Subscribe Now:

Friday, December 12, 2008

K'é: Forty Winters

When my grandmother died I was certain nothing could go on. Her death was a cave I nearly never emerged from. My world changed irrevocably from that moment. I knew I could never love, never trust, never create and never believe again. God was a taker and he took her from me.

With her I had everything. Without her I was nothing, a no one. I could not bare her absence, her death created a hole in the fabric of life that sucked me in. I forbade the mention of her name in an attempt to grab hold and as the "youngest daughter" for the winter I was indulged.

I was nine.

I am forty now.

I stood then, where we stand now, all of us, in Nilch'ih Tso, December, the month of the big wind.

Hai—winter— offers us a place to gather. Cold keeps the young near so grandparents can collect them, like sweet grass, and tell stories. Here, in this season of outside cold, we create an inside warmth. We learn from them, our Grandmothers and Fathers, the way, by means of it, we have survived and must continue living.

During Nilch'ih Tsoh we examine the tools we have, our hoes and our planting sticks. We repair what we can and we make new what we need. The men hunt, tan hides and make moccasins.

Hai feeds us with the opportunity and the motivation to stick close together. Our culture, our way of life, our traditions are the fire we warm ourselves by on these long nights. Hai makes us strong. Hai gives us power. Things grown in the dark and we are among them.

My mother's mother, Shimá Saní, is glue holding us together. I understand that now in a way I was incapable of perceiving before. Forty winters have given shelter to that relationship, drawing me in from the outside cold. Shimá Saní taught me well. I consult her teachings today. I am still following the footsteps she laid during, those, my first years.

My Grandpa was a junkyard dog, endlessly entertaining. He told me stories. He taught me how to care for the plants and soil. He gave me language, like tségha'nilchi', the wind through the rocks of urban life and St. Teresa's. He trotted along and I followed behind while Shimá Saní stood, tall, in the silence.

She was proper and he was a damn fool and together they made sure I was raised with abundant love.

K'é is cared for by these elders, not the old, but those who live their daily lives in accordance to our teachings, those who take the incongruent and find a relationship that sets peace, balance and unity in motion. When we declare the precise nature of our relationships (via clan, via residence, via our positions in the system of plant and animal) we are declaring our responsibilities to each other, and to our children.

Peace is generated by the respect and responsibility we feel and show—actively, continually—towards one another. When we are accountable, in our daily life, in our daily actions and prayers, we develop and nourish an awareness for all creatures and all aspects of life. Doing this, ordinarily, we know, because we do, we are called and bound to care for these, our things: children, fields and the tools we need to tend them.

Hai clears a space for us, and with cold air and wet days encourages us to sit together—children with grandparents—teaching, sharing, telling wisdom and showing example, while parents attend to the tools they need to provide food and shelter. Hai gives us continuity and redirects our focus, reminding us to prioritize these relations and this knowledge.

My friend, Melissa Barnes, was telling me about her grandmother. She, her grandmother, was raised with a wagon—no car, no pick up, no flights across the landscape. "Funny," she said, "just two generations ago, and look at me." She is beautiful, my friend, Melissa Barnes, a good wife, a good mother, a good artist, a good daughter and granddaughter. She faces, today, for the first time, the winter I faced in 1978.

K'é, when we respect it, makes us secure and gives us—in our community— order. On that foundation we build our lives in light and beauty.

I dedicate these words to Melissa Barnes and her family.

Monday, December 1, 2008

For Future Reference: Each Death is Different

Nathan Goodiron's wake was held two years ago, today, at Mandaree North Dakota. He was the eldest son of Harriet and Paul Goodiron. The father of three and the husband of Eileen, of Minot, was a graduate of Mandaree Senior High School. He enlisted in the North Dakota Army National Guard on April 17, 2001. In May he was promoted to Private E-2. The following April he was promoted to Private First Class, E-3 and in December 2003 he was promoted to Specialist E-4.

He was killed in Afghanistan on November 23, 2006, Thanksgiving. That day, posthumously, he was promoted to Corporal. He was 25 years of age, a Hidatsa.

Roughly 1,500 people from the MHA Nation, Fort Berthold Reservation, filled the halls and gyms of two schools for the funeral. After a prayer, a Flag Song by the Oakdale Singers, the Veterans Posts and Ladies Auxiliary marched in procession. Chairman Wells, Eah-Bah-Dah-Gish (Bald Eagle), offered words to everyone and a memorial song was sung for Cpl. Goodiron, Young Eagle. A closing prayer was given for him and for all the TAT men and women soldiers serving the U. S. Armed Forces.

At the Bearstail Family Cemetery in Mandaree, Cpl. Goodiron's uncle, James Johnson, watched over the graveside ceremony ensuring the Honor Guard was in place.

Young Eagle's mother said, "It's hard to accept how he died. When kids are growing up I never knew I was raising my son to go into war and be killed. You read it in the paper and see it on tv, but you never know it could be you."

In 1969 Vine Deloria Jr., wrote: "consider the history of America closely. Never has America lost a war...but name, if you can, the last peace the United States won. Victory, yes, but this country has never made a successful peace because peace requires exchanging ideas, concepts, thoughts and recognizing the fact that two distinct systems of life can exist together without conflict." offers the following numbers: the official count of the U.S. wounded, as of 25 November 2008, is 30,832, the estimated count is over 100,000. Since the war began, at least 3,395 American servicemen and women have died. estimates that over 1,288,426 Iraqi's have died as a result of the U.S. invasion.

CNN offers larger numbers, noting that 97 U.S. women have died in combat, and 3,979 U.S. men have died. Of these men, 1,205 were under the age of 22, and 991 were under the age of 24, 1,033 were in Nathan Goodiron's age classification (25-30). Of the total 30,275 U.S. wounded 20,710 were his fellows from the Army, 620 were Navy, 8,462 Marine and 390 Air Force.

This Thanksgiving was an especially cruel one.

Jdimytai Damour was killed in a stampede at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart in New Jersey. His mother is traveling from Port-Au-Prince Haiti to Jamaica Queens to prepare his funeral.

30 years after the original God Is Red, Vine Deloria Jr., revised the entire text and reissued an anniversary edition. Unlike most anniversary editions, his 30 years later offers a true revision and update to the original. In both books he offers a painstakingly detailed indictment of Christianity, naming it as the source of the U.S.'s weakness and consequent inability to keep a peace.

Christianity as a program of Assimilation and resource management gains its strength from its inability to respect and tolerate those who are different. Evidence lies in the article, the. While the Christian faith may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, it is an easy pill and by its own declaration to the world, it is the only pill. I am the Resurrection and the light.

Assimilation is to the United States as conversion is to Christianity. Holidays and Holy Days are more than symbols of faith, they actually keep the faith by clearing space and forcing observance, even if that observance is in opposition (ie., a Thanks for Taking Day, or a Gratitude Day). Holidays force participation. They form a present axis around which everything, in some way, spins. Offices are closed. Mail is undelivered. I am forced to either ignore or answer, politely or rudely, honestly or dishonestly, when people offer a perfunctory "Have a Nice Thanksgiving."

The United States national culture is characterized by the feeding frenzy known as shopping. It's a positive feedback system of sameness and speed. Everyone has to have it; they have to have it now; and they have to have it cheap.

Poverty and subjegation go hand in hand. We've known this for generations. During the Navajo Round Up the U.S. sought to exterminate the People by burning our fields and stealing or slaughtering our livestock. In this way they brought even the wealthiest and most isolated of our community in to the agency. Once there they were forced to make the Long Walk to be incarcerated at Bosque Redondo. Through ceremony were won a return to our traditional lands, in exchange we were given education.

Chief Manuelito said it was a ladder. Taking us where?

In exchange for our culture and traditional knowledge we were asked to assimilate. Once we (all of us) knew who we were, how we came to be and how we were to act in relation to the land and each other. At great cost to our intellect and spirit, and at great cost to the earth, we have been asked to become full participants in the U.S. economy and to adopt the Christian faith.

Poverty and subjegation form a positive feedback loop it is difficult to get outside of. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is an unequivocal example of hatred and intolerance. Some call it a Holy War, some say it's about U.S. security, each explanation is fueled by fundamentalist thought and greed.

The Church is a fiscal entity and a political institution.

Black Friday and the credit crunch (a.k.a. World Financial Crises) reflect the use of poverty to subjegate. The passage of the hateful Proposition 8 in California is a direct consequence of the unwillingness to hold Christians and bigots accountable for their beliefs and actions.

Wealth, today, is largely created by the adoption of new, instantly obsolete, technologies and the manipulation of tax law. We, at the bottom, are left with two options in this reality: get what money you can and spend what money you have. When our participation in this system is given we are left alone, to work and shop. Those who refuse to play the parts set aside for them are targets of violence and poverty, personally and communally.

War in Iraq and Afghanistan, here on the Americas, and in our most private and sacred of spaces, our homes, takes two approaches: the Christian and the consumer.

As the world attempts to stabilize the economies of the most affluent nations, and the wealthiest citizens of those nations, people and land are still being destroyed by armed violence, environmental abuses, dehumanizing and inappropriate technologies and the assault on individual and communal land based identities.

The U.S. has been driving its car into a granite wall at 190 miles per hour. The Land and Housing Era was driven by credit and the fanatical desire for endless growth. Instead of calling out the perversion of this way of living many developing nations (like China and the Navajo Nation) are following the model, though a few steps behind, laid out before them.

Every death has meaning.

Each death is different.

A man was murdered and people continued to shop. They want toys, clothes, food, all the same products, made by strangers. Their desire driven by marketing campaigns, not by self awareness or self possession, they lined up to prepare for the celebration of their Christ by buying things. They did it because it's an American thing to do. They did it because it's a good deal. And in the process Jdimytai Damour died, at work.

The key to understanding the obscenity of his death is to acknowledge its relationship to the blind faith of Christianity and commerce.

Friday, November 14, 2008

K'é: Into the Thin Winds

More people are distressed by the fact that I don't have a cell phone than the fact that I don't have a cornfield. In fact, about the cornfield, no one really cares. When I bring it up most think I'm being funny or metaphoric.

The entire family works the field. It unifies us. Each person prepares the ground, even the littlest ones, toddling around, are important. Their lives are like the seeds each one is given to place in the earth, once the ground has been broken. The youth witness the process, planting, and in this way bring prayer inside them.

If you care for the earth, it cares for you.

Last month was our New Year, the time we turn our focus to our fields. After the corn stalks have been gathered, the time for rest begins. We move to our winter homes. We gather medicine. We eat and prepare food and we wait for the stories that come, once a year, after the first frost.

When I was growing up our winter house was Mamacita's on Texas. We lived around the block on Mississippi. October, with its winds, marked the time we'd start meeting, all of us able, at Mamacita's. During the day she and I would tend her chickens, make "Mexican coffee" and keep food cooking so that whenever someone arrived something was ready to be served. At four, five, six years old, it was my honor to serve them beans, nitsidigo'í, and piñon. Me and Mamacita sat by the oven door warming ourselves and laughing. By dark we'd be waiting for my Grandma. Late night, all night, every night we'd sit and talk. Mostly about work down at the flower mart, my mom and my Grandpa, the not so original coyote.

My Grandma doctored well. She was a surgeon with the embroidery she applied as skillfully to our bodies as to fabric. Mamacita grew the plants she needed for her potions and between the two of them our health care was covered.

Dá'ák'eh, the cornfield, has been good to us for generations, unifying our families. We all go out and work it. Everyone helps to balance—work, daily life, the cycles we move in—light/dark, work/rest, water/wind/sun, shelter, our animals. Fuel, we gather that, it rests in wood, in sockets, and in the stories that come now, after the frost, when we come together here at our little Mama's.

As we moved into the month of the thin winds, November, we continued grinding corn on our metate, preparing corn for storage. The men hunted, once it was deer and prairie dog, now they were Union men, hunting wages down at the docks. The rains here in California, were our first frost, reminding us to continue our telling of migrations between worlds, of first man and first woman. My Grandma had her own tales.

We entertained ourselves. At night, with Babs, my third mother, I would learn probability games. I thought they were games of the possible, not the probable. English a language we took on like string to be played with. Babs would do her league sheets and I'd learn "odds." Even after my Grandma died, during this my most beloved month, November has remained my favorite.

The nights were an endless endless that started earlier and earlier. I learned three card monte, liars dice and readied myself for the Day of Kings—my Grandmother's life asserting itself in unfailing rhythms we took , like breath, inside our soul.

The snow blesses the sacred mountains during this month. The animals hibernate and the sun rises a little later, so when we rise in the dark I am reminded of my Grandfather's power to pull shoots from the soil. His long days in late winter tasting the soil to ensure its proper balance. He supplemented the family's income with his knowledge.

The winds blow across the earth's surface and we take this time to shape ourselves into ourselves.

Not one of these moments require cable, digital equipment, or a cell phone. They require a field and a family willing to work it, together. My family, once, had little money and yet we were rich because we had each other. Those times come back to me most clearly during these two months, because we gave ourselves something then, something stronger than the alcohol that ate our brains, stronger than the Catholic church that taught us to hate ourselves because we were ourselves, and stronger than the city that demands we focus our energy on its priorities.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For Future Reference: This is About You

We left the Castro just before President elect Barack Obama began his acceptance speech in Chicago's historic Grant Park. We listened on the radio as he said:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference. It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

I was divided; overwhelmed with happiness that we had elected our first non-white President, a Black man, a man with a Kenyan father and white American mother, and this man could name me, a gay disabled Navajo Indian in his speech. Especially when race in this country is consistently framed in black and white, and gays and lesbians are considered dirty secrets, at best kept private.

This is not the Castro I was raised with. This is not the San Francisco I was raised in. This is not the California I was raised in. People were dancing in the street, even while the early numbers for 8 were being posted. "Oh, Obama, he has our back."

This is not about Obama. This is about you and the fact that Californians saw absolutely no problem immediately casting a yes vote on Proposition 8 immediately after they cast their yes vote for Obama.

Obama's campaign placed a great emphasis on unity. He prioritized thoughtfulness, articulateness, and people coming together for a greater purpose, call it community or call it pragmatism. He spoke against the divisiveness that characterized the last eight years. His actions were considerate and measured—a salve on the bitter ill will that has come to shape relations between people. He asked us to refuse the categories that encourage and allow us to dissociate from one another—red/blue, black/white, male/female, Christian/Muslim/Jew—and to work together on a larger project, best defined as a human project, a global project.

Many were moved when he offered a hope not hate based project. Many see his victory as a civil rights victory, a long overdue triumph over the racism and bigotry on which this country was founded and continues to thrive. God bless America. A new day has dawned. We're going forward. "Oh, but not you. You stay here."

How can over 5, 344, 012 people vote yes on Proposition 8? How can 70% of the black vote and 50% of the Latino vote yes? How can Christians and elders overwhelmingly support 8? If this is purely a question of Christian values, how can the same voters split on proposition 4?

Maybe I hold the wrong assumptions about my fellow Obama supporters. Perhaps I relate to easily to people I don't identify as—white, black, asian, heterosexual, Christian. Maybe it's a simple consequence of having my entire existence, my priorities, my values negated daily in the media, in social relations, buying groceries or renting a movie.

My grandparents taught me that first and foremost I was human, where their arguments went from there I was expected to keep up with, but never to lose sight of one fundamental truth: we are all related.

In its simplest terms proposition 8 eliminates a right that already exists. On May 15, the California Supreme Court voted to overturn proposition 22; affirming the right of one individual to enter into a contract with another.

Prejudice and fear trumps these simple terms. Prejudice determines who you can relate to and why. Hatred of others, and feeling completely, utterly and fundamentally disconnected from them is a consequence of not being able to relate. I'm not like you and this isn't about me are both statements that reflect an inability to relate.

Proposition 8 exposed Californians’ notion of precisely who is a person deserving rights and exactly what rights you have access to if your personhood is suspect.

Recognizing another soul as a sentient being is a philosophical question the elders have debated since time immemorial. The United States Government itself has taken up this question; famously in African American history and less widely remembered in a case dealing with the Ponca.

Standing Bear et. al. V. Crook: Standing Bear was a Ponca. The Ponca are Those Who Lead. In May of 1879 the federal court in Omaha Nebraska began hearing his case. Standing Bear was a Christian, an Episcopalian. Early in 1877 the Ponca were told they were being removed to Indian Territory. They had never fought against the U.S.. They farmed and had moved from their Earth Lodges into their own, hand built, log homes. As an old man Standing Bear lacked the resources necessary to resist the U.S. soldiers and over three days he brought his household, his wife, their three children, two grandchildren and son in law to the agency for removal. His household assets—valued at over $4,000, in "buildings, land, stock, goods and chattel"—were confiscated and either destroyed or sold off. He received no compensation. On their stormy walk to Indian Territory his daughter was among those who died and his son was among those who became ill. A devastated Standing Bear promised the youth he would carry his bones home to the ancestral ceremonial burial grounds, ensuring that Bear Shield would not face the afterlife wandering the earth alone.

Because he was an Indian, by law, Standing Bear the Ponca leader was a ward of the nation and consequently not allowed to leave the reservation. Standing Bear was a father. With his son's bones, and his small band, he left the reservation. He was arrested on the Omaha reservation. They too were Indians, by law, and he was trespassing on federal lands, even though they were relations and had offered him and his band refuge. In fact, he had come to their reservation at their invitation. As wards they lacked the authority, the propriety, necessary to offer such hospitality to their cousins.

Standing Bear sought redress, but the question before the court was could he? Did he meet a simple qualification? Was he a person in the eyes of the law. On this point they argued. The DA maintained that he and his fellow Poncas had no recourse to Habeas Corpus and "regardless of what they said they were still Ponca Indians, due to their ancestry and place of birth, they could not cease being Ponca Indians because they said they were no longer Ponca Indians."

Standing Bear's council maintained that "an Indian who has severed his tribal relationship and sought to live as a citizen was entitled to protection under the law." There was precedent. Habeas Corpus had been applied to the insane, to children and to slaves irrespective of their citizenship, so unless the court wanted to decide that Standing Bear and his band were beasts, they were human beings, and consequently entitled to protection under the law.

Sympathies were with Standing Bear and his band but Justice Dundy reminded everyone "in a country where liberty is regulated by law something more satisfactory and enduring than mere sympathy must furnish and constitute the rule and basis of judicial action."

He ruled: "An Indian is a PERSON within the meaning and ways of the U. S. and...Indians possess the inherent right of expatriation, as well as the more fortunate white race, and have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so long as they obey the laws and do not trespass on forbidden ground."

He was a person, but was still not free to stay with his relations, the Omaha or even the Ponca. In the eyes of the law he had severed those relations. Once he set foot on any reservation land he would be arrested, again.

Bear Shield's bones still had not been returned to mix with those of his ancestors.

Personhood is incompatible with tribal identity. Standing Bear could not be a person and a Ponca simultaneously. He had to relinquish one in order to assume the social-legal position of the other, a distinctly different position, not even an separate but equal position. He was granted humanity, but not allowed the specific details of his humanity.

In Standing Bear's case the difference in positions was racialized. The idea seems to be that with the election of Obama as the 44th President of the United States we have moved past these categorical inequities and government sanctioned bigotries.

As every American Indian knows, Indianness is still incompatible with American personhood. Even the briefest glance at our sovereignty movements reveals this contemporary fact.

The U.S., historically, has sought to extinguish those people seen as somehow unfit for personhood. In 1962 the Ponca of Nebraska were abolished by an act of Congress and their 800 acres of land were confiscated. Their status as a People was not reinstated until 18 years ago, the lifetime of a voter coming to age.

When it was impractical or impossible to extinguish the unfit the U. S. has, historically, sought to confine and contain them.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving married in the District of Columbia in June 1958. When they returned to their home in Virginia they were arrested. She was black. He was white. Their marriage violated the states anti miscegenation laws. In 1959 they plead guilty and were convicted to a year in prison. In lieu of serving that year the trial judge offered them a suspended sentence, for 25 years, contingent on their leaving, and not returning to, Virginia.

In his opinion, delivered on the Day of the Kings, he stated: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

These arguments, these sentiments, are the same; they are founded on a narrow notion of the normal and feign a concern for potential harm to children (mongrel offspring or not). They are familiar to anyone following the debate surrounding proposition 8, as is the insidious invocation of "Almighty God."

The Lovings’ took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Warren delivered the court's opinion, stating:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

These convictions must be reversed.

It is so ordered.

Up until 1974 same-sex intimacy was a crime in California.

The question for Homosexuals, at this point, seems to involve two issues. Are homosexuals people under the law, entitled to equal protection, and under which law should these cases be decided: U.S. or Biblical?

It is common knowledge that the Christian right, along with the Mormon Church, are the primary funders of the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. And the popular appeal for the Yes on 8 campaign has been to religious sympathies. Many of those polled said they were compelled, as Christians, to go to the polls specifically to cast their yes vote on 8, while voting for Obama, especially the 70% of Blacks polled.

Darryl Scott, a father, a black man, and an Obama supporter voted yes on 8 because "He has no hatred for gays but was raised to believe marriage is between a man and a woman...people should do what they want to do, but it shouldn't be forced on others."

Ignoring the backward logic of voting to eliminate the opportunity of people to "do what they want to do," while "forcing [it] on others" it is essential to note his reasoning relies on his religious sympathies and as Justice Dundy reminded the nation in 1879 "something more satisfactory and enduring than mere sympathy must furnish and constitute the rule and basis of judicial action." Presumably that is the law.

One of the two largest individual donors to the Yes on 8 campaign has admitted, in print, "my goal is the total integration of Biblical law into our lives."

Evangelical fundamentalism gains its strength, numerically, politically and financially by exploiting the lonely, the poor, the isolated and the uneducated. They have masterfully manipulated the fear and alienation people have from and with each other, to the extent that even their salvation is an individual salvation, their spirituality shaped by a private relationship with their Father God. Though the super churches clothe themselves in the drag of community their message is divisive.

The Nebraska Ponca were being forced at gun point to ford the surging Niobrara River during a fierce storm. Women and children of the three villages wailed. The men unloaded their 72 wagons and 500 horses, struggled through the high waters. On the other side they reloaded their goods. The women and children wailed. In the midst of this organized effort the United States's troops were swept from their mounts. The current was too swift and strong. Ponca men dove, immediately, into the waters and rescued the soldiers.


They were men.

And the Ponca's are those that lead.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

For Future Reference: A Long War Like This

"When people accommodate themselves to a landscape, they learn the parameters of their spiritual existence, although sometimes these boundaries change according to the needs of the people." -Vine Deloria, Jr.

Last Sunday, the 21st of September, I went to a workshop, "Off The Grid Living: In the Urban Ecosystem" hosted by the Ecology Center of San Francisco ( We were a group of nearly 8 people in the outer Sunset, at Ocean Beach. Before taking us outside to demonstrate solar cooking methods and a compostable toilet, Devin of the ecology center raised the question of "appropriate technology."

Appropriate technology: Technology that creates the smallest ecological impact while serving basic human needs. Instead of using the most convoluted and complex technology, appropriate technology is the use of the simplest level of technology that can effectively achieve your goals in a specific landscape.

He then asked the group if they think about how much energy, water and people are consumed for each piece of equipment and hard good they use.

As the workshop went outside to see a solar oven (a cardboard box, covered with a piece of glass, with a black reflective surface inside), Devin explained "this will always work, as long as there is sun."

At this point I was having my regular Duane Big Eagle moment: My Grandpa knew that. Though I cook inside my apartment on electric coils, and while I have a flush toilet and am not composting my own fecal matter, all I could think about was my recent visit to Acoma Pueblo. Old Acoma remains, off the grid.

Some say that we, tribal people, live that way because we have to, not because we want to.

Understanding the relationships that exist between our twisted notions of poverty and wealth requires a shift in perspective, a change of language and a willingness to admit the systematic assault on traditional knowledge and skills. Traditional peoples living traditional lifestyles, the very lifestyles some are creating an industry out of, have been and continue to be punished economically-spiritually-corporally for living those very lives. Identifying necessary skills and appropriate technology requires a specific understanding of poverty and its relationship to wealth as well as a commitment to live in balance. For many traditional people it has become relatively impossible to live a life not bound by the global market and its consumption of land and human labor.

Bilagáanas themselves are writing books about this, "going back." My phone bill recommended one: Ultimate Guide to Wilderness Living: Surviving with Nothing but Your Bare Hands and What You Find in the Woods. "Your ancestors knew this stuff. You don't. But you can rediscover it, everything you need to live off the land for weeks or years. Like starting a fire and making a bow and arrows."

My grandpa knew this stuff. I know this stuff. The question is—who has lost this knowledge and why?

My grandfather raised us on the food his stories grew, here, in the city of San Francisco. He butchered the livestock he raised in our back yard. Our family ate the eggs Mamacita's chickens laid. I helped hide her rooster from the Health Board. When I would visit my Aunti Cora, at that time living in Denver, we'd walk to Kmart across Federal Avenue, and stop to pick the tségha’ nílch’i (wind through the rocks) that grew up through the cement to eat for dinner. We "stole" water to keep her garden.

There is so much tribal people know, technologically and spiritually, and yet tribal lives are viewed as something we are to be rescued from. The people on Acoma are largely viewed as poor. The people on Navajo, living traditional lives, are largely viewed as poor and uneducated. Butchering your own livestock, growing your own food, living without electricity is all seen as a clear indication of poverty—every aspect of our decision to remain who we are as tribal people is seen as a backward step, an inadequacy, an archaism.

If we do not want a five bedroom house, an iPod, a cellular phone, flat screen television or a month's supply of clothing we are viewed as stupid. Our culture is viewed as primitive. If we are fluent in our own language, and speak a little of another tribal language but have accented English, our skill set is thought to be limited, our manner unprofessional. If we have no potable water, or lack enough fuel to burn for heat or to cook our food it must be because we refuse to progress and connect ourselves and our homelands to the rest of the United States.

The material conditions of hunger, illness, and homelessness affect millions of people world wide, but we will never be able to adequately address those problems if we continue to believe that poverty is saying I can't have everything I want and live in the "Versailles House," and if knowing how to manage your iTunes and print your digital photos is considered having skills. Blaming the people for their position in an economic system of inequality side steps the fact that the rich require the poor. In this economy poverty ensures square footage and flat screens.

Every one of us is reeling from this convoluted logic and language. Each of us faces the consequence of decisions made by people so alienated from the land, from each other and from their ancestors and origin stories, that we have homelessness in the midst of a "housing crises." And most eat food other people have cared for, killed and cooked, without even thinking that is strange. Who cooks now days?

Accommodating ourselves to the land requires maturity. And yet we are in the midst of the therapy generation, where I have heard children being told, "you don't have to say hi." These young people are learning they are not bound to acknowledge another human being's presence. And we, each one, live with those instructions. You don't have to stop for people crossing the street. You don't have to stand up for elders who need a seat.

At the end of the Victorian Age, Henry James noted America's movement into "the children's century."

"There is an immense literature entirely addressed to them, in which the kicking of shins and the slapping of faces is much recommended. As a woman of fifty, I protest. I insist on being judged by my peers. It's too late, however, for several millions of little feet are actively engaged in stamping out conversation, and I don't see how they can long fail to keep it under. The future is theirs; maturity will evidently be at an increasing discount. " (From James', The Point of View)

James' body of work reeks of his estrangement to the land. After his first tour of America , following a 20 year stay in England, he wrote the following about the homes he viewed: "We[the homes] are only installments, symbols, stopgaps, 'they practically admitted, and with no shade of embarrassment; 'expensive as we are, we have nothing to do with continuity, responsibility, transmission, and don't in the least care what becomes of us after we have served our present purpose.'"

People are starving. People have no potable water. People are homeless. People are ill. The need for capital and credit is another thing entirely.

On BBC News, in the midst of analysis of the current financial crisis, they aired a brief story about the Kalinago of Dominica. The Kalinago Chief Charles Williams is asking the Kalinago women to marry in, and not leave their homeland. With nearly 3,000 members they are facing the threat of "extinction." The threat of vanishing and the burden on women to change the tide is an old hustle. We indigenous women know it well. What struck me was the grand hope the BBC reporter offered: Cruise ships. Dominca is a cruise destination and the tourism brought in with each boat could bring in thousands of answers to the Kalinago's problem: cash.

Real change, in an attempt to live with the land, will require a change in what is experienced and named as poverty and wealth, as well as the strength to value ourselves and our traditional knowledge and cultural practices. Living off the grid accepts a certain reality as an inevitability, a certain idea of progress and evolution, as does pumping cash into a system that requires inequality and subjection.

Every tribe makes its own decision but we must consider ourselves in our own terms. Survival is a question of language. Can you introduce yourself? Can you recognize your relations? Can you pray? Can you navigate the land without a GPS? Can you grow and recognize food? What type of soil do you have? Is it toxic? Can you butcher a sheep? Can you harvest plants?

"A long war like this makes you realize the society you really prefer." -Gertrude Stein, Wars I Have Seen

Monday, September 15, 2008

K'é: Validity and Recognition

Proposition 8 reads: ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT. Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

If Prop. 8 passes we—people— will be denied the right to accept legal responsibility for one another. We—people—will also be allowed to side step our obligation to acknowledge the full scope of each other's humanity—and consequently a full expression.

Hiding and denying who you are and who you love results in fear, indignity, degradation, self hatred, shame and self destruction, for those hiding as well as for those whom require that deception .

There are many issues involved in this proposition: legal protections, financial protections, real and powerful class issues and some will argue largely in those terms. If marriage is a contract then any two parties should be able to enter into that contract, the same contract, not a modified and watered down lesser contract (civil unions/domestic partnerships), but the charge of homosexuality changes the very nature of the contract, for some, and these are my thoughts as to why.

"My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you."

These are the first words of what has come to be known as Harvey's Hope Speech. He continues: "Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay, those who are visible. For invisible, we remain in limbo—a myth, a person with no parents, no brothers, no sisters, no friends who are straight, no important positions in employment. . .The only thing they [young gay people] have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be alright. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up."

Harvey asked people to examine the inequities around them and to assume a personal responsibility for righting them. I am asking the same, that each of us personally address hunger, poverty, illness, loneliness and isolation. In short, that we address our relationships to each individual around us—in our homes, our neighborhoods and our work places.

The people of this land, each had an intricate system for assessing relations and proper behavior between individuals. This knowledge was organized in a kinship system. Some of us have our kinship systems intact, and some show the strong bruising of colonialism (ie., the recent passage of the Diné Marriage Act of 2004). The early colonials exchanged their own kinship systems for a social contract protecting them and their property from one another. They also set about destroying the kinship systems of the Indigenous nations they came in contact with and required all subsequent immigrants to relinquish their ties home. Outsiders, virtually unknown to each other, they agreed on a set of laws providing what they saw as essential safeguards and ensuring their safety in this land where they were strangers. Today we all face the legacy of their estrangement.

Our traditional kinship system provides us with a set of ideals, which we aim our lives toward as well as a set of parameters delineating what is acceptable behavior, and what emphatically is not. Any severance between kin, the generations and ancestral/traditional knowledge leaves people vulnerable. Severed relations leave everyone isolated and disorientated. If we are left only with consumption and wealth accumulation as a means of addressing that isolation and dislocation we will perish.

These are the same issues the early settlers faced; all immigrants face them when they are forced to assume an assimilated position as a U.S. Citizen. First Nations communities, Indians, know this story. We've fought absorption in the United States and continue to fight for our autonomy today. Standing Bear, the great Ponca chief, went to the U.S. Supreme court simply to be recognized as "a man" defined by U. S. law. In exchange for his rights as an individual of consequence he was forced to relinquish his membership in and rights as a Ponca.

We as First Nations have refused to give up our conception of ourselves, our place in this world and our expression of our unique humanity. We have seen considerable success and considerable failure from ourselves, our leaders and our nations, but we fight. Today, we do not surrender.

As every parent, Aunt or Uncle knows, life cannot be a series of what a child cannot do, but must be an overflowing experience of what they can do and consequently who they are.

A world that votes NO on Proposition 8 asks you to know me and to relate to me as a human being.

Our K'é system places us very specifically within a very large and complex system of relationships—earth to sky, mother to child—and requires us to have a strong grasp of the fundamental workings of those relationships, physically and metaphysically. Laws serve notice to a community. They are declarations of acceptable behavior. As declarations they shape the way we act toward each other, intimately. K'é is Navajo Law. Failure to comply with a law bears consequence. Sometimes those consequences are punishments administered by the state, but more often than not they are social and the state simply exacts those punishments because it knows it can. On some level the public agrees.

Laws stand because enough people agree to their validity and accept the shape they provide. Just as hunger, poverty, illness, loneliness and isolation exist because people accept their presence, either as a necessary tool to motivate "the masses" or because somehow and for some reason those afflicted deserve their afflictions—as well as bear sole responsibility for those afflictions.

Every position in a society is a result of negotiation and agreement, and a consequence of shared responsibility, whether that fact is acknowledged or not.

Oppression happens when we fail to recognize each other's humanity and "I am like you" is twisted into "you are not."

San Francisco was the first city to permanently recognize the gay victims of the Nazis. At the intersection of Castro, Market and Upper 17th Streets, facing the Harvey Milk Plaza stand 15 granite pylons, placed in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 gays who were incarcerated, castrated or killed during and subsequent to the Nazi regime. Together the pylons form one large triangle set on the hill among pink rocks, forming another triangle, and a small walkway and garden. Artists Robert Bruce and Susan Martin were commissioned by the Eureka Valley Promotion Association to design the monument. Their hope for people who come to the Pink Triangle Park and Memorial, is that they: "Respect each other as this sculpture respects the site. Contemplate the softness of the plants and the firmness of the granite. Locate the softness and the firmness within themselves. Remember that gay men wore pink triangles, lesbians wore black triangles, gypsies wore brown triangles, Poles wore blue triangles, social democrats and other political prisoners wore red triangles, and Jews wore yellow stars. [And] Think about how persecution of any individual or single group of people damages all humanity."

Respect. Contemplate. Locate. Remember. Think.

We, the Diné, are taught to address each other by relational terms: my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my daughter, my son, my spouse/companion. When we lapse into personal names it indicates a change in feeling, a lack of respect, a distance that can only be described as "I no longer care for you." More than being out of favor, being called by a personal name, indicates a very serious loss of position, equivalent to "I don't know you."

Our relational terms manifest as well as illuminate the inextricable link between knowing and caring for each other. Relational terms recognize not only who a person is, but that a person is—connecting their soul to yours, whether closely or at a distance, acknowledging as well as celebrating that connection. Relational terms declare to yourself and to others that your births, your origins, your destinies and fates are intertwined by the precise nature of those entanglements.

Monday, September 1, 2008

For Future Reference: September 11 is My Grandmother's Birthday

Lines from here to there are drawn every day. Together we agree to their integrity and meaning. Together we maintain their placement on the land or within our soul. Tying one thing to another requires resources and cooperation. People draw lines every day, and as firmly as they divide us they join us.

We don't always admit how concretely and firmly those ties bind us—one to another like the fixed utility networks (waterworks, electrical utilities and cable television lines) that unite our homes and workspaces. These ties are less open to denial, easier to recognize and acknowledge: open a faucet, turn on a light, use a computer or cable television. Their physical reality undercuts the American mythology and obsession with absolute freedom and individuality—in contrast, phrases, holidays and symbols are more easily masked in the drag of universality and truth. Even less tangible but equally as powerful are popular and ceremonial narratives, like 9/11.

When does the four directions become a cross?
When does corn become a cash crop?

We are supposed to believe many things.

When I was young we sang, "Jesus loves me, yes I know, because The Bible tells me so. . ." TV had a button and we pushed it off or pulled it on. More often then not I was "working" with my Grandmother, following her around from place to place, picking up our box of food, or dropping off our box of Leis. Living her life, my life was a part of the pattern. At night we embroidered and once in bed she told stories, some from the prayer book and others from some place she kept to herself.

There are definitive moments in my life; her birth is one.

Today we are supposed to believe.

9/11 marked a unique moment in time, a cataclysmic break in the land, a unique and unprecedented letting of blood and loss of life. The end of the national innocence maintained by the idea that the United States has never been subject to foreign war within the contiguous 48. This moment and those who lost their lives in consequence have been used to shape a sense of who we are and who we can become.

Every birth and every death has meaning and results in a changed perspective.

Some take these changes for granted.

Meaning, like fast food and coffee, is produced and consumed in mass quantities. The power of franchise is its commitment to producing an unchanging product in an recognizable package. National news, coffee and celebrity networks are largely a single linked advertisement, played in an endless loop. Flip the rock over and I'm not sure what colonial maggot is underneath: poverty, hate or environmental destruction.

9/11 has become the new "shot heard round the world," labeled as a point of departure, serving as a moment of severance, defining a before and an after. Saying we no longer are who we are. That was then and this is now, a pre, a post, an undeniable change in the way things are and have been. The America that was is no longer. The America that is: victim, vulnerable, innocent. One grain of sand in the oyster's shell, 9/11 has been cultivated into the pearl of national outrage and mourning.

Those twin emotions of hate and despair motivate and disorient even the strongest and most firmly grounded.

Never forget: In 1837 it is estimated that small pox killed 7/8 of the Mandan (leaving only 23 men, 40 women, and 60-70 young) and nearly half of the Arikara and Hidatsa. In 1864, over 8,354 Navajo were interred at Hweldi. The sick, old, and young who died during The Long Walk were left on the road and remain uncounted. In the Vietnam War, during Operation Rolling Thunder, Mr. Mc Namara (United States Defense Secretary) estimated that bombing campaign over North Vietnam killed 1,000 civilians a week, roughly equivalent to more than one 9/11 a month, for 44 months.

Traditional life requires continuity. Lineage. Stories. September 11 will always be, for me, my Grandmother's birthday. Her life places each of us into something ancient.

I write these words on the eve of the Harvest Dance at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo.

Acoma has no running water, no electricity, and their matriarchal homes are still made of the surrounding sandstone, straw and gypsum. The Acoma people have maintained continuous residence at the place that was prepared for them, Sky City. They still care for and restore their family homes. They protect themselves by guarding their way of life. They've stood face to face with the Spanish Conquistador, the Catholic Friar and the Mexican Government. They stand, today, face to face with American colonials and tourists. They speak the Keresan language. Once they learned Spanish. Now they learn English and Keresan. As a Pueblo they survived carring 30 foot beams, on foot, the 30 miles from Mt. Taylor to build the San Esteban Del Rey Mission and today they own and operate the Haak'u Museum at the base of Sky City.

Even the shortest visit to Acoma Pueblo reveals the power of which events you choose to remember and the significance of how you remember them. Like Silko's Man To Send Rain Clouds they've maintained their traditions and traditional lives by absorbing the world into the fabric of their existence, speaking their language, dancing their dances, protecting their social and ceremonial spaces—maintaining their line from here to there and when a break occurs they repair it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

K'é: I Feel Like Singing Today

Every summer we made the drive to New Mexico and Colorado. During the first nine years of my life it was to visit my Grandmother's family and after 12 it was to visit my Grandfather's. We'd pack the old 1970s Nova with three on the tree and I'd take my spot, standing on the front bucket seat with my mom to my left, steering and my Grandma on my right giving directions. We'd pack our food and drive straight, hitting the desert at night, eyes wide as the windows were open. No air condition. No stopping. Just my mom singing, "hey noni ding dong, alang, alang, alang."

I didn't know much about nothing then, like why we were here, in San Francisco, and why they were there. It was just something like air; and we seemed to take it for granted. When we got there we'd slip into their lives, like ours was a dream and upon waking it was over. After two weeks or three months we'd get back to San Francisco and reverse the process: work, rent, phone calls and the dueling banjos that were my Grandma and Grandpa.

Our house was a mad dog we lived inside of.

Around the corner we had the Rodriguez', Augustin and Josephine. Indians from Chihuahua, Old Mexico. Theirs was an open door to us, the kitchen warm. Mamacita was my Grandma's best friend and Papacito was my Grandfather's. They were Indians like us, except from Chihuahua. Mamacita didn't speak English and we didn't speak Mexican.

The life of my knowledge comes from them, those trips and the way we tried to hold ourselves together, making a meaningful whole from parts, like magnets, that faced opposite directions.

The problem was one of orientation and in some small way the summer journeys would sooth our souls struggling so profoundly with place—especially our place in this world of the City.

It is said that we, the Diné, live in the center of the world, and from here— we each stand surefooted in the middle of ourselves, our ancestors and Gods—we make hózhó—in our mind souls, with our bodies, for our families, with the land and our movement across it. We move. We move for work. We move with the seasons. We move with marriage, for ceremony, to gather, and as we move we remember to take what is essential: clothes, ponies, pollen pouch and hand drum.

Nothing is more essential than ourselves, this perspective, so that moving does not become a going away, but a taking with. From the earliest times, as the children of Changing Woman returned home, they came upon those who remained and recognized something—a familiarity of voice, something in the eye, a word, a way of approaching—perhaps something as simple as their shared humanity. Life. Upon meeting these strangers, who were familiar, they said, Who are you? How have you been surviving? They told their stories; one side to the other. They listened; one side to the other and in the end they said, can we join you? And if it was agreed they did. In this way we grew, through memory, through a storied recognition of the real in someone else and most importantly in a solid understanding of who we were and how—in detail— we had taken the shape we had.

It was not the trip in itself so much as the simple but all encompassing fact of our making it. In taking the time from work and saving throughout the year, those visits to my grandmother's brothers and my grandfather's sisters revealed their belief, individually, that there was something to be handed down. Something beyond the daily skills we grew up integrating into our urban life: cultivating our own food, butchering our own meat, making our own clothes—always with the guiding principles: doo ajiníi da, doo ajít'íi da.

For my Grandma that something included a knowledge of the Colorado River, the Pueblos and horses and for my Grandfather it was always his beloved mountains and the plant people who were rooted to them. What was handed down through the journey was a belief in self. A "Survival This Way."

Survival, I know how this way.
This way, I know.
It rains.
Mountains and canyons and plants
We traveled this way,
gauged our distance by stories
and loved our children.
We taught them
to love their births.
We told ourselves over and over
"We shall survive this way."
(Simon J. Ortiz)

We do live by staying alive (D'Arcy McNickle) and while the pressures—ancestral, familial, historical—weighed on each of my grandparents uniquely as man, shizhé'é, as woman, shimá, manifesting itself in a self hatred only the colonized can know, they each made their own estimation of the best way to deal with being who they were. And they each, in turn, showed us who we were in San Francisco, California. Shimásani turned to the Roman Catholic Church, while he turned to any wine available.

Choices. We all make our own, and I've looked to both the Catholic Church and to alcohol as a way to dress the wounds myself. When the answer has been and continues to be standing in the center of oneself—a self that prioritizes the roots, the routes, and the memory of what it is to be more beautiful than broken.

We are leaving today to Market, taking 40 through Albuquerque up to Santa Fe. That famous trade trail from Chihuahua up to the Northern plains. Many have made the same journey for generations. And as we pack (paintings, beadwork, writing paper and pens) I am happy to hear Diné Bizaad flow smooth, happy to see others who have chosen to remain whole , those I respect, not only for their commitment to our nation (Tom and Melissa Barnes of Durango Custom Hats and Saddles, Virginia Boone and Leonard Markus of Medicine of the People, and Eli and Trina Secody of Runway Beauty) but for their willingness to hazard their fiscal health and well being as a consequence of that choice.

"The tribes have seen a thousand changes and yet remain who they are. . . so we sing, have reason to sing of our people's lives and experiences. By our very existence, our birth—individual and collective, we cannot help but sing."
(Anna Lee Walters)

Friday, August 1, 2008

For Future Reference: Water Is Not a Renewable Resource

On August 1, 1953, during the 83rd Congress, the House unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 108, and while house resolutions are not enforceable by law, as statements of general intent they are binding.

Here is some language: Whereas it is the policy of Congress, as rapidly as possible, to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, and to end their status as wards of the United States, and to grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship; and
Whereas the Indians within the territorial limits of the United Sates should assume their full responsibility as American citizens. (emphasis my own)

H.C. 108, Termination policy, was comprised of a bevy of interlocking pieces, each designed to sever the U.S.'s Federal trust relationship with tribes and Pueblos, ending the trust protection of tribal lands, and liquidating tribal assets (disbursing after sale funds through per cap payouts) from tribal to individual ownership, converting homelands into "fee simple" titles sold at large and to (former) tribal members. In other words, dissolving the tribe as if it were a corporation. In this way the People would become Americans.

Termination would in effect grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship, and in return the People would assume their full responsibility as American citizens. The tribe, as an entity, a body with a mind, a spirit and a responsibility of its own, would no longer exist, as would the U.S. Federal government's responsibilities and obligations to the Nations.

In the House Report No. 2680, 83rd Congress, Second Session, 1954, The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara of Fort Berthold were determined to be one of 96 in a list of 179 tribes and Pueblos local BIA officials believed ready to "handle their own affairs."

When tribes vocalized their opposition to being eliminated Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah countered, "They want all the benefits of the things we have, highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished, but they don't want to help pay their fair share of it."

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations have paid.

George Gillette, Hidatsa leader, wept while the Secretary of the Interior J. A. Krug signed the document that allowed the flooding the prime river bottom lands of the Missouri River to build the Garrison Dam, resulting in the creation of Lake Sacajawea. The U.S. snatched 152,360 acres, one quarter of the reservation was flooded by the dam reservoir and 325 (80% of the total tribe) families were relocated, losing 94% of their agricultural lands, as well as their ability to "handle their own affairs."

Forced relocation and homeland destruction has left a spiritual and psychic wound in every member of the three tribes that comprise the MHA Nation, both on and off the reservation.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara continue to pay. As part of the national Fossil Fools Day (April 1) Kandi Mossett, coordinator for the Campus Climate Challenge (Indigenous Environmental Network) scheduled a meeting on Fort Berthold to discuss clean (solar) energy on the reservation. The tribes are currently in the midst of heated negotiations regarding a proposed oil refinery on the MHA Nation. The signs for the meeting were torn down, the event unceremoniously moved and the North Dakota Division of Homeland Security was contacted. (For a full account see ICT, April 14, 2008, New Town, N.D.) Aside from the particulars of the MHA Nation's thinking and action, what is clear is that they are still paying for other people's resources (fuel, electricity) and entertainment (tourism in the form of water based recreational activities) while trying to address the poverty that has resulted from the U.S. reservation system and the MHA Nation's relationship to U. S. citizens, at large, as well as their own status as U.S. citizen, under the 1924 Citizenship Act.

During the Termination Era roughly 3% of the U.S. Federally recognized tribes were terminated, including 41 California tribes in a single "Rancheria Bill" in 1958. The unsophisticated language served further notice to tribal people of the time to what our ancestors knew during the U. S. government sanctioned wars and mass western expansion of settler colonists in the 19th Century. These policies still stand as statements of intent today.

Today, on the anniversary of the H.R. 108, it is necessary to remember that the desire to absorb First Nations into the general American populous remains the same. If we wish to maintain our position, in the land, as handed down to us (in oral tradition and tribal history) through our medicine, wise people and elders, we must discriminate and evaluate our daily participation in American culture.

Water is not a renewable resource. Those with dams on their homelands and on their sacred rivers (like the great Colorado) know this intimately.

Termination policy makes clear the entire project of Americanization—to rid the hemisphere claimed by the "original settlers " of all obstacles to what they envision as life via extermination (of people and their way of living). American consumer culture is not an inevitability, though many cannot see anything outside it, but the culture does exert itself with such force and persistence that it feels irresistible, and somehow a natural part of "progress" as if it is the very definition of "civilization" itself.

We face the legacy of Termination today in advertising, commerce, education, home improvement, enrollment, federal recognition and employment: Nike, Pepsi, Exxon, iLife, MySpace, TMobile, ATT/Comcast Broadband Cable, Direct TV, NASCAR, alcohol, Meth, Water Recreation, English, French and Spanish.

We face it in a flat and unimaginative notion of civilization.

Termination told the truth: They don't want us here and will stop at nothing until we disappear. The immigrant mythology of the U.S.A. is a powerful tool, able to lead new arrivals on the program of abandoning their origin stories, their ancestors and their way of life in exchange for the promise of full participation in the American Dream, in exchange for a flat screen TV, cell phone and iPod.

We are not immune; never forget. What's at stake and what are the costs? America needs Indians, for their mascots, entertainment, and for their national history, but tribal people engaging in tribal culture are the problem—always have been and always will be.

For more information about these policies read Creek/Seminole/Shawnee/Sac and Fox historian Donald L. Fixico's book Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960

For more information about the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations visit:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

K'é: Nothing Short of a Major Revolution

"The horrific sociological issues deeply imbedded in Pine Ridge, and perhaps all of the reservations, are having a tidal wave effect and are pushing these people—collectively—toward the very brink of utter destruction—mind, body and soul. Short of a major revolution, I am unable to conceive of a way these people can ever recover, let alone survive. They are, unfortunately, being help captive by a fortified wall of profound ignorance and warped ideology inflicting the greater majority of American people."
-Lena Walker, Bellevue Nebraska, Indian Country Today 2008/07/25

"There was a woman who used to wash the clothes for the enemy in a kind of way she wan an enemy herself, not an enemy who could frighten one but just an enemy and she said the enemies would win because they had wonderful weapons that no one had ever seen, all the enemies had wonderful weapons that no one had ever seen."
-Gertrude Stein , Wars I Have Seen

"The awareness of one's origins is like an anchor line plunged into the deep, keeping one within a certain range. Without it, historical intuition is virtually impossible."
-Czeslaw Milosz

"My own decision proceeded, not from the functioning of the reasoning mind, but from a revolt of the stomach. A man may persuade himself, by the most logical reasoning, that he will greatly benefit his health by swallowing live frogs; and, rationally convinced, he may swallow a first frog, then the second; but at the third his stomach will revolt."
-Czeslaw Milosz

Many have swallowed the frog of you don't matter, and those days are over. And while our material conditions have changed for the People both on and off the reservation the questions before us remain the same: How can we find food and where can we find shelter. Our answers to those questions have shaped us. Material conditions have always been changing. What we retain is our integrity. We—the Diné—emerged from Mother Earth, that is why she is sacred to us. Our ability to think and gather power through prayer and cooperation (in our neighborhood of earth, plant and animal) resides in a firm belief in our intellectual and spiritual knowledge. This expertise was given to us and it is our responsibility to use it and pass it down.

The pace and preoccupation of this age in the U.S.A. gives the feeling that we and our lives are small. Too small to affect a meaningful change and certainly too overextended to devote any daily portion of time to doing anything "extra." It's as if we are caught in a stream and the current is pulling us farther and faster down river. As if the complexity somehow trumps our responsibility to step outside it. We are Dorothy in ruby slippers dancing the grapevine down the yellow brick road. If I only had a brain. If I only had a heart. Courage. A home.

Once we were warriors, now we're just Indians in line. The forts have changed but the commodity lifestyle has not. Clinics. Casinos. Cost-co. FDIC insured cash depositories. Consume don't create. This is a lie. Some hold onto it as if their lives depend on it. For many their lives as they know them do depend on it.

Recognizing the state we—the Diné, all Nations (Sahnish, Tongva, Colville, etc.), citizens (by birth, force or naturalization)—are in is the easiest task before us. I don't believe we don't know. From the beginning we've understood that our relations will sustain us—provide for us both companionship and the necessities of life (meals and shelter). The first relationship we have to look toward is to our mothers, the People to Earth.

Those that refuse to recognize the occupation of our homelands extends into our psyches consequently refuse to take any meaningful (daily) action. Those that do recognize the occupation have work to do, daily work, emotional, physical and spiritual work. Work based on the fact that "the substance of the universe is relationships" and the knowledge that community is defined and organized by responsibilities not rights.

Our origins and ancestors bind us to specific places among certain peoples. Where those ties have been maintained and nourished we are strong. Where they have been severed or neglected we float like rotting flesh down a poisoned stream of you are nothing and your days are over, grabbing hold of anything we can get a hold of. Whether we fell from the sky or emerged from the earth we each brought with us a story of our origins. These stories provide us the means for addressing the world. They tell us who we are and how we are supposed to act. They are the filter all action should flow through prior to, and once committed. We are a thoughtful people. We are an observant people. We are not stupid. We know. It is only the enemy who tells us their weapons are more wonderful than ours. It's our choice to call a lie a lie, or to believe it.

Once we were warriors living and dying according to a code. Our lives had meaning within that code, because we smoked ourselves in it. We ate it. We shat it. We taught it to our children. We are still, Diné, Sahnish, Tongva, Colville, etc., Traditional knowledge is timely. It always has been, the task that faced our ancestors is the same task that faces us now. How to apply it to the contemporary world, in a daily practice. It is not a disembodied philosophy it is the knife that skins the deer.

How can we abandon our knowledge now? With 50% of Navajo living outside the protection of the sacred mountains and given the nearly septic state of our environment, our families and our neighborhoods. We must retain and prioritize the belief that we and our traditional beliefs are viable today. They are not historical or romantic, they provide us with contemporary solutions to contemporary circumstances.

Facing the 50% of us who live outside the protection of the sacred mountains requires those who live within their protection to account for our absence, the life and the shared consequence of it. Our lived experience of our kinship system (K'é) requires a set of behaviors from all of us, not simply those within reach (be it ideological or geographical proximity.) It is only the enemy who seeks to convince us that we and our system of belief and prayer are no longer viable. It is only the enemy that tells us their weapons are better. We become enemy Diné when we agree and then attempt to force others into agreement via poverty, social neglect and isolation.

I write this column because my family has been destroyed by alcoholism and greed. This is my attempt to make something meaningful from that destruction, my attempt to stand in relation to what is left of us, of me, and to the political entity of the Navajo Nation. It is an invitation to everyone to use those same tools of subjegation (poverty, social neglect and isolation) for liberation, it is a call for nothing short of a revolution. General strike. Community based on responsibilities not rights. Speak the languages of your ancestors. Examine what you believe possible.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For Future Reference

"The learner of an endangered language has a greater task than merely to learn the language. He is also working with the speaker to re-create a speech community." (p. xv, How To Keep Your Language Alive)

The problem with us is who we are, the substance of our daily lives, and the practicalities of our existence.

"The Master-Apprentice Program requires both the Master and the Apprentice to develop new language habits in order to create the desired immersion situation." (p., 9, How To Keep Your Language Alive)

As Vine reminds us in The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty, "Anyone could act like an Indian; it took a certain amount of self-discipline and knowledge of the customs to act like a Lakota, a Navajo, a Nez Perce, or a Crow."

On April 5th I went to the 8th Biennial Language is Life Conference for California Indian Languages, organized and hosted by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival ( The Advocates do not leave the task of being or becoming to anyone, not to the schools, not to the Government, and not to the institutions whose purpose it is to destroy them. They take it on.

Many of the Advocates come from Peoples whom have been declared extinct, or who fail to meet current Anthropological standards of recognition. According to external measures they fail to have a history, they fail to appear as distinct, they fail to appear viable, the fail to appear at all. Some come from Peoples whose languages no longer have living speakers and some come from villages where the fluent generation is a dying one.

If we can no longer think of ourselves in our own words, in our own grammar, we will no longer be. Language is life, it prepares and eats our food, it hunts, it recognizes medicine, it prays, it teaches us what it means to be, who it is we uniquely are as a people from a place.

I come from a multilingual family that chose to stretch English to its breaking point, instead of teaching us the languages we sprung, like tségha'nilchi', from. In the stretching though we learned the power of thought, the strength of hearing and vision required to live in San Francisco shaping words from multiple alphabets and worldviews. Few understand us when we sit together laughing our toothless laughs, but we try to bang meaning out of this metal called today in this place called now.

English only. I have learned by their example to make it work for me, but more importantly I developed linguistic dexterity and desire and with this I move forward, replanting the roots we wrapped and stored in paper towels and aluminum foil.

The Advocates recommend spending at least 10 hours a week on language. Deb Morillo recommends 3 hours, a day. Their purpose is to create speakers. You create speakers through immersion. Re-creating a speech community requires the self-discipline and knowledge Vine spoke of. The ancestors knew this. You know this. In its most audible form creating a speech community means speaking, Diné Bizaad, Sahnish, etc., But growing up in a family whose ancestral strength resided in our ability to hide and run I know that additional forms of maintaining a speech community include those cultural practices we can, sometimes, and do, often, practice in the dark.

The punishment for refusing to submit to standardization and translation is powerful. It is applied equally to our finances, our souls and our psyches. The legacy of that punishment is evident in the paper trails we leave behind, in our homes and in our bodies. Standardization is a process of enforcing a certain rule: silence=subjegation.

When I was just learning to teach writing, a more experienced tutor explained to me that problems in grammar were largely problems in thinking, so if you cleared up the thought, the grammar usually worked itself out—provided you were working with a native speaker. I am a native speaker. My problems did not, do not, will not go away. Blame it on my dad, the Coyote Wino, or blame it on my Grandma, too devout Catholic who took me to bed every night, and walked with me, across our headboard into the Pueblo to visit people, knocking on doors and entering when invited.

Listen. Understanding requires that you take a certain approach, develop a method of listening and shared reciprocal experience of connection. The Advocates spoke of listening to the tapes in the archive, spending time with fluent speakers and when there were none to be found, to listen to the voices from the baskets, they will speak if you will listen.

I grew up learning that each person reaches across the space that necessarily exists between people in an attempt to hear to see to feel to touch and to taste. Language is life, it brings us together, in relation.

My intention for this column is to speak explicitly about language and developing a speech community with the goal that we each take, 10 hours a week (at the least), to living immersed in our ancestors' way of speaking, and consequently of living. It takes its title from my experience at the Stonestown Apple Store, with Specialist Billiejoe Jones. We were in the middle of our "personal shopping" appointment, and I was asking which programs and documents I would lose and which I may be able to salvage, after my computer failure last March, and nearly 10 minutes into it he stopped me, placing his hand out, saying "for future reference, no one says, os, it's O. S.." And reminded of Gertrude's experience with the Grafton Press, questioning her knowledge of English, and writing, I should have replied, "I suppose, said she laughing, you were under the impression that I was imperfectly educated." But I did not. And he continued to supply me with inaccurate information. And since white men, in particular, though Billiejoe was at the most 9 years old when Serpent Source purchased the failed computer for me, love to correct my English, usage and pronunciation, I have decided to use his phrase as a title for this column. Ahéhee'.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

For Future Reference

Look for my new column, For Future Reference, in early July.

K'é will return in Late July.

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.