Tuesday, December 22, 2009

U.S. Still Building Empire On the Backs Of Indigenous Peoples

by Peter D'Errico
go to original column
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has several times discussed the long history of Afghanistan, referring to the many failed efforts by imperial powers to conquer it. The “tribal” organization of Afghanistan is the bane of empires; they can invade, but they cannot rule. They can disrupt and destroy, but they cannot build anything workable.

Most recently, Gates spoke to Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist. She asked what the U.S. should do to avoid the traps and pitfalls of past imperial projects in Afghanistan. Gates’ reply is fascinating. He said, “If we can re-empower the traditional local centers of authority, the tribal shuras and elders and things like that and put an overlay of human rights on that, isn’t that a step in the right direction?”

Amazing. In the 1980s, the U.S. funded jihadist resistance against the Soviet Union; now the U.S. is fighting jihadist resistance against the United States. As Dowd pointed out, the U.S. is caught in a historical contradiction – having created the very mess it is now trying to clean up.

The really fascinating thing about Gates’ comments, however, is how they shed light on another area of U.S. relations with “tribal” societies: The indigenous peoples of the Americas. The parallels are pretty clear, if we want to admit it. First, there is intervention based on using some elements of tribal societies against other elements and against the enemies of the United States. Then, there is the collapse of traditional governing structures. After that, there is the belated awareness that the traditional structures are needed to maintain social coherence and stability.

An article in the Times, just two days before Dowd’s column, reported the growing problem of gang violence on Pine Ridge. The article said, “5,000 young men from the Oglala Sioux tribe [are] involved with at least 39 gangs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The gangs are being blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence and fear that is altering the texture of life here and in other parts of American Indian territory.” It’s not only Pine Ridge: “The Navajo Nation in Arizona, for example, has identified 225 gang units, up from 75 in 1997.”

One response, not surprisingly, is a call for more police. That’s like the call for more troops to Afghanistan. But the article noted there are other voices at Pine Ridge: “Even as they seek to bolster policing, Pine Ridge leaders see their best long-term hope for fighting gangs in cultural revival.” The article quotes Melvyn Young Bear, an Oglala cultural liaison: “We’re trying to give an identity back to our youth. They are Lakota, and they have a lot to be proud of.”

One gang member at Pine Ridge told the reporter he “regretted not learning the Sioux language when he was young” and now wondered about his own future. He is “emerging as a tribal spiritual leader, working with youth groups to promote Native traditions.” He said he is participating in Oglala rituals and purifying sweat lodges.

How nice it would be if the United States had not first attacked traditional societies. But that is what happened, in the invasions, allotments, terminations, relocations, and other harmful actions to extend American empire across the lands of indigenous peoples. It is the history of America on this continent and in Afghanistan.
The really fascinating thing about Gates’ comments is how they shed light on another area of U.S. relations with ‘tribal’ societies.

Maybe the U.S. is paying attention to its historical failures and applying the learning to present actions. That’s one hope. But there’s been a lot of damage done and the seeds of healing are scattered far and wide. Plus, there are still people in and out of government who believe in the failed policies of the past. If they have their way, the U.S. won’t learn anything until it’s too late for all of us.

One major contribution from Indian country is increasingly clear statements of traditional perspectives, and this shouldn’t be limited to talking about gang violence. Winona LaDuke’s new booklet, “Food is Medicine,” points out how genocide and colonization deprived indigenous peoples of access to traditional lands and foods. She presents indigenous communities that are “restoring spiritual practices related to foods, strengthening community health and self-determination.”

That’s the lesson for all indigenous peoples, on whatever continent, invaded by whatever power: spiritual restoration and self-determination.

Peter d’Errico is a consulting attorney on indigenous issues. D’Errico was a staff attorney in Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe Navajo Legal Services from 1968 to 1970. He taught legal studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst until 2002.

Evo Re-elected in Bolivia; Condemns Capitalism for Environmental Destruction

Bolivian President Evo Morales called on the world leaders to raise their ambitions radically and hold temperature increases over the next century to just 1 degree celcius. In the most ambitious statement yet made at the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, Morales demanded rich countries pay climate change reparations and proposed an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate "crimes".

"Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity. We are here to save mother earth. Our objective is to reduce climate change to [under] 1C. [above this] many islands will disappear and Africa will suffer a holocaust," he said. Limiting warming to 1C would need an end to all emissions and billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to be sucked from the air and stored. Bolivia presents resolution “Harmony with Mother Earth” at the United Nations

Echoing Cuban president Fidel Castro 18 years ago at the earth summit in Rio de , Morales blamed capitalism squarely for climate change: "The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model. Capitalism wants to address climate change with carbon markets. We denounce those markets and the countries which [promote them]. It's time to stop making money from the disgrace that they have perpetrated."

On 8 December, Morales was re-elected president of Bolivia, with a landslide victory in a vote that also saw his political party set to dominate the country’s congress as voters backed the socialist programme of their country’s first indigenous leader. Morales won 67 per cent of the vote, more than double that of his nearest opponent, the right-wing former army captain Manfred Reyes Villa, who took just 27 per cent. Speaking before jubilant supporters in La Paz after results started to come in, Mr Morales said his socialist project “now is that of the Bolivian people” and that “to have two-thirds of the congress obliges me to accelerate the process of change”. An Aymara Indian, Mr Morales won massive majorities in those western Andean highlands departments that have large indigenous majorities. Initial results also indicate his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party will control over two-thirds of the congress, allowing it to alter the constitution at will.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Colorado AIM Elder, Mrs. Lillie Fobb, Passes to the Spirit World

It is with heavy hearts that we must report the passing of one of our most revered elders, and staunchest AIM members, Mrs. Lillian Fobb. We will miss her dearly, and will always remember her advice, her wisdom, but most of all, her example.

Lillie Mae Fobb(Spencer) was born in Seminole, Oklahoma to Yoney and Betsey Spencer. Lillie’s parents both died before she reached the age of 8 years of age. She grew up in the Little and Hitchitee Methodist Indian Church area. Lillie, 83, resided in Denver for the past forty-five years. Her family moved(except for Terry) to Denver through the Bureau of Indian Affairs ’Relocation Program’. She has seven children, four daughters and three sons (one son, Harold, is deceased). Lillie retired from the Veterans Hospital in Denver and remained actively employed at the Denver Indian Center. Lillie was highly respected as an elder by the many Indians in the Denver area. She was a member of the Elders' Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado. Many refer to her as ’Momma Fobb’ or ’Mrs. Fobb’. She will always be known for her humor, hard work, caring attitude, and an outstanding cook.

The picture above, actual size-eight feet tall, has been hanging on the campus of the University of Colorado for many years. Just recently, it was taken down and presented to Mrs. Fobb in a special ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Mrs. Fobb always exemplified her pride as a tribal member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The U.S. Continues to Steal from Indians


With all due respect to Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in a recently settled lawsuit over American Indian trust funds ("U.S. to pay Indians $3.4B," Dec. 9), I think the United States is continuing a policy of "Indians are not humans."

During the course of this long-running, class-action litigation, it has been documented that the United States owes
Indian people more than $137 billion for mismanagement of trust accounts. That was established just by the documents that were presented.

The original federal judge on this case was Royce Lamberth, who held at least three secretaries of the Interior in contempt for
not producing thousands of additional documents. Also, during the course of this case, hundreds of relevant documents were found in the trash by Interior Department employees, who reported this to the court and to Interior Department officials.

To add insult to injury, the government is clearing its conscience by paying back 2.48 percent of the so-far known value of what the United States stole in the first place. Paying $3.4 billion on a known debt of $137 billion is a national disgrace; this needs to be known by all Americans. Cobell should have at least held out until all the documents were presented or a final calculation of the debt was determined.

In the words of a great Oglala Lakota statesman Chief Red Cloud: "The United States made us many promises, but they kept
only one. They promised to take our land, and they took it."

Bill Means is a board member of the
International Indian Treaty Council.

Read the entire settlement offer here