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Sunday, February 15, 2009

K'é: Heathens and Homosexuals

"We have yet to register with him as a people who matter."

AP Press writers Ben Feller and Christopher Wills begin their report on President Obama's recent ceremony to commemorate Lincoln's 200th birth date with the following: "President Barak Obama called on Americans Thursday to follow Abraham Lincoln's example of showing generosity to political opponents and valuing national unity—above all else."

Lincoln's "generosity to political opponents" clearly did not apply to the 38 men of the Dakota Nation publicly hung in the state that takes its name from their language, Minnesota. Their execution stands as the largest mass hanging from a single gallows to date.

The men were hung at Mankato on December 28, 1862, by the direct order of President Lincoln, who took the time and effort to phonetically spell out each of the warriors names so there would be no mistaken identities. Lincoln further went on to clarify the Dakota's position in respect to U.S. presence on their lands, degrading their position of being at war with the U.S. to his stand that there was no war; they were common criminals.

The U.S. has always criminalized Indian resistance to colonization, but Lincoln's order to mass execute the 38 Dakota reveals the power of language to manipulate reality, transforming 38 warriors into rats to be exterminated.

Lincoln's desire for national unity, at all costs, resonates strongly with President Obama, though he refuses to honestly appraise the divisions the U.S. faces today. After Congress agreed to pass his stimulus plan he spoke these words: "We are far less divided than in Lincoln's day [but] we are once again debating the critical issues of our time."

Black American Slavery was the Civil Rights issue of Lincoln's day.

Gay Marriage is the Civil Rights issue of President Obama's.

Many are reluctant to parallel racism and homophobia, afraid the specifics of their histories will be eclipsed by the large swaths of experiences that overlap. When community organizers use the language of Civil Rights to speak to the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California they are legally correct in doing so. Proposition 8 removes rights that existed for California citizens by a popular vote. My dear friend, the late, Deborah Dixon used to always tell me, "People would vote back slavery if it went to the polls."

The voting booth offers the protection of anonymity, and hate is easily expressed when people are spared accountability. When community organizers apply the language of Civil Rights to homosexuals they are treading tender ground, picking the scabs of wounds that have yet to heal and revealing one face hate wears today: homophobia.

Proposition 8 passed in the state of California in 2008, in the same election that earned President Obama his office. Indians and gays overwhelmingly supported Obama, many saying he "has our backs," he understands us and the unique nature of our lives. In full disclosure I never believed "he had our backs," he has made that clear in various speeches, but I did vote for him and against Proposition 8, simultaneously.

I refused to witness his inauguration when he chose Saddleback's pastor the Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director, Kate Kendell, said choosing Warren showed "how culturally competent Obama is on Gay and Lesbian issues. . .I think it's a reminder of how much work we have to do."

I have not been so understanding.

Warren, in print and at the pulpit, has equated gay marriage with incest, polygamy and pedophilia and while President Obama has framed his selection of Warren in the light of Lincoln's desire to bring north and south together after "freeing the slaves." I am not persuaded.

Maybe, like Lincoln, President Obama "wants us all to go back home and return to work on their farms and in their shops. . .That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed."

For First Nations and for homosexuals the very nature of our home life has been and continues to be attacked. Going home and getting to work, is often, for us, criminal behavior.

Indian country has taken issue with President Obama's inaugural address itself, specifically the lines: "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus-and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

The primary issue has been with the language "the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve."

In our memory and experience these words are words of warning and consequently the tribes of the nations within the U.S. have taken note.

President Obama's official statement was " President Obama was not referring to Native American tribes in this line of his inaugural address."

His response itself is indicative of the problem, as the co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association Doug George-Kanentiio pointed out, "we have yet to register with him as a people who matter."

President Obama's beatification of Lincoln as the freer of slaves, laying the foundation for his ability to become the first U.S. Black president ignores the fact that women and children of the Navajo Nation, which officially endorsed Obama prior to the election, were still being bought and sold into slavery by New Mexicans as late as 1868.

In his first interview given to the Arab press he makes the unbelievable claim that "as you say, America was not born as a colonial power."

His ability to over look America's colonial history paired with his unpardonable selection of Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer, and the consequent missed opportunity to stand for the Civil Rights issue of his day, does not tell me he doesn't get it. It tells me, many don't get him and what he accepts and consequently endorses.

His consistent framing of the U.S. as "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus-and non-believers" is what troubles me most.

Clearly the U.S. faces serious political and economic problems, but the religious divide has come to determine limits and possibilities for us all.

My life has been dogged by the word heathen since I was nine at Corpus Christi, where we bought "pagan babies" with the "Mission money" that was collected every morning. President Obama's constant use of the term non-believer is degrading and closely resembles sanctioned persecution, if only for it's refusal to recognize our beliefs as such.

The Navajo are not non-believers. In our laws people, plants and animals have their own rules, rules to be respected. Our indigenous knowledge is ancient, specific, and shaped by a people's experience of a particular place. Our knowledge defines our relationships and gives us direction, illuminating what we are and what we can become, by providing a moral code, an ethic, based on accountability, responsibility and honor for all life. This core has come down to us in part through our kinship system of K'é. Which details our clans as well as our relationship to our environment—people, plants, animals, earth, sky, water, wind and his companion darkness. The inter connectedness and appropriate behavior in light of those connections are explained by our philosophy of K'é. When we have violated those codes, as we have in previous worlds, the result has been chaos and destruction. For those reasons we must live according to K'é today.

When Johnny Navajo went to Washingdoon in October of 1969 he said, "it seems to me that not many people in Washingdoon even knew of the slavery in our part of the country. The truth is that we may not be too well known here. But it doesn't matter, Grandson, because we know who we are."

This is why and how we live in proper relation. We know who we are.

The mass execution of the 38 Dakota warriors, the passage of Proposition 8, the Diné Marriage Act of 2004, the selection of Warren, President Obama's words regarding the dissolution of tribes, and his indignant response that he was not referring to tribes (I didn't mean you) and President Obama's consistent use of the term non-believer all reflect a denial of our existence and our experience, as Indigenous people of the hemisphere and humans who love.

President Obama 's selection of Warren and his use of the term non-believer reveals his tolerance for hate is higher than mine.

Any language or action that denies a person's humanity, as heathens and homosexuals, that persecutes us for who we are and who we love, diminishes and negates our relationships, our beliefs, our warriors, our wives, our husbands, our families and supports hate.

In his interview on AI-ARIBIYA President Obama said any conversation in "the Palestinian-Israeli theater" needed to be founded on mutual respect and mutual interest. He said, "anybody who has studied the region. . ." I ask do these considerations apply to us, heathens and homosexuals.

During his campaign he went to great lengths to convince the public that "words matter." To AI-ARIBIYA he said he wanted to be "someone who listens and is respectful. . .People will judge me not by my words, but by my actions."

Standing to speak is an action he will be judged by.

To the Muslim world he has said, "you will be judged on what you built not on what you destroyed." Here in Indian country, among the nations of this hemisphere, he wants to build a monument to Lincoln. We of all nations (people, plants, animals, earth, sky, water, wind and his companion darkness) want good relations.

Photo Credit: Jesus Saves Liquor and More, 3rd and Townsend, San Francisco by Reid Gómez

Sunday, February 1, 2009

For Future Reference: Our Trade Networks Once Ruled This Land

"The White Man makes us forget our holy places. He makes us small."
-D'Arcy McNickle, Wind From An Enemy Sky

Mexico and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo on February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican American War. Mexico exchanged over 1.2 million square territorial miles (land that is now claimed by the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California) for 15 million dollars and additional considerations, namely citizenship, Spanish language and land rights for Mexican citizens and their Spanish speaking descendants. The United States acted decisively and quickly in respect to their new found land wealth, the only obstacle being the Indians.

Indians have always been a problem for the United States and Mexico. The problem being, unequivocally, who we are as a People, our concepts of the world and our understandings of our place within it.

In Nations Within, Vine Deloria Jr., clarifies this concept: "In almost every treaty. . .the concern of the Indians was the preservation of the people. . .The idea of the people is primarily a religious conception, and with most American Indian tribes it begins somewhere in the primordial mists. . . because the tribes understood their place in the universe as one given specifically to them. . .a council to remind the People of their sacred obligations to the cosmos and to themselves, was sufficient for most purposes. The tribes needed no other form of government except the gentle reminder by elders of the tribe when the people were assembled to maintain their institutions."

The solution to the problem of us has also remained the same: extinguish our spiritual title, traditional knowledge, and physical occupation of our homelands through war.

In 1864 Christopher "Kit" Carson was recruited to finally and definitively subdue every Navajo who stood in the way of United States and New Mexican settlement and occupation. In a letter dated, Jan 24, 1864 he wrote:

"They [Navajos] declare that owning to the operations of my command they are in a complete state of starvation, and that many of their women and children have already died from this cause. . .I sent the party to return through the Cañon [Tséyi'] from west to east, that all the Peach Orchards, of which there were many, might be destroyed, as well as the dwellings of the Indians. . .but it is to the ulterior effects of the 'Expedition' that I look for the greatest results. We have shown the Indians that in no place, however formidable or inaccessible, in their opinion, are they safe from the pursuit of the troops of this command; and have convinced a large portion of them that the struggle on their part is a hopeless one."

The United States desires our absorption into America— by means of violent and absolute dissolution. Full assimilation as citizens (English speaking mass consumers) in exchange for the territory of our souls as well as our homelands is the only option afforded us. Even when we are granted nominal or ceremonial management of our souls and lands (via such acts as the IRA of 1934) the terms are clear and unforgiving.

We, across all first nations, have been and continue to be punished for who we are, what we believe and how we propose to live on our own homelands. Those punishments have historically taken place in military, religious and educational arenas (Wounded Knee 1 and 2, The Long Walk, The California Mission System, the persecution of Carrie and Mary Dann, Western Shoshone sisters, and the boarding and vocational school system). Regardless of the terrain the enemy has remained the same: landed cultures and landed peoples whose world and life practice are most usually defined as traditional.

When the United States burned our peach orchards and cornfields, and slaughtered our sheep (during the livestock reduction period) their message to us as Navajo and to all first nations was simple: you cannot remain alive if you continue to be who you are. You can join the regular citizenry or you can die. America can afford her Indians but she cannot abide the Diné Nation.

The United States makes some believe they are weak and they have no choice, it promotes a relentless force that acknowledges nothing and no one outside its terms or agenda, claiming that your best defense is to find a way to make the best of a bad situation, and live with what it claims are a series of inevitabilities.

Never has it been practical or realistic to be Indian, and certainly it is not today. Punishment of traditional peoples who live traditional life ways are largely economic. There are many areas we do not have legal access to (The Black Hills, The San Francisco Peaks, LA City and County) but my concern today, on the eve of the anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, is our use of money.

Tribal language speakers know that traditional culture requires tribal language. The best way to create and maintain language immersion is to live in traditional culture. Living traditional culture often feels economically impossible—every one will tell you that, over and over. During the best of times it is a fiscal challenge on the books of our nations and in our individual pockets.

Our trade networks once ruled this land. People and goods moved in the four directions, forming alliances, families and enriching individual cultures without jeopardizing our identities. These networks were shaped and built on honor and responsibility. Goods were expected to be well made, raw materials were expected to be of high quality and craftmanship was rewarded fiscally.

Some say those days are over.

I don't believe it. But, I know our only hope, as humans, is to place our faith in land based philosophies and ethics. Traditional cultures that express and nourish humanity are still viable today. With our little money we can start supporting traditional ethics by supporting artists, educators, scientists, and engineers (farmers, herders, horsemen and builders) financially. Everyone needs to make a living, everyone.

All of America's economic stimulus plans seek the same thing: the rescue and fortification of American ideals and standards of living. We can stimulate our own economies, even and especially those of us who live in cities, simply by only supporting, with currency, people and institutions that contribute to our health as humans on Earth.

Objects have power. The power to foster the health of the planet and our health as humans. The politics of poverty are clear to everyone. Yet we often resign ourselves to our own dehumanization, simply because it seems cheaper, faster, more convenient, or somehow inevitable. These are advertisers' and politicians' lies. They are paid to manipulate our commerce.

Food, dolls, stories, baskets, beadwork, silverwork, weavings, hand drums, flutes, songs and dances tell us who we are and teach us how to care for ourselves and our relations. Farmers, artists, wise men and women, weavers, dancers and singers invest their time and money living tradition, making a place for us in the here and now. They invest their resources in us and our future, creating and forging relationships that support us as individuals and as people. When we support them we support ourselves. When we purchase objects or services based in hate and exploitation we are funding hate and exploitation.

Trina Secody of Runway Beauty and Secody Records, Navajo, wife, mother, and independent business woman reminds us all, "Walk in Beauty. . .they are more than words. . .it is a lifestyle"

Photo Credit: Beauty Unlimited by Reid Gómez

About Me

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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.