Reid Gómez

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Emancipation Proclamation

It's more than a year since I've blogged on the black blog—this work will be unlike the others.  Much has passed and I'm feeling a little Jennifer Holiday—I am changing.

I spent last night with Beckett's Stories and Texts For Nothing.  "I do not know where to begin nor where to end, that's the truth of the matter." 

I chose today to reinstate this blogspot for several reasons.  Today marks the 151st anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. 

According to Webster emancipate means:  "to set free (a slave, etc.); release from bondage, servitude, or serfdom 2.  to free from restraint or influence, as of convention 3. Law to release (a child) from parental control and supervision —SYN. see FREE.

I planned to make some new and relevant comment about Joint Resolution 65, and the fact that Navajo slaves continued to be held in bondage for 5 years after Lincoln's 1863 proclamation.  If you're interested in that troll this blog, there are many such statements.

Lincoln looms large in this archive

As I've been writing through this long December I've been remembering the many ways Americans have celebrated the birth of Christ over the years:  the mass execution of the Dakota 38, and Wounded Knee among them.  Good Spanish Colonial subject that I am, I look forward to the Day of the Kings and to the Man To Send Rain Clouds.  For now I write.

Today is also the day I used to spend at Baba Ellegua's Bimbe in Oakland.  I look toward open roads, more than freedom—aware that total freedom is a pathological concept.  It's up to me, knowing I must continue to act as a person with relations.  Though the last few years have left me feeling like one of Harlow's monkeys—less an experimental subject of love at goon park than someone having to navigate the ilk of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse; nonetheless someone with no home to go home to.

For some that type of homelessness is the defining characteristic of the slave, the genealogical isolate—the fragmented kinship structures that are lost to something (time, colonization, extermination, slavery) that is difficult to describe, especially as it shapes our narrative strength to escape the story of our birth (metaphysical, ancestral and physical) and our journey narratives.

I already celebrated the New Year, in October, but I ask myself to pursue new beginnings today, gearing up for the lunar year (the second New Year I personally celebrate with similar intention and reverence)—and in that I choose to allow this site to transform itself into something I'm not quite sure of.  I am changing—thinking of the promise of writing, that it may take you somewhere you may never return from.  In light and beauty. 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Regard To Those Remaining Unclaimed

144 years ago today, John Ward, obedient servant and Special Indian Agent wrote a forty five page letter regarding "The Navajo Problem."

In beautiful handwriting, with certain s-s that give the impression of f-s, agent Ward outlined several suggestions for managing the Navajo after our return from Hwéeldi.

Bind them on all sides. Enclose them within military posts. Maintain a full company of well mounted militia and employ fifteen Pueblo or "well disposed Navajo Indians" as guides for itinerants and explorers. Pay them. Arm them with proper guns and two horses.

"At least at the commencement of the scheme."

He follows with details.

Details about the 1200 Wild Indians, largely Apache.

Details about Carson's attack on da'ak'eh, requiring three hundred men most of one day to destroy the fields of the Valley de Chelly.

Details about the likelihood of conversion, his recommendation: start with our children. Turn them over to the Catholics and their imposing ceremonies—their peculiar training, and ease at secluded living gives them a certain advantage over other denominations and temperaments.

On page 37 he reaches the question of orphans. "I would here suggest, that orphan children should have the first privilege."

What is the nature of this privilege?

"Many of the captives in question, particularly the grown ones, must now be Orphans, and are perhaps without even any near relatives to take care and provide for them properly. Whilst others are unwilling to go back to the tribe."

By page 39 he's mulling over these circumstances and the fate of these children. What is to be done with them? Turn them over to the first Navajo that claims them? What if these claims are short in coming? What if the Navajo just claim random youth for their own profit and domestic needs—and turn around and enslave them?

Clearly Ward is speaking of mores and motivations he's familiar with, and to a great extent, endorses: "Besides, it is not reasonably to be expected, that any family in the country having any such captives, will be willing to give them up, upon the mere representation of a Navajo Indian; Humanity itself would prevent it."

What is reasonably to be expected?

What is the character of mere representation? By what manipulations does one leave such low and insignificant impressions upon another? Mere representations?

By what means would humanity itself prevent it? Whose humanity is he addressing?

Even if these concerns could be adequately addressed to the satisfaction of this agent, the Peace commission and the Peace commissioner Ward expresses additional concerns, for the safety of the settlers, a sort of question of homeland security. The captives, in their position as slave, would necessarily know a great deal about the families they were owned by, among this knowledge would be intimate details about the people, their style and habit of life, their herds, their preferred grazing practices and locations. This knowledge would make the captives, if returned, a great asset to the Navajo should there be another war, another war for land, or for free movement on the land. These facts, considerable as they are, needed to be addressed by the agent and by the colonial governments (state and federal).

"This question will be a troublesome one until duly settled. The Navajoes will continue to claim their people, and on the other hand, the citizens to refuse to give them up."

Ward's letter is rich and concludes with the promise to deliver the souls of "those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the agent, or unwilling to remain with their people" [if they can even be identified] to "such Christian persons as would be willing to take charge and provide for them properly."

In reading this letter today I cannot help but consider the relevance of reach and Ward's concern that the Navajo would continue to claim their people. It is clear and indisputable that "the citizens" (of New Mexico and the United States) would refuse to give those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the government, or such Christian persons taking charge of them, up for any reason or ransom. But what could alter a person, and disfigure them so completely, that they would become beyond (our) reach, beyond (our) ability to recognize them, and allow us to cut them lose, and surrender their souls to their owners.

This is one question that all natal isolates must answer. It is the same question those who retain possession of their lines must answer also. It is a question of origins. It is a question of relations, bought and sold.

Friday, July 27, 2012

excerpt from The Legacy of Navajo Slaves

Taking the point of the view of the slave, manumission by the state is commonly viewed as the most complete method. State manumission seemed to granted the slave, or newly freedman, the fullest integration into society, without the consent of his master. This is what occurred with the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863. It is crucial to remember that this proclamation was not applied to Indian slaves, because "[t]he system of servitude prevalent in the American Southwest—peonage and Indian slavery—. . .were never regarded as involuntary servitude, as in the case of Negro slavery." (p. 178, Bailey) Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19th,1865, bringing with them the news that the civil war had ended and slaves were freed— this date is still celebrated as Juneteenth, "the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States"—yet Indian slaves, Navajos among them, were still being held in bondage. Even after Joint Resolution No. 65 was passed on July 27, 1868, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, giving "General William T. Sherman power/authority to use the most efficient means at his disposal to reclaim from bondage the women and children of Navajo and other tribes; then held in bondage and return them to their respective reservations." (p. 186, Bailey) New Mexicans resisted and fought, successfully, to maintain their hold, culturally and legally upon their slaves. Revealing that "[l]aw . . .is merely that complex of rules which has the coercive power of the state behind it." (p. 26, Patterson)

"For the most part, Indians carried to Rio Grande settlements and sold into slavery were lost forever to both tribe and kinsmen—as no treaty clause could induce New Mexicans to release property they had paid as high as $200 per head for." (p. 126, Bailey)

In his book, Indian Slave Trade in the Southwest, Lynn Bailey articulates one of the arguments against manumission: "Often Mexican families held second and third generation captives. They had lost their native language, customs and habits. No longer were they Indian; in all respects they were like their masters. To uproot these individuals was indeed a crime, and to send them to an Indian reservation was virtually exiling them to an alien land and people. Many Indian children, taken captive in infancy, had been adopted into Mexican families, baptized and brought up as Catholics. The protestations of New Mexicans against giving up such Indians were loud— and not without some degree of merit. To release these children into the hands of the military to be placed upon a reservation, would do them great injustice. These peons were Indian only in blood—they were Mexican in habit, speech and tradition." Bailey's argument illuminates the principal philosophy at work in the slavery program.

New Mexican families argued that Navajos didn't have the same feeling for their children as more civilized peoples, that as primitives and heathens, we wer incapable of such attachment. Their argument fails in every area. They ignore the fact that Navajo slaves and captives were mentioned in every treaty and treaty negotiation between 1846 and 1868: the Treaty of Ojo del Oso 1846 (1.5 yrs before Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which required that Mexican slaves be returned but made no parallel demand for the return of Indian slaves held by Old or New Mexicans), the Newby Treaty 1848 (slave raids), the Treaty of 1849/Washington Treaty (first ratified by US), the Treaty of Laguna Negra 1855, the Bonneville Treaty of 1858, Canby Treaty of 1861 (slave raids/Mescaleros), and the Naaltsoos Sání of 1868 (Note to self: Also Treaty at Jemez, July 15, 1839 and the "worthless treaty at Santa Domingo "to alleviate any resentment Navajo Chieftans had against the Mexicans" on March 10, 1841). They also ignore the fact that for over 20 years Navajos sought permission to formally track down the women and children that were stolen and sold. Eventually United States investigators admitted that Navajos were not only capable of but clearly expressed love for and devotion to their children.

Bailey's words clearly reveal the colonial desire to eradicate Indigenous people and Indigenous ways, and expose the popular belief about the existence and character of an Indian race— a theory that continues to dominate popular, academic and legal minds today. This idea of an Indian race, and the particular nature of this race, is rooted in the desire to wipe this race from the earth, and nourished by a desperate and clinging certainty that Indians will ultimately disappear. The simple and widely accepted notion that you could transform Navajos into Mexicans, Mexicans into Hispanics and Hispanics into Americans shaped the backbone of this history and continues to shape relations between peoples in the southwest today. Now poof, they are gone.

This piece is excerpted from a talk I gave at the University of California at Berkeley on November 30, 2010. I offer it today to commemorate the passing of J.R. No. 65, today in 1868.

I believe we must admit that the process of creating slaves who become New Mexicans who become Americans through an immediate and irreversible deracination program is devastatingly comparable to what the United States is still engaging in today.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For What It's Worth

Yesterday the Axe fell on the novel, and how to be a competent reader. Today it falls on Obsolescence. Though every place remembers, not every person seems to matter.

How do we attempt a dialogue where no voice is done the 'slightest violence'?

I write about us those who are loathed and detested. I have a responsibility, K'é, to support my relatives; I live inside it.

While researching obsolescence I wrote to the archivist at Yad Vashem to inquire about their database. The frozen sea presents dangers I am well aware of. Losing your way is one. Drowning, another. My search for depth forces me to attend to connection. Often we don't recognize the scope and manner of our shared experiences and shared relations. I was afraid of focusing attention on the Vad Vashem memorial without fully understanding their politics. Natalie Goldberg introduced me to the memorial as she was Writing Down the Bones. I'm obsessed with the unremembered—we do more than forget them, we throw them into a pile we decide is, for some reason, beyond our scope, irrelevant or impossible.

Clearly I am a believer who does not believe everything.

"The 'enemy,' whoever they may be, are surely somehow in us all as well as out there, and whatever literal propositions they may want to offer us about our lives would not be flatly dismissed but rather heard and incorporated."
Wayne C. Booth, introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin's Problem of Dostoevsky's Poetics

We are many. Those people who have survived extermination. Those who have walked long walks to death camps. Those who had their fields scorched and burned, and their livestock slaughtered. Those who have survived deliberate and strategic starvation. We are among them. They are us: ancestors and living. I see their faces in the mirror. I see them in Egun. I see them when I walk down to Sixth Street and Market. Yet so many peoples cannot see; they refuse vision. I am deeply pained by the inability we have to recognize each other. I have felt this pain since I was young and living with domestic and sexual violence. One thing, then, was clear to me. Everything was happening, right there, in the open. It was the people who refused to see it.

Recognition takes vision and strength. You cannot recognize while speaking from wounds. You must breathe. Vision requires the perspective provided by breath.

The reply I received from Zvi Berheardt, the Reference and Information Services representative of Yad Vashem was deeply disappointing. "Yad Vashem defines the Shoah as relating only to those the Nazis saw as Jews." While it does continue, "This does not mean, in any way, that we denigrate the many other victims of Nazism." with a reference link to their working definition of The Hololcaust. I still felt denigrated. I considered my next step carefully. My entire project is about connection. I'm taken by the horrors of the second world war largely because they so completely illuminate the consequence of hate and the failure of humanity.

"No one knew what to do with the life that had been saved." (Appelfeld, Beyond Despair)

Throughout time people have been faced with the opportunity to survive and the question of what shape life might take. I read Aharon Appelfeld and David Grossman in an effort to see. What choice can be made the morning after?

"In dialogue, annihilation of the opponent also annihilates the very dialogic sphere in which discourse lives. . .this sphere is very fragile and easily destroyed (the slightest violence is sufficient, the slightest reference to authority. . ." (M. Bakhtin)

Authority: 1. a) the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action or make final decisions b) the position of one having such power 3. power or influence resulting from knowledge

I am not looking for authority. Authority says I do not exist.

If we move beyond "mostly sayin', 'hooray for our side'" we might see something in ourselves, something we need as we face the choices we must make, every day, every one.

The response from Yad Vashem is important. I see us in them. I see their choices. I measure our choices by the light and shadow they cast. Shik'éí, my relatives, immediate relatives, clans: the Navajo, Pueblo, Mexican, Congolese and African American. I not only ask who can we be, but who do we want to become?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Are Rivers Remembering Ancient Paths

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 the 22nd Navajo Nation Council will make the final decision on the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Settlement Act. We expect a no vote.

For everyone on Navajo there is still time to contact your delegate.

Sen. John Kyl still needs to formally withdraw S. 2109: Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012. You can track this bill yourself.

Next steps: Coming to consciousness about what it takes to keep your house and life running smooth.

Some details about the bill and the issues involved.

We Are Rivers Remembering Ancient Paths

"Some of us that were born and raised in the traditional way, that are still practicing our ceremonies, that still hold our water sacred, we understand what this will do to us. To destroy us."
-Ben Nuvamasa, Former Hopi Tribal Chairman, March 29, 2012

"To state the obvious: when the Europeans came to America there was a clash of civilizations, and through out history the less mature civilization always suffer."
-Senator John McCain

"A water project is a whole concept. . .all water is interconnected in the west, either physically or on paper."
"Philip L. Fradkin, A River No More

The question of water in the Colorado River Basin extends into antiquity. The United States began its exploration in1869 with John Wesley Powell's Expedition down the Green and the Colorado. He was quick to understand "whoever controlled the water and how it was used. . . determined what happened on the surrounding lands; thus its distribution should be carefully planned and carried out, preferably by an entity higher than the water users and individual states." Over 143 years later over 13,000 claims have been filed on the Little Colorado, and only Zuni has settled their rights, as they relate to this river.

United States Senator Jon Kyl [R-AZ] and his cosponsor Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] have offered a final resolution to claims on the Little Colorado: S. 2109: Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012. Their bill was introduced on February 14, 2012, its companion bill H.R. 4067: Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012, sponsored by Rep. Ben Quayle [R-AZ3], was introduced two days later.

Tribes need to clarify their water rights for innumerable reasons. We understand: Water is Life: Tó éí íína'. Our daily lives are shaped by access to water and water quality. Kyl used that fact when he introduced the bill onto the senate floor, claiming to speak from a concern for those daily needs. Navajos and Hopis, in 2012, do not have adequate access to potable water. This fact is abused by this rushed bill that will not provide those families, crops, or livestock with safe water. Hopi and Navajo have water rights, but lack the means required to move water where it is needed. Settling water rights will help us answer domestic, municipal and industrial questions.

Hopi and Navajo exercise their aboriginal rights in reply to individuals and states who desire our water as a resource for their lives and industries, or they can sign this bill. Those living away from the Hopi and Navajo homelands rely on our water for their life and for their livings. The U.S. Federal government, the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California, urban centers likes Phoenix and industries like the CAP and Peabody Coal make constant demands for more water and require us to develop long term plans to provide solutions to economic development, water banking, marketing, leasing and exchange. These plans must be shaped by the fundamental laws of Hopi and Navajo.

S. 2109: Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012 renders that impossible.

Kyl and McCain's bill moves the question of water irrevocably outside the realm of the fundamental laws of Hopi and Navajo into a completely alien and irresponsible legal and market system, declaring, via that same law (S.2109), that the legal and market system will not be accountable for what they do to the water system in the process. Under S.2109 no living creature who depends on water from the Little Colorado may seek redress.

Currently, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe retain a claim on the Little Colorado by two authorities, one recognized by all entities (United States Federal, State and local) and another, recognized by Navajo, Hopi and the United Nations. In exchange for settling the question of these water rights, and all claims on the Little Colorado, the authors of the bill are asking the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe to relinquish these aboriginal rights and federal reserved rights. They also ask the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe to relinquish their rights (and duty) to hold parties responsible for damages to water rights and quality, in addition to their rights (and duty) to pursue additional water rights in the un-foreseeable and uncertain future. Section 105 details the waivers, releases, and retentions of claims for Navajo and repeats for Hopi. Repeated over and over, as an incantation, is the language: past, present, and future claims for water rights arising from time immemorial and, thereafter, forever, that are based on aboriginal occupancy of land both within and outside of the State by the Navajo Nation, the members of the Navajo Nation, or their predecessors. (emphasis mine)

The United States Supreme Court has consistently upheld the "reserved rights doctrine." These, Winters Rights, apply to groundwater, surface water, rivers, streams (navigable and non-navigable) that "underlie, border, traverse, or are contained within the reservation." They guarantee the tribe access to "as much water as is necessary to fulfil the purpose of the reservation once senior claims, if there are any, have taken their entitlement." The 13,000 claimants to the Little Colorado are relative newcomers to the area. None can make a claim to senior rights. Two questions, under Winters, remain. To what purpose was the reservation created and how much water is needed to full that purpose.

One acceptable definition: the purpose "all Indian Reservations are created is to serve as a permanent and economically viable home for the Indians who live there. Therefore, every reservation is at least entitled to enough water to satisfy its subsistence needs and maintain its viability."

Surrendering Winters Rights makes absolutely no sense for Hopi and Navajo. As wards of the federal government, the United States is legally responsible to protect these rights, not demand them in exchange for water. Yet, throughout our histories the United States has consistently, legislatively, worked to alter our means of subsistence, reflecting no desire to provide access to or maintain what is viable for us, in the past, present, and future arising from time immemorial and thereafter. The United States is not invested in our futures or in the health and wellbeing of our homelands. As an organization they have been successfully getting at water, coal, electricity while polluting our skies in order to create an illusion of easy living in this, the desert.

Phoenix, The Salt River Project, Central Arizona Project, The Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Coal are the entities who benefit from the water and the language of S.2109. The bill will: extend a lease with the Navajo Generating station (NGS) through December 23, 2022; allow NGS use of 34,100 acre feet a year of water; and reopen and extend a life lease to the Kayenta Mine to extract coal from Black Mesa. In order to release water to Hopi and Navajo they must renew contracts with Kayenta Mine and Peabody Coal [Sec 201 (a) (2)]. In violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Articles 13 (2), 15 (2), 18, 19, 27, 29 and 32.

The United States Federal Government only acknowledges Winters Rights, waving these rights leaves Hopi and Navajo with no legal footing in courts that continue to make decisions about Hopi and Navajo lands and lives. The allegiance of these courts lies with the United States, culturally, politically and in the reality of fixed systems: sewage, pluming and electricity. Yet they are the tribes representative.

In exchange S.2109 does not even guarantee funding. Congress will need to locate funding for the $233 million in promised water projects [Sec 103 (a) (4) (A), 103 (b) (4) (A), and 109 (c)]. Congressional needs are in no way aligned, sympathetic or subject to either nation, as tribes found out in 1903 with Lonewolf v. Hitchock. Yet Kyl, McCain and some Navajo Nation officials continue to use the reality of poor and inadequate water on Hopi and Navajo as the major selling point for their program.

Every American Indian is intimate with the idea that "what is the law prevails." United States Federal Law shapes every tribal council (since inception), access to sacred sites, and movement across our territories. Every action and decision runs through the sieve of Federal, State and Tribal jurisdiction. The relationship between these entities defines the possible for every Tribe/Pueblo/Nation and every tribal person. Without that understanding, or acknowledgement, there can be no meaningful conversation.

The finality of the terms of S.2109 are particularly onerous for everyone, regardless of their direct membership in the nations or the states directly named in the bill. The N-Aquifer is damaged. Sacred springs are drying up and contaminated. The Arizona Snowbowl plans to use reclaimed water on the face of our sacred mountain. If Hopi and Navajo waive all rights and every means of redress to these water claims, what then? What of the ceremonies? What of supply? What of quality?

Why decolonize and not occupy?
"The foundation of property law and federal Indian law is not the Constitution, but the idealized cognitive model of the conqueror seizing a promised land for a chosen people. The cognitive model involves not simply a historical right of conquest in the past, but an ongoing, contemporary right to conquer in the present." (emphasis mine) For many this foundation seems to be invisible—not for Hopi, Navajo or any other indigenous person within the United States territorial holdings.

S.2109 is a question of law—the law of three courts: federal, state and tribal. The laws of the Hopi and Navajo people, Fundamental Laws, common laws, are not all, or equally represented in these courts. Of the twelve Hopi Villages only four are represented on the Hopi Tribe Council, President Shelly and the Navajo Nation Tribal council does not represent all, especially the most traditional. There has not been transparency. Navajo Nation is holding 7 town hall meetings , yet the rights will be waived of all Navajos regardless of chapter. Nearly every aspect of this bills inception and movement to date have violated some aspect of the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights.

"Those people who were not raised in the traditional way, perhaps do not understand the magnitude of this bill."

Hopi and Navajo need potable water. Hopi and Navajo also need to apply the fundamental laws they were given. S.2109 is a question of land ethics.

S.2109 requires Hopi and Navajo to dismiss with prejudice all suits, currently pending, and to forfeit the right to pursue further action to protect water access or quality. This includes the pending case regarding the Arizona Snowbowl. United States federal laws are not benign and should not be blindly accepted without analyzing the concepts they are founded on, or the present day injustices they create, enable and enforce. These laws are part of a overall water project, part of an overall historical project—a project acknowledged by the international community, though not by the United States itself. When Ben Navumsa, Former Hopi Tribal Chairman, March 29, 2012, spoke to the people gathered at the Rocky Ridge Boarding School, at Hard Rock, Navajo Nation he asked everyone to become educated (to learn and know their history), to speak up and to require leaders to hold hearings and listen.
These recommendation, to actively follow S.2109, apply to everyone.

"Guaranteed climate change if America fails to do more than what is politically feasible."

It may not be politically feasible to ask everyone to turn to the Fundamental Laws of the Navajo and Hopi, but it is necessary. Minimally, Navajo and Hopi must be able to apply these laws in every arena of life. They must be able to hold people accountable for their actions on and beliefs about our homelands. Hopi and Navajo are organized by a belief in community based on responsibilities not rights. In his introduction to Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law: A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance, Raymond Austin reminds us: "Different perspectives are appreciated and needed. The process of using Navajo normative precepts to solve modern problems is not limited to dispute resolution and Navajo Nation governance, but touches every area of Navajo society, life and lands."

At the core of Hopi and Navajo fundamental law is a concern for environmental impact and an understanding of the intimate relationship between all creatures that share and create these, our desert homes. Water is one. These guidelines were shaped and culled from generations of indigenous experience of the land and have been retained through language and culture. Embedded in these laws is a respect for and access to power, not electricity, but power. Imperial cities, like Phoenix, want electricity and water, no matter what cost paid by human and natural powers that supply them. Hopi and Navajo fundamental laws ask us all to be conscious of our place in the world.

(for full citations email me)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

About Me

My Photo
I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.