micah holmquist's irregular thoughts and links
Welcome to the musings and notes of a Cadillac, Michigan based writer named Micah Holmquist, who is bothered by his own sarcasm.
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Friday, November 05, 2004
REHNQUIST'S TUMORS, RUMORS OF SOLIDARITY: FROM THE RAPE CAME THE VINE (DELORIA, JR. CONTRIBUTIONS)
by Richard Oxman...with deep acknowledgement to (Shawnee) Prof. Glenn T. Morris (1)
This article is dedicated to the passing of Dr. Evon Z. Vogt, Jr. and Njuma Ekundanayo.
When I go around in America and I see the bulk of the white people, they do not feel oppressed; they feel powerless. When I go amongst my people, we do not feel powerless; we feel oppressed. We do not want to make the trade...we must be willing in our lifetime to deal with reality. It's not revolution; it's liberation. We want to be free of a value system that's being imposed upon us. We do not want to participate in that value system. We don't want change in the value system. We want to remove it from our lives forever...We have to assume our responsibilities as power, as individuals, as spirit, as people... -- John Trudell, Dakota poet and musician and former national director of AIM (1980)
"We need to be a movement again, able and willing to make each others struggles our own." -- Ricardo Levins Morales, "Beyond the Election" (ZNet, October 28) .
Although cancer incidence is decreasing (in some instances) among whites, it continues to increase dramatically among American Indians and Alaska Natives 'cross the board. Since World War II, and even more strikingly so within the past twenty years, nearly every American Indian and Alaska Native community has experienced suffering and death from this dread disease in their family members. Native cancer patients continue to have the poorest survivorship from cancer five years after diagnosis when compared with other minority, poor, and medically underserved populations.
Vine Deloria Jr.'s Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence was released in 1974. The Standing Rock Sioux scholar had already demolished colonizing constructions of U.S. Indian law and policy in works such as Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto and We Talk, You Listen. BtToBT broke new ground for addressing our domestic oppression.
Yet, today, U.S. revolutionary/progressive attention on defusing oppression/decolonizing primarily focuses on abominations abroad, not the genocide within our backyards. If the prototypical playing fields for minorities are not level, it can be said that the protest fields respecting the oppressed are truly lop-sided, acutely angled.
The mantras of The Left must be more inclusive. And they must move from the "one half dozen, six of the other" mentality to setting priorities which are beneficial to one and all. It does matter which progressive cause we're working on. But more on that below.
Clearly, the intellectual, political and cultural development of scores of indigenous and nonindigenous scholars/activists was rooted in Vine Deloria, Jr.'s writings/speeches. Taiaiake Alfred, James Anaya, Jeanette Armstrong, Duane Champagne, Ward Churchill, Tim Coulter, Frank Ducheneaux, Kirke Kickingbird, Winona Laduke, Wilma Mankiller, Russell Means and virtually every student/teacher of American Indian policy and law in the U.S./Canada today have acknowledged their debt to the former professor of history at the University of Colorado-Boulder. (2)
On this thirtieth publication anniversary of BtToBT I ask the reading public to humbly acknowledge their ignorance regarding Indian affairs, and vow to support indigenous causes, reordering their progressive priorities.
After all the ideological, political and cultural schisms created by the U.S. government across Indian country, it's hard for even many Indians to have a clear vision of their roots and best interests, let alone expect non-indigenous citizens to sift through the philosophical/political confusion sown. Yet we must make the attempt, for ongoing injustice vis-a-vis Native Americans dooms us all. (3)
Deloria was troubled by the potential for American Indian activists to copy the tactical mistakes of civil rights organizations where "activism has been substituted for power itself." There was the prospect of "a quicksand of assimilationist theories which destroy the power of the group to influence its own future" that horrified him; he warned against piecemeal, reformist change co-opting a larger (required) structural confrontation.
Most people of color today seem to want unimpaired opportunity to participate coequally in U.S. society, to rise above their marginalization. But for American Indians both the root of dissatisfaction and the remedies they seek are significantly different.
That is a distinction that Vine Deloria, Jr. addressed, one that is lost on too many activists today. Averting our eyes overseas in lieu of dealing with abominations occuring right under our noses is a grave error on more than one count. Where the needs/desires of Native Americans differ significantly from the aspirations and rights of other disenfranchised/marginalized groups, one can find a window of opportunity for confronting leftist concerns all along the spectrum.
I will now attempt to give us a lift, a boost through that opening.
Broken Treaties has four distinct/related sections. The first (chaps. 1,9 and 10) deals with the roots of disaffection of indigenous people vis-a-vis U.S. law and policy, the second addresses the eye-opening abominations associated with the legal doctrines of discovery, domestic dependency and plenary power, the third focuses on the Indian Reorganization Act and the Indian Claims Commission horrors (through astute analysis), whereas the fourth explores the international character of indigenous nations.
Respecting the last section, Glenn T. Morris notes:
"He had the foresight and temerity to compare indigenous nations in a coequal light with other existing nations and states around the globe; he welcomed the application of international law (especially the Convention against the Crime of Genocide), as well as a reinstallation of the treaty-making process between indigenous peoples and the U.S. government." (4)
The idea was not only for indigenous activists, academics and technicians to challenge colonial conventions, but to reconceptualize...everything. My hope is that non-indigenous readers also will --out of a sense of humility-- acknowledge that they do not really know what has been coming down with regard to Indians...and do a little research, kind reconsideration of much that's taken for granted.
For our mutual benefit. For "dismantling the master's house" (5) necessitates an understanding that just as John Marshall and the Supreme Court of this land began the process whereby the Indian race could be exterminated "with singular felicity, tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating a single principle of morality in the eyes of the world" (as per Tocqueville), the U.S. destroys many others --routinely-- with great respect for the laws of humanity. (6) And confronting the 1831 legitimizing of our theft/genocide (noted above and directly below) will go a long way toward keeping this nation from rationalizing/allowing abominations directed toward non-indigenous people.
To wit, one should note that whereas attacking/exposing the case of Johnson v. M' Intosh(whereby the U.S. Supreme Court engaged in a self-serving justification of empire building) necessarily sets the stage for our confronting other forms of our abominations domestically and abroad, trying to deal with horrors overseas or other domestic injustices first will leave indigenous people out in the cold...as usual.
Decolonizing the Indian population must necessarily impact on the fate of, say, Palestinians. There is no question about that. However, making inroads for the victims of Isreali aggression can easily ignore the plight of Native Americans. A DC soup kitchen --while arguably essential-- will not affect malnutrition on the Rez, but enabling Red Nations to feed themselves (by forcing the courts to acknowledge the illegitimate roots and unjust reasoning which form the foundation of our domestic genocide, and return Indians' landbase by honoring our treaties with them) will inevitably/immediately impact on Afro-Americans and others.
Putting "reparations" on the table for discussion vis-a-vis Blacks will not put food in anyone's mouth anytime soon. But undermining our unctuous, unique brand of domestic colonialism --implemented against a variety of indigenous peoples-- would surely lead to crises concerning "good laws" (which are considered beyond challenge), and create a turmoil in this land that would lead to everything from a new voting dynamic for DC residents to making agribusiness subsidies available to the proverbial man on the street. At least a portion of the 30.5 billion dollars --part of what's expended on our dying, Whitened Great Plains area*-- perhaps.
*See my article on the Buffalo Commons proposal for an elaboration of this (http://www.pressaction.com/news/weblog/full_article/oxman10202004/).
It's easy enough for the well-intentioned soul to side with Native Americans when a clearcut abomination is PR'd onto their activist plate by a demo here or a showdown there. It's quite another thing to have one's curiosity piqued respecting important nuances of injustice, and make an effort to understand the singular perspective of a given marginalized group.
In the case of Native Americans, making the effort can be highly instructive, very worthwhile. I'd go as far as saying obligatory. Mandatory, if we are to have insight into what it means when some say our nation is rotten to the core, and demand significant change.
This is not the place for me to delineate how the nationhood status sought by Native Americans incorporates a different sense of nation than what Westerners use as a definition. Sovereignty itself must be defined very differently than what has been handed down by Machiavelli, Bodin and Hobbes (with political constructs based on the notion that human beings are naturally enemies to one another)...if we are to have an inkling respecting Native American perceptions/thinking. As Deloria points out "Self-government is not an Indian idea." (7)
This is the place and time, however, to invoke Frantz Fanon question of whether or not we want to --whether we want others to-- "stay in...place" or "put an end to the history of colonization." (8) We must --for the first time, for most-- look directly into the Eyes of Our Beast, and review our own progressive, malignant behavior.
What are we doing when we address the injustices of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories, and neglect Occupied America (9) with its settler state mentality and laws on the books which violate international norms?
It seems to me I've been hearing an awful lot about UN Security Council Resolution 242 over the years relative to ILO Convention No. 169, Article 1,Section 3 (10). In short, the semiotics involved in the latter contribute to the long Euro-tradition of semantically holding people down, furthering what Taiaiake Alfred describes as "colonization of the mind," a phenomenon every bit as deadly as subjugation by other means.
We're not just talking about the obvious effects of routinely running across terms like savage, primitive, barbarous, primitive, barbarous, ignorant, pagan, infidel and heathen. In James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, we can see how the routine language of school textbooks reinfoces mendacity through direct application of marginalizing words (which often have particular legal and political connotations). It is also apparent how the sins of semantic omission contribute, using European culture as a constant point of departure.
This is crime of a different order than the despicable naming of baseball teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. Debilitating imagery and sickening subliminal messages aside, subjugating indigenous languages and systems of meaning by European ones is of profound importance, overlooked/dismissed by too many indigenous and non-indigenous authorities alike. We're talking here about entire worldviews which evolved over tens of millenia being eradicated.
Which brings me back to the Supreme Court decision alluded to above, and Chief Justice John Marshall (who one would have expected more from considering his direct experience with, and lifelong approval of, Indians...outside the Court). The ten terms of the Rehnquist Supreme Court in which indigenous interests lost 82 percent of their cases had their roots in Johnson v. M'Intosh. David Getches documents that this definitive/defiant record of defeat is far worse than that of any other SC litigant group, including that of incarcerated criminals claiming that their convictions should be overturned. (11)
Regardless, both indigenous and non-indigenous lawyers (and others) need to rise above the fiction that Indian law and related U.S. policies have been derived from objective decision-making and legitimate legal precedent. Marshall himself, in his last years, admitted that he used the "doctrine as a starting point for the development of an American law of continental real estate and colonialism." (11)
In 1831 the Supreme Court was fighting for its life, a white cell/red cell battle ensuing with political tensions generated by the Executive Branch (Andrew Jackson) and states' rights congressional members threatening to marginalize the Court...if it didn't play ball. But that's simply diseased history that festooned the Body Politic with cancer.
What's to be done today?
For starters, Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, a Native American equivalent of a Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott legal combo, could be put to bed. To wit, since those latter decisions reinforced American apartheid vis-a-vis Afro-Americans for almost six decades, why not at least put an indigenous equivalent to Brown v. Board of Education (the legal antidote to Plessy) on the boards, to encourage self-determination? (12)
Any political figure who doesn't support your request to honor this proposal pro-actively should be handed his/her walking papers. It can be handled as a litmus test of sorts. For moving in this direction is also addressing the issues of racism, sexism, aegism, militarism and many others of concern to Euro-America. (13) It can certainly be the rallying point cried out for in Ricardo Levins Morales' "Beyond the Election" quoted above.
When citizens become outraged about atrocities at places like Abu Grahib, it would do us all good if we were well-grounded in the foundations for such abominations, foundations which we can do something about immediately. To wit, the "moral exclusion" which Edward Said and Susan Opotow address, whereby "groups are perceived as outside the boundary in which moral values, rules and considerations of fairness apply," (14) can be superimposed on our view of Euro/Indian dynamics today. Morally it is mandatory. In doing so, we, then, have the opportunity to force the hand of all politicians respecting relations with Native Americans, and extrapolate benefits abroad.
Paolo Freire, the late revolutionary pedagogist, is known to have said, "You don't have to follow me. You have to reinvent me." Deloria would surely agree. I am only obliged to add that we must be courageous enough to embrace what has been --up until now-- politically unthinkable.
It's particularly difficult because so much is mired in subliminal (idiotic) semiotics.
As Morris underscores in Chapter Five of Native Voices: American Indian Identity & Resistance, the operation of all settler state governments "requires construction of a normalized or 'correct' language, the use of which establishes the standard for acceptable discourse. The 'correct' language becomes a kind of code within the settler society that is reinforced in law, policy, and the educational system."
The caucasian collective unconscious is a factor. "Unconscious" is right.
The irreparable damage being wrought by our collective rationalizations for control/expansion over indigenous peoples must come to an end. Reform-minded activists should continue their work, perhaps, but (simultaneously) address the question of why there's been no significant change in the status of Native Americans to date. Then, just maybe, another approach may rear its sweet, challenging head.
Robert Porter offers an antidote to what he calls "colonization amnesia." His "Path of Indigenization" urges all indigenous peoples to "recapture and refocus their indigenous consciousness" (15). Taiaiake Alfred embraces Porter's fundamentals, and underscores the importance of "the imperative of respectful, balanced coexistence among all human, animal, and spirit beings, together with the earth." (16) I submit that this is not just for the indigenous.
That crucial balance --so natural for traditional Native Americans-- has been lost in Euro culture, and is about to be buried forever...for all of us. The circle of interdependency has many parts, and we need Native Americans and like-minded others to show us how to respect the power and dignity of each of those elements.
We must overcome what we have been taught from birth: That indigenous civilization, development and culture was deficient, that the settler states' "higher standards" were needed, and were justifiably imposed. That is not going to be easy for citizens who have been indoctrinated about how particular U.S. interests are universal interests.
The Chosen People have frozen people...out of the loop.
Yet, there is a window of opportunity here for both reformers and revolutionaries.
If one assumes that Rehnquist's thyroid is plagued by anaplastic carcinoma --a particularly ugly form of the disease-- perhaps we get fundamentally serious here, and locate that aperture. The fact that William's court is the longest one to go without a new member since the early 1800s is interesting, but not particularly arresting for me, threats of replacements notwithstanding. Nor is the symbology involved in the red versus white blood cell business, nor imagery connected to the thyroid regulating energy in the body. That there's a parallel between the twenty some-odd thousand Americans succumbing to the disease annually and the projected increase of 20,000 troops being called up for Iraq is neither here nor there for me.
What does pique my interest is that healing remains one of the major strengths of tribal religions. The same religions that decisions like Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association served to undermine throughout the years.
Perhaps the Indians could have helped Rehnquist.
The opening I alluded to above, the window, the aperture...asks us to honor the integrity of what Native Americans have to offer us 'cross the board. Healing is just one aspect.
It follows as the Day the Night, that a realization of indigenous land rights "serves to undermine or destroy the ability of the status quo to continue to imposing a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, militaristic order on non-Indians." (17)
We all have tumors of one kind or another. We certainly all will attempt to play chess with Death, given the opportunity. And no one gets out of here alive.
In what must be the strangest conclusion--yet, arguably, the most appropriate-- to an article that I've ever written, I urge all readers to review the DVD deathbed tirade of Remy Girard's professor (at the beginning of Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions). It's the one about the atrocities committed against Indians in the 15th/16th century New World.
Then, consider embracing Indigenous causes for the purpose of moving in requisite solidarity tomorrow. For our own health, our own spiritual survival...if for no other reason.
Try an Alternative Treatment for our Collective Cancer.
Until the New Tomorrow.
(1) Morris' "Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Development of a Decolonizing Critique of Indigenous Peoples and International Relations" was invaluable in the writing of this article. He is director of the Fourth World Center, a research center focusing on indigenous issues locally, regionally, and globally.
(2) See footnote #15 from the above article in Native Voices: American Indian Identity & Resistance, edited by Richard A. Grounds, George E. Tinker and David E. Wilkins (University Press of Kansas, 2003), p. 136.
(3) I recommend the works of Ward Churchill and Derrick Jensen on this count, particularly those highlighted in my recent article on the Buffalo Commons proposal http://www.pressaction.com/news/weblog/full_article/oxman10202004/. Winona LaDuke's writing addressing the radioactive colonization of North America, and Churchill's pieces on the same subject are highly instructive; clearly, no one's safe from what we've directly subjected the Indians to throughout the years. I'd say a recent piece by Jamie Wilson of the UK Guardian on climate change (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&ItemID=6553) is a must-read.
(4) Morris' Vine Deloria, Jr. article, op. cit., p. 101.
(5) From Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984), p. 112: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change."
(6) Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), p. 355.
(7) Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford Lytle, The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) pp. 13-15. Footnotes, #s 169 and 170, in Morris' work, op. cit., elaborate on much of this.
(8) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1965).
(9) Rodolfo Acuna's book on the History of Chicanos (Occupied America, published by Longman in 2000) is a good supplementary read in this context.
(10) Article 2 of the UN Charter requires "respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force...." This, of course, respecting the Middle East. Great. I'm only asking why we don't see that by banging the doors down in our own backyard we'll be making advances overseas too. Why it isn't clear that if we discuss (let alone stop) the genocide on these once-pristine shores, there is less likelihood that U.S. troops will be coralled for disgusting duty abroad. See p. 122 in the Morris article cited above for further elaboration, paying special attention to the footnotes.
(11) Tim Coulter, Director of the Indian Law Resource Center, notes that U.S. claims to aboriginal land are not, in the main, legal claims at all, but only political positions taken by the federal government which the Supreme Court refuses to question. See Robert T. Coulter, "A History of Indian Jurisdiction," in Rethinking Indian Law (New York : Committee on Native American Struggles of the National Lawyers' Guild, 1982), p. 8. The footnotes associated with Morris' essay, pp. 113-115, support this view definitively. The source for Getches' words is on p. 143.
(12) Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford Lytle, The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 13-15.
(13) See an article of mine which underscores this point: http://www.pressaction.com/news/weblog/full_article/oxman10202004/. Ward Churchill's "I Am Indigenist" essay (in From A Native Son) --cited there-- is the definitive take on this count.
(14) See Susan V. Opotow, "Moral Exclusion and Injustice: An Introduction," Journal of Social Issues, vol. 46 (1990), pp. 1-20. Said's Culture and Imperialism makes the same point.
(15) Delineated on p. 130 of Morris' essay.
(16) See the sources for much of this on p. 152 of Morris' essay.
(17) From the Churchill essay cited above (note #13), p. 525.
Richard Oxman, Director of the Center for Indigenous Action of Los Gatos, California, can be reached at email@example.com.