This post if from Wednesday, but it still contains very important info including a great interview on the legal history. Please see the original link at: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/in-violation-of-international-treaty-law-federal-government-evicting-standing-rock-this-afternoon-wcz/
Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in indigenous communities today is the laws that oversee their affairs but do not incorporate their own intrinsic values. Western society has become so accustomed to a worldview developed through sets of values such as Christianity that it becomes difficult to separate these perspectives from our every day lives. But not all peoples hold the same values, including the Maori in New Zealand.
Recently, New Zealand attorney general Chris Finlayson worked on agreements between the New Zealand government and various Maori groups to enable a swath of land or entire body of water to be granted personhood in the eyes of New Zealand law.
“In [the Maori] worldview,” stated Finlayson,”‘I am the river and the river is me’. Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”
This idea seems foreign to those who view “personhood” as something that belongs only to a human being. But in a worldview that sees spirituality and what constitutes as living in a different light than what many Westerners see, this definition applies to traditional lands is completely logical.
The former national park, Te Urewera, existed from 1954 to 2015 and consisted of 821 square miles of North Island. Recently, the Te Urewera Act took effect so that the government abandoned its formal ownership and the land became its own legal entity, including having “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person” per the statute that was passed. In other words, the park was granted personhood; a river system is expected to receive the same designation soon, once it passes Parliament.
This classifications seem like “unusual designations” for those accustomed to non-Maori worldview, yet the legal status is similar to that of corporations who are also not an individual human being. The decision to grant personhood was a “profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” according to Pita Sharples, the minister of Maori affairs when the law passed. The settlement resolved the ongoing argument between New Zealand government and Maori groups over the guardianship of natural features within the country.
One great advantage to passing this law for the sake of conservation is the power it gives to the land itself. Lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself without any need to demonstrate how a human being is impacted while defending the land’s protection.
The river set to receive similar status is the Whanganui River, the third longest river in New Zealand. To the Maori, it is “an invisible and living whole, comprising the river and all tributaries from the mountains to the sea – and that’s what we are giving effect to through this settlement,” according to Mr. Finalyson.
These new designations do not mean people cannot still enjoy Te Urewera like when it was a national park; it simply means special permits for activities like hunting must be issued through a new board that represents the river. This board will consist of both government and Maori representatives.
The hope now is that this landmark decision will set precedent for other indigenous communities around the world whose worldviews and cultural paradigms are not being incorporated into the laws that govern their traditional and sacred sites. Finlayon has already began discussions with Canada’s new attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, on how these concepts can be written into Canadian law.
Will Canada be next?
RESEARCH PAPER – NAVAJO NATION GOVERNMENT
Navajo Nation Government: NIS226
Although recorded Navajo history did not begin until the arrival of the Spanish some nearly 500 years ago, oral traditions recount history since the beginning of time. It is these oral traditions the recount the resilience of Navajos – but also the Navajo ability to adopt and adapt. While language remains one of the most preserved and uniquely Navajo parts of the Diné tradition, the influence of the Anasazi, the Pueblos, the Spanish, and subsequent groups remains unquestionable. The latest influence – Christianity – calls into question to what degree this influence threatens traditional structure and belief, and how have the policies of foreign powers assimilated and reshaped the perspective of tribal leadership today.
There are many values – or lack thereof – that could be considered traditional Navajo. Most notably, these include: matrilineal clanship, Hozho and K’é, a lack of land ownership or even static inhabitance, etc. Even the silver-making and weaving industries demonstrate a shift in economic practices as the Spanish first came into contact with the Southwest. All of these influences have had a significant impact on cultural retention. In the place of tradition, most often Christianity has come to the forefront of religions on the Navajo Reservation. This shift has had an incredible influence on the way many Navajos now think, how resources are managed, and how Navajos treat one another.
Although traditional Navajo belief upholds the importance of women in Navajo society, the influence of Christianity and “Western thought” has put the value of women behind that of men. Clans still function matrilineally, but the value behind that system has been nearly lost. As womanhood also represents the Mother Earth and what it provides for Navajo life, a disconnect is also garnered in this way between the Navajo people and natural resources. Navajos never believed in landownership, but the idea of “property” has been introduced by European influences, resulting in an attitude of superiority over all non-human and non-male aspects of life. Although women once represented portions of Navajo leadership, the influence of Christianity and other Western thought has decreased the influence of women to nearly non-existent.
Another important factor that has been altered over the years is ceremony. Not only has the influence of peyote from the Plains region been adopted into many systems within the Navajo Nation, but so have missions, the Native American Church, and a focus of monetary compensation amongst practicing medicine men. These changes have resulted in a shift of values and a challenge in maintaining a ceremonial structure. As the Nalchid was eliminated with one of the most significant Navajo treaties, it should seem that the era of traditional leadership was also eliminated. These leads into the final concerns: actual government structures and the priorities they make.
While it is important for the Navajo government to be focused on language and culture retention, it is also hypocritical of it to pursue such endeavors while completely adopting American democracy structures, Christian principles, and non-Navajo values. This betrayal begins when reviewing the history of the Navajo government: in essence, it was formed to hand over oil lease-making capabilities to the American government. In its place, we now see Navajos supporting extractive industries for the sole purpose of being competitive in the economy. In so many ways, the Navajo Nation – at least as a governmental structure – has adopted a mentality that views “poverty” in the same way that many non-Indians monetarily base it, have supported rigorously the concept of land ownership, and have not called into question enough the concern that, while tradition should remain, a separation of Church and State is commonplace in the American democratic system. Instead, we are faced to wonder what might become of centuries of resilience to dissolution in the face of policies meant to foster assimilation.
Christianity and Navajo Sovereignty: Colonization’s Influence on the Navajo Political Structure
Since perhaps the beginning of time, Christianity and Navajo tradition evolved, grew, and spread on completely parallel paths. Although they are on opposite sides of the world, the two religions actually share many of the same values. For one, they respect theories of creation, existence, purpose, and duty to a holy figure(s). This respect dictates much of how they govern themselves and function in daily life. There are certain rituals that both religions require which help to maintain a balance acceptable to each religion’s individual belief system. In fact, many religions could be described as fundamentally similar as they, in many respects, are like a political ideology designed to create and maintain peace within society. They unite people. They create a tradition.
Yet it is when that unity forms superior coalitions over other groups of people and when the Word of God is bared as a weapon that religions like Christianity transform into something different. When Christianity transformed into Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, it became a highly influential and highly deadly reign of terror, especially in Indian Country. Beginning with the era of the Spanish Inquisition and the genocide of peoples from present-day Caribbean down to South America, Christianity was used for cultural erasure. Centuries later, it was still being used to build political framework. Its values have been written into the American Constitution and way of thinking, even when Separation of Church and State attempts to remove it.
Most “New World” contact with Christianity came first from the Spanish. The very title “New World”, alluding to the “discovery” of two more continents, demonstrates the “us” and “them” notion Europeans held that made the “them” (“uncivilized indigenous peoples”) irrelevant in society. Because the ideals being practiced in the Catholic Church at that time had a very strict concept on what made “civil society”, the Spanish were amongst the many Europeans who were incapable of viewing indigenous life without their biased lenses. These lenses meant that enormous and complex civilizations such as the Aztec, with impressive structures that attract tourists to this day, were viewed as incompetent, simplistic, and heathen. The Doctrine of Discovery elaborated on that notion, giving Spanish and other Europeans cause to “civilize” indigenous peoples under the guise it would save their souls. (Wilkins)
Today, missions still attempt to influence indigenous communities. However, the techniques they use could most harshly be called bribery. They build new churches, schools, houses, wells, and things that appeal to the community while passing out Bibles and literature for conversion. The mission work of early Spanish colonization, on the other hand, can most harshly be called genocide. Their techniques included mutilation, torture, enslavement, and murder. If the diseases they brought did not destroy large populations, their brutality and capture of indigenous peoples did. These practices were rampant during the 1500s and continued for centuries in different forms across different parts of the “New World” as a power tool. This marked the beginning of a power struggle era that continues to affect tribes who are “excluded, marginalized and ‘Othered’” in a number of contexts. (Smith, 35)
The Navajos first made contact with the Spanish in 1583 in the vicinity of Mount Taylor. Coronado had claimed the New Mexico territory for Spain in 1540, and in 1607 Santa Fe was established as the capital. The Spanish “rule” in the area would last until the Mexican overthrow in 1826. (Wilkins) During these nearly 300 years of occupation, the Spanish continued their assaults on the Navajo, the Pueblos, and various other tribes in the area. They manipulated tribes against one another for their own personal gain and sent conquest after conquest to find the large swaths of gold they were convinced awaited them in this “New World”. Spain’s interests in this land were strictly to exploit it for its resources and take the wealth back to the crown. These resources not only included land and minerals but also people. As a means of manipulation, they also attempted to sign numerous treaties with the Navajo.
These treaties were manipulative because they demanded things from the Navajos that were often one-sided requests. They were also manipulative because of the conduct in which they were signed. During this time, there were five distinct bands identified among the Navajos. The largely decentralized structure of the tribe was neither convenient for the Spanish nor well comprehended on account of the lenses through which they viewed all indigenous societies. For these reasons, they imposed on the Navajos they encountered the political framework to which they were accustomed. Rather than requesting to meet with a collection of Naat’aanii, who actually better represented the voice of the tribe, they handpicked a single Naat’aanii or even a couple of Navajos not in a recognized leadership position and “anointed” them as “Chief”. This resulted in treaties that were not acknowledged by the entire tribe. It also created friction within the tribe itself, leading to the Cebolleta band’s designation “Enemy Navajos”. (Wilkins)
This schism remained for centuries amongst the Navajos. As the Pueblos around Santa Fe were close to and especially impacted by the Spanish brutality in the name of Christianity, the Cebolleta, who were the easternmost band and therefore the closest to Santa Fe, often negotiated with the Spanish to protect themselves. Their continued “selling out” intensified the animosity felt amongst the bands. The Spanish capitalized on this animosity in an attempt to divide and conquer the Navajos and continued to transpose their views of what constitutes as leadership, views that were heavily entrenched in their Christian values of the time.
From the Spanish era also came a wealth of livestock, including sheep, horses, and cows. The sheep brought wool, and weaving became a trade of many Navajos. Silver-making also found its way into Navajo trades. Many of the styles of jewelry still used today come from Spanish armor details, including the squash blossom – a modified version of the pomegranate that was reclassified as pomegranates were not known in the southwest in that time. (Iverson) Although trade and even acculturation were always a part of Navajo life and survival, these influences from the Spanish were the first tastes of assimilation that would later sweep all of Indian Country.
The Mexican rule in Navajo territory was very brief, from 1826 to 1846. The Mexican government repeated the errors of the Spanish in its treaty-making process with Navajo “leaders”. When the American government seized the entire New Mexico territory, they too made this error. It took until the Treaty of 1868 before true leadership was gathered and an agreement was negotiated. (Wilkins) However, everything about the Long Walk, Bosque Redondo, and even the Treaty of 1868 was a snapshot of the continued attitude of racial and religious inferiority against indigenous peoples. Most significantly to the analysis of how Christianity has affected modern Navajo society during this era is the Treaty of 1868 and the assimilating values embedded in its thirteen articles.
On July 1, 1868, the Treaty of 1868’s creation was concluded at Bosque Redondo. It was advised for ratification on July 25, 1868 and then proclaimed on August 12, 1868. Its thirteen articles are still applicable today to define the relationship between the Navajo Nation and the federal government. Article I called for the cessation of war and wrongdoing. Article II delineated the Reservation proper. Article III called for the construction of a warehouse, agency building, carpenter and blacksmith shops, schoolhouse, and chapel. Article IV assigned an agent reporting to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Navajo people. Article V established the distribution of land to individuals. Article VI made education for children compulsory. (Wilkins)
Article VII provided seeds and agricultural implements, and Article VIII includes other provisions to be given. Article IX demands that railroads, military posts, and roads be able to cross the reservation and that no attacks may happen to US citizens or their belongings. Article X established conditions for the validation of any future treaties. Article XI outlined provisions for Navajos to return to the Reservation from the prison camp. Article XII appropriated monies and, finally, Article XIII was the agreement to making the Reservation the permanent home for the Navajo. The treaty was signed by W.T. Sherman (Lieutenant General Indian Peace Commissioner), S.F. Tappan (Indian Peace Commissioner), and numerous leaders including Barboncito, Armijo, Delgado, Manuelito, Largo, Narbono, Ganado Mucho, etc. (Wilkins)
On the surface, these terms seem like a possibly honest effort to reestablish the Navajos. It provides them with some means of farming, livestock, food, clothes, monies, and also services. However, this is yet another tool of transposing values onto a tribal nation. Article II and Article V created distinct land boundaries for the tribe as well as boundaries for individual land ownership. The concepts of land ownership and static inhabitation go very strongly against the traditional values of Navajos. Without even taking into consideration the spiritual implications of delineating land for ownership, the static state of living was never part of tradition or resource management. Many Navajos have summer homes as well as winter homes. Their farming practices relied on fluidity as well, such as planting corn in areas that flood and utilizing canyons for growing peach orchards. The idea that a Navajo could sustain him- or herself completely on one tract of land does not fit into the cultural context.
As Berry states, the changes of a farming system is “a matter of complex significance, and its agricultural significance cannot be disentangled from its cultural significance… At certain critical points these systems have to conform with one another or destroy one another”. (Berry, 45-7) Smith in Native Science emphasizes this idea, stating that Native cultures are a product of their pre-Columbian state as well as the current federal policies that altered their lives. In terms of landownership, the “communal nature of resource allocation and decision making” was the backbone of many community function. Smith points out that, in the traditional framework, “no single individual has clear and proper title to any parcel of land, meaning that decisions must be made by or for the whole tribe”. (Smith, 62) In these ways, Articles II and V are transposing Western concepts of how Navajos should live and is therefore one (although relatively subtle) mechanism of assimilation.
Article VII, similarly, dictates the Navajo agrarian lifestyle. Although southwest tribes actually had incredibly well-adapted methods for growing crops suited for their environment, Americans did not acknowledge their techniques as being intelligent. Rather, they viewed their lifestyles as lacking. Generations later, we are suffering as a nation from the impacts of such American farming techniques as monocropping. It is clearly not an intelligent method, considering contemporary concerns. Yet the Treaty of 1868 demonstrates the headstrong attitude that American society was civil, proper, and rightful society, so Article VII distributed the tools to assimilate Navajos to American-approved farming methods.
Article III is a great example of the kinds of services Americans prioritized and therefore imposed on the Navajos. Not only were they imposing a different political framework for the distribution of services, they were also imposing their values and idea of how a society should function. Through the creation of warehouses and blacksmith shops, for example, they were suggesting these elements are pertinent to being “civilized”, as if lacking such things equates to a lack of advancement, capacity, and intelligent. Most critically, of course, is the provision for a chapel to be constructed. With this inclusion, it is crystal clear that the American government believed Navajos needed their Christian god to have a future as a civilized society. Finally, assimilation can also be seen in the demand for a schoolhouse. Article VI’s call for compulsory education excludes the possibility that Navajos are already educated, meaning it does not recognize traditional teachings and ways. The Americans only acknowledged formal education using the framework they value. Sadly, Article VI also opens the doors to a future program of residential boarding schools, cultural erasure, and the installment of generations of trauma.
1868 was a turning point in many ways for the Navajo, although not always for the better. It freed them from enslavement, but it also promoted the transposition of political and societal frameworks rooted in Christian values. Politically, the Naałchid, which was never acknowledged by any European or American government, disappeared around the time of imprisonment. (Wilkins) The Naałchid was crucial to maintaining the traditions and traditional structure of Navajo society. It was heavily based in ceremony and also community involvement. Traditional indigenous values and leadership are described as “a spiritual mindset in which one thinks in the highest, most respectful, and most compassionate way, thus systematically influencing the actions of both individuals and the community”, and therefore the Naałchid’s existence symbolized the resilience of culture and values in the midst of severe oppression. (Cajete, 276)
When the Naałchid ceased to exist, the American government was able to impose a Commissioner (Article IV) to oversee the implementation of the federal government’s tools of assimilation on the Navajos. Decolonizing Methodologies says it well by stating: “When confronted by the alternative conceptions of other societies, Western reality became reified as representing something ‘better’, reflecting ‘higher orders’ or thinking, and being les prone to the dogma, witchcraft and immediacy of people an societies which were so ‘primitive’.” (Smith, 51) In subsequent years, the resurrection of formal Navajo government was merely an extension of the arm of federal agents to control Navajo resources. The assault on indigenous peoples continued through policy:
“Federal policy has had two competing policy goals when dealing with the First Nations: recognition of sovereignty and resource acquisition. The first policy goal acknowledges the Indian Nations as individual and sovereign entities with which treaties and international agreements are to be made. The second policy, best defined by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, includes acquiring all available resources for use and employment in the economy of the United States.” (Smith, 39)
The erasure of traditional government its replacement of an American structure facilitated this kind of political assault.
The death of the Naałchid is important because it also meant the death of women leadership and women vote amongst the Navajo Nation. Censuses conducted by the United States as a means of assessing the need and distribution of certain services outlined by the Treaty of 1868 transposed Christian, Western values in its very methods. For example, a head of house would be an adult male. This imposes a concept of what makes a human an adult. It also imposes the concept that women are accessories to a household and not significant except as housewives. Even community voice was now limited to the male figure as women were discouraged from participating in elections. With the Indian Citizens Act of 1924 establishing Native Americans as U.S. citizens and therefore creating voting rights for them in elections, women were still left out. Native women would not receive the right to vote in such elections until as late as the 1960s. (Wilkins) What part of these changes sound Navajo in a tribe that revolves around its matrilineal community relationships? None do, because they are all values transposed from a Christian-dominated, predominantly white, and patrilineal society.
The residential boarding schools created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs have an awful legacy that emphasizes the further imposition of Christian values on indigenous societies. “From being direct descendants of sky and earth parents,” reads a passage of Decolonizing Methodologies, “Christianity positioned some of us as higher-order savages who deserved salvation in order that we could become children of God”. (Smith, 35) In an attempt to “civilize” them, children of sovereign nations were ripped from their families and their cultures for years at a time, made to dress in Western clothes, made to cut their hair, taught English, and made to practice Christianity. The federal government’s slogan for this schooling program was, literally, “Kill the Indian, save the man”. While some families took advantage of the program, believing it was in the best interest of their families and their children, most had no choice. Children were subjected to brutally and a high degree of trauma that burdens individuals to this day. Even to this day, education is often taught from the view of the oppressors. Cajete captures this idea biased educational standards, stating “through the curriculum and its underlying theory of knowledge, early schools redefined the world and where indigenous peoples were positioned within the world.” (Cajete, 34)
With these assimilation policies in effect coming into the 20th century, Navajos begin dressing more and more like Americans. The three-tiered traditional skirt, for example, is a product of this acculturation to whatever degree it was actually forced or voluntary. Yet the assimilation policies increasingly focused on the political framework of nations themselves as the years passed and resources were desired on land reserved through relatively recent treaty enactments. This became especially critical on the Navajo Nation when oil was discovered in 1922. (Wilkins) Within one year, the federal government managed to swoop in and create a business council with handpicked Navajos. The focus was not on community building and organization, of course; it was on oil rights and leasing. This is an example of what Smith is describing in Native Science when he states: “Conflicts between culture and economic activity can arise. Past development strategies either were conducted by outside interests for the benefit of outsiders or were designed with the goal of assimilating the tribes into the mainstream capitalist-style economy.” (Smith, 15)
Although the Navajo Tribal Council has gone through a number of changes and reforms since the original council was created, the reality remains that Navajo leadership was no more the Naałchid. It was becoming increasingly American. In fact, studies by the Diné Policy Institute on government reorganization recommendations confirm that the present-day Navajo government is merely a copycat of the American democratic system. Only a small amount of traditional values have been incorporated, and they were late in coming. Beginning with the American attempt to reorganize tribal government with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Navajos were being pressured repeatedly to adopt a Constitution and to reform their system. They repeatedly turned it down, only occasional attempting to appease the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a draft. (Wilkins) To this day, no Constitution draft has been both accepted by the Council and approved by the federal government. With all the changes the structure continuing to parallel the American system, the question remains today if a Constitution would be beneficial.
The Navajo Nation Council remains unique from most American government systems in that it is unicameral; however, the rest of the government is a three-branch model after the American democratic framework. The 110 chapters, representing local government, are slightly reminiscent of the Naat’aani years of the past. The Chairman and Vice-Chairman positions have, in the last decade, been transferred to a President and Vice-President position to further copy the American model. (Wilkins) Presently, the Navajo Nation exercises tribal sovereignty authority by having its own cell service and utility company, its own tribal parks, and even numerous entities such as Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, Navajo Nation Occupation Safety & Health Administration, and Navajo Nation Division of Transportation. However, these are also copycat structures, adapted from the federal government. Most tribal government offices actually report to the federal offices of the same nature and are obligated to do so by law.
The concept of Checks and Balances is also incorporated into the structure, following the American organization. This became a hot topic in 1989 after the Tribal Council scandals, and the embezzlement of tribal and federal funds continues to be an issue. (Wilkins) Some argue our current tribal leaders, victims of the residential school era, are byproducts of systematic oppression and that their trauma is evidenced through their values and choices. Just a short trip across the Navajo Nation will reveal the shift of values in the leaders as well as the people, as paved roads, cars, and rodeos are thoroughly juxtaposed against hogans, livestock, and chapter signs in the Navajo language. Perhaps these shifts and these histories help explain the values Councilmen uphold in the present day.
Society is always fluid and should be that way, so it is not to say that the Navajo Nation should remain static. Static things fail to sustain themselves in the world. As Smith describes, “maintaining cultural integrity does not necessitate returning to pre-Columbia economies…Rather, the behavioral characteristics that make an individual an Apache or a Navajo or a Mohawk are maintained and developed”. (Smith, 15) The shift of values includes the resistance for women to be community leaders or to have certain rights. Whereas traditional Navajo society viewed women as sacred, like many indigenous nations, the residue of past Christian influence and forced assimilation has altered that perspective. No longer sacred as they once were, and also caught often in a vicious cycle of trauma and substance abuse, indigenous women are now facing the highest rates of violence, including domestic violence. Navajo women are not immune to that statistic. The striking down of same-sex marriage’s recognition on the Navajo Nation is another example of how missions and policy have ingrained Christian values to the point that the Two-Spirit society of hundreds of tribal nations are being forgotten and dishonored. These mentalities are learned, not traditional or inherited.
Another example of these shifts in tribal leadership is the current President Russell Begaye and his values. While he was elected after Chris Deschene’s disqualification for not meeting an arbitrary degree of Navajo language fluency, and while Begaye is in support of promoting tribal sovereignty through language retention, he is also known for his refusal to partake in a traditional ceremony during his inauguration. Although Vice President Jonathan Nez partook, Begaye opted for a Christian equivalent. His devotion to Christianity permeates his policy-making and opinions regarding how to govern the Navajo people. This contradiction is problematic as it raises questions about the Separation of Church and State. Should such an argument be used to hold him to all required traditional practices of modern day leadership, such as the language requirement, would the argument for such separation be made? If so, that point threatens the last threads of resistance to assimilation: incorporating traditional values and customs in the governmental system and even in the tribal colleges’ educational framework.
From the first encroachment of the Spanish to the current American-Navajo trust relationship, the assimilation of values and frameworks have been rapidly impacting and in many ways traumatizing the Navajo society. This degree of colonization has resulted in a number of structural changes and value shifts. Although the Navajo system does attempt to incorporate the values of Sa’ah naaghai bik’eh hozhoon, the overarching structures, policies, and even paradigms reflect the values of a Western society rooted in Christian values. (Wilkins) Until the Navajo Nation is able to shake its learned stigmas against women and other realms also shunned by certain non-indigenous religious extremes, it will be difficult for the tribal government to truly function as the leadership structure of a sovereign nation.
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I’ve been reading Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr. It’s pretty intense, and reviews by whites tend to reflect two concepts that I find disturbing: 1. Oh, now I “get” Indians and 2. This book is horrible and racist! I’m white and I’m not like that! I find the first sentiment disturbing because it shows how damn ignorant the country is on tribal law, broken treaties, and past assimilation programs. I find the second sentiment disturbing because it not only views Indians versus non-Indians as a racial vis-à-vis rather than sovereign nations with enormous cultural disparities (a central point being made by most of these texts), but it shows resentment before assent to past wrong-doings (which were clearly racially and religiously motivated). As a result, you get an audience that willing to be enlightened and which consequently becomes divided by those who resent the sovereign separation – but also those who pity.
And that brings me to today’s topic: Pity. White, Christian society has – as a generalization – repeatedly pitied minorities (once, of course, it got over taking advantage of them). For example, so many mission trips head off to Africa within 150 years of African slavery in this country and within 50 years of Civil Rights oppression. These societies didn’t care then, but suddenly they do? Is it the new, generational upbringings that have helped conquer past racism? No, I don’t think it is. I think it is continued egocentrism, a continued effort to inflict one society’s views on another. And just like people today will look at African countries and pity the poor, impoverished people without any hope, they will read about American Indians and just feel bad – but never do anything that could sacrifice any of their royalties.
Okay – now you’re probably saying, Well people do sacrifice for mission trips! You say this because they take time and money to go overseas to live in those icky conditions for just some time. But this is just my point. Poverty vs. simplicity. And while I don’t speak for every person in every community in every impoverished area of the world, I can speak from at least my observations in West and Central Africa, places where mission trips and Engineers Without Borders visit on an essentially permanent basis. I have, in French, conversed for several weeks among people in both rural and urban situations about the poverty. I’ve asked them what they think of America, of this lifestyle that these do-gooders wish to impose on the “impoverished”. They’ve told me that America sounds fascinating, but NO I would never leave here for that. Roukia, a cook in Ouidah, Benin who cleans in her spare time and recently opened her own restaurant – she told me the poverty is bad, people live badly in Africa. But she also told me that America is not the answer. People get by, but it’s confusing when the American lifestyle butts up against them. A man named Tomas and his friends, some committee people in the tiny rural Cameroonian village Batoula-Bafounda, sat around a table drinking palm wine with me, laughing because we Americans refused to stay in their village after the well implementation was complete. “Why go home?? We have EVERYTHING you need here! So many bananas, avocados, and palm wine! No, it’s not the American lifestyle, it’s the SIMPLE LIFE.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard people tell me this was the SIMPLE LIFE, the BETTER LIFE.
And so I ask, what are these trips accomplishing? What is this pity about? Why do people think this American, white, Christian lifestyle – this modernity – is the solution? When it’s the same answer to why the world is collapsing? Why are people convinced they have the solutions and that everyone else wants to live like them in this luxurious way? I think, to many “impoverished” people, this luxurious way is excessive, unnecessary, and severely lacking happiness. They see it as stress and competition, not family and laughter and tradition. These people who think otherwise come into villages (kind of like we did with EWB) and they implement systems that, quite frankly, fail immediately thereafter. (Google it if you don’t believe me; I’ve also written about this failure before.) Why do they fail? Because the people don’t care for them. Why? Because they fall back into routine, a routine that doesn’t have these luxuries at all. They choose tradition.
Thus back to this book, back to what I’ve written about so much lately. Tradition. This is the same problem we face in America with the failing efforts by the federal government to “fix” reservations. They’re imposing their beliefs, their ways of living, their solutions. What is the answer? Learn, ask, respect – but let be. Respect treaties and promises. Respect each other. Is that really so hard to do? Sometimes doing is like talking; if you really want to help, sometimes you’re better off not saying anything at all.
One of the first articles that was reposted in my newsfeed this morning was about Detroit recently shutting water off to an enormous amount of the city’s population who have been negligent in paying bills, especially since a recent 9% increase in cost. Activists have of course been appalled by this and are fighting the case. In other words, people are pretty upset. But what upsets me is not that Detroit is shutting water off to citizens – it’s that people think this is wrong and will drop everything to get up in arms about it, but no one thinks about the most impoverished corners of the nation: the reservations. Do they think it’s worse to have something taken away then to never be given the opportunity to have it in the first place? For the hell of it, I’ve pulled out some statistics about Detroit. Since Detroit is probably viewed as one of the worst cities currently in this country, I’ve also pulled out some statistics to compare it to the Navajo Nation – arguably one of the worst Rez’s in this country. Looking at these stats, Detroit’s got it good. Detroit Population: 688,701 People per square mile: 5,144.3 Median Age: 34.8 Income per capita: $13,965 Unemployment: 29.3% Below poverty line: 38.1% High school degree: 77.4% College degree: 13% Homes without electricity: unknown (national average: 1%) Homes *that have recently LOST* running water: 0.9% Average house size: 2.74 Crime rate compared to national average: 368% National life expectancy: 77 years Navajo Nation Population: 180,462 People per square mile: 6.7 Median Age: 24 Income per capita: $7,629 Unemployment: 56.1% Below poverty line: 57.0% High school degree: 56.0% College degree: 7% Homes without electricity: 44% Homes THAT HAVE NEVER HAD running water: 48% Average house size: 3.77 Crime rate compared to national average: 400% Average woman/man life expectancy: 50 years Statistics vary slightly depending on sources, but the Navajo Nation consistently comes out much worse than Detroit. And I only use the Dine as an example because of the size of their Reservation. If you want worse statistics, try a Rez like Pine Ridge Sioux. Detroit, you have nothing to complain about. At least the government didn’t revoke your Constitutional Rights a million times over and try to assimilate your cultures and kill off those who refuse. Pay your bills. At least you have a utilities service at all.
[Note: Of course I care about people in Detroit, and I’m sure many in the population have been marginalized for various reasons. This blog more or less serves as a place to write satirically or to rant/put things in a different perspective. Just thought I would clarify…]
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.
Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.
Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.
Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.
In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.
Makayla Rain Sault
Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.
This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.
The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.
Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.
Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.
To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.
A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.
Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.
In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.
There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.
How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?
Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.
We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?
Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.
One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?
Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?
The Right to Choose
But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!