Archives For First Nations

Buffalo-Skulls-1870

Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.

(this is for the dead)

Fighter jets are flying overhead; their screeching rage punctuating the rumbling roar of heavy-tread machines behind me. Particles of dust and exhaust cling to sweat-drenched skin in the searing sun. Everything feels dry, desiccated, as if all the shadowed life of this place has been swept over by a sudden desert.

My attention’s drawn to something unexpected–four red strokes against white, crimson vivid as blood, pasted against a steel pole. It’s a glyph, a sigil, with a power steeped in terror.  I need to leave this place to find a friend, but my attention is held. Something hardens in me as I stare, a sorrow awakening in veins constricted by anger.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. I look around myself to see if others note it. Women wearing head-scarfs are gathered nearby, speaking to each other quietly next to buildings which soon, too, will become rubble to be hauled away. It’s unlikely they’ve seen this mark.

I scrape it off the pole. No one seems to note my actions, neither the uniformed man who watches the gathering of Arabs a hundred feet from this pole, nor all the others passing by. It peels off easily, and I slip it into a pocket to show others, just as another aerial machine-of-death makes a second pass over where I stand.

“Indian Country”

I’m standing on a street corner in Seattle, not the Middle-East.

There’s a naval celebration going on–those jets are The Blue Angels a military performance troupe. I’m not in the middle of a declared war-zone, but I am in the middle of an occupation. And the sticker? It was three K’s, placed on a light pole in the middle of a traditionally black neighborhood undergoing massive gentrification. The bulldozers behind me are tearing down old homes and shops to make room for high-priced condominiums.

This was not far from the house I’m staying at. My host has been a First Nations man who was adopted out as a child to a white family who actively worked to keep him disconnected from his indigenous past. Neither of us have ancestral connections to Seattle, though he’s got closer claims to actually being on this land than I.

Also, he’s gay, like I am. Seattle’s a remarkably “tolerant” place for sexual minorities who play the middle-class games.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here so long, why I returned here after being gone for a year. I was elsewhere, searching for home, but this place called me back.

But by being here, I’m helping to displace the people who lived in this neighborhood before. In fact, this was one of the few places where blacks could live in Seattle due to redlining and other practices. I’ve met folks who still remember when it was called “coon town.”  They’re younger than you’d think.

White, mostly liberal folks, flooded this area after the recent housing-price collapse, buying up foreclosed homes. Many of those evicted were black. Many, from the stories I’d heard, had taken out equity loans on houses that their grandparents were born in and found the sudden inflation of rates meant they couldn’t pay it back. Real estate agents harassed the residents who hadn’t lost their homes; My neighbor and friend complained of still getting unsolicited offers from white realtors several times a week. The poor, mostly minorities were pushed out, and bourgeois entered.

Blacks were hauled over in slave ships to help white people make money in America. Immigrants were brought in to build the railroads and then vehemently oppressed when they were finished.  And all these groups helped displace the indigenous First Nations before them.

Did I just say displaced? I’m sorry. I meant slaughtered.

You used to be able to get money for “Indian” scalps. The U.S. government once encouraged people to shoot buffalo to help starve the First Nation resistance to westward expansion. Freed-slaves who joined the army were heavily involved in the Indian Wars and called Buffalo soldiers. And even today, “Indian Country” is U.S. Military slang for enemy territory.

But because of all that violence, the smallpox blankets and massacres and starvation, this open, tolerant, liberal city I live in has space for me. I’m “free” to practice my Pagan religion now, and the same military which killed natives now officially recognizes both my religion and my sexuality. This is all supposed to be “progress,” except I just saw a KKK sticker in a traditionally black, gentrifying neighborhood, and we’re all on stolen, conquered, and occupied land.

We Inhabit The Past

buffalo 4What we know and believe that the past and our histories greatly determine how we encounter the present. Without knowledge of slavery, for instance, I might be inclined to see the poverty of minorities in America as some sort of problem inherent within their cultures or, worst of all, intrinsic to their very nature.  And if I am ignorant of that past, I might encounter all the anger, rage, and despair of minority communities as unwarranted, unjustified, and dangerous.

Most everyone, though, knows about slavery and has at least a vague understanding of the slaughter of First Nations people on this continent, so the matter is less what is actually known than what is actually believed about those things.

As I’ve mentioned before, belief affects human actions, not just human perceptions. Our accepted histories are not mere narrative. They rise to the category of belief precisely because they determine the way we encounter the present.

One of the most difficult problems in our histories is the notion of “progress;” the Enlightenment notion that we have moved beyond the past into a better present. This Progress Narrative is a way of divorcing and disconnecting our present from all the atrocities of the past while justifying our actions now. Once, Americans held slaves and treated minorities as less-than-human, but now, we are equal. Once, Americans slaughtered indigenous peoples on this land, but now we’ve passed to a more progressive, enlightened state.

It’s a narrative of the past, certainly, but it defines what we think of ourselves now. Post-Colonial, Marxist, and Anarchist scholars have variously noted how Western civilization creates a conception of itself which poses all other present and former societies as primitive, existing in a less (politically, economically, and socially) evolved state. That is, it “others” all societies besides itself, positions itself as the most-evolved form of society humanity has yet attained, and then sees all societies (including itself) through this filter.

A particularly pernicious effect of this, though, is that parts of our own society that do not fit this narrative become ignored, made invisible by the story we tell about ourselves. We see moments of crime against sexual, religious, and racial minorities as aberrations to the liberal, tolerant society in which we live, as if all the past is behind us and all the blood of scalped and starved natives, of tortured slaves, of murdered immigrants do not, even now, fertilize the ground upon which we plant our organic gardens. And when we look at our past, we disconnect those events from the present in which we live. The displacement of peoples, slavery, First Nations genocide–those happened then, but we live in now.

But history is full of processes, not just events and presences, which continue to haunt and continue to not just shape but inhabit our modern interactions with each other.

The post-colonial historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty, writing about European mode of disenchantment and secularism, noted:

what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is the very fact that these worlds are never completely lost. We inhabit their fragments even as we classify ourselves as modern or secular (Provincializing Europe, p112).

This has a terrifying consequence. Our notion of being different and removed from the atrocities of the past is utterly false, even more so when those atrocities are unacknowledged and unrepaired. White Americans do not currently own African slaves, but the conditions of slavery continue to affect the descendants of those slaves and the wealth derived from slavery continues to benefit the descendants of those owners and American society. The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live. We’re not just the inheritors of atrocity–we are also the beneficiaries and the continuation of them.

We can look at our present through this lens and start to understand much of our current political, racial, and economic crises and how we, willingly or more often inadvertently, continue the atrocities of the past into the present. The United States of America was birthed in colonization with the oppression of peoples. Is it any wonder that our government supports other governments doing similar things?  It took a very long time for the U.S. Government to stop supporting Apartheid in South Africa precisely because “European settlers on non-European land” looked awfully familiar.  We can see the same thing in the Middle-East, as well. Regardless of what one thinks of that conflict, it should give us pause that the U.S. Government has given more military aid to the Israeli government since the second World War than to any other country in the world.

“Not in My Name”

leviathan_hobbes_cropped_03

From the frontispiece of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Speaking of governments, one of the other legacies of The Enlightenment besides Capitalism, Nationalism and Democracy, is the notion of complicity. Like egregores, the modern state demands a shared identification of its people. That is, since sovereignty no longer derives from the land or the gods and now is said to derive from “the people,” it’s become difficult to separate the actions of a government from the people whom they are said to represent.

This is different in other countries though. I first noticed it with a German friend. She and I had been talking about American CIA involvement in the overthrow of socialist governments in the Middle East and South America. I’d said to her something regarding how “we claim to believe in Democracy, but will undermine it when the people vote for someone we don’t like.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’” she asked me.

I didn’t understand the question.

“We?  Why ‘We’?  You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it. The government did. Americans often say ‘we,’ and I don’t understand why. Germans don’t do that.”

I’d noticed this, but had thought it was merely a linguistic difference. “You never say ‘we’ when talking about Germany?”

“That’d be silly,” she replied. “I’m not Germany. I’m German, but I’m not Germany. You’re not America, either.”

I still think on that matter. It was relieving to understand that I was not personally responsible for everything the U.S. government had ever done. It was also terrifying, because I began to understand the meaning of implicit consent; how people in power were bombing children in Afghanistan and Iraq as if they represented my interests, and I was helping to pay for it with taxes from my paltry wages.

Before I’d understood this, my reactions to the founding (and foundational) violence of America were most often ones of disbelief. Sometimes I’d accuse the historian of such horrors of lying, or twisting facts towards an agenda.  But I realized I was mostly just being defensive, because I couldn’t believe “we” had done such a thing.

Thing is, “we” didn’t. Others did, just as others do now. But they did it in “our” name, just as they do now.

I’m a vehemently anti-racist Pagan Anarchist. On what grounds could a government ever have thought I’d want them to kill indigenous people? Or buffalos? Or allow and encourage people to own slaves?  And how could they possibly think that they’d be accurately representing my will by dropping bombs on children in the Middle East?

The answer’s awfully obvious. No government such as that could ever speak on my behalf.

There’s another side to this idea of sovereignty and complicity. If the actions of a government are a reflection of the will of the people, then it makes perfect sense that our government was wrong to attack us directly.  For any government to attack the people for whom that government is a mere proxy. After all, governments just do what they’re elected to do, right?

Many Gods, No Masters

So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends, nor can I, with all the magic of the gods and spirits, hope to resurrect the dead, to undo those crimes.

More difficult, I have little choice in this matter. I live where I can; where I can afford; where things are open to me; where I feel safe. And I’m bound by the citizenship conferred to me at birth. I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

I guess I could perhaps do what many people do, which is ignore the whole thing, tuck the horrors away into a neat little envelope called “past” and pretend like these things don’t still happen. The more I work with spirits, though, the more I realize the dead don’t just go away like that. Besides, the horrors continue.  Poor minorities are still shot dead on American soil by city militia. The descendants of slaves continue to live in deep poverty and are thrown in prisons now, instead of slave ships.  And the government which claims to represent me, which derives sovereignty from my “consent,” slaughters people in other countries, too.

Knowing all that, I cannot look away.

This, too, is why it’s impossible for me not to see conflicts elsewhere as part of the same legacy of which we, in America, still re-enact. Watching the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cannot help but think both of the plight of the people in the occupied territories and their poverty as being similar to what the indigenous people around me suffer. Simultaneously, I cannot help but identify with people in Israel who did not themselves choose to steal land from others. Many of them are the descendants of people who moved elsewhere, some are also people who fled from violence and hatred elsewhere.

Besides thinking Capitalism is the worst thing we’ve ever come up with, this is why I’m an Anarchist. The foundational violence which haunts every “freedom” in America was perpetrated by people who were not me. The violence which America still enacts in the world is committed by people who falsely claim to be acting on my behalf. I did not consent to those horrors, nor do I consent to them now, nor will I allow them to do those things on my behalf.

Anarchism doesn’t stop at rejection of a government. Recognizing that the suffering of other people relies on my implicit consent, I cannot allow that violence to occur. Governments who claim to represent my interests and who extract money from me in order to commit atrocities must be toppled, and the conditions which have allowed them to thrive must be changed so that they no longer may do so.

My Anarchism, however, is also my Paganism. The gods and spirits we’ve pushed out of our present continue to exist, as do the dead. Just because I live in the present, I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy.  I cannot perform rituals on stolen land without working to have it returned, I cannot worship gods of place and people without fighting those who’d poison those places and sever those people from their gods.

There’s something really liberating about this knowledge, though. The notion that the past is dead is false, and this means we Pagans who are attempting to reconstruct ancient worship of ancient gods are still living among fragments of those religions. We don’t need to prefix what we’re doing with “neo-,” even if what we come up with, guided by our gods, is a different configuration from what our ancestors had.

That is, if the past is not ever truly gone, it can be rewoven, reshaped. It’s around us now. Processes which started centuries ago and continue to this day can be ended and amended. Fragments buried in plain sight under our illusion of being modern can be teased out from their hiding places.

We only need to stop claiming that the past is over, so we can own up to the past that is still with us.

I’d like to start off this Friday with some news items from Native and indigenous communities that may be of interest to readers of The Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt has always urged respectful solidarity with Native and indigenous causes, seeing many of their struggles and interests as overlapping with our own. I’m hoping that Indigenous Updates can become a semi-regular round-up feature here, much as Pagan Community Notes and Unleash the Hounds has.

Pagans and Solidarity with Idle No More: The Wild Hunt has reported before on Pagan involvement in the Idle No More movement, which largely centers on issues of treaty rights and sustainable development for First Nations peoples in Canada, but has also broadened into other areas and issues as well. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, a seminarian and Reclaiming Witch who has spent time and practiced solidarity with the Idle No More movement, has written a helpful guide for Pagans interested in participating with Idle No More.

idle-no-more

“We must learn to follow the leadership of first nations people. This is a movement led by First Nations people. Those who are most directly impacted by decisions made by people in power must be leading this movement. Part of how colonization and white supremacy works is by instilling in white people the belief that their opinions and voices are more important than others. Too often, I have seen white people get involved with justice struggles led by people of color and quickly begin speaking loudly and often in meetings and decision making processes. Part of being an ally is learning how to be a follower. This is not our movement to lead, this is a movement in which we are to follow. This is not to say that our voices are not important or that we should be silent. Just check yourself as you get involved and keep checking yourself. We must be humble, connect with the earth, and listen to our brothers and sisters.” 

I recommend reading the whole thing. There’s also a more general version written by Bohman at Tikkun Daily. Updates on Idle No More can be found at their official site.

The Ongoing Fight To Protect Sacred Sites: This site has chronicled several fights over the preservation of sacred sites, an ongoing issue in Indian country, where encroachments and construction on sacred lands are often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). As such it can be a highly-charged political issue, with the latest flashpoint being protests from American Indian activists and tribal leaders over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Lynne Sebastian to serve on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). Sebastian has worked with mining companies to give paid testimony that would allow them to mine on contested lands, something that understandably makes activists nervous about her placement on a government preservation council.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, has paid attention to Sebastian’s Quechan and Pechanga dealings, telling Indian Country Today Media Network that tribal consultation was sorely lacking in this nomination process. “If anyone in ACHP or the White House had consulted even a tiny bit, they would have learned of Native experiences with Lynne Sebastian,” she said. “Now they will have to assure her recusal from all deliberations and decisions on Native issues and we will have to monitor microscopically future ACHP vacancies and consultation on them.”

 Meanwhile, Native activists are trying to stop mining development in the Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona, saying that “the destruction and desecration of Apache lands” needs to stop.  The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution opposing the land transfer for mining. All part of the ongoing, often unseen, struggles to protect the last pieces of sacred Native lands, often controlled by our government rather than tribal nations. 

40th Anniversary of Wounded Knee: February 27th of this year saw the beginning of the 40th anniversary of the Wounded Knee occupation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A 73-day standoff that pushed AIM (American Indian Movement) and Native issues to the forefront, part of a larger movement advocating greater sovereignty for American Indian tribes, an end to government-backed corruption in tribal governments, and demands that existing treaty agreements be respected.  National newswires like the Associated Press paint a mixed picture for how far things have progressed for the Pine Ridge Reservation and American Indian rights in general in the last 40 years.

[Faith] White Dress and others gathered Wednesday to remember the fatal 71-day standoff. During gunfire to mark the anniversary of the start of the occupation, she said the Oglala Sioux Tribe is still struggling. “Unemployment is so high and the oppression is still so bad,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to take violence. It’s going to take a gathering to determine how to bring jobs here. We need libraries. We need more of our children to have a better future.”

For those who want to learn more about the Wounded Knee stand-off the PBS documentary “We Shall Remain” has a good run-down of the events. For Native perspectives 40 years later, see this round-up at Indianz, this post from Last Real Indians, this video of the anniversary, photos from Censored News, and more. As seen by Idle No More, and ongoing activism, the struggle continues.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Living TV Launches: Pagan Living TV, a non-profit media organization that seeks to create a world “where Pagan spirituality and philosophy is an influential voice in mainstream culture,” has launched their weekly video news program “The Pagan Voice.”

“Pagan Living TV is a charitable non-profit organization that produces a weekly news program that discusses the issues of today from a Pagan perspective.  This is the first professionally produced broadcast program that is produced in a multi-camera television studio, and is distributed on both the internet and on local cable channels in some major cities.”

As you can tell from watching the video, the production values are considerably higher than previous Pagan video-news efforts (no insult to those worthy efforts, merely an observation) showcasing Pagan Living TV’s ambition in raising the bar. As Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes: “Although it’s still just talking heads in the studio at this point. At least there is a studio, not a sheet tacked to the wall.” I’ll be watching the growth of Pagan Living TV, The Pagan Voice, and future shows with interest.

Pagan Involvement With ‘Idle No More’: Last month I posed the question of whether modern Pagans should involve themselves with the growing indigenous/Native activist movement known as Idle No More. Since then, some high-profile figures within modern Paganism have visited the camp where where Chief Theresa Spence, of the Attawapiskat First Nation, is holding a hunger strike, or gotten involved with Idle No More actions. First, Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers, who lives near Victoria Island in Canada visits Chief Theresa Spence’s camp and share’s his observations.

Chief Theresa Spence's Camp

Chief Theresa Spence’s Camp

“Of all the many social groups which comprise Canada’s social fabric, the First Nations, the Metis and the Inuit have a special place in our identity.They gave to “us”, the visitors on this land and their descendants, a gift so precious and so valuable it’s likely that nothing we could give them in return could possibly compensate them. That gift was the land on which this country was built. Without one or two other ethnic groups in our history, we would have a different country, for better or worse; without the First Nations, we would have no country at all. Therefore, Canada has special responsibility, it seems to me, partly arising from the various treaties which the Crown signed with the First Nations, but also arising from the ‘economy of honour’ that surrounds gifts of that magnitude. Canada’s moral obligation, at minimum, to ensure that the living standards of First Nations people are at least as good as that of the average middle-class non-native Canadian person – and that’s not impossible, and that’s perhaps only the least of what Canada should do.”

In addition to Brendan Myer’s impressions, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch, co-author of “An’ Ye Harm None: Magical Morality And Modern Ethics,” and co-editor of the “Encyclopedia Of Modern Witchcraft And Neo-Paganism,” has also been visiting Chief Spence’s camp and attending Idle No More actions urging Pagan solidarity with this movement: “I feel wonderful. And I will do it again. And again. AND UNTIL STEPHEN HARPER HEARS that he cannot sell out this country.” Also of note, author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle attended an Idle No More solidarity action in Oakland, California and shares her thoughts:

“On Saturday, I joined a couple hundred people in solidarity with Idle No More. Chief Theresa Spence has been on hunger strike for more than 25 days now, challenging the Prime Minister of Canada to a meeting regarding the sanctity of the earth and indigenous sovereignty. Idle No More is standing up – singing, drumming, dancing, and blockading – for the rights of free waterways, and land unpolluted by dangerous fracking. I want to support this challenge, this attempt to afflict the closely held privilege of the short sighted governments and corporations that are only seeing the immediate need for profit or even more insidious: an upholding of a level of comfort that we’ve come to think of as a need. We don’t need to use as much fossil fuel or natural gas as we currently do. We could instead adjust our lives to use less, or more wisely. But most often we don’t, because we – as a society – like our comforts. Idle No More has the ability to challenge, not only the governments and corporations, but to challenge our own assumptions about what it is we need. They are doing the job of comforting the afflicted of the land and the people and creatures on the land, and afflicting the comfortable – the prime minister and those of us who want to consume all the things we are used to.”

For the latest updates on Idle No More, check out their website. I will continue to monitor Pagan responses to, and solidarity actions with, this movement.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Earlier this December a new movement began when a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous women in Canada came together out of concern for bills put forward by the Canadian government (specifically Bill C-45) that they feel are attacks on the environment and sovereignty rights of First Nations peoples. Dubbed “Idle No More” the movement has gained high profile attention thanks in part to an ongoing hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who wants Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and representatives of the crown to sit down with First Nations leaders.

“Conceived in November by four Saskatchewan women frustrated with the Tories’ latest omnibus budget bill, Idle No More is a First Nations protest movement looking to obtain renewed government guarantees for treaty agreements and halt what organizers see as a legislative erosion of First Nations rights. The movement’s most visible spokeswoman is Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, the Northern Ontario reserve struck by an emergency housing crisis last year. Since Dec. 11, Ms. Spence has been on a hunger strike while camped on an Ottawa River island only a few hundred metres from Parliament Hill, vowing not to eat until she has secured a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Since early December, protests spurred by Idle No More have included a 1,000-person demonstration on Parliament Hill last week, a blockade of a CN rail spur near Sarnia that continued for a sixth day on Wednesday and a variety of brief demonstrations and blockades across Canada and parts of the United States.”

In the wake of these events Idle No More and Chief Spence’s actions have gained worldwide attention, sparking a wider call towards respecting the sovereignty rights of all indigenous peoples alongside greater attention to environmental and sustainability concerns.

idle no more image aaron paquette

“Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.”

Given the themes of responsible environmental stewardship and respect for indigenous rights this is a movement that seems custom-made for Pagans to support and get involved in. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, solidarity with native and indigenous peoples is a natural stance for those trying to revive, reconstruct, and re-imagine pre-Christian faiths (so long as we do so with integrity). Of course not all Pagans will want to involve themselves for a variety of reasons, but it’s rare for a global movement to emerge that is so in line with our stated values. So in the months ahead I plan to look for, and document, Pagan reactions and involvement with Idle No More, and hopefully chart how this movement changes the narrative of indigenous sovereignty rights, a topic often ignored in global politics.

For those interested in learning more, and getting involved, here’s a link to a resource page. If you are a Pagan already involved, please contact me with your thoughts, and how you see your Pagan values lining up with Idle No More’s values. For my readership, what do you think? Should Pagans Idle No More?