Standing Rock, Moahdak Do’ag, and the Pervasiveness of Cultural Warfare

American History classes leave out so much of indigenous history.  It’s not because curricula are reinforcing the idea that these nations are sovereign and therefore separate; it’s because it perpetuates this notion that indigenous peoples exist only in a historical context.  It also is a means of downplaying the genocide crimes this country is responsible for and invalidating non-Western cultures and traditional knowledge.

The Indian Affairs office was created under the U.S. Department of War in 1824, the same year Mexico claimed the southwest “American” territories from Spain.  In 1849, a year after the United States took claim of these territories from Mexico, Indian Affairs was transferred to the Department of the Interior.  The mentality that “Indian” cultures are a threat, however, did not die as the federal government chose to assume a position of warden to its newly inducted wards, the tribal peoples.  This mentality would continue – and does continue to this day – to play out in policies and court decisions that promote assimilation and normalize cultural genocide.

When the events at Standing Rock began to intensify this past summer, more and more “outsiders” became aware of Reservations, tribal voices, and the Federal government’s imposition on indigenous rights.  More or less, they began to wake up to a reality that has dominated the lives and histories of so many American citizens.  Militarized police began occupying the lands around the #NoDAPL camps, using unprovoked violence, intimidation techniques, and actual war supplies to advance the agenda of a corporation that had violated laws protecting cultural resources.  This may have shocked many, but for others it wasn’t the same surprise: the military occupation of our tribal lands started centuries ago.  This was simply a manifestation of that occupation that hadn’t been seen in a physical sense until, perhaps, Wounded Knee in 1973.

Sadly, not everyone who participated at the resistance at Standing Rock served the community in its best interests.  While the movement largely began over the violations of land rights and clean water rights – sovereign titles held by binding, international treaties – a great number of people showed up in droves to advance their own climate justice agendas.  They showed up to fight pipelines and fossil fuels rather than to defend the graves that were torn apart and the waters from which the people are said to have been born.  These people wanted to use Standing Rock as an advertisement for how these poor, victimized, nature-loving Native Americans were actually doing something about a pipeline – and now how can we do the same thing at home?

The proof that 99% of Standing Rock’s outside guests were not in the movement for the right reasons comes with their absence at the dozens of ongoing atrocities on tribal lands.  Many of these are not pipeline conflicts, and therefore they do not fit into their climate agendas.  Instead, small groups are left to fight for the same sorts of assaults on their cultural resources and communities’ health.  They are risking everything – far more than others even have to risk.

This is because brown people all over the country are arrested, incarcerated, and often killed by police violence at disproportionate rates.  In indigenous communities, so many of our people fall far below the Western-defined line for what is poverty.  The Federal government has forced such a rapid transition of lifestyle, economy, and political structure on Reservations, adding layers of red tape that cripple development and extraction projects that spew pollution and radiation, often unchecked, into these sacrifice zones.  These people live among unreclaimed mine tailings.  Surely not all, but many, have underlying health issues that expound all of stresses.  And, finally, these battles are typically all-or-nothing attempts to block irreversible cultural and spiritual damage to their very identities.  White allies might be able to afford child care, pay their bills, and take time off of work.  They don’t have to fear police brutality, and they have the resources to bail themselves out of jail.  But the people most impacted by these projects are risking far more than that, if not their lives and their ways of life.

True solidarity will never exist unless non-indigenous communities can agree to organize and support indigenous peoples on the basis of ethics, not on the basis of belief.  For example, with Moahdak Do’ag (South Mountain), Arizona Department of Transportation is threatening the local O’otham communities of Phoenix by irreversibly damaging a sacred mountain as part of a new highway project.  The underlying problems are identical to those at Standing Rock, but because it’s not a pipeline we don’t have droves of supporters lining up like we did in North Dakota.  It simply doesn’t fit into people’s climate agenda – at least not in a direct way that they can comprehend.  However, true solidarity in this project doesn’t come from a shared belief that this mountain is sacred and that its protection is necessary for life to continue as it has; instead, it comes from the ethical realization that no violation of human rights is acceptable, and that indigenous rights are included in human rights.

Just like at Standing Rock, the US Army Corps of Engineers is considering water permits.  The Gila River Indian Community has been in the forefront of voices in opposition of such a project.  After speaking at the public hearing in Laveen, Arizona on May 9th, I submitted the following comment by the 19th to demand the denial of this permit:

I would like to support all of the findings of the Gila River Indian Community’s demand that these permits be denied. My response here is surely not complete; however, I will highlight some points I find relevant to why this project cannot be permitted.

The Army Corps is meant to evaluate the legitimacy of a permit application based on a number of factors. The underlying goal is to protect and utilize important resources. As the South Mountain and corresponding water flows are at the central part of these resource considerations, and as they are central to the survival of an entire nation of people (Gila River Indian Community) and equally important to their relatives (other O’othams), that is a central piece to why this project – and the permits – should never move forward.

This permit must be denied as this project clearly violates many rights, including human rights. Construction should never have begun as dispute is ongoing. The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), a sovereign nation impacted in what appears to be a very biased manner, is currently in the 9th Circuit to shut the project down. The Army Corps claims to not permit projects in an ongoing dispute, therefore it cannot permit the project for many reasons if not for the simple reason that it’s disputed. Furthermore, the O’otham sovereign nations, which include GRIC, have every intention maintain their position, to never consent but rather to dispute this project as a means of protecting their religious freedom and longevity in this area. It is their absolute right – and obligation – to do so, in order to protect their existence and freedoms.

No substantial information demonstrates the need for this project. Any economic development it claims to support is exclusionary. By creating a bypass past GRIC, its western casino is no longer easily accessible. This directly impacts the income of the community. There appears to be bias in the ingresses and egresses designed and how they serve tribal people. Furthermore, the tribal lands, atmosphere, and cultural ways and resources are all being sacrificed to the benefit of the outside, fledgling community. There is outrage with the realization that this extension is part of a larger trading scheme – the CANAMEX Corridor – that will perpetuate pollution in the vicinity and which will detriment before support the indigenous desert farming peoples. Even the non-tribal residents north of Pecos Road have published pieces in local papers denouncing this absurd intrusion on their health, environment, and seclusion. You have very vocal opposition from both sides of the most disputed segment of the design, the Central piece.

This central segment has no alternatives, and the only alternative offered will irreversibly desecrate a sacred mountain. Were that mountain Mecca, you would not be able to assault the Muslim community by permitting such a project to desecrate their spiritual and cultural resources. This issue is synonymous with the effects of desecrating Moahdak Do’ag to the O’otham minority. The difference is you, as a federal agency, have a clearly defined trust responsibility with sovereign Indian nations. This means you are required to serve the best interest of the community, which they have clearly expressed is denying this permit. In fact, the numerous Arizona tribal nations have united in recent years, vetted against this project.

If you so value public comment, let’s also take a moment to acknowledge how everyone that attended your remote public hearing opposed this project. Tribal members cited United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a means of describing how this project will violate their human rights. The US Army Corps needs to be fluent in this doctrine as it is essential for functioning as defined by legal obligation to indigenous citizens. In the public hearing on May 9th, 2017, even non-tribal members echoed the concerns of the local tribal members. This non-indigenous audience largely defended their natural recreational areas and right to a healthy environment. Perhaps instead of promoting road traffic through this area, we should be investing in a more extensive transportation system that will actually help combat emissions and build a sense of community. Speakers at the meeting, from all communities, pointed out the US Army Corps’ failure record thus far in abiding to the law of trust relationship with tribes. If you add yourself to these failures, you can expect a number of groups to counter your decision in the courts.

Additionally, sandy, silty lands this dry will not absorb discharge, posing flood risks and blownout infrastructure. The US Geological Surveys surveys published and available online clearly define the soil types of this area and the dependency on the Reservation to their pristine, undisturbed state. Discharge from highways always contain chemical changes, a water quality issue. You cannot permit these waters to wash off a new highway and drain into tribal farm lands. StreamStats shows the majority of drainages come from the mountain and flow naturally into the Reservation; thus the majority of water quality issues will directly affect the tribe. The local community barely survived a famine not 100 years before; promoting similar risks is little if nothing short of genocide. The surveys also clearly detail how seeding needs to be specific to saline-tolerant plants; how seeding should be well-maintained in order to prevent severe erosion (which requires a lot of watering and aftercare); and how not adding amendments to the soil will discharge toxins due to the chemical composition of soil that has been disturbed in this particular soil type and region. How has that been evaluated? It has not.

And finally, consider how water quality is not merely a chemical measurement. In a Westernized mind, perhaps it is. But religion is not always so clear cut, and it is not legal to make a ruling discrediting one’s religious views; rather UNDRIP requires that different paradigms are honored. These people have clearly described to you their views about the spirituality of their water, its sacredness, and its memory. Refusing to acknowledge their spiritual beliefs as to how this will desecrate and destroy the South Mountain discharges and other cultural resources is to say you don’t validate their religion. Many federal laws prohibit such violations.

With this information in mind, I would like to address the three regulatory program goals.

1) To provide strong protection of the nation’s aquatic environment: I have mentioned how this will impact water quality, from both a Western and non-Western perspective. Therefore it is your duty to deny the permit and stay true to your goals.

2) To ensure the Corps provides the regulated public with fair and reasonable decisions: The public has been clear in its opposition, and not hearing the majority voice – or honoring the minority, sovereign community disproportionately affected by this project – is not providing the regulated public with fair and reasonable decisions. Therefore it is your duty to deny the permit and stay true to your goals.

3) To enhance the efficiency of the Corps’ administration of its regulatory program: To this day, the Army Corps has a poor track record in proper tribal consultation, consent, and meeting conduction. There it is your duty to work on improving these systems and to deny the permit and stay true to your goals.

For these reasons and many more, it is clear you cannot issue this permit legally. Deny it immediately, and work with the indigenous communities on how you can both operate together in a better, more respectful way than before – through genuine consultation, the honoring of alternative worldviews, and cultural sensitivity such as the way in which you conduct meetings and hear tribal members’ requests.

As you can see, the assault on cultural resources is perpetuated by every unwelcome infrastructure project on or near tribal lands.  #NoLoop202, just like #NoDAPL, demonstrates how the Federal government utilizes the US Army Corps to refuse sovereign rights and to occupy arenas that should promote cultural protection.  From pipelines to dams, from power plants and the abrupt closure of power plants and their jobs, this is cultural warfare, and it is pervasive in Indian Country.

My question is: Will 2017 finally be the year that Americans support indigenous peoples rather than appropriate them and what their stereotypical notions are of them?

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

This is a paper I did for HST102 at Dine College.  I probably could have written thirty pages, but I already went over the limit…

 

Kayla DeVault

Dr. King

World Civilizations 102

20 April 2016

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

Formal public education in the United States has its roots in the American Colonia Era. During this era, Christianity and white supremacy affected every aspect of political and social life in the United States as well as in many places in Europe or colonized by European countries. With an educational system being borne from this era, it is therefore understandable that the subsequent system be entrenched in Christian values and a Eurocentric perspective on the world and on racial equality. As eras have passed, more and more work has been done by the government and pressuring citizens to rewrite the curriculum, resulting in changes of religious content in curricula, the inclusion of a more racially diverse student body, and even topics like anthropology that explore more human histories. However, are the curricula in public schools still heavily Eurocentric? In particular, how are the histories First Americans portrayed today in these systems, if at all, and how does it reflect on how they portray themselves?

Until the Indian Citizenship of 1924, any Native American who did not relinquish his or her tribal citizenship could not be considered an American citizen. In some ways, becoming a citizen of both a tribal nation and the United States was controversial as it could be seen as undermining tribal sovereignty. Even so, this change means that it has been less than a century that Native American histories have become part of American history rather than an “us vs. them” viewpoint, i.e. a Eurocentric perspective. The question is whether or not the curriculum has shifted to reflect this societal change. Considering the heightened “Indians and Cowboys” film activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the American obsession with “us vs. them” and the Plains Indians cultures prohibited non-Indian Americans from seeing anything but the 1800s, stereotypical Indian fighting invading frontiersmen.

Even as the American Indian Movement rose alongside other Civil Rights movements in the 1970s, old-fashioned mentalities continued to affect modern Natives. The involuntary sterilization of thousands of Native women by the Indian Health Service during this era, under the guise of “helping” Native communities, demonstrates the prevalence of this outdated, “us vs. them” concept of Indians in the popular American viewpoint. Furthermore, the continued lack of coverage on such acts of genocide reinforces the disparities in including Indians in American history. Yet this is merely one example; American Indian histories extend for thousands of years over thousands of miles, and those histories are living. How well is our public school system doing to address such an enormous spread of topics and in a way that is culturally appropriate, accurate, and inclusive?

One of the first methods used for reviewing the curricula in public schools was to study the guidelines for Social Studies provided by the Bureau of Education. Various public school superintendents, from Flagstaff to Tuba City, confirmed that the Arizona Bureau of Education’s standards are the best resource for studying the curriculum of social studies from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Having also been a student in the Pennsylvania public school system, I spent some time analyzing that curriculum as well. I also took Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH), and so materials were reviewed for APUSH as another “American History Standard”. In all areas, the curriculum was reviewed for: 1) inclusion of Native histories; 2) presentation of Native peoples as historic-only, contemporary-only, or both; 3) breadth of Native cultures included; 4) emphasis on local history, including local tribes; 5) perspective on Native histories (Eurocentric or unbiased); 6) included or excluded historic events that are significant in Indian Country; and 7) Navajo history, especially the Long Walk.

Having attended several public and private schools in Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in the changes being made to curricula as well as where there are still disparages. Indian mascots are used widely across eastern States, yet so many curricula fail to educate students on proper Native history, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of ignorance. One of my private schools is currently looking into a curriculum revision that includes training teachers on how to present materials in ways that are more culturally inclusive. In a conversation with my former school’s headmaster, she described the old curriculum as being “written and presented from the view of the oppressor”. In my years at that school and others, I can only recall a focus on the Removal Act, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and a very general view of Indian Policy. Otherwise, topics included “Indians”. My younger brother was even given an “Indian name” in 5th grade, and we were both made to create paper headdresses to celebrate Thanksgiving. These activities not only inaccurately depict past and present Native peoples, but they also assume no Native child is on the receiving end of that education by the nature of how the information is presented. These lapses contribute to the Eurocentric curriculum perspective.

Today, education in Pennsylvania still lags behind in quality like much of the nation, but changes in the curriculum are evident. In fact, after reviewing resources for public education standards in Pennsylvania, I was pleased to discover some social studies curricula specifically geared to dispel “Indian” stereotypes in young students. One example of this is a 3rd grade activity that focuses on Anishinabe peoples relative to the Great Lakes region of the United States. This activity introduces students to past and present cultures of the various Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, discussing both original and contemporary locations. The culture and tradition of the Ojibwe people are studied in depth. The class is then tasked with researching the topic of migration of the peoples and reflecting on this migration’s role to culture. Another section, specified for grades 3 through 5, is “Not ‘Indians’, Many Tribes: Native American Diversity”. The point of this section is to show similar interactions between environment and culture for the Abenaki, Hopi, and Kwakiutl Nations. Students are asked to contrast and compare these wildly different groups and to demonstrate how their environment has shaped their cultures. These activities are encouraging to find in the curriculum guidelines because they demonstrate an effort to dispel stereotypes and create a better understanding of native peoples in both a past and present context.

However, not everything in Pennsylvania’s standard curriculum is up-to-date. While the examples found were great ones, they are not representative of the efforts across the board. These two examples were perhaps the only examples that could be made of this myth debunking, and the word “Navajo” only returned results for a collection of poems under a long list of books recommended under one track of high school history. Searches for the term “Long Walk” returned nothing, and so it is expected that even an intensive scouring of commonly used textbooks in the Pennsylvania curriculum will likely result in very little representation of significant southwest tribal history. Even the vocabulary used by these curricula to teach the most disgraceful parts of American history is rather biased. Textbooks are quick to describe the actions of Nazi Germany as “genocide” by means of “concentration camps”, but the reality is these Nazis replicated American designs that were used against tribal peoples – and yet we continue to use language like “walk”, “march”, “relocation”, and other milder terms.

Furthermore, there are many elements in the Pennsylvania history and social studies curricula that, as they stand, continue to present negative figures in a positive light. One prime example of this is the depiction of Andrew Jackson. As most Americans have likely been educated to believe, Andrew Jackson is generally portrayed as a war hero with many great accomplishments. His face appears on the twenty-dollar bill for this reason. Yet, as many modern Natives understand, and as activists like Deloria Vine, Jr. have loved to remind America, Andrew Jackson is far from a hero. Then how is it that, under the standards for social studies teaching for Pennsylvania on the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson is described as having a victory over the British in New Orleans which made him “a new hero” in the United States? (PDESAS). In fact, the link referenced for more information continues by stating: “Added to his fame as an Indian fighter, this brilliant action propelled him to national prominence and ultimately to election as president in 1828” (American History). How would an Indian student reading that line feel about what it was suggesting? Would it even occur to the other students and teachers who are non-Indian that this passage is an incredibly exclusive piece of “history”? The entire section also seems to fail drastically at educating students on contemporary issues, such as why today Andrew Jackson is so widely rejected as a hero in Indian Country. How could a modern, non-Indian student understand the motion to change the face of the twenty-dollar bill when any portrayals of Andrew Jackson in the public system are so positive?

The standards for education in the southwest are similarly governed by the States. In Arizona, the curriculum prioritizes Native history far more than eastern curricula tend to. Various Superintendents across northern Arizona supported this observation in phone conversations about their schools’ curricula. Just by reviewing the very general outlines Arizona sets for education in high school, topics regarding Native Americans appear in history, geography, and government strands. The first mention is in Paleo-Indian topics; an effort is made to differentiate the various kinds of tribal peoples and their specific inheritance. One section is set aside for the southwest populations, relevant as a local cultural topic. Unlike many other curricula for different states, the Arizona curriculum does require students to analyze the movements of American military and government and how these impacted the cultures and lives of the tribal peoples affected. In the government section, students are required to learn about the voting rights issues Natives faced – not just on a National level in 1924, but also following World War II in Arizona. This section also talks about the Code Talkers.

However, one observation is that the “Long Walk” is never specifically detailed in the curriculum, and neither is its famous eastern counterpart, the “Trail of Tears”. Even in descriptions of Kit Carson, his supervisor Carrelton, and Fort Sumner, many American texts shy away from capturing the true brutality, injustice, and Eurocentric mentality that dominated the era (Gordon-McCutchan). Carson, long praised for his efforts as written in White history, is in fact a criminal by modern standards. Especially among the Navajos, this holds true. Students today should be taught the same perspective, for anything short of that would be at conflict with the human rights topics they cover in other classes. Students on the Navajo Reservation or living near it – or perhaps just in the Southwest in general – should absolutely be made aware of not only this topic in history, but of the shift in perspectives regarding how we now reference it. Imagine if we still read passages on slavery in American history books written by those in support of keeping slavery in the economy. There are some perspectives that have to be updated and erased, so why is it taking so long to change Native American passages?

While it is true that local histories should be emphasized in one curriculum more than another, it is still important that the histories being taught at a national level should cover a significant part of Native histories. The curriculum set in place for APUSH is essentially a national standard for understanding United States History. The scores from the AP exams in this area are capable of earning college credits for high school students pursuing higher education degrees. The curriculum therefore should reflect an intense and holistic view of what is widely accepted as “American history”. Yet, APUSH does not define as “American History” starting at its Independence of 1776 or even in just the years leading into that event. Instead, it defines “American History” as 1491 and beyond. This inclusion of one year before Columbus landed in the Caribbean in a way implies that Native history is a part of the American story, but in reality its purpose is to establish an idea that Native populations have been conquered and how it was done. This is a troubling approach as it disseminates Columbus’ viewpoint on the peoples he and the Europeans after him used to justify their actions: Native peoples in a limited, narrow, and uncivilized context that fails to acknowledge cultural diversity and richness. Without making this distinction between how these “conquerors” viewed Native peoples and how they should be viewed, it becomes increasingly difficult to put contemporary Indian issues into a historical context. For example, just the very idea of “Indian policy” as a blanket term for how to “deal with” Indian peoples perpetuates the blurring of lines between sovereign nations and the “us vs. them” mentality that devastates understanding modern issues faced by tribal governments and citizens in the Americas.

Although the curriculum largely focuses on the “Five Civilized Tribes”, the Spanish missions and encomienda system in the southwest, and some of the political movements from the American Indian Movement in the northern Plains, I saw no indication of Hawai’ian and Alaskan indigenous histories. The Dawes Act and subsequent Indian Reorganization Act is mentioned, but no curriculum notes outline the Residential Boarding School Era, the Navajo Long Walk, the Livestock Reduction, the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, or even the Termination Era of Indian Policy. In fact, Native history seems to end in 1973 with Wounded Knee – although, sadly, that is much more impressive than most histories that end with the Trail of Tears and which fail to portray Natives as living citizens with professional careers.

In addition to these curricula, one business book for business classes at Coconino Community College was analyzed for material relevant to Indian businesses. The book is “The Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Environment of Business” by Bruce D. Fisher and Michael J. Phillips (1998). The purpose of the book is to “[emphasize] the relevance of legal environment topics to business functions” and to present a “strong emphasis on ethics, international law, environmental law, and women’s legal concerns”. After scanning the book’s contents for any coverage on Indian businesses or tribal entities, it was found that Native Americans are mentioned very few times in the text.

On page 459, a section devoted to “Exclusions from Coverage” mentions employer discrimination policies. In this, it explains that Title VII does not apply to Native American tribes, but nothing more is stated to explain why this is so. For the Navajo Nation, for example, there is a complicated business arrangement. Not only is employment priority Navajo (not simply Native American), but all business transactions fall under a complicated bidding process with Navajo Priority 1, Priority 2, and Non-Priority. Indian services provided by the Federal government, on the other hand, are Indian Preference. This concept is so widely misunderstood by the non-Indian population that it should be emphasized in all business texts. In a school like Coconino Community College, surrounded by Indian Country, it is somewhat surprising that is excluded. Another mention, on page 783, casually describes the Department of Energy attempting “to convince Native American tribes to accept [nuclear] wastes on their reservations in exchange for federal money”, as if this is ethical business practice (Fisher).

All in all, it appears as though states are making an effort to be more inclusive of non-biased Native histories that assist in dispelling stereotypes. However, the transition is slow, and it is especially slow in areas where there are less Native students or Native populations – i.e. areas that may have a higher tendency to not see Natives in a modern perspective and who would, therefore, benefit from these contemporary lessons the most. So many curricula focus on the expulsion of Spanish powers from the southwest without consideration that people already lived there. That is why incorporating lessons on the Long Walk is such a key point for introducing the atrocities committed by all armies during the 1800s in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. The real story of the Long Walk is not lost among today’s Navajos, however. Modern music about the walk can be heard regularly on KTNN, the local Window Rock radio station. There is also the famous song Shí Naasha, written in 1868, that sums up the true emotions of the walk back from Fort Sumner:

Ahala ahalago naashá ghą

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá lágo hózhǫ’ la.

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá, ladee hózhǫ’ǫ’ lá.

I am going in freedom.

I am going in beauty all around me.

I am going, I am going, in beauty

It is around me.

This song reflects the anxiousness and relief of the people returning. It is also cultural significant when one realizing the story and the impact of reentering the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. Furthermore, “walking in beauty” and “harmony” play such an important part to Navajo culture, and seeing it as such a positive way to recover from Fort Sumner demonstrates the resilience and cultural strength of the Navajo people. The spirituality is completely interlocked with their experience at Fort Sumner, despite the conditions and lack of hope. Their song and prayer is what kept them together. These are things students are not able to learn from modern curricula and therefore are not able to understand wholesomely when visiting the Navajo Nation or surrounding areas.

In conclusion, the American education system still has a ways to go before it will be truly and equal and unbiased learning experience. Once students are able to recite the culture, history, capitals, and names of tribal nations as well as they can European ones, they will be closer to understanding the country they actually live in; and once students can stop using descriptors like “African”, “Asian”, “Indian”, and “French” or “Italian” as if they are parallel words, equality will be better established in the way we perceive the world. We have had numerous battles about removing religion from schools; it is time we begin making greater strides to reform the “Native American” curricula in these schools as well.

on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.

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We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?

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One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.

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But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.

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But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?

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I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.

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Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?

what makes the savage?

On one of my other pages, I made my banner read the quote by Chief Dan George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) that says what we don’t understand we fear, and what we fear we destroy.  This is so true.  If a bear stands up on his hind legs in front of you in the woods, he may just be saying “Don’t come closer!  My family is behind me.”  If you don’t understand his gesture, you might think he is attacking.  He might be communicating, but you might pull out a gun, kill him, and now his family has no papa bear because you destroyed him out of ignorant fear.

That’s just a bear example.  But, as people, we do this to each other all of the time.  Americans who don’t understand what it’s like to immigrate from Mexico and learn English make fun of Mexicans for their accents, poor English, and mock their customs.  Every single time a “New World” has been discovered, thousands of cultures – if not peoples – died for the sake of expelling the unknown.  Manifest Destiny operated at the heart of these cruel crusades to kill the savage in people and save the Christian, a mentality that I hope is an ancient, long-gone misinterpretation of “God’s will” so that I don’t have to live in fear of future Holocausts and genocides.  Sadly, I see how much hatred is expressed towards the Middle East.  That is to me confirmation that our “forward thinking” is still as backwards.

I strongly believe that morality comes from one thing and one thing only: Religion.  That doesn’t mean you have to be Christian to have morals, it just means that, if you’re Christian, you center your morals around the 10 Commandments and what your version of God tells you is right and wrong.  If you’re another world religion, it’s slightly different.  (But, in reality, I think all world religions are different versions of the same single belief, that their Commandments, etc., are just verbalized standards of how to live harmoniously, i.e. are common-sense, and yet tons of people are dying over vain dispute and have been for centuries.)  Religion can be just about anything, though.  It can mean you have certain values and you hold yourself to those values.  For example, many Native American religions or religious stories are based off of how the earth has created and continued to support man.  These peoples refuse to separate life from the health of the planet and they often view animals as spiritual beings of equal belonging.  I most certainly find my values aligned to these practices before I could ever agree with the controversial passages of Genesis which declare man as made “in the image of God” and as having “dominion over” all of the animals.  Talk about egocentric.

I find it ironic that “savage” i.e. indigenous cultures, who all live so closely to the land and are attuned to its pangs as modern society plagues it, are the only ones who have ever revered the land since Judaism took root in the Middle East.  Is it not common sense that the land comes before all?  I guess it’s not if you think the land was made by and in full control of its “creator”, but even indigenous peoples have come to acknowledge a “Creator” and refuse to sit back and watch some other being clean up messes for them.  Yadda yadda I can go on about a lot of things here, but I have one major point in writing tonight: HYPOCRISY.

When Pilgrims first came to the New World, they were all Puritan and devout and desperate and whatever.  They heard about this new place, and they were like, okay, cool, let’s hop on that…boat…and then months later they finally got there.  Well, some of them did.  Everyone else just died because of like scurvy or whatever.  Or, like, your neighbor got on the boat with tuberculosis, which no one knows until they’ve already left, and everyone’s like, “Really dude?  Rude.”  Anyway, now they’re all in Massachusetts and who really knows how the story went exactly but the gist is PROBABLY that the tribes who encountered the first settlers were respectful to them and helped them in exchange for respect back.  (And later empty promises ensued, and lies, and Constitutional rights revoked, and genocide,…but not today’s point!)

Long story short, Manifest Destiny was the reason for the attempted annihilation of any native person in America that white settlers could get their hands on.  Boarding schools, relocation, laws forbidding traditional dress or religious practices, punishment for speaking native languages, etc. – these were all techniques used.  Andrew Jackson, in fact, was a total bully who thought it was cool to set up a lot of the cultural stripping of natives, including stripping them of land and going back on promises that he probably never intended to keep.  So like Tuberculosis-Dude-on-the-Boat, Andrew Jackson was just rude.  He was exercising his rights and duties as a Christian which, by the way, included stripping these homelands to expand the cotton industry (and, thereby, African slavery as well – which was totally chill because they weren’t white Christians so God apparently didn’t care about them or whatever).  Oh, but wait, it’s not like Galatians 3:28 says this or anything: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Okay, it does say that – I guess it just means Jesus loves you even if another human owns you and doesn’t love you…and dudes, keep your hoes in line,…or whatever.

So when white immigrants were coming to America, they were like “Holy Toledo, these people are weird!!!  Look at their hair, their jewelry, their clothes, their swagger,…”  (UMM, HELLO???  That’s exactly what I say every time I look at my parents’ yearbooks!  Not to mention a history text… like, nice ‘fro, George Washington.  It’s whiter than my grandma’s doo.)  They were all flipping out because these people ate strange foods, lived in weird accommodations, and practiced strange traditions.  They were probably watching rain dances or some ceremony and scoffing, saying “You really think you have a say in that?”  They were comparing the lifestyles they had chosen to what they were observing and were completely convinced that these were modern heathen Canaanites., these strange (i.e. different) tribal people.  It never once occurred to them that they get down on their knees and talk to themselves every night and that maybe some cultures think THAT is weird.

Meanwhile, I bet the Pequot and whoever else at the time was checking out these FOBs and going “Oh, HELL no!  HAHA!”  I mean, do I even have to describe any of the past styles of clothing?  Men with their shoes, their hair, their hats, their restrictive and uncomfortable clothing?  Women with their bodies completely tied up, sometimes in corsets, with layers upon layers of clothes to render them even less useful in daily tasks?  Sure, they managed to make some massive boat (Do you want a high-5?), but then a lot of them died in the journey and now what are they gonna do?  (And imagine the first time a native saw a blonde or a ginger…Maybe it’s just a disease?  Maybe that’s why they’re so pale and avoid the sun?)

My  point: They’re different.  This creates a lack of understanding.  Not understanding things generates fear.  Well, the immigrants largely acted on that fear and took advantage of the different cultures they encountered in ruthless means – for the sake of Christianity.

Now, how do they feel entitled to do this?  I’ve already made my point that no one is more or less civilized than the other, they’re just held to different standards, different values, and different opinions on what is right and wrong.  This entitlement surely comes again from this Manifest Destiny where these Christian people are the “chosen ones”, but how in the world do their lifestyles affect their Christian-ness?  If a native person retains his native identity with the exception of his Christian practices, is he not a Christian?  Is it because he lives in the tribal, “backwards” state that he is considered a “heathen”?  This state which respects the land rather than destroys it because he has dominion over everything and so he’s allowed to (and God will fix it)?

Let’s not forget that the Bible – especially the Old Testament – is transfixed on tribal status.  I mean, TRANSFIXED.  There are books just dedicated to genealogy and delegating work based on tribal status.  The twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?  Oh, and how about burnt offerings?  I mean, seriously?  Dancing a ritual dance in thanks for a harvest is a heathen thing to do, but sacrificing “unblemished” goats every day is totally normal and okay?  It’s that very wastefulness, a mentality reflecting man’s “dominion” over other animals that was practiced widely in hunting the Colonies, which places “Christians” in the “heathen” category to those otherwise dubbed as “heathens”.

And finally, it was not that long ago that Europe was divided by tribes.  I’m very familiar with this considering my Celtic background.  Not only am I accustomed to tribal rituals in America, but I’ve also done Scottish Highland Dance since I was 8.  (We literally dance over swords as superstitious ritual.  And the Highland Fling?  It’s danced on one spot because soldiers danced on overturned shields in the marshes – another superstition before battle.)  I’ve been to more Highland Games than I can remember.  I’ve performed the Scottish fiddle, learned the penny whistle, and played the bagpipes in three different military bands.  When I come to the Games, I run off to the Celtic jewelry stands, buy Empire Biscuits, and see if my Clan (Douglas) tent is on-site.  I have designated tartans and a family crest.  My tribal peoples had their own dialect and ancestral lands with “pagan” traditions and monuments, many which came to embrace Christianity and Christian symbols.  (My Scottish family has its most ancient roots in the Presbyterian church.)

How is that any different than competing in dance at a Pow-Wow, representing the Potwatomi or Shawnee, buying beaded jewelry, and eating fry bread?  It’s not.  In fact, I love the similarities and I love recognizing the tribal roots of peoples all over the world.  So suck it, hypocrisy.  You’re ridiculous.  Boo, go home.

And with that…I’m going to end with an excerpt.  In 1995, Sr. Juanita, enrolled in the Mescalero Apache tribe, wrote this piece:

“My grandfather was captured by a band of Apaches near the Chihuahua area in Mexico when he was six years old.  They brought up my father according to Apache ways.  My mother is San Juan Pueblo.  I really consider myself a real New Mexican.  My grandmother was a Spaniard and I’m really proud of that fact because we have a little bit of all the cultures of New Mexico in our family.  The Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo, and Apache.  Now our younger members in the family are marrying non-Indians and when we get together, we are quite a nation.  It is lovely.  It is beautiful!”

Hashtag, BURN.

civilization and measuring wealth.

I’m reading The Rights of Indians and Tribes (4th Ed.) by Stephen L. Pevar.  It’s incredible to read chapter 1 and see, in brief, the hypocritical and genocidal patterns of the US Federal Government between 1789 and the present.  It seems like, time and time again, the native populations in America were labeled as one group of uncivilized, needy people.  Act after Act was passed by Congress in the efforts to “improve” the economic development of tribes which was really just a fancy way of saying “ethnic cleansing”.  The cycle began with the settlers’ push westward, greedy for land and safety from Indian attacks.  It induced action to be taken against tribes which was justified by the settlers’ mentality that their Christian, “modernized” ways were superior and that they were doing the Indians a favor.  Any governmental actions were completely two-faced, though, since their underlying motives were – until recent history – to undermine tribal systems and assimilate Indians into non-Indian culture.  (I’m definitely picturing Uncle Sam with a Hitler mustache these days.)

I still can’t get over this two-facedness.  And I think part of why I feel that way is the inherent irony of the circumstances: Settlers thought they were modern and that Indians were the uncivilized ones.

[Those powdered wigs definitely don’t shout “civilized and modern” anymore.  Nor does slavery.  Or taming horses to pull carts when you can just drive a car.]

Yet it’s not just the materialistic things – it’s the values.  These settlers imposed their civilized ways on native cultures, and modern society continues to hold biases.  If it doesn’t align with “modern thinking”, it’s radical and unacceptable.  Like traditional medicine.  Or nomadic lifestyles when we’ve developed agricultural techniques.

It’s just so ironic, that “native ways of life” are outdated – that assimilation would bring wealth to native communities.  It’s so ironic because I think it’s the complete opposite.  All you have to do is look at the health of the planet and you can see that it’s health has declined aggressively over the last century.  And what has also changed over the last century?  “Civilization”.

Civilized – 1. having advanced agricultural and social development; 2. refined in tastes.

To be “civilized” is to be advanced.  Or, by the second definition, kind of arrogant and picky.  But what is advancement?  I think it has come full-circle.

For the last couple of centuries, we’ve seen dramatic advancements in technology.  We’ve been able to learn and manipulate things we couldn’t have imagined just generations before.  But how does this gain of knowledge help us in the long run?  Certainly it has increased our laziness, thereby causing higher energy usages that deplete resources and consequently harm the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has increased our life expectancies when not ailed by obesity or diabetes or cancer, for example, but that has increased our population and shed light on the possibility of a carrying capacity to the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has made the quality of life better in some arenas, but it has also caused new problems and threats to our lives as a side effect.  How are those advancements?

The Paleo Diet.  All of the health advancements we’ve been allegedly making, yet people are reverting back to traditional diets, avoiding manufactured foods, and seeking more natural herbal remedies.  They have been thinking more of what we are and the origin of our medical advancements and rediscovering ancient knowledge.

Many are longing for simpler lives.  The communication systems we have are impressive, but stressing.  We are so interconnected it becomes dangerous.  It’s not uncommon for those in “civilized lifestyles” to long for something less, something more like “what it used to be”.  Or, as Miranda Lambert sings, for the time “before everything was automatic”.

Since the practices of the Indians have been widely replaced by the practices of “modern civilization”, America has lost nearly all of its topsoil.  It’s polluted and ravished by pesticides and other chemicals.  Bison populations were obliterated (intentionally), and other animals that have thrived for as long as humanity knows are suddenly finding themselves scarce and suffering.  No more “three sisters” planting – now everything is mono-crop, industrial-size, motorized, artificial…And, just like with the Dawes Act, all anyone can do is take more, more, more, more, and more…and think they’re entitled to the rest.

What is civilization?  Modern civilization hardly seems civilized to me.  It’s destroying this land and it was brought here by people who accused other cultures of being “uncivilized”, the same other cultures who lived here for thousands of years in peace with the planet.

Being civilized should encompass acknowledging that advancements are only made if a part of that advancement is preservation of the planet.  Because, seriously, can you imagine living in a world without it?  It sounds stupid to try to imagine it because you can’t.  Yet people are living like that, taking what they want as they can because they feel entitled to do so.  Not obligated to respect and pass up opportunities that are wrong.

And what is wealth?  Because I don’t think it’s having all of these silly, materialistic things.  I think it’s knowledge, wisdom gained by experience, giving and thus receiving respect, and – most importantly – finding happiness in next to nothing.  They always say you can never be happy with someone else until you’re happy alone, and I think that’s true of any kind of wealth.

Oh, just my rant for the day.

Hawai’i: Vacation or Genocide Museum?

As I sit at Yours Truly at Shaker Square and contemplate whether or not the eggs here were grown on a petri dish, I finish up an article for my column with The Athenian.  I decided to share it on this page because my column is travel satire and this blog is, generally speaking, my satire blog.  The article I’m doing this week is about tourism in Hawai’i.  I have a lot of Native Hawai’ian friends that I met while at AISES National Conference in Alaska last October-November (see my travel blog to read about that amazing trip).  These friends enlightened me on the horrible history behind Hawai’i becoming a state.  All I can do is spread the word and hope that my satirical quip does their Kingdom justice:

 

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Are you American?  Do you find Hawai’i absolutely beautiful?  Are you dying to go lay on its beaches, drink pina coladas, say aloha a lot, and maybe even surf or see some sharks?  Are you going to show up in a Hawai’ian printed shirt or this cute new outfit that you got just for the beach?  Are you wondering if there will be seashells that you can take some home?  Maybe you’ll run into some celebrities or see a luau?  Can’t wait to wear some leis and start dancing?  Or maybe you want to meet a native on the island.  You know, one of those Americans who were born there or moved there a long time ago.  Right?

Newsflash: Hawai’i wasn’t put in the ocean for American tourism.

Tourism in Hawai’i is a popular thing, but with a very dark history.  People rave about the islands and they don’t even know anything about them, just that there are beaches and resorts.  But that’s not the real Hawai’i.  Apparently no one teaches the history of Hawai’i in school.  (And I don’t mean Pearl Harbor, although that was technically the first attack on “American” soil before 9/11 happened.)  But it makes sense that we don’t learn the real history of what happened in America.  I mean, no one says “The American government committed the greatest genocide in recorded history” because they did (the Trail of Tears).  It’s just like no one says “The American government murdered Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 after throwing her off the throne, then forcefully took the islands of the Kingdom of Hawai’i from the welcoming and unsuspecting native peoples” because they did.  And where is the justice for it?  I guess you could say it rests in the unapproved Akaka Bill.

Hawai’i is probably the only time you’ll hear me say that “a reservation is the solution”.  As horrible as American Indian reservations are – from the reason of their origin to their current conditions – the native peoples of Hawai’i are in desperate need to have their freedoms returned to them.  As my one Navajo friend put it, “There is one line of royal blood in all of America, and that royal blood is Hawai’ian.”  But why did we, as a nation, take Hawai’i?  What justified the evils that were done?  Many argue it was a defensive strategy in terms of military tactics.  Today, Hawai’i is just an enormous tourist population – and the islands aren’t very large.  Imagine living in a small town all your life and suddenly foreigners get the priority on jobs and start moving in.  Imagine that this became a countrywide issue because another government assassinated the president and killed a bunch of people and no one did anything about it.  Imagine the 9/11 site being turned into a casino, a strip club, or an amusement park.  But what does it matter, right?  I mean, what’s said is done… The kingdom is in ruins, the tourism economy is thriving, and we get to eat pineapples.  Oh, drat!  Americans have it so bad.

But don’t let this take away from your long-deserved vacation.  I mean flying to Hawai’i won’t kill any more natives (it will just contribute to the destruction of the planet as a whole, but not segregation in that).  Besides, it’s not like we can change anything now, right?  We can just let the people who care about the Akaka Bill worry about the Akaka Bill.  Isn’t that what we’re told we should do?  Yeah we’re just supposed to let the people who know what they’re doing to fix the problems (like the environment) while we continue to live as frivolously as we’re allowed to and capable of.  In the meantime, let’s indulge ourselves in the American state of Hawai’i and take some awesome cover photos as we lounge on the stolen beaches of the former Kingdom of Hawai’i.  Maybe someone someday will care enough to make a change.