Tag Archives: Native Americans

Racism and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

28 Oct
Define Refuge

Define Refuge

I was more than just a little bit disturbed yesterday afternoon upon hearing that all seven of the white terrorists who were armed and held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, destroying many ancient Native artifacts during their occupation, were found not guilty of conspiracy. Ammon Bundy and his gang of heavily armed white terrorists occupied the Wildlife Refuge for 41 days and were found not guilty on all counts.

Here were the charges brought: conspiring to impede federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation, threat or force stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Four of the seven defendants were charged with possessing guns in a federal facility. Two of the defendants faced an additional charge of theft of government and destruction of property. How is it that they were acquitted of all charges? In what universe does this make any sense? If this were a group of people of color, can we really believe they would have been treated the same way and accommodated in the same manner?

This is particularly difficult to understand juxtaposed what is currently happening in North Dakota, where unarmed Native protesters are being arrested as they protest the destruction of sacred burial grounds on Native land — land that was guaranteed to remain Native in an 1850 treaty. Protesters have been attacked and arrested by police with military tanks. Native unarmed and peaceful protesters were attacked with pepper spray and police dogs.

It is also difficult not to contrast the treatment of Bundy and his fellow whackadoodles with the treatment of unarmed black people in America being killed. I am thinking of the shooting of physical therapist, Charles Kinsey, who on his back waving his hands asking, “please don’t shoot me.” and the over 130 unarmed black men who have been killed this year.

I invite everyone to watch this great video by Dena Takruri who ask the question: “What if the Oregon Occupiers were Black, or Muslim?” Here is the link.

I wonder if we can all sit with some discomfort with the verdicts for Bundy and his accomplices. Can we look at ways we can create conversations  around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity?

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LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Evan Adams

20 Jun

File-Evan_AdamsToday we honor and celebrate a man of diverse talents. Evan Tiesla Adams was born in British Columbia in 1966. He is a Coast Salish from the Sliammon and identifies as First Nation. Adams first came to prominence as an actor, starring as Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the moving film adaptation of Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals. I have to say that I found his performance in Smoke Signals extremely compelling. Adams is an exceedingly talented actor that really understands nuance. He won an Independent Spirit Award for that performance.

An out gay man since the start of his career, he parlayed his personal experience into another award-winning role, co-starring in the 2002 film The Business of Fancydancing. He has also appeared in numerous television shows. Adams is committed to presenting an accurate picture of his life as an out First Nations man. He participated in the documentary Just Watch Me, narrating his struggles coming of age in 1970’s Canada. Adams is also a talented playwright, with numerous works performed around the world.

Throughout his acting and writing career, he devoted significant time and energy to First Nations issues. Particularly interested in health care, he worked extensively on HIV awareness and drug and alcohol addiction treatment. In 2002, he completed a medical degree at the University of Calgary. While he has not abandoned the stage and screen entirely, he focuses on First Nations health care.

Adams was appointed director of the Aboriginal Health program in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine. His work won great acclaim, resulting in his appointment as the first Aboriginal Health Physician Advisor to the province of British Columbia. In 2012, he was elevated to Deputy Provincial Health Officer, focusing on the needs of the province’s First Nations people.

Whether presenting honest, nuanced depictions of First Nations people, speaking passionately about gay rights, or ensuring effective medical policies in his home province, Dr. Evan Adams is a dedicated worker for social justice.  Thank you for your visibility and dedication to human rights.

Defining Racism in the United States: A Starting Point

29 Jul

racism_logo_sqThere has been an amazing amount of discussion after I posted my Paula Deen/ Trayvon Martin story.  While I am so appreciative of much of the conversations, I have to admit a few items gave me pause.  I shared this article on LinkedIn’s Diversity A World of Change group and I’m not sure that several people, while prolific in their comments, truly understand the definition of the word Racism.

Sadly, Racism, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Bigotry seem to be used a great deal as though they are interchangeable.  These words are not interchangeable — they are not all synonyms for Racism.  Racism has to contain an institutional and structural power dynamic.  Here in the United States that power dynamic is held primarily by white, heterosexual, middle-aged, Christian, well educated men; these are the people who establish norms in our society and have a great deal of unearned privilege because of the color of their skin.  This group, called the dominant culture, creates laws and policies — laws and policies that have an ugly history and were designed to help white folk while oppressing folks of color. Thus, Racism is: structural, institutional and systemic power that allows for discrimination and bigotry affecting someone’s health, well being, safety, and livelihood based on real or perceived racial or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps a bit of a history lesson might be useful here.  Let us keep in mind the multi-generational impact of these laws both economically and emotionally.  1857 the Dred Scott Decision: The Supreme Court said that all people of African dissent were not and could not be counted as citizens of the United States.  Let us jump to 1935 with the start of Social Security — a great act to be passed, but sadly it did not initially apply to anyone who was not white, a significant economic impact.  Now let us move to the 1945 GI Bill — great opportunity for soldiers returning from WWII. Sadly, this bill did not initially apply to any of the soldiers of color returning from WWII.  Here we see a HUGE economic impact for generations of whites with great advantage and thus a huge disadvantage for multi-generations of people of color.  The GI Bill allowed for white soldiers to buy their first home and get a college education; this would qualify as unearned privilege due to one’s skin color.

Let us jump to 1954 when we witness the Termination Act.  The Termination Act stripped ALL Native Americans from their identities as our government told all of these people: “Okay, you are white now, so you must live in the cities and turn over your lands to the U.S. government.”  The cultural and financial impact on Native Americans was and remains profound.

Even more recent and disgraceful is SB1070 adopted by Arizona in 2010 and then adopted by Alabama in 2011, which demands that ALL Latinos/Hispanics must have proof of citizenship on them at all times.  If someone with dark skin that is, or is perceived, to be Latino/Hispanic and cannot provide documentation of citizenship, they can be put in jail.

I approach the work of equity and marginalization as a gay man.  Working as an agent of change means I am also obligated to know about the start of Gay Liberation in 1969.  The LGBT community has a long history of being targeted and imprisoned.  Until 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, it was against the law to be gay in the United States.  Sadly, regardless of Lawrence v. Texas, it is still against the law in most states in the south.  In fact, the LGBT community have zero rights and protections in almost all of the South.  My personal call to action is to stand in solidarity with all those that are oppressed by the dominant culture and to honor their narratives–to understand how LGBT people of color are targeted and why.

This history is carried with all targeted people and passed down from generation to generation, much like if you are Jewish your family knows about the Holocaust because it affected your family for many generations.  Of course, the impact is more severe if one carries more than one of these identities.  For example, if you are a woman and a woman of color or if you are a man and a gay man of color, the impact is far worse.

Finally, let us illustrate the sad state of racism in the United States with the belligerent, bellicose, bigot Ted Nugent.  As of late, Nugent seems to be the appointed spokesperson of the GOP.  In response to the Zimmerman verdict, Nugent went on a racist tirade:

Why wasn’t Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn’t sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.Why the nasty “creepy a– cracker” racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week?…When you live in a fog of denial, usually inspired by substance abuse — you know with all the lies about dope being a victimless crime, I think you’re listening to the victims of this dopey crime, because their brains are fried. They’re either fried on substance abuse, and all of them know who I’m talking about.

The fact that the severely misguided and undereducated Nugent feels justified making these very public racist comments, along with people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson makes it quite clear that we still have a long way to go around issues of racial and gender equity.

Call to action: Imagine how powerful we could be if all of the targeted populations joined together to stop this type of oppression and even more powerful if we enlist the support of all of our allies that are within the dominant culture?

My hope in publishing this article is to encourage and invite people to engage in a meaningful dialogue around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity.  I hope many will contribute to this conversation in a respectful manner and also correct me if I have committed any trespass in my exposition here.  That being said, I certainly appreciate all of the comments people offer on the Facebook and on LinkedIn; might I invite you to also share those comments here on the blog, so as to reach a larger audience?

A Tribute to Maria Tallchief: 1925-2013

13 Apr

?????????????????Maria Tallchief passed away Thursday, April 11, 2013.  Maria Tallchief. Tallchief was the first Native American, indeed the first American, to achieve the title Prima Ballerina. She was with the New York City Ballet from 1947-1965. Her father was Alexander Joseph Tallchief, a Chief of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma; her mother was Scots-Irish. She described herself as:

But in many ways, I was a typical Indian girl — shy, docile, introverted. I loved being outdoors and spent most of my time wandering around my big front yard, where there was an old swing and a garden. I’d also ramble around the grounds of our summer cottage hunting for arrowheads in the grass. Finding one made me shiver with excitement. Mostly, I longed to be in the pasture, running around where the horses were.

I have been in awe of Tallchief’s strength in her ability to overcome horrific racism against Native Americans.  Sadly, there is still so much work we as a culture/community/nation need to do to stand in solidarity with the original North Americans.

In regards to ballet, her life’s work, she said:

A ballerina takes steps given to her and makes them her own. Each individual brings something different to the same role.

Tallchief’s grandfather not only helped to ensure the stabilization of the reservation, but he also helped to secure its mineral rights. I only wish there were more information regarding the indigenous peoples of North America before theNative American Holocaust.

Thank you for your legacy, Mara Tallchief.

Thanksgiving 2012: A Collective Amnesia

22 Nov

Last night we inadvertently caught about 5 minutes of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving episode, just enough to hear Linus declare: “… We thank God for the opportunity to create the New World for freedom and justice.”  Irony much? What an extraordinarily white perspective that does not align with reality. Freedom and Justice for whom?

I often wonder, do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America–the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.

We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create.  TSM wishes everyone much peace and to be surrounded by love today.

Healing Homophobia Through Native American Traditions

19 Nov

I need to thank my friends Mileka, Lori, and Deb for their enormous efforts in helping with the research for this article.  Prior to colonization, Native Americans across the country embraced Two Spirit people, or what we would refer to as people in the LGBT community.  The indigenous peoples of North America operated from the perspective: “We don’t throw our people away.” Unlike our divided nation today — which feels it is okay to discard people and marginalize certain populations — most Native tribes embraced all of their people and their differences.

Two-Spirt people were often revered because they contain both feminine and masculine qualities, thus allowing us to see the world with a uniquely balanced perspective.  Often times, Two-Spirt folk would be in charge of Naming Ceremonies for children.  Two-Spirit people were also revered as a type of shaman, and often used as “nannies” caring for children.

With the advent of colonization and interference from the Catholic Church, we saw misogyny and homophobia eat away at Native American traditions.  Sadly, many Native American tribes are struggling with homophobia and the suicide rates for Native teens who are two spirit.

The good news is that many tribes that are working hard to fight homophobia by embracing pre-colonization traditions.  In fact, the local NAYA center here in Portland is working hard to combat homophobia.  For example, when young people throw around the word “gay” as a pejorative, they are reminded that is not consistent with Traditional Native American values, which is quite wonderful as there is an increasing population of Native youth that are wanting to return to their traditions.

We can learn a great deal from our Native American brothers and sisters and their traditions.  Wouldn’t it be nice to work to stop misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and to stop marginalizing people who don’t fit into the neat little boxes we seem to want to assign to people?

Should Oregonians Take A Gamble Based on Fear, Lies, and Racism?

15 Oct

On November 6 Oregon voters are being presented with two ballot measures that would create the state’s first private casino. Ballot Measure 82 would amend the constitution to allow private casinos in addition to the nine casinos operated by Federally recognized tribes in the state; Measure 83 would authorize a casino — potentially named “The Grange” — in Wood Village, a small town just east of Portland. The backers of the casino plan are aggressively marketing the measures as something good for Oregon. How accurate are their claims?

Who are the backers of these measures? Two businessmen from Lake Oswego (also sadly known as Lake No Negro), another Portland suburb, and Clairvest, a Canadian firm that operates private casinos in other locations. They’ve tried to pass similar measures before and been soundly defeated. This year they’re using the bad economy, deception, and racism to try one more time.

The nine tribally operated casinos are distributed around the state. The tribes built these casinos based on promises that no private casinos would be built; this included huge investments in land and construction. Tribal casinos provide millions of dollars to local communities — not just tribes — distributed through non-profit foundations. They employ thousands of people of every ethnicity; approximately 75% of the purchases they make come from local businesses.

The backers of Measures 82 and 83 use blatantly racist language to imply selfishness and misdeeds by the tribes. Ignoring the huge local benefits, they emphasize the relative populations fo the tribes and the state, implying greed. Their ads set up the tribes as mysterious “others” who hide their profits. The backers say that the tribal casinos would still benefit “their communities,” setting up an ugly us-and-them mentality. To top it all off, they build on centuries of oppression and genocide, content to reap their corporate profits at the expense of tribal revenues.

And just how honest are the backers? Not very. They point out that 25% of the gross revenues of the casino would go to schools, parks, and economic development. They don’t say that 80% of that money would actually go into the Lottery fund; it currently supports those activities, but that is a very different fact. They also ignore the fact that lottery games give 65% of their proceeds to public causes. That means that the money the private casinos draw away from local lottery business will give back 40% less money. The backers also don’t publicize the fact that Measure 83 grants them an exemption from the annual tax on any lottery machines they would operate, giving them another unfair advantage.

Supporters of the measures talk about the hypothetical 2,000 jobs the Grange would create. They ignore the small businesses that would go under. They ignore the impact on the infrastructure of the county that is not funded in any way. They talk about the “Oregon taxpaying corporation” that would be created to run the casino without mentioning that it would be primarily owned by an international company that would take most of the revenue out of Oregon — unlike the tribal casinos. They hide the fact that Measure 83 authorizes the casino operation without guaranteeing any of the other amenities that Clairvest says it will put in the Grange. We just have to take their word for it.

Besides Measures 82 and 83, the city of Wood Village (home to Karen Minnis, the homophobic ex-Speaker of Oregon’s House of Representatives) would have to approve the Grange. That puts the final decision in the hands of 3800 people, about 1/100th of the population of the state. Every aspect of this proposal is suspect at best and nefarious at worst. Governor Kitzhaber has opposed the measures, an unusual stand for someone in office. Three former governors — both Republican and Democrats — have come out strongly in opposition. The Grange is a pie-in-the-sky boondoggle, a money-maker for people who won’t take NO for an answer. It’s being sold on deception and racism. It’s bad for Oregon and should be rejected soundly, just like the last time.

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