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.

"Let's Talk Native..." on the LTN Radio Network

"Let's Talk Native..." on the LTN Radio Network
Click the LTN Banner above for a link to the "Let's Talk Native…" feed on Unity Stream
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

Donate to "Let's Talk Native"

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?