Monthly Archives: January 2008

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

What did the Indian say when the anthropologist asked him what they called North America before Colombus? Ours.

Don’t fly those stripes, those stars-and-stripes for me, for me
they Stand for greed, they stand for hate, for nothing I believe
Anti-Flag (U.S. Hardcore Punk band)

*N.B. I make no distinction between Canada, the United States (and to an extent Mexico), they are simply referred to here as on entity called North America. Though most of this post will deal with the actions of the United States it should be noted that Canada is far from innocent.

In 1492 death came to the Americas wearing the masks of exploration and the Christian cross and riding three great sailing vessels. It cam from across the great Atlantic from the nation of Spain and was named Christopher Columbus. Almost four-hundred years later, the images of the conqueror had changed slightly (the Christian cross still remained) and the justification had morphed from exploration to manifest destiny but all along the modus operandi had changed little. This is how the American west was ‘won’.

Over a century has passed since the last of the great Indian nations were herded like animals by the U.S. government into pathetic lines of existence on reservations. For over one-hundred year American saloon art and horse operas have made romantic images of the Indian fighters and white settlers, North American children (and children around the world) are still known to play games of ‘cowboys and indians‘. In this time however North Americans have been developing a reasonably acute sense of the injustices and humiliations suffered by the Indians, albeit at very slow pace. But the details of how the West was ‘won’ are not really part of the North American consciousness.

In the nineteenth century, the incessant Westward expansion of the United States (under the banner of manifest destiny) incrementally compelled large numbers of American Indians to resettle further and further west, often by force, and almost always reluctantly. Under President Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The act empowered Jackson, as president, to conduct treaties to exchange Indian land east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the river. Eventually as many as 100,000 Indians were relocated in the west as a result of this policy. In theory, relocation was supposed to be entirely voluntary and indeed many Indians did remain in the East), however in practice this was not the whole truth of the matter as great pressure was put on tribal leaders to sign removal treaties. One can argue that the most egregious violation of the stated intention of the removal policy was the Treaty of New Echota, signed not by the Cherokee’s elected leadership, but rather by a dissident faction of the tribe. President Jackson brutally enforced the treaty, forcibly expelling the Cherokee from the native homeland in the American south. The end result was an estimated four-thousand deaths as the Cherokee were forced to make a trek from the American south into what is now the state of Oklahoma on the so-called “Trail of Tears”.

Beyond the fate of the Cherokee, the explicit policy of forced and coerced removal and relocation of major Indian tribes in both the southeast and the northeast United States resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. The subsequent process of assimilation was no less devastating to Indian peoples. Tribes were generally located to reservations on which they could more easily be separated from traditional life and pushed into European-American society. This is the manifesation of the saying “kill the indian, save the man” which became the guiding ethos of North American residential schools, which were still run by the governments of Canada and the United States well into the decades following the end of the Second World War. In fact some southern states additionally enacted laws in the 19th century forbidding non-Indian settlement on Indian lands. This was done with the intention of preventing sympathetic white missionaries from aiding the scattered Indian resistance.

At one point, President Jackson told people to kill as many bison as possible in order to cut out the Plains Indian’s main source of food. Where once there roamed thousands of American Buffalo there were now fewer than 500 left in the Great Plains, this number has never recovered and is one of the great ecological tragedies of the recent North American continent.

The last holdouts of Indian resistence on the continent was the areas of the Great Plains and American southwest. It is here that now famous nations like the Crow, Blackfoot, Cheyanne, Arapaho, Apache, Lakota Sioux and others made their last stand against the encroachment of the United States. These areas were the focus of the conflicts that would later be termed the “Indian Wars”. U.S. government authorities entered numerous treaties during this period, but later abrogated many for various reasons, some never even reached the floor of the U.S. Congress for ratification. Well known engagements of these conflicts include the Indian victory at Little Bighorn in 1876 and the massacre of unarmed and disarming Indians, including women and children, at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. These conlicts combined with the human caused near-extinction of the American Buffalo were the death knell of these last hold outs of resistence.

After this government policies became an evolving process. In the late nineteenth centuary North American reformers began efforts to “civilize” and assimilate the Indians, this was seen as another option to simply relegating them to miserable existences on the reservations. To this end the practice of educating children in residential schools was begun. Many of these children were forcibly taken from their families and kidnapped by agents of the Canadian and American governments and placed in the schools. The schools which were primarily run by Christian missionaries, often proved the be highly traumatic to the children . In these schools children were were forbidden to speak their native languages, were taught Christianity instead of their native religions and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their various native identities and adopt Euro-American (or Euro-Canadian) culture. There are also many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuses occurring at these schools.

Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations, forced cultural assimilation, outlawing of native languages and culture, termination policies of the 1950s and 1960s and earlier, slavery and poverty have had deleterious effects on Native Americans’ mental and physical health. Contemporary health problems suffered disproportionately include: alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes and suicide.

As recently as the 1970s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (United States) was still actively pursuing a policy of “assimilation”, dating at least to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. The goal of assimilation — plainly stated early on — was to eliminate the reservations and steer Native Americans into mainstream U.S. culture. In July 2000 the Republican Party of the state of Washington adopted a resolution of termination for tribal governments. As of 2004, there are still claims of theft of Native American land for the coal and uranium it contains.

In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes, largely due to Walter Ashby Plecker. In 1912, Plecker became the first registrar of the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving until 1946. Plecker believed that the state’s Native Americans had been “mongrelized” with its African American population. A law passed by the state’s General Assembly recognized only two races, “white” and “colored”. Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as “colored”, leading to the destruction of records on the state’s Native American community.

So ultimately this is how the west was won, or rather how the west was lost.

I shall not be here
I shall rise and pass
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee

One People, One Stuggle! Stand United, Stand Peaceful!

In Solidarity

Public Access To Information

This is quickly shaping up to be quite a heated discussion throughout the Bermuda blog-o-sphere, with quite a long thread on the subject quickly developing over at Jonny’s Catch a Fire blog, a thread in which I stated my position on the subject of PATI/FOI reform. However I feel it is necessary in this situation to restate my views here on my own blog.

The short answer is that I fully support this sort of legislation as I feel it is necessary for any country to even be considered democratic. The long answer is more complex, while I do support the proposed reforms, I am highly suspicious of the main pusher of the said reforms, which in this case is the Royal Gazette newspaper. The primary reason I am suspicious of them is because I feel it comes at an odd time, just after the so-called BHCscandal” and more than a few years after the subject was even broached by the Scott government. I concede that the paper did launch a campaign at the time, however it was rather small in size and certainly pales in comparison to the current one they are pushing. Also, some other people are throwing their hat into the ring who I personally feel have no business doing so, namely the U.S. representative on the island. I feel this way about this person because of two main reasons 1.) As the representative on a global imperialist power it is not his duty to comment on local politics, and 2.) As an appointee of the Bush administration, I find his position in support of PATI/FOI reform to be hypocritical to say the least as the United States is not exactly a shining beacon of government transparency. The long and short of it is that I support the reform but hold reservations about its main proponents.

The Battle Continues

Finally, after years of struggle, the Corporation of Hamilton industrial workers have been unionized by the BIU. While I am not the biggest fan of the BIU, given its support of the so-called “triple alliance” between organized labour, government and private business, and its deep partnership with our current “labour” government, it is still a big step forward in the battle for workers rights which never has ended, and if anything has only intensified since the assent to power of the PLP.

So keep up the fight, and never give up and never surrender because an injury to one is an injury to all!