Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Indian Country in the Crosshairs

Indian Country and its inhabitants have taken a beating lately in the mainstream media. First, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece calls for the abolition of reservations for the good of Indians. Yes, the whiteman in Washington, as always, knows what is best for Natives, despite that fact that most Natives themselves consider reservation land sacrosant. Then last week the New York Times publishes a sensational article about drug trafficking on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in upstate New York, titled "Through Indian Lands, Drugs' Shadowy Trail". If that sounds salacious to you, rest assured it read that way. You'd think that Mohawk reservation, as well as all of Indian Country which was indicted in the article by association, was a lawless haven for gang bangers and drug dealers. Images of the Old West, replete with outlaw villans, corrupt small town officials and outnumbered deputies were conjured up on the front page of that most prestigious of newspapers.

Most of the time mainstream media is content to ignore Natives and the goings on in Indian Country. Reservations and poverty are nothing new, so what is prompting the Wall Street Journal to quote single mother statistics and throw around terms like "rez", as if the author's been hangin' at a '49 with his cuz cruisin' for a snag? And everyone knows methamphetamines are a problem all across rural America. Why does the New York Times seem so horrified that there exists a criminal element on some reservations now?

At least this time, though, some Native journalist are fighting back against the biased press. Indian Country Today has put out the call for a more balanced view of Indian Country, saying that

"The language of termination is heard by the ideologically driven critics. [..] the consistent language of termination introduced by prominent writers such as Holman Jenkins Jr., a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, who railed against those ''defunct tribes'' and their ''enduring nonsense of Indian 'sovereignty.''' Jenkins bemoaned the surprising resilience of any ''Indian sovereignty,'' pining for an illusive termination from Indian friend, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an unlikely prospect. ''[B]ut even that may come,'' Jenkins hopes, because the ''backlash'' against tribal sovereignty ''[is] already on the way.'' This is intense anti-Indian tribal rights argumentation. It is being heard across the country and the chorus will continue to croak in the lineup - a dangerous mantra that the media herd too willingly now carries as ''truth.''
Suzan Harjo also weighed in, bringing the New York Times to task for their Dark Continent style approach to Indian Country.

"The first article portrays reservations as mysterious and otherworldly, in the same way that white folks once depicted Africa as the ''dark continent.'' Here, the reporter claims that drug traffickers refer to St. Regis Mohawk territory in Canada and the United States as the ''black hole.'' [...] A reader of this heart of darkness tale would never know that the sun ever shines in Indian country or that anyone drives a school bus or takes care of grandma. Instead, this is a sweeping indictment of all Indian nations and millions of Native people. "
Specific tribes and leaders, like the St. Regis Mohawks and the embattled Red Lake Tribal Leader Floyd Jourdain, have also written articles defending themselves from the unfair Times reporting and, in the case of the Mohawks, demanding an apology.

So what's going on?

If I were a conspiracy theorist type, I'd be looking to the most recent proposed budget cuts from the Bush administration that slash Indian funding something terrible. A little villification of reservations certainly doesnt hurt to convince the ignorant that those budget cuts are justified. And let's not forget all the bad press the Abramoff scandal has caused the Republican Party. If it wasn't for the Indians Abramoff bilked out of millions, this embarrassment wouldn't have happened. Perhaps it is time for a little payback.

But I'm not into all those conspiracies. After all, Indians don't need conspiracies to distrust the Great White Father in Washington; we just need a refresher on US history.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Joe's Four Steps

If you missed the State of the Indian Nations Address today, you can read the transcript here .

I had a few thoughts about the speech overall, and then a few issues I would like to highlight that I feel are important for the non-Native American population to know.

First, the good news:

Gov. Garcia is a strong speaker and I feel confident that he can represent Indian Country and the issues facing Native peoples. He seemed to have concrete goals and concrete ways to begin to address the major problems facing Native America today.

I particularly enjoyed that he turned to an indigenous paradigm to present his issues and used the Four Directions in Tewa tradition as a framework for his speech, which might be best understood as the Four Steps. He said the four major issues facing Indian Country are Law Enforcement, Health Care, Education and the Economy, and the Trust Settlement.

Now the bad news, which is just a small sampling of how important the issues he outlines in his Four Steps are:

- Homicide is the third leading cause of death for Native women. Seventy percent of American Indians who are the victims of violent crimes are victimized by someone of a different race.

- Healthcare expenditures for Indian are less than half what America spends for federal prisoners.

- Only half of Indian students complete high school. Only 13 percent of American Indians hold bachelors or graduate degrees, less than half the national average.

- More than one in eight Indians lack access to safe drinking water. More than one in twelve lack access to basic sanitation. This is humiliating, degrading, and medically unconscionable. It is wrong, and it has to be brought to an end.

Even those these statistics and the reality they suggest are staggering, Garcia boldy called to task the federal government and the Bush administration to pass and approve the funding for feasible, concrete legislation that is already on the table and could aid Indians here and now: the provision in No Child Left Behind that would allow for charter schools that operate under a indigenous methodology, the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act that is up for a vote in this session of Congress, the settlement the Corbell Trust Case.

Garcia emphasized that Native America is strong, is growing. However, he also acknowledged that the future of Indian Country is somewhat dependent on the federal government living up to its historic agreements and long relationship with the Indians and a future of enthusiastic support of sovereignty and self-determination.

And, well, for that last part, I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of Indian Nations Address

WASHINGTON—January 25, 2006—Joe A. Garcia, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) – the nation’s oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization – will deliver the fourth annual State of Indian Nations Address on February 2, 2006 at 12:00 p.m. (EST) at the National Press Club. The address will take stock of the state of American Indian and Alaska Native nations in the United States. The speech will be delivered two days after President Bush's State of the Union Address and will relay to the President and the general public a comprehensive, contemporary and visionary picture of the challenges and opportunities before today’s American Indian and Alaska Native nations.

Listen tomorrow! Thursday, February 2, 2006 at 12:00 p.m. (EST)
at http://www.ncai.org or http://www.airos.org

“It’s time to tell the real story of Indian Country,” said Garcia. “It’s time to look at our cultures and traditions and what they are telling us to advance successful agendas for Indian people in this modern world.”

Attending will be tribal leaders from across the nation, Administrations officials and national Indian organizations including: The National American Indian Housing Council, Native American Rights Fund, National Indian Education Association, National Indian Gaming Association, and the Friends Committee at National Legislation.