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Oil Giant SWN Is Suspending Its Work in New Brunswick After Nationwide Protests



Nice to share some good news in Indian Country!  The First Nations people of New Brunswick, the Mi'kmaq working with other New Brunswickians have halted the continued work SWN to frack their lands. For more information on what has been happening in Elsipogtog check out Wab Kinew's reporting, an Anishinaabe correspondent for Al Jazeera America on it at Fault Lines: Elsipogtog, the Fire over Water

Jacqueline Keeler
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Poverty Porn or Helping Our Youth? Chase & Status Video shot on Blackfeet Reservation





This video was released this week by the UK techno band Chase & Status.  It has cause a firestorm of controversy in the Native community detailed here in Indian Country Today - Controversial Video Set on Rez Depicts Drug Use, Violence and Sundance.  

My morning after thoughts (I saw this yesterday) on Chase & Status video shot on the Blackfeet Reservation are that yes, it was beautifully shot and I think youth will identify with the story, because, drug use is epidemic in many of our communities. I do worry that it glorifies it a bit and the resolution (his girlfriend dies after they smoke crack all night) and he does the Sundance (they depict this) is a bit stereotypical. They also never speak (it is a music video) but this lack of voice by the protagonist makes "Indians" what we have always been: a blank slate to project others ideas on of who we are & what we think. The director worked with a Blackfeet society who approved the script and I sense his heart is in the right place. He, himself, is from a similar background in the UK. I don't know, it just comes off as exploitive all the same. I know some will be happy to see themselves depicted, but as it is being used to sell the band's music it feels a bit like Slum Tourism. The band is well-known in Europe, but not here, so it won't have the same cultural effect in the United States (it won't be on Good Morning America or Anderson Cooper). Chase & Status gains the cultural cache (they do not plan to donate any of the proceeds to Native youth), their audiences in Europe get a particular type of cultural voyeurism that makes them feel good when they buy the song, a few donations trickle in, perhaps, just perhaps, and this is everyone's greatest hope, a few, even just one Native youth decides to take a different path in life. I suppose, for our community our hopes are small but they are always for the next generation.

Jacqueline Keeler
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Washington Redsk*ns, Indian Mascotry & Owl Man


Delegation from Yankton, Santee, Upper Missouri Sioux, Sac and Fox, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Kickapoo, and Miami tribes posing with President Johnson on the steps of the White House, February 23, 1867

When I see those DC cheerleaders prancing out in skimpy outfits and sexy "NDN War Bonnets" I think of my ancestor Owl Man. Here he is wearing his Eagle Feather headdress to the White House to sign a treaty with President Andrew Johnson. I wonder did he ever foresee this? And would he consider it an "honor"? Everything they gave up to maintain their way of life. The women scolded the men when they got back for signing away the salt mines where they gathered the salt to preserve the meat. Or when he had to shoot a Santee man at the behest of the United States to prove Yankton loyalty and to save the rest of the Santee who had taken refuge with us after the Minnesota Sioux Uprising? Is this what he would have wanted for us 146 years later?
Jacqueline Keeler
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Thinking of Thought Woman, Leslie Marmon Silko - Poem of the Day Native American Heritage Month



Spiderwoman/Thought Woman. Art by Jade Red Moon.
Leslie Marmon Silko is one of those writers who have contributed to my understanding of the world as a Native American woman.  Some of the passages in her novels read like poetry to me and remind me of the voice of my own Navajo mother.  In fact, writers like Silko and Paula Gunn Allen, Native women of the same generation as my mother have perspectives very similar to those she passed on to me.  

Raised in a still very traditional Navajo culture (my grandparents did not speak English and were completely traditional in both dress and worldview) she and other young Native women of her generation left their respective reservations in the 1960's and 1970's to be greeted by an America that had only recently undergone the Civil Rights Movement and in the midsts of the Women's Rights Movement.  My mother saw in this movement a great deal of her own matrilineal Navajo traditions and threw herself enthusiastically into working for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is hard to imagine what it is like to be a young woman, to leave all you know, traditions that are clear and in your favor to enter a world where such surety does not exist.  Not as a brown woman in color conscious society, not as a woman in a society that favors men, not as a traditional Navajo in a Judeo Christian society that knows nothing about your cosmological underpinnings.  So, when she raised me in Suburbia, she took great pains to help me bridge those worlds.  

She was proud that Navajo traditions valued women and that these ideas were now being embraced by Euro-American culture.  She emphasized to me the importance of women and their role in the Navajo concept of the world and told me the stories of Changing Woman and her sister White Shell woman.  She made sure I knew my clans and the stories of my clan - a matrilineal line that stretches back to Changing Woman, herself in Navajo culture.  She told me that my clan the Kinyaani (Towering House People) were the first clan of the Navajo people and the first Kinyaani woman (my many-greats grandmother) was made my Changing Woman herself.  In the songs of my cheii (my grandfather), the chants he constantly sang I could hear the rhythms of a continuity that to this day puts me at ease.  I know things are right, even as he would start singing a chant as my masani (grandmother) lectured him about not doing the dishes the night before.  He would smooth over small mishaps and my mother explained to me that he had turned one of his songs, a riding song (songs sung for riding on horseback) into a powerful prayer.  Navajos do not pray the way European Christians do, "I want this, give me that" but it is instead an imagining of the world as they want it to be: "When I ride I will meet friendly people who will give me water and good food when I stop to talk to them, when I ride home I will have a safe and quick journey back." This is how those songs and prayers went with a tempo of confident, soothing optimism of life which is often translated as Hozho, harmony.  It is in this way that I read Silko's writing and how it speaks to me, even though, she is from another Southwestern people, the Laguna Pueblo, there is a cultural similarity that her words feed and nourish and help me navigate this strange between world we modern Native people live in.



Ceremony 
I will tell you something about stories,"
[he said] 
They aren't just entertainment. 
Don't be fooled. 
They're all we have, you see. 
All we have to fight off illness and death. 
You don't have anything 
if you don't have the stories. 
Their evil is mighty, 
but it can't stand up to our stories. 
So they try to destroy the stories, 
but the stories cannot be confused or forgotten. 
They would like that. 
They would be happy 
because we would be defenseless then.
 [He rubs his belly]
 I keep it in here,
[he said] 
Here, put your hand on it. 
See? 
It is moving. 


Ts' its' tsi' nako, Thought-Woman,
is sitting in her room
and what ever she thinks about
appears.
She thought of her sisters,
Nau' ts' ity' i and I' tcs' i,
and together they created the Universe
this world
and the four worlds below.
Thought-Woman, the spider,
named things and
as she named them
they appeared.
She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now
I'm telling you the story
she is thinking.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Jacklight by Louise Erdrich - Poem a Day for Native American Heritage Month


Ojiway poet, Louise Erdrich
I've been thinking about poetry and Native Americans.  I have some favorites and I thought that for the rest of Native American Heritage Month, I'd post a few.  If anyone has any they'd like to suggest please feel free to tell me about your favorite poems in the comments!

My daughter was recently reading my copy of Louise Erdrich's book of poetry Jacklight and so, this poem has been on my mind today.  

Jacklight
The same Chippewa word is used both for flirting and hunting game, while another Chippewa word connotes both using force in intercourse and also killing a bear with one’s hands.             
-R.W. Dunning (1959) Social and Economic Change Among the Northern Ojibwa

We have come to the edge of the words,
out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
out of knotted twigs, out of leaves creaked shut,
out of hiding.

At first the light wavered, glancing over us.
Then it clenched to a fist of light that pointed,
searched out, divided us.
Each took the beams like direct blows the heart answers.
Each of us moved forward alone.

We have come to the edge of the woods,
drawn out of ourselves by this night sun,
this battery of polarized acids,
that outshines the moon.

We smell them behind it
but they are faceless, invisible.
We smell the raw steel of their gun barrels,
mink oil on leather, their tongues of sour barley.
We smell their mothers buried chin-deep in wet dirt.
We smell their fathers with scoured knuckles,
teeth cracked from hot marrow.
We smell their sisters of crushed dogwood, bruised apples,
of fractured cups and concussions of burnt hooks.

We smell their breath steaming lightly behind the jacklight.
We smell the itch underneath the caked guts on their clothes.
We smell their minds like silver hammers
cocked back, held in readiness
for the first of us to step into the open.

We have come to the edge of the woods,
out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
out of leaves creaked shut, out of our hiding.
We have come here too long.

It is their turn now,
their turn to follow us. Listen,
they put down their equipment.
It is useless in the tall brush.
And now they take the first steps, not knowing
how deep the woods are and lightless.
How deep the woods are.

-Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa)

Jacqueline Keeler
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Veteran's Day Part Two: Navajo Perspective on being a Warrior


Chief Manuelito

After I posted my previous post about Yankton Chief White Swan and the difference between a Soldier and a Warrior, I remembered a story recounted by my Navajo grandmother's aunt, Tiana Bighorse in her book Bighorse the Warrior.  So, here is a second entry on Veteran's Day, this time from my Navajo side of the family.

When Mr. Bighorse is a boy, he goes with his father.  His father teaches him everything that a boy should do to become a man.  And what he shouldn't do.  And his father tells him, 'You will be a brave and be a warrior some day.'  
In Navajo, a warrior means someone who can get through the snowstorm when no one else can.  
In Navajo, a warrior is the one that doesn't get the flu when everyone else does--the only one walking around, making a fire for the sick, giving them medicine, feeding them food, making them strong to fight the flu. 
In Navajo, a warrior is the one who can use words so everyone knows they are part of the same family.  In Navajo, a warrior says what is in the people's hearts.  Talks about what the land means to them.  Brings them together to fight for it. 

Jacqueline Keeler
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On Veteran's Day: Chief White Swan on Warrior vs. Soldier


Chief White Swan (Maga Ska), Yankton Dakota
I often think about the fundamental differences between the culture of my own people and that of the culture that found its way across the ocean from the Old Feudal World.  When I was Sundancing, the old men used to talk to us Sundancers a lot about the Lakota concept of being Ikce Wicasa; that is free, simple people.  It was a concept that took pride of place in our culture and stands in contrast to the Feudal system with the Lords on top of the pyramid and the multitude of Serfs on the bottom.  Their description of Ikce Wicasa reminded me a story my grandmother's Uncle Vine Deloria, Sr. used to tell about what Yankton Chief White Swan: it concerned the difference between being a Soldier and being a Dakota Warrior.  Soldiers follow orders in contrast to our Warriors who were truly Ikce Wicasa.  We didn't build great monuments or enthrone a few in gold, but we lived authentic lives as people and I believe that is the secret of our success as human beings as Dakota and Lakota.

Here is the story of "Soldiers versus Warriors" as told by Vine Deloria, Sr. from Remember Your Relatives: Yankton Sioux Images, 1851 to 1904 by Renee Sampson Flood and Shirley A. Bernie:

"You know . . . after the Minnesota Sioux War  [in 1862] . . . a lot of refugees [the Santee] came to live among the Yanktons [my dad's tribe].  The government had issued orders to General Sully to visit the Yanktons and remind them of their Treaty obligations.  He was to tell them that since the [United States] government was an ally of the Yanktons, the refugees should be treated as enemies.  General Sully held a council with the Yanktons and told them, 'I'm going to be gone about four months.  When I return I want you to tell me that they're gone.'  The Yanktons told themselves that these refugees were their relatives.  Why should we drive our own people out, they thought.  Later, Sully came back and said, 'Well, did you drive them out?'  The Yanktons told him they did not.  Then General Sully told them, 'Well, I'll tell you what I'll do.  I think that the President (Lincoln) is asking too much.  I'm going to be gone again, so during that time if you shoot one of these refugees, I'll report that theYanktons are allies.  They have killed the Isanti.'  Struck by the Ree came to my (great) grandfather (Francois des Lauriers) and asked him if he would do this.  My grandfather said, 'Yes, I suppose.  I've killed two Sioux and this will make a third.  I had that in a dream.  I saw four purification lodges in my vision.  At the end was a great big, black hawk.  And on the side was a big, white owl.  And they stood there.  They told me that by passing those purification lodges, I was going to kill four of our own people.  I've killed two and here is the third.  I'll kill him.'  So, he did.  When Sully returned, he came with two mule teams and a driver.  He sat up there on the back.  He said, 'Well, did you shoot one?'  Struck told him at had been done.  Then, Sully asked 'Who shot him?' Struck told him Deloria had shot the man.  Sully told him, 'Oh, I meant for one of you full bloods to do it.  Deloria is half French.  I'm going to go back and bring my soldiers to attack you.'  White Swan walked up to him.  He said, 'Tell this monster to get down.'  So Sully got down.  'Sully,' said White Swan, 'You're a fighting man and I'm a fighting man.  When your boys go into battle, you're on top of a big butte back there with your field glasses on, riding the fastest horse.  When there are enemies coming, I go without asking anybody to join me.  And my warriors look at each other and say, 'Get on your horses.  That darn fool will get himself killed.'  So they come thundering from behind.  When your soldiers are getting beat, and they try to run, you have them shot.  When some of my warriors get scared, and run, that's alright.  Maybe they'll be braver some other time.  So you select any gun, any weapon that you want and give me fifteen paces, and with these two knives, I'll dodge you all the way, and chop you Allll up.'  Then Sully told him that he didn't mean anything by what he had said and White Swan said, 'I don't know how you meant it!'  White Swan bluffed Sully down.  THAT was White Swan."

The authors add the following description of Chief White Swan

"After the war ended White Swan expressed his concern about what would be done with the captured Minnesota tribes.  When visitors came to his lodge, he kept them up half the night talking about current national events such as the Civil War.  Many of these people, both Indian and white, came away from their visits with him impressed by his keen intelligence and wit."

So, for Veteran's Day I had my children read this story passed down in our family for 150 yeas.  My dad served in the Army but had no love for it, reserving his true dedication and love for us, his family.  He was a lot like White Swan, who was the head man of the village our family was from.   A village that was later put under water by the dam at Fort Randall.  This summer, I took my children there and with their cousins they played in the water by the shore of the dam.  Life goes on, our people persist.


Jacqueline Keeler
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Goodbye, Columbus


Alleged portrait of Columbus with an X-ray filter, created by author
By Jacqueline Keeler

Thanks to Columbus Day, I was forced at 5 years old to grapple with my dual identityboth as an American and a descendant of a people brutalized to create America

The first time, I sent my son to school on what would have been a holiday called Columbus Day when I was his age, I checked the school district website several times to be sure it was not a holiday. But yes, it was just another normal school day. Despite being an "Indian,” as Columbus called us, the sudden disappearance of a holiday dedicated to him left me feeling conflicted. As a child, when I first heard the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” in kindergarten I had been deeply moved by the image of him braving the unknown in his small, wooden boat wearing a skirt and tights with high heels, daring to sail off the edge of the known world assisted by a crew of mutinous sailors who losing faith in him and attempted at one point to throw him overboard.

It was my mother, a woman of the Diné (Navajo) nation, who helped me comprehend what Christopher Columbus really meant to us as Indigenous people. At home washing dishes, she explained how his arrival began the invasion of our lands and she told me about Hweeldi, the Long Walk, when the U.S. force marched Navajo people to a concentration camp and half our people died en route, some bayoneted by US soldiers for not keeping up. Mostly elders and pregnant women. The rhythm of her crisp and measured Navajo-accented voice could not mask her distress as she wiped the dishes with greater ferocity and bubbles flew through the air, some landing on me and so anointing me with hard-won knowledge my family had learned, well, the hard way. I came to understand that this country for which I placed my tiny hand over my heart each day and swore, “with liberty and justice for all” was built upon the theft of my ancestors' lands and freedom. 

She did not at that time, of course, go into Columbus’ more horrific acts which he chillingly documented in his journal. On October 14, 1492, just three days after being greeted with kindness by the Lucayan people Columbus wrote, “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I pleased.” But how do you tell young children the truth about the exploits of this man?  Is there a polite way of explaining that in his grasping quest for gold he ordered the cutting off the hands of Indians in Cicao who did not bring him enough tribute of gold every three months? That he had them wear their hands around their necks and 10,000 died handless? How 40,000 were shipped to Spain to be sold in the slave markets of Seville? Or how those that remained were worked to death?  
How do you tell children what Columbus wrote just eight years after he arrived, “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from 9 to 10 are now in demand.” 
How do you tell American students that Indians, both babies and adults, were used as dog food, and sometimes fed alive to the Spaniards’ dogs? Within two years 250,000 people in Haiti were dead, some due to suicide. Mothers were reported taking their children’s lives before taking their own. How do you teach this? The answer is obvious, you don’t. My elementary school teachers end the lesson on an upbeat note with the map of the world being completed and everyone acknowledging Columbus' great wisdom in knowing the Earth was round not flat. Luckily, I would not read about these terrible truths in his diary, but one wonders why we had to learn about the man in such heroic terms if there was so much about him that had to be hidden.

So, thanks to Columbus Day, I began at five years of age to begin to grapple with true nature of my dual identity, as both an American and a descendant of a people brutalized by America to create America. This what, by and large, Columbus Day teaches young Native people. This is how the arrival of those ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria is felt by our people—who he is credited with misnaming “Indians.” Even those Native people who have no memory of ever seeing the Caribbean, like my mother's people the Navajo or my father's people the Dakota.   

History of Columbus Day

Columbus Day was first officially celebrated in the United States in Colorado in 1907 where it was a state holiday. This is, coincidentally, the very state where I attended kindergarten and my mother and I had our little and impactful conversation about Columbus. It was proposed by a local Denver Italian-American newspaper publisher when Italian-Americans faced prejudice both as Catholics and as southern Europeans. At that time, the country viewed itself as white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant (often shortened to WASP). It was often repeated that it was the Anglo-Saxon and Protestant work ethic that made the country great and these swarthy, non-English speaking immigrants whose primary allegiance was to the Pope in Rome, not to democratic principles, could not be assimilated into American and would drag it down. And anti-immigrant sentiment grew more and more violent against Italians as their numbers grew and culminated with the 1891 lynching in New Orleans of 11 Italian immigrants. It is in this scary atmosphere that Italian Americans embraced Columbus as a historical hero who could not only place them in the story of America but provide them with a modicum of protection from the sometimes deadly violence of WASP America on their communities.  

Those days are long gone, of course. Today, Italian Americans are not generally seen as an immigrant community facing violence and hatred. Particularly when compared to immigrants from Latin America who are targeted not only for their language (but not so much for the Catholicism) and for their brown skin, a marker of their Indigenous and non-European ancestry. It is the brown skin that marks them as foreign and "from somewhere else" in a country where whiteness is still seen as the norm. 

Still, a surprising number of Italian Americans continue to regard an attack on Columbus Day as an attack on their community—but some are ready for a change. In an interview with journalist Amy Goodman in 2006, Glenn Spagnuolo, member of Transform Columbus Day Alliance and director of PITCH–Progressive Italians Transforming the Columbus Day Holiday, claimed Columbus is not admired in Italy or even in his hometown of Genoa.  ”In Genoa, at the quincentennial, they actually tried to shut down the city, so a celebration wouldn’t occur there for tourists,” he said, “in Italy, he’s viewed as the scoundrel that he is.”  

I have no problem with appreciating Italian Americans, but let’s face it, there are better Italians out there than Columbus. We need to honor people who represent the best of us and the sort of cultural heroes we can talk to our children about honestly without whitewashing their sins.  


The Path of Moral Equivalency

Some Columbus Day defenders have asked where does it all end? What would happen if we start down the road of holding all our heroes up to today's standards? What about Founding Fathers who were slaveholders? How would we judge them? But even in that barbaric past, there were individuals who stood up to this immorality.  Individuals like Bartolomé de las Casas, the first Bishop of Chiapas, who launched a 50-year human rights crusade to protect the “discovered” peoples in this hemisphere. He was, himself, originally a slave trader but after witnessing the atrocities of Columbus and his men first hand, he had a change of heart. 
“Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” de las Casas wrote, “my eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”   
I can also cite many examples of criticism leveled at our own slave-owning Founding Fathers from their own time period. For example, contrast Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father Gouverneur Morris who expressed repulsion at the idea of calculating slaves as 3/5ths of a person in the Constitution: 

“The admission of slaves into the representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a government instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who views with laudable horror so nefarious a practice.” [Italics mine]

So assumptions regarding historical moral norms coupled with an uncritical assessment of Columbus (and in this example, Jefferson) puts us on the wrong side of history. It leaves us standing with slavers (which both men were) whose primary motivation was greed. Even if meant the suffering of others, even children. Indeed, while going through his bookkeeping, Jefferson discovered he was gaining a 4% profit every year through the birth of enslaved children he grew silent on the issue of emancipation. And not only that he even encouraged a friend to invest: 
“every farthing …  in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. percent in this country by the increase in their value.”  
This “silent profit” and “increase in their value” came from the sale of children born to enslaved women.  Once again, I ask if people at the time argued against such immorality why should Americans today support them?  It makes no sense.  

And then there is Columbus who wrote, 
“Gold is the most precious of all commodities; gold constitutes treasure and he who possesses it has all he needs in the world, as also the means of rescuing souls from purgatory and restoring them to the enjoyment of paradise.” 
So, what are we really saying when we hold such people up for honor?  And what are we teaching our children?  


And this argument of moral equivalency used in defense of Columbus Day takes on darker implications when we consider what happened in Abu Ghraib in 2006. The shocking images of grinning thumbs-up American soldiers (male and female) stacking naked bodies of hooded Iraqis and photographing these despicable acts are a reminder that when one group has absolute power over another an amoral triumphalism can appear. Even in the 21st century, ordinary Americans will do things reminiscent of the Nazi treatment of Jewish Holocaust victims during World War II. And, when no one is looking, the brutality of Columbus and his men can reappear today, and be perpetuated by modern-day Americans taught to venerate his memory.  


And of course, there are those that argue that since some in this hemisphere practiced human sacrifice everyone in the New World deserved what happened to them. 

In response to the YouTube video “Reconsider Columbus Day,” one commentator wrote, “Genocide? What genocide? Please show me any plans or malicious actions by Columbus. And, yes, you are honoring terrorist if you support those pagan religions that murdered women and children. Indians wiped out entire tribes of other Indians. Thank God Columbus saved them from that life.”  

Looking beyond the complete lack morality this trollish comment, why are “Indians” not granted the same suspension of value judgments Columbus enjoys from these same apologists? Why are all Native people, even infants, deprived of the basic human right of not being murdered?  Never mind that we have no way of verifying Columbus’ accusations of cannibalism in the Caribbean (Carib is derived from cannibal) as they were exterminated within a few decades and all knowledge we have of them comes from, you guessed it, Columbus and his merry men.  

Don’t the Lucayan people deserve to be accorded the same human rights every person in the world deserves by virtue of simply being human? And if Columbus lacked the character to do so, why shouldn’t we possess the character to do so today? Why is it so hard for Americans to reckon with their humanity and suffering and NOT honor the architect of their holocaust?  

And if Americans are incapable of mustering the moral courage in the 21st century to do this, more than 520 years after the atrocities Columbus and his men committed upon arriving in our hemisphere, what credibility does U.S. moral authority possess on the international stage? How can we judge Assad or Kim Jong-un if we raise up Columbus? If Columbus was alive today we would probably be threatening him with drone strikes, right?  Yet, instead, we give him a federal holiday.

As a Navajo and Dakota woman, I can value the words Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal” and see how these words marked a turning away from the old Aristotelian worldview: 
“From the hour of their birth, some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” 
But I can also learn from the failings of Jefferson, the man, who never freed the human beings he kept in bondage his entire life. A man who had children whipped to produce nails which he sold to pay for food he served at his own table cooked by enslaved chefs. A man who when he died in debt, his slaves (some his own relatives) were put up for auction, families split up, and sold to different owners. This skill of disentangling truth from history is the greatest thing we can teach our children. They need this skill in order to build a better future for all of us. This, not prosaic rhymes, is the greatest lesson that Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas in 1492 can teach us.

America: Post Columbia

Today only 22 states and Washington, DC pay their workers and give them the day off on Columbus Day, although it remains a federal holiday.  Other states like South Dakota have changed the name to Native American Day and in Hawaii, they celebrate Discoverers’ Day to honor the Polynesian navigators who discovered the islands. These are hopeful signs. 

So where do we go as Columbus Day continues to disappear? Perhaps we can learn from Truth and Reconciliation Commissions like the one that dealt with the painful legacy of racism in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1979, Klu Klux Klan and Nazi party members attacked and killed five anti-racism protestors in Greensboro in front of four television news crews that videotaped the murders.  All of the murders were acquitted.  How do we begin the process of breaking down entrenched power structures which use acts of domestic terrorism to keep certain members of society “in their place?”  In 1985, the families of the victims did win a landmark $350,000 civil judgment against the city. 20 years later, the community sought to heal and began a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modeled on the ones in South Africa and brought racists and their victims to the table to talk and find common ground. As one shooting victim said:
 “Truth is not always beautiful.”
As Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, “I believe that the hope of our city is not to run from its yesterdays but to face its yesterdays so that its yesterdays will not be its tomorrows.”  

What we need is not only a name change of the federal holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day but an honest exploration of our painful history. We need to show our children we can look at “heroes” with clear eyes and use that clarity to build a society which we can truly be proud of and pass on to future generations. When my son stays home to celebrate Indigenous People’s survival, I’d like him to attend one of these Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings to learn what it means to face the past without fear and not to see the world in black and white terms.  

Perhaps then, my children can explain to their children what happened after Columbus reached our shores to their children not simply as a painful truth as my mother did, but as a lesson our society has learned. 

Also, unlike my Diné and Dakota ancestors, I have visited the Caribbean. The entire time I was there I thought about Columbus and his ships and his men and his horror—even as I was surrounded by all that beauty. When I swam in the Caribbean it was like no other water I'd ever been in. Warm, almost body temperature. As I floated in and dived into the waves I thought about how it was a sea embraced by both continents, north and south, and seemed to me, the womb of this hemisphere, of my people. And in that beautiful place, I felt sure healing could come from this place even as pain once radiated out of it and the hell Columbus once made it.

Jacqueline Keeler
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THE BLACK HILLS AND STONE BOY: A NEW INTERPRETATION?


Researching Ohunkaka stories--traditional Lakota/Dakota teaching stories that were taught to children to teach them social mores and morals, I found an old article I wrote about it years ago.  It is very academic, but I think it was also published in Wicazo Sa (Red Pen) Review then edited by fellow Dakota Elizabeth Cook-Lynn.  To show ever more how Dakota are related she immediately figured out how we were related, although she was from Crow Creek and my dad's family were Yankton.  Her Uncle Theo had been married to my grandpa's cousin Julia Keeler and the house my grandmother lived in had once been theirs!   Truly in the Dakota world we are all related!

Felix Brunot, Ihanktowan Dakota Chief as a boy


THE BLACK HILLS AND STONE BOY: A NEW INTERPRETATION?
When we speak of "mitakuye oyasin" all my relatives, we know always
that the growing and moving things of the earth, the winged, the
four-legged, and the two legged are all children of the earth and they,
too, want to live.  So we say mitakuye oyasin.


- Black Elk


        I have used this quote because it explicitly verbalizes and puts us into the state of mind, which the ohunkaka demonstrates; a way of relating to our environment that is Lakota.  The traditional Lakota folk story, the ohunkaka is particularly suited for use in the political restructuring of the Lakota future, as it has embedded in it the symbology of culturally-specific features that could be used to redefine the Lakota relationship to its past and thus, redirect the perceived future of the people.  As noted by Elaine Jahner in "Cognitive Style Oral Literature" the "Lakota ohunkaka function primarily as pedagogical means."   The most recent, and perhaps, most explicitly political use of the Stone Boy (Inya Hok si), was seen in the prepared statements given by Charlotte Black Elk, Lakota Oral Historian, at the Sioux Nation Black Hills Act hearings held on Wednesday, July 16, 1986 at the U.S. Senate.  In her testimony, Ms. Black Elk's states that her purpose is to show that "traditional Ikce (Lakota) philosophical principles and theological concepts for organizational design and management practice is one the Lakota have used for thousands of generations, and is still appropriate, particularly for the Black Hills."
Charlotte Black Elk

This need to reaffirm the Lakota peoples connection to the land--particularly to the Black Hills, through myth arose out of the attempts by the United States to negate the Lakota's claim through numerous practices.  This has included the use of myth, in the sense that it is as a way of relating to a mutually agreed upon past history of a people.  This myth written and propagated by Americans, rewrote the history of the Lakota and introduced them as recent denizens of the plains, and put their discovery of the Black Hills, the sacred Paha Sapa at about roughly the same time as that of European explorers like the Vendryes brothers, intrepid 18th century European pioneers of the Dakota territory.  As recorded by Emerson Hough in 1909, "The Sioux did not always live in Dakota, but once dwelt in South Carolina, where their remnants were cleaned up by the savage Iroquois even after the establishment of the English settlements on the Atlantic coast."  Thomas Mails, biographer of Chief Frank Fools Crow, despite noting that Mr. Hough did not see fit to site any sources for this information, asserts that we should accept it in good faith as have many otherexperts of Sioux history.



This myth is far from dead today,this idea is being propagated by even popular commercial historians like James Michenor in his best-selling epic Centennial, published in 1974.  He writes, "do not depict the plains Indians as having been for any great length of time in the locations where the white man discovered them.  Do not fall into the error of writing about white men intruding into areas which the Indian had held from time immemorial."  He then goes on to assert that from 6,000 B.C. to 1750 A.D. the Great Plains were devoid of "permanently settled human beings," and he concludes that, "it must not be thought that they lived there.  They were nomads, hunters who went wherever the Bison went and it was of no concern to them what type of land they lived on.  THEY HAD NO HOME."
  
Of course, the power of this myth to limit or even possibly eliminate Lakota land claims to the Black Hills is obvious, and is hotly contested by the Lakota themselves.  Dr. David B. Miller, a professor of History at Black Hills State College, Spearfish, South Dakota draws the obvious legal question that the new American myth begs, "at what point in time does an historic seizure of land without just compensation become a moot point?"  As the Chairperson of the Open Hills Association, a political organization that stands in opposition to the Sioux Nation Black Hills Act (the Bradley bill), he states, "opponents of the Bradley bill believe that the bill's supporters should offer traditional and historical evidence such as that offered by the Cheyenne for Bear Butte to substantiate Lakota claims for sacred aspects of the Black Hills."in its explicit use of the ohunkaka and other culture-specific features to directly address this question.  The way in which she uses these thematic structures in such original new ways calls to mind the statements made by an earlier generation of Lakota to Lakota ethnologist Ella Deloria concerning the adaptations embodied in George Sword's storytelling: "tales were never told in that manner.  We had tales treating of Ikto, Iya, the Owl Maker, the cold wizard, the old woman or witch, coyote, and these were personified as humans and besides them there was nothing."   Ms. Black Elk may be particularly able to tackle this task; as she notes in her testimony, she is the great-granddaughter of the famous Lakota medicine man and visionary of Black Elk Speaks, as well as the great-granddaughter of Hollow Horn and a college graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  "Sioux Treaty Hearings" held in Lincoln, Nebraska has never been so specific in its detail.  Although, the ideas given form by the ohunkaka Black Elk recounts have been articulated by elders like the great medicine men Chief Frank Fools Crow.  As recorded in his biography, "when Fools Crow said this same thing, and stooped down as he did so to grab a handful of South Dakota dirt . . . in the Sioux mind they have always been an integral part of the Plains country, and God created the first Sioux out of that very ground.  To understand any of their religious and political views one must hold this fact in mind."

Thus, the testimony that Ms. Black Elk gives in the Sioux Nation Black Hills Act hearing accomplishes a number of things: 1) it establishes the antiquity of the Lakota claims and use of the land; 2) shows the
relationship between the religious practices of the Lakota to particular locations within the Black Hills; 3) organizes the culture-specific features (oral history, myth, astronomy, and linguistical knowledge) of the Lakota in a European definitional fashion; and 4) then transposes this into a traditional Lakota teaching story, the ohunkaka for the non-Lakota U.S. Senate Select Committee.  She begins this process by beginning from the beginning, the Lakota creation story in which the forces of life are personified in a manner similar to (and perhaps derived from) the work of George Sword and relationships are established between them and the Lakota people.  This is the definitional lexicon that she begins with and then continues with a short linguistic study of various Lakota words and their relationship to the earth (Maka), and includes some astronomical and archaeological data.  It is not until she has done all of this that she places these symbols within their proper context of the Lakota ohunkaka, infusing them with meaning and making these symbols accessible to not only the cultural cathexis of the Lakota people, but also the non-Lakota audience who will decide the fate of this bill.  In this way, the ohunkaka fulfills it purpose and it links reality and narrative action by showing how specifically Lakota cognitive features apply to fictional conflicts and their resolutions."

Therefore what I will detail in the next few pages is the way in which Ms. Black Elk's version of the Stone Boy story defines "the relationships between constancy and change [to] reflect fundamental
social processes and interactional models"--basically, how she tailors the lexicon of Lakota symbology to fit the needs of a particular political position.  In doing this, she not only had to work within that lexicon, or circle of symbolic interaction, but without that circle and carry that meaning across cultural boundaries in order to make it intelligible to a European cultural milieu.  Listing the variations in the story across five versions spanning in time nearly 100 years.  I have ordered them (one through five) in the manner in which they are most greatly divergent from Ms. Black Elk's telling of the story.  They are in many ways similar in their intent, that is the pursuit of timelessness, but are at the same time the products of their times.  

Placing it in relation to the Tagluzaza Topa, which she translates as "The Cleansing", an event similar to the "Great Flood" recounted by the Hebrew book Genesis.  By doing so, she calls to mind the fact that this story occurred after a cataclysmic event and is part of a renewal of structures that have maintained the earth ever since that point.  In none of the other versions cited (see chart, pages i - v) is such a reference found, it is, perhaps, assumed.  The inclusion of this reference, is probably for the benefit of her non-Indian audience and serves, in this instance, to further her political point that, "if humans make the wrong choices, they will have to bear the responsibility of selecting their own genocide."

In establishing the human setting of the story, she chooses the point in time when there is relative stability in the core "family" that represents every (Lakota) human family.   There are four brothers and
one sister that are, as she notes, "a family of choice, while not related, come together and choose to be a family."   They can also be seen to be representative of the space we inhabit.  The four brothers
can be seen as corresponding to the four directions or the four winds coming together to one location to define a point in time and space encircled by the circle of the tipi, their home, often referred to by
the Lakota as a symbol of the cosmos.  They are however, static and it is the inclusion of the feminine force that allows for change and, thus, life to occur.  In many of the versions that have been related,
the first woman who arrives at their tipi is evil and attempts to destroy all of them.  Well, not utterly destroy, but to deanimate them and construct from their dead parts either a robe (Deloria) or a shield
(Sword) for herself.  This misuse of resources for a non-life-giving and inherently selfish purpose, also points to the practices of the people prior to "The Cleansing" that necessitated their destruction by
the flood to protect "the work of Hor'e Win (She Makes a Mark =Creation) [who] was in danger of being interrupted and a time of choice was among the nations a red and blue day if Hor'e Win was allowed to complete her task or the humans could declare for their own decision of abandoning the robe of creation."   

The robe of creation that Maka works on is one composed of the life-giving attributes of the energy raised by the interaction through kinship relationships not simply their dead material parts.  Thus, the woman can be seen as a manifestation or personification of a human society's relationship with the earth. extension of the earth, not only as a female, life-giving aspect, but also through her ability to animate stone (Inyan).  "She had found a little transparent pebble which she was carrying in her mouth.  One day, while weeping, she chanced to swallow it.  The result was that a little boy was born to her."   This exactly parallels the creation story of the Lakota people.  As Charlotte Black Elk notes in her version of Otakahe Ekta:
Before anything had meaning, Inyan is the spirit of Inyan is Wakan Tanka that which is that it is, is beyond understanding, what makes it what it is and always is.  Inyan is soft and Inyan is supple, the power of Inyan flows from his blood, and the blood of Inyan is different and the difference is blue.  But hanhepi does not have meaning, for Hanhepi is only the dark emptiness that is the void of space. 
So, Inyan takes of himself and shapes a disk, this he wraps over and around himself.  He names this new being, "Maka" I am from the first.  He desires that Maka be great, so he opens his veins and allows his blood to run freely.
but her heart is more great and special and it stands first of all the places of Maka.  And the liquid of Inyan's blood becomes the water, Mni "life sustaining fluid"circling Maka, the blue of the sky, Marpiya To, I am the difference tossed upward now his spirit, power, and meaning are reduced.  He now becomes inyan "the stone" brittle and hard . . . 

Here, now, within the context of this, the sister's loss of her four brothers, the four directions can be seen as the loss of a locative place.  She is "Hanhepi" and does not have meaning and is devoid of
space.  This would also be true within the Lakota system of kinship relationships, as Ella Deloria notes in her novel Waterlily, "Almost from the beginning everyone could declare, 'I am not afraid; I have
relatives.'  To be cast out from one's relatives was literally to be lost.  To return to them was to recover one's rightful haven."   Therefore, she is in the place within the Creation myth that exists before the creation of Maka and becomes Maka after she swallows the stone (inyan).  In light of this, I see Ms. Black Elk's inclusion of the sister's feelings of anger over her pregnancy as interesting.  These feelings are not attributed to her in any of the other versions of the story I have cited, and must be a result of the non-Lakota audience to whom this version is directed.


"Hok si from a pregnancy to a throwing into the water.   At it for a long time, threw it into the water [a stream].  No sooner had it hit the water than she saw it grow larger.  She took it out and looked at it and threw it in again.  This time it had assumed the form
of a baby."
Although, her reasons for choosing this allegory for the pregnancy may have been due to Victorian prudery over an unwed, illegitimate pregnancy, or it could be due to her source being from the Dakota rather than the Lakota (although she had access to the Lakota and lived amongst them for most of her life)-in any case, her analogy is correct according to Lakota motifs.  The moving water is the blood of Inyan and is where his power flows, and the growth of the stone into a baby is correctly correlated with the interaction (throwing back and forth) between the male Inyan and the female Maka.  This analogy also allows us to see the Lakota symbolic meaning behind the mother throwing her child out of the tipi, that is her circle, which is not because she thinks the child is necessary evil, as noted by Black Elk, but because it is this interaction that brings about life.  When she throws him out of the tipi where does he go?  As seen in McLaughlin's version, he goes to Inyan, his father, the water and continues to be sent to him, until he becomes a man who can help his mother.  Elk's version nor is it attributed to any actions(s) of Inyan Hok si and thus, it must not be perceived as having any bearing on the Black Hills case.  This section seems to deal with the process of individuation through the successful navigation between circles in space.  This is traced on his trip between the home (tipi) of his mother, to his encounter with the old witch (Iya) and her/his degenerated form of tipi, to the sweatlodge (inipi) where his uncles are restored, and finally back home.  I see, once again, the reenactment of a form of "The Cleansing" in this portion of the tale in the life of the family of Stone Boy.  Stone Boy acts to destroy a being (the Iya) that acts to misappropriate (once again) the powers of his four uncles and keeps them in an inanimate form in (or on) his tipi (cosmos or construction of the world).  There is some support that this is an reenactment of the first sister's destruction (and therefore, the previous "cleansing" motif in the story).  In Ella Deloria's "Synopsis of Tales" given in Dakota Texts, she notes that the first part of the Stone Boy tale is similar to that of "Double Face and the Four Brothers" in which "Double-Face, posing as a young woman, comes to live with the four brothers as their sister."   Once again, it is Hakela (youngest brother) who discovers her identity and rescues his brothers.  Double-Face is also the Iya, as related to Hakela in another tale by Iktomi.  This corresponds with McLaughlin's version (which lacks a first evil sister) in which the old witch who captures the brothers says, "I hate her [the good sister], for I was going to try and keep house for them and marry the oldest, but she got ahead of me and became their sister."   The witch is identified as the Iya (Double-Face) also in Bad Wound's version.  Thus, the original sister is Iya, as well as the witch (which could be a reference to the two faces of Double-Face, which have the same source and each conceal the same intent).
  
That she would gloss over this aspect of the story is particularly surprising when, as noted in two of the versions (Bad Wound's and McLaughlin's), Stone Boy's very reason for existence is to free his
mother's brothers.  "My father sent me to you so that I could find my uncles for you, and nothing can harm me, because I am stone and my name is 'Stone Boy'",  and again, "the Great Beast told her that the four brothers were kept by a stone and that a stone would find them and bring them back to her."
In addition to this, by entirely cutting out Iya from her version she may have lost a very potent archetype for the materialist society she sees as being very destructive to the earth.  As, however, the battle with the Iya does not take place directly in the home of the Lakota people, but often, in the home of the Iya, itself, it is not directly applicable to the Black Hills case, and may have even detracted
somewhat from her argument as to the Black Hills being the specific location of a 'final battle" between good and evil.  Smashing the cubs is done out of jealousy for their beloved (or hunka) status and as symbolic embodiments of wisdom.  In all the other versions where this scene is included, these beloved children are symbolized by buffalo, normally four in number, or as in McLaughlin's version, twins,
another way, consistent with Lakota symbolism of conveying a beloved status.   Black Elk, probably uses the bear (mato)  to continue a line of symbolism she developed in a previous story of the Race around the Black Hills between the winged and the four-legged (Otakuye Topa Wamaka
Og'naka I'Cante oki'inyanke) in order to determine the fate of the two-leggeds.  She attributes the wingeds' desire to save the two-leggeds to their respect for the wisdom of the bear.  This reason
is not mentioned in her Great-grandfather Black Elk's version documented in The Sixth Grandfather.   Charlotte Black Elk's use of the Mato interpretation, however, demonstrates the pedagogical nature
of the ohunkaka.  It allows her to use a symbol, Mato, wisdom to reconnect humanity to the rest of creation and endow us with a debt and respect for the powers of the four-legged, the winged and the other two-leggeds to whom we now owe our existence expounded in Black Elk's interpretation of the sledding scene.  She interprets Inyan Hok si's actions to not only arise from a desire to be
feared for being the "one who killed a child so special.  All would clear a path for the one who would crush wisdom,"  but as the right thing to do as, "the representation of evil, aligning itself with good,
in this case the esteemed child of the earth the bear, is a lesson that evil will hide behind goodness (thereby corrupting even wisdom) to achieve its own ends."  Although, this is not so clearly articulated in any of the other versions of the sledding scene, it may be implied.

This is supported by Bad Wound's version, which does not contain a sledding scene but espouses a similar interpretation for Inyan Hok si's smashing of his father, the stone, who has become evil and made a deal with the Iya, and we also find the bear (Iya's "child") who helps the Iya perpetuate his evil deeds, as well.  As Stone Boy notes, "I broke my own father because he was evil."   This could also apply to modern society, in that it can be interpreted as the misuse of a beloved child of wisdom (science) in our own society for destructive acts against creation and Maka.  The use for evil purposes of inyan, the stone can be seen in the use by the modern Iya (capitalistic society) of the
energy resources under Maka (the earth), which is, according to the Creation myth, Inyan (the stone).  This scene is included to allow us to see who it is that stands behind these beloved children.  In the Lakota way, this would relate to who it is that holds them beloved and is such high esteem that they would hold great give-aways in their honor and provides this with this status.  In Black Elk's version we see it is the monster, Tata Gnaxkiya  who as Deloria notes is a bad spirit.  In another ohunkaka documented in Dakota Texts, "Boy-Beloved's Blanket", this monster "Crazy Buffalo" attempts to steal a beloved child's blanket (identity) and give it to his own child.  This supports Black Elk's premise that it is but an evil spirit attempting to coopt and misdirect the powers of the good.   Stone Boy, therefore is correct in smashing them like he did his own father who was similarly coopted. Black Elk's version explicitly alludes to another cataclysmic event on the scale of "The Cleansing".  She writes, "the Lakota will be at a time of war (the day of blowing skies) . . . the moon turning orange is a symbol of disruption in the balance of wiconi/wicunt'e (the power to make live and the power to destroy).  The earth staggering in her path is a symbol of final destruction as the earth is dying."   Her description of the day is similar to that of other versions cited, although she substitutes an orange moon  for the "brown-tinged clouds" described in the other versions and includes a reference to the earth
staggering that is not mentioned in any of the others.  This could be an additional symbol to drive home the point to a non-Lakota audience in terms that they could appreciate (an earthquake) and presently fear.

In Black Elk's version, the Tata Gnaxkiya also specifies that he wants part of the root of the tree, she notes this as being, "a reference to the center of the Lakota "Ho coka" (sacred hoop), where stands the sacred tree."   It is interesting that Bad Wound, in his version, describes Stone Boy's mother as being from "the heart of the tree," thus, as a symbol of Maka (as earlier established) the monster is asking for part of the earth must construct circular walls around his home, a circular tipi, all symbols of wholeness, completeness, the cosmos.  It is also the symbol of the Lakota people, and is a name they use for their own camps, ho coka and for the Black Hills, Ho coka yapi, a sacred name meaning simply, the center.  Another name for the Black Hills is Otiwita, which means "home sanctuary".  The red race track encircling the Black Hills is used as a motif in her version to denote the final wall, which is red in color (sa, also meaning decorated) and shaped like a tipi.  This does not correspond to any of the other versions cited, which describe four fences (not three as Black Elk stipulates) constructed of wood, not stone, except is one case.  In McLaughlin's version, the final barrier is constructed at the last minute by Stone Boy (as are all the barriers in Black Elk's version) and is made of white stone (not red).  Red (sa) and white (ska) are somewhat similar in sound, but connote slightly endings to the story, I believe.  There is of course, the analogy that the color red possesses to the Black Hills itself, but it also may be seen as identifying with the Lakota way.  Today, red is associated with the Indian people by most Lakota medicine men and seeking sanctuary in a red tipi may symbolize seeking sanctuary in traditional Lakota ways, particularly those associated with the home and kinship.  White on one level, could be seen as signifying the European lifestyle, as Mrs. McLaughlin herself did espouse.  It does however, also refer back to Stone Boy's own creation from a white stone, and the shooting up is reminiscent of the "throwing up" of Marpiya To and another form of birth, as is the "rubbing together" of the stones as seen in Black Elk's version.  This act of "birth", however produces a child (the stone barrier) that protects him, unlike his smashing of his own father in Bad Wound's version.  And as Charlotte Black Elk's notes in her testimony, what distinguishes us two-leggeds (both the bear and the human) is this proclivity for choice.  It is obvious which choice she would like for the Lakota people to make and for the White people to support and she has made this clear through the symbolism of the ohunkaka's pedagogical grandstand of ideas.


Footnotes:
This need to reaffirm the Lakota people's connection to the land-- This myth is far from dead today,this idea is being propagated by even the testimony and prepared statement given by Ms. Black Elk is unique.
Earlier testimony given in previous years, including that of the 1974 
To examine this I have included in my paper a chart (page i - v),
She begins her version of the ohunkaka Stone Boy (Inyan Hok si)_ by "When the woman is good, she can also be seen as representation ... At the time of the first motion, Inyan from which it is.
Hanhepi "it is without motion" is then,
Inyan desires that another exist . . .
All of Maka is great
Now, Maka becomes the earth,
So the other would be Inyan takes of himself, completely,

In Marie McLaughlin's  version, she transposes the creation of Inyan
"She picked up a pure white pebble, smooth and round, and after looking

The return of the brothers is not described in any detail in Black Elk

In the sledding scene, Black Elk claims that Inyan Hok si's desire to
The theme brought up in Bad Wound's version of the ohunkaka is also
The revenge scene, is preluded by the "Old Man" scene (as I have termed
The references to the day that the attack will occur as set up in Black Elk.
To defend against this attack, Inyan Hok si, in all versions cited,
In this last use of symbolism, we can see how a choice has been made,
Jacqueline Keeler
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Baby Veronica and Indian Sovereignty 50 Years After the March on Washington



My latest Op/Ed on the Baby Veronica case came out today in Native News Network:


By Jacqueline Keeler


On August 12th, some 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech during the March On Washington, a Cherokee father, Dusten Brown gave himself up to authorities after warrant was put out for his arrest. His crime? Wishing to be a father and to raise his daughter Veronica with her Cherokee family in Oklahoma.

I wrote about the Baby Veronica case after the Supreme Court decision in June overturned a South Carolina Supreme Court decision the majority finding that Veronica's family did not meet the requirements for being an "intact Native American family" protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The court did not overturn ICWA to the great relief of Native American families across the United States, but it sent the custody decision back to the South Carolina courts.



Baby Veronica

Prior to the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, I believed the reasons for the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 would be reasonable and compelling to most people in this country. The wholesale removal of children from a tribe is a story that every Indian family is familiar with, either through personal experience, or from seeing it take place in our communities. But the response from the American public from such media standards like Dr. Phil and the Today Show and in the online comments made by ordinary white Americans has been striking because it makes clear that most Americans take a historical view of the situation.

The argument posited by the Capobiancos – the white, South Carolina couple who wish to adopt Veronica – and their support team of PR professionals and lawyers is that ICWA sacrifices the needs of the Indian child to promote those of the tribe, often exposing the child to great harm by leaving them in the care of dangerous and violent Indian relatives. It is in this way, by pitting the helpless child against a vainglorious and ineptly-run tribal system, they have been extremely successful in persuading even moderate commentators like Anderson Cooper and Nina Totenberg of NPR to portray the Capobiancos as the wronged party, Dusten Brown as a deadbeat dad and ICWA as failed policy.

To be clear, the Supreme Court did NOT overturn ICWA, but in the court of public opinion ICWA and Indian Tribes lost a battle and that is something that we, as Indian people should take very seriously.

I have taken a closer look at two organizations that have been funneling substantial funds to the Capobiancos,  These two organizations are the Christian Alliance for Indian Children and Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA).  I was surprised to learn that each organization had been led by Native Americans at certain points in their history.  Roland Morris, a full-blood Chippewa of the Leech Lake Chippewa Tribe in Minnesota, an Upholsterer by trade with Christian Alliance and Scott Kayla Morrison, a Choctaw attorney who once led CERA (both are now deceased: Morris from cancer and Morrison, tragically, from suicide.)  They both advocated greater oversight of Indian tribal governments by the Federal government and opposed tribal transfer of lands into trust, federal dollars spent in Indian country,  and ICWA.  They were driven by the troubles they had seen in their communities and in their families (in Roland’s case) and had drawn the conclusion that through alliances with both Christian and Republican party members that they could help bring about the end of the suffering on reservations. 

The Christian adoption groups websites and articles are filled with stories about the poverty and abuse of Indian children in Indian country.  The Christian Alliance posted this report on its site about the Spirit Lake Nation: “Thomas Sullivan, Regional Administrator of the Administration of Children and Families in Denver, stated in his 12th Mandated Report to the ACF office in DC, February 2013: 'In these 8 months I have filed detailed reports concerning all of the following: The almost 40 children returned to on-reservation placements in abusive homes, many headed by known sex offenders… These children remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators available to be raped on a daily basis. Since I filed my first report noting this situation, nothing has been done by any of you to remove these children to safe placements.’”  

But the Brown family (I include the grandparents in this as they were granted guardianship by the Cherokee Nation) seems to have none of these problems.  It seems odd that with so many children living in need in Indian country, that they chose this case to challenge ICWA and Tribal sovereignty.  And it begs the question, are all Indian families being painted with the same brush?  

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has since taken over the administration of social services at Spirit Lake. And the tribal members themselves have taken action.  The elders council voted to remove the leadership and the tribe voted out Roger Yankton, the tribal chairman and resisted his efforts to reinstate himself back into power.  This may have been partially due to the national spotlight put on the community by a PBS documentary, Kind-Hearted Woman, about a Spirit Lake tribal member Robin Poor Bear’s attempts to protect her daughter from abuse.

Certainly many of the concerns of Christian Alliance and CERA—Tribal corruption, self-dealing, nepotism, poverty, and child abuse—are familiar to anyone who has worked in Indian Country, from the large to the very small, wealthy Casino-operating tribes.  These groups have been organizing in different iterations since the 1990’s.

They present themselves as fighting for equal protection under the law of all American citizens and motivated by a desire to free Indians from tribal tyranny. “Sovereign Immunity,” says the late Morrison in a YouTube video of her speaking to a primarily white audience in New York State, “is total oppression.”  Roland Morris of the Christian Alliance supported the former Republican Senator Slade Gorton’s (WA) bill S. 1691 which would have eliminated Sovereign Immunity for Tribes and in his Congressional testimony he said, “The plight of the average Native American is what keeps money flowing into the coffers of those in charge of Tribal government. Thus, tribal government needs to keep in control of its members, even to the extent of demanding from this Congress that the ‘tribe shall retain exclusive jurisdiction over any ...Indian child…’, as is written in the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which states further that tribal interests are ‘independent of the interests of the birth parents.’”  He makes this statement in 1998, putting forward the Capobianco’s argument against ICWA, 15 years before the Baby Veronica case.

Gorton’s bill was successfully opposed and defeated.  It also unified all the tribes in Washington state and helped lead to the election of his opponent present Senator Maria Cantwell (D).  Gorton, himself, denied that he wanted to do away with tribal governments.  His spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman explained, "Tribes have the right to govern their own members, but Gorton doesn't think tribes can govern non-tribal members living on reservations."  A point often repeated by the members of the Christian Alliance and CERA that has led them to oppose any oversight by tribal governments of things as varied as water rights and the National Bison Range.  

The organization’s failure to stop the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) from managing the National Bison Range led to a break between these groups and Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) a once close ally.  Initially, their relationship was quite warm.  The Morrises supported Conrad’s bill to remove non-tribal members living on fee land from tribal civil jurisdiction in Montana.  Conrad explained his bill this way, “The concept of tribal members enacting legislation that will affect all residents of a reservation without allowing all living on the reservation an equal voice goes against the very words which our founding fathers wrote to establish this great country.”   

Time after time the solution to the problems in Indian country proposed by the Christian Alliance and CERA is to reduce the space for Tribes to be actors in national politics or even local politics.  

Yet another question regarding Tribal sovereignty was posed in a Youtube video of CERA’s former director, the late Scott Kayla Morrison, an attorney trained in Federal Indian Law speaking to a primarily white audience, “How can a ward be a sovereign nation as federal land is held in trust for a tribe?”  Of course, there is an answer to be found in the Supreme Court’s decision in the Johnson v M’Intosh case of 1823.  Chief Justice Marshall cites the Doctrine of Discovery, a papal bull issued in 1455 by Pope Nicholas V giving title to the land to only Christian, “Discovering” nations.  In this doctrine, the heathens they discover only possess the right of occupancy of the land (like the beasts) not true fee simple title.

The shaky form of sovereignty Tribes derived from this doctrine was given the name “Domestic Dependent Nations” by Marshall.  Our respective Indigenous nations are only as sovereign as the Discovering nation wishes us to be.  558 years later and we are still waiting for the United States, a country based on the equal rights of all decides to repudiate this religious edict.  The citizens who were denied their rights were the citizens Indigenous nations who had the title of the land taken from them without their consent.  Tribes are pre-existing Nation-states that exist to this day.  The United States should live up to its ideals and do the moral thing and recognize finally that even Heathens have a right to the land they live on.  Not just to say it but do it.  Strike down the Doctrine of Discovery once and for all.

Once Tribes are understood as sovereign it becomes obvious that their jurisdiction does not violate the rights of non-citizens any more than it does when an Oregonian like me visits Montana and must obey Montana laws, pay its park fees, be judged in its courts—even though I, a  non-resident do not qualify to vote there.  It is the same when an American citizen enters the territory of a foreign nation, they must obey their laws even if they cannot vote there.  It is the very nature of being sovereign.  

And it must be seen that underlying the efforts of the Christian Alliance, like that in so much of America’s dealing with our people is a deep commitment to the Christianization of a Indian people.  As Lisa Morris writes on her website: “The reservation, a socialistic experiment at best, pushes people to depend on tribal and federal government rather than God, and to blame all of life’s ills on others.  The results have been disastrous.”  

When I was researching the Christian Allliance I found out that the Morrises had sued the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) for defamation because they had been described as “Anti-Indian” and the efforts of their organization called racist in a publication, “Drumming Up Resentment: That Anti-Indian Movement in Montana” put out by the organization in 2000.  The organization had given the Morrises a chance to review it before it was published and correct any factual errors but the couple refused to respond then sued after it came out.   

In the letter the Morris’ lawyer Jon Metropoulos wrote, “The foundation of [SCOTUS’] decisions, and of Roland and [Beth]'s opposition to tribal jurisdiction over nonmembers, is the factual deprivation of basic rights that nonmembers suffer when they are subject to a tribe's governmental power.  First you should know that opponents of such power, at least those I defend, do not deny there is a proper role for tribal governmental power, and it is precisely to exercise self-government.

“But when such power extends to nonmembers, violations of civil rights occur automatically that we would not tolerate anywhere in the country.  People are excluded from participating in government simply because they are not members of the tribe, i.e., they are excluded based on their race, ancestry or ethnicity.  Non members are denied the right to vote, hold office, sit on juries. If subject to a tribe's criminal authority, a nonmember Indian could be imprisoned in a tribal jail for years, depending on how the charges were stacked.  Simply put, because they are not Indians or are not Indians who qualify to be members of a tribe, nonmembers cannot give the ‘consent of the governed.’”

As I noted before this argument is weak because citizens of the United States do this every time they cross a state line or a border.  Why not when they enter an Indigenous nation?  

I then read the offending MHRN publication and found the author had already summarized the situation very well:

"The struggle for civil rights in Indian country is different. It rests more on sovereignty and autonomy than on inclusion and integration. The legal framework created by the civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s sought to secure equal treatment within existing institutions and law. Indian rights activists, by and large, seek recognition of their right to develop their own law. Basically, they seek recognition of a right to self-determination. This difference is confusing and gives the anti-Indian movement an advantage in the rhetorical arena."

And so it is that 50 years after the March on Washington the Christian Alliance, CERA, the Capobiancos and even Supreme Court Justices in the Baby Veronica case are asking the question: “Are Tribes racist?”  “Equal Rights” groups that arose as part of an anti-Affirmative Action backlash are actually using the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. against Tribes.  "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” is used as a preamble to dismantle Affirmative Action programs and Tribal Sovereignty.  

We must face that the issue of race is one that we cannot win.  We must do away with blood quantum as a requirement for citizenship if we are to be taken seriously as Nations.  It taints Tribal Sovereignty and citizenship in the public consciousness and those who want to reduce or eliminate tribal power are finding it a handy tool for turning public opinion against us.  Even Supreme Court Justice Alito began his majority opinion saying, “this case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.” This despite the fact that the Cherokee Nation does not even use blood quantum as a requirement for membership.  Justice Sotomayer in her dissent corrected this presumption that blood and thus race were in anyway relevant to the case.  The writing is on the wall and in the Justice’s questions; blood quantum will be political death for all the Tribes and we must let it go if we are to survive.  We didn’t start the American obsession with race and it is not part of our traditions nor is it a part and parcel of the modern nation-states we wish to join.

Other nations do use some form of jus sanguinis to determine citizenship.  Since 2004, Ireland for instance requires at least one grandparent be a citizen but the Irish “blood” of the grandparent is not taken into consideration, just their citizenship.  If Tribes fear that potential citizens with weak ties would dilute the cultural base of their identity as a people tests for citizenship can be administered.  In Denmark at 18 years of age a non-citizen can take a test called Indfodsret to qualify for citizenship.

The truth is nothing tribes do as Sovereign Nations will make any sense to the American people and even tribal members if they do not understand that tribes are pre-existing nation-states that continue to exist.  In fact, to help make that clear I would rewrite the previous sentence to say “Nations” instead of “tribes” and “Citizens” instead of “tribal members.”  The language we use must reflect the Political nature of our existence, because the rights we are demanding are political ones.  

I end with a quote from Vine Deloria, Jr. from his classic 1969 book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.  He was my grandmother’s cousin so perhaps this is yet more Indian nepotism, but I choose to call it listening to my elders.  "So it is vitally important that the Indian people pick the intellectual arena as the one in which to wage war. Past events have shown that the Indian people have always been fooled about the intentions of the white man. Always we have discussed irrelevant issues while he has taken the land. Never have we taken the time to examine the premises upon which he operates so that we could manipulate him as he has us." 


Jacqueline Keeler
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