Friday, May 27, 2005

That and $1.99 Gets You A Cup of Coffee

Up in Kingston, Ontario it looks like there is a new meaning to DWI. Let's call it Driving While Indigenous. Yes, Natives have joined the ranks of the targets of racial profiling.

Looks like a study entitled "Bias Free Policing" found disparities in the justice system. Although Natives only make up 1.6% of the city's population, they account for 2.2% of all stops. That means you're 1.4 more likely to get stopped by the cops for Driving While Indigenous. (But never fear. There report also concludes that you are 3.7% more likely to get stopped if Driving While Black, even though Blacks make up a miniscule 0.6% of the population.)

The police chief has apologized, but of course admits no wrongdoing, prefering to blame "The System".

Speaking of apologies in place of action, Congress has put forth a resolution that would apologize to Native Americans for "many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States." I get the feeling that's a Big Deal, cause it turns out Congress has only apologized twice for official government conduct, those being the unlawful otherthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdon and the detention of Japanese Americans during WWII. No, no apology for slavery. That's crazy talk.

Apologies are a start. As the Great White Shaman Dr. Phil says, "You gotta name it to claim it."

But in both these instances, by the Ontario Police Chief and by the Congress of the United States, you have to ask what the point of an apology is if it is not followed by meaningful action. An apology alone may acknowledge the fact you know you did wrong, but if you don't do something to correct the harm you have done, then your words are empty. (Imagine if someone stole your car, apologized for it, but didnt give it back. Yeah, useless like that.)

So I am reminded of a Lakota friend of mine, who recently waxed pop music on the subject, quoting a line from a They Might Be Giants song, "Your Racist Friend": "Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding." And you certainly can't just say you're sorry.

When Your Laws Aren't My Laws

The University of New Mexico School of Law recently released its most recent volume of its Tribal Law Journal. "The purpose of the Tribal Law Journal is to promote indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law."

It makes for good reading. Here's my recommendations:

Tribal Law as Indigenous Social Reality and Separate Consciousness [Re]Incorporating Customs and Traditions into Tribal Law by Christine Zuni Cruz "explores the reflection of traditional legal concepts and values in enacted laws of indigenous nations. The premise of this article is that "an indigenous nation’s sovereignty is strengthened if its law is based upon its own internalized values and norms." Zuni-Cruz’s article questions the impact of enacted western laws on indigenous communities’ people and culture."

Troublesome Aspects of Western Influences on Tribal Justice Systems and Laws by Alex Tallchief Skibine "provides readers with an overview of the colonial process by which tribal written law resembles the legal structures of the states and the federal government. Skibine’s article highlights why and how tribal court systems have been influenced by western law, as well as the problems associated with the integration of tribal justice systems into the U.S. political system."

The Status of Traditional Indian Justice by Agustin Grijalva "discusses constitutional reforms in Ecuador that recognize traditional Indian law and traditional Indian authorities as collective Indian rights. This article explores the historical background of the constitutional reforms, how these reforms might affect the current Ecuadorian judicial system and some potential problems in administering these reforms."

Diné Bi Beenahaz’áanii: Codifying Indigenous Consuetudinary Law in the 21st Century by Kenneth Bobroff : "The fundamental laws of the Diné, "the People" in the Navajo language, were placed by the Holy People long before Spaniards arrived in the New World. Since Coronado first traveled to Navajo Country almost five centuries ago, Diné have resisted European assaults on Navajo Law. On November 1, 2002, the Navajo Nation Council acknowledged the survival of the fundamental laws of the Diné, recognizing four specific constituent elements "traditional law, customary law, natural law, and common law" and explaining the principles of each."

Read all the articles here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

In the News

There is a lot going on in Indian Country these days and with my cross-country move underway, I don't seem to have the time to get to it all. I want to make mention of a few things, and I promise to come back and talk a little more in depth later on.

1. My thoughts on the season finale of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are forthcoming. Overall, I enjoyed it. I thought it did a good job of showing Natives in a contemporary real-life light, despite the one comment by the British designer about the Indian guy just "vanishing" after he gave him a gift. Uh, yeah, maybe he just wandered over to the free snacks. Did you think of that? Seriously, would any other enthic group mysteriously "vanish"? I did learn one valuable lessons: Indians make white people cry..alot.

2. There's been a national forum on disenrollment held by members of California tribes. They argue their ouster is one of the fallouts of gaming. So is it legit or is it greed?

3. The Pueblo are finally getting props for kicking some major Spanish ass back in the day. There's a statue of Pope (that's Po-pay) going up in Washington D.C. this fall to commemorate the leader of the Pueblo revolt and get the story out there. I love the story of the Pueblo revolt, not just cause they are my peeps, but because they are a success story in the midst of so much sorrow in the history of Indians.

4. There's some Alaskan Native rappers making news.

5. The heat is righteously scorching the corrupt collective asses of Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist. Let's just hope the flames flare and catch Delay and Ralph Reed before the inquiry fires fade. As their hightly unethical and potentially criminal treatment of Indian tribes comes under more scrutiny, Norquist whines that "[John] McCain hates me." So do I, so that's one thing me and McCain can agree on..

And those are the stories catching my attention today. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reminder: Ty Pennington's comin' to the Rez

Just a reminder that Ty Pennington and crew are comin' to Indian Country this Sunday at 7/6 c. It's the two hour season finale special.

My original thoughts on that are here. Note airtime change.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Would Indians Make Better Businesses?

Back in March, Native Women in the Arts and the Centre for Indigenous Sovereignty held a symposium on the "insight and vision on the subject of cultural approaches to management based on fundamental Indigenous principles and models of leadership". They said that this symposium would "look at Indigenous cultural approaches to management, community inter-relationships, decision-making, capacity-building, and nurturing healthy arts and cultural leaders and organizations".

How interesting!

My curiosity is most piqued by the idea that there are inherent differences between indigenous approaches to management and leadership and non-indigenous approaches. What would those differences look like? How would they play out? Could you teach them in business/ public administration school? But most of all, would they be successful ? How would you know?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Goodbye Motel 6, Hello Beantown Jailhouse

Just when you thought it was safe to go on your summer vacation.

While Spearfish, South Dakota may have repudiated their law about shooting three or more Indians walking down the street together, Boston still has a little anti-Indian law on the books that is endangering their bid to host a big journalism conference. Turns out Boston has a law dating from 1675 that declares that any Indian entering the city is to be arrested.

Now no one really believes Boston will enforce this law. But as Dan Lewerenz, president of the Native American Journalists Association and member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska said, "We're considering what it means for us to endorse a city that officially and effectively bans Native Americans. We know it's not going to be enforced, but in theory, the police could arrest us when we arrive at the airport."

Two Democrats in the state congress are working to repeal the law, but until that happens, Boston's official lawbooks say that Indians are "not to be suffered to lodge in Town, unless in Prison." Guess I better cancel my reservation at the Motel 6.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Indians Seein' " Visions"

KAET, a public broadcasting station in Arizona, has a show with a simple but powerful premise: "Native American issues as seen by Arizona's Native Americans".

The show is called Native Visions and it "brings together heads of state, policy makers, community leaders, government officials, and healers for a groundbreaking one-hour special." Groundbreaking indeed! How often do you see the Native persective in the media, much less on a news or issues-related show? Oh sure, we show up as a vanishing people from the 19th century in plenty of movies and television, but a show focusing on current issues? With eloquent guys in suits, smart women asking tough questions of senators, people discussing issues of sovereignty, education and healthcare, as it pertains to Native Americans? That is unheard of. And that is progress.

Check out the website, where you can also read transcripts of past shows and find out more about the program.

The show airs Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. on Channel 8.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Inside Dachau with Sherman

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Sherman Alexie. I love his movies, I love his short stories and novels, but most of all I love his poety. So in honor of the anniversary of the end of World War II this week, I offer Inside Dachau, by Sherman Alexie.

1. big lies, small lies

Having lied to our German hosts about our plans
for the day, Diane and I visited Dachau
instead of searching for rare albums in Munich.
Only a dozen visitors walked through the camp
because we were months away from tourist season.
The camp was austere. The museum was simple.

Once there, I had expected to feel simple
emotions: hate, anger, sorrow. That was my plan.
I would write poetry about how the season
of winter found a perfect home in cold Dachau.
I would be a Jewish man who died in the camp.
I would be the ideal metaphor. Munich

would be a short train ride away from hell. Munich
would take the blame. I thought it would all be simple
but there were no easy answers inside the camp.
The poems still took their forms, but my earlier plans
seemed so selfish. What could I say about Dachau
when I had never suffered through any season

inside its walls? Could I imagine a season
of ash and snow, of flames and shallow graves? Munich
is only a short train ride away from Dachau.
If you can speak some German, it is a simple
journey which requires coins and no other plans
for the day. We lied about visiting the camp

to our German hosts, who always spoke of the camp
as truthfully as they spoke about the seasons.
Dachau is still Dachau. Our hosts have made no plans
to believe otherwise. As we drove through Munich
our hosts pointed out former Nazi homes, simply
and quickly. "We are truly ashamed of Dachau,"

Mikael said, "but what about all the Dachaus
in the United States? What about the death camps
in your country?" Yes, Mikael, you ask simple
questions which are ignored, season after season.
Mikael, I'm sorry we lied about Munich
and Dachau. I'm sorry we lied about our plans.

Inside Dachau, you might believe winter will never end. You may lose
faith in the change of seasons
because some of the men who built the camps still live in Argentina,
in Washington, in Munich.
They live simple lives. They share bread with sons and daughters
who have come to understand the master plan.

2. history as the home movie

it begins and ends with ash, though we insist
on ignoring the shared fires in our past.
We attempt to erase our names from the list
that begins and ends with ash.

We ignore the war until we are the last
standing, until we are the last to persist
in denial, as we are shipped off to camps

where we all are stripped, and our dark bodies lit
by the cruel light of those antique Jew-skinned lamps.
Decades after Dachau fell, we stand in mist
that begins and ends with ash.

3. commonly asked questions

Why are we here? What have we come to see?
What do we need to find behind the doors?
Are we searching for an apology

from the ghosts of unrepentant Nazis?
We pay the entrance fee at the front door.
Why are we here? What have we come to see?

The actors have moved on to the next scene
and set: furnace, shovel, and soot-stained door.
Are we searching for an apology

from all the Germans who refused to see
the ash falling in front of their locked doors?
Why are we here? What have we come to see

that cannot be seen in other countries?
Every country hides behind a white door.
Are we searching for an apology

from the patient men who've hidden the keys?
Listen: a door is a door is a door.
Why are we here? What have we come to see?
Are we searching for an apology?

4. the american indian holocaust museum

What do we indigenous people want from our country?
We stand over mass graves. Our collective grief makes us numb.
We are waiting for the construction of our museum.

We too could stack the shoes of our dead and fill a city
to its thirteenth floor. What did you expect us to become?
What do we indigenous people want from our country?
We are waiting for the construction of our museum.

We are the great-grandchildren of Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.
We are the veterans of the Indian wars. We are the sons
and daughters of the walking dead. We have lost everyone.
What do we indigenous people want from our country?
We stand over mass graves. Our collective grief makes us numb.
We are waiting for the construction of our museum.

5. songs from those who love the flames

We start the fires
on the church spire:
ash, ash.
We build tall pyres
from children's choirs:
ash, ash.
We watch flames gyre
and burn the liars:
ash, ash.
We watch flames gyre
from children's choirs:
ash, ash.
We start the fires
and burn the liars:
ash, ash.
We build tall pyres
on the church spire.
ash, ash.
We build tall pyres
and burn the liars:
ash, ash.
We watch flames gyre
on the church spire:
ash, ash.
We start the fires
from children's choirs:
ash, ash.

6. after we are free

If I were Jewish, how would I mourn the dead?
I am Spokane. I wake.

If I were Jewish, how would I remember the past?
I am Spokane. I page through the history books.

If I were Jewish, how would I find the joy to dance?
I am Spokane. I drop a quarter into the jukebox.

If I were Jewish, how would I find time to sing?
I am Spokane. I sit at the drum with all of my cousins.

If I were Jewish, how would I fall in love?
I am Spokane. I listen to an Indian woman whispering.

If I were Jewish, how would I feel about ash?
I am Spokane. I offer tobacco to all of my guests.

If I were Jewish, how would I tell the stories?
I am Spokane. I rest my hands on the podium.

If I were Jewish, how would I sleep at night?
I am Spokane. I keep the television playing until dawn.

If I were Jewish, how would I find my home?
I am Spokane. I step into the river and close my eyes.

7. below freezing

Dachau was so cold I could see my breath
so I was thankful for my overcoat.
I have nothing new to say about death

Each building sat at right angles to the rest.
Around each corner, I expected ghosts.
Dachau was so cold I could see my breath.

Everything was clean, history compressed
into shoes, photographs, private notes.
I have nothing new to say about death.

I wanted to weep. I wanted to rest
my weary head as the ash mixed with snow.
Dachau was so cold I could see my breath.

I am not a Jew. I was just a guest
in that theater which will never close.
I have nothing new to say about death.

I wonder which people will light fires next
and which people will soon be turned to smoke.
Dachau was so cold I could see my breath.
I have nothing new to say about death.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A Little Myth Busting from Billings

Roger Clawson's doing a little myth busting over on the Billings Outpost. It's spot on and well written, so I thought I'd just share it.

from: Myth Persists About Payments to Indians

"[...]In Western pool halls and post offices, anywhere whites gather, the myth persists. In brief, bigots claim that Indians receive a check from the government once a month.

"Other handouts claimed include free food, housing and education.

"Some people have even seen those checks. Here’s why:

"Most Indian tribes are like corporations, like General Motors or Microsoft. They have sources of income, expenses, assets and liabilities. When they make a profit, they pay dividends to their shareholders.

"In the case of the Indian tribes, the shareholders are the tribal members. Tribes sell timber, grass, oil or coal found on or under tribal lands. After paying the tribal government’s expenses, the cash is divided between tribal members.

"Make a profit. Pay a dividend. In this respect General Motors and the Crow Tribe operate alike. But there is one critical difference. The BIA serves as the tribe’s banker. Revenues collected by the BIA are deposited in the U.S. Treasury before being transferred to the tribal government or individual tribal members via government check.

"Uncle Sam writes the checks but it’s Indian money, not tax dollars.

"These irregular checks (called per-capita payments) usually arrive twice a year, around mid summer and just before Christmas. Some tribes make per capita payments of $500 or so. Poorer tribes may struggle to pay members $30. Sometimes the tribes end the year in the red and there are no per capita payments. Some tribes have struck it rich with oil or casino developments. Their members, like rich white folks, may live high on the hog.

"Pretend that your great-grandfather owned a huge ranch. When the calves are sold in the fall, you and other heirs get a check. When Acme Wildcatters strike oil on this land, you and the cousins drive new cars and winter in Arizona. Are these handouts? Most wouldn’t think so.

"Imagine your great aunt leaving you a block of Das Widgewerks stock. Would you be ashamed to clip coupons?

"Yes, Indians sometimes get coal and oil money, if the coal or oil is found beneath tribal lands.

"Just like great-grandpa’s heirs, tribal members get paid for what is theirs.

"No, Indians do not get an automatic free ride to college. A few wealthy tribes may invest in their young people, providing scholarships for those who qualify. In that case, it’s Indian money, not federal tax money, that pays for books and tuition.

"Finally, the federal government does spend a bundle on the nation’s Indian reservations. Indians receive assistance through education and food and housing programs. Come to think of it, so do whites who live off the reservations."

Read the rest of the article here.

Clawson doesn't cover every scenario. After all there are treaty agreements with varying terms and over 500 Indian nations in Indian Country. But he gets a good start and sheds a little light on one of the uglier stereotypes we have to deal with.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

We Don't Waste People

Good news out of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo President, Joe Shirley, vetoed a measure that would have banned gay marriage on the reservation. Mr Shirley said that gay marriage was a non-issue in Navajoland and if the tribal council, who first drafted the measure, wanted to protect "family values", they should worry about issues like domestic violence, sexual assault and gangs. He also said that "the legislation veiled a discriminatory aspect in the guise of family values, which goes against the Navajo teaching of non-discrimination and doing no psychological or physical harm."

I am very glad to hear this. Many Native cultures have traditionally had no issues with people who are homosexual or differently gendered. In fact, Two Spirits have often played a sacred role in tribes as creators, people who walk between the worlds and healers. It is a shame that some Natives, like the Cherokee, have decided to adopt what I consider mainstream Christian-influenced discrimination againsts gays and lesbians. It is, I think, one of the worst kinds of colonialism.

We would all do well to remember the words of Joe Medicine Crow of the Crow Nation, who said "We don’t waste people the way white society does. Every person has their gift."