It was a lovely drive that we took from Northern Virginia to Columbus, Ohio this summer. As we were passing through Pennsylvania, I saw a road sign that said: Zane Grey Museum and then, coming into Ohio, I saw: Zanesville. Wow! Grey, who was born in Ohio, seems to have left an imprint on all that landscape, I thought, and not only on me avidly reading his books and Louis L’Amour’s when I was an impressionable young adult. Ah, how those Western books and movies and their depiction of those Courageous Cowboys battling the Red Indian Savages fired my imagination at the time!
In between my readings of Western novels and my ride to Ohio however, I had the privilege of meeting James Abourezk around 1982. Jim is a Lebanese-American lawyer; he was a US State Representative who later became the US Senator from South Dakota. He left the Senate in 1979 and in 1980 founded the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) a grassroots civil rights organization that caused the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington DC to go ballistic! Jim was a daring activist and an unabashed spokesman for Native American and Palestinian concerns throughout his tenure in the Senate at a time when both of these issues were quite taboo. Jim introduced us to Russell Means, a Native American of the proud Oglala Lakota tribe who was to be the Keynote Speaker at the ADC Convention. I cannot tell you how excited I was! I was meeting a real Native American – Brave Eagle as his mother called him in Lakota – a Libertarian (who ran against Ron Paul at one time and who later supported Ron in his bid for the Presidency), actor (Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando were his friends), writer and political activist on all issues of indigenous people in the US and elsewhere. He constantly lobbied against the broken treaties, the theft of land and the deliberate nullification of his people’s culture by the US Government.
After that incredible encounter for which, amongst other things, I will always love and respect Jim, I continued to follow news of all things Native American and of Russell Means, who passed away in 2012 and whose Native American people ranked him up there with their icons Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
Small Rewind: In 2007 Russell Means was arrested in Denver, CO for protesting on Columbus Day and calling that day a celebration of genocide. I recalled that incident because on October 6 of this year while reading the news on AOL, I came upon an item that read: The Seattle City Council is replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in the city. After that unanimous vote, the Seattle School Board, preceded by South Dakota, Berkeley, CA, Denver, CO and Minneapolis, MN and with more localities and states joining in as time goes by, began having its schools observe Indigenous People’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day. To my delight, many activists, bloggers and non-mainstream journalists mentioned this decision on Columbus Day of this year. In fact, there seems to have been more coverage of this issue during this October than at any other time in my recollection! Simply Terrific!
Notably, Seattle Council Member, Bruce Harrell said: we fully recognize the evils of our past. I was amazed upon reading this. “We fully recognize the evils of our past.” What an awesome admission! And isn’t admitting one’s wrongdoing a first step towards atonement, I thought?
However, our Canadian neighbors are way ahead of us in this realm. I found this out in 2013 when I was thrilled to meet Dr. Cheryl Bartlett (www.cbu.ca/features/cheryl-bartlett). Cheryl is a visionary pioneer and a lovely person who was with CBU (Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia) at the time. She established a research program that has received international acclaim and honorable recognition. The successful program called Two-Eyed Seeing brings together the integrated knowledge and ways of knowing from indigenous (Mi’kmaq) learning traditions and Western scientific world views for the purpose of science education, research, applications and outreach to Aboriginal youth and community. It is an amazing concept of collaborative work with Elders from First Nations Communities in Cape Breton. Our Canadian neighbors are way ahead of us on many other fronts too in their interactions with First Nations – which is what they call their indigenous population, and how incredible is that?!?
In addition, on September 25, 2014 AOL had published an article headlined: U.S. Will pay $554M Settlement to Navajo Nation, a population of 300,000 members who are spread across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, 40% of whom live without running water or electricity. How can that be in the US, I angrily thought; is this possible? The article goes on to explain that this payment was for mismanaging reservation resources and that it is the largest payout to a tribe in US history. Amongst other grievances, the Navajo Nation sits on top of land that has several abandoned Cold War-era uranium mines that the tribe believes have caused their people cancer. The article continues: This is another in a long line of settlements by the Obama administration with Native Americans who had tried in vain for generations to battle government practices and a system that dated back to the 1800s. Moreover, The Washington Post reports that the administration has now reached agreements with more than 80 tribes totaling 2.61 billion dollars. Bravo President Obama, I told myself! That’s not too shabby now, is it? To his credit too, George W. Bush had declared November to be Native American Month – he, too, wasn’t all that bad it seems with those few of his redeeming qualities? Small steps; quite significant, though much, much more is needed and required!
Therefore, as we begin to celebrate this Native American Month, I would like to congratulate all the Native American Nations in this country, as well as Indigenous People all over the world, and to wish them all the best as they strive to lift up their communities, reclaim their heritage, celebrate their culture and overcome their many challenges. Whether in the US, in Brazil, Australia, New Zealand or anywhere else they deserve our support and our acknowledgment of their history, their stories and tragedies, their culture, their love and care for our Earth and all living things, their knowledge of nature and its medicinal abilities and all of their many other values.
To heal itself, shouldn’t our Planet do right by all people whose slanted history was always written by “conquerors,” “occupiers” and “settlers”? For true Justice to prevail don’t we have to change our biased approach in evaluating other cultures, religions and people? Shouldn’t some Power claim real and genuine Moral Authority if we are to redeem ourselves? And, don’t we have to start at home: in our neighborhoods and communities and with all minorities amongst us, indigenous or otherwise? Might not our healing begin when we silence the guns of belligerence and war, overcome injustice and discrimination and begin passing on the Peace Pipes and spreading Equality and Coexistence on a Planet whose fragility we are increasing by the minute? In other words, we have to change our tactics for; we cannot continue our rampaging around the world while playing Cowboys and treating everybody as if they are the Red Indian Savages of our lore. It doesn’t work on the proud Native American people anymore, and, actually, it isn’t working on anyone else; not in Ferguson, not in Iraq, and nowhere else; not anymore! It simply cannot, and it certainly should not either!
To all Native American and Indigenous People Everywhere: My Salutations, Admiration, Support and Respect for now . . . and . . . for always!!!