Sunday, February 8, 2015

Learning to Listen

In school I was taught the names
Columbus, Cortez, and Pizzaro . . . 
No on mentioned the names
Of even a few of the victims.
But don’t you remember Chaske, whose spine
Was crushed so quickly by Mr. Pizzaro’s boot?
What words did he cry into the dust?
(from Columbus Day, Jimmie Durham,
Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry)
Today’s post will not be an orderly discussion.

More a gathering of notes documenting my own lack of attention, my preference for pleasant stories.

And a confession.

I’ll start with confession. In a half century of reading almost anything I could find, a college degree in English and Humanities (art, history, philosophy, music), a PhD in American lit at one of our premier universities, I don’t remember ever reading anything – at all – by a Native America writer.

How is that possible? I track back through dusty lists in my mind: Barbara Kingsolver? Some of her characters are Native, but she isn't. Sorry. Tony Hillerman? I love his description of Native people and customs, but no. He grew up in Oklahoma, studied at an Indian boarding school, but never claimed to be Native American.
On Martin Luther King’s birthday, a friend who works with Native Young Life in North Dakota posted this photo:

In the weeks since, I’ve been turning that statement over in my mind. 

Is it true that our nation was born in genocide?

I’ve spent enough time with people carrying trauma that I’ve come to believe strongly that stories unaddressed continue to shape who we are and what we do. Until we acknowledge the ideas and circumstances that formed us, we are powerless to change them.

Last week, tracking through material about domestic violence and abuse of women, I came across troubling statistics about violence done to Native American women. Of all American women, they are most likely to be beaten, raped, murdered, or simply disappear.

According to the Department of Justice: “American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.” 

According to the Royal Canada Mounted Police
aboriginal women in Canada are murdered or disappear at a rate four times higher than their representation in the population.  
Canadian authorities identify root causes that contribute to the risks these women face through economic poverty—: a history of discrimination that began with colonization and residential schools continues today through laws and policies. Residential schools, which were closed in 1996, were commonly overcrowded and lacked medical care, and were the locale of rampant physical and sexual abuse. This created a long-lasting cycle of trauma that continues to affect families today. 
The Missing Sisters "Save Wiyabi" Mapping Project shows indigenous women in the US are also at high risk. Why is there so little mention of this in the mainstream media? Why is there so little effort spent in finding these women, or solving their murders? 

King's genocide quote is from Why We Can’t Wait, written in 1964:
Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.
Was he right? About our origins? About our lack of remorse?

Has anything changed in the half century since?

Tracking King's quote, I came across an unfamiliar hashtag: #doctrineofdiscovery.

Doctrine of Discovery?

Did I miss that somewhere?

In February of 2012, The World Council of Churches issued a “Statement on the doctrine of discovery and its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples.” It described the Doctrine of Discovery formulated in Papal pronouncements from the fifteenth century onward: 
the church documents Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) called for non-Christian peoples to be invaded, captured, vanquished, subdued, reduced to perpetual slavery and to have their possessions and property seized by Christian monarchs.
The Statement summarizes the tragic impact of this doctrine across more than five centuries, acknowledges that “the Doctrine remains the law in various ways in almost all settler societies around the world today” and
  •  Denounces the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and as a violation of the inherent human rights that all individuals and peoples have received from God
  • Urges various governments in the world to dismantle the legal structures and policies based on the Doctrine of Discovery and dominance, so as better to empower and enable Indigenous Peoples to identify their own aspirations and issues of concern;
  •  Calls on each WCC member church to reflect upon its own national and church history and to encourage all member parishes and congregations to seek a greater understanding of the issues facing Indigenous Peoples, to support Indigenous Peoples in their ongoing efforts to exercise their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights, to continue to raise awareness about the issues facing Indigenous Peoples and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations and needs of Indigenous Peoples.
My own church has a strong, decades-long partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, with many years of support of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Standing Rock Reservation. We’ve had many of our teens and young adults help with a summer camp for teens and invest in friendships with Native peers, and we’ve had visits across the years from some of our Dakota counterparts in ministry.

Yet somehow, I had not fully understood the dynamics still at play among Native Americans: the underlying structural and political realities that make economic development almost impossible, the lack of health care, transportation, appropriate affordable housing.

Last fall, following arguments about the Keystone XL Pipeline, I stumbled over the story of a Lakota activist arrested for singing in honor of senators who voted against the pipeline. Greg Grey Cloud, of the Crow Creek Sioux, said afterward “this was not a political stunt or a protest demonstration. As a singer, I know only one way to honor someone, and that’s to sing. I didn’t mean to disrupt the Senate, only to honor the conviction shown by the Senators. This is how we honor our heroes.”

There are interesting questions in that one small story, but it pointed me toward unresolved larger questions: who owns resources once used by all? What happens when private profit is held as a higher value than the common good of entire populations?

Or on a much simpler level: when will we decide that too many treaties have been broken, and insist that those still in force be honored?

In 1938, John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, wrote:
For nearly 300 years white Americans, in our zeal to carve out a nation made to order, have dealt with the Indians on the erroneous, yet tragic, assumption that the Indians were a dying race—to be liquidated. We took away their best lands; broke treaties, promises; tossed them the most nearly worthless scraps of a continent that had once been wholly theirs.
That practice continues: theIndian Land Tenure Foundation has begun assembling information about land management practices that hold Native American communities in poverty in direct violation of treaties:
More often than not, the federal government has failed to honor its agreements or to protect the rights of Native people. The U.S. courts, for example, have unlawfully upheld the taking of aboriginal territory without compensation. Congress refers to its power over Indian nations as “plenary” and has passed laws allowing for the termination of Indian nations and the forced, illegal sale of Indian lands. More recently, the Department of Interior admitted to over a century of mismanagement of Indian lands and assets that has been responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in real income for nearly 500,000 Indian landowners.  
For Native communities, the Keystone XL Pipeline focuses attention on indigenous land rights and broken treaties, as well as the mistreatment of indigenous women. Native communities point to “man camps,” camps of thousands of male workers brought to an area to drill for oil or construct pipelines, as key contributors to spikes in violence against women.
All the devastation that these man camps would bring to Native communities in the United States directly reflect the injustices visited upon our Aboriginal and First Nations sisters across the border. . . .The spectre of these man camps needs to be chased out, and Honor the Earth supports the calls of our sisters from the Plains, and from leaders from our own community of White Earth to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to stop these man camps.
According to Lisa Brunner, a Native woman who advocates for victims of domestic violence in White Earth Nation, Minnesota:
Extractive industries such as oil fracking, tar sands oil extraction, and coal mining are examples of predator economics at their worst. They treat Mother Earth like they treat women... They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment and kill us.
I find myself returning to King’s inescapable assertion: “Justice is indivisible; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And to John Perkin’s reminder that "we need to know more about what really goes on before we solidfiy our theoretical ideas about what a Christian "ought" or "ought not" to do. .

Much to learn.

Much to read.

Many stories yet to hear. 
You will need
To come closer
For little is left
Of this tongue
And what I am saying
Is important.
I am the last one.
(from Truganinny, Wendy Rose,
Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry)