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.”