Stand With Standing Rock – Not On It

Originally published on the SustainUs Blog here: http://sustainus.org/2016/10/stand-with-standing-rock-not-on-it/

The sun was hot, and the pavement on Highway 1806 was even hotter. The guests at Sacred Stone Camp had just finished a communal lunch. They began falling into line behind the same banners that had led this march every day, a march up the highway to pray for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction to halt. Just behind the banners, a cluster of Havasupai men and women gathered in rhythmic songs in their native tongue. The men sweated in colorful ribbon shirts, beating handheld drums. The women swayed to the beat in their tiered skirts and beaded shawls. For a half an hour, they sang like this, only briefly stopping when one of the women collapsed to the pavement in the heat. Today was their time to spiritually lead the protectors at Standing Rock. These Havasupai had come clear from the southwestern deserts for this purpose. No heat spell would deter them, and certainly no oil company was going to threaten a group of faraway strangers who had been subjected to the same governmental policies and historical trauma.
When I protested alongside Standing Rock and other allies on September 3rd, the vision was clear: peacefully protect. The camp never exacerbated hate. Even as Lakota churches (prayer rings, burials, and cairns) were being destroyed by the pipeline company, the front lines offered up their forgiveness for the workers’ ignorance. Each day centered around prayer and song, of renewing our connection. Daily ceremony is something I have become accustomed to on the Navajo Nation, where medicine men can be seen leaving their hogans to greet the sunrise with corn pollen. This kind of ceremony is a practice used to maintain balance that I find separates the indigenous from the spiritually landless who have lost their indigenous roots.
The #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock is a powerful one because of the prayer that maintains its focus and the cultural diversity that is revered. These are important qualities that are quickly lost in predominantly non-indigenous circles. Since the beginning of contact, certain language has been used to degrade and dehumanize indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Outdated stereotypes constitute the majority of indigenous representation in mainstream media. Expensive football tickets are sold in the country’s capital for a team named after a racial slur. Attitudes that justify calling an indigenous woman “squaw” contribute to the highest rates of rape in a single race. Indigenous people also have the highest rates of youth suicide and police violence per capita, and all of these statistics can be attributed to stereotypes and misrepresentation. Why is this important to #NoDAPL? This misrepresentation leads to media censorship and the appropriation of the movement.

Media Censorship
If we think about censorship and #NoDAPL, we might picture corporate censorship that protects the energy company from a negative light. This type of censorship has undoubtedly occurred in mainstream media, highlighting one paradox that plagues tribal nations: that an energy company can have a more sovereign representation in the media than an actual sovereign entity. While Energy Transfer receives journalistic immunity, Standing Rock is subject to slanderous quotes by the authoritative voice of a Sheriff who was not present and of white community members who view the protest as an inconvenience to their privileged lives. The LA Times published elements of Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s formal statement regarding the event in which he states, “Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false…Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles”. (Kirchmeier was not present at the site, therefore he reported information given by Energy Transfer personnel.) The New York Times quoted one resident asking, “You get 2,000, 3,000 Natives together – is it safe?”. It’s unbelievable that such a quotation was published. (You also get several thousand non-Native people gathered at sports games. Is that safe?) It reflects the mentality of the community around Standing Rock.
However, I would argue that the censorship of indigenous peoples runs much deeper than this kind of surface censorship. There is also censorship through the representation of both the movement and Standing Rock as a nation. How many articles have been published that take quotes strictly from Sherif Kirchmeier or Energy Transfer employees? The media’s decision to rarely interview the hundreds of tribal national presidents and leaders who have voyaged to Cannon Ball demonstrates either the media doesn’t believe – or doesn’t believe their readers believe – that these indigenous peoples are as important as non-indigenous representatives of a corporation or local law enforcement. Instead, it takes celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Leonardo DiCaprio to capture America’s respect for #NoDAPL. Woodley represented the cause early, joining the Standing Rock youth on their run to Washington, D.C. In July, she posted an Instagram picture from the Capitol with the text, “The youth of the Standing Rock Reservation ran 1,800 miles from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to protect their water from the Dakota Access Pipeline that will be built on their reservations.” She then included a link to the #NoDAPL petition in her bio.
An additional concern is how mainstream representation of the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute fails to capture the spirit of the movement. This is not some battle cry for Mother Earth or even some radical environmental statement. This movement is centered around sovereignty. Just like our natural resources, if our sovereignty is compromised then so is everything else in our lives. What is on the line? Our freedom of expression, of religion, of access to culture. The media censors the #NoDAPL movement by failing to elaborate on this core issue. This absence of representation instead perpetuates the ignorance many non-indigenous communities have around the political status and alleged freedom of tribal nations, and how many hundreds of them exist in America alone.
Finally, just as language can be used to dehumanize a group of people through racially-charged vocabulary, it can also be used to make one race of people’s culture seem inferior, pushing it to the fringe of society. As Simon Moya-Smith points out, BuzzFeed’s use of quotations around the destruction of Lakota “sacred sites” insinuates a religious inferiority. Would we publish that terrorists bombed a Catholic “church”? It’s the same story, just a different race.

Appropriating #NoDAPL
While mainstream media seems vetted against properly representing Standing Rock and its efforts, thousands of non-indigenous people have gathered in Cannon Ball and at marches in cities to stand in solidarity with the tribe. Less than a week after Energy Transfer’s hired security guards attacked unarmed people and intentionally destroyed sites protected by NAGPRA to advance their motives, our SustainUS delegation held its retreat at Canticle Farms in Oakland, California. The day I arrived to Oakland, San Francisco held its solidarity march for Standing Rock. I joined the march and learned something I hadn’t realized before: Movements – and not just culture – can be appropriated, and the consequences are uncannily destructive.
It was uplifting to see so many people gathered in support of a cause hundreds of miles away; however, it was discouraging to see stereotypes, generalizations, cultural appropriation, and misrepresentation within the movement itself. Non-natives were smudging, beating drums, and seemingly trying to imitate the prayer at Standing Rock. Just like the generalizing comments I read on article links, folks would say things that imply all Natives are peace-loving and earth-worshipping. This generalization is not accurate, and it buries the environmental issues we have in our tribal communities such as dumping and limited access to recycling services under a race-based stereotype.
Furthermore, as the protesters gathered on September 8th in downtown San Francisco to draw attention to the movement, they took what the movement stood for and appropriated it. Instead of calling for the defense of Lakota sovereignty, protesters were suddenly blocking entire intersections, screaming up at the CitiBank building, and accusing the San Francisco Police Department of defending the bank’s entrance. This caused a huge divide in protesters as Native citizens cried: “This is a peaceful demonstration of solidarity. This does not embody the sentiments at Sacred Stone Camp. Stop making this about you!”

It is so crucial to remember the #NoDAPL fight is to protect tribal sovereignty, not to protest anything else. It’s this sovereignty that is undermined by Native mascots, media censorship, and non-tribal entities’ use of eminent domain on treaty lands. For a country that has supposedly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the last year, the United State’s complacency towards Energy Transfer’s blatant disrespect for tribal sovereignty should be more alarming than ever. Chariman David Arcahmbault II has recently taken this issue to the United Nations to receive international support. Now it’s our delegation’s turn to make sure #NoDAPL is properly represented in person, spirit, and media as we bring this issue of tribal sovereignty and corporate power to COP22.

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

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

 

Kayla DeVault

Dr. King

World Civilizations 102

20 April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahala ahalago naashá ghą

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá lágo hózhǫ’ la.

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá, ladee hózhǫ’ǫ’ lá.

I am going in freedom.

I am going in beauty all around me.

I am going, I am going, in beauty

It is around me.

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

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

ON-GOING: The Rainbow Family Threatens the Black Hills, Tribal Members

While the country is busy talking about a Kentucky Fried Rat and making memes of Rachael Dolezal’s habitual blackface, another sort of alarm and cultural appropriation is flaring up in the Black Hills.  Yes, the sacred Black Hills, a place under constant threat for its resources since 1874.  This time the Lakota are fighting off a different kind of enemy: The Rainbow Family of Living Light.

First, a short lesson on the Black Hills.

Mount RushmoreThe Black Hills were once desecrated by carving the Mount Rushmore monument as a way to increase tourism in Lakota traditional land.

In 1776, the same year the United States formed back on the eastern seaboard, the Lakota conquered the Cheyenne and took over the Black Hills territory.  They called the hills Ȟe Sápa, “Black Hills” being a literal translation of Pahá Sápa for the black appearance the isolated mountain range has from a distance on account of the trees that cover them.  These hills extend from the approximate areas of western South Dakota into Wyoming in the heart of Indian Country.  They have become a central part to the culture of the Lakota people.

In 1868, nearly 100 years after the Lakota secured the Black Hills territory, the US government signed the Fort Laramie Treat of 1868.  This treaty exempts the Black Hills from ever being settled by whites (well, non-Indians).  However, in 1874, after George Armstrong Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, European Americans swept into the area in a gold rush after having discovered gold there.  The US government’s response?  Oh, forget the treaty, there’s gold!  Lakota people, you will now be relocated.

The Lakota have fought for decades to uphold the treaty that gives them the rights to their sacred territories.  But history repeats itself.  They have been currently battling against the Keystone XL Pipeline that threatens to tear through their hills and pollute their territories beyond the pollution already caused by tourism, mining, and the lumber industry that has taken over these parts.  How is any of this legal, you might ask?  Well, quite frankly, it’s not.

Like most of the issues (especially environmental) that we have in Indian Country.  The US Government has no honor when it comes to upholding international treaties (and tribes are sovereign nations, so that is exactly what these treaties are).  Furthermore, the government ended its treaty making and refuses to resume it.  Congress ended treaty-making with tribes in 1871, despite their sovereignty allegedly continuing to be acknowledged.  The last treaty made was with the Nez Perce and was broken just a few years later, leading to the Nez Perce War.  But enough about treaties.  Let’s move on with the new enemy threatening to invade the Black Hills.

So now, who is this Rainbow Family?

People are allowed to be free and believe what they would like to believe.  However, cultural appropriation is where Freedom of Speech has its limitations.  The Rainbow Family of Living Light is an example of where this freedom becomes harmful, disrespectful, and out of line.  To sum it up quickly, I would describe and generalize this self-proclaimed “tribe” as being a cult-like group of “free”, “loose”, and often marijuana-smoking non-Indians/Pretendians playing at “being Indian”.  Sadly, the first time I became introduced to this group was at an actual Native gathering.  (Even in Urban Indian communities, you have to be weary of the “Indians” and the “Elders” who try to lure you into faux-Indian groups, customs, and ways.)

rainbow family

Wikipedia defines these people as a “loosely affiliated group of individuals committed to principles of non-violence and egalitarianism” who “put on peaceable assemblies/free speech events known as Rainbow Gatherings”.  According to therainbowfamilytribe.tribe.net, their beliefs are more than just this: “We also believe that Peace and Love are a great thing, and there isn’t enough of that in this world.  Many of our traditions are based on Native American traditions, and we have a strong orientation to take care of the Earth.  We gather in the National Forests yearly to pray for peace on this planet.”

But how does one base their traditions on “Native American traditions” when we are so diverse…and when “outsiders” aren’t exactly on the “inside”?  That’s just it: they don’t.  They bastardize what they think is our “tradition”.  Yes, cultural appropriation.

If you look at photos from the gatherings, you will see a lot of naked people covered in mud, dancing, singing, doing whatever – and also smoking an enormous pipe/bong of what is most certainly marijuana.  Internationally, even, these people gather.  You will see photos of cult-like circles upon circles, usually with a Plains-style tipi in the background.

Damage

But there are more consequences than just cultural appropriation; there are also financial problems.  The Forest Service Incident Management team costs federal taxpayers considerable amounts of money, allegedly because they must monitor these gatherings and the Rainbow Family refuses to pay what they owe for the permits to operate in these National Forest Lands.  The Burning Man festival is not connected to these gatherings, but attendees at that festival are charged as much as a few hundred dollars to buy a ticket to attend – a cost that goes directly to securing the $750,000 permit for operating in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada each year.  That is the same permit that the Rainbow Family refuses to acknowledge and pay, according to sources I have found.

The environmental impact of these gatherings is often great, including unpaid medical bills and local animal control agency costs for treating dogs in attendance.  The Rainbow Family does pick up trash after events, but this does not include open latrine trenches, compost piles, fire pits, and other significant damage that occurs from their large, rambunctious occupation of protected lands.

Ironically, there were also three non-fatal stabbings in a 2014 Colorado gathering and one fatal shooting in a 2015 Florida gathering.  Yeah, “non-violent”.

And what does this have to do with the Black Hills?  You probably guessed it by now.  Finally, here’s what’s been going on:

The Rainbow Family wants to gather at the Black Hills.

Yeah, you read that right.  The culture appropriating semi-Pretendian tribe with recent violence and historic environmental damage wants to freely occupy the sacred and protected lands of the Lakota people.

Needless to say, the Lakota have said No.  Online groups have been formed to gather supporters and petitions have been made because the Rainbow Family doesn’t seem to get the picture.  They argue they have Freedom of Speech rights.  On cantetenza.wordpress.com, a letter was shared which expressed the seriousness of the Lakota people’s refusal to allow the Rainbow Gathering to come.  This is the Lakota’s issue notice of complaint that denies the Rainbow Family entry to the Black Hills:

Lakota Notice

The gathering may have well over 20,000 people, so this unwanted trespassing will certainly risk desecration of holy lands and interruption of Lakota ceremonial practices.

Yet, these “peaceful” people will not listen.

Instead, they have responded with lies of being Indian shamans, and some have even given death threats to Oglala Lakota Lance Brown Eyes and others who have spoken out.  Don’t believe me?  Watch it for yourself:  https://redpowermedia.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/rainbow-family-of-light-member-threatens-to-kill-native-americans-video/

Other comments have been received through various boards, including this person’s response to a Native trying to reason with him:

IMG_3456 IMG_3457

  
The bottom line is, these people have no right entering and desecrating this territory.  This goes beyond just their typical cultural appropriation.  They are not welcome, they should not be granted access, but then again neither should the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The Lakota deserve respect for their wishes of keeping their land sacred and unharmed.

If you wish to support as an ally, Cante Tenza asks to write or call to these people:

U.S. Forest Service Black Hills director Craig Bobzien phone   (605) 673-9200,  fax: (605) 673-9350, email to cbobzien@fs.fed.us

U.S. Forest Service Washington DC Chief Tom Tidwell phone (202) 205-8439 and email to ttidwell@fs.fed.us  Copy Tina Baily at tcbailey@fs.fed.us

110% human.

When I go to an Indian Country event, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“So are you native?”
“Yes.”
“Which tribe?”
“Potawatomi.”
“That’s cool, I’m Dine.”

When I discuss my passions for improving the health of native communities with “outsiders”, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“–and I’m really passionate about it, partly because of my grandfather and my Potawatomi heritage.  I’m especially concerned with–”
“You’re Indian?”
“…um, yes.  But it’s really irrel–”
“Feather, not dot, right?  But you have light eyes.  You can’t be full blood, can you?”

Until two years ago, I never networked with other tribal students.  I never experienced positive conversations like the first.  I only knew conversations like the second.  And to be honest, it made me extremely insecure.  I almost didn’t want to be a part of the community because I thought anyone who wasn’t a part of my family would ostracize me like that.  Because I didn’t fit some stereotype.  Because I wasn’t full-blood and I didn’t grow up on a reservation.  I began to understand why my brother feels uncomfortable acknowledging his heritage.  I might have light eyes, but I have my grandfather’s features and a darker complexion.  My brother, on the other hand, inherited blond hair from some mysterious, hidden gene pool in our family history.  We don’t look anything alike.  He doesn’t even look like our parents.

Well, I’m really glad I got over my looks because, quite frankly, I probably inherited a proportionately unbalanced amount of traits from my grandfather’s side.  I’m not full-blood Indian; of course I’m going to look like all of the many things that I am.  And that’s just fine, because it’s what I am.  I don’t need to live up to someone else’s stereotype, especially if that’s going to keep me from doing what I want to do.

My experiences with AISES really opened my eyes to that.  That first conversation was actually part of a real conversation from a trip in Alaska in 2012.  No one cared what my blood quantum is.  When heard the word Potawatomi, they didn’t interrogate me about its validity; they asked me to explain my culture.  They explained to me theirs.  I learned that many of my friends were also from very, very, very diverse backgrounds.  Some were 100%, sure, but some were 10% with a heavy dose of Latino, or Chinese, or German.  Many friends had French last names for the same reason I have one.  (My one friend even jokes that anyone from our region’s “got some kind of French in there somewhere”.)  Probably the best part from the first conversation is when my to-be friend took in the word Potawatomi and said, “Wow…I can see green in your eyes.  They’re so beautiful!  You don’t see too many of those here.  So are you in the research competition?”

This was so not a conversation #2.

That’s one of the reasons I really love the diversity of my AISES community.  We’re all so different, and yet so similar.  We all have crazy histories, and some of us are still living crazy, oppressed lives.  But we come together and we share and there’s no comparing or edging one another out.  Maybe that’s why there’s so much oppression on the outside; others look at groups of people and make it all black-and-white, talk them down, crush them if they pose a threat.

I actually really hate the blood quantum rules.  I mean, each tribe is different.  Some are certainly more lenient than others, but not all tribes are even federally recognized and even less have reservations.  While I think it’s necessary to protect minority communities from undeserving people who might raid any benefits, the rules also make it difficult to have an identity that is separate from a label.

I’ve had people ask me: “You’re like, what?  50?  20?  10% native?  Why do you even care?  You don’t live on a reservation.  It’s not like you need anything.”

Right, because I’m perfectly fine living an ordinary life while other people who share many of my histories are suffering so that you can have your freedoms.

How can I not care??

I’ve worked twice now in Cameroon on an Engineers Without Borders trip.  I flew a bunch of construction boots over to donate this last trip.  No one asked me to, I just saw a need and filled it with the means.  I’m not Cameroonian.

I’m traveling to Haiti in December on a social justice trip that will help impoverished communities with their farming techniques.  I don’t get paid for the trip, I will just gain experience.  I’m not Haitian.

Why do I need to be FROM something or AFFECTED directly by something to justify caring about it??

That is why I have decided on a new motto, a new mantra that I will think about every time I am discourage in my fight for social justice among rural, native, whatever communities:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 100%, 50%, or 0% by blood.  You just have to be 110% human.”

Because being 100% human apparently doesn’t mean being humane, compassionate, or caring anymore.  You have to be that little bit more, and you have to act on it.  And that’s what I’ve decided I am.  I am 110% and x, y, z% a million other components, but I will still continue to work on my projects and I will still dedicate my time to US Indian Reservations and native communities.  I don’t care what percentage anyone is.  It doesn’t matter.  It shouldn’t matter to care.  In fact, (ridiculous example, but) the US Census Bureau could call me today and say “There’s been an error, you’re actually 100% Blackfoot.”  They could call me and say “You’re actually 100% Polish and all of those other census records were forged.”

I DON’T CARE!  Either way, I would continue my work.  I don’t care.  And NO one should care.  NO one should have to justify being 110% human, and that’s the identity I choose to live with.