arbitration hearing officer.

Hear the audio at:

No Confederate Flags, Wiccan Symbols, Nazi Crosses or Eagle Feathers at Graduation!

Although, certainly, none is really required, a thoughtful and respectful request was made by several Native students graduating from Gowanda High School to wear eagle feathers with their caps and gowns at Graduation.
This is certainly not a new issue. Beyond several national news stories that have hit the news already this year, my son wore an eagle feather back in 2005 when he graduated from Gowanda. It was no secret and, in fact, when he announced to school officials, at that time, his intentions, there was some question as to whether they would allow him to participate in the Graduation ceremony. He, indeed, did participate, eagle feather and all.

In 2007, Frank John wore an eagle feather as well, again over the objection and disapproving stares of Gowanda School officials. The school superintendent, Chuck Rinaldi attempted to convince Ross John, Sr. to bring his son into line, expressing his disappointment in Frank's refusal to obey the "rules". Ross obviously stood with his son on this and Frank, like my son before him graduated with distinction and honor.

The same superintendent who served in the position in 2005 and 2007 offered the written response to the request. "To the Native American Members of the Class of 2013:... I regret to disappoint you but the Board was not able to reach a majority decision that would have granted permission for students to wear an eagle feather."

Certainly there is not a Native person alive today that is not aware of the ignorance and racism toward them that is harbored by many around our communities. The struggle for some to keep this sentiment neatly below the surface is very difficult and sometimes, impossible. So the failure to grant permission is no surprise and so like every other year when students desired to express pride in who they are, Native students will do so again this year against the backdrop of disapproving eyes from the school board and school officials.
The failure of politicians even at this level to address simple issues is now the rule rather than the exception. However the reasons expressed by Mr. Rinaldi and the Board simply defy the very idea that any of them should be involved in education.
The first reason they listed was whether it was legal for a school district to condone the wearing of a feather, especially considering that the "American eagle is a protected species". What does that say about the intelligence of those involve with the education of children when such a simple and basic question eludes their ability to get an answer? Were they really afraid the "Savages" would go on an eagle killing spree for graduation?

The next question they wrestled with was whether the Seneca Nation would approve or any other "tribal organization" for that matter. There "simply was not enough time to research the questions". Apparently 8 years or even 6 years was not enough time to determine if the Seneca Nation and other organizations that host Pow Wows, parades, festivals and ceremonies with enough eagle feathers worn to make Big Bird jealous could approve of such a thing.

But the third question and the one they always have to get to is: What if? "What would the board do if a different student or students decided to wear symbols representing their personal religious, ethnic or racial group?" "What if someone showed up with a confederate flag, wiccan (witch) symbol or in the extreme, Nazi cross?" Although I am not sure I even need to address the disrespectful and insulting analogy made between a symbol of our identity and the choices Mr. Rinaldi made for comparison, let me say it is amazing how he or anyone on the Board could maintain this level of ignorance about who and what Native people are. Seneca is not a religion. Mohawk is not an ethnicity and Cayuga is not a race. Tuscarora is not a belief and Onondaga is not a lifestyle choice. We are not Native Americans. We are Onkwe Ohnwe, real human beings with a culture, a history, a future and ties to our homeland that Americans can't begin to understand. And these comments make it obvious. An eagle feather is not the symbol of a belief system or a philosophy. It is a symbol of respect and honor and the connection that we have for each other, our past and to nature. It also represents a reminder to stay vigilant and aware of the threats to our people; threats such as those born out of ignorance and racism.

What would happen if someone showed up with an American flag and everyone stood and pledged to it, or if a Christian prayer was said, or if someone wore a cross or a Crucifix? Nothing!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Inherent Sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee

In 1776, when a group of British subjects wished to break off from their empire, there was more than just a battle that needed to be fought. First, their needed to be a rationale, a philosophy that the rest of the world (Europe in particular) could embrace for such a revolt. That rationale was laid out in the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen United States of America. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” However, for Europeans that truth was not so self-evident.

Under the yoke of Europe's monarchies, all men were not regarded as equal and all rights came not from Creation but from the thrones, the royal families. The “Sovereignty” of the monarchs was derived from one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated by man: that “God” bestowed a “divine” and ultimate power upon chosen ones to rule over all others. The kings and queens of Europe ruled on the myth that they were chosen by God to wield ultimate and unlimited power over man and Earth. The vast majority, those not chosen by God, had no inherent right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness. All privilege came from the throne and even life was a privilege dispensed or limited at the whim of these “rulers”.

For thousands of years the Haudenosaunee lived in a world where only Nature and the natural order of things provided the paths for life. Sovereignty was inherent, it was a birthright, it was “unalienable”.  Respect for the paths of all the elements of creation guided our own journey through the generations. The power and authority to carry ourselves was an individual right and it was our obligation. Our sovereignty was not a “collective right” but a right we defended collectively. Our people were not “governed” or led by a chosen few but, rather, served by them. The consent of the people was essential for all major decisions. This was the rationale adopted by this breakaway group of white men, which is now sold to the rest of the world as the "great experiment" that is the United States, at least in words.

This “Declaration of Independence” stated as a matter of fact that the “just powers” of a government derived those powers from the “consent of the governed”. The clear implication was that the power was from the people and any “authority” NOT derived from the consent of the people was NOT just. This too came directly from the philosophy and path of the Haudenosaunee. Those who were chosen for specific responsibilities were not raised up as leaders but rather placed in the service of their people; servants of the people. The young United States made commitments to adopt this concept as well. But responsibilities often are confused with authority, especially for those who lived for centuries under a hierarchy, a class system, male dominance and tremendous disparity. The influences of the European system not only corrupted the intentions of their children but, ultimately, took its toll on our ways that survived the ages as well.

Make no mistake; whether the citizens of the United States now look at their elected positions as "rulers" rather than "servants", whether they now accept their birthrights as extinguished and their rights and privileges as “grants” from those "rulers", the Haudenosaunee do not!  Whether elected by popular vote or selected through clans, those chosen by the people are SERVANTS. Those that sit in council for their people have no authority on their own. Resolutions, decisions and proposals can only be reached with and by the consent of the people.

Since our sovereignty remains vested in the people, the constant scrutiny over the authority of our people set against the assumed and exaggerated authority of “tribal leadership” by non-native government officials must be called out. What some regard as the “Nation” is, in fact, "the People". The “Nation” is not a council, a chief, a president, a chairman or a trustee. Again, these are servants of the people.

Our livelihoods are the means for our survival. The right to carry ourselves is the assertion of our inherent right, our sovereignty. This has always been our truth. 

Before we appropriated words like "sovereignty", we said "Tewatahtawi": "We carry ourselves." 

The trade conducted within our territories and between our territories is the most vital and sustaining commerce we have. Our individual Native-to-Native trade IS Nation-to-Nation trade as it is a transaction from one Native territory to another. An act of aggression by a non-native government, agency or official against an individual conducting a lawful act on Native land or between Native lands is an act of aggression against our Nations. Violating the sovereignty of an individual, violates the sovereignty of us all. Commerce conducted from one Native territory to another Native territory by our people is a sovereign act in our free use and enjoyment of our lands and the right to sustain ourselves without interference, whether that commerce is carried out by individuals or an agency or designee of the people.

Sovereignty is not our defense. It is what we defend!