Thoughts on Systems Change

Writing can be so much like exercising.  I used to keep my mind sharp through intervals of reading, writing, then reading and writing again.  When you’re fit to write, it can be uplifting.  When you haven’t been writing for the fun of it, it becomes quickly laborious.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing a book.  In starting a manuscript, I find myself incredibly intimidated by the process.  But I’m also looking towards a thesis in my Masters program and the possibility of a PhD in the future.  It’s making me consider the ways I hope to use writing and art to communicate, and how that might intersect with my research into environmental issues, indigenous rights, politics, and the general intersectionality that sits right in front of us but which not everyone prioritizes to analyze, thereby perpetuating the very frameworks and systems we are allegedly fighting to dismantle.

I’m investigating the theory of shock doctrines, power, and how liberal movements unintentionally buy into the very chaos they are reacting to.  It’s a challenge I’m glad to take on, although I have severe doubts the article I write will help me win a trip to the climate negotiations I’m attempting to compete for.

Sitting and thinking about history, time, space, and how none of those aforementioned concepts are tangible or possibly exist at all.  I began to wonder how this world perseveres at all.  I also wondered, had I designed the world, would I have thought to make clouds?  Fluffy, alien bodies of mist that float just the right distance away – and closer than we think – until the moment they condense and preserve life.

What if one day the clouds fell from the sky?

So much talk about biopolitics and bioengineering… conversations of Neoliberalism and Foucalt… restorative justice and learning from ancestors… Yet we speak in these terms and concepts so elevated that our language is beyond reach for those impacted the most, those with the solutions we could actually implement.  The research feels sterile, especially when you consider the numerous communities who understand the concepts of power and the impacts of co-opted systems but whose way of communicating them may be completely incompatible.

Maybe the clouds won’t fall out of the sky, but the air will thicken with smog and then that might as well be the same thing.  And, as we continue to criticize the problems right in front of our face, we will continually fall victim to the systemic chaos that cripples any effort for restorative justice.  It truly is an accurate saying: Systems Change, Not Climate Change.  And, as Naomi Klein puts it, it’s not a transition – it’s a “Corporate Coup”.

“I am the river and the river is me”: How New Zealand is defending Maori worldviews.

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.

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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?

this is white supremacy.

It’s already difficult working in policy where you have to talk about intricate things like paradigms and culturally-relevant language.  Try speaking to government leaders – who make important decisions affecting tribes – about very specific tribal philosophy.  Many of those leaders still fail to realize tribe exist, that they have a supposed sovereign status, and that their culture is unique and rich.  If there’s any concept of a Native culture, it’s usually some Hollywood-inspired, Pan-Indian misconception.

More often than not, policy and projects are entrenched in this White Savior Complex as almost this default residual of past Manifest Destiny tradition.  This can be hard to see.  For example, NGO projects look well-intentioned on the outside, but in reality they are just a tool of modern colonization.  One group assumes power through knowledge and resources over another, comes in to “fix” that community’s problems, and meanwhile fails to connect at a cultural level that respects the community’s traditional wisdom, values, and belief system.

Epistemology is a popular term in Navajo Philosophy.  In many ways, it describes how Native cultures have knowledge and wisdom in Pre-Columbian times.  The problem is the lenses of Western society fail to acknowledge the credibility in that knowledge.

Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, the rationality of belief, and justification. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truthbelief, andjustification,[2][3] (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.

Not acknowledging the complex culture and wisdom of non-Western societies is the horrible error made by Europeans who attempted to colonize the Americas.  Manifest Destiny was based completely on this concept of “inferiority”.  Despite the incredible Aztec temples that are still visited by tourists today, the white leaders of the Manifest Destiny era only saw wild, untamed societies who lacked their God.  A lot of the NGO work that is done today has nuances and undertones of the same superiority-inferiority complex.  But critiquing work for not incorporating traditional wisdom or philosophical paradigms is just one small but intricate piece of lingering white supremacy.  Some of it is far more blatant.

How can we progress when leaders are making public announcements that white people built the world?  That white people are the reason for everything great?  That Christianity has done nothing but save everyone?  Anyone with a true understand of World Civilizations and an unbiased perspective will see this is far from true.  But Representative Steve King, a Republican in Iowa, is convinced otherwise.

While on a panel discussion with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, discussing the racial makeup of the Republican Party on the first day of its convention, Mr. King blatantly declared that nonwhite “subgroups” have not contributed to society.  The conversation began when Mr. Hayes commented about diversity maybe finally making its way into the party.  The conversation continued as such:

Mr. King: “This whole ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie.  I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about?  Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
Mr. Hayes: “Than white people?”
Mr. King: “Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”
(Panelist frantic shouting)
April Ryan (reporter on panel): “What about Africa? What about Asia?”

As if the Chinese invented nothing.  As if the Mayans did nothing.  Or Indians.  Or Egyptians.  What about the impressive skills of the Maori?  All of the scholars and scientists who have come from the continent of Africa?  Or this site, describing a vastly non-white number of civilizations that are widely considered some of the most “advanced” civilizations on earth?  My Archaeoastronomy course in college that studied ancient Native civilizations as being complex in ceremony and their knowledge of multidimensional math to follow the pattern of celestial bodies?   And construct large buildings around it?

The fact that we have people like that in power is terrifying.  His mentality is not very different from that of Hitler’s when you think about it.  Christianity saved the world?  Christianity has also been responsible for mass genocide for thousands of years.

Christianity and Navajo Sovereignty: Colonization’s Influence on the Navajo Political Structure

RESEARCH PAPER – NAVAJO NATION GOVERNMENT

Diné College

Kayla DeVault
Navajo Nation Government: NIS226
Mr. Vecenti
6/23/2016

Abstract

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. San Francisco,
California: Sierra Club Books, 1996.

Bitsoi, Alastair Lee. “Navajo VP address culture, climate change in inaugural address.”
Navajo Times 12 May 2015: 1. Print.

Blanchard, K. “Changing sex roles and Protestantism among the Navajo women in
Ramah.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1975). JSTOR. Web. 9
June 2016.

Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, New
Mexico: Clear Light Publishers, 2000.

Chandler, Diana. “Navajo Nation leader’s faith ‘key’.” Baptist Press 19 May 2015: 1.
Print.

Chiorazzi, Anthony. “The Navajos, Peyote and Jesus: Some Navajo Indians mix
Christianity with the old ways.” Busted Halo 22 May 2008: 1-2. Print.

DeBuys, William. A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American
Southwest
. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Donovan, Bill. “A number of firsts at Navajo presidential inauguration.” Navajo Times
12 May 2015: 1. Print.

Ethridge, Marcus E. Politics in a Changing World. Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage
Learning, 2015. Print.

Farella, John R. The Main Stalk: A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy. Tucson, Arizona:
The University of Arizona Press, 1984.

Iverson, Peter. Diné: A History of the Navajos. New Mexico: University of New Mexico
Press, 2002. Print.

Landry, Alysa. “Russell Begaye for President: We Need to Modernize Our
Infrastructure.” Indian Country Today Media Network. ICTMN, 16 April 2015.
Web. 9 June 2016.

Lerma, Michael. “Shocks to the Navajo (Diné) Political System: Resiliency of traditional
Diné institutions in the face of colonial interaction (Contact to 1923)”.
Indigenous Policy Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1 (2014). Indigenous Policy. Web. 8
June 2016.

Lewton, E.L. “Identity and healing in three Navajo religions traditions: Sa’ah Naaghai
Bik’eh Hozho.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly (2000). Wiley Online
Library
. Web. 9 June 2016.

Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival
of the Indian Nations
. San Francisco, California: Sierra Club Books, 1991.
Print.

Morales, Laurel. “Navajo President Begaye a Watchdog for his People.” Fronteras.
Fronteras, 29 October 2015. Web. 9 June 2016.

Morales, Laurel. “Russell Begaye Sworn In as Navajo Nation President.” Arizona
Public Media
. AZPM, 12 May 2015. Web. 9 June 2016.Pavlik, Steve. “Navajo Christianity: Historical origins and modern trends.” Wicazo Sa
Review,
Vol. 12, Issue 43 (1997). EBSCO Host Connection. Web. 9 June 2016.

Pavlik, Steve. “Of saints and lamanites: An analysis of Navajo Mormonism.” Wicaszo
Sa Review
(1992). JSTOR. Web. 9 June 2016.

Pevar, Stephen L. The Rights of Indians and Tribes. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2012. Print.

Powell, Dana E. “The rainbow is our sovereignty: Rethinking the politics of energy on
the Navajo Nation.” Journal of Political Ecology, Vol. 22 (2015): 1-26. The
University of Arizona
. Web. 8 June 2016.

Ross, Jr., Bobby. “Evangelizing the Navajo.” Christian Chronicle. Christian Chronicle,
July 2006. Web. 9 June 2016.

Smith, Dean Howard. Modern Tribal Development: Paths to Self-Sufficiency and
Cultural Integrity in Indian Country.
Lanham, Maryland: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2000. Print.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People.
New York: Zed Books Ltd, 2012. Print.

Thomas, Wesley. “Navajo Cultural Constructions of Gender and Sexuality.” Two Spirit
People
(1997): 156-73. University of Illinois. Web. 8 June 2016.

Wilkins, David E. The Navajo Political Experience. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2013. Print.

Unknown. “5 Reasons to Serve on the Navajo Reservation.” Experience Mission 25
October 2013: 1. Print.

Unknown. “Russell Begaye takes oath as new president of Navajo Nation.”
Indianz.com. Indianz.com, 13 May 2015. Web. 9 June 2016.
<www.indianz.com/News/2015/017462.asp>.

Nicaragua

The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) has periodic trips, both domestic and international, that enable participants to receive education on certain topics and to engage with local communities.  For two years, I have been scheduled and rescheduled for a trip to Haiti.  Finally, when the trip was canceled this April, I had an offer to transfer to a trip to Nicaragua.  With the help of a financial award, I was able to attend the May 2016 Climate Change Justice trip with UUCSJ.

An Untold History
Perhaps the most baffling part of the trip was the historical background we were given.  We were asked to read Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle which describes, as the title would suggest, not only the history of Nicaragua but the intense trifling the United States has had.  Between this text and then several class sessions in Managua at CEPAD with instructors such as Aynn Setright, we were able to grasp the complex social, economic, political, and cultural chaos that makes modern-day Nicaragua.

The histories general start with the recorded ones the Spanish brought.  The enslavement of tribal peoples from the various geographical regions of Nicaragua is no new story to the Americas, sadly, and its largely Mestizo population today is testimony of that.  Then, in later centuries, interests in creating a canal across Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua adds to America, Britain, and Spain’s desire in controlling the land.  The Liberals of Leon and the Conservatives of Granada, we are told, disputed back and forth over where the Capital would be and who would be in charge until it was settled that Managua, directly between the two, would take over.  (Ironically, no indigenous groups built at Managua because it is on the fault line.  As a result of moving the capital here, earthquakes have destroyed the city, the largest stopping the clock on the cathedral tower in the cultural plaza.)  Periods of unrest are the trend in the 20th century, with the United State’s William Walker declaring himself as Nicaragua’s president, the control of a corrupted National Guard, and then three generations of dictators under the Samoza family.  In 1979, the Sandinista Revolution resulted in a period of reform until 1990.

To this day, however, the elections do not go without the United State’s meddling in them, and corruption continues in the modern “democracy” – especially in program spending and addressing the class gaps.  As the book we read told us, the GDP for Nicaragua has been at about $800 with most of the population earning about $200 annually.  Cheap labor, rather than coffee, is considered the major export of Nicaragua.  This “export” contributes to the gap.  We witnessed these gaps and also the lush spending of the modern government.  Google “Trees of Life” to see the way thousands of dollars have been spent in Managua: artificial tress with lighting have been constructed all over the city, some with paid guards posted at them 24/7.

Coffee Problems
Meanwhile Nicaragua continues to struggle with its issues of a very monocrop-based economy.  Presently, the coffee industry is its major crop.  The rich soils from volcanic ash contributes to its success.  However, changes in the climate have altered the environment of the various altitudes and regions in Nicaragua that were once naturally ideal for these crops.  Additionally, arroyo, or “coffee rust”, is killing crops at a rate that is threatening the future of campesinas.  When these farmers sell to companies that don’t actively seek for Fair Trade agreements, the gap between the farmers and the middlemen increases.  Now, Nicaraguans fear what will happen if they cannot overcome the coffee rust.

After spending several days in Managua, our group traveled to Prodecoop in Esteli to learn about their Fair Trade program.  We also visited various programs such as FEM and Las Diosas, which work to employ and support women, educate women on health, and prevent domestic violence.  On the way out of Esteli, we headed north towards Honduras and stayed two nights with homestays in the little village of Quibuto.  Quibtuo is in the Fair Trade coffee business and has a complex organization of small farmers working together to support themselves.  My host dad walked me around his farm and showed me his coffee trees, including the leaves that were tainted with coffee rust.  His finco included many contraptions for sorting the coffee cherries before they go to a beneficio.  He also picked some beans from his sieves and showed me what he calls “cafe oro“, also verde.

We got to ride to the top of the mountain, which was sadly dry for the rainy season, and visit a large farm on the hillside.  There, we worked at a demonstration area to prepare soil with ash, plant coffee beans in rows, cover them with weeds and water them, then select “matches” (sprouted beans) to plant in small bags that we prepared.  We took a couple of bags that were already trees over to a farm.  There, we were shown how banana trees had been planted as fast-growing shade sources.  Under these trees, we dug a couple of holes, cut the bottom and sides of the bags for good root starting, and planted the trees.  That night, we finally had thunderstorm.  The rain on the tin roof was so loud, I was convinced our shack was going to wash down into the dry riverbed at the bottom of the mountain.

A couple of things I learned from this experience: 1) I can actually have conversations in Spanish; 2) I want to study climate change in Nicaragua to support these indigenous communities; 3) buying Fair Trade (100%, not just partial, certified) is really important; and 4) Equal Exchange, who had representatives on the trip with us, is exactly what it advertises itself as being: 100% Fair Trade and actively working with these communities.

Mining Problems
I also got to visit the Guardians of Yaosca River (and to swim in the river).  The long and winding road from Rancho Grande took us to the riverside where an outdoor feast was arranged.  On the way, we stopped to observe a mountain.  363 natural springs, they said, exist in the mountain.  B2Gold, from Canada, is threatening to do open-pit mining in that hillside.  None of the community members are in support, yet B2Gold keeps manipulating the situation.  We also passed the entrance to an existing mine.  Next to it was a billboard showing B2Gold’s ‘support of community health’, ironically.  “That man in the hat,” said one of the Guardians, pointing to the billboard.  “Did not give consent for his face to be on the B2Gold billboard.  He is not in support of the mine.  But they keep manipulating things to make it look to the public like we are in support.”  He told us they no longer sign documents, unless it is their own petition, because B2Gold will just transfer their signatures to something saying they support the mining of the mountain.

On the riverside, two young women sang a song.  It ends “I cannot live without water, I cannot live without air, I cannot live without forests, but I can live without gold.”  I was surprised by how little has been covered on the problems of mining and exploitation of communities in Nicaragua.  I also became interested in learning more about MARENA, the organization that I have since discovered should be responsible for environmental impacts and protection in Nicaragua.  (We later had met with a priest in Rancho Grande who didn’t believe there was any accountability; to me, there appears to be an organization, but I’m guessing different presidents oppose MARENA’s “meddling” in their profits when trying to exploit labor, resources, etc. – and speaking out against the government has been resulting recently in missing people or corpses.)

While people were quick to boycott jewelry, someone reminded us that electronics use gold in the circuitry.  Our phones, our computers, everything.  I also reminded them that solar panels, wind turbines, cars,…those all depend on mining as well.  Maybe not of gold apart from circuitry, but various minerals and metals nonetheless.

To read more on this topic, here is one article I have managed to find: B2Gold at Rancho Grande

Although this is not an extensive coverage of my trip, or of these topics, I wanted to put something out there so people can understand the injustices that continue to happen in Nicaragua.  The resilience of the people, despite recent huge population losses from the revolution, is really impressive and somehow contagious.  The street art in Managua and across the countryside, often with “FSLN” emblazoned in paint, was also inspirational for how social movements happen, continue, and are remembered.

To end, I scanned a water color I worked on this week.  It features the National Bird, a Turquoise-Browed Motmot (Guardabarranco Comun).  These guys apparently bury their eggs.  He’s on a branch above new leaves, some with Nicaraguan flag patterns on them, protecting the sleeping babies.  Behind the bird, outlines of revolutionaries and also the famous image of Sandinista himself.  The red and black colors represent the FSLN.

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my view on marketing.

I had written a huge entry about the evils of marketing and then accidentally deleted it.  So this shorter recap will just have to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the media, TV shows, celebrities, sports, politics, and health topics and realizing how backwards America is.  I also realize how all of these things are rooted in marketing.  I’ve always accused journalists singularly for being selfish, pushing articles, and putting up false or inappropriate images just to make a buck or sell a pitch.  Now I’m realizing it’s not just journalism the marketing part of journalism, as well as marketing in general.

The Mascot Issue would not exist without marketing.  Eons ago, back when “racism” wasn’t a concept because White was the only race, Native American (and other minority) images, names, and stereotypes were generated to market sports teams, movies, and things like books.  Marketers are literally the people sitting around going “how can we make this obvious to the public as something they can identify with”, then selling out minorities to win over the majority.  A perfect example of this when Darrin Stephens in Bewitched has to sell dental crème.  “We all know witches have hooked noses, warts, and blacked-out teeth,” says the owner of the crème company.  Darrin doesn’t hesitate in creating an image that sells based on this stereotype.  Ethics don’t play a role in business.  And until Samantha flies (understandably) off the (broomstick)handle, Darrin doesn’t even pay mind that his own beautiful wife is a witch insulted by such discriminating images.  Today, these same logos, brand names, trademarks, and other images become a kind of metonymy for a product.  For example, “tissue” harkens to Kleenex, and we begin to think nothing is as good as that brand name.

When the media expresses its opinion on an issue, the author has to decide between pitching to this majority or understanding the minority cause.  In the case of recent articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Washington Post, some authors have taken huge risks in defending Natives in both cities against imaging by the local sports teams.  In the case of other large-stream media with other marketing interests, where unemployment is too much of a risk, this isn’t always the case.  For example, Bloomberg media rarely reports on the mascot issue, generally copies-and-pastes words when it does, and considers the issue old and “scandalous” – a rather pathetic word bank, if you ask me.

But sports continue to be marketed as the Neo-Patriotism of America.  These images become holier than the American flag.  People put more money into expensive plastic food and chemical-laden, cheap beer than they do for positive things.  They accuse doctors who save lives as making too much money and sue them like crazy for malpractice, yet it’s okay to pay a football player absurd amounts of money and let him off the hook for violating people.  Even celebrities and TV are often popular for the wrong reasons.  Shows like 16 and Pregnant, Jersey Shore, and Bridezilla make me grown as I realize how many Americans idolize these shows and lifestyles.  These become “normal” ideas of the American life.  And, trust me, I see the effects of this marketing.  When Europeans turn up their noses at Americans for being lowly and when Central Africans tell you they could never stand this country and love their lives in Cameroon, that’s when you know you have problems.  We’re not the land of the free; we’re the land of big egos, stressed lifestyles, and erroneous priotization.

And don’t even get me started on politics.  I’ve come to realize it’s just a game rich people play to be famous without having any acting skills or intelligence.  If they’re so good at raising money, why don’t they pull us out of debt?  Any person who can market themselves to win Presidency is not an honest enough person to do the job, but any person honest enough to do the job would never sell themselves out to market themselves a win.  Yup, I am disgusted with the practice of advertisement and marketing.

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

indian-reservation-squalor-shanty-hut-hovels-poor-poverty1-1

Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.