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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Saturday, January 25, 2014

John Kane Named Interim Host of “First Voices Indigenous Radio” at WBAI-FM in New York City

By Liz Hill

(WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 23, 2014) – John Kane, Mohawk activist and national commentator on Native issues, has been named Interim Host of the long-running weekly one-hour radio program, “First Voices Indigenous Radio” (FVIR) at WBAI-FM 99.5 in New York City. Starting Thursday, Feb. 6, Kane will be filling in for one year for Host and Executive Producer Tiokasin Ghosthorse, who is taking a sabbatical from the show after 21 years (10 of those years at KAOS-FM in Olympia, Wash. and 11 years at WBAI). In recent years, Kane has regularly joined Ghosthorse as a guest and guest host.

"Tiokasin has been an absolute inspiration to me as I have pursued my work in radio and media in general,” said Kane. “‘First Voices Indigenous Radio’ will give me an opportunity to help bring a voice to Indigenous peoples’ issues beyond my passionate advocacy for my people and our struggles with New York State and the federal government.”

“I’m totally confident that John Kane will be a great, active host for FVIR while I am away,” said Ghosthorse. “He understands the historical aspects and current policies being directed toward Native peoples. What FVIR needs is his candor and astute knowledge. It really is a great honor to welcome him here; and I am sure that the listeners in the New York City and tri-state area will be more than riveted with his knowledge and insights.”

During the next year, Ghosthorse will be turning his attention to various causes that he’s become involved in over the years, including children’s organizations, and personal projects. He will retain his role as FVIR’s executive producer. “Indigenous peoples’ worldwide voices are strengthening and are being heard at this time of Mother Earth changes,” said Ghosthorse, who will also do occasional reporting.

"We were so blessed all these years by Tiokasin's generous spirit which has greatly benefited thousands of listeners and his colleagues here at the station," said Bob Hennelly, WBAI interim program director. "We look forward to working with John Kane in our shared mission of bringing ‘First  Voices Indigenous Radio’ to an even wider audience and building on Tiokasin's inspired foundation."
“This is also an opportunity to bring an Indigenous voice to conversations we are not usually associated with,” says Kane. “WBAI broadcasting in the spotlight of the United Nations and from one of the media capitals of the world is certainly not missed by me, especially as Indigenous peoples’ issues gain more international attention. I look forward to working with Bob Hennelly and having Tiokasin rejoin us throughout the year."

About “First Voices Indigenous Radio”
“First Voices Indigenous Radio,” which was the first Indigenous radio program in the northeastern U.S., has been airing on WBAI for 11 years. With more than 1 million online hits annually, the program has become known for bringing to the airwaves the experiences, perspectives and struggles of Indigenous peoples worldwide whose exclusion from mainstream, progressive and alternative media is deleterious to the whole of humanity. Past shows are available at FVIR has been re-broadcasted on 45 stations in 15 states in the the U.S. and one Canadian province, including: Colorado; Connecticut; Idaho; Illinois; Iowa; Maine; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New Hampshire; New York; Northwest Territories; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Tennessee; Vermont; and Washington. 

WBAI-FM, a member of the Pacifica chain,  is listener-supported. It provides a vast array of original programming to listeners in the Metropolitan New York City region and worldwide on Pacifica was founded in 1949 by pacifist Lew Hill with the first listener-funded radio station, KPFA in Berkeley, Calif. WBAI began broadcasting in New York City in 1941 as WABF. It joined Pacifica in 1960. Today, Pacifica has five radio stations in Berkeley, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and more than 50 affiliate stations across the country.

Liz Hill
Liz Hill Public Relations, Ltd.
1514 17th Street, NW, #402
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 744-7629 (cell/work)
(202) 483-3609 (fax)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

30 Years and $33 Million

Conference Co-Chair Frank Ettawageshik and Unrecognized John Kane

It's not a prison sentence. It just feels like one. And I’m sure it feels the same to many others. It’s the cost for gaining “recognition” by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. And $33 million is what it cost the Shinnecock people. However, as exorbitant ­– and unbelievable – as this sounds they are actually the lucky ones because unlike most that file a petition for federal acknowledgement these guys actually got something out of it. In my opinion, it wasn't much but at least it was something.

After what is almost a lifetime for most Native people, the Shinnecock — who trace their origins back thousands of years on Long Island, New York — officially got recognized as "a tribe, band or nation of Indians under federal jurisdiction." Doesn't sound much like sovereignty when you hear the BIA's definition, does it? And since this new federal recognition only recognizes them as having existed since 1934, the Fed's position is that they can't add to their land base.
This was all explained quite thoroughly at a conference hosted by Arizona State University's Indian Law Clinic on January 16 and 17. The conference, which was titled "Who Decides You're Real? Fixing the Federal Recognition Process," posed one question, identified a broken system and made some recommendations to fix it. But to me, it left many questions not only unasked but also clearly unanswered.

I was invited to speak at this event. In fact, I was on the first panel and was given the enviable position of being the last panelist to speak during a presentation titled "Inherent Sovereignty." For me the subject is clear but in the context of a conference on gaining recognition as a tribe, band or nation of Indian subordinate to the laws and customs of the United States, the unasked and unanswered question is — how can these two coexist? Again, for me it is simple. They can't!

Here are a few of my comments that brought home some of my main points:

"Inherent sovereignty is a unique concept. Throughout the world, especially in the dominant European world, sovereignty was the biggest lie ever told. It was where “God” bestowed ruling authority upon a certain family — a crown. Biggest lie ever told."

"OUR sovereignty — our right to life and our freedom — is a product of Creation. When we do an opening [Ohenton Karihwatehkwen] in my homeland, in the territory of Haudenosaunee, we do a whole acknowledgement about relationships. We start by acknowledging the people, everybody who is here. We acknowledge the ground to the stars. We talk about relationships. The problem with the federal recognition process is it’s all about ONE relationship between a specific Native people and the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

"I’m not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I’m not a tribe, band or nation of Indians subordinate to the laws or customs of the U.S. There is no Mohawk Nation recognized by the BIA. There is the St. Regis Tribe. And they actually threw the word Mohawk in there not long ago, so they’re the St. Regis Tribe of Mohawks. But we’ve seen this happen to all of us. Now, it’s the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the Seneca Nation of Indians, and the Tonawanda Band of Senecas. Somewhere along the line somebody drew a border right through Kanienkehaka territory. Part of this border is the St. Lawrence River but most of my people live on either side of this imaginary line. So the observation about the non-federally recognized people asserting more sovereignty than perhaps the federally recognized ones?  I think we qualify for that because we don’t let that stop us.  You will never see us apply. You will never see the Kanienkehaka submit a petition for federal recognition."

"Now I understand the value of that [federal recognition]. And let’s face it. The 800-pound gorilla in the room is gaming — and federal funding. But we need to do more for each other. What’s missing in the declaration that will be presented later and signed [at this meeting] is trade and commerce among each other. We need to have THESE kinds of relationships with one another. THAT is the definition of sovereignty, of sustainability, and not what federal funding we can get or how many casinos we can operate. Now I’m not condemning gaming but let’s be clear — gaming is not possible because of IGRA. And it’s not possible because of Cabazon. It is possible because of sovereignty. All Cabazon did was to recognize what we already knew. Of course it paved the way for non-Native people to become our vendors and opened the door for state governments to get into our businesses. That’s what IGRA did. But it also opened the floodgates to a whole lot of people anxious to get a casino. Federal recognition is the pathway for that."

"We need to start recognizing each other. When I talk about our Ohenton Karihwatehkwen­– that opening we do – we talk about relationships. But if we’re not talking about these relationships, and if all we’re talking about is a petition that ends up on the desk of someone at the BIA, we’d better start thinking about decolonizing our minds."

After I finished, I received a standing ovation from the several hundred in the audience. The question-and-answer session that followed allowed me to make several other points that I simply didn't have time to address in my presentation.

One of those questions is worth mentioning here. I was asked for my opinion why a Kanienkehaka would not pursue federal recognition.
Not skipping a beat, this is what I said:

“Distinction is [at the heart of] the issue. The problem with the federal recognition process and what is recognized is that it changes the dynamics of a people, because once it is granted there seems to be this move toward more assimilation. There seems to be [the mindset of], “Let’s build something that looks and feels like the state or federal government,” whether it’s the regulatory systems [or something else]. It’s the issue of distinction and autonomy. Sovereignty doesn't mean that we DON’T have a relationship with the federal government. If someone receives federal funds, and then someone says, “Oh, you’re not sovereign because you receive federal funds,” then what does that say about, for example, Israel? What does that say about any other nation that the federal government throw a ton of money at? In the Mohawk language, the word we use for “treaty” is “we give up our land for peace.” Well, we didn’t just give it up for peace. There were some obligations made then. So when I sit here and hear commentary from a Justice Marshall that says we’re “wards of the state,” or that we’re “domestic dependent nations,” that doesn't mean that we’re not sovereign. We are not wards of the state. It is not charity that comes into our territory. That’s obligation. That’s debt. We are creditors. But this federal recognition process and what happens when the federal government says “now we recognize you as a tribe, band or nation of Indians subordinate to OUR laws, that’s the biggest obstacle that I have toward it [federal recognition].”

I left many in Phoenix with plenty to think about as they traveled home to their territories. The reality is these issues need to be at the front of our minds here at home every day. Even as the officials from the U.S. and Canada blow smoke up our backsides about "tribal sovereignty," it is a lie. Their view of who we are is not our view and they cannot define us or claim us as their own.

We are Ohnkwe Ohnwe — Real, Original, Human Beings. Forever.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back to Our Path is not a Trip Backward

Many of us are familiar with our expression Ohnkwe Ohnwe. It is what we use to describe ourselves as the original people of Turtle Island. The approximate translation is “real human being, forever.”

There was never any question that we had a future. We were never tied to a spot on a timeline. We were never frozen in history. We were neither primitive nor at the end of our evolutionary scale. We continued to develop. The entire concept of Seven Generations was based on knowing that our growth and development would require a priority placed on the impacts on the unborn faces — those ones who would come long after us.

But for all the certainty of those that have come long before us, our future would not be a sure thing, certainly not over the last two centuries and certainly not going forward from here. That path, so meticulously crafted by the tens of millions of feet of those that came before us, has been so neglected and deviated from that it is only Creation and our language that guide our feet back to it. But that course correction back to that great path, the Kaianerehkowa, is not a trip backwards or back in time. It is a trip forward, into the future.

Ohnwe is forever. And forever is time in both directions past and future. Those from our past laid down the Kaianerehkowa so that we would know the path forward and keep it clear for those that would come after us.

But that path has become overgrown and obscured by neglect. Part of clearing this way to our future involves starting with like minds with a common goal. And the only way to find them is through conversation and honest discourse. Utilizing the most basic concepts of the Kaianerehkowa is a start.

Our fire symbolizes our family, our clans, our communities and our right and power to assemble for a council and for counsel. Like minds with a desire to take our path into the future must rekindle a fire. We need participation and genuine engagement from the people. However small these fires may be, they need to demonstrate a true return to the Kaianerehkowa.

None of this is about revolution or overthrow. It is about our people using what's ours to solve problems, address issues and move forward. We may not tackle every issue. But in the process of rekindling our fire and getting those willing to not only stand together in crisis or for a fight but also to sit together in council to build something and support each other so we can begin setting the example for what is truly our responsibility and our distinction.

Instead of individuals dictating their twisted views of our "customs and traditions" or asserting power granted to them through federal recognition or foreign powers, we need to begin the process of removing the dust and clutter from the path laid down by those that came long before us. Despite elected councils and titles or what some believe to be traditional councils, this is the path forward. It doesn't require burning band cards, stripping names from tribal roles, driving without licenses or crash courses in treaties. There is no silver bullet, magic potion or dream sequence that will lay a yellow brick road before us. We must begin the slow process of find our way back to a path forward, a path that respects and moves with nature and creation — the right path.

In the absence of everyone speaking of our original languages and virtually nowhere that currently demonstrates a true use of the Kaianerehkowa, we need to utilize our most skilled language speakers to clarify much of what has been cluttered with bad translations and efforts to mischaracterize our history. Nowhere should our path forward defy nature or Creation. We need to acknowledge that while there is much that we have to learn and much we may never learn, that our best teacher is Creation.

The path forward is not a trip backward. There is no need to reject the tools of today as we go forward. The key is discerning what moves us forward on our path and what leads us off it. Facebook and text messaging cannot replace physically coming together. The clan system cannot become a virtual thing. Communication may now travel at the speed of light but counseling takes time. So let us use the speed technology offers for sharing information and reaching out but let's still take the time to build the fire and gather.

Man's concept for power ebbs and flows. Might, the power to kill and destroy, and wealth, the accumulation of riches — these two desires have had and may still have their moments in history. But Ohnkwe Ohnwe are real human beings and we are forever. I'll take the path that considers seven generations above anyone's annual report or inventory of weaponry. Our power will be demonstrated in our fight for our future – for our forever.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Here We Go Again

I'm sorry, but I can't resist the temptation. As we rip open a new calendar I can't help but reflect on the past year and the one that is now before us.

I won't attempt to list all those who completed their time with us in this last trip around our eldest Brother, the Sun. We have had people close and intimate to us as well as people we admired from afar who now serve us only in our memories and in whatever form we may have them recorded.

We had people rise up from obscurity and gain the spotlight. Some of them have shown genuine courage and integrity, while others walked on the faces, shoulders and necks of their own people past and present to promote themselves and their agendas.

Many of us forged great new relationships and rekindled some old ones. Conversations were advanced. Issues were elevated. And while our impatience for significant change and solutions seem to be a constant ache, small signs of promise for change show themselves daily.

Even in the absence of a coming-of-age ceremony, we have seen some of our young people stepping up and standing up to the challenges that generations have faced, some quite poorly and some against nearly insurmountable odds.

Of course, there are our new ones, all those faces that have come to join us. New children, new grandchildren, generations removed from petty conflicts and feuds that have kept many of our people and territories from standing with each other.

Creation had another tough year as it continued to be compromised for profit. Our land, water and air remain in jeopardy to those who only see value in terms of dollars and how quickly they can be extracted from our Mother. Our plants and medicines are being altered and affected at alarming rates, diminishing the value that the wisdom 10,000 years has placed within them. Our Cousins, the winged, four legged and no legs, continue to adapt as best they can while their habitats are destroyed yet all continuing to show us the same lessons taught to all those who came before us. But our Mother and Creation are not taking these offenses quietly. Climate change, severe weather, seismic events and major breaks in ecosystems demonstrated the planet's response.

Last year at this time a groundswell began. A movement, driven not by bold dominant leadership but simply by the people, captured the world's attention. The idea that many of those who never considered themselves activists would be Idle No More was powerful and encouraging but, unfortunately, that momentum would be squandered by distracting individual acts. Hunger striking on Victoria Island or wining and dining with the NFL in D.C. were great headlines for individuals but it was the participation of the tens of thousands that was significant last year.

So with one cycle completed what do we see for the next one before us?

Well, whether the people remain "Idle" or not; corporations, governments and our Mother will not. The planet will continue to lash out, not just at the culprits raping the earth, but at all of us. This is no longer a Native issue. We have proven our ability to survive crimes against humanity but who can survive the crimes against that, which sustains us all?

This year and every year until we turn back global exploitation — what "they" call the "global economy" — people will face the choice of siding with the planet or cashing it in. The "Revolution" isn't what we need; it is what we need to prevent. When the planet presses reset, that is when the revolt happens. And like a true revolution the planet will attempt a new beginning, with or without us. Many of us will not survive a revolution by the planet.

Our Mother and Creation will fix what we fail to correct. In fact, they will restore what we broke. Our role as Native people is to lead the charge so we are part of the solution rather than the obvious problem. We can’t do it alone, which is one of the things we must realize, and must convince those who are still too wary to join us.

The challenge for us is to continue to resist the colonial subjugation while we defend our Mother. That resistance is, essentially, one and the same. We hear much debate about our people’s "sovereignty." This word, like many others we have added to our lexicon, must be defined. Much of the world defines sovereignty with almost an exclusive emphasis on authority and power. As our people began to own this word, it began as an expression of our rights and our freedom. Our sovereignty is our right to have independent or individual authority. It is our right to a freedom that predates European contact, Christian missionaries and the doctrine and dogma that came with them. That freedom is tied not to our "tribal governments" or "traditional councils" but to Creation. It is a birthright, the same as with all of Creation. Our sovereignty is not a collective right but a right we must defend collectively. Unfortunately, too many of our people have bought into "their" definition. The original meaning has become diluted and obscured.

Our responsibility to the earth is like that sovereignty. The earth was not "given" to us from God, Jesus or "The Creator," like the Europeans believed and espoused. No one has been granted the right to pillage and plunder our Mother; and no one has been specifically charged with defending her either. If we believe the earth is an “every man for himself” proposition or that any of us can truly do right by ourselves, then we are pitiful creatures indeed.

We are all in this together. We need to rethink the world order — new or old. This is what this trip around our eldest Brother has laid before us.