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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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No, Really! It’s OK to Watch Al Jazeera America

Previously published in the September 25, 2013 issue of The Two Row Times - By John Kane

I am amazed at the displaced loyalty to all things "American" that far too many Native people have. Whether it is getting all ”patriotic” every time 9-11 is mentioned or supporting American political candidates or voting in their elections or even enlisting in their armed forces. Have we forgotten that we are survivors of the most monstrous and prolonged act of genocide the world has ever known? Do we forget that for more than 100 years our children were stripped from our homes, stripped of their identities, languages, cultures and dignities while being abused and crippled physically and mentally? Do we fail to acknowledge that policies exist to this day designed to conform us and assimilate our people to their laws and customs? Can we not see that in 2013 we have become so marginalized in our own lands that the occupiers can actually get away with using our images for sports mascots as though we are not real people or no longer exist?

What's worse, I think, is that so many are fine with all of this.

The mere mention of a country or nation that the U.S. or Canada deems "unfriendly" sends far too many Native people scurrying to their oppressors’ teats. Venezuela, Iran, Palestine — countries whose people have never harmed our own invokes an – almost – involuntary response due entirely on the propaganda we have been fed.

No matter how many times ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX or CNN portray us as pitiful creatures incapable taking care of ourselves in the land of milk and honey, we still flock to them or to their affiliates for our basic windows to the world and what can only be described as funhouse mirrors to view ourselves.

When I mention a viable alternative to such blather, such as Al Jazeera or Al Jazeera America, it is actually comical to view the responses. Big eyes and "Whoa there, terrorist" are not just written on their faces but are actually uttered through the mouths of some people. Mention that I have done an interview for them and a step back has even been witnessed.

Dianne McNair, Bureau Coordinator/Assistant to the Bureau Chief, Al Jazeera Network, Washington, DC Bureau and Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Bureau Chief, Washington, DC and New York with a Unity Flag from yours truly. Al Jazeera network is committed to the voices of the voiceless. Sign me up! No buffalo speeches. Just the hard truth and how WE see things.
(Photo by L. Hill)
I am not suggesting that anyone gets our story entirely right. However, until there is an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) in the U.S. market and perhaps, more importantly, in the international market, we need to examine more critically the ridiculous talking heads that currently dominate the mainstream media. For me, Al Jazeera is the only hope on the horizon.

With the launch of Al Jazeera America, this news channel has committed itself to giving a voice to the voiceless and therein lies our best opportunity to be heard. But we have to be willing to at least utter a few sounds first and stop running from those the U.S., Canada and the rednecks in both countries that would love to see us silenced. As we make noise in our own territories we need to help this new network stay true to its word by telling our stories and providing feedback. My conversations with the folks from Al Jazeera have stressed our plight in the context of many conflicts around the world and throughout history.

There is little point in waging war against the “Washington Redskins” if we are only suggesting that a name change “will make America better.” That is ridiculous! It won’t! Mascots are not the real issue here – racism and genocide are. If no other network ­– sports, news or talk — is willing to have a serious discussion on how the true heirs to this continent still battle everyday to survive, not just as individuals but as peoples, then I am all in for giving my new best friend “AJ” a shot.

Let’s get a conversation going on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Let’s expose the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as the racist foundation the U.S. and Canada is built upon. Show the poverty, the suicides, the violence and corruption that exist on Native lands – but this time show why. Show the federal policies, state sponsored racism and crimes against humanity that continue to this day in the land of “truth, justice and the American way.”

I don’t mind for a minute telling our story from a studio devoid of fake patriotism, flag lapel pins and pro-America spin on every turn. Let’s give Al Jazeera America a chance. What the Hell! They even have “America” in their name – for all of you who need that sort of thing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rule of Law or Rule of Lawyers?

Previously published as the LTN Column by John Kane in the September 18, 2013 Two Row Times 

We often hear from the righteous voices of the U.S. and Canada when looking at countries and peoples they view as inferior, that “rule of law” must prevail in these “developing” nations. “Developing”…? Excuse me! Forget the fact the U.S. and Canada have no culture or even a language of their own and barely a history, for that matter, compared to other peoples of the world.

But what does “rule of law” even mean?

When the upstart British colonists became dissatisfied with their “mother country,” they set about trying to create something new and distinct from European monarchies — new to them anyway. There is much talk of democracy these days but male dominant aristocracies is a habit hard to break especially when it is all you've known for several centuries. In the view of the “founding fathers,” democracy would empower the ignorant and the uninformed. They believed everyone should have rights. However, there was an important caveat: that “power” needed to be in the hands of the “capable.”

The U.S. did not form a democracy. It was a republic. The distinction between the two comes down to two concepts. The first is where sovereignty is vested. In a republic sovereignty is a birthright. It is vested in the individual; and the sovereignty of a nation comes from the people collectively. In a democracy it is the state that is the sovereign although it is an authority held by the collective of the people. The second thing that separates a democracy from a republic is the notion that the foundation of law or a constitution for a republic is natural law. That is to say that certain rights are inherent and unalienable. In a true democracy all laws are subject to majority (mob) rule. Both these ideas incorporated in the concept of a republic came from the Haudenosaunee. Sovereignty as a birthright, the understanding that creation is the ultimate power, and that any and all constructs of man are bound to that power, is the essence of our opening address, the Ohentonkariwatehkwa.

So when the words, “rule of law” are uttered, I say: hell yeah, agreed, no problem — as long as we are talking laws of nature and not the laws of men imposed on others without consent.

Seemingly, the entire world has forgotten the distinction of natural law from man’s law. Laws do not solve conflict. Even nature’s laws don’t do this — ask the next dinosaur you see how that worked out for them. Law, by court or certainly by lawyers, cannot resolve conflict. No one has ever successfully challenged nature in court. They have used courts to defy it but nature, like us, does not recognize that jurisdiction. Man’s law, on the other hand, is supposed to be based on the establishment of legitimate authority at the foundation of every piece of legislation and should lay out everything from jurisdiction to the legislative intent to constitutionality and basic rightness. It fails on much of this.

Now the biggest problem with this concept of “rule of (man’s) law” is that, unlike nature, we abandon diplomacy and negotiation and basic harmony for court rulings — i.e. winners and losers. And again, unlike in nature, there are flaws in much of the foundation of man’s law.

As I sit here today striking these computer keys and pondering all of this, I insist that there still does not exist any proper legal foundation for the subjugation of Native people to U.S. or Canadian law. And I would imagine the same could be said for many other peoples oppressed by colonial powers. The reality is there was no transfer of our sovereignty, no surrender agreement, no “treaty” asking to join the “club,” no referendum, and certainly no consent to genocide or assimilation. The U.S. and Canada cannot legislate our sovereignty away and their courts and judges cannot just rule it away. By definition the sovereignty of one people is outside the jurisdiction of another.

While I do believe the United Nations should do more than approve a “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” I don’t believe the U.N. should be the final arbitrator of any justice. No individual or no organization should have this role — or this right.

We must return to an era of diplomacy and statesmanship. A civilized society needs to have honest and meaningful dialogue to resolve conflicts. It should not be based on might makes right but, rather, on right makes right. Statesmanship and compromise need to be held higher than court precedents and religious dogma. Lawyers and lobbyists playing word games with man-made laws to screw the less fortunate, the environment and future generations need to be thrown off the table and conflicts need to be looked at as things to resolve — not as contests to win.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Servants of the People

Published previously as the LTN Column by John Kane in the September 11, 2013 Two Row Times

It was an honor bestowed on those already having proven both the willingness to serve and effectiveness in doing so. This was our concept — unique throughout the world but one with such a strong sense of rightness that many would claim it for their own. Of course, claims and reality are not necessarily the same.

The crazy part of this story is that we don’t use this concept or even the expression anymore. Americans never quite got the concept but to this day they refer to elected or appointed office as public service — to be sure, these are only words. But what happened to us?
Those now getting themselves into an “office” or “title” call themselves “tribal leaders.” They claim authority from nowhere, earn ridiculously fat paychecks, and leave policy, diplomacy and defense of sovereignty to lawyers, consultants and lobbyists, most of whom are non-Native. Worse than that is while they claim this illegitimate authority and empower “professionals” to do their work, they strip the power from the people and trample their birthright.

Now don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The lazy, “pass the buck” attitude of the people enable all this to happen. The fact that “Idle No More” caught on at all is an acknowledgment that the people have been far too idle for far too long.

It also must be made clear that this isn’t just a commentary about “elected governments.” Anyone that suggests the virtue of the “chief system” as some would claim exists today or speak romantically of such in the past already proves my point. The Kaianerehkowa of the Haudenosaunee NEVER called for a “chief system.” The process laid out meticulously and represented by the Haiwentha Belt, the Circle Wampum and scores of other images is a “clan system.” This slow and deliberate process empowered the people, laid out the shared responsibilities of both men and women and clearly defined the roles of those men and women who would be placed in the service of their people.

But today, Chiefs, Presidents, Chairmen, Trustees, Councilors, and even Faithkeepers and Clan Mothers are selected through whatever process by only small fractions of the populations they claim to “lead.” They become “federally recognized” through the BIA in the U.S. or Indian Affairs in Canada and in the absence of their own “constitutional authority” rely on this “recognition” as their authority not as servants but as “Leaders.”

Some of these “leaders” are paid more in a single day than most of their people earn in a week with no accountability for their time or requirement to show they actually did anything. Once in these positions, more time is spent securing that spot than performing the job at hand.

Servants of the people? I have said it before that when winning an election or an appointment is tantamount to winning the lottery, it begs the question as to who is serving who. When was the last time your “tribal leader” reached out to ask how you felt about an issue or how you were doing? I suspect unless it was your family member on council, probably never. When was the last time you ever heard them refer to themselves as servants of the people? And when was the last time they actually served?

I was told recently that people need leaders and that they want to be led. I begged to differ. I find that people want to be encouraged and to be empowered. They want to know that they matter and that there is a place for them in the decision-making process. They want to fight for their sovereignty and be the force behind the diplomacy of their “servants” and not be the last to know what the lawyers and lobbyists of their “leaders” lost in the latest negotiation or court battle.

I have seen what the powerful “leaders” do. They get rich, get famous and get praised by the non-Native governments and institutions while dependence on gaming or government programs grows, sovereignty is encroached upon and inch by inch the process of assimilation by the dominant societies around us continues.

Many have indeed become complacent to how things are but those brief glimpses of an empowered people do show themselves on occasion.  The people need to be the power every day.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time for the U.S. to Admit What It’s Doing—“Indian Fighting” with Terrorism Laws

The LTN Column by John Kane for the September 4, 2013 Issue of the Two Row Times

The Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA) and its enhanced amendments through the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act* are supposed to be tools to fight organized crime, violence associated with the illicit tobacco trade and the funding of terrorism through tobacco diversion.  And yet the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that claims to be pitifully underfunded still managed to spend several years, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours conducting a “sting” operation out of Kansas City, Missouri, not to prosecute the “mob” or biker gangs or even terrorist cells, but to help New York State with its “Indian problem.” It’s true! This entire elaborate “set up” had Native businesses as the objects of its affection.

This is a country in the midst of a decade-long war on terrorism, the worst economic crisis since the “Great Depression,” and street violence that rises to a level where a little girl is gunned down in the street a week after performing for the President of the United States.  And these laws are being used for an “Indian problem”? A state that is rated as the worst place in the country to do business, has the highest tax rates, highest Medicaid costs, and most of its cities on the brink of bankruptcy has an “Indian problem”?

And this “Indian problem” warrants the use of laws designed to fight organized crime and terrorism? Well, just what is this “Indian problem”?

Oh! It’s that sovereignty thing again! I recently spent two days at the National Indian Gaming Association’s Legislative Summit in Washington D.C. There I saw and heard Congressman after Congressman and Senator after Senator—none from New York, by the way—take to the podium and pledge their undying support to “Tribal Sovereignty.” It’s funny, but not one suggested that we were a threat to national security or hinted at any concern about our territories slipping into the clutches of organized crime. Yet the attempt to force our barely existing economic development into compliance with the state with the worst regulatory atmosphere is the exact opposite of respect and support for our sovereignty. It tramples it!

Since New York State was born, our people have resisted its regulations and many federal ones, too. For more than 30 years our people have worked to reclaim a place in an industry we started: the tobacco trade. During that time we have stood strong in our resistance to the State’s authority over our tobacco trade. Even as New York State whined and complained about tax revenue it claimed to be losing to us we demonstrated over and over again the positive effects our trade had on and off our territories. As the State shut off their wholesalers from supplying national brands, our people produced our own brands bringing manufacturing, distribution and wholesaling to our lands and giving even more of a boost to our economy and that of the areas around our communities.

Our tobacco trade is not a crime. We have backward integrated from tarpaper shacks selling cheap cigarettes to full-fledged convenience stores, sophisticated wholesale and distribution companies and state-of-the-art manufacturers. We bank, we invest, we employ and we support one another. But we don’t owe and we don’t pay the State anything. And although we don’t allow New York State to regulate our businesses, it certainly does benefit from them. This is not a crime. It is the assertion of our sovereignty.

If the U.S. Treasury Department’s ATF and the prosecutors from the Justice Department intend to use the CCTA and the USA PATRIOT Act* to solve New York’s “Indian problem,” then they should come right out and call us all criminals and terrorists and cease with all this “unintended consequence of our laws” BS. It’s time for Native, state and federal politicians to stop playing dumb. And it’s time for the U.S. to admit how it abuses its own laws.

*For those who don’t know, this act has nothing to do with “patriotism.” It stands for “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act.