Tag Archives: America

US Veterans at Standing Rock Apologize for History of Genocide

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The demonstrations ongoing at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline have brought a wide assortment of passionate supporters committed to stand with them against the destruction of sacred and historical sites, and to protect the fresh water supply of the Missouri River.

It began with a small group of Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation and eventually attracted supporters from many of the over five hundred federally recognized tribes in the US as well as countless members of the numerous state recognized tribes across the country. Grand entrances of delegations from the Oglala on horseback, processions of Hopi, and a fleet of canoes from various northwestern tribes just to name three were broadcast across the internet almost every day for weeks. They have been joined by a delegation of over 500 religious denominations, and the Redrum Motorcycle Club and Black Lives Matter. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (for whom Morton County Sheriff’s Dept issued an arrest warrant), and actress Shailene Woodley (who was arrested and strip-searched by Morton County officers along with 26 others) also took part in direct action during the #NoDAPL opposition.

After months of abuses at the hands of DAPL private security who have assaulted the protectors with pepper spray and attack dogs, and by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department who has committed numerous human rights and treaty rights violations, shooting people with rubber bullets, mace, tear gas and using water cannons against them in freezing temperatures, targeting journalists and the press for arrest, it has become obvious that there is just a complete lack of humanity in the ranks of the MCSD and DAPL.

Then on the weekend of December 3 over 2,000 US military veterans arrived in an organized show of support, pledging to act as human shields for the protectors against the aggressiveness of the MCSD, to give a break to the people who have been there struggling for the past months, and to help draw mainstream media attention to the cause. On the first night of the arrival a small group of veterans engaged in an operation that returned the canoes that had been stolen from the people by Morton County deputies and DAPL personnel.

Then on Monday, December 5 in what has been dubbed a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a large group of veterans led by Wesley Clark Jr. addressed Leonard Crow Dog, a Chief among the Oglala Sioux. Clark asked for forgiveness on behalf of the United States for the past centuries of genocide and abuse by US military. Clark led about a dozen others in the front of the congregation as they knelt in a penitent fashion, one man bowing all the way to the ground. Crow Dog accepted the apology, expressed forgiveness and then offered an apology for of all things the Sioux victory against the Americans at the Battle of Little Big Horn, popularly known as “Custer’s Last Stand. History is being made at Standing Rock right now.

To be certain, these veterans are doing a good thing, performing noble deeds, and maybe I’m just too much of a skeptic, but something doesn’t sit well with me about this forgiveness ceremony. For starters no one in the video seems old enough to be guilty of historical military crimes against Indians. I don’t believe that a son is guilty for the deeds of his father so I don’t hold today’s veterans accountable for events they had nothing to do with. Secondly, an apology on behalf of the United States only has any real merit if made by an elected and currently presiding Commander in Chief of the United States. Wesley Clark Jr. isn’t exactly of much consequence as a representative of the United States, and even if he was, an apology doesn’t guarantee the real needed reform in Indian affairs. Someone else might say “it’s a good start,” and I’d hope they are correct.

I get it. A lot of Americans feel guilty for the genocide against Native Americans that occurred in the past and continues through less direct methods into the present, and the United States as a corporate body is guilty of these crimes, but not every white American alive today is responsible. Certainly there are people, organizations, state and federal governments and departments who are guilty for various crimes and assaults against Indians today, but I can’t see any validity in holding today’s veterans responsible unless they themselves were engaged in these assaults. I don’t like this white-guilt approach to allying with Indian struggles. I don’t want to see white Americans prostrate themselves in a supplicating ritual for atrocities in which they did not take part. There is nothing that can be fixed about the past. The present is where we must make change for the future.

I think these veterans were already engaged in admirable acts of great compassion by showing up and putting their bodies on the front lines beside the Natives defending their land and their culture. For that, they should all be commended along with everyone else who put their body in the line of duty fighting against the Black Snake. From here we need to continue to make noise and make allies until Washington DC can’t ignore the movement any longer. The treaties must be restored and respected like the Supreme Laws of the Land they are. The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to be reformed. Sovereignty must be respected on Indian land by state and federal authorities, and self-determination must be at all times the forefront of the cause. When this is accomplished, then the United States as a body will have atoned for her past misdeeds against the Indigenous of America. Then real healing can begin between our Nations.


Thanksgiving, Legend, and American Indians

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Thanksgiving is one of the United States’ most significant national holidays. It’s probably second in popularity only to Christmas. Like most Americans, I grew up with it. There’s really not much to it other than cooking a lot of food and having a feast in the middle of the day, during which we are supposed to express our appreciation for all our good fortune as Americans. It has a slightly religious tone to it, but that is overshadowed by its more nationalistic implications.

Along with Columbus Day, and the Fourth of July/Independence Day celebration, the Thanksgiving story has served as one in the series of origin myths to help establish European roots in North America. It’s ritualistic like any holiday as we loosely reenact the nation’s “First Supper.”

The myth tells that in 1621 after the pilgrims came to America they failed to properly work the land and were in danger of suffering famine. The local Wampanoag Indians took pity upon the new arrivals and taught them how to work the land and most importantly how to grow corn. I seem to recall as a child I learned that the Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant their seeds with a fish and this insured a strong and healthy crop, but I haven’t encountered this part of the myth as an adult. After the Pilgrims had a successful harvest they invited the Wampanoag to a great feast to celebrate. The two peoples partied and had a Kumbaya moment. The Pilgrims made this an annual tradition and this became Thanksgiving. There isn’t much truth to this story, but it seems harmless enough.

Of course Thanksgiving has taken some flack in recent decades for its usage of Native Americans as props in a story that seems to essentially justify the usurpation of American Indian title to the North American continent by colonial society. Now there is even a video circulating on TeenVogue that uses teenage girls to try to convince us that Thanksgiving actually has its origins in feasts that white people celebrated after fighting and extinguishing a Native community. It really comes off as the type of faux-outrage you’d expect from half-educated adolescents with angst. I’ve been there. I think the real shame is that it’s lazy, shallow research. Myths and legends are one thing but this is almost a crime against history.

Thanksgiving is in reality a part of a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon harvest festivals that were celebrated every fall going back into historical obscurity. These were like any of the similar harvest celebrations held by agricultural communities throughout the history of the world including North America. It is essentially a part of the European wheel of the year, a vestige from the white continent’s indigenous and tribal past, but that’s true of most holidays.


Some people think Indians shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving for political reasons. I could never get onboard with that idea. Overall I don’t have any real problem with the holiday or its symbolism. I can get annoyed by the stereo-typical white-man’s Indian play-acting, redface, and other embarrassing behaviors it encourages in non-Indians from time to time. I am left feeling bereft at the sense of equality and brotherhood it depicts between whites and Indians that rarely if ever really existed, especially when today Native communities are still being deprived of rights, and resources by the colonial governments, and the dominant society seems so unmoved and so unconcerned by it. Considering how little attention Indians get in American history and modern social and political discourse I guess we should be glad we get to be the second most significant part of the country’s second most significant holiday.

At the end of the day I am an advocate for all people returning to their roots and their native traditions adjusted to their modern geographic and political circumstances. In large part that requires a meaningful celebration of the seasonal cycle for all people. Thanksgiving is a day, or an entire weekend for some folks to take time and celebrate the earth’s bounty and to strengthen our bonds with family, clan, tribe, and nation. I see a national harvest celebration as part of this ancient tradition kept alive in modern America with a uniquely American symbolism.

Some people will choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving for reasons they attribute to their values, and that’s cool with me. For me Thanksgiving is a real time of gratitude, reflection, and preparation for the road ahead. I’ll get back to work after the festival.

Happy Thanksgiving.


“The Trouble with the Electoral College” Video is Unconvincing

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The Electoral College is making its rounds as the whipping-boy of the Left again since Donald Trump won the presidency by the only legal and constitutional means we’ve had at our disposal since 1789. Now that their candidate, Hillary Clinton lost the legal path to the presidency but irrelevantly had more of the total number of votes cast nationally in her favor, the Left has decided to champion the popular vote because they think it will assure them more future victories. I think that belief is incorrect, but that is a different article altogether.

I’ve found myself engaged in this Electoral College vs Popular Vote debate multiple times over the past two weeks and even more often years before, and my stance has been consistent. I agree that the Electoral College could use some tuning, but that any changes will be Constitutional Amendments and therefore must be carefully crafted to ensure that we are truly and fully getting a superior arrangement to what we had before. That means that advocates for change need to start making some convincing arguments. So far, I remain unconvinced.

In these debates this video called “The Trouble with the Electoral College” keeps popping up and I have had to address it a couple times. In my life, once is a social media comment, twice may be a frustrated social media comment, and third is a blog entry with a link I can refer to people.

It’s a deceptively crafted little video that has been around for a while, even before the Trump victory designed to sell the idea of the popular vote without having to justify itself. It naturally uses all the same fallacies, distortions, wordplay, and sentence-crafting you would expect from a political propagandist or a door to door vacuum salesman. While it has some basic facts correct, it is full of biases, unsupported assertions, weasel phrases, and it conflates federal roles and powers with states’ roles and powers as if those are not significant factors. In the end the video is just a list a grievances without any supporting evidence that the proposed solution is better.

Here are a few of the most notable problems.

THE UNITED STATES IS NOT A DEMOCRACY

The first four words of the video are “in a fair democracy …” and the entire video argues from the bias that we are or are supposed to be a democracy and that the viewer has already just accepted this. I do not just accept this. We are not a democracy. We’re a representative republic where our president is elected by the states, and I’m just fine with that. I can stop watching the video here because I’m interested in talking about how things work or should work in our Republic, not some fictional democracy, or constitutional monarchy or whatever. Being based on a false premise makes the video irrelevant to the discussion.

LOADED TERMS

Moving forward, the narrator uses the loaded word “fair” multiple times to describe his position, assuming that true democracy is fair and that there are no other significant factors worth considering other than a simple tally of popular votes that might make things equitable for members of disparate populations. He fails to explain how his concept of “fairness” will result in a better standard of living for Americans than what we have now. He does not provide any supporting evidence that true democracy is a better alternative to what we have now. Many people think it is a worse alternative. The framers of the United States Constitution thought it was a worse alternative and our political system is set up with that in mind. So the whole video fails to convince on that point alone.

OUT OF TOUCH WITH DEMOGRAPHIC REALITY

The video proposes that a candidate could win the office of the president with only 22% of the popular vote. This example is theoretical at best, and that is being generous because it is one of those theories that only works in theory but just isn’t a practical reality. It ignores the significant cultural, economic, and legislative differences between communities that account for their different voting populations. Mississippians aren’t going to vote in line with Hawaiians, and people from Wyoming aren’t going to vote in line with Washington DC. These are very different communities with different cultures, perspectives and needs. One of the biggest reasons I’m opposed to popular vote is because I am opposed to giving so much power to dense population centers because I’m convinced they won’t be able to comprehend and will therefore neglect the needs of such communities and see them simply as resources for their own use. The economic and social ramifications of this could be dire and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it result in secession by multiple communities over time.

Frankly this example alone validated my concerns that proponents of the popular vote don’t understand and therefore can’t care about the unique needs of regional communities, which our founding political arrangement is intended to address, although it is admittedly not perfect.

NO SUPPORTING ARGUMENT

This video really provides nothing at all to support the popular vote as a better solution other than a personal value judgment. Don’t just tell me that something is wrong with what we are doing and expect me to go along with the way someone else wants things to be done. I expect the proponent of the new way to put some effort into convincing me that their solution is better if they want my support. Convince me with facts, data, charts, graphs and historical and sociological examples. It has to be a solid plan, not just a list of grievances against the status quo. Understand that any argument based on an idea in the realm of “because it’s the current year” will be soundly rejected.

 

I think the popular vote is not a better alternative. I think it is wracked with problems, and it does not fit with my understanding of the roles and powers of states under the Constitution which I happen to like, so I remain wholly unconvinced by this argument.


Shadowyze Bio

Shadowyze (pronounced shadow-wise) is a Native American hip hop artist who comes from a background of Muskogee Creek and Scots-Irish heritage.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of West Florida and his lyrics are woven within a fabric of insight and social awareness.



Shadowyze was born in San Antonio, Texas as Alvin Shawn Enfinger and relocated with his family to Pensacola, Fla. at the age of eight.  In 1989, Shadowyze launched his hip-hop career when his group, Posse In Effect, released the official theme song “Knock ‘em out the Ring Roy” recorded for then Olympic boxing Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr. which received strong support on regional radio as well as NBC Sportsworld.

The big turning point in his career came after Shadowyze spent ten weeks in Central and South America and Mexico in 1998 where he witnessed the cruelty of the “low intensity war,” military oppression and poverty imposed upon the Mayan Indian population in Chiapas, Mexico which inspired his 1999 multi-single Murder in Our Backyard which was endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland.

Shadowyze has appeared on over 20 compilations and released three full length albums; Spirit Warrior (2001), World of Illusions (2003), and his current 2005 release; the self-titled Shadowyze featuring platinum recording Latino artist Baby Bash, and the production wizardry of Nashville’s DJ Dev of Devastating Music; production engineer of the triple platinum selling album 400 degrees by Juvenile and Happy Perez (producer of Baby Bash’s platinum hit Suga Suga, as well as Frankie J., Mystikal).  In 2006 Shadowyze, DJ Dev and Lojah teamed up to produce the multi-single “Powda & Flow” on Backbone Records.


Shadowyze has supported the Mayan Indian Relief Fund and in 2005 attracted national attention by helping to organize and coordinate a Hurricane Katrina relief effort delivering several thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

In 2005 Shadowyze won both the Native American Music Awards and the Pensacola, Florida Music Awards for best hip-hop and has been the focus of several stories appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL, Billboard, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Shadowyze was featured on the covers of Downlow Magazine, Native Network and Get’em Magazine.

Through Backbone, Records; Shadowyze released Guerillas in the Mixx, a compilation in cooperation with Big Lo featuring Public Enemy, The Coup, Michael Franti, Spearhead, Afrika and Litefoot.

Shadowyze has spoken on Native American issues and performed his music on many Indian reservations, the Montrose Jazz Fest in Switzerland and the National Autry Center in Los Angeles.  His most recent release in 2009 on Backbone Records is titled after the Mayan prophecy “2012.”

Lojah featuring Sadowyze: Flow





Mardi Gras – A Primer

Mardi Gras is a big event in my native home of the Southern Gulf States. It is celebrated heavily between Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. I’ve even seen evidence of attempts at celebrating it as far west as Monterey, California, but nobody does it like home. Although New Orleans is thought of as the home city of American Mardi Gras, the first American celebration of the holiday took place in Mobile, Alabama in 1703.

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Coming from the French tradition, Mardi Gras is similar to the Carnival traditions found throughout Europe and Latin America. It tends to occupy several weeks before and on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

Lent being a 40 day period of fasting and abstention in the Catholic tradition, Fat Tuesday and the days leading up to it is a time to let it all out, to party, to drink, and for many to sin.  As such it is a festival season celebrated with wild abandon, parades, carnivals and debauchery. Costumes and masks are an important part of the festivities, epitomized by the classic theatre masks.

A Mardi Gras parade can be a rowdy affair.  As the parade floats pass by (each one manned by a krewe, or in Mobile a “Mystic Society”) the attendants compete for cheap plastic beads and trinkets, and aluminum doubloons.

King cake is a tradition going back to the old world. The New Orleans variety consists of a twisted cinnamon roll iced with the colors of the holiday: purple, gold, and green. Traditionally, inside the king cake would be hidden a little plastic baby signifying the baby Jesus, but is often just referred to as the Mardi Gras baby. Whichever person gets the piece with the baby inside is promised a prosperous year.

As much as Mardi Gras is about the festival and indulgence, it should not be forgotten that this is leading up to a 40 day period of fasting. This is a significant time of year. To the ancestors this season heralded in a time of scarcity as the winter stocks began to dwindle before the season’s crops could provide any sustenance. Though the celebrations may seem excessive, it is intended to be followed by a month on penance and discipline.


Mass Media’s Effect on Anthropology, Nationalism and Native Awareness

Modern anthropological studies are placing an ever growing amount of importance on mass media.  This interest came about in large part as a reaction to the up rise of nationalism leading up to World War II, and the growth of mass communication and media.  Since that time anthropology has shifted from the mere study of indigenous cultures into the study of nations, states, political ideologies, institutions, and all the instruments of nationalism.

1980s and World MusicAs the twentieth century came to a close the undeniable influence of mass media upon society and nationalism has made it a subject of great interest to anthropologists and Native communities alike.  Anthropologists have begun to utilize the tools of mass media to further education and understanding across national and cultural lines. More significantly, access to mass media by Native populations has allowed for them to represent themselves through the dissemination of music, art and literature of their own designs independent of the anthropological disciplines.  The knowledge, and primary sources that have historically been imparted through the discipline of anthropology can now be accessible to everyone and is no longer confined to universities and their text books.

Anthropologist Francisco Osorio of the University of Chile in his paper “Why Is Interest in Mass Media Anthropology Growing?” points out that both Anthropology and mass media “… have a common starting point in World War II.”  Since the 1980’s which Osorio marks as the beginning of Modernity within anthropological studies, the study of mass media has been the focus along with science, capitalism and consumption.

The late 1980’s also bore the broad musical category “World Music” which has proven to be a lucrative commercial interest, as well as a strong medium to foster cross-cultural communication and a more profound interest in the social sciences.

World music is a broad genre that encompasses nationalist and regional music from all around the world.  Most often it represents the musical styles of communities that in previous decades would only be heard by outsiders while on vacation, a safari or an anthropological field study.  Styles such as Reggae, Blues, Celtic Music and Powwow drums represent just a small yet broad variation of the World Music genre.  According to Carsten Wergan in “World Music: a medium for unity and difference?” World Music is often intended to communicate the identity of its regional culture to the outside world, to educate each other about their respective cultures through the medium of music.  This has been successful through investments in quality production and mass distribution.   It is by its nature a means to arouse an “anthropological” interest in its listeners.

Native Americans Take Control of Mass Media

In the past, when mass media was more restricted to an elite few, Native peoples were usually portrayed in the basest forms as stereotyped images of their cultures.  But as mass distribution, through networks of independent record labels and the internet has become more accessible to every person, Native Musicians have begun to emerge from their formerly obscure shadows in the mass consciousness of Western society.

In 1989 Tom Bee formed Sound of America Records (SOAR) with the intention of distributing music made by Native Americans. According to his bio; “In 1995, Bee formed yet another company, SOAR Distribution LTD for the sole purpose of providing his clients with one-stop music from other independent labels and artists also producing Native American music.”  Tom Bee was also the driving force behind convincing NARAS to create a Native American Grammy category*.  Tom Bee has been such a significant influence and positive impact on Native American music that he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, none the least are the Native American Music Awards (Nammy) for Producer of the Year in 1998 and the NAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.  He was awarded a Grammy in 2004 for production of “Flying Free” by Black Eagle.  Bee was also recognized for his many successes and his positive impact on native music when Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico proclaimed July 27th, 2002 “Tom Bee Day.”

                                        

Tom Bee helped open the door and now Natives of various stripes have found their methods through more commercial avenues of music such as hip hop, rock and roll and alternative music to use mass media as a way to further the cause of their national identities and to demonstrate how corporate interests impact their lives.  Shadowyze whose first album release was produced by Tom Bee uses South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation as the backdrop for the Native American Hip Hop video “BUMPY ROADS,” which conveys the struggles and obstacles of living in a lower economic bracket – something that truly does cross ethnic boundaries – but in the very culturally specific setting of a Lakota reservation.  In this manner artists like Shadowyze, Litefoot and John Trudell have learned to use this medium of music to convey social messages and bridge cultural gaps, helping to portray the values and economic situation of indigenous cultures more accurately.

The Internet Provides a Higher Standard of Cultural Accuracy

The democratization of the internet changed everything in the media.  Websites and blogs are created for little or no cost.  Webmasters can form groups like the old webrings with similar interests and purposes linking to each other, creating a network accessible to the general public.  Native communities have been using the internet to reach out to the world and enlighten them within the comfort of their own living room.  Anthropological oriented sites such as media-anthropology.net or korubo.com are also easily accessed by thousands and potentially millions of people to provide education about indigenous concerns.  Now the internet phenomenon has taken on a new shape with social media like facebook and twitter.  Artists and musicians have free access to their own promotional site, and now unique, cultural and traditional music can be accessed by millions through their computer screen.  These sites are also being more directly utilized to further the education of anthropological studies as groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team, founded by the renowned ethno-botanist Dr. Mark Plotkin sign up and seek “friends” with whom to network.  It seems as technology advances pop culture, more accessible avenues are opened up for advancement in cultural awareness.

As this trend continues and people of different cultures become more aware and knowledgeable about other societies, a higher standard of cultural accuracy in the media increases.  Fewer people are accepting the disingenuous images of the stereotyped savage that has been perpetuated for centuries in American cinema as more Americans become aware of different cultures through the easily accessible mass produced media and the internet.  In this setting all people including Natives can use their own words, music and art to express their own values and views.

A New Era of Media is a New Era of Education

In previous decades anthropological resources could only be accessed through stodgy old books in expensive centers of education.  Many of the experiences that were once confined to anthropological field work and class study can now be accessed by the whole of society through the faculties of mass media.  As society gains more access to and education of anthropological experience through the media it becomes more sophisticated by its exposure to the disciplines theories.  The ability to use film, music and internet capabilities allows people to potentially reach audiences in the millions.  This is quite a difference compared to the mere hundreds that were previously fortunate enough to have contact with the books published and disseminated mostly within the confines of a university.

In the present era Anthropology does not have to be limited to text books.  As mass communication helped bear nationalism in the twentieth century, anthropological theory became more concerned with national faculties such as the media.  In the post-Vietnam War era United States mass distribution of music and video provided the means for an upsurge in nationalistic and culturally specific genres of music now called World Music to have a more international audience.  With the sophistication of technology through the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the internet, the music and arts of the diverse peoples of the Earth can be accessed by each other respectively with the click of a button or the flip of a switch.  The old books of anthropological theories are no longer the sole guide to cultural awareness.  We may for the first time in history be at a point where cross cultural rapport can be achieved on a massive scale through the free access of media throughout the globe.

*discontinued in 2012