Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Remove the Dust for our Survival

I really like the expression, "Remove the Dust." Its most basic meaning evokes the image of sweeping away the dust accumulated over years of neglect from our wampum belts or any other reminders of our shelved knowledge. We use it as an expression that is generally associated with maintaining our culture. But at some point the line between the survival of our culture, distinction and autonomy and just plain survival will be brushed away like a line drawn in the very dust we seem covered in now.

We may not feel the need to learn survival skills for the short time many of us have left before we go home to our Mother, but the incredible short-term benefits and long-term needs should be clear. It's fine to talk about conservation and consuming in moderation, but how is it even possible when people are told every day that the very fabric of the "American Dream" or of the "Global Economy" depends on consumer confidence and consuming far beyond any ability to pay? And I am not just talking paying in dollars; I'm talking about the debt incurred on society, mortgaging our health and bankrupting the planet's resources.

Survival is about returning to reality — to real life. It is about understanding our place in Creation. This is where we find out whether the centuries of indoctrination into whatever belief systems you follow were real or BS. Has your religion or culture or, more importantly, your interpretations of them, prepared you to understand your place in Creation? Or are you simply relying on prayer and tobacco burning to be the problem solver?

Learning survival skills isn't just about doing with less. It is about realizing what is important. If removing the dust does not help us reassess our priorities then perhaps we need a better broom. If we hold sacred a planting ceremony but don't plant and if we perform our harvest ceremony but don't harvest then I say we have missed something. We need to give sincere thought to the lives we are living now if we have any hopes for our children and grandchildren. We need to rethink what a home is, what a family is and what a community is. To be Haudenosaunee or Rohtinoshoni does not mean you have a longhouse. It means you are of the way of the longhouse.
It is fine to speak of sovereignty and standing to defend it. But our word is "Tewatahtawi" and it means “we carry ourselves.” When do we fight not just for the right to carry ourselves but fight and prepare to actually do the carrying?

The world is changing around us. Capitalism and industrialization have driven our environment over a cliff. All the conservation in the world isn't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. However, the world isn't coming to an end. This isn't about fear mongering or predicting the apocalypse. It is about acknowledging the changes that are coming.

Removing the dust isn't just learning the songs and the ceremonies. It is learning what they acknowledge and taking the time to, indeed, acknowledge those things. Maybe we don't need to grow our own food and build our own homes but the time is now to begin to learn or relearn. We cannot expect to build that skill set at the drop of a hat. That genetic memory and knowledge handed down from those before us evolved over time. Much of that knowledge can still serve us today but if we don't get our hands in the dirt now we will be ill equipped for the changes that are coming.

Empires rise and fall. We have seen plenty in the 500 years since European contact. We saw tremendous changes in the 10,000-plus years before that, as well. The descendants of those that came long before us are neither entitled to a sustainable future nor exempt from the fury of a changing earth. We call ourselves Ohnkwe Ohnwe and we say it means “real” or “original” people, but it is more than that. It is a description of a human being who stays true to the world in which he lives. He has a future that is connected to his past. He is real forever.
Archaeologists and anthropologists speak romantically about the ancient civilizations of the Americas and hypothesize about where they came from and what became of them. Yeah, we did the same things other cultures did, too. We built cities and monuments. We created religions and disparity. We waged war against man and Creation. But then we stopped. We learned. We removed the dust. As we cast off the false reality we created, the true Ohnkwe Ohnwe once again came through. It didn't happen by accident or by divine intervention but by planning and acknowledgement.

Many of those we now call our own people will not change their ways. They will march arm in arm in their sycophantic delusion with their capitalist overlords or "Trustees" off the economic and environmental cliff they have created. Choices will be made and continuing down the same path is a choice. If we don't like what we see in ourselves when we remove the dust, then Creation, the same teacher that brought wisdom and knowledge to those that came before us, will teach those willing to learn once again.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Did I hear you say 10 percent of the U.S.’s energy resources are on Native lands?

My Let's Talk Native column for the February 19, 2014 issue of the Two Row Times

Now wait a minute. Tell me, how do any resources on our lands get tallied up as a percentage of someone else's resources?

Well, let me tell you how…

First, it happens through blatant theft. That’s theft pulled off through fraud and extortion...with a little religion thrown in.
Then we get the same theft continuing with a penny on the dollar's worth thrown at an impoverished people and/or their corrupt leaders to, somehow, legitimize the theft.

And then we get to where the bought and paid for among us wheel and deal our resources away for a fast buck with those claiming to be "tribal leaders" calling it economic development or worse; calling our resources not ours at all but rather the resources of the nation that has stolen almost everything we hold dear and essentially pledging our resources to make America proud of us.

During the annual State of Indian Nations address delivered by the National Congress of American Indian’s (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby there were repeated references to what "we as Native people" mean to the United States. He boasted about the revenue that Washington State receives from "tribes," including his own Swinomish Tribe. And during all of this talk of our place under the skirt of America the Beautiful was the reference that 10 percent of the "Nation's" energy resources lies within our territories.

Now this isn't just a problem of misplaced or misspoken possession, it is a problem of intent. Even as many of us draw a line in the sand, not just tar sand, on mineral extraction and environmental degradation, we have those among us who are surrounded by lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and investors making million-dollar deals to sell off every barrel, every ton and every cubic foot of anything worth having.

And the biggest factors on negative environmental impact, profitability and investor interest are scale and rate. How much can be extracted and how fast? Of course, throw in a little "no one lives there but a small number of marginalized people and a reduced requirement for real oversight” and bingo! You've got the next hottest thing on the reservation since...well, since bingo.

This brings me to the place where I have to point out the obvious. Now, I get it about who and what these "tribal leaders" are. The federal government gives them their "recognition" and, therefore, their authority. And while their jobs may be to find a cozy spot within the colonial power that uses them, mine is not.

Feminist activist Nikki Craft said, "The task of activism isn't to navigate the systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible, it is to dismantle those systems."

And our task as survivors of the longest attempted genocide the world has ever seen and defenders of our future generations and protectors of our Mother is certainly not to lie down with our abusers and negotiate a comfortable spot in a system that uses everything up for profit. Our job is not to protect the American or Canadian “Brand" or deliver "Made in Canada" or "Made in the USA" to the global market. And it is not our job to look the other way while greed rips into our lands to support "Made in China" either.

If we do choose to pursue a use for these resources they should be used to produce as much value to our communities and our people as possible. Raw materials should not stripped, piped and hauled out of our lands to quench the insatiable appetites of those that would destroy the planet for profit. Our small populations and the small areas of land we still control should not only have a secure energy future but also the scale and rate required for our own needs and desires should never exceed what the environment can support.

Yet for all the vast amount of energy resources boasted about by Mr. NCAI President, we have our own people freezing to death not on forced marches or out in the wilderness but in their homes. Freezing to death in the very lands that Mr. Obama and the French President chuckled over just this week as they shared funny little stories of the Louisiana Purchase and what a great deal it was while Mr. NCAI President looked on honored to be among them.

So as the energy debate and the fight to block the Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sands oil rages on we need to look at those faces close to us — not just industry moguls. We need to shake them out of the delusion of subjugation and the lure of the American dream. We need to be a beacon of hope, not just for our own but also for the ever-increasing number of people looking to us to help break the status quo.

A gas well in Seneca territory should not be filling the pipeline for the American utility companies. It should be supplying Seneca people. It should be producing heat, electricity and automotive fuel. The people should not be sucked dry by National Fuel to pay back investors funding the contamination of Seneca lands and risking the health of the people and life of the region.

The same should be said for coal, oil, gravel, water and trees on every one of our territories. Selling off our land by the truckload, pipe or rail is still selling out our future generations. And that is a system of power that needs to be dismantled.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Tale of Two Cases

By John Kane - from the February 12, 2014 issue of the Two Row Times

Last week two stories about the ongoing battle by New York State and the U.S. federal government against the Native tobacco trade hit the papers.

In the state case (, the government prosecutor joined with defense attorneys in a motion to dismiss felony charges against two men attempting to transport tobacco products from Mohawk territory to Seneca territory in March 2012.

District Attorney Mary E. Rain told the St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards that she had determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

Among several issues that Rain described as representing "all kinds of problems with this case" was evidence she found in the case file that was favorable to the defendants. She specifically cited emails to and from the former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve dated August 14, 2012 where "She indicated in the emails that the Mohawk tribe was being singled out and local law enforcement was being unjust."

At the federal level, the Kansas City Star reported that a "New York company admits guilt in contraband cigarette case" (

Aaron Pierce, a Seneca and former candidate for the President of the Seneca Nation was referred to as an unindicted co-conspirator in a large federal sting operation ran out of Kansas City between June 2010 and January 2012. His company, AJ's Candy and Tobacco LLC is the "New York state tobacco wholesaler" that is the subject of the article.

According to the Star, the "wholesaler pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Kansas City to trafficking contraband cigarettes and agreed to pay up to $1 million in fines, forfeitures and restitution."

The dismissal of the charges in the New York State case demonstrates what many of us have suggested for years about the discriminatory nature of law and law enforcement in the state. But even with the sweeping of this case under the rug, there is still a failure to address any state policy, regulation or law that clearly establishes any legal authority to criminalize the Native tobacco trade.

In May 2011, I worked with New York State Senators George Maziarz and Timothy Kennedy, both from Western New York, to make a formal request the Commissioner of the State's Department of Taxation and Finance to state clearly and in writing exactly what the state's policy was on the Native tobacco trade and Native product, in particular. That letter and follow- ups to that request remain unanswered but clearly lead authorities away from Seneca territory and resulted in the concentration by State authorities on Mohawk territory.

The federal case involving Aaron Pierce and AJ's Candy and Tobacco raises more questions than it answers. The identity question for Aaron Pierce alone could fill volumes but the core question here, too, is whether there is any clear and legitimately established policy, regulation or law that criminalizes Native trade?

The crux of this case is the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA). This law characterizes at a federal level, any cigarettes found in a state requiring a tax and stamp indicating the tax has been paid without a stamp as contraband with very specific exceptions, none of which include Native trade, Native product or Native people and lands. So what is created is an unclear federal law that uses unclear state law to criminalize Native trade that supports the economy on lands that both the state and federal governments know is not theirs.

So whether "AJ" pleads guilty to a crime, cooperates with state and federal authorities to get convictions on him and others or buys his way out of his fear of jail or a fight for sovereignty, does not mean a crime has been committed.
The question that I have for "AJ" is how can purchasing unstamped cigarettes in Kansas City for sale on Native lands be a crime between 2010 and 2012 while AJ Candy and Tobacco buys and sells unstamped Native brands everyday – including today? Is a pack of Marlboro's on the shelf of a Native smoke shop contraband while a pack of Seneca's is not? Where is that written?

Where is the line? Who draws it? And who is willing to defend it?

My immediate assessment of these cases was there could only be one of three explanations here. Either this is completely arbitrary with no real law behind it with the state and feds making it up as they go along. OR they are conceding that Native product in certain undefined areas can be traded by some people under a different set of undefined laws from non-Native product.  OR the entire Native tobacco trade is criminal and they just don't know what to do about it or when to do it.

I honestly think it’s the first one but would love to hear them admit the second.   

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Latent Racism and Blatant Racism

Previously published in the February 5, 2014 issue of the Two Row Times
I am never quite sure if there is a real difference. "Latent" is defined as not visible or dormant. Well, to those of us who feel the effects of this sentiment, almost nothing is missed or 'not visible.’ Even the dormant talk in their sleep.
There is probably a third category that is simply ignorance. Of course, all racism is borne out of ignorance and when ignorance continues to feed racism, it is deplorable and condemnable. But the ignorance I am talking about is almost innocent. It is not meant as an insult or to be demeaning but is, rather, a function of not knowing or being oblivious to embracing racist ideas or practices with no ill intent. That being said, someone who is not racist certainly can do and say racist things. The difference is that when it is pointed out, they can see it, recognize it and make the proper adjustments.
The defining point for the latent racist is when they are called out on it. Now this goes beyond the guy who says, "What do you mean? I have a black friend" or "What do you mean? I like Indians." 
To me, there is almost a unique category of racism that pertains to Native peoples. As I mentioned, by and large most non-Native people are oblivious to us. The words 'Indian' and 'Native American' invoke visions of Pilgrims or cowboys and Indians from the movies. We aren't viewed as a threat or to have any impact on them whatsoever. But among this vast non-Native population an underlying racist attitude has been quietly, but no less insidiously, planted. The trick to all this, in my opinion, is raising awareness without pushing them over the racist cliff.
We see this with the mascot issue and any time we stand together. When the dominant culture around us feels threatened even with the idea of losing something as meaningless as a team logo, that line gets drawn.
An Edmonton newspaper had to shut down its Facebook page in the midst of the Idle No More movement because of the ugly and overwhelming level of hate that erupted there. Every mainstream print, TV/radio and online media outlet that addresses the mascot issue and uses a forum for comments has at least half the comments filled with insult and hate. And depending on their political leaning, a whole lot more than half. This isn't even a real issue in and of itself; it is merely a demonstration and a symbol of the unique racism held toward Native people.
It is tough to judge the real level of this racism. Clearly, many remain silent on the issues and in doing so are complicit in fostering this sentiment. The loudest and most well funded voices will always get heard above the silent majority but I can't help wonder where that silent majority really falls on this.
It’s great to hear people say that they never realized how offensive an expression or an image is and to be genuinely regretful for having been a part of promoting such things. I truly believe most people do not harbor ill will toward Native peoples, but certainly plenty do.
Many of those plugging up social media with hate speech are not the latent racist variety awakened from their dormant state but are simply the blatant racists, happy in their ignorance and wearing it proudly around their necks. These aren't just the guys or gals who struggle with generationally embedded racism; no, these are the ones on a mission to recruit more racists and advance social tensions and even violence. Michele Tittler and her attack on a 13 year-old Native girl wearing a "Got Land?" hoodie to school comes to mind. But it isn't just the lunatic fringe at home with their computers and the Internet that concerns me. There are also guys like Frank Parlato, the owner of the Niagara Falls Reporter, a small newspaper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Every week, this little man publishes his racist views targeted specifically at the Seneca. He makes his case with lies and half-truths and actually suggests that the non-Native people of Niagara Falls are living under apartheid to the Seneca people. While he and his views may be insignificant, the fact that he generates enough ad revenue to print 20,000 copies weekly of this nonsense begs the question as to how widely held these racist views are and how effectively is he spreading them.
I believe it is our job as Native people in the media, as few as we may be, to enlighten people and provide the information to those willing to receive it. I, for one, feel well received by the non-Native community as I share my thoughts and views. I don't think promoting Native sovereignty, autonomy and distinction is the same thing as promoting racial tension or hostility. There are vast arrays of beliefs, philosophies, religions and behaviors that I do not embrace, some right within my own communities, but I feel no need to attack those that subscribe to these different views or condemn them unless they truly intend to do harm and use those views for justification or cause. As strong and animated as my own rhetoric may become, it will never be my intent to promote hate or violence or to express my freedom at the expense of others.

For those harboring blatant racism, I hope much of it is generational and will die with them. And as for the latent racists, well, let's just hope they continue to sleep it off.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Start Spreading the News

Over the past 11 years that WBAI-FM 99.5 in New York City has been airing “First Voices Indigenous Radio” (FVIR), the show's host and executive producer Tiokasin Ghosthorse has slowly turned his weekly live one-hour radio show into an international broadcast with re-airings of this program on 45 stations in 15 states and one Canadian province.

Tiokasin has built a following of loyal listeners and set a standard for what could and should be expected when a Native voice is given an opportunity to be heard. He strove to provide a platform and a voice to Indigenous issues globally and has, indeed, accomplished his mission.

But 2014 has provided other opportunities for Tiokasin and he has decided to step away from hosting for a bit. Last week I traveled to New York to appear as Tiokasin's guest on FVIR. There it was announced that I would be stepping in as Interim Host for Tiokasin while he goes on a sabbatical to pursue various projects including work with children. A media release was issued immediately following the show by Liz Hill Public Relations, Ltd., in Washington, D.C. My appearance on the show did not come as a surprise or anything new to the FVIR audience since I have been one of the few guest hosts that Tiokasin has relied on over the last few years. This was yet another chance for Tiokasin and me to share the microphone.

Tiokasin will remain FVIR's executive producer and will be no stranger to the show while he pursues his year away as full-time host. Liz Hill, who has produced several Native radio shows in various markets, including producing for FVIR, will also serve as one of the show's producers. Ms. Hill has worked as my publicist over much of the last year and brings her more than 30 years of experience in public relations and media to this valuable media resource.

I will continue to produce and host my own show, “Let's Talk Native...with John Kane” (LTN) airing Sundays at 9-11 p.m. on ESPN Sports Radio WWKB- 1520 AM in Buffalo, N.Y. and streaming on-line everywhere (on the TuneIn app or at and transition from my home on commercial radio to listener-supported radio of WBAI in New York each week. The shows will be distinct from one other with LTN maintaining its two hours of free-form style and its live, call-in talk radio format while FVIR will make efficient use of the one hour with a little more structure in one of the greatest media markets on the planet.

LTN will naturally continue to have a strong focus on Haudenosaunee issues but never shy away from Native issues from all over Turtle Island or Indigenous issues globally. Sovereignty, autonomy, distinction and identity will always be an undercurrent of “Let's Talk Native...”

“First Voices Indigenous Radio” will address Native and Indigenous peoples’ issues in a global context. Even as local and regional issues are tackled on the show and guests that will span the spectrum from activism to the arts and politics to other topics so, too, will there always be cognizance of the United Nations and the international community it represents just in the background. FVIR will continue to provide an opportunity to bring relevant Indigenous voices to the audiences of more than 40 radio markets and everywhere the Internet reaches for its live stream and archived shows access.

Of course, the style and brand of radio that I bring will offer a new look and sound to FVIR. A Haudenosaunee and, dare I say it, Mohawk (Kanienkehaka) perspective will also be ever present. My direct, unscripted, leaving little to interpretation style will leave listeners knowing that Native voices and Native thoughts do more than just linger in the Plains and the Woodlands or in desolate little known corners of the globe, and that our voices matter and that our thoughts and concepts resonate far beyond lines drawn in the sand or on a map.

If you are already a listener of “First Voices Indigenous Radio” then you have likely heard me as a host. Please don't view me as a replacement or substitute for Tiokasin but rather as a brother carrying the torch for him for awhile. I'll likely shine the light in a few different places but know that we are both looking for and illuminating the same things. And when we finish this trip around the Sun, the light will be squarely back in the hands of the man who built this program.

If you are a listener of “Let's Talk Native...” and have never heard FVIR, check it out and start spreading the news. I am heading to New York each week. I have plenty to say there and I'll have plenty to say it with.

If two hours of LTN each week is too much for you then catch one hour of FVIR. If two hours of LTN on Sunday night leaves you wanting more, hang on till Thursday morning from 9-10.

Listen at And check out the FVIR website at You will always find links and shows on my Native Pride blog and on the “Let's Talk Native...with John Kane Facebook” group page.