Meiriceánaigh Dhúchasacha (Native Americans)

The Irish Revolution And Native America

Éamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic, made an honorary chief of the Ojibwe-Chippewa people, 1919

Éamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic, made an honorary chief of the Ojibwe-Chippewa people, 1919

In June 1919 Éamon de Valera, the American-born president of Ireland’s revolutionary government, was smuggled out of a war-torn country on an ocean liner and into the United States of America where he launched on a whirlwind, coast-to-coast tour that brought crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands onto the streets of several major American cities. The Irish political leader who just months earlier had escaped from a jail in Britain led rallies in New York (where he was born in 1882), addressed congressmen, governors and state legislators, and raised millions of dollars for the embattled Irish Republic, Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army. Despite the reluctance of an isolationist White House to interfere in British imperial affairs, and the outright opposition of the anglophile State Department, de Valera’s mission succeeded in bringing further international pressure to bear on London during Ireland’s struggle for independence.

However one of the more notable events attended by the “Chief” was at ”the Chippewa tribal reservation” in Spooner, Wisconsin, where on October 18th he was made an honorary leader of a Native American nation in front of a large and appreciative audience. The name granted to him in the Chippewa language was rendered phonetically by contemporary newspaper accounts as Nay Nay Ong Abe or “Dressing Feather”. This is almost certainly a reference to Chief Beautifying Bird or Dressing Bird (Nay-naw-ong-gay-be, Na-naw-ong-ga-be or Ne-na-nang-eb) whose name means “[Bird that] Fixes-up Its Wing-feathers”. In 1854 the latter signed the Treaty of La Pointe with representatives of the United States government and though we cannot be sure it seems likely that the Chippewa who greeted de Valera are the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe.

Unfortunately Éamon de Valera’s speech is long since lost and we must rely on second-hand sources for what was said but here is one contemporary account:

Irish World and American Industrial Liberator 25 October 1919


3,000 SEE RITE

President of Irish Republic Named ‘Nay Nay Ang Abe’ After Old Indian Leader

Chappewa Indian reservation, Spooner, Wis., Oct. 18 – Eamonn De Valera, president of the Republic of Ireland, is a Chippewa Indian chieftain.

He was adopted today by the old Indian tribe on their reservation in Northern Wisconsin and was named ‘Dressing Feather’ or Nay Nay Ong Abe, after the famous Indian chief of that tribe who secured for the Chippewa their rights to the Wisconsin land under the treaty of 1854.

The ceremony took place in an open field in the reservation in the presence of more than 3,000 Indians and white people and was interpolated by a weird series of Indian dances and speech-making.

Dance to Tom Toms

The recipient of the honors sat in the centre of a semi-circle of clergymen and Indian chieftains. In front five Indians beat continuously on a tom tom drum and at intervals a score of tribesmen dressed in the full regalia of paint and feathers of a great occasion danced around the guests.

Chief Billy Boy, resplendent in a head dress of feathers reaching to his ankles, greeted De Valera in Chippewa. Billy Boy was followed by Joe Kingfisher, the headsman of the tribe.

Kingfisher, who presented the Irish leader with a handsome beaded tobacco pouch and moccasins, expressed a poetic sentiment as he tendered the gifts.

‘I wish I were able to give you the prettiest blossom of the fairest flower on earth, for you come to us as a representative of one oppressed nation to another’.

The ceremony continued and Chief Billy Boy then invested President De Valera with his new name and informed him of his adoption by the Chippewa nation.

Mr De Valera rose and walked to the center of the ring. He accepted the head dress of a Chippewa chieftain with gravity as the tom toms sounded louder and louder. Signifying he wished to speak, the music ceased and the Irishman then began talking in Gaelic.

‘I speak to you in Gaelic,’ he said, reverting to English, ‘because I want to show you that though I am white I am not of the English race. We, like you, are a people who have suffered and I feel for you with a sympathy that comes only from one who can understand as we Irishmen can.

‘You say you are not free. Neither are we free and I sympathise with you because we are making a similar fight. As a boy I read and understood of your slavery and longed to become one of you.’

Mr De Valera then told the red men how Ireland had been oppressed by England for 750 years.

‘I call upon you, the truest of all Americans,’ he said, ‘to help us win our struggle for freedom.’

The Indians listened to his impassioned address with owl-like gravity, but when Ira Isham, the tribe interpreter, translated Mr De Valera’s words into Chippewa they cheered him wildly.

Mass Precedes Ceremony

The ceremony was preceded by a memorial mass in the reservation church by Father Phillip Gordon, Chippewa priest, for the Indians who died in France.

President De Valera and his party, consisting of J.P. Finnerty of St. Paul, Sean Nunan, secretary to Mr De Valera, and Fathers Phillip Gordon, P.J. O’Mahony, John Harrington, Peter Rice and Floren Gerhardt, left the reservation for the Twin Cities tonight, where he will speak Sunday and Monday on the Irish bond issue soon to be floated in this country. He journeyed to the Indian reservation from Milwaukee Friday night. At every station on the way through Wisconsin delegations were waiting for him at the depot.

At Spooner, Wis., his party left the train and was met by a dozen automobiles, which carried them over forty miles of wild country to the Chippewa reservation on the edge of Lake Court Oreilles.”

Both in Ireland and the United States this symbolic coming together of two native peoples who experienced the disastrous effects of invasion, occupation and colonisation is all but forgotten which is a great pity. The only real memory in this country is the iconic photograph featured above of President de Valera taken in his ceremonial headdress (I have cleaned up this image in Photoshop from an original online copy). The official website of the Tribal Government of the Lac Courte Oreilles nation can be found here if you wish to learn more about them and their Native American “Gaeltacht”.

Note: Technically in 1919 Éamon de Valera was the Príomh Aire or president (literally “Prime Minster”) of the Aireacht or government (literally “Ministry/Cabinet”). However he was commonly referred to as the President of the Irish Republic and in the United States this term was used to match American political nomencalture. In August of 1921 the revolutionary constitution of Ireland was altered by Dáil Éireann to clarify the use and recognition of the title of “President”.

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The War On The Indigenous Peoples Of Chile

The indigenous Mapuche peoples of Chile and Argentina, still struggling to assert their rights

The indigenous Mapuche peoples of Chile and Argentina, still struggling to assert their rights

From the London Independent newspaper a report on the continued persecution of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, this time in Chile:

“Jaime Huenchullan, 35, lives in a wooden shack on a plot of land outside the rural town’s limits. He grows his own vegetables in a small orchard and milks his sheep every morning at first light. Yet despite the bucolic scene, Mr Huenchullan is a protagonist in the South American nation’s longest-running and most acrimonious social conflict, pitting activists from the Mapuche indigenous population, to which he belongs, against the Chilean state.

On paper, the land where he lives – part of the autonomous Temucuicui community, according to the sign at the property’s entrance – belongs to Rene Urban. Mr Huenchullan, along with his wife, Griselda, and their two young children, has been occupying the land since March as part of an ancestral-land-rights claim. The set-up is basic; there is no running water or bathroom. “The colonial settlers can say that this territory legally belongs to them,” says Mr Huenchullan, a burly figure with shiny black hair tied in a ponytail. “But this land belongs to the Temucuicui community for historical and ancestral reasons.”

The dispute has its roots in the so-called “pacification” of the Araucania region, where Ercilla is based, which began in 1861 when the territory was incorporated into the Chilean state. Faced with the might of the army, the Mapuche people lost most of its land.

Chile fails to recognise ancestral land claims. Instead, it acknowledges legal paperwork from several decades later when the Mapuche population’s land had already been reduced. Successive governments have clamped down on activists campaigning for indigenous land rights.

Most controversially, an anti-terrorist law with its roots in Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship has been used to pursue Mapuche leaders through the courts – a move criticised by one of the UN’s top lawyers in July this year. The last three Mapuche leader deaths have all been in clashes with the police, while human rights groups condemn the effect armed raids have on Mapuche communities’ young children.

Conadi (the National Corporation for Indigenous Development) is the sole body charged with resolving the Mapuche land dispute and is based in Araucania’s capital, Temuco. When The Independent visited, neither the national nor regional director are available for interviews and a follow-up email goes unanswered.

According to a study by Santiago’s Central University in August, 63 per cent of Chileans believe that the Mapuche people should have their own territory. Yet Chile’s political class looks unlikely to cede to this demand.”

Sounds familiar.

Land Restitution – More News From The Occupied Territories

Traditional location of Sioux tribes prior to 1770 (dark green) and their current reservations (orange)

An excellent article in the Guardian by Dana Lone Hill of the Oglala Lakota Sioux people outlining the campaign by her nation for the return of their ancestral lands in Pahá Sápa or the Black Hills country of South Dakota:

“The Fort Laramie Treaty granted the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation, and prohibited white settlement of the land. At first, in his exploratory expedition in July 1874, General Custer deemed the Black Hills worthless – maybe good for agriculture but “infested with Indians”. That assessment changed, just weeks later, when gold was discovered in the hills, in August of 1874.

The Sioux peoples’ treaty rights were constantly violated by gold prospectors, who kept crossing the reservation border. When they were attacked by our people defending their land, the United States government seized the Black Hills, in 1877 – illegally. This occurred just one year after Custer and the 7th Cavalry were defeated at the Battle of Greasy Grass, in which our ancestors were defending their land and their way of life. And so the Black Hills were stolen from us.

The battle for the Black Hills has been going on ever since, for as long as I can remember. Nearly a century after the expropriation, in 1975, the US court of claims described the US government’s conduct thus:

“A more ripe and rank case of dishonourable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”

But it wasn’t until June 1980, in the case United States v Sioux Nation of Indians, that the United States supreme court upheld an award of $15.5m for the market value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years worth of interest at 5%, for an additional $105m in damages. Today, that sum is over $1bn – and remains untouched – as Paul Harris called it in the Observer, in 2007, “a heroic, some might say unfathomable, act of defiance”. In the same article, my mother explained:

“They should not touch it [the financial compensation]. Then white America will never own the Black Hills.”

But we are tired of waiting for the government to come through, realize they are in the wrong and restore our land rights. We are tired of the promises: our President Barack Obama gave us hope in 2009 by telling the Native American population that “You deserve to have a voice”, and “You will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.” We hadn’t received a presidential nod like that since President Clinton – and we had hope.

Just this year, United Nations special rapporteur James Anaya conducted a 12-day tour of Native American land, to determine how the United States is faring on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a survey endorsed by the Obama administration in 2010. Anaya met with tribes in seven states on reservations and in urban areas, as well as with members of the Obama administration and the Senate committee on Indian affairs. The UN special rapporteur tentatively recommended the return of lands to some tribes, including the Black Hills to the Sioux. His full official report with recommendations is due in September 2012.

One of the most sacred areas of the Black Hills, Pe’ Sla, is under threat of turning into a saltwater taffy stand, or condos, or a golf course, or some other tourist trap – like the hundreds already spread through our sacred Black Hills. The state of South Dakota even has plans to put a road through the middle of this, one of our most sacred areas.

For this reason, our flagship media group and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe have combined in an attempt to buy back Pe’ Sla – land due to be auctioned off for development on 25 August 2012. You may see the irony that the Sioux Nation, having put aside the $1bn offered in compensation for the original theft, is now trying to buy back the land we believe always belonged to us. All the same, that is what we’re doing: raising money to buy back our birthright.

Whatever I do in this life and whoever I become, I know in my heart that I belong to that land, as my ancestors did and my children do. This is why we must do this. The Black Hills are, for us, the heart of all that is.”

To learn more about the campaign please go to Pe’ Sla: Help Save Lakota Sioux Sacred Land! For the Lakotah Nation please visit this excellent website which advocates full Lakotan independence.

And to see some of the attitudes the Native American peoples of North America must live with read the Comments below the original Guardian article. Its eye-opening to see so much casual discrimination on display… that doesn’t involve attacking the Irish-speaking population of Ireland.

The Young Ancestors

Excellent article over on Indian Country Today on a new documentary, The Young Ancestors, which examines the efforts of Native American students in New Mexico to learn their indigenous Tewa language.

“When producer/director Aimée Broustra heard about it she decided to make a documentary.

“The teenagers in The Young Ancestors are motivated and enthusiastic about learning because they understand the symbiotic relationship between language and culture; that one cannot survive for too long without the other,” Broustra says on the documentary’s website, “In a broader context the documentary explores the burgeoning movement by Native Americans to revitalize their native languages in tribes throughout America.”

Of Irish descent, Broustra says she is familiar with oppression.

“I was raised Irish Catholic, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Growing up, I had two different experiences of what it meant to be Irish Catholic. My mother spoke at length of the history of the Irish people and their oppression under the English: the seizure of land owned by Irish Catholics, the loss of the Celtic language and tradition,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Though there are differences in the backgrounds between the Irish and Natives, her history helped her grasp nuances in the film without having to ask for explanations.

In addition to embracing tradition, Broustra offers eye-opening statistics in the film. While there are tribes engaged in revitalizing their languages, many tribal languages are close to endangered and will not survive if the young people don’t start speaking them.”


Native Americans – Life As Usual In The Occupied Territories

When I was growing up in Ireland and it came to playing that age old game of “Cowboys and Indians” it was always noticeable to me that no one wanted to play a cowboy. All of us, instinctively as it must have then been, wanted to be Indians. Why is that? Were we the exception? Do kids in Ireland still feel like that?

Actually, does anyone play Cowboys and Indians anymore? Probably not, unless one counts Red Dead Redemption.

However, I have always had an abiding interest in Native Americans affairs, as regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn will have realised. From one native to another, as it were. It is something that I find that most Celtic Nationalists share. Perhaps suitably then the story below came to my attention because of the efforts of long-time Scottish language activist and teacher Finlay MacLeoid to publicise it.

Lise Balk King, Native American journalist, writes in the Indian Country Today on a story that has galvanised indigenous opinion in the United States:

“In western South Dakota, it’s all about perception. If you are Indian, or appear to be Indian, you are routinely judged by the colour of your skin regarding the content of your character. If you are white, there is also a set of assumptions made by those standing on the other side. Not everyone sits firmly on one side or the other, but that doesn’t always matter much, because there is a clear line drawn between the Us and the Them.

The rub comes from the fact that which side of the line you stand on determines much about how you live and how you are treated—at the bank, grocery store, post office, your child’s school, civic institutions, and yes, even the hospital. There are exceptions, but overwhelmingly it is the non-Indians who hold the power, and not everyone plays nice.

For those who live on the other side of the colour line, every day can bring small indignities, strained interactions or frustrating stonewalls to disrupt the normal life flow from wake-up to sundown. It is an accepted but loathed part of living in the areas off of the Indian reservations in western South Dakota. But no place is this tension more keenly felt than in Rapid City.

In 1999, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing in Rapid City after “a series of high-profile cases involving the unsolved deaths of several American Indians… brought tensions to the surface.” I was one of the many people who felt relief that someone was listening and assumed help would come as a result. Many of us waited for hours to testify. It was the elders in the room who reminded everyone that the Commission had been there 20 years earlier, and not much had changed. Now we fast-forward to 2012 — 13 years hence — and despite our hopes in 1999, it seems we have made little progress.

Enter Vern Traversie. He is a blind and physically disabled 69-year old elder from the Cheyenne River reservation who claims to be the victim of a hate crime. Scars on his abdomen, a result of heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital in September, 2011, appear to depict the letters KKK, referring to the Klu Klux Klan. That is, according to his supporters, a few hundred of which marched in protest in Rapid City on Monday.

Not everyone agrees. A Sioux Falls-based reporter for the Associated Press likened the purported KKK markings to “spotting the Madonna in a water stain.” This story has been featured in a number of national news outlets, including The Washington Post, and has set the tone for the media coverage, furthering the sense of frustration felt by some. Oglala Lakota Cheryl Cedar Face lamented, “The way the media covers Native issues makes it all seem like a big joke. Very rarely do I read something that conveys why people are upset or acknowledges that racism does exist.”

What the media and other outsiders may not see is that Traversie’s cry for help and pitiful condition wasn’t itself the cause, it was the catalyst. His plight embodied the day-to-day strain of facing racism and the reaction of doubt that is so readily cast on “Indians complaining again.” On Traversie’s YouTube video, which has gone viral in Native circles, Cedar Face said, “I don’t usually pass these things around, but it was the honest anguish… it made me cry. This was truly the last straw for me.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has documented testimony of many alleged victims of injustice and racism in South Dakota over the years, and they have published reports that provide statistical analysis of measurable data, such as the unrelenting disparate sentencing in the criminal justice system.

The statistics they extrapolate are an important piece of the story, but are like mineral crystals on the banks of South Dakota’s White River—they are evidence of a persistent flow that is much bigger and harder to contain in a simplified government report.

When I first arrived in South Dakota in June of 1990, I was a bright-eyed young outsider. I found my adventure and a host of new friends, but I also unexpectedly found much tension and distrust. My first week there, we went from the rez to a truck stop up on I-90 to pick up drinks and snacks. The girls cued me in to a white lady who had started to follow us around.

I hadn’t noticed, but became aware of eyes on us as we moved. One of the girls answered my questioning look, explaining, “She thinks we’re going to rip-off… steal something.” I was taken by surprise. The girls laughed, and said, “Welcome to South Dakota.” After moving to Winner in 1992, and then living in Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Rapid City, I have many such stories to tell, recounting incidences large and small. And so does everyone else I know.

After years of experiencing racism, the details almost don’t matter anymore. What does matter is the precarious state of race relations in Western South Dakota, and the danger of dismissing the countless collective memories stacked like tinder, because as the Vern Traversie protest showed, for some they need only a spark.”

No matter how much the peoples of the Native American nations seem to progress there is only so far they can go before hitting the brick wall of prejudice. Prejudice from those who stole and occupied their lands. In Ireland we know what happens when this becomes the state of affairs. We fought a Revolution to free the greater part of ourselves and our nation from such tyranny.

In our own lifetimes we witnessed the continued oppression of our fellow Irish citizens who remained under British rule and misrule in the North of Ireland and the eventual, inevitable, indeed necessary reaction to that.

How far do European Americans need to go before they realise that those they oppress within their own borders will have no choice but to take the only option that has been left open to them?

The Vern Traversie Facebook Support Page.

The Vern Traversie YouTube Channel.

Bad Blood In The Massachusetts Senate Race?

There is a minor firestorm in US politics at the moment (and no, I don’t mean the jaw-droppingly medieval law passed by Christian fundamentalist voters in the state of North Carolina). This particular controversy is swirling around the contest for a US Senate seat in Massachusetts between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren. The Brown campaign has jumped on media reports that Harvard University advertised Warren as a minority professor in the 1990s due to her alleged Native American heritage. It now turns out that the indigenous American heritage part of the story is actually true and she’s 1/32nd Cherokee (which hardly makes her Wilma Mankiller). However the storm-in-a-teacup shows no signs of abating with all sorts of accusations flying, which, given the bigger picture in Massachusetts and US politics at the moment is more than a little puzzling.

Is it that Elizabeth Warren may have used her very distant and hitherto unpublicised Native American heritage to further her academic career? Or is that she has a Native American heritage in the first place? Read the articles in the regional and national US press and you would think the former. Dig down a little into the right-wing websites and blogs and you would think the latter.

In either case it certainly has the trolls of American cyberdom in fine and fettle form.

Native Americans – Trapped In The USA

Unexpected but welcome news in the Guardian as a United Nations (UN) committee is about to carry out an investigation into the treatment of the citizens of the Native American nations within the United States of America.

“The human rights inquiry led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is scheduled to begin on Monday.

Many of the country’s estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.

The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.

A UN statement said: “This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.”

Anaya, a University of Arizona professor of human rights, said: “I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Apart from social issues, US Native Americans are involved in near continuous disputes over sovereignty and land rights. Although they were given power over large areas, most of it in the west, their rights are repeatedly challenged by state governments.

Most Americans have little contact with those living in the 500-plus tribal areas, except as tourists on trips to casinos allowed on land outside federal jurisdiction or to view spectacular landscapes.

Anaya is originally from New Mexico and is well versed in Native American issues.

He will visit Washington DC, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota, and will conclude his trip with a press conference on 4 May. He will present his findings to the next session of the UN human rights council.”

Following on from a period of unprecedented rapprochement between the indigenous peoples of the US and the government in Washington under President Barack Obama, this is a very promising development, even at this most partisan of times in American politics. However even a casual examination of the facts on the ground shows how truly abysmal life is for the vast majority of Native Americans in the “Reservations” (itself a terrible and all too revealing word: wild animals are kept in reservations not human beings). It is difficult to see how this can change without a radical transformation in the political and judicial fortunes of each of the individual Tribal Nations in relation to the United States.

The United States And The Native American Nations – Progressing Towards True Equality

Some welcome news for dozens of Native American nations as the US government has announced that it is to pay more than 1 billion dollars (around 760 million euros) in settlements to end a series of long-running legal battles with a number of indigenous peoples in the United States.

From a report by the Indian Country Today Media Network :

“The Obama administration announced April 11 its intent to resolve 41 long-standing disputes with Indian tribal governments over the federal mismanagement of trust funds and resources.

Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, said the settlements will amount to a combined total of $1.023 billion to the 41 tribes for past federal mismanagement.

Beyond money, the settlements also set forth a framework for promoting tribal sovereignty and improving nation-to-nation federal-tribal relations, while trying to avoid future litigation through improved communication, Moreno said.

The announcement was made at a White House ceremony, with Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other senior members of the Obama administration joining tribal leaders in attendance.

“May we walk together toward a brighter future, built on trust, and not acrimony,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor General of the Interior Department, at the event. “And when I say the word trust, I don’t mean the legal definition of that word, I mean the dictionary’s definition of that word—assured reliance on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of a person or thing….”

The announcement is one of several settlements the Obama administration has announced with individual Indians and tribes since 2009.

In 2010, the administration settled the $760 million Keepseagle case brought by Native American farmers and ranchers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They alleged discrimination by the agency in its administration of loan programs.

President Barack Obama also signed into law the Claims Resolution Act in December 2010, which included the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement agreement that aims to resolve a lawsuit over the management and accounting of more than 300,000 individual American Indian trust accounts. That settlement is still on appeal in federal court. It was first announced by the administration in December 2009.

The Claims Resolution Act also included four water rights settlements, meant to benefit seven tribes in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico.

In October 2011, the Obama administration reached a $380 million settlement with the Osage Nation over the tribe’s long-standing lawsuit involving the federal government’s mismanagement of trust funds and trust resources. That settlement featured measures designed to improve the trust relationship between the tribe and the United States.

Chief James Allan, Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman, said at the event that he believes Obama has done more for tribes than the last five presidents combined.

Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Tribe, thanked the U.S. agencies for moving to settle the lawsuits that have already proven costly to tribes as they have carried out their legal challenges for years. He also thanked the Native American Rights Fund for its role in assisting tribes on the deals.

“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future,” Hayes said. “These agreements mark a new beginning, one of just reconciliation, better communication…and strengthened management….”

Let us hope that the positive political developments of the last few years for the indigenous communities of North America herald the birth of a true era of respect and equality between themselves and the United States of America. But there is a long way to go.

Native Americans – Second Class Americans

There is a disgraceful story of discrimination towards Native American schoolchildren at a local high school in the United States, highlighted by the Indian Country Today:

“On January 19, a Menominee Indian seventh grader named Miranda Washinawatok was benched and suspended from a Catholic School in Shawano, Wisconsin, for speaking her Native Menominee language with two other girls from the Menominee reservation. Shawano is a small town located several miles south of the reservation; like many off-reservation communities, there is a longstanding history of racist attitudes against Indians, although we like to think that the relations have improved over the years. Unfortunately, this incident shows that racism is alive and well in Wisconsin. That this also happened in a parochial school makes it a wake-up call for everyone who believes that America has moved beyond such displays of ignorance. Historical precedents to this type of action are plentiful—think of all the Native children who were cruelly punished for speaking their languages in the shameful days of Indian boarding schools in the 20th century. Yet, the bad heartedness behind this history persists when a 12-year-old child is subjected to such treatment in 2012.”

There is an ongoing petition which can be signed here.

Native America, Native Ireland And The Culture Of Anti-Colonial Conflict

Interesting article by Native American activist Lawrence Sampson on Ireland, the United States and the culture of anti-colonial conflict – and the influences it leaves behind.

“Most American Indians can tell you first hand of the litany of violent campaigns conducted on Indian land over the course of the last generation. While mainstream America and the world believe hostilities ended with the onset of reservation times, every Native American knows the Indian wars are not over. Mini campaigns of violence, complete with military-grade automatic weapons, commonly waged for the natural resource reserves found on or under Indian land, are an ongoing reality for America’s first nations. Out of sight and out of mind of most of America’s populace, the federal government and multi-national corporations wage low-intensity conflicts and use extreme measures to pressure tribal governments into capitulating their natural resource assets. Armed conflicts at Pine Ridge, Gustaffsen Lake, and Kanesatake Indian communities are just a few of the armed battlefields of the last generation.  I have seen firsthand the effects of this ongoing entropy, and know how difficult it is to experience any real tranquillity, be it political, personal, or otherwise. As a product of this reality I suffer the question, will my people ever know peace?”

Read the full article here.

When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Nice article from Lindsey Catherine Cornum over at her Mixed Blood Messages blog, on some recent headline events:

“Three videos premièred on the internet this past week, all horrible and shocking in their own way and each garnering different degrees of the public’s attention. I must admit right from the start that I have not watched these videos with my own eyes. I rarely if ever watch the YouTube displays of atrocity that happen to hit the news cycle. I know that these videos contain images and realities that can awaken consciousness and spark riots, but there is also something about pressing play that makes me feel so uncomfortable I end up turning to the text description instead.

However, for those who are not prone to read written news reports and analysis, videos that seem to distill a complex situation– such as century-long class relations and imperialism– into a shaky minute-long video clips can be the one entry point into a dark, dark world.”

Read more here.

A Trail Of Tears – Native American History Resonates For An Irish Audience

One of the leading online publications for news on the indigenous communities of the United Sates and Canada is the thirty-year old Indian Country Today. With its wide and varied reporting on all aspects of Native American life, culture and politics it has provided a real insight into how the aboriginal peoples of North America view themselves and has always been an interesting (and at times thought-provoking) read. This week it carries an article by Lindsey Catherine Cornum, a Navajo-Irish writer and scholar, on the anniversary of the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, when US troops murdered at least a 150 Lakota Sioux men, women and children in their custody (and perhaps as many as 350). It has more than a few resonances for the many people in Ireland who identify with our indigenous language and culture and the difficulties and prejudices we face in expressing that identity.

“Most of the time I don’t say, “Hi my name is Lindsey, and I’m an Indian.” I would feel false, insincere and presumptuous. That is why I identify as mixed-blood and qualify my Navajo with an Irish. But today is different. On this day in 1890 three hundred and fifty men, women and children were killed at Wounded Knee after being completely unarmed by American troops looking to capture the sickly Chief Big Foot as he lay on his death bed.

It was not the first time Indians were massacred and it wasn’t the last. Today the battle continues, sometimes bloody sometimes not. For a long time I didn’t even recognize myself as a part of that battle. I was in a state of surrender. But not today.

Hi my name is Lindsey, and I am an Indian.

They [the US government and nation] have tried to make me deny that. They have tried to silence my heritage. They have tried to take the land from my tribe and  take my tribe from me. They have tried to kill off the Indian inside for something more suitable. But not today.

I may be Indian, but I am not Sioux. I’ve never been to Pine Ridge. I’ve never seen a plain. I don’t know how to ride a horse, in fact they kind of scare me. But on this day I stand with the Sioux as a comrade and a relative.

I don’t know the day or the place but I can always remember the thought, in fact the series of thoughts, that secured my Native identity. I remember traversing the past, tracing back the lines of my family and fully realizing for the first time that I had ancestors who had lived for generations on this continent before any settlers. I then began to walk back to the present day. I knew that more painfully than I would ever experience they had witnessed the theft of land, language, clan members, tribal members, everything they held dear. I used to think of all this pain, all this loss as a sort of curse, the curse of a colonized people. Performing this act of time travel today, I know in a different context, it could just as easily have been my ancestors shot down, slaughtered and mutilated by the 7th cavalry regiment without warning or reason. Indeed, every tribe, every Native person, has their Wounded Knee moment, the time when they told you were dead or tried to make it so.

As a non-traditional mixed-blood who grew up in the suburbs, I often feel guilty, even ashamed, that I can’t live up physically or culturally to the model of an ideal Indian. I know in my mind that it’s not my fault. I didn’t give up my culture, my language, my people. They were taken from me. It may be my duty to struggle to regain these things but it is not my duty to feel bad that I was not born with the a legible and uncomplicated identity. Over the years I have accepted myself not as a traditional Indian, no, but as an Indian whose identity is founded in the struggle of all indigenous people for what is rightly theirs: their lands and lives.”

The full article (which also features on Cornum’s excellent blog) is well worth reading, with points that will seem all too familiar to an Irish readership.