A truly moral nation, wishing to leave as its legacy the foundational principles and guiding ideals of freedom, fairness, justice, responsibility, and love and regard for future generations, must fully own the sins of its past and bend over backward to rectify crimes against humanity, which have too often been fueled by the American government’s unlawful interest in favoring the greed of a master population over the survival and viability of the oppressed peoples from whom its power was unlawfully derived. Particularly victimized have been this continent’s and nation’s First Peoples. As the majority of Americans continue to be beneficiaries of unconscionable acts of brutality, malice, racism, religious bigotry, theft, and other wanton acts of avarice against First Peoples, it is incumbent upon us and future generations to show the moral courage, stamina, sound judgment and wisdom the generations before us abdicated, for the evils exist not only in the past, but much as our own continued benefits from the crimes and privations of genocide sustain us, so do those crimes and privations continue to inflict undue suffering upon the most marginalized, impoverished, and vulnerable among us—a people so marginalized, indeed, that even the most well-meaning of liberals, rejecting the overt and cynical racism of President Trump’s brand of immigration reform, rally to the cry, “We’re all immigrants!” — seemingly or happily oblivious to the reality that some 5.2 million of us are not.
Punished for Speaking Menominee
Six years ago, I followed the story of 12-year-old Menominee Indian, Miranda Washinawatok, who was punished by her school for teaching another student the Menominee words for, “Hello. I love you.” (“Posoh. Ketapanen.”) Publicly shamed in front of her classmates by a teacher who angrily shouted, “How dare you speak that language in my classroom!” and otherwise punished, Miranda’s story went viral on social media and she received letters of support from around the globe, among them my own. In fact, I contacted many of my friends, poets and artists, and implored them to contribute to a little book, called Posoh. Ketapanen. in which we each said “Hello. I love you.” in the languages of our own genetic and/or spiritual ancestors, believing that such a message would make for a better world. What if, “Hello. I love you.” or “Posoh. Ketapanen.” or “Vitayu! Ya tebe kokhayu.” were the standard greeting between friends or strangers worldwide? Could such a simple thing as acknowledging the worth of those we come across lessen the world’s violence, hatred, and prejudice? We sent our little book to Miranda, hoping to turn a moment of ugliness into something lovely, even beautiful.
Death at the Hands of Law Enforcement
I have just recently learned that Native Americans are killed by police at greater rates per million than any other ethnic group, including Black Americans. In fact, First Americans are killed at a greater rate than Whites, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asians combined. Yet how often do we hear about those killings? When is the last time we in the non-Native community were made aware of the killing of an American Indian by a white police officer? Did it make the national news?
Last spring, summer, fall and winter, I followed closely the events at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) attempted to lay an oil pipeline near the poorest Indian reservation in the United States—with a poverty rate of 42.3% and containing two of the United States’ ten poorest counties —after it had failed to secure a more convenient route that ran on the outskirts of the mostly-White capital city of Bismarck, due to concerns for that community’s health in the eventuality of a major oil spill(s). Diverting that dangerous pipeline to what were by treaty Indian lands in an act of cynical environmental racism was, understandably, bitterly opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Galvanizing support from hundreds of other First Nations, they stood together, united, and rallied behind a single cause in perhaps the single-largest display of Native unity since the European conquest and colonization of the Americas commenced over 500 years ago. Joining Native Americans were representatives of First Peoples from across the globe as well as a diversity of American and World citizens (including Whites) sickened by the continued ill treatment of our predecessors on this land. Uniquely, these acts of resistance were prayerful, rather than violent. First-hand accounts from friends and acquaintances who made the journey north all told me that among the first things they were told upon arriving at Standing Rock was that weapons of any kind were unwelcome and that those possessing them would be asked to leave. An event so unprecedented, of such immense historical import, was largely ignored by the conservative network media, and reported almost exclusively by such entities as Unicorn Riot, The Young Turks, The Daily Kos and Democracy Now!, supplemented by a steady barrage of Facebook and YouTube postings by those who were there and other concerned citizens who helped spread their message.
How I cherish the First Amendment! Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Every aspect of this first article of the American Bill of Rights came into play at Standing Rock. The prayers were led by the Sioux, and they were Sioux prayers. During a time when our national media let us down and turned the other way, freedom of both speech and the press were exercised by common people from every walk of life, and it was they who kept this story alive. The prayerful action of the Water Protectors truly was peaceful assembly, as live video broadcasts of the action amply attest, the violence (which was considerable) flowing not from the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, but from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, other sheriffs’ departments deployed there under interstate anti-terrorist agreements, and the mercenary security forces paid directly by the oil company, itself. The police, who should have protected the Water Protectors, opted instead to protect the interests of a polluting corporation that was threatening the very economic viability of a deeply impoverished people.
A Movement Led by Women
By building the Dakota Access Pipeline, ETP violated treaties ratified by the US Government in 1857 and 1868, cutting through treaty land while damaging and destroying sites of cultural significance, and bulldozing sacred sites and burial grounds, all in roughshod violation of the Antiquities Act and other legislation protecting Native peoples, their architecture, and artifacts. I watched in disgust as journalists’ drones were shot from the sky (defended by the fallacious argument that they posed a danger to aircraft, fallacious because aircraft are not permitted to fly over Standing Rock under any circumstance)—in obvious disdain for the First Amendment protections of a free press, and in what seemed to me an equally obvious effort to prevent the truth from being seen by the American public. I watched in horror—but on social media only (courtesy of independent journalist Kevin Gilbert)—as Water Protectors (so-called for they were protecting their life-blood, the Missouri River, from potentially devastating corruption in the not-unlikely event of a major oil spill) peacefully occupying a bridge in sub-freezing temperatures and praying, were attacked by militarized police and mercenary militia who branded and treated those unarmed protectors as “jihadists” (thereby associating them with “radical Islamic terrorists”!—which would seem quite silly were it not so malevolent), attacking them with water cannons, rubber bullets at close range, tear gas, and small explosives (concussion grenades), unnecessarily causing multiple cases of severe hypothermia and numerous other serious injuries, including near-loss of limb. The official justification for this level of brutality was that the Water Protectors had lit several fires on the bridge, but without providing the true context: it was a cold November night on the North Dakota plains, and these were controlled fires, lit only for warmth, and were by no means acts of arson.
The contrast between the violent Police State set up against unarmed Native Americans in North Dakota to the passive police response to the Bundy Gang’s armed—and therefore truly terroristic—occupation of taxpayer-owned facilities near Harney, Oregon has been pointed out by many. Apart from the obvious, that the true jihadists were those armed acolytes of what the Lakota people refer to as The Black Snake—that many-headed hydra of Big Oil—these First People remained calm, endured such suffering as was meted out to them, and replaced the wounded with others willing to put their life and limb at jeopardy, risking injury and potentially death, all to protect their water (and by extension their families and food supplies—fish and crops) and the bones and artifacts of their ancestors. The courage and determination of those largely penniless citizens facing down a powerful, polluting industry that had on its side purchased-politicians and the might of a militarized and mercenary-backed police force restored my faith in democracy. “These are the true citizens of this country,” I thought to myself, “and the truest human beings amongst us.”
The Arrest of Red Fawn Fallis
Those wrongfully jailed because of the Black Snake’s collusion with the local police at the taxpayer’s expense were denied access to counsel for prolonged periods of time, during which many were housed in dog cages, while others were brutalized by prison guards (one woman’s arm was broken and then rebroken just days later) and even strip-searched and left naked overnight in jail cells as was Prairie McLaughlin, daughter of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who together began this act of prayerful resistance that resonated world-wide. There were accusations of water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation” activities that have apparently not been fully investigated, for such investigations would almost certainly conclude that the Police State conducted massive Constitutional and civil rights violations, if the preponderance of victims’ testimonies are to be believed. A 37-year-old Denver medic known as Red Fawn Fallis, at Standing Rock on a humanitarian mission to provide needed medical services to police victims, was falsely accused of firing a weapon at police officers and remains in jail to this day. Film footage clearly shows that she was pinned to the ground by several (six to eight) large police officers wearing riot gear (I am inclined to forgive those who call them “thugs”) in coordination with equally armored mercenary “security officers,” well before the shots were fired and was certainly in no position to wield or fire a weapon, in that vulnerable state. Close examination of the film appears to show a police officer force what looks like a pistol under Red Fawn’s leg shortly before the three shots were fired. Can we consider the possibility (some might say likelihood) that the real reasons for her arrest were to 1) silence her, and 2) prevent her from administering the medical services that brought her from Colorado to North Dakota in the first place?
Public Figures Begin to Listen
Throughout the unfolding of this difficult American tragedy, it did not escape me that certain public figures had the courage to step forward and make themselves heard. I applaud and offer my profound respect for Robert Kennedy Jr. (why isn’t he our President?) for his interview with TYT’s Jordan Chariton, and for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the actress Shailene Woodley, and journalists Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, and Lawrence O’Donnell of CNBC, among others, all non-Indians whose thoughtful and persuasive assessments of the Standing Rock standoff ensured the debate occupied a high moral ground, while appealing to the White majority to step up and be honest with themselves. The November 17, 2016 Chariton-Kennedy interview was startling for its frankness in assessing the continued malfeasance against First Americans, as was Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” segments published on YouTube on October 31 and November 5, 2016. Woodley and Goodman both placed themselves in the line of fire by simply showing up, and were arrested for no visible reason, except that they were famous women who commanded considerable public attention, while Senator Sanders was the only Presidential candidate with the moral decency to visit Standing Rock and advocate in favor of the people who lived there. I also applaud the cultural icon, Jane Fonda, who, serving-spoon in hand, showed true humility by joining the Standing Rock food crew to help feed the Water Protectors.
Lawrence O'Donnell Speaks the Hard Truth
Mostly, though, I look up to the women of Standing Rock like LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and her daughter, Prairie McLaughlin, who began the peaceful resistance—as an act of prayer—likely never contemplating that their cause would expand past North Dakota’s and even America’s borders and be supported around the world. I honor their husbands, children, and neighbors who stood up to a power much mightier than they, with a rallying cry that sounded as much like a cry for help and a plea for common sense as a call to resistance, “Mni Wiconi,” meaning “Water is Life.” What a message!—and what a contrast in tone to the rabid cries of “Lock her up!” we saw from the White supremacists who backed the victor of the 2016 Electoral College and the rhetoric we continue to see from that dubiously-elected President who assumed office last January. I fell in love with the words of a Native (Diné and Cheyenne) poet, the activist Lyla June Johnston, whose wise and magnificent poem, “And God is the Water” I read aloud in Evergreen, Colorado to a small in-person audience but nearly 1000 people nationwide on Where The Books Go’s live feed on Facebook. It's best, though, in Johnston's own voice.
And God is the Water
A Little Bit of Personal Background
Although born in Fort Collins, Colorado (in 1959, during the waning years of the Eisenhower Administration), my family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma when I was four years old, for Dad had secured a job at Oklahoma State University, to help manage the Student Union. To bond as father and son, we joined an organization known as “Indian Guides,” in which we sat in a circle with other fathers and sons, Indians and Whites, learning about one another and being taught various crafts for which we children earned badges. The vision of simply being there remained so strongly with me that as an adult I wasn’t sure whether I had dreamed it or actually experienced it until my mother confirmed its waking reality just months ago, telling me how much Dad and I both really loved the experience. Ever since that childhood, I’ve felt a strong affinity for First Americans, despite the anti-Indian propaganda films Hollywood was still producing in the mid-1960s, and despite the deplorable fact that public school American and State-specific history classes largely pretended that there was no American history but the White Man’s; in a climate of such cultural and racial narcissism, even the Civil War was largely portrayed as good White men freeing the enslaved Black population from bad White men. The role of the enslaved and the conditions suffered under the institution of slavery, were hardly discussed.
A couple years later, we moved to Laramie, where my father accepted a job managing the University of Wyoming’s cafeteria, and where we lived for the next five years, frequenting Vedauwoo National Park for family picnics, “Vedauwoo” (pronounced Vee-dah-Voo) a romanized bastardization of the Arapahoe word, bito'o'wu, meaning “Earth-born”—according to Wikipedia. We thereafter moved to Denver, where my parents divorced. My mother, sisters and I remained in Colorado, while Dad moved to Rapid City, South Dakota. I eventually joined my father, during a time when the second Wounded Knee crisis actually dominated the news. I recall thinking, even as a young man, a 7th grade student at West Junior High School, that AIM’s grievances were reasonable and just. We moved from South Dakota back to Colorado just a few months later, right before the Black Hills Flood of 1972, for my dad, a sales rep for Nobel Foods, then a major food service company supplying restaurants, schools and hospitals, had received a lucrative reassignment to Vail and surrounding environs from his employer.
Gary Hart in 1984
Later in life, I worked for twelve years (ending two and a half years ago) as a server and wine salesman for Creekside Cellars, an excellent winery and restaurant in the peaceful mountain town of Evergreen, Colorado, nestled in an idyllic, sub-alpine landscape carved out by Bear Creek (born by snowmelt of off nearby Mt. Evans) and once known to the Ute chief, Colorow. Former Colorado Senator and Presidential candidate, Gary Hart, and his wife Lee, who live as I do in the neighboring canyon village of Kittredge, were my customers one glorious Colorado spring day. I always enjoyed serving the Harts because I had worked hard on Senator Hart’s first bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984, when he came a hair’s-breadth away (that hair’s-breadth being Ohio, where he won the people’s vote but took zero delegates to the national convention)—a hair’s-breadth away from defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale, who would go on to win the nomination but be crushed by Ronald Reagan in the general election. Gary Hart’s world-view, as articulated in his book, A New Democracy, provided the most thoughtful vision for America’s future I had seen, with the exception of Walt Whitman’s “Democratic Vistas,” and was the largest influence in shaping the political views I have held on to for most of my life, and I am now nearly 60. Hart was also the first Presidential candidate of any party who secured the endorsement of nearly every major Native American advocacy organization, because he had the courage to speak up for indigenous peoples when no other prominent politician would.
I spoke to him that spring afternoon, with the rapids of Bear Creek making their symphonic, particularly complex music below us, of how his views on First Americans inspired me to volunteer on his ’84 campaign in four different states—Colorado, Kansas, Pennsylvania (where the press coined us volunteers, “Gary’s Guerrillas”) and New Mexico—week after week of sleeping on gymnasium floors or on the floors of people’s homes while not earning an income to support myself back home. I was young, passionate, and embraced the notion that my country was more important than I was. Hart described the privations inflicted on First Peoples historically and presently (alluding to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s masterpiece, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) as a “great Albatross hanging around the neck of our nation,” and discussed, rightfully, however painful to hear, how the United States will never have the moral authority it stresses in the world until we fully admit and redress the evils of genocide—alongside that other great albatross, slavery. Hart was always an independent thinker, and was in 1984 the first serious Presidential candidate to refuse special interest money, because he wanted to make it clear that he wished to serve the nation, and was not merely a stooge—as Reagan was, with his War on the Poor and “trickle-down” economics (what, after all, is a trickle, but a word that should always be modified by “mere”) for the wealthy and powerful, especially those serving Big Oil (George W. Bush, James Watt, et al). Reagan’s Presidency continued the legacy of Richard Nixon, who also surrounded himself with major players serving the Black Snake, most notably Dick Cheney. Hart’s noble example has since been followed by others, mostly Democrats, and most notably Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses, whose own campaign resembled Hart’s in many other ways, too, albeit less successfully.
Bernie Sanders in 2016
Last autumn (2016), a Facebook friend of mine, a German-American Republican living in the Bay area, apparently weary of all the notices and updates I kept posting on Facebook about Standing Rock (because the corporation-owned, conservative mainstream media declined for the most part to cover this story until very late in the game), argued the same mantra as many have before him, that yes, the Indian situation was “unfortunate,” but it happened in the past, long before he was born, and that because he could not be held personally responsible for the genocide should therefore bear no responsibility for the results of that horror. He said, “What’s done is done,” and then just as predictably added, with all the cynicism he could muster, “They lost. They lost. They need to get over it. Besides, there’s nothing anyone can do about it, now.”
Well, I immediately thought of ten things we could do, and should do, beginning right now, and I wrote them down, later adding an 11th, 12th and 13th. This was composed without the guidance of my Native neighbors or my Native acquaintances on the Internet, and represented solutions that simply seemed right and just and moral to me—though I hope, of course, that others will agree with me, granting ever deeper insights and solutions I’ve not yet considered. I do not pretend to speak for Native Americans (they speak for themselves most eloquently), but do intend to stand up on their behalf, because it is my simple duty as a citizen to condemn the wrongs they have suffered and continue to endure at the hands of those who resemble me. People will say it’s a pie-in-the-sky sort of plan, a pipedream, and I agree it is, but not because it’s naïve, wrong, or unjust—rather, because it takes on powers so firmly entrenched in the warp and woof of our culture, among them The Black Snake itself, that reasonable people must concede that too many of our politicians simply lack the will, courage, and selflessness to challenge a status quo that whispers, “Let these crimes continue,” and fight for what’s right on behalf of those who do not look like we do and whose cultures, religions, and languages worry us—because we’ve never spent the time or energy to integrate them into our own lives, despite a half-millennium of occupying their land. Let us rest, too, in the awful knowledge that the crimes we seek to redress fall under the general umbrella of nothing less than genocide, extermination: the extermination of languages, religions, and mythological traditions, the extermination of food supplies, forests, plains and mountains, the extermination of waterways, all of which not only supplement the extermination of peoples (estimates run to 100 million since the fateful landing of Christopher Columbus on the eastern islands of the Americas), but succeed especially in erasing the ancestral identity of those who survive in the flesh. And should we need, practicing the dubious American art of putting ourselves first, to place our own gains and losses in perspective before considering others’, let us ask ourselves what we have lost, and continue to lose, in the ongoing genocide of First Peoples. What might we have learned that is lost forever, or so well hidden that we may never discover it again? By exterminating a continent’s original human population, what have we lost in the soul’s longing for fellowship? Had we come here as guests, and not as marauders playing out the vainglorious masquerade of religious and racial superiority, what accomplishments might we have made together?
Since the mind-boggling Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court defined multi-billion dollar corporations as “people,” dirty money from the Black Snake has helped install many polluting industry-friendly politicians in office (including elected officials like former North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple III, and now personifies a formidable ruling class with virtually no checks upon even their most odious activities, unless and until an indignant public and courageous judiciary both push back, hopefully with leadership from an enlightened executive branch [I’m obviously looking down the road, here]).
Many, if not all of the points in the plan below will involve inconveniencing, burdening, and potentially even displacing many non-Native citizens, so it’s questionable that even the best among us would support the plan, but I hope that it be considered as one small part of a larger blueprint for a better America, a better American hemisphere, and a healthier planet, hoping that a time will come when First Peoples, wherever they are on Earth, will finally exercise the self-determination they exerted for thousands of years prior to the colonization of their ancestral lands, most commonly by European powers. I would invite those who agree with me in principle, but are, as they should be, daunted by the steps necessary to carry out this plan, to spend a little time reading and contemplating a recent article, “Wetiko — The Downfall of Humanity: Capitalism, Mind Viruses and Antidotes for a World in Transition” by Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk, which appeared on the website Uplift.com on June 5, 2017. In it, Ladha and Kirk explain that the Algonquin word, “wetiko,” describes a “mass psychological infection” that is bringing us to the brink of extinction, having already effectively blinded us to the immorality used to justify genocide and environmental ruin. Allow me to quote two short paragraphs:
Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption… It deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others (others in the broad sense, including animals and other forms of Gaian life) is a logical and morally upright way to live.
Wetiko short-circuits the individual’s ability to see itself as an enmeshed and interdependent part of a balanced environment and raises the self-serving ego to supremacy. It is this false separation of self from nature that makes this cannibalism, rather than simple murder. It allows — indeed commands — the infected entity to consume far more than it needs in a blind, murderous daze of self-aggrandizement.
"I have come to kill Indians."
“Blind murderous daze” might sound like little more than hyperbolic prose, like my daughter’s generation’s “I just saw the worst thing ever,” were it not accurate and warranted by historical actualities. I need look no further than Colorado’s own Sand Creek Massacre to understand that “blind murderous daze” is an apt moniker for genocide. So blind, in fact, that I never learned of Sand Creek in Colorado’s public schools, and except for the fact of their presence was never taught a single thing about the lifestyles, customs, beliefs, or history of the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Jicarilla Apache, or Utes who inhabited “Colorado” before the bison were slaughtered, the railroads built, and gold and silver—even mica—mined by greedy (and often desperate) White men flooding the American West from points east. In other words, these First People were presented as little more than abstractions or vague ghosts who weren’t us. I finally learned of the Sand Creek tragedy in my late twenties, an especially horrifying event considering that the Southern Cheyenne Chief, Black Kettle, representing both Cheyenne and Arapahoe Natives, had already negotiated a peace treaty “with honor” (ironically containing a guarantee of perfect safety), to protect his people, and was flying both a white flag of surrender and the stars and stripes when the U.S. Calvary, under the command of U.S. Army Colonel (and Methodist preacher) John Chivington— at the crack of dawn on November 29, 1864, encouraged by the blessings of Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans — attacked while most of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne men were away, hunting, and massacred up to 200 Indians, two-thirds of whom were defenseless women, children and the elderly. To understand Chivington’s motives, his own words speak volumes:
“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! ... I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. ... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
(from Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Macmillan, pp. 86-87)
Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Hereafter, survived the slaughter at Sand Creek—even though Medicine Woman Hereafter’s body had been penetrated by no less than nine bullets—only to be mowed down, along with 101 other Cheyenne (once again, mostly unarmed women and children), by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry four years later, on November 27, 1868, along the banks of the Washita River in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, while still seeking peace.
There’s nothing quite like learning you’ve been lied to all along.
A 13-Point Path to Redressing 500 Years of Genocide
- Consult Native peoples proactively and throughout any process (examples include construction, removing or otherwise desecrating burial sites and other culturally significant or sacred grounds, building pipelines, and education) that directly impacts them and the land(s) they lived upon before the occupation(s) commenced and the lands they inhabit now, including the full power of veto, especially when involving contaminating or polluting industries.
- Instruct the Federal Courts to review every single treaty signed between the United States government and the tribes they subjected and any and all violations of those treaties by the United States admitted, apologized for and fully redressed in ways commensurate with the privations and suffering imposed and endured when and since those treaties were broken.
- Declare a moratorium on corporate bailouts, and divert such funds to lifting the poorest of reservations out of Third World living conditions, so that First Nations should not have to rely, as many do, on profits earned from the avarice of gambling. (The Standing Rock and Pine Ridge Reservations represent two of the ten most impoverished areas in the USA.)
- Teach Native languages in every school and school district, and make that study compulsory, even for non-Native students, so that those languages, and the stories, mythologies (sacred narratives), and principles contained within them, will never be lost, giving special attention to those languages either spoken in nearby Native communities or spoken by those people traditionally associated with that land, regardless of past forced relocations. Furthermore, in times such as these, when “English-only” laws continue to be all the rave amongst neo-cons, alt-right separatists and other racists, we should argue on principle that, yes, indeed, immigrants and their progeny absolutely should learn the language of those who preceded them on this land. After all, who among us really wants to be exposed as a hypocrite? Additionally, earnest attempts must be made to preserve the literature and mythologies of Native peoples by translating those narratives and poetries into English, but only after securing the approval and blessing of the individual tribes possessing them.
- Issue formal apologies for, and acknowledge, genocides and massacres, seizures of lands, civil rights violations (including the banning of religions and languages), destruction of resources, and unlawful imprisonment—including the actual kidnapping of Native children thereafter forced to grow up in mission schools—wherever such atrocities occurred.
- Grant freedom to Native peoples currently incarcerated for political reasons (e.g. Leonard Peltier, Red Fawn Fallis) until and unless trials or new trials by their peers (a Constitutional guarantee)—in this case, by juries containing Native citizens—find them guilty.
- Permit Indian nations, without violent confrontation, to declare their full independence from the USA, assuming a two-thirds majority vote of their citizens, without excusing the USA from responsibilities for reparations.
- Require that Native American history and cultural studies enter the compulsory curriculum of our public schools, with special attention being given to the history of those peoples currently and historically tied to each school district, state and region.
- Make other suitable reparations in accordance with the nature and severity of human rights violations committed against Native peoples, with full consideration for the historical trauma and privations inflicted upon them since those violations occurred.
- Provide a considerable tax incentive for non-Native taxpayers’ families to cede their private homes and lands by will to the Native peoples who are either currently or historically associated with the land that cradles their property.
- Form a new legislative body with powers equal to those held by the United States Senate and House of Representatives comprising elected representatives of all existing tribal nations living within the borders of the United States. This legislative body would guarantee that a check is in place against continued or further genocidal activities by the occupying culture, including among other things further violations of treaties (as we have seen at Standing Rock); harmful environmental legislation; needless poverty resulting from prejudice; the seizure of lands (retroactively exempting Native lands from eminent domain considerations would be a powerful step forward); protections against crime and insufficient education; and the eroding of linguistic, religious and cultural distinctiveness.
- Extend special designations to Native American sacred and cultural sites, including especially burial grounds and places of worship, that contain the sorts of protections given to historical sites and wilderness areas, crafted to ensure their survival in perpetuity with absolute prohibitions on development and/or unwanted excavation, wresting the administration of those lands from the BIA and Interior Department and handing them over to individual tribes under the sole purview of the newly-established Native American legislative body.
- The United States should seek treaties with other nations to support the willing return of non-Native peoples to their own ancestral homelands, or any other nations willing to receive them. These treaties should include generous provisions for relocation and resettlement costs, and include the purchase of properties and lands left behind by those who choose to relocate, with every effort made to cede said lands to those First Nations possessing and presenting legitimate historical claims, with any disputes between tribes regarding that land settled by arbitration or a trial before a dedicated First Nations judiciary.
I reiterate (with some regret) that I am descended not from this country’s First Peoples; rather, my ancestors were almost certainly European Jews, Eastern Europeans (Ukrainians, Poles or Russians), Irishmen, and Englishmen (in other words, most of my ancestors arrived at Ellis Island and settled in Manhattan). I acknowledge that these thoughts are my own and emphatically state again that, out of deep respect, I do not claim to speak for Native Americans, whose direct experiences have certainly given them insights and judgment that I could not possibly possess. Yet, when a friend states that “nothing can be done,” and all I can think of are many things that actually could be done had we a stalwart moral compass and enough courage, love, and will to move forward, maybe it’s okay to speak up for Native peoples and put this out there as a distant beacon on the horizon.
We, the current colonial and immigrant populations of the United States of America, comprising those of European, African, Asian, and others of non-Indigenous descent, have been saddled by our ancestors with a moral dilemma so burdensome and unspeakable that most of us—encouraged by a dispassionate corporate media who, serving the Black Snake, have chosen to simply ignore issues concerning or affecting Native Americans—turn our heads in a sort of willful ignorance or grateful obliviousness. Who among us really wants to take ownership of problems we may perpetuate, but did not create? Who among us is willing to admit, contemplate, and face the collective enormity of abominations committed against Native people? And who among us is willing to make the sort of broad-stroke changes to the functioning of our society and government that must necessarily lead to the restoration of Indian autonomy over many of their ancestral lands and the dwindling power and ownership of non-Native populations? I suspect very few.
However, if it be credible that we are, at heart, a good and moral populace, guided by humane principles, who favor right over wrong and justice over oppression, perhaps with open eyes we will give our own progeny a great and loving gift and will one day lift that weighty albatross hanging around the neck of Lady Liberty and cast it off, once and for all, at the cost of whatever hard but not unreasonable sacrifices we are called upon to make, so that we may ascend the evolutionary ladder from a lower, regressive, Randian “virtue of selfishness” to a higher rung, in which we exert ourselves in palpable and righteous action to redress old wrongs and allow those we have trampled underfoot to lift themselves out of the blood-mud on which we constructed the foundation of our Euro-American empire. By “not unreasonable,” I merely mean giving back what was stolen, a principle we would surely and steadfastly embrace were such theft perpetrated against us.
Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of positive early childhood exposure to Native peoples, whose customs, histories, and beliefs can only serve to help cultivate and enhance our own humanity. Having to see and experience the humanity of others inoculates us against the ignorance and prejudice that allow genocidal institutions and practices to flourish. When we are taught fellowship, the “web” of life famously described by Chief Seattle, when we can no longer regard the father, son, mother or daughter sitting beside us as lesser beings, we may finally move forward.
Certain givens that I accept in my life as self-evident include the vibrant potential for life in what I like to call “the Big Bang beginning of all brilliant things.” It seems to me that if we accept that we live in a single discreet Universe (uni = one, verse = song) that contains billions of galaxies and billions of stars within each of those galaxies, and billions upon billions of planets circling many of those stars, we must also accept that our lives are absolutely unified with all other life in this Universe, that we are each, in fact, but an infinitesimal “piece” of a single, awesome life that far exceeds us. I state this principle in terms more immediate in my poem, “Mavka #50” when I assert, “I am as much ape as any other man, and / iron is as much in my blood as it in these / canyon walls.” I asked in another poem, and also in Baubo’s Beach, my novel-in-progress, “What, through my eyes, does the Universe see?” I simply cannot accept the fantastical notion that we are placed here from the outside and are apart from, rather than a part of, the larger life that surrounds us: it simply makes no sense to me, rationally or intuitively. Both the Genesis mythology and the Greek myths (as well as many other mythic traditions), tell the story that we, in the beginning, were formed from clay, and evolutionary science seems to confirm this, suggesting that the real difference in this case between myth and science is a question of time: i.e, as beings sculpted from clay, we were not shaped in a magical instant, with the snap of godly fingers, but slowly, miraculously and meticulously, over a period of some 13.8 billion years. This very morning, reading Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker’s wonderful short essay, “The Universe Responds: Or, How I Learned We Can Have Peace on Earth,” in the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals (Fawcett Books, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York 1998), edited by Chickasaw Indian poet, novelist and essayist Linda Hogan, among others, I came upon the following passage:
I remember when I used to dismiss the bumper sticker PRAY FOR PEACE. I realize now that I did not understand it, since I also did not understand prayer, which I now know to be the active affirmation in the physical world of our inseparableness from the divine; and everything, especially the physical world, is divine. War will stop when we no longer praise it, or give it any attention at all. Peace will come wherever it is sincerely invited. Love will overflow every sanctuary given it. Truth will grow where the fertilizer that nourishes it is also truth. Faith will be its own reward. [p. 326]
My computer’s dictionary defines “pleonexia” as “An ancient [Greek] word for a contemporary condition. Where pleonexia does the linguistic work that simple greed or avarice does not, is in its diagnosis of a covetousness that is not healthy, that is abnormal. It is a word that needs to be added to the more harmless terms with which we describe the modern consumer. Pleonexia is a heightened and unhealthy condition, as anorexia is the pathological extremity of a brand of asceticism. There is need, then there is desire, then there is greed, and then there is pleonexia.” Please compare “pleonexia” to the Algonquin-described condition of “wetiko,” described above.
Such thinking as Alice Walker's necessarily leads to other givens. If we are indeed a part of a single life (and by extension, consciousness) that contains our entire Universe, we must learn to look at another (be that “other” a person, spider, wolf, stone, wind or star) and see ourselves. Genocide is justified by delusionally identifying that “other” as “separate” but also alien or unknowable, inferior, savage (ergo, scary), and possessing resources we desire for ourselves in the sort of pleonexial madness that led to the bison-killing orgy of the 1860s and ‘70s; our obsessive wars against Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse’s Sioux, and the shaman Geronimo’s Apaches; and travesties such as the 1838-39 Trail of Tears and The Long Walk of 1863-64; as well as the massacres at Sand Creek (November 29, 1864) and Wounded Knee (December 29, 1890). To the extent that many theologians (who are often insular and self-serving) and some scientists might dispute my reasoning, and reject that we are, indeed, One Life, it is in fact a notion confirmed by other traditions such as Buddhism, American Transcendentalism (Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially), and potentially quantum physics. A universal binding force is identified in Hinduism as “Atman,” and western science has its notions of “od” and “dark matter;” that the former is spiritual and the latter two scientific is essentially meaningless, as both point to the Universe being a single, integrated body. Accepting that we are a part of, and not apart from the Universe containing and surrounding us, our own intelligence confirms an intelligent Universe, much as our own lives confirm a living Universe.
The Beatles’ front man, John Lennon, made the concept simple in his wonderful song, "I Am the Walrus:" “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Such a principle gives us “The Golden Rule,” and our ability to truly feel for and with others, through our propensities for empathy and compassion. The notion of One Universe, One Life, and One Mind may not be universally accepted, but it is certainly the healthiest outlook I can personally identify. St. Francis regarded the oneness as a unified symphony in his “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, unknowingly echoing certain Native American notions of Great Spirit and Mother Earth, and Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni, usually called the Buddha (a title meaning "the awakened one"), taught that the ego’s sickness lies in its division of perception into “me” and “not-me,” which is the root cause of all suffering, for it leads to desire and repulsion, the two sides and twin poisons of the ego-coin. Unrestrained desire leads to wetiko or pleonexia and large-scale repulsion leads to wars, genocides and environmental crimes of such blind proportions that “global warming” or now “climate change,” “six million Jews,” “seven million Ukrainians,” “Gorta Mor,” “Holodomor” and “one-hundred million Native Americans” scarcely penetrate our collective conscience, these days. The Earth is dying, and so many of our American leaders (including especially Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and President Donald J. Trump himself) are doing everything in their power to hasten its death. I join with my sisters and brothers, those other parts of me that cry out “Mni Wiconi!”— favoring beauty, love and life, and perhaps most importantly, sanity — wetiko and pleonexia be damned.