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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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.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Tewatahtawi” — "We carry ourselves" 

Published in the October 9, 2013 issue of The Two Row Times

In 1776, when a group of 13 British colonies broke off from their empire, there was more than just a battle that needed to be fought. First, there needed to be a rationale or philosophy that the rest of the world (Europe, in particular) could embrace for such a revolt. The rationale was laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which formed the United States of America. The Declaration stated, “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. Even life was a privilege dispensed or limited at the whim of these “rulers.”
Conversely, for thousands of years the Haudenosaunee had 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; and it was inalienable.
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. 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, were served by them. The consent of the people was essential for all major decisions. This was the original rationale adopted by this breakaway group of white men from Europe, which is now sold to the rest of the world as the "great experiment" that is the United States — at least in words.
The U.S. 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 concept came directly from the philosophy and path of the Haudenosaunee.
Those who were chosen for specific responsibilities were not elevated as leaders but rather placed in the service of their people; they were servants of the people. The young United States also made a commitment to adopt this concept.
But, as so often happens in the world of man, responsibilities are confused with authority, especially for those who lived for centuries under a hierarchy, male dominance and tremendous disparity. The influences of the European system, which were so engrained for centuries and, thus, so hard to entirely dismiss, not only corrupted the intentions of their children but, ultimately, also took its toll on our ways.
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 Haudenosaunee sovereignty remains vested in the people, the debate over the authority of the people set against the assumed and exaggerated authority of “tribal leadership” must be settled. In fact, what some regard as the “Nation” is "the People." The “Nation” is not a council, a chief, a president, a chairman or a trustee. Again, these are servants of the people.
Before we appropriated words, such as “sovereignty,” the Haudenosaunee said, “Tewatahtawi” — “We carry ourselves.” Our livelihoods are the means for our survival. The right to carry ourselves is the assertion of our inherent right, our sovereignty. This we always knew.
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. An act of aggression by a government or agency against an individual conducting a lawful act on Native land or between Native lands is an act of aggression against all our people. Violating the sovereignty of an individual violates the sovereignty of us all. Our commerce is a sovereign act in our free use and enjoyment of our lands and the right to “carry ourselves” without interference, whether that commerce is carried out by individuals or an agency or designee of the people.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Big Lie: The Doctrine of Christian Discovery

Previously published in the October 2, 2013 issue of The Two Row Times
Steven Newcomb is the author of “Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.” He is the foremost authority on the subject. Steven will be a featured speaker of the University at Buffalo’s Indigenous Survival Day Speaker Series on Monday, October 14, 6 to 8 p.m. at 120 Clemens Hall. He will be a guest on “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” on Sunday, October 13, 9 to 11 p.m. EDT on WWKB ESPN Sports Radio 1520AM. LTN streams live on the Native Pride blog and on the TuneIn app for PCs and smart phones. If you miss Steven Newcomb live on LTN or at UB, catch his appearance in studio on demand on my blog or look for links on my “Let’s Talk Native…” Facebook group page.

Despite where you stand on religion or Christianity specifically, a lie is a lie even if the church utters it. One of the greatest lies ever pulled off on people the world over is that “God” chose individual “families” to rule over the rest of humanity. Even though many, including Americans who should know better, are still enamored by the notion of “princes and princesses,” most of us now relegate this stupid fairytale to Disney cartoons and the mainstream media’s coverage of a meaningless “royal family.”
Today there is another monumental ancient big lie that simply won’t die. Well, at least the U.S. and Canada hope it won’t. The Doctrine of Christian Discovery is actually a bigger lie than even the monarchy ordained by “God” that no one buys anymore. This doctrine is based almost solely on a series of decrees by 15th century popes. Simply stated, the Vatican ruled that when a Christian people came into the lands of pagans – or non-believers – Christians could claim their land, their possessions and reduce those pagans to perpetual slavery.

Of course, this sounds so preposterous that a reasonable person would assume such a practice and policy would have died with slavery. Certainly, it would have no place in a nation that claims to govern with a separation of church and state. But not only is this doctrine codified in U.S. law with court rulings and legislation built upon those rulings but it is the basis of all U.S. land title. It is also the eggshells that the house of cards that is “federal Indian law” is built upon. There is no event, no treaty, no surrender, no petition and no referendum that ever places us “pagans” under the authority of the United States or anyone else. There are only the words of dead popes and the dead judges who regurgitated them.
The United Nations even felt compelled to state, what should be obvious to all, in the third affirmation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP):

Affirming further 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.

So, surely, with the entire international community (some nations quite reluctantly) condemning religious based racism, issues including equating discovery with conquest and the exclusively European-based transferrable “discovery title” with legitimate land ownership must be revisited. After all, can the world sit by and ignore the theft of land, subjugation and genocide of an entire hemisphere of people based on religious dogma?

Yes, it can. And, it does.

The UNDRIP is just words on paper unless someone gives it force. The force required isn’t just to overcome the inertia of history. It has to overcome world powers posturing for control of water, oil, minerals, gas and all the other natural resources on the lands of us “pagans” — the land, too, for that matter. The force must be enough to overcome the strongest attraction known to man. That is the attraction between a rich man and his money.

The church is in no hurry to put this issue to rest. How much have they pillaged from the “New World” in five centuries? How much do they still pillage? And who else has benefited? Even the Jewish judge on the U.S. Supreme Court cited the Christian Discovery Doctrine in a rationale to dismiss a Native land claim a few years ago. Think about it: a Jewish woman citing 15th century Papal Bulls. And this was in 2005. How ironic and absurd is that?

It is one thing for Chief Justice John Marshal to make racist rulings in 1823 when a black man still could be bought and sold, a woman was still regarded as a man’s possession, and an “Indian” was just a savage with way too much land. But even in an era of offering apologies while admitting no guilt, there must be movement on this.

I once asked at the U.N., “Who gives the UNDRIP force?” Who repudiates racist doctrines that continue to support unjust policies? The only answer I got was, “We do.”

Let’s do it then. But first let’s learn how their house of cards is built. Investigate their BS and don’t let it stand!