Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Academic Boycotts and Re-Colonization by Theory

(The full text of the following essay was published by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.)

from “Academic Boycotts and Recolonization by Theory” 

As a matter of international justice, however, conceptually distinguishing and crucial in consideration of what constitutes an indigenous people have been the following characteristics, developed for the Working Paper on the Concept of “Indigenous People” prepared for the U.N.’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations:

  • Priority in time, with respect to the occupation and use of a specific territory;
  • The voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness, which may include the aspects of language, social organization, religion and spiritual values, modes of production, laws and institutions;
  • An experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist; and
  • Self-identification, as well as recognition by other groups, or by State authorities, as a distinct collectivity.

It is obvious that Jews wholly match the distinguishing characteristics.  They do so no less or more so in any one respect than another, yet one may say that in the historically outstanding nature of Jewish survival during an unparalleled, near two-millennium Diaspora, “voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness” and “self-identification” have played especially important roles. I note this to emphasize the self-identification component offered by the international community in thoughtful respect to the self-determination of indigenous peoples.

It is the case, given the politics of indigeneity among host nations, that nations will often challenge the indigenous claims of their internal populations. Most notable in recent times, four nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States – did not originally vote in favor of adopting the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The reasons for this reluctance were not difficult to fathom. All four nations had profound histories of conquest and significant indigenous populations whose claims – original, political, and economic – are supported by the Declaration. Ratification might also entail a difficult social and political coming-to-terms with disturbing historical truths, a process still not advanced in the United States. (Australia, by contrast, in 2008 issued a public apology to its indigenous population, delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a nationally televised address before the Australian parliament, with all but one living former prime minister present.) In the United States, Native American claims of territorial and sovereign rights are regularly resisted. The Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, for instance, of such history as to be famed for Pocahantas and its contact with John Smith and the Jamestown colony, and occupying, still, the oldest reservation in the country, predating the country, does not enjoy the benefits of federally recognized status. The Lakota actually won a 1980, 8-1 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court over the theft, in violation of two Fort Laramie treaties, of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Still, while the Court offered the Lakota financial compensation – which the tribe did not want and has refused – it did not offer the Lakota what it is they do want and still demand,  the return of their sacred Hills.

In contrast to these national challenges to indigenous claims, what one will not find is the international community – that is to say, the international legal regime and the left social justice movements that are so much that regime’s support – challenging those indigenous claims by aboriginal populations.

One will not find challenges to these claims, that is, except in the case of Jews.

Anti-Semitism and the Denial of Jewish Indigeneity

Fundamental now to the radical left assault on Israel’s legitimacy are fierce anti-historical falsehoods denying the indigeneity of Jews to the ancient land of Israel. Palestinians and their left Western supporters, as part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, regularly challenge and even deny the historical origin of Jews in Israel. This is their challenge to the distinguishing criterion of “priority in time.”

The variations on these delegitimizing tactics are many, from genetic denial (Ashkenazi Jews are really converted Khazars) and misidentification (Jews are Europeans), to differing counterfactual claims: ignoring the unbroken presence of Jews in Palestine (the Old Yeshuv) and ignoring in the European claim that the majority of current Israeli Jews are actually Mizrahi and Sepharidic Jews.

Only for Jews, then, is the sensitive and respectful “fundamental criterion” of self-identification attacked by every kind of scientific, historical, and rhetorical fraudulence. With respect to Jews only does the ideological left challenge the integral identity in difference of an indigenous people. Whereas, according to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, “in almost all indigenous languages, the name of a group simply refers to ‘people,’ ‘man’ or ‘us,’” often with some indicator of place, such as “here” – thus distinguishing “the people” from those who are outsiders, those who are not “the people” – only with respect to Jews is the otherwise respected self-separation in “cultural distinctiveness” and difference misrepresented and traduced by some who would call themselves “progressive” as an ideology of racist superiority. In this gesture of disdain and, indeed, cultural superiority, does a so-called progressive dominant world view mimic the condescension with which European peoples conducted a genocidal assault on the resistant cultural and religious otherness of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and Oceania.

Only now it is against Jews that such a campaign of cultural genocide is waged, not this time on the basis of a Christian slander of deicide or of Nazi physical extermination, but of a selectively post-nationalist secular religion and by a blind progressivism that begins to mirror its opposite.

It is now “theory,” the most highfalutin conceptualizing and rhetoricizing of the intellectual left, that moves this third great movement of Western anti-Semitism. It is NAISA’s own purported professionalism in indigenous studies that constructs the irony of this campaign against the Jewish state, and, as an exploitative by-product, the re-colonization by theory of other indigenous peoples.

Re-Colonization by Theory

The ILO’s and U.N. Working Group’s criteria include as one of those distinguishing characteristics of indigeneity the “experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist.” Of course, now, for Jews, in the establishment of, and in a Jewish state, those conditions do not primarily any longer persist. Yet in this qualifier – offered, clearly, against any distinction – postcolonial and culture theorists working from counter-constructs of power and the ethical standing of powerlessness nonetheless find  excuse to recast Jews as oppressors based on their recovery from powerlessness.

Still, we might pause to wonder, as any clear thinker would be driven by obvious questioning to wonder – but why, for NAISA, Israel and Jews?

Where are the NAISA resolutions in support of boycotting Brazilian universities, in protest of the destruction of the Amazon homelands of the smallest and most powerless of all indigenous tribes? Where is the resolution against Indonesia for the 1963 conquest and subjugation of the 250 indigenous tribes of West Papua, New Guinea, which those people still resist today? Where was the resolution, closer to home, to boycott Yale University prior to 2010, during the near century that it reneged on the deal with Peru to return the Quechua artifacts of Machu Picchu? Closer still, where were the resolutions against American universities in protest of the fourteen-year Individual Indian Trust Fund lawsuit, and of the Tribal Trust Fund suit, litigations against the U.S. Department of the Interior over the misappropriation of hundreds of billions of dollars held in trust for scores of tribes and hundreds of thousands of individual American Indians since 1887? Where are the resolutions in protest of the inadequacies of the Indian Health Service, of state and local violations of the tribal sovereignty offered by the federal government? Where is the resolution to boycott any law school that does not call for the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Johnson v. M’Intosh, the 1823 decision by which the Court legally enshrined the conquest of Native America by right of European discovery?

We will not find them.

What we find instead, driven by the fashions of academia, the prevailing winds of cultural theory, and the shape shifting of anti-Semitism is the exploitation of the indigenous cause, and one more time, of indigenous peoples, only for the purpose of expropriating the terms of those peoples’ histories to be used not in the interests of the indigenous, but as rhetorical weapons against Jews. The political fashionistas of the Middle East and Orientalist theorizing – in support of Palestinian rejectionism, which is in order to oppose Jewish empowerment in Israel –  do not care about indigenous peoples. They merely use them, adopting the modern history of indigenous victimization as a banner to fly in the campaign against Israel. Worse, in this abuse, they attempt, in ideological solidarity, to draw in to a conflict not their own the very indigenous peoples these progressives pretend to champion as allies. Think of the French and Indian War in North America. How the British made promises to the Iroquois to protect the Ohio River Valley from European settlement. How the French must have whispered the music of mutual alliance into Algonquian  ears. How Omar Barghouti and some Americanist from a state university protesting settler-colonialism in Palestine play, by the mere utterance of a verbal truth-to-power badge, as if they stand in solidarity with West Papuans.

In 1988, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published a landmark essay in postcolonial studies entitled “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Its status was established by the nature of its insights, variously welcome and unwelcome by its intended audience, and by the extent of its influence on the field. That influence has been, all depending on one’s perspective, both profoundly positive and negative. Among Spivak’s important insights and warnings (Spivak’s Marxist and deconstructionist theorizing is the kind that seeks to problematize a field, to interrupt a discourse) was the caution against first-world political radicals producing “essentialist” conceptions of the third-world subaltern powerless, i.e. conceiving of them as if they are all, from their varied cultures and histories, the same in their difference – representing them as possessing an essential, common otherness from those Western Subjects who make objects of them through study. This might mean, very simply, constructing homogenous postcolonial others out of Cherokees and Palestinians.

Another of Spivak’s warnings, significantly unheeded in practice, was against perpetuating in the radical postcolonial critique of imperialism the same Western power structures – the hegemony of Western modes of knowledge and discourse – that upheld imperialism. That is to say that Western theorists and radicals speaking on behalf of the subaltern is not the subaltern speaking. Rather it is a substitution of the same dominating institutional and historical discourse for – and here Spivak quotes Foucault – “a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.”

What is the history of Western colonialism for indigenous peoples, beyond the physical onslaught, if not a history of the West’s disqualifying as inadequate “naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity”? How do we not see, even more than in the theory and its jargon, in the postcolonial activism itself – by exploiting the jargon in an effort to refashion reality from it, through vague verbal posturings in boycott resolutions by professional intellectuals – Western radicals this time, imposing, again, their own, alien historical discourse and conceptions, their own positive and negative self-regard, their own agenda on indigenous peoples?

Read more at: | SPME

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Indian Country

The Trope Dope: “Check Your Privilege”

In the final analysis, Madame Bovary is just another trope.
Unknown academic wag.

an illicit, habit-forming, or narcotic drug;
a stupid person;
[slang] the inside scoop, the poop, the skinny, the lowdown

Cant kills ideas. Leaves them dead in the field, their tongues swollen and hanging. Flies buzzing.

(They fell in love too easily. He took her for granted, abused her. Then he beat her.

She shot him.)

You know what they say, it’s chickens coming home to roost, because both sides do it when a conservative is a liberal who got mugged for the American Exceptionalism of the Founding Fathers, whose shining city on a hill where that government is best which governs the least makes it possible to raise yourself up by your bootstraps, so check your privilege.

By way of cant, tropes are made trite. When you’re finished retching from the sound of an idea stretched on the rack, words being tortured beyond all bearable value, something more than one’s aesthetic tolerance is sacrificed. There was once an idea living in that body of syllables.

The politically antagonistic are, of course, uncorrectable by a cant phrase like “check your privilege.” Thrown at them, its intent is to shut down debate by enclosing a complex notion in a hard shell. With needles. It is meant as a shaming prick. For the ideologically sympathetic, the smug ethical superiority of the injunction is intended to cow. It’s a political reeducation camp in a figure of speech, a dressing down and a slap in the face before the neighbors rousted from their homes.

The greater shame is the opportunity such cant provides the enemies of the greater idea to mock it. It is like the way postcolonial excess has granted the retrograde the meaningful space in which to attack the anti-colonial: Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich attacking Barack Obama for his supposed Kenyan anti-colonialist roots – as if to be anti-colonial were, you know, a bad thing.

So, now, “check your privilege” gets to play a little Mao in a jacket, and the reality of actual privilege escapes another instance of important recognition. While hardly all white people get to enjoy much benefit of white privilege, there are genuine manifestations of it. So, too, benefits that qualify as male privilege – as the privilege of any dominant cultural group.

They are all easy enough to miss, like thinking space is empty because it contains no visible matter. That the earth doesn’t move because you can’t sense its motion. That air is nothing, unseen. Earlier historians of the American West could write of the North American continent before conquest that it was a vacant wilderness, even though settlers as early as the New England colonists saw and encountered Natives regularly, both bought and stole that “vacant land.”

We are the ether that surrounds us, in which we live. We can know ourselves, but not deeply enough and truly until we see the ties that bind, the barriers that distance us, the ether of relation through which we move.

No ether is less visible to Americans, no web of relation less recognized, than that to Native America. Recently, amid renewed and growing attention to the issue of American Indian sports team names, David Freedlander wrote about Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s legislative encounter with the issue. We are not so much concerned here with Walker as we are with the issue, which has been addressed on the sad red earth more than once before. There are no better examples of privilege unrecognized than the arguments in defense of naming sports teams after American Indians. Usually, the first and foremost is that it is done to “honor” either Native Americans in general or the local Tribe.

“One has to wonder,” I wrote,

if the Native population had managed to hold off and limit the European advance on the continent in any significant way, had achieved any measure of victory – at far greater cost to non-Native life, as is the nature of war – would the present-day fans of Redskin “courage” and “dignity” be nonetheless similarly enamored? One tends not to ennoble one’s conqueror. The defeated don’t make pets of the victorious.

Let’s look around the world. Let’s note the instances in which subordinated groups of have named their soccer teams affectionately in honor of the people who conquered them. Were there on the dirt fields of the townships of apartheid South Africa, or in organized play, teams of black players named the Afrikaners or the Boers? All in praise of their fierceness and courage, let’s say?

Then there is this from Freedlander’s report.

“When we look back at the history of these communities, we find that Native Americans often had a significant role in the development and prosperity of these communities, and that is why the high schools decided to name their schools after them,” [Sam Hall, a lawyer who represented Mukwonago in a lawsuit] said. “It is source of pride for these communities, a way to talk about the history and heritage of the area” at a time when “the Native American people that live on the reservation are far removed from the land that their ancestors were on, but you can still educate the kids who are 30 miles away from where the reservation is currently located.”

Now, elsewhere, Freedlander informs us that the current Native population of Wisconsin is now only about 1% of the general populace. How exactly did that come about?  From the Wisconsin Department of Health Services:

In 1804, the government forced the Sauk and Fox tribes to cede their land claims in Southern Wisconsin in a treaty they had not agreed to9. These actions lead to the Black Hawk War of 1832. The largest American Indian population in Wisconsin, the Menominee, was pressured to sell away 11,600 square miles along the lower Fox River10. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1825 was significant in the history of American Indians in Wisconsin, post-European settlement. The treaty was facilitated by the United States government to end the inter-tribal warfare that was disrupting the fur trade and creating tensions between settlers and the tribes11. The tension between tribes was created because the United States government had used them against each other to gain more lands12. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien established a treaty of peace among the tribes and demarcated boundaries between settlers and American Indians13.

By 1971, most of the American Indians had been placed on reservations and the government discontinued their use of treaties14. The government moved their focus to de-indianizing this population, creating schools that attempted to rid this population of their cultural traditions and way of life by breaking tribal ties and molding them into the image of white settlers15. However, before this time, between 1887 and 1934, the federal government aimed to mainstream Native Americans through the policies of assimilation and allotment16.

Is this what Hall means when he says, “Native Americans often had a significant role in the development and prosperity of these communities”? Yeah, that’s some role worth “honoring.” Is this the “source of pride for these communities”? Really? Yes, “the Native American people that live on the reservation are far removed from the land that their ancestors were on.” The history of how that came to be does not exactly, ethically, lead to the making of mascots.

This kind of defense of the naming of athletic teams after citizens who are fellow by fact, but not by choice, and in so many ways not fully, this is an example of privilege – the privilege, at the very least, to remain blind to forms of diminishment and disadvantage not a part of one’s own life.

We should check it out.


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Indian Country

A Second Look: The Honor of the Mascot, or A Team by Any Other Name

washington-redskins-helmet-logoThe latest publicity over the very name of the Washington Redskins is only the most recent eruption in a longtime simmer. As recently as 2009, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case dating back to 1992. This should not surprise given that the Supreme Court has never overturned Johnson v. McIntosh, its 1823 decision in which it justified the European conquest of Native American lands by right of the Doctrine of Discovery and asserted the United States’s assumption by inheritance of this right. The decision remains the law of the land. It is as if Dred Scott v. Sandford‎  were still accepted law. Fittingly, too, the 2009 decision was over the matter of trademark – an economic interest such as those that fueled all the conquest and abuse of Native America.

The latest effort against the Redskins denigration also began with a challenge to trademark. Now President Obama has weighed in, and for certain kind of American for whom neither the conquest, nor Johnson, nor the legacy of both is problematic, the very fact of Obama’s judgment belittles the case. That Lanny Davis, of all legal counsel, has been retained as Redskins representation offers its own ready commentary on the quality of the quarters to which adherents now retreat. All this foolishness about identity politics. (Crie those, generally, whose identity was never the reason for social difficulty.)

I wrote about this specific subject at length once before, on June 8, 2009.

From “The Honor of the Mascot, or A Team by Any Other Name”

Periodically, because of such suits – and actions on a more local level, against school athletic teams – the subject gains a degree of national attention. Some non-Natives are automatically sympathetic: of course, there shouldn’t be such team names. No Washington Redskins anymore than a Los Angeles Kikes, Washington Niggers, New York Spics, or Cleveland Bohunks.

Those less sympathetic generally argue from two positions. One is that of an apparently deep fatigue (so arduous has been the burden) with what is sometimes referred to (for instance, now, in the conservative opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor) as “identity atlanta-braves-logopolitics.” This is a fatigue generally ironically experienced mostly by those who have never been the victims of the original identity politics, namely racial or ethnic discrimination. (Ah, but give them credit; they are born again.) And there is no group identity that has been longer both under attack and disregarded on this continent than that, collectively, of the various Native nations.

The other position – less explicitly presented but quite apparent – is that of the sports fans who don’t want their hallowed traditions messed with. Team names, statistical records, stadium rituals are all part of the mythic regalia of an athletic Valhalla. You want to disrupt all that for – the Indians? Of course, few would say exactly that, so one defense of current practice with regard to the Washington Redskins is that “Redskin” is not a derogatory term like those others I used. Sports Illustrated, of all publications (how curious) conducted a poll in 2002 that offered results indicating that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans did not object to the term. In 2004, the Annenberg Public Policy Center produced a similar poll.


Setting aside any consideration of the particularly problematic nature of polling what is, at this point, a very demographically complex Native population, one has first to note that there still, nonetheless, appear not to be athletic teams named the Los Angeles Semites, Washington Negroes, New York Hispanics, or Cleveland Slavs. And we might point out as a reasonable and parallel historical argument that, hey, the Indians signed all those treaties, didn’t they? It was all on the up and up. They agreed to it!

Besides (goes the further argument), we’re paying them a compliment. We’re honoring them (but not those Semites, Negroes, and, well, you get the point) for their courage and dignity and similar such encomiums. One has to wonder, if the Native population had managed to hold off and limit the European advance on the continent in any significant way, had achieved any measure of victory – at far greater cost to non-Native life, as is the nature of war – would the present-day fans of Redskin “courage” and “dignity” be nonetheless similarly enamored? One tends not to ennoble one’s conqueror. The defeated don’t make pets of the victorious.


Check the major American dictionaries: “Redskin” is defined as a derogatory term. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychological Association have all adopted resolutions opposing the use of Native American images as athletic symbols and mascots. Yet there remains something essential that most Americans do not get.

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma:

For generations now, what is the language or frame of reference we’ve accepted? Because of American history, it is based upon color. It’s very simplistic. Those are fairly shallow criteria…. There are a lot of other barriers that the United States and the American people don’t even recognize as a barrier. A very clear one is the Washington Redskins…. If we look in D.C. today, here is the capitol, here is the class of people who really should understand American history…but have so little understanding that the Washington Redskins – half the congress goes to those games, and you can go to their offices and see those derogatory caricatures.

The dominating mentality of the conqueror persists, little altered by time. The ownership of the Washington Redskins and its executive leadership condescend to praise Native Americans as they belittle them, by exercising a power that only the dominant can wield over those subject to that power – in this case, the force of an arrogant cultural disregard masking unremitting greed. So it was in previous centuries; so it is now. Twice in the nineteenth century the Cherokee had their Tribal lands removed from them because, beneath all the subterfuge, the government and whites simply wanted them for their own economic interests. An underlying truth in the case of the Washington Redskins is that a change in the team’s name, affecting branding and team identification, would have significant economic consequences for what is currently the second most valuable team in the National Football League.

Until now arguments in court have centered on trademark law and the timeliness of the plaintiff’s applications. This is how it has always been. But if there were a Los Angeles Kikes or a Washington Niggers, all quaintly dressed up in their most becoming cultural stereotypes, how long ago would growing popular outrage have forced the issue beyond the bounds of the blind technicalities of law?

A fine compendium on the issue.


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Indian Country

Seeking Submissions: Wiyoĥpeyata, a New Journal of Native American Literature

Our friends at Alternating Current press, who are behind so many fine projects and publications, have yet one more, Wiyoĥpeyata: a Literary Journal for the Pine Ridge Reservation. The title, in Lakota, means Westward, and the journal is open to Oglala Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as well as members of neighboring Great Plains tribes. For a nominal fee, non-residents who have had experiences on Pine Ridge or among the Great Plains Indians may also contribute. State the editors, their plans are to donate

100% of the proceeds (after at-cost expenses are met) to several organizations working to better the lives and cultures of the people of Pine Ridge, especially the youth. While we are still in talking-mode with these organizations, we will update you on where your money is going as soon as we have the final details.

The journal is accepting visual art as well. Here is more about Wiyoĥpeyata, followed by a link to the AC site, where electronic submissions are accepted.

What is Wiyoĥpeyata? It is a journal of writing by Pine Ridge residents. It ranges anywhere from children telling their stories, to teens coping with suicide, to adults reliving their cultural memories. For many on the Pine Ridge Reservation, life can be bleak; writing is a therapeutic way of reaching out, feeling connected, and more importantly, sharing one’s knowledge, hopes, dreams, and stories with others who have never heard them. For some, it can be life-saving just to know that someone is listening. For us, we want to show you that the Oglala Lakota Sioux are not perpetuators of some strange, foreign culture to which you can’t relate—they are the same as you and me. They play football and basketball, participate in rodeos and youth groups, make beautiful art, jam out to rock music, and spraypaint graffiti on overpasses. They farm and work with animals, play soccer, read J. D. Salinger, take photographs, attend universities. They are mechanics and engineers and farmers and leatherworkers. They ride horses with saddles, wear blue jeans, speak English, and have libraries. We want to show you, in their own words, that there is more to this vibrant people than a worn-out stereotype. We are currently beginning issue #1, and it is in its infancy, so please pass the word around and submit. The book will go to press when it has at least thirty pieces of prose and/or poetry and/or experimental hybrid writing. Sign up on our mailing list to be notified of its release.

Visit Alternating Current and Wiyoĥpeyata here.


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Creative Culture Clash Indian Country Israel On The Road The Political Animal

Taking Stock, Taking a Leave


The first post on this blog is dated December 2, 2008, so I have been blogging as of the date of this post, four years, three months and two days. I began when Julia and I hit the road during a sabbatical year, traveling the country in our motor home researching Native American life. In those early days, blogging was about our experiences in Indian Country and the deep, moving joy of road travel. If you feel the strike of an interest, you can go back in the monthly archives or click “On the Road” on the horizontal menu bar and read what it was like when this blog traveled a different path from the one of recent years.

Before that original mission, I had never imagined any interest or conceived an intention to blog. So it was a gradual startlement, of a kind most bloggers experience, at how, as Wallace Stevens once wrote, of a jar upon a hill in Tennessee, “It took dominion every where.” Major events have happened in my life while I blogged, acknowledged and transformed by the blog, as writing transfigures everything. As with other marked experiences in life, there is for me now life before the blog and life since the blog.

I learned over time, again like many other bloggers, that blogs generally cannot be all things to all readers. I tried to mix the original focus with a broader political interest and with rough drafts of some creative work, too. That did not work in building readership, and since I was not treating the blog as a personal journal, I did want it to be read. Political writing drew more readers more quickly, and it was easier to produce, so the sad red earth became, with occasional forays into locales my fancy still would take me, what it has become.

Beyond even those broad political interests, the sad red earth gave increasing attention to Israel. That was never my intention with the blog, either, but while unintentional, it was not accidental. In the area of international affairs, where my political interests predominate, Israel is the focus of many other people’s attention too, exceedingly beyond what its relative circumstances warrant. My concern with that fact might seem obviously based in my being Jewish, and it would be silly of me to deny that element of personal import, but were my concerns based in that personal relation alone, I would be hard pressed to make the case that Israel should matter to everyone. It should matter to everyone not because it matters to Jews, but because its misguided critics and it enemies, masked and outright, have placed it at the very fault line of a civilizational crisis that affects all liberal democracies, and the fissures extending from that fault lead in every political direction. Why Israel matters is a topic about which I will continue to write, with even greater focus and, I hope, clarity.

Now, though, after mostly long periods of daily blogging, or of blogging several times a week during these four plus years, over recent weeks, the frequency of my posts has diminished. I always tended to write not the usual brief or mid-length post, but extended essays, and even knocked out pretty quickly, they consumed a lot of time. This writing has had many benefits. I am a writer, and the past four years have been enormously productive of words, beyond even what is reflected on the sad red earth. But there is much else I want to write, of book length and in other genres, that cannot stand the drain of attention to the blog. I need the time to do that writing. There is, too, life stuff that needs to be unstuffed. The pressure to produce for the blog is not one I wish to accommodate anymore, not for now, anyway.

It is not my thought to give up blogging completely or for good. I have made for myself, if not a megaphone, at least, then, a little bottle for my message, and I plan to float it when the spirit moves: excerpts of and links to what I will publish elsewhere, as well as original posts whenever inspiration and opportunity are cooperative. In not too many days, there will be the spring issue of West and my column on poetry there. Other works in other genres are in other pipelines.

It is time for change. For half my life I didn’t know that I liked it as I do. In the second half of my life, I learned that I need it, feel a calling for it, like the undiscovered country that looms up speeding by through the window of a car, or a motor home or a train, any vehicle that can make a movie of the journey from where you are to where you have never been.

I wish to focus more on my creative work again, including that mix, or that meeting, of the personal with the world-historical forces that both produce and ignore the personal. I want to write some of that parchment that Aureliano II is reading at the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude, when the great hurricane begins to blow – the lived and unlived history of Macondo and its people leading to that moment.

Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reading the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.


Susana Baca & Javier Lazo

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Indian Country

Conquest Leaves a Sour Taste


Who’d a thunk it? Five hundred and twenty years of military assault, ethnic cleansing, physical and cultural genocide, theft, lies, deception, dishonor, broken treaties – oh, you can’t even count the number of broken treaties – broken trusts and misappropriation of funds, and nothing seems to work quite right. Things are – how do you say? – broken.

I wrote last week about the impending conclusion, final resolution, the end at last, of Cobell v. Salazar, the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund suit – 125 years in the making – after seventeen years of litigation. The expectation is that payment of proceeds to 350 thousand American Indians from the $3.4 billion settlement will begin by Christmas. Of that total, $1.9 billion is set-aside for a land consolidation program to help facilitate the sale small, fractionalized land holdings. For now, the payment to most recipients will amount to less than $2000.

Estimates of the total amount actually owed to landowners ranged as high as $176 billon. Elouise Cobell, the moral force behind the lawsuit, died after settlement was reached, but before appeals were concluded and payments could be made. After delays in congressional approval of the settlement at the behest of Wyoming Senator John Barroso, four individual American Indians filed suits to block settlement. Those suits were rejected or dropped last month. Now, before payments are made, Dennis Gingold lead counsel for plaintiffs for the length of the suit, who by all appearances to an outsider had enjoyed Cobell’s trust all these years, and who assumed responsibility for communications after her death, has quietly withdrawn from the case just weeks short of its culmination.

Of course, attorneys representing class actions litigants on contingency are always suspected and maligned. Common fees are 30% of settlement monies. That would have been a billion dollars in this suit, an unconscionable amount given the particular historic nature of the case. Even half that would have been beyond the pale. Barroso’s intervention reduced lawyers’ fees to $100 million. Cobell always defended the work and compensation requests of Gingold and others. How does one measure the value of legal service on so massive of case for over seventeen years? Here is one take.

[Lawyer Dennis] Gingold claims to have billed an astonishing 48,772 hours on this case—which works out to almost 9.5 hours a day, every day without a single day off, between November 4, 1995, and December 7, 2009. This includes a seven-year stretch where Mr. Gingold billed 28,230 hours—an average of eleven hours a day, every day seven days a week without a single day off.

A hopeful person might wish to believe that resolution of so historic and outstanding a case of abuse, with compensation would bring some – oh, what is that word so cliché it is cliché even to mock it? – closure. Another opportunity for many to say, “It’s over; move on.” But so meager a settlement against so much owed and stolen, after such history, is not a tonic going down. Wrote Jay Daniels at Indian Country Today, expecting anticlimax:

Sad to say folks but expectation usually is more exciting than the gift.


The acceptance of the payment will conclude hundreds of years of injustice and failure to adequately protect our treaty rights. It will be hard to express our belief that we were wronged in the past because now it is made right with the settlement and payment

The comments below Daniels’ piece offer a fair picture of the currents that flow through Indian Country.

Yes. The average estimated amount of $1,000 or $1,500 won’t even cover one month’s rent in many places, like where I live. It’ll get pissed away paying for Christmas or paying off a credit card and then all it will be is a memory (make sure to take a picture of that check for posterity’s sake before you take it to the bank). Remember, it’s just a settlement because we’ll never know just how much money was stolen…


When I was growing up people in Indian Country often said “When I get my Indian money, I’m going to . . .” For all the land taken we received 50 cents an acre for prime timbered real estate in Washington state. Our families were “homesteaded” of their property and out of their homes in the 1920’s. For all of that we received 50 cents many years later. I wish we had that negotiation over again.


When I heard about this case and joined the lawsuit I thought about what I could do with the money: spend it on materialistic crap, pay off some bills, or save it. Then I had insight about what this money represents. To me, it’s not about the amount I get but more about a proud victory we as Indigenous People’s will share in a long history of abuse and torment at the hands of this government. Yes they have blood on their hands that will never wash off, but more so a small acknowledgement of THEIR savagery. After all, money is just ink on paper while my pride and love of this world is not tangible. Take a moment before you spend this money and reflect on what it means to you…

To be expected, too, are those who, like Cobell, like any litigants seeking compensation, accept a version of reality and find their satisfactions where they can.

Given the time it took to settle this class-action, the immense amount of paperwork, and the perserverance of Keith Harper and the Stockton people, it is a monumental feat to get this completed. Like any lawsuit that wants to make the injured person whole again, this small amount of cash will not do that, however, it’s more than most have at this point in time given the economy… I’m thankful to Eloise Cobell! CMO

Wrote another,

I followed this case from the beginning.. it was an eye opener to the BIA…OST..Interior Dept..all those who were responsible for maintaining records…my ancestors are the ones who lost out..they received little or nothing for their land..many could not sign documents let alone understand what they were signing. Today I fight my own land battles…there will always be land battles… at least this case was successful in bringing out the wrong doings to our people..the money might not mean much to many but to many it will be all they get this Holiday Season.. I am thankful to the brave warrior who made it happen…RIP Eloise Cobell….your courage and strength will be remembered for generations to come…

As Daniels writes, there will be a day after the payments, the sigh after climax, and then what?

The White House Blog reports on this past week’s fourth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. Initiated by the best friend Indian Country has yet had in the White House, who remembered at the conference his recently deceased adoptive Crow “father,” Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle, still its attendees met with a president who offered for settlement of Cobell only that $3.4 billion. And you will search hard to find reporting on the event beyond the White House itself.

Five hundred and twenty years. Two thousand dollars in compensation per landowner. And a meager point, but not by the way, which do you think are the least read posts on this blog, least often recommended on social media?


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Indian Country

Forty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Six Days (or Thereabouts)


Many top stories are receiving their usual high levels of attention, from the structural taxation reforms bandied about in the face of the “fiscal cliff” that is really a graded driveway to Israel and Gaza. What receives no attention? The usual, including from among the far left advocates of “peace and justice” who pretend to be concerned with matters of indigeneity in Israel-Palestine. Indigenous America is at the heart neither of au currant left ideological interests nor the challenge to Western liberal democracy, so other than lending a terminological veneer to attacks on Israel, you will find no Code Pink or BDS for it, no section of The Daily Beast specially edited by a former editor of the New Republic devoted to changing the conversation about Native America. But consider…

This blog began in December 2008, nine months after I published “Aboriginal Sin” in Tikkun. A general survey of the nature of the conquest of Indigenous Peoples, focused mostly on the United States, the inciting story of the article was that of the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund lawsuit first brought by Elouise Cobell against the Department of the Interior in 1996. That story now concludes.

On February 8, 1887, the Dawes General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act,was passed into law in the United States. The law’s purported intent was to help fully integrate American Indians into the general culture. Accordingly, it broke up tribal lands and  provided for the distribution of Indian reservation land among individual tribesmen, with any excess remainder from the equal allotments to be made available for public sale to non-Indians. In addition, many poor American Indians,  unacculturated to farming, unfamiliar with agricultural practices, accepted offers for their land. By the termination of the allotment policy in 1934, of the 132 million acres in the possession of Native Tribes in 1887 – already greatly reduced, through treaty and the abrogation of treaties, from the lands once home to Native America – 90 million had been transferred to white ownership.

Reservation life and European encroachment now preventing militarily conquered and ethnically cleansed Indians from living successfully as they had, and in return for the transfer of land for white settlement, the U.S. government, promised to provide health, education, and economic development to the Tribes and their people. The government took into trust relationship the remaining 56 million acres, of which 10 million were for individual Indians, in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) Trust Funds, and 46 million for tribes, in the Tribal Trust Funds. The U.S. government was to use its expertise and the power of collective leases to negotiate and manage the proceeds of  oil and other mineral leases and grazing rights.

On June 10, 1996, Elouise Cobell a Blackfoot Indian who the next year was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, filed as the lead plaintiff in a suit against the U.S. Department of Interior alleging historical mismanagement (misappropriation) of the IIM funds of as much as $176 billion. The suit dragged on for 13 years in the face of Bureau of Indian Affairs obstruction that included even the destruction of documents.

On December 8, 2009, Cobell accepted a settlement on behalf of as many as 500 thousand allottees: after so many years, and in the face of the poverty and death through aging of so many class members of the suit, Cobell thought the Obama administration offer – very far from what she and others believed was owed – was the best they would ever receive.

The offer was $3.4 billion.

Cobell died of cancer on October 16, 2011 at the age of 65.

The settlement still has not been disbursed.

After delays in congressional approval of the settlement led by Senator John Barosso of Wyoming, four American Indians decided to file their own suits objecting to the terms of the settlement. According to Dennis Gingold, Lead Counsel, who assumed responsibility for communications after Cobell’s death, the court found one case to consist of

 “blatantly mischaracterized” arguments that are “without merit” and [that] otherwise “ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and enormous obstacles to producing an historical accounting.”

Nonetheless, all four litigants appealed. Why, in the face of such rejection? Gingold would not speculate, but he noted of the law firm whose counsel was representing one plaintiff that it

is the same firm that filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals on behalf of Competitive Enterprise Institute (“Institute”) in support of Craven’s meritless arguments.  The Institute is a tax-exempt organization and Wikipedia reports that it is funded by ExxonMobil Corporation, Texaco, Inc., Coca Cola Company, CSX Corporation, FMC Corporation, and others.  The Institute says that it is “dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

 Now, earlier this month, came news from Gingold that after one appeal was dismissed, the three remaing plaintiffs have dropped their appeals ” in return for Class Counsel’s agreement to pay their attorney’s fees and expenses out of attorneys’ fees we expect to receive.” Wrote Gingold on November 7,

This will greatly increase the likelihood that we can begin to disburse settlement funds to [class members] before Christmas and before winter ….  Most importantly, we also wanted to finalize the settlement before more Class Members die without realizing any measure of justice. Sadly, it is estimated that 12,000 class members have died since the settlement’s record date of September 30, 2009. As you know, the year and one half delay caused by the appeals prevented Elouise from seeing the results of her extraordinary efforts. In addition, each month that finality has been delayed has cost class members at least $300,000 out of their recovery.

So, roughly forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty six days, 125 years, since the Dawes Act fully legalized the process of expropriating and economically exploiting Native lands, 189 years since the Supreme Court decision of Johnson v. M’Intosh made it the law of the land – standing until this day – to accept the Papally-endorsed European Doctrine of Discovery, the religiously and racially superior right of ownership by conquest, 335 years since the oldest Indian reservation in the United States, the Pamunkey Indian Reservaton, was established in the colony of Virginia, 520 years after after Columbus first arrived in the Western Hemisphere, Native Americans will only now begin to receive some very small amount of the value in economic terms of what was taken from them.

Those are the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds.

The Tribal Trust Fund litigation is still outstanding.

History is not history. It is in the soil and the streets we walk on, the grazing lands, the oil derricks, the run down homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the drunken bodies in White Clay, Nebraska, just across the state line from Pine Ridge, where the modern versions of the opportunistic frontier trading post still sell alcohol to forlorn and forgotten Indians. It is in the dollars in a vault, on a ledger, unaccounted for – in 2012, still unpaid.

Forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty seven days.


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Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Writing Paradise


I learned at an early adult age, with only minor but memorable pain, not to hero-worship. When we lionize people, we tend to forget the natural inclination of the lion to consume the person. I prefer admiration. Admiration works from the muck up. While hero worship sets up the faithful for a fall, admiration begins in the recognition of human failings and appreciates a person’s achievement in rising above them. Fewer disappointments that way, more genuine appreciation of the distinction in the ascent.

I was asked the other day, after tweeting of his death, about my thoughts on Russell Means. Not that I have any special standing to speak about him. Very soon after, I was informed of what I had not known, not having bothered to read the schedule – that Russell Means was on the schedule to speak at the coincidentally named and meretricious Russell Tribunal, and prevented from appearing only, near his end, by the cancer that killed him.

Russell Means was a controversial figure even among the Native peoples he championed, but that is almost a commonplace. Strong people who play leading roles in resistance movements usually are controversial. There is not a palliative manner in which to challenge oppressive power and seek to overthrow a structure of domination. One can hardly come closer to such an ideal – if that it be – than Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and look how they were reviled by those they opposed and by some who contended with them for influence. See how they were dealt with in the end.

Means, from what I know, came up bad. It was a rough life, a poor one. Some of the violence of his life in the 1970s was as much an outburst of rage and wild destructive frustration as it was a plan of resistance. But in the 1970s, Russell Means was one of the people who stuffed in the face of a smug, amnesiac America a defining truth of its origins that it still does not acknowledge. One can argue that the conquest of Indigenous America, with its long falling action in diminishment and despair, only ended, at last, in the 1970s, with the rise of the American Indian Movement. There are those who say that all of Indigenous rights movements of the Americas – stronger, actually, in some countries than they are in the U.S. – have their origin in the rebirth of pride marked by the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead. That the achievement of Evo Morales, the indigenous Aymara President of Bolivia has its origin in the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead.

For the rest of his life, whatever directions Means took, including his Hollywood career, he never acquiesced in his mind to the brute reality.

The brute reality is that while the victims of prejudice and discrimination may ultimately be relieved of those afflictions, and the descendents of slaves live free themselves of enslavement, American Indians and all the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas will not be unconquered. They are not another minority in any kind of melting pot, but a conquered people compelled to live within a conquering culture that ignores and disregards them, refusing even to recognize the nature of the act it committed against them. (As one neat symbol, consider the head of Metacomet, displayed on a stake at the Plymouth Colony for two decades after the colonial victory in King Philip’s War.)

None among us who is not Indigenous can know the interior landscape of the wisdom it takes not to live a life in blind fury. If I imagine myself a Native American, I can imagine myself Russell Means.

As it turns out, because the well of ideological depravity is as deep as the field of human barbarity is wide, the abuse of Indigenous Peoples comes from every direction. Whereas once reactionary national and religious institutions pretended to seek for Indigenous Peoples their civilization and salvation, now it is left, international pretenders to peace and justice who claim to champion their liberation. Once again Indigenous Peoples are used and abused, if only, this time, conceptually.

It makes only superficial but surely apparent and satisfying sense to connect the historical conquest and the current disempowerment of Indigenous Peoples to the general postcolonial critique of imperial power. And what do the activists of any political movement wish for but a handy Rosetta stone of historical understanding to share with the people? But using power and its imbalances as the homogenizing agent that substitutes for specific historical and political analysis renders thought as unchallenging and pleasing at one end of the political spectrum as does a mantra like American Exceptionalism at the other. Yet for an indigenous person steeped in the overwhelming history of the West’s annihilation of Native cultures, the inclination to disambiguate any particular power imbalance in the world must be very slight indeed.

So there it is. The Dutch, French, German, and English in Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America. The English, French, and Spanish in North America. The French (and Japanese, while we’re at it) in Southeast Asia. Jews in Judea. All the same.

If I had ever met Russell Means, I would have wished to talk with him – as I do so many Native leaders, as I will on the Omaha reservation next month – about all in his life and career that challenges human imagination and compassion. I might, too, have asked him about Sioux warfare against the Pawnee and encroachment on Pawnee land, how the Pawnee were powerless against the much larger and more aggressive tribe. I might have mentioned how after the Ponca Indians were ethnically cleansed and removed from the Nebraska territory to Oklahoma, in order to open the way for white settlement, some Ponca made their way by foot back to Nebraska; how when they arrived ill and starving, the Omaha Indians welcomed them on their own land in Nebraska and supported the Ponca in their request to return home.

I might have reminded Means of what he always reminded others, how the Black Hills of South Dakota were taken from the Sioux by the United States in violation of the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. I might have asked him how many years the Sioux might remain exiled from that land, those sacred hills – more than 140 years now, but even one thousand, two thousand – before he would claim they had lost their indigenous, historic, moral right to return.

I cannot ask him that now. And on the record of his life is included now, too, his intent to speak before a miscreant panel of the hateful and slanderous who rhetorically style themselves champions of the “indigenous” (Palestinians) only for the purpose of wielding that concept as a club against Israel and Jews.

How, then, to feel?

A couple of weeks ago, I suffered briefly through a foolish, facile attack by a Jewish voice on President Obama. The writer employed the trope of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” against Obama, and concluded by declaring his stance with Eliot against Obama. I reminded the writer of Eliot’s anti-Semitism and of the occasion when the English Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff, upbraided Eliot in verse in the master’s presence, before an admiring crowd. Litvinoff, as I, as any reader of English poetry, was an admirer of Eliot.

Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound, “Il miglior fabbro,” was more famously anti-Semitic, with greater pronouncement. Any student of Modernism is an admirer of Pound. Yet even at the end of his worst travails, before his long silence unto death, when Pound condemned the anti-Semitism of his fascist support, he dismissed it, still inadequately reflective, as a “suburban prejudice,” reducing to an aesthetic error, in bohemian condescension, what is a great moral failing.

Still, the cover photo on my Facebook page is this.

The currents of the very aged Pound locked in a gaze with the statue of his long-dead peer James Joyce – a man contemptuous of political engagement and passion – those are currents of thought that will invite me to swim for a very long time.

On the home page of an online literature course I teach I have placed this photo of Pound.

The great poet standing in his library, literary and exotic, with his forebears – see Joseph Conrad? – gazing over him. It sets a tone for the students, richer for them in memory years from now when they may know more than presently. What they also know not now is any reason why I superimposed over the photo Pound’s “Notes for Canto CXX,” the last addition to the great craftsman’s lifelong, impossible poetic project.

I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
      Let the wind speak
        that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I
        have made
Let those I love try to forgive
        what I have made.


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Indian Country The Political Animal



I was talking with my class the other day about the methodology of fully-developed conspiracy theories and my general skepticism toward them. The undeveloped conspiracy theory works off a form of radical skepticism. How do you know we really landed on the moon? Have you been witness to any of the reality of the moon landings? How do you know it was not all filmed in a studio somewhere? (How do you know, for that matter, that George Washington really existed? Have you yourself seen any of the historical evidence of his life and presidency? Have you carbon dated any of the documents with his signature? Can you personally verify the legitimacy of carbon dating?)

The fully-developed conspiracy theory works in exactly the reverse manner. Fully-developed theories do not work off skepticism, but the overwhelming of skepticism with fact – factual bombardment that constructs your credulity. Theories such as accounts of the assassination of President Kennedy or, more currently, 9/11 Truther conspiracies about U.S. government authorship of the 9/11 attacks can run to hundreds of pages of arcane and even science-based detail. Then, to reemploy the radical skepticism in a converse manner – are you going to make yourself expert in the composition of the steel beams of the World Trade Center towers, their melting temperatures, the combustion temperature of jet fuel, and the physics of building collapse? How do you feel certain these theories are not true?

Undergraduates, and lots of other people, have an unclear understanding of the nature of fact and its distinction from opinion, and then, when they begin to learn the difference, turns facts into totems. As if fact-checking political campaigns is all we need do to settle disputes about social policy. “Just the facts, ma’am.” In fact, not just the facts. Joe Friday then needed to understand the facts, what they added up to, how to read them. The facts are a text, the detective a reader of the text making meaning out of it.

Gary Gutting offered a primer on the subject recently in The New York Times’ The Stone column recently, “Facts, Arguments and Politics.”

What is the moral? That facts alone are necessary but not sufficient for a good argument. As important as getting the facts right is putting the facts into a comprehensive logical structure that supports your conclusion. This structure must present a plausible account of the various factors relevant to the conclusion. Without it, even an impeccable set of facts does not give us a good argument. The recent journalistic trend toward serious fact-checking holds considerable promise for improving our political debates. But we also need a serious effort at argument-checking.

Well, one of the things I like to do with my classes is play with authority – that is, I work against the authority they passively offer texts, and then from and off the authority they place in me. People have to learn to think for themselves somehow: why not pull that thoughtless trust out from beneath them? Just as some slippery slope arguments may not be fallacious – some slopes are slippery; it’s just that you have to demonstrate the existence of the ice – it isn’t as if there are not actual conspiracies in the world. What was, after all, in its secret heyday, the Mafia?

So it is that a little while back I received the latest email update from the administrators of the Cobell Indian Trust Settlement. The Cobell Individual Indian Money Trust Fund case was in many respects the genesis of this blog. Lead plaintiff, Blackfeet Indian and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Elouise Cobell, who died just about a year ago, feared at the time she finally agreed to settle the case after thirteen years that the 500,000 potential beneficiaries of the suit were aging and dying off at an alarming rate, making dramatically reduced compromise in the settlement figure her only conscionable decision. Rather than the $200 billion figure some believed had truly been embezzled by the United States government from the Individual Indian Trusts, Cobell and her attorneys agreed to accept the Obama administration’s offer of $3.4 billion. That settlement was reached in December, 2009. Nearly three years later, settlement trust payments have still to be made.

The first hold up, even before Cobell died, was because of Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, who, of course, was more concerned about the welfare of American Indians than they are themselves. So it has always been. Once Barrasso’s obstruction was overcome, four separate suits objecting to the settlement were filed by four different American Indians. The cases of these four have received scant respect in the courts. Still, the four are appealing. The email updates I receive are addressed to the settlement recipients. Here, in a Q & A, is Dennis Gingold, Lead Counsel, who took over the updates after Cobell’s death:

Why are appellants appealing the court’s rejection of “blatantly mischaracterized” arguments that are “without merit” and otherwise “ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and enormous obstacles to producing an historical accounting”?  What are the chances of the four appellants prevailing?  Speculation is inappropriate; however, I note a potentially relevant statistic. In 2010, the latest full term of the Supreme Court, the Court reviewed 7,857 petitions for the Court to hear cases. Of those, only 86 were granted. This suggests that there is about a 1% chance that the petitions of Craven et al. will be granted.  As reported by on August 15, Colombe, himself, admitted to the Native Sun News that they, the appellants, were “going to be blown out of the water” by the Supreme Court.  But, even so, in the unlikely event that one of the petitions is granted, your payments may be delayed at least another year.

I am not aware of any case in which the Supreme Court has rejected calls from all three branches of government urging the prompt and fair resolution of a settlement with the United States government.


So, if they have little chance of prevailing on the merits, why are they appealing? I cannot answer that question because I do not know.  Class members, including those who identify themselves as family of the appellants, ask us the same question.  They ask why appellants are doing this when they know that it hurts so many Indian people, including their own grandchildren.  To the extent that the appellants ever believed they had a chance of prevailing prior to May 22, 2012, it is clear that they have very little or no chance of prevailing now. And, should they succeed, that means that the settlement would be terminated and that they and you will receive nothing. It is not within the realm of possibility that Congress will again appropriate $3.4 billion for individual Indian trust beneficiaries.  When so many class members are dying and many must do without heat and adequate shelter this winter, I believe that the efforts of the appellants and their counsel are nothing short of a travesty of justice.

This is all rather extraordinary – a now 16-year lawsuit settlement of an historic financial wrong so direly jeopardized by four different American Indians acting, with so little basis, against the interests of their own. Gingold answered one final question in this latest update.

Who are the attorneys who represent the appellants?  McGuireWoods LLP, a Virginia law firm with a Washington, D.C. office, is representing Kimberly Craven.  An associate in that firm, Anand Ramana, is handling her petition and is counsel of record.  It is the same firm that filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals on behalf of Competitive Enterprise Institute (“Institute”) in support of Craven’s meritless arguments.  The Institute is a tax-exempt organization and Wikipedia reports that it is funded by ExxonMobil Corporation, Texaco, Inc., Coca Cola Company, CSX Corporation, FMC Corporation, and others.  The Institute says that it is “dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

Just in case you’ve been wondering where I was going with all of this.


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Indian Country

Pine Ridge: In the Shadow of Wounded Knee


National Geographic

The photographs, text, video and audio below are from the August edition of National Geographic magazine, all courtesy of the magazine. The photography is by Aaron Huey, whose work we have highlighted before at the sad red earth, the story by Alexandra Fuller. Huey has spent the past seven years documenting the lives of  the Oglala Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It is an important record of Native life today after a history of conquest.

©Aaron Huey

“Riders take a break during a day of activities to mark the 1876 defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.”

©Aaron Huey

“Three-year-old C. J. Shot bathes among dishes. The Oglala concept of tiospaye—the unity of the extended family—means that homes are often overcrowded, especially with the severe housing shortage on the reservation. In 2008, when this photograph was made, 22 people lived in the three-bedroom house. “These houses aren’t who we are,” says Oglala activist Alex White Plume.”

©Aaron Huey

“A passenger barely has room for the journey home as a car is loaded with used clothing donated by a Colorado-based Native American charity. Contrary to popular myth, Native Americans do not automatically receive a monthly federal check and are not exempt from taxes. The Oglala Lakota and other Sioux tribes have refused a monetary settlement for the U.S.’s illegal seizure of the Black Hills, their spiritual home.”

©Aaron Huey

“Lenny Jumping Eagle rides in a celebration of the defeat of Colonel Custer in the Battle of the Greasy Grass (the Battle of the Little Bighorn), June 25-26, 1876. Every year dozens of long-distance rides or horse races on and beyond the reservation commemorate great leaders, sacred lands, and historic events.”

©Aaron Huey

“After intense communication with the spirits, participants emerge from a steaming inipi, or purification (sweat) lodge. This ceremony was held by Rick Two Dogs, a medicine man descended from American Horse.”

Audio interviews and photos by Aaron Huey


“I think to be a warrior, you
have to be strong in your mind.”


“No matter what happens, we
are going to stand till the end.”


“Some call me a seer … someone that
came back to finish his destiny”


“The Native Youth Movement is the voice
of the younger generations to come.”

You can view more of Aaron Huey’s photography from Pine Ridge here.

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Indian Country

I Am a Man: When American Indians Were Recognized as People Under U.S. Law


Standing Bear: James E. Taylor, Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archive

This is the story I have meant to share.  You had to know the story of the Massacre of the Cheyenne first. That took place at Fort Robinson, Nebraska on January 9, 1879. This story, and these events, played out only months later, in Omaha, Nebraska, in the spring of 1879. Though I draw on additional sources here, for the full story in all its detailed richness, you must read I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice, by Joe Starita.

In 1877, as part of the government’s “removal” program (what we would now call ethnic cleansing), the Ponca tribe was forcefully relocated from it homelands in Nebraska to “Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. As with every tribe relocated by the U.S. government to strange and inhospitable land, the Ponca suffered huge losses to disease and starvation. However, this itself was not what began the momentous story of Chief Standing Bear.

“My boy who died down there, as he was dying looked up to me and said, ’I would like you to take my bones back and bury them where I was born.’ I promised him I would. I could not refuse the dying request of my boy. I have attempted to keep my word. His bones are in that trunk.”

Starita, Joe (2010-01-05). “I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice (pp. 116-117). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Standing Bear and twenty-nine other Ponca had spent sixty-two days walking from Oklahoma to northeastern Nebraska in sub-zero temperatures and snow like that the Cheyenne had enc0untered in their own attempt to return to their homeland. They had run out of food and been forced to beg at white homesteads in Kansas.  The Omaha Indian friends who greeted them

were shocked at what they saw—faces hollowed from hunger and skin blackened from frostbite, gaunt children, ragged clothes, emaciated horses, and so many sick. One man wore a string around his neck tied to a sack containing the bones of his grandchild.

Then they were taken into custody by the U.S. Army.

General George Crook, Commander of the Department of the Platte and the most-famed Indian fighter in the Army, had been ordered by his superior General Philip Sheridan, and Sheridan’s superior, the Commanding General of the Army, William Tecumseh Sherman, to return the Ponca to Oklahoma immediately.

Crook’s years of warfare against the Indians had changed him. The various tribes against which he fought acknowledged him as a valiant and honest foe, true to his word, and Crook had come to respect the values of the people he fought and to question the policies pursued regarding them. When Crook’s entreaties of compassion for the condition of the Ponca under Standing Bear were rejected by Washington, he did an extraordinary thing. One evening he secretly visited the office of Thomas Tibbles, assistant editor of the Omaha Herald. He invited Tibbles to be present during an interview Crook would conduct with Standing Bear so that Tibbles would have a first hand account with which to publicize the situation. He did something more: he encouraged Tibble to find attorneys to bring a petition of Habeas Corpus under the new Fourteenth Amendment that guaranteed “due process” and “equal treatment” under the law. Beyond Crook’s act, what was extraordinary was that it had never been considered or intended that the Fourteenth Amendment apply to American Indians.

On the morning of April 1, readers of the Omaha Daily Herald awoke to find “Criminal Cruelty, The History of the Ponca Prisoners Now at the Barracks,” covering most of page four. In it, Tibbles recounted in detail his interviews with Standing Bear and Buffalo Chips, and the meeting with General Crook. In an adjacent column, “The Last Indian Outrage,” he used his editorial as a pointed forum, pleading the Ponca case and Indian reform to his readers. He asked them to examine carefully the Ponca speeches and their remarks to the general.

Soon enough, news of the situation had spread to all the cities of the East and the situation of the Ponca and Standing Bear become a cause célèbre among people advocating a more humane policy toward the Indian tribes. Money was raised and Tibbles found his lawyers.

The trial opened in Omaha on April 30, 1879, and lasted for two days. G. M. Lambertson represented the U.S. Government and their argument was simply that the Indian was neither a person nor a citizen within the meaning of the law, and therefore could not bring suit of any kind against the government. Lambertson further contended that the Poncas adhered to their traditional ways, were dependent on the government, and as Indians, were not entitled to the rights and privileges of citizens.

The attorneys for the Indians stressed that the Poncas had renounced tribal authority, were engaged in farming, had made great advances in assimilation, and were entitled under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to be treated like other people. The lawyers also argued that the U.S. Government had no right to take the Poncas’ land or move them to Indian Territory.

Nebraska Studies: The Trial of Standing Bear

The following is Thomas Tibbles’ account of what transpired in the courtroom beginning April 30, 1879, in consideration of a petition in which General Crook himself was the named respondent representing the U.S. government.

The court room was crowded with fashionably dressed women; and the clergy, which had been greatly stirred by the incident, were there in force. Lawyers, every one in Nebraska, and many from the big Eastern cities; business men; General Crook and his staff in their dress uniforms (this was one of the few times in his life that Crook wore full dress in public); and the Indians themselves, in their gaudy colors. The court room was a galaxy of brilliancy.

On one side stood the army officers, the brilliantly dressed women, and the white people; on the other was standing Bear, in his official robes as chief of the Poncas, and with him were his leading men. Far back in the audience, shrinking from observation, was an Indian girl, who afterward became famous as a lecturer in England and America. She was later known on both continents by a translation of her Indian name, In-sta-the-am-ba, Bright Eyes.

Attorney Poppleton’s argument was carefully prepared, and consumed sixteen hours in the delivering, occupying the attention of the court for two days. On the third day Mr. Webster spoke for six hours. And during all the proceedings, the court room was packed with the beauty and culture of the city.

Toward the close of the trial, the situation became tense. As the wrongs inflicted on the Indians were described by the attorneys, indignation was often at white heat, and the judge made no attempt to suppress the applause which broke out from time to time. For the department, Mr. Lambertson made a short address, but was listened to in complete silence.

It was late in the afternoon when the trial drew to a close. The excitement had been increasing, but it reached a height not before attained when Judge Dundy announced that Chief Standing Bear would be allowed to make a speech in his own behalf. Not one in the audience besides the army officers and Mr. Tibbies had ever heard an oration by an Indian. All of them had read of the eloquence of Red Jacket and Logan, and they sat there wondering if the mild-looking old man, with the lines of suffering and sorrow on his brow and cheek, dressed in the full robes of an Indian chief, could make a speech at all. It happened that there was a good interpreter present—one who was used to “chief talk.”

Standing Bear arose. Half facing the audience, he held out his right hand, and stood motionless so long that the stillness of death which had settled down on the audience, became almost unbearable. At last, looking up at the judge, he said:

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man. I never committed any crime. If I had, I would not stand here to make a defense. I would suffer the punishment and make no complaint.”

Still standing half facing the audience, he looked past the judge, out of the window, as if gazing upon something far in the distance, and continued:

“I seem to be standing on a high bank of a great river, with my wife and little girl at my side. I cannot cross the river, and impassable cliffs arise behind me. I hear the noise of great waters; I look, and see a flood coming. The waters rise to our feet, and then to our knees. My little girl stretches her hands toward me and says, ‘Save me.’ I stand where no member of my race ever stood before. There is no tradition to guide me. The chiefs who preceded me knew nothing of the circumstances that surround me. I hear only my little girl say, ‘Save me.’ In despair I look toward the cliffs behind me, and I seem to see a dim trail that may lead to a way of life. But no Indian ever passed over that trail. It looks to be impassable. I make the attempt.

“I take my child by the hand, and my wife follows after me. Our hands and our feet are torn by the sharp rocks, and our trail is marked by our blood. At last I see a rift in the rocks. A little way beyond there are green prairies. The swift-running water, the Niobrara, pours down between the green hills. There are the graves of my fathers. There again we will pitch our teepee and build our fires. I see the light of the world and of liberty just ahead.”

The old chief became silent again, and, after an appreciable pause, he turned toward the judge with such a look of pathos and suffering on his face that none who saw it will forget it, and said:

“But in the center of the path there stands a man. Behind him I see soldiers in number like the leaves of the trees. If that man gives me the permission, I may pass on to life and liberty. If he refuses, I must go back and sink beneath the flood.”

Then, in a lower tone, “You are that man.”

There was silence in the court as the old chief sat down. Tears ran down over the judge’s face. General Crook leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. Some of the ladies sobbed.

All at once that audience, by one common impulse, rose to its feet, and such a shout went up as was never heard in a Nebraska court room. No one heard Judge Dundy say, “Court is dismissed.” There was a rush for Standing Bear. The first to reach him was General Crook. I was second. The ladies flocked around him, and for an hour Standing Bear had a reception.

From the decision a few days later of Judge Elmer S. Dundy of the United States District Court:

George Crook: James E. Taylor, Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives

During the fifteen years in which I have been engaged in administering the laws of my country, I have never been called upon to hear or decide a case that appealed so strongly to my sympathy as the one now under consideration. On the one side we have a few of the remnants of a once numerous and powerful, but now weak, insignificant, unlettered, and generally despised race. On the other, we have the representative of one of the most powerful, most enlightened, and most christianized nations of modern times. On the one side we have the representatives of this wasted race coming in to this national tribunal of ours asking for justice and liberty to enable them to adopt our boasted civilization and to pursue the arts of peace which have made us great and happy and a nation. On the other side we have this magnificent, if not magnanimous government, resisting this application with the determination of sending these people back to the country which is to them less desirable than perpetual imprisonment in their own native land. But I think it is creditable to the heart and mind of the brave and distinguished officer who is made respondent herein, to say that he has no sort of sympathy in the business in which he is forced by his position to bear a part so conspicuous. And so far as I am individually concerned I think it not improper to say that if the strongest possible sympathy could give the relators title to freedom, they would have been restored to liberty the moment the arguments in their behalf were closed. No examination or further thought would then have been necessary or expedient. But in a country where liberty is regulated by law, something more satisfactory and enduring than mere sympathy must furnish and constitute the rule and basis of judicial section. It follows that this case must be examined and decided on principles of law, and that unless the relators are entitled to their discharge under the constitution or laws of the United States, or some treaty made pursuance thereto, they must be remanded to the custody of the officers who caused their arrest, to be returned to the Indian Territory, which the left without the consent of the government.


Now it must be borne in mind that the habeas corpus act describes applicants for the writ as persons or parties, who may be entitled thereto. It nowhere describes them as citizens, nor is citizenship in any way or place made a qualification for sueing out the writ, and is the absence of express provision or necessary implication, which would require the interpretation contended for by the district attorney, I should not feel justified in giving the words person or party such a narrow construction. The most natural, and therefore most reasonable way, is to attach the same meaning to words and phrases when found in a statute that is attached to them when and where found in general use. If we do so in this instance then the question cannot be open to serious doubt. Webster describes a person as “a living soul; a self-conscious being: a moral agent; especially a living human being; a man, woman or child; an individual of the human race.” This is comprehensive enough, it would seem, to include even an Indian. In describing and defining generic terms, the first section of the revised statutes declares that the word person includes co-partnerships and corporations. On the whole it seems to me quite evident that the comprehensive language used in this section is intended to apply to all mankind, as well the relators as the more favored white race. This will be doing no violence to language nor to the spirit or letter of the law, nor to the intention, so it is believed of the law-making power of the government.

Standing Bear was freed. He buried his son on native grounds, and he and those among the Ponca who had followed him back to Nebraska were allowed to remain and live their lives there. Standing Bear lived until 1908.

If this were a Hollywood movie, it would end with the courtroom response to Standing Bear’s speech and a coda like the one just above. As it is, moments of triumph recede into their daily aftermath, lives lived after the cheers and attention have faded. The issues were more complex and varied than encompassed by this single case. The Ponca remained afterwards permanently divided between a Southern Tribe that remains in Oklahoma on a reservation and the Northern Ponca who reside in Nebraska, but who have no tribal lands. Not long after the trial,

Big Snake, Standing Bear’s brother, was denied permission to leave Ponca lands in Indian Territory to visit the nearby Cheyenne, but he went anyway. He argued that his brother’s court case gave him the right to do so. The Ponca Indian Agent convinced the federal authorities to authorize the arrest of Big Snake when he returned. When the army personnel attempted to arrest him, Big Snake physically resisted and was shot and killed in the altercation. His failure to successfully defy federal authority based on Standing Bear’s court victory, greatly dampened the enthusiasm of other Indians to attempt it.

Nebraska Studies: The Trial of Standing Bear

And, then, recognition of American Indians as persons under the law did not grant them citizenship, which was not theirs for another forty-five years, in 1924. For the Northern Ponca, as for many other Native Americans, citizenship was not a miraculous cure for conquest and the government’s continuing and often malign mismanagement of it’s trust relationship with the tribe. In the 1960’s, under another of the government’s frequent changes of  policy, the Nortern Ponca were misled into giving up their federally recognized status. When, within twenty years, they had recognized their error and sought arduously and expensively to correct it, they were at the last stage of the process coerced by their own non-Native U.S. congressman – against pain of his blocking the restored recognition – to forswear in perpetuity any future claim to a tribal reservation in Nebraska, on land that was theirs to begin.



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Indian Country

Massacre of the Cheyenne


The story I mean to relate is for tomorrow. This is another story. This one needs to be told first, as Joe Starita tells it first, for context, in his I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice. Standing Bear’s story is of the Ponca tribe. This story is of the Cheyenne. A well-known film was made of it, John Ford’s last Western, Cheyenne Autumn, in 1964, based on the little-known book by Mari Sandoz. (I posted a clip a while back.) One could argue that Ford’s previous Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, had brought the curtain down on the era of the classic Western.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” James Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard famously concludes the film.

Cheyenne Autumn, Ford said, was his elegy to Native Americans. He might have called it an elegy for the truth, which was transformed into legend before it ever could be known. Some people thought Ford made the film, told the story, as recompense for the fictitious West he had retailed on film for thirty years. Afterwards, there were a several years more of Western entertainments, the dying fall of John Wayne’s career, then the post-modern Mcabe and Mrs. Miller and revisionist Little Big Man – and Sam Peckinpah, not much concerned with Native America – then not much for many years, then from time to time another revisionist tale, like Dances with Wolves, or a neo-classic Western like Lonesome Dove or Open Range, not much concerned with the American Indian story either.

But Cheyenne Autumn was a marker, told nonetheless, in Hollywood style circa that period. The leading Indians, for one, were, of course, not American Indians. Ford’s most expensive film, it was not a financial success.

Starita, a former Miami Herald bureau chief in New York City, long now a Professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, but most of all a writer, tells the real story, meticulously researched, accurately recounted. It is the story of an ending, and it begins in “Indian Territory,” Oklahoma, to where the Cheyenne, like so many other tribes from various regions of the country, had been “removed” from their homeland in Montana. Like every other tribe from somewhere else, the Cheyenne did not wish to be there and suffered from the separation from their native land. Here is Starita to tell the rest. There is no more tragic story in all the history of North American conquest.

The previous fall, three-hundred Northern Cheyenne under Dull Knife and Little Wolf had walked off their reservation in the Indian Territory, heading for their Montana homeland. In mid-October, cold, hungry, and exhausted in the Nebraska Sandhills, the two chiefs made a decision: The younger, healthier ones would stay with Little Wolf and continue on. The old and the sick, and most of the women and children, would go with Dull Knife and seek refuge with Red Cloud and the Lakota. Dull Knife’s group was captured about a week later and marched to Fort Robinson, where they eventually were told a decision had been made.

Each year, General Crook had found the decisions more and more complex, his orders more and more difficult. He told his superiors the latest ones would not be easy to carry out. He didn’t know if his men had the heart for it. The Northern Cheyenne, he wrote, “repeated their expressions of desire to live at peace with our people, but said they would kill themselves sooner than be taken back to the Indian Territory. These statements were confirmed by Red Cloud and other friendly Sioux chiefs, who assured us that the Cheyennes had left their Reservation in Indian Territory to avoid fever and starvation and that they would die to the last man, woman, and child before they could be taken from the quarters in which they were confined.” But the orders remained firm, so in late December, Crook tried again. “At this time, the thermometer at Fort Robinson showed a range of from zero down to forty below … The captives were without adequate clothing, and no provisions had been made to supply it …” Still, the orders stayed the same. On Christmas Eve 1878, Crook telegraphed his superior, Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan: “It would be inhuman to move them as ordered.” Sheridan replied he would forward the concerns of food and clothing to Washington. But the orders stood. The Indians were to be moved south soon as possible.

On January 3, when the post commander told Dull Knife that he and his people were to be marched back to the Territory, the chief stood and faced the soldiers. “I am here on my own ground,” he told them, “and I will never go back. You may kill me here, but you cannot make me go back.” That afternoon, the 149 Northern Cheyenne barricaded themselves in their barracks. On the evening of January 9, after five days without food and heating fuel, three days without water, they broke out, fleeing for the protective bluffs of the White River, the soldiers in pursuit. When it ended, sixty-four Indian men, women, and children were dead. “Among these Cheyenne Indians,” Crook later wrote, “were some of the bravest and most efficient of the auxiliaries who had acted under General Mackenzie and myself … and I still preserve a grateful remembrance of their distinguished services which the Government seems to have forgotten.”

Starita, Joe (2010-01-05). “I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice (pp. 107-108). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.


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Indian Country

Ethnic Cleansing in the United States, Historic & Contemporary


I tried to keep up with posting while in Nebraska last week, but then the pace of the workshop – the NEH Legacies and Landmarks of the Plains Native Americans, conceived and hosted by Central Community College – was fourteen-hours-a-day relentless, with lots of travel and a couple of times, by night, I confess, extended forays at the foot rail to depressurize. I will continue to post over the next week on just a few of the more outstanding aspects of the Plains Indians experience covered by the workshop.

On Thursday, we received a series of lectures in the basement conference room of the Crook House at the old Fort Omaha. (General George Crook, Commanding General throughout most of the period and the major engagements of the Indian Wars, was a fascinating figure, embodying many of the conflicts of the American policy of conquest. He will play a prominent role in a later post this week.) The first lecture was by Beth Ritter, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Ritter began her lecture with an “inside baseball” joke – that every modern American Indian family (insert the name of the applicable tribe) consists of a mother and a father, grandparents and grandchildren, an auntie, and an anthropologist. Ritter is the anthropologist whose work focuses on the Ponca Indians.

On a more serious note, as Ritter recounted the typically tortured, but always unique – and more than once ground breaking – history of the Ponca, she focused in the end on the tribe’s efforts to regain federally recognized status in Nebraska, and all of the benefits that come with that status. Understand that federal recognition has only a little to do with establishing that a tribe is in any sense culturally and historically legitimate in its Native character. Federal policy toward Native America has never been that clear and fair. For instance, one of the oldest known – to European Americans – and historic Indian tribes, the Pamunkey Indians, of Pocahontas fame, is not federally recognized. In the case of the Ponca, first their land and then their much reduced reservation in Nebraska was taken from them in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as they were “removed” – ethnically cleansed – from the central plains states of Nebraska and Kansas in order to clear the way for white settlement in those states and the trails to settlement farther west. Later, in the twentieth century, in the course of the multiple direct reversals of Indian policy in which the U.S. government engaged, the Ponca of Nebraska were returned a small reservation, then subsequently poorly led during the policy period of “tribal termination” to relinquish that reservation and their federal status. That last decision was one of many disastrous events for the Ponca.

Even though the U.S. government itself came to recognize in only a couple of decades that tribal termination was a colossal error and the cause of great harm to Native America, the very poor Ponca tribe was forced to spend years and substantial funds in its effort to regain federal recognition. Senator at the time, in 1990, Bob Kerry supported the application. The tribe was on the verge of congressional approval when a last minute roadblock was erected – by the congressman of the very district that encompassed the traditional lands of the Ponca, Bob Bereuter. Bereuter threatened to block federal recognition unless the Ponca agreed to one further stipulation. What was the stipulation?

That the Ponca agree not to purse – which in their application for federal recognition they were not pursuing – a tribal land base, a reservation, in Nebraska, and that they make this agreement in perpetuity, forever sacrificing any future claims to tribal ownership of lands that were, we should recall, theirs to begin.

As American Indian tribes have always felt compelled to do in the face of such overwhelming government coercion, the very small Ponca tribe, desperate for the benefits of federal recognition, reluctantly accepted the added stipulation.

Ritter subsequently published, in August 1994, on “The Politics Of Retribalization: the Northern Ponca Case” in Great Plains Research: A Journal of Natural and Social Sciences. By April the following year, Bereuter had caught up on his scholarly reading and written a letter of protest to the journal.

After having read the article by [Ms.] Beth R. Ritter, “The Politics of Retribalization: The Northern Ponca Case” in the August 1994 issue of Great Plains Research, I must take sharp exception to the subjective and erroneous conclusion regarding why I worked successfully against the establishment of a traditional residential reservation for the Northern Ponca Tribe. After having accurately cited my motives for opposing the creation of residential reservations on page 248, [Ms.] Ritter subjectively and erroneously concludes that my “political priority was to curry favor with his [my] non-Indian constituency” by avoiding a “loss of property tax revenue that would result from taking Indian land into trust status.” That is simply not true and there is no evidence for such a conclusion. In fact as a member of the House Interior Committee early in my tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives and on subsequent occasions, I consistently voted against establishing additional traditional “residential” Indian reservations—even though none of those instances involved Indians from my district or state and thus had no effect upon taxable real estate in Nebraska.

Ritter responded in turn.

Congressman Bereuter has clarified his motivations for my benefit and that of your readers. His position has consistently been to deny a residential reservation to all Indians, whether from his congressional district or not. Fortunately, for the tribes who have received reservations during Bereuter’s tenure, his “principle has not been the prevailing attitude in federal Indian policy formulation since the Termination era.

Congressman Bereuter has expressed concern over the “deprivation which will undoubtedly continue to exist on our nation’s Indian reservations in the future” (p. 248). The negative aspects of reservation life Congressman Bereuter perceives are the direct result of over two hundred years of paternalistic federal Indian policy which has sought to systematically dispossess and assimilate Native Americans. Native Americans retain roughly 4% of their aboriginal land base in the continental United States; the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska currently owns approximately .007% (160 acres of 2.3 million acres) of their legally recognized aboriginal territory. Under Congressman Bereuter’s leadership, the federal government could address many of the structural causes and consequences of poverty in Indian Country by honoring the treaty obligations incurred by the federal government, including the restoration of the tribal land base, the promotion of the viable economic development strategies and the empowerment of tribal governments.

Bereuter replied one more time, accusing Ritter again of delivering “erroneous” information for which he believed she should apologize, but the only attempt at identifying mistaken information was this.

Neither I nor the Congress have done anything that denies the Ponca a “tribal land base” or assures that they “would never have a reservation.” We created a reservation; fortunately it simply is not a residential reservation.

Bereuter was not only supremely arrogant, in the manner of any individual who would take it upon himself alone to determine the fate of whole peoples, but disingenuous. His defense was to cavil, producing thereby the grossest misrepresentation, over the meaning of a “reservation,” which any and everywhere means precisely a “residential” reservation. Reside is what one is free to do on land that is actually one’s own, that is recognized in law as belonging to a party. What Bereuter refers to is typically called a “service area’ and is held in no tribal title. It was known, too, that many Ponca, scattered to the winds in the U.S. since the days of their catastrophe, had expressed an interest in returning to Nebraska if it could be to live in community with other Ponca on traditional lands of their own.

The point in all this, only, really, twenty years after the fact is the nature of Bereuter’s actions. In the paternalistic assurance that Bereuter knows better than Native Americans what is best for them, and that the nature of that greater knowledge is enforced assimilation for Natives into the greater American culture – a policy that has spelled disaster for American Indians now for centuries – Bereuter did nothing other than an extended the old attitudes and policies of conquest into the twentieth century and beyond. By ensuring in law that the Ponca would never again make claim to the land originally belonging to them, and previously recognized by the U.S. government in treaty as legally theirs, and which they were nonetheless compelled physically to abandon in 1877,  in removal to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma – so that non-Native Americans could take the land for themselves – what Bereuter did was nothing less than help legislate a final act of ethnic cleansing.

In 1990.


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Indian Country

Six Pawnee Scouts: a Homecoming


The history of Indigenous-European relations in North America is sometimes simultaneously complex and simple. We find complexity in the clash of cultures and world views and the intersecting cultures, including among the Indigenous tribes themselves. Simple, too often, was the sheer racist betrayal and barbarism.

Pawnee were shrewd and fierce warriors, often in conflict over resources with the larger tribes around them, particularly the Sioux. By the time of expanding European encroachment, the Pawnee’s numbers had been so reduced by disease that they made the easy recognition that conflict with the white man was futile. More often, the Pawnee cooperated the U.S government, as was the case of the Pawnee scouts inducted into the U.S. Cavalry to aid in tracking and combating other tribes who had been the Pawnee’s longtime enemies anyway.

The history of the Pawnee Scouts is well recorded, as are many small events of the Western saga many people might automatically think were lost in the obscurity of the “wilderness.” There is, for instance, the story of six Pawnee Scouts who, soon after the honorable discharge from the Army in 1869, were traveling through Kansas when they were shot and killed by settlers. Their bodies disappeared.

Nothing more definite was known of the ultimate fate of these six Pawnee Scouts until James Riding In, a Pawnee scholar of American Indian Studies published in 1992 “Six Pawnee Crania: The Historical and Contemporary Significance of the Massacre and Decapitation of Pawnee Indians in 1869.” Here is his later commentary:

As the battles against archaeological desecration and administrative fiat raged at UCLA, the Pawnee Nation had begun to question the Nebraska State Historical Society and Smithsonian Institution regarding Pawnee remains in their collections. My work as a repatriation researcher began when the Native American Rights Fund asked me, on behalf of the Pawnee Nation, to investigate the identity of six human crania at the Smithsonian listed by accession records as Pawnee.

When the Pawnee leadership requested information about those remains, a Smithsonian official denied that the skulls were Pawnees, saying that many Indian raiders had been killed in Kansas and it would be impossible to positively identify the skulls in question as Pawnees. My research acquainted me with the dark, secretive history of white America’s treatment of our dead. By examining documentation held at the Smithsonian and the federal archives, my research determined that those remains belonged to six Pawnees, just discharged from the U.S. Army, who had been killed in 1869 by U.S. soldiers and settlers near Mulberry Creek in Kansas.  Following a lengthy search for the bodies, a Fort Harker surgeon had the heads severed and sent to the Army Medical Museum for craniometric study. This study was published with other documents and the testimony that contributed to the enactment of NMAIA (National Museum of the American Indian Act).

As a consequence of additional congressional legislation, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the remains of the six Pawnee Scouts and hundreds of other Pawnee remains were repatriated and reburied on traditional Pawnee lands between 1990-1995. Since the Pawnee tribe was relocated to “Indian Country” in Oklahoma during the removal period of the 19th century, it is a special occasion for present day Head Nasharo Chief Pat Leading Fox to return to Nebraska and visit the remains of his ancestors. We were with him this week as he stood before the monument to the buried remains and sang a Pawnee song in honor of the dead.

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Indian Country On The Road

A Lost Covenant


Among all the Native tribes of North America to whom sacred bundles were part of their spiritual tradition, there was none to whom the bundles and the ceremonial prayers that accompanied them were more central than the Pawnee. According to the Kansas Historical Society,

Sacred bundles were a powerful part of Pawnee ceremonies linked to planting and harvesting. They contained tools necessary to those ceremonies, and the rituals and ceremonies associated with them were passed from generation to generation along with the bundles. Bundles were owned by women and inherited through the female line, but could be used by men only. To open or use a bundle without the proper ritual and ceremony invited disaster.

Some bundles were particular to a clan or even a family, and the ritual and prayer associated remained unknown even to other Pawnee outside that group. One of the most profound expressions, then, of the disruption of Native cultures specifically sought and caused by the European conquest and the United States government’s policies was the separation of American Indian generations from the knowledge of how to use the bundles. Pawnee taken from the tribal community and sent to American Indian boarding schools did not receive the transmission from  their elders of the secret knowledge necessary to perform the ceremonies connected with individual bundles. Most existent Pawnee sacred bundles are held in the collections of various museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The Pawnee actually prefer this arrangement, since they no longer possess the knowledge to use the bundles and know the bundles will receive the appropriate preservation at the museums.

Yesterday I visited the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site near Republic, Kansas, at the location of what was a Pawnee village estimated by archaeologists to have been occupied between 1790 and about 1809. Our group traveled there with Pat Leading Fox, head Nasharo Chief of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Chief Leading Fox shared with us the story of one particular bundle, recounted also at the Kansas Historical Society site. It is the story of Massacre Canyon, the last significant battle between two American Indian tribes, in 1873, the details gathered and recounted by Indian agent John W. Williamson, who had accompanied the Pawnee on what turned out to be their last seasonal buffalo hunt.

A thousand Sioux warriors swarmed around the band of four hundred Pawnee men, women, and children. Even with the added protection of the canyon into which they had fled, the Pawnees were overwhelmed. Their hunting bows were no match for Sioux rifles.

The Pawnees had been returning from the summer buffalo hunt when they were attacked by their traditional enemies, the Sioux. It was an August day, probably a hot one, in 1873 and their earth lodges on the Loup River in central Nebraska still lay a week’s journey to the northeast. Their horses were loaded down with buffalo meat. Prospects were bright until they were shattered by the one-sided fight at “Massacre Canyon.”

In the heat of battle, a Pawnee father lashed his five-year-old daughter to his horse, slipped a treasured peace medal around her neck, and bound his sacred bundle to her back. “Take care of this bundle and it will take care of you,” he said as he smacked the horse, sending the little girl to safety through the enemy ranks. Perhaps the bundle did take care of her, for she was among the few Pawnees to survive that day.

Following the attack by the Sioux, young Sadie found her way back to her village. Other survivors straggled in but her parents were not among them; they had been killed. Heeding her father’s admonition, Sadie took care of the sacred bundle and later passed it down to her own daughter as was the Pawnee custom. Tragically, the ritual use of the bundle was lost with her father because only he knew the proper ceremonies.

Before she died in 1971, Sadie’s daughter, Dolly, willed the sacred bundle to the historical society, for preservation in the Pawnee Earth Lodge that has been uncovered and enclosed at the historic site.

That bundle was x-rayed to identify its contents. Carefully wrapped in bison hide, the bundle contains ceremonial objects tied on the outside. These items include a long smoking pipe, arrow fragments, a meat fork tipped with a raccoon bone, and small American flags. The x-ray revealed that the inside contains stuffed bird bundles, hawk bells, counting sticks, and glass beads sewn on a leather strip.

It hangs, at about 25 lbs, in a glass case within the lodge. It may not be photographed. Since no one since haS known the proper ceremony to perform, the bundle has not been opened since the spring planting ceremony before the massacre, since the day Sadie rode out tied to a horse, the sacred bundle tied to her back, under fire from the Sioux in 1873.



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Indian Country

Thomas Jefferson, Architect of Deception


I head in a few days to Columbus, Nebraska for an NEH workshop on the Legacies and Landmarks of the Plains Native Americans. One of the books I’m reading in preparation is I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice, by Joe Starita. Standing Bear was a Ponca Indian chief whose efforts to return his son for burial to Ponca territory in Nebraska, after the U.S. had forcefully removed the tribe to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, gave rise to the landmark US District Court case Standing Bear v. Crook (1879). In the court’s decision, for the first time,  American Indians were delcared to be “persons within the meaning of the law.” Starita’s prose is fine and evocative, and his story researched to a revelatory degree.

Because the Ponca were encountered by Lewis and Clark and their land included in the Louisiana Purchase, Starita offers foreshadowing background in the attitudes and policies of Thomas Jefferson. The whole Native American story is one of uncanny realities emerging frightfully out of the foreshadows. For instance, there is no American president rightfully more reviled in Native America than Andrew Jackson, for his brutal campaigns against the Southeastern tribes and as signer and enactor of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Starita tells us that Jackson was enacting a policy conceived before him, by a man once again revealed to be a complex of contradictions.

For much of his life, Jefferson’s views on the country’s native inhabitants had swung back and forth, vacillating between soft, sentimental stereotypes and a hard-edged pragmatism.

In Jefferson’s instructions to the leaders of the great expedition,

He had made it a point that Lewis and Clark, among their multitude of duties, were to return with linguistic records of each tribe they visited. And in his writings, Jefferson offered a more resolute defense of the nation’s native people than all but a few of his contemporaries.


[O]n June 20, 1803, his formal instructions to Captain Lewis conveyed many of the same sentiments. “In all your intercourse with the natives,” he wrote, “treat them in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey, satisfy them of its innocence, make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the U.S…. If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them … If any of them should wish to have some of their young people brought up with us, & taught such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct, and take care of them.”

In his good will toward the Indian, Jefferson, even when insightful about earlier errors, still to be repeated, was a condescending patron from the civilized world.

In public remarks to his citizens, he had articulated those views clearly: “Now reduced within limits too narrow for the hunter’s state, humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts, to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existences and to prepare them in time for that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals.”

In writing, he laid out, step by step, how such a transformation might occur:

The plan of civilizing the Indians is undoubtedly a great improvement on the ancient and totally ineffectual one of beginning with religious missionaries. Our experience has shown that this must be the last step of the process. The following is what has been successful: 1st to raise cattle, etc., and thereby acquire a knowledge of the value of property; 2d, arithmetic, to calculate that value; 3d, writing, to keep accounts, and here they begin to enclose farms, and the men labor, the women spin and weave; 4th to read Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe are their first delight.

Eventually, however, a sharp split developed between Jefferson’s public and private views on the matter. Within the private confines of the White House, where romantic push evolved into pragmatic shove, he came to see the native people as an entrenched impediment in civilization’s path—one that would have to be removed, ruthlessly if necessary, for Jeffersonian Democracy to prosper.

On February 27, 1803, two months before the Louisiana Purchase, more than a year before the Corps of Discovery left St. Louis, Jefferson wrote a long, detailed letter to William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory….


“this letter being unofficial, and private, I may with safety give you a more extensive view of our policy respecting the Indians.”


Then, in specific detail, Jefferson went on to tell the governor how to purge the eastern United States, one by one, of every remaining Indian tribe. Once they’re lured onto a small piece of land “they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests,” and want to give them up in exchange for government assistance to sustain their farms and families. High-pressure trading posts near Indian encampments, he said, would create debt to help leverage their lands. The government will “be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.” Gradually, Jefferson wrote, American settlements will squeeze natives out and they will “either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States or remove beyond the [Mississippi].” Resistance would be futile. “Should any tribe be fool-hardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe and driving them across the Missisipi [sic], as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.”

And this is precisely the manner over the next century by which the indigenous population of the Southeastern United States, the Ohio River Valley, and the Indian Territory was seduced, ensnared, corrupted, betrayed and made war upon by that civilized culture for which the reading of “Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe are their first delight,” having itself already achieved “that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals.”


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Indian Country

Imagine the Dred Scott Decision Were Still the Law of the Land


An Indigenous People Forum on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery was held on March 23 on the floor of the Arizona State House of Representatives. “The event was hosted by the Native American Caucus of the Arizona State Legislature, and presided over by the O’otham Hemuchkam upon whose traditional territories as O’otham Nations the capitol complex now stands.” The forum was held in advance of the upcoming Eleventh Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the special theme of which is

the Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).

As I limned the history in “Time to Renounce the Doctrine of Discovery,”

the Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] explicitly acknowledges the historic crimes against Indigenous Peoples. In so doing, it implicitly points to the conceptual justification in history for those crimes: the Papal Bulls, beginning with the 1493 “Inter Caetera” of Pope Alexander VI, jointly known as the “Bulls of Donation.” ( Pope Alexander VI, by the way, and for fans of Showtime cable, is otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia, an estimable figure upon whose judgment to found a half millennia of conquest and genocide.) From these Bulls was promulgated the Doctrine of Discovery, according to which the European nations justified their colonization of the Western Hemisphere and their physical and spiritual subjugation of its existing populations.

As I wrote in “The Legal Justification for the Native Conquest,” the Discovery Doctrine, by which the European nations rationalized their policies, was adopted by the succeeding United States of America, explicitly in the little discussed Supreme Court case, Johnson v. McIntosh. In the Court’s decision, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that the U.S. had become a successor in the right of “discovery” acquiring the power of “dominion” over the lands to which it claimed sovereignty from Great Britain. This decision is the basis for all subsequent U.S. Indian law.

To simplify dramatically, but essentially, the legal and moral claim of the United States to its lands in the Western Hemisphere begins and still stands on the ground of gifts from the man the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as a

corrupt, worldly, and ambitious pope (1492–1503), whose neglect of the spiritual inheritance of the church contributed to the development of the Protestant Reformation.


Neither as corrupt as depicted by Machiavelli and by gossip nor as useful to the church’s expansion as apologists would make him, Alexander VI holds a high place on the list of the so-called bad popes.

At the concluded Indigenous People Forum, Professor Robert J Miller, Lewis & Clark Law School, outlined ten fundamental elements of the Discovery Doctrine.

1. First discovery.
The first European country to discover lands unknown to other Europeans claimed property and sovereign rights over the lands and native peoples. First discovery, however, was usually considered to have created only an incomplete title.

2. Actual occupancy and current possession.
To turn first discovery into recognized title, a European country had to actually occupy and possess newly found lands. This was usually done by building forts or settlements. Physical possession had to be accomplished within a reasonable amount of time after the first discovery to create a complete title.

3. Preemption/European title.

Discovering European countries also claimed the power of preemption, that is, the sole right to buy the land from Indigenous peoples. This is a valuable property right similar to an exclusive option to purchase land. The government that owned the preemption right prevented or preempted any other European government or individual from buying land from the native owners.  The United States still claims this power over Indian lands today. 25 U.S.C. section 177 (2006).

4. Indian or Native title.
After first discovery, Euro-American legal systems claimed that Indigenous Peoples and nations had lost their full property rights and full ownership of their lands. Europeans claimed that Indigenous nations only retained the rights to occupy and use their lands. Nevertheless, these rights could last forever if they never consented to sell to the European country that claimed the preemption power. If Indigenous nations did choose to sell, they were only supposed to deal with the government that held the preemption right. Thus, “Indian title” in the United States, and ‘Maori title’ in New Zealand, and Indigenous titles elsewhere allegedly defined limited ownership rights.

5. Tribal limited sovereign and commercial rights.

After a first discovery, Europeans considered that Indigenous Nations and Peoples had lost some aspects of their inherent sovereign powers and their rights to international free trade and diplomatic relations. Thereafter, they were only supposed to deal with the European government that had first discovered them.

6. Contiguity.
Under Discovery, Europeans claimed a significant amount of land contiguous to and surrounding their actual discoveries and settlements in the New World. Contiguity became very important when different European countries had settlements somewhat close together. In that situation, each country claimed to hold rights over the unoccupied lands between their settlements to a point half way between the actual settlements. Moreover, contiguity held that the discovery of the mouth of a river gave the discovering country a claim over all the lands drained by that river; even if that was thousands of miles of territory. For example, refer to the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory and Oregon country as defined by the United States.

7. Terra nullius.
 This phrase literally means a land or earth that is null or void or empty. This element stated that if lands were not possessed or occupied by any person or nation, or even if they were occupied but were not being used in a fashion that European legal and property systems approved, then the lands were considered to be “empty” and available for Discovery claims. Europeans were very liberal in applying this element and often considered lands that were actually owned, occupied, and being used by Indigenous Peoples to be “vacant” and available for Discovery claims if they were not being “used” according to Euro-American laws and cultural mores.

8. Christianity.
Religion was a significant aspect of the Doctrine of Discovery. Under Discovery, non-Christian peoples were not deemed to have the same rights to land, sovereignty, and self-determination as Christians.

9. Civilization.
The European ideals of civilization were important parts of Discovery and of ideas of superiority. Europeans thought that God had directed them to bring civilized ways and education and religion to Indigenous Peoples and to exercise paternalism and guardianship powers over them.

10. Conquest.
 This element claimed that Europeans could acquire Indian title by military victories in “just” and “necessary” wars. In addition, conquest was also used as a term of art to describe the property rights Europeans claimed to have gained automatically over Indigenous Nations just by showing up and making a “first discovery.”

Imagine the Dred Scott decision were still the presiding law of the land. That is what Johnson v. McIntosh, with its claim of inherited European rights of discovery, is for Native America. And it is still the law.


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Culture Clash Indian Country

CineFile – The Last of the Mochicans


From my recent Geronimo post, we’ve had a brief discussion in the comments section about John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee at the time the Great Removal (in contemporary terminology, “ethnic cleansing), or Trail of Tears, and Andrew Jackson, and who should really be on the $20 bill. One of the actors in the segment of We Shall Remain that told the Cherokee story, it was noted, is Wes Studi. Studi actually is Cherokee, though he has played Indians of varied tribes, including in the fierce performance that made his reputation, the Huron Indian Magua in Michael Mann‘s The Last of the Mohicans.

Mohicans is one of Hollywood’s most finely accomplished adventure stories, a film of refined aesthetic vision coupled with invigorating popular appeal. It is one of the most kinetic films ever made. It achieves its energy not with the now standard quick cuts and explosions but with nearly non-stop movement. This last scene represents most of of what the film is – a depiction of almost ceaseless flight and pursuit. Along the way, the film very naturally, with no didactic intent, captures the historic reality: a continent warred over, during the French and Indian War, by foreign powers, the colonials already emerging as a distinct community and culture, and the native peoples ensnared in a contest for power in which they surely would be among the losers. The stunning landscape that forms the backdrop for all the action offers a vision of the magnificent continent at stake. Click on widescreen. Turn up the sound.

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Culture Clash Indian Country

CineFile – Cheyenne Autumn


Yesterday’s post on Geronimo put me in mind of John Ford‘s Cheyenne Autumn. The excerpt from We Shall Remain noted how within only several years of Geronimo’s capture he had transformed in the American consciousness from demon savage into the iconic fierce warrior. (The U.S. special forces operation that killed Osama bin Laden was code-named “Geronimo.”) John Ford spent much of a notable film career making Westerns that failed to represent the historic truth of European settler and Indian relations and that produced much great iconography mythologizing the U.S. government role. Cheyenne Autumn, at the end of his long career, and not one of his better films, was instantly recognizable as a kind of penitential self-corrective.

What strikes me about the following scene, decades after I first saw the film, is the dated character of even its political correction. It is painful to watch Cheyenne Indians, nonetheless, still portrayed by ethnically Hispanic and Mediterranean actors (cheekbones, noses, swarthy foreignness). The superfluous sign language, indicative of racial authenticity, and the authenticity of which I have no idea, is nonetheless simplistically rendered and hokey. Amid the didactic dialogue about the white man’s callous duplicity and Ford’s always stunning Monument Valley compositions, even the mise en scene and staging are creaky. Notice how the Major at one point stalks off, and a bit later, when he might have been on his horse and away already, he is just steps away in stride to be approached for a last appeal. The dashing of his cigar to the ground is cartoonish. At the end of the scene, Richard Widmark‘s conflicted Archer, takes a few unconvincing and stagy steps after the departing Cheyenne – with one last weak, despondent fall of his right leg – when we can see he was never really going after them, just to transparently embody his ambivalence.

The scene offers one essential and powerful line: “We are asked to remember much. The white man remembers nothing.”

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Indian Country

How We Lived On It (45) – Geronimo


Just over three years ago, Julia and I were present for the aftermath of a blessing ceremony – the participants and witnesses of which had been Apaches only – on the San Carlos Apache reservation. “The purpose of the ceremony,” I wrote at the time, “was to prepare the land for the installation of a memorial to be unveiled on February 17, 2009, the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Geronimo, who died in captivity, a prisoner of war, finally, for 23 years, at Fort Sills, Oklahoma, where he is buried.”

Here is the ending of episode four of the PBS documentary We Shall Remain, a history of Native Amerian “seen through native eyes.” Julia and I witnessed first hand and repeatedly how controversial Geronimo remains among Apaches. Of course, I recommend the whole episode and the entire five-part series, which can be viewed online. For now, if you have another thirteen minutes, the beginning of episode four will give some idea of how and why Geronimo became the vengeful warrior of renown.

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Indian Country

Warriors in Transition


The Cheyenne's sacred Animal Dance was banned by the U.S. government. American Indians who continued to practice such ceremonies were prosecuted by the federal Indian Offices' Courts of Indian Offenses.

A little while back I stopped in at the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. It is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a monumental Beaux Arts building at the Battery and a National Historic Landmark  listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been adapted on the interior for contemporary, mixed use and includes, along with the NMAI, New York offices of the Department of Homeland Security. You can chew on that irony yourselves.

One exhibit, now closed, was of 32 images of the Crow people by Richard Throssel (1882-1933). Throssell was of mixed ancestry, including Cree Indian. He joined his brother to live with the Crow in 1902, according to the museum

 a pivotal time in the history of the Crow people. After years of practicing their tribal customs and defending their traditional homeland against intruders, the Crow were faced with depleted buffalo herds, restrictive government policies and a homeland reduced from 39 million acres to a reservation of 4 million acres. Throssel outfitted himself with a camera and, over the course of his stay took about 1,000 photographs that document the Crow people, their traditions, and their challenges. The Crow tribe adopted him in 1906. In 1916, he began to speak out as an individual for Native rights and for the need to protect Crow land from white settlement. In 1924 and 1927, he was elected to the Montana State Legislature. He died in 1933.

What Throssel documented was a time in Crow history when, only fifteen years after the Wounded Knee massacre, the Crow and other tribes were compelled, literally and by circumstance, to leave the old ways behind and assume new ones. Though the Crow, like some of the tribes of the Southeast, had maintained generally good relations with the U.S. government (and had served as scouts for Custer at the Little Big Horn, against their more traditional enemies), this led to no more favorable treatment than was afforded the other tribes.

U.S. citizenship was withheld from most American Indians until 1924. Some were awarded it earlier, as a reward for adopting “the ways of civilized life.” Throssel was one of those included in the ceremonial picture above.

The signs of transition could be very bold, in housing

and in dress.

The three stunning portraits below are of Medicine Crow, Long Otter, and Bull Goes Hunting, two great warriors and a medicine man, born in 1840, 1848, and 1828 respectively. These are men who would have been Crow leaders during the peak of the Indian Wars, by the time of these photos now turned to peaceful pursuits and attempting to adapt to a world long from the one into which they were born.

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