Happy “Thanksgiving” -now honor the treaties.

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

Well, those of us fortunate enough to be able to sit around and read blogs will likely also be glutting ourselves on some form of food or another this week in a permutation of the Thanksgiving tradition, which has been proclaimed in individual years since 1789 and has been a national holiday since 1863.

We celebrate thanksgiving because our northern European ancestors, who had no idea what living in the wilderness or potatoes or tomatoes or chocolate was, and who weren’t in steady contact or truce with the Spanish in the south, were incompetent at survival on the eastern seaboard of Turtle Island, a land of some twenty million people in 1600 now referred to as the United States of America. Our intrepid settler ancestors (not mine, I’m a child of broke Germans who probably came to the US in the 1880s to avoid war or starvation) were bailed out from a quick extinction by the locals.

Since then the United States government has made and broken 371 treaties with Indian tribes -all of them, in fact, except for a rumored intact agreement between people in Texas and the high plains Germans who still live way out there. The thing is, honoring these treaties would have been so simple, but the white people have all gone money-simple, and it has always ended up with the natives first being killed and then the survivors being moved so that the white people can go after resources. Native peoples’ downfall is that they’re too kind because for millennia they haven’t had to deal with this kind of aggression. In the film Paha Sapa, an elder explains how the Sioux people allowed the Europeans to pass through their holy lands with open arms, “as long as you don’t stop.” Those whose families had been destroyed by white violence themselves became violent and Indians certainly have murdered Europeans, but I must emphasize the idea that, as found by our best archeologists of today, for ten thousand years there was not a single major war on the north American continent. You American Christians and Muslims, as you step daintily between the grocery store and the policeman, hating each other over disagreements in dogma and the aggregate heat of circular revenge, imagine ten thousand years with no war. You can’t, can you? Who among any of us can?

Below are some of the more recent examples of the violence mentioned above.

The trail of tears: goldrush in Georgie Territory

Little Bighorn, basically every tragedy in the midwest in the 1800s: railroad land rights, hunting, cattle roads

Texas: oil

Dakotas: gold and ore mining in the Black Hills, the Jerusalem of the northern plains peoples

Arizona: mining and energy production to light up Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas

California: California. There’s an Indian head on the back of an 1860s penny because you could get up to $5 for each Indian you killed in Northern California and all you had to do was turn in a scalp. Could have been a Mexican’s scalp for all anyone would know. That goes for in Yosemite too.

Monterey, California (near where I live): Fort Ord was to be given back to the Salinans, et al., after the war was over, under the same broken statute about disused federal and state land that gave rise to the occupation of Alcatraz 1969-1971. Not! Now there’s a college on the land, CSUMB, but that doesn’t excuse anything.

It’s not too late. The native peoples are not extinct; they’re all over the place, in your city and town, and in the armed services. It’s hard for most people to imagine what it would look like if we had to actually admit that something is wrong and start to make amends. Most people my parents’ age say “It happened a long time ago.”

For one, it didn’t happen a long time ago. It’s happening right now. For another, the time since contact, in which cultures ten thousand years old have had to adjust to a very sudden and violent disintegration of their lives, does not excuse anyone of anything.

The Germans had to recognize their holocaust, which was quick and fierce and done with ovens; they now have laws to prevent such a thing from happening again. The United States have never had to recognize our holocaust; it’s done slowly with laws and tax rights and religion and silence now, no longer with guns and knives and bombs. For now there’s no Europe or America from across the ocean forcing us to admit that we let this happen, as was the case with the Germans.

Like I said, honoring the treaties would be simple. You probably won’t have to move out of your state or your town or your house. Simon Ortiz said,

“Like a soul, the land was open to them, like a child’s heart.

There was no paradise,

but it would have gently and willingly

and longingly given them food and air

and substance for every comfort.

If they had only acknowledged

even their smallest conceit.” –From Sand Creek 79

Ortiz isn’t just talking about the “we were here first” argument that most Europeans pin on Indians. It’s also about the conceit of being dependent on the land, which the Pilgrims or whatever on the first Thanksgiving knew well by their first November. It’s about the conceit of being dependent on each other as humans; we can destroy Indians and Muslims and Communists but eventually, if we keep up that attitude, there’ll be the one tiny tribe with the formerly greatest might left, starving and alone. If that’s okay with you, then don’t do anything about any of this.

Otherwise, here’s what you can do. Don’t take my word for all this, look it up.

Use the internet. It’s packed with resources about treaties and tribal history. Here’s some:

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/treaty/

http://local.law.umn.edu/library/pathfinders/IndianLaw.html

http://www.narf.org/nill/triballaw/treaties.htm

That’s just the ones from the top of the Google list. Educate yourselves about why they broke the treaties. If any of their justifications are still running rampant in your heads, chase them out. Then start telling your friends, writing your congressman, and so forth.

If you live in San Francisco, show up at the observation of the Alcatraz occupation on Wednesday the 26th. See http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/11/22/18629963.php for info.

Read native American literature. Indian people have been writing for a solid hundred years or so in English, and their writing about what’s happened since contact -and what happened before -is simple, compassionate and beautiful. As we talk about what needs to be done for the Indians, we must not trip on the usual white trap of trying to explain it in terms of and for the benefit of Europeans. We must use the Indians’ terms, voices and stories or it won’t make any sense, or worse.

Just a few writers:

Ella Cara Deloria

N. Scott Momaday

Linda Hogan

Vine Deloria Jr

Daryl Babe Wilson

Darcy McNickle

Simon Ortiz

Stan Rushworth

Leslie Marmon Silko

Do you like metal? I know I sure do. Check out native metal bands like Native Blood and Black Circle on youtube. Because, really, you’re too old for Dimmu Borgir and Metallica -barf.

Look back a year from now, as you dutifully trudge off to your family or neighborhood engagements, and reflect on how much you’ve grown in the past year toward demanding that the treaties be honored.

Don’t you get tired of hearing wealthy people on the radio and on TV complaining about the price of gas and new appliances? There must be room in our over-optimistic plans for fixing this country for honoring the treaties we have with our native neighbors. As I’ve written before, some of us need to be prioritizing our own visions while the people who’re stuck in the right now work to solve the problems they started, like the finance crisis and all the wars we’re in. Not all of us can have a major role in that process, so we need to find our own gigs. The recognition of the legal reality of these treaties with the Indians must grow exponentially among common people and in all strata in the next five years if we’re going to ever get this thing started. The FBI and CONTELPRO came down on people in AIM like John Trudell and Leonard Peltier really hard, and all they did was talk. So those of us who aren’t in direct danger, us comfortable Europeans, have to lend our voices.

Thanks folks!

ac