Tag Archives: tribes

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.

Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit: Book Review

Quinn, Daniel (1992) Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, New York: Bantam/Turner Books

Daniel Quinn’s award winning novel Ishmael is a compelling exposition of the author’s social and political perspective through the eyes of a gorilla.  The essential theme upon which the book is written is one that lays the blame of all our modern political and environmental perils squarely on the shoulders of the Neolithic agricultural revolution. The author’s reasoning is that agriculture is the beginning of human exploitation of the earth, other species and cultures.  Quinn further asserts that the world’s modern industrial agricultural society is unsustainable and destined to disaster. With these two premises established Quinn’s argument next follows that if the human race and the earth are to survive for much longer, industrial society will have to transform itself into a less exploitative culture. Ishmael­ has inspired an entire cult following of neotribalists desirous of bringing Quinn’s vision of a post-industrial society established on low impact kin based communities to life.

From its very first page Ishmael swiftly moves forward with a sense of purpose and profundity. As the story opens Quinn describes the unnamed narrator’s disgust at reading an ad in the personals section of the newspaper: “TEACHER seeks student. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” The narrator expresses his sense of disillusionment at this presumptuous author whom he figures is just another charlatan marketing a worn out fashion statement as a social and spiritual revolution. This opening acts as a hook that catches the reader by the sensation of a social revolutionary disillusioned from the experiences of one flaccid effort after another, never truly offering or accomplishing anything substantially alternative to the status quo. Although skeptical of this self-appointed guru, our unnamed narrator still decides to investigate the charlatan he’s sure he’ll meet.  Surprisingly, the guru is not a man at all, but a gorilla named Ishmael capable of deep philosophical thought and communication. The lesson he seeks to impart is an accounting of the collision course upon which he sees the human race and that which he believes is the remedy for it.

The blurring of reality and absurdity is implicit in the author’s narrative bringing to life the remarkably believable character of Ishmael. The author’s deep use of metaphor begins at the title of the book and the gorilla’s name.  Ishmael stands as a representative, a spokesman of sorts for the natural order of the earth, flora and fauna.  While the gorilla had lived in a menagerie he began to became self aware and learned to recognize a certain sound as referring to him; Goliath.  The name is strongly indicative of the manner in which gorillas, great apes, wild animals and the natural world is typically viewed by modern humans; a degraded, threatening, crude philistine to be conquered by our heroic civilization. But when Mr. Sokolow upon encountering the animal announces to him “You are not Goliath,” he is making a profound statement about his rejecting the greater society’s perception of the world.  This statement is further expounded by the name which Mr. Sokolow instead chooses to bestow upon him. Transformed from the image of the hulk which tormented the Israelites Goliath is renamed Ishmael; the disinherited son of Abraham who through no fault of his own was cast out from the Israelite race, deemed as little more than “a wild ass of a man.”

Ishmael explains that all of the modern nations of the world whether England, Russia or China are descendents of these exploitative agriculturalists whom he designates Takers. Takers are acting out a myth that places them at the top of creation as the owners of the earth.  A different myth is being acted out by the few societies who exist in distant tribes and bands still living similarly to the pre-agricultural Mesolithic hunters and gatherers whom he designates Leavers.  Leavers do not see themselves as the masters of the earth, but as part of it. A society is always governed by a mythic theme and the difference between these two myths could not be more different.  The reason Ishmael says that all our social and political revolutions have failed to stop our eventual demise is because they have all failed to reject the Taker myth and simultaneously embrace the Leaver myth.

Ishmael explains that Nazi Germany was the inevitable result of the Taker’s myth being acted out and that this myth is still being acted out through the entire civilized world’s perception of, and behavior toward the natural environment. With the gorilla as instructor we are taught that the human race broke away from a sort of mystical interspecies ecological brotherhood, setting their selves and the world on a collision course to destruction by setting themselves up as gods who know the difference between good and evil, with the power to decide who should live and who should die.  Ishmael, the gorilla even uses the Genesis creation story as an example of a misinterpreted and incorrectly practiced narrative that has served to misalign the human race with the earth. The biblical fall in the garden, according to our gorilla mentor is really a story by which our pre-agricultural pastoralist contemporaries illustrated this severing from the natural order.  Once humans settled down and cultivated enough food to support a growing population they became warlike and expansive.

While generally well thought out and reasonable in his approach, there are several points in Ishmael’s interpretation of events that must be questioned.  He characterizes the farmers as the culture that victimizes the herding people’s and extinguishes all the other species, including the predators in their environment while completely exonerating herders for the destruction they also cause in the world.  Many forests have also been destroyed in order to create pasture land to feed the herds.  And there is after all a reason western folklore has always depicted the wolf as the antagonist of the shepherd.  Aside from this and a few other bits of artistic license taken by the author, Ishmael is a engaging book that stimulates deep reflection on our relationship with the earth now and throughout history.  To describe the course of our eventual demise Ishmael uses the image of a primitive, non-aerodynamic plane on its test flight plummeting toward the earth while the pilot looks down at the ground rushing up at him and says “well, it’s gotten me this far, no sense abandoning it now.”

Though classified as a novel, the majority of Ishmael takes the form of a dialogue between the unnamed narrator and the gorilla guru.  The message Ishmael hopes to impart to the world is that the human race’s only hope in continuing to survive lies in rejecting the myth of the Takers and embracing the myth of the Leavers.  The novel ends on somber tone, but one that imparts a motivating hopefulness and a sense of urgency.  Ishmael is an excellent book which should be read by everyone looking for real alternatives to the modern political and ecological turmoil engulfing the world.  We’re an inventive species.  It’s time to invent.

Native Tribalism In The Twenty-First Century

nativepride4In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries “Family Values” have been at the forefront of many a politician’s rhetoric in the United States.  Though these social servants may think that they mean well, in truth they often have done and do more to hinder family values than they do to help.  Indigenous family values have been steadily attacked for the greater span of history, often by the goals and aims of the capitalist mainstream of American and Western society through the colonial process.  It is through this process of colonialism and the perpetuation of the values inherent in this philosophy of conquest and assimilation that has brought the plague of impoverished, powerless families in crises to the world.  Indigenous peoples in general have always been the primary targets of these acts of aggression against family values, and since the close of the fifteenth century, Native Americans have been the victims of this war on the family.  As an Indian and a Stomp Dancer at a traditional ceremonial grounds I have some close ties to this subject as I have witnessed first hand some of the destructive policies of the government in these matters which have long standing and far reaching consequences for people of all races.


Traditionally Native Americans have lived in social organizations that anthropologists and sociologists have called bands and tribes.  As Andre Cherlin points out;

Before the twentieth century, kinship ties provided the basis for governing most American Indian tribes.  A person’s household was linked to a larger group of relatives who might be a branch of a matrilineal or patrilineal clan [→p38] that shared power with other clans. Thus kinship organization was also political organization.  Under these circumstances, extended kinship ties reflected power and status to a much greater extent than among other racial ethnic groups in the United States.  American Indian kinship systems allowed individuals to have more relatives, than did Western European kinship systems (Shoemaker, 1991).  Even today, extended family ties retain a significance for American Indians that goes beyond the sharing of resources that has been noted among other groups (Harjo,1993).  Kinship networks constitute tribal organization; kinship ties confer an identity.[1]

Vine Deloria Jr., renowned Native American author and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians develops the idea further into more practical detail;

Indian tribes have always had two basic internal strengths, which can also be seen in corporations: customs and clans.  Tribes are not simply composed of Indians.  They are highly organized as clans, within which variations of tribal traditions and customs govern.  While the tribe makes decisions on general affairs, clans handle specific problems.  Trivia is thus kept out of tribal affairs by referring it to clan solutions.

Customs rise as clans rise to meet problems and solve them.  They overflow from the clan into general tribal usage as their capability and validity are recognized.  Thus a custom can spread from a minor clan to the tribe as a whole and prove to be a significant basis for tribal behavior.  In the same manner, methods and techniques found useful in one phase of corporate existence can become standard operating procedure for an entire corporation.[2]

However, this tribal structure has never suited the palate of Western colonialism which seeks to consolidate its power and authority over national as well as individual resources.  The socialistic and communal nature of Native tribalism in America is in exact opposition to the nuclear family oriented and discriminating values of Western colonialism.


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After four hundred years of struggling against the effects of colonialism; disease, wars and genocide the last free Indians in North America were forced onto reservations in1886 when Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona.  As soon as the federal government was convinced they had rounded up all the Indians, they forced Native communities to be defined by a set standard of perceived genetics in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Indian tribal structure.  By applying blood standards to Native Identity the federal government alienated and further factionalized Native families and communities which were often genetically mixed, while also limiting their contemporary as well as future claims to Indigenous identity and sovereignty.  Ward Churchill, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder says;

In clinging insistently to a variation of eugenics formulation — dubbed “blood-quantum” – ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a “statistical extermination” of the indigenous population within its borders.  As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: “Set the blood-quantum at one quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed…and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence.  When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent ‘Indian Problem’.”[3]

Though portrayed as a means of preserving tribal identity and interests, the blood quantum standards of the General Allotment Act have in fact only served to undermine tribal integrity.

Today tribal membership is determined on quite a legalistic basis, which is foreign to the accustomed tribal way of determining its constituency.  The property interests of descendants of the original enrollees or allotees have become determining factors in compiling tribal membership rolls.  People of small Indian blood quantum or those descended from people who were tribal members a century ago, are thus included on the tribal membership roll. Tribes can no longer form and reform on sociological, religious, or cultural bases.  They are restricted in membership by federal officials responsible for administering trust properties who demand that the rights of every person be respected and whether or not that person presently appears in an active and recognized role in the tribal community.  Indian tribal membership today is a fiction created by the federal government, not a creation of the Indian people themselves.[4]

Throughout the years that followed, interaction between the United States government and Native peoples the federal policy has been one of either complete destruction or dissolution of the tribal structure.  Less than half a century after the last Indian wars the United States government began investigating ways to rid themselves of the impoverished, unified family-based communities surviving off of federal commodities, hopefully this time, without having to shoot anybody.

In 1947, in order to save funds and gain stronger control over tribal reservation lands, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman was pressured to classify Indian Tribes into categories between those tribes that could be immediately terminated from federal service and those tribes who will require a decade or more of intensified programs of development in order to reach a level of assimilation to function within white society.  In 1950 the House Internal Committee based their survey of Indians on The Domesday Survey of 1086 as the model for their investigation on Indian affairs and economic assets.  The Domesday Survey was William the Conqueror’s survey of his recently conquered British territory and subjects nearly a thousand years earlier. The committee’s intention was to expedite the assimilation of Native Americans and the dissolution of their tribal structure, the indigenous family value.  The following years between 1954 –1968 were full of Congressional cases of tribal termination.[5]

Native American communities have continuously been treated more as conquered prisoners to be assimilated rather than American citizens effectively trivializing them as human beings.  While federal policy has tended to always be aimed toward unraveling the tribal structure in order to dissolve Native sovereignty all together, the media and non-indigenous society typically portray Indians in historical romance rather than in contemporary settings; showing Natives dealing with our modern day colonialism.  This lack of accurate portrayal of Natives has served to keep the general populace ignorant and uninformed regarding much of the truth regarding Native America.  Churchill again brings the issue into focus by explaining;

Nothing, perhaps, is more emblematic of Hollywood’s visual pageantry than scenes of Plains Indian warriors astride their galloping ponies, many of them trailing a flowing headdress in the wind, thundering into battle against the blue-coated troops of the United States.  By, now more than 500 feature films and half again as many television productions have included representations of this sort.  We have been served such fare along with the tipi, the buffalo hunt, the attack upon the wagon train and the ambush of the stage coach, until they have become so indelibly imprinted upon the American consciousness as to be synonymous with Indians as a whole (to nonindians at any rate and, to many native people as well).

It’s not the technical inaccuracies in such representations that are the most problematic, although these are usually many and often extreme.  Rather, it is the fact that the period embodied in such depictions spans the barely three decades running from 1850 to 1880, the interval of warfare between the various plains people and the ever encroaching soldiers and settlers of the United States.  There is no “before” to the story and there is no “after.”  Cinematic Indians have no history before Euroamericans come along to momentarily imbue them with it, and then, mysteriously, they seem to pass out of existence altogether.”[6]

It is for these reasons that both of the United States ethnic majorities, both black and white tend to misunderstand, misrepresent, not care or consider issues of native sovereignty and the integrity of the tribal structure to be a joke.  As far as most Americans are concerned Native tribalism and sovereignty does little more than stimulate the imagination.  The most support and understanding or sympathizing with Native family struggles outside of Native America arises in the Mexican and Latino population who tend to feel some kinship with Indians.  Native political concerns do not translate well across ethnic boundaries.  Unlike issues between black and white, which tend to be focused on integration, equal opportunity and employment, few ethnic groups in the United States can identify with modern conflicts over Reservation sovereignty, treaty violations, the right to ethnic self-identification and to maintain self-governance.  As Deloria explains it;

The closest parallel that we find in history to the present conditions of Indians is the Diaspora of the Jews following the destruction of the Temple … The Indian exile is in a sense more drastic.  The people often live less than a hundred miles away from their traditional homelands; yet in the relative complexities of reservation and urban life, they might be two-thousand or more years apart.  It’s not simply a special separation that has occurred but a temporal one as well.[7]

In less than five hundred years once powerful and highly specialized family oriented nations were reduced to ‘fourth world’ poverty .

NATIVE AMERICANS, or American Indians, suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment among racial minority groups in the United States, and conditions are even worse on Native American reservations. In 1989, 27.2 percent of Native American families lived below the poverty level while 10 percent of all American families fell into this category (U.S Bureau of the Census 1990a, Table 112). The 1989 Native American family median income was $21,619, only 67 percent of the average family median income for the total U.S. population (ibid). Census Bureau estimates of Native American unemployment rates across selected reservations in 1990 vary from 14 percent to 44 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990b, Summary Tape File 3c). The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports even higher unemployment rates for these areas, estimating rates as high as 70 percent for some reservations (Stuart 1987). Both series place reservation unemployment rates far above average rates for other races or regions.[8]

Indian tribes have been located to lands, splintered, relocated to other places and then relocated again whenever they begin to show a little too much organizational and political aptitude or when valuable resources are found on tribal lands.  Native Americans are continually losing their cultures and identity through tribal dissolution and general neglect of our current political and social obstacles by the media.  The loss of land and sovereignty is continuing to cripple the societies and render the individuals as little more than impoverished peoples and blood quantum standards encourage factionalism and disintegration by forcing mixed blood cousins off of tribal rolls.

The poor treatment and misrepresentation of social issues of Indigenous peoples by the colonial governments and their respective media sets a bad precedent for other nations.  When the world’s Indigenous peoples are oppressed and maltreated on the land that is rightfully their own then the individuals within the colonial society themselves are subject to similar or worse treatment by their own governments.  When a people whose historic and ethnic, social and religious claim to a land is undermined and effectively nullified, no one can expect to have land rights or social and religious freedom without government interference.

Native American tribalism has been an issue of trivia for western society for the past five hundred years.  The colonial structure has shunned it and counterculturalists have imitated it in their defiance of their corporate culture yet, this is perhaps the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misconstrued aspect of “Indianess.”  The Tribal structure of Indigenous people is the backbone of human culture from its roots to its leaves, but oddly enough this truest aspect of human nature has been enduring a wholesale eradication in the name of progress.  The most unfortunate aspect of this dilemma just may be the total alienation of westernized society from its indigenous roots, its true family nature.

It would do Western societies good to pay heed to indigenous ideas and views.  The world’s nations will likely never come to any justice in social reform if they do not reconsider their modern colonial perspective and come to grips with their indigenous roots.

[1] Cherlin, Adrew J., Public and Private Families, McGraw-Hill Higher Education Publishing, 2005, pg 22

[2] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 232

[3] Churchill, Ward, Indians Are Us, Culture and Genocide in Native North America, Common Courage Press, 1994, pg 42

[4] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, 1994 pg 243

[5] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 60

[6] Churchill, Ward, Acts of Rebellion, the Ward Churchill Reader, Routledge, New York, 2003, pg 186

[7] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, pg 249

[8] Geib, Elizabeth Zahrt, Do Reservation Native Americans Vote with Their Feet? A Re-examination of Native American Migration, 1985-1990 – Focus on Economic Sociology American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The, Oct, 2001