On the Wrong Side of History: ABQ Journal and Councilor Dan Lewis

The Albuquerque Journal recently published an attack on Indigenous Peoples Day and City Council President Rey Garduño, who spearheaded a Council proclamation to honor the day. In this seriously flawed response, the Journal’s editors believe that the only place for Indigenous peoples’ is at the annual Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, an event that has had its fair share of controversy for being run by a non-Native and reaping huge profits for the city by selling Indigenous culture.

As a three-year resident of Albuquerque and a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, the polemic against Indigenous peoples from the city’s most widely read newspaper is not only insulting, but it also dangerously promotes the kind of vitriol many of us from Albuquerque’s Indigenous community face.

The alleged “petty diatribe against whites and Hispanics” conveniently erases Monday’s march to celebrate Albuquerque’s first ever Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, which drew a large, diverse crowd of more than a thousand Natives, Hispanics, whites, and non-Natives. The Journal’s editors view this mass appeal, however, as “another minor holiday” on par with National Bird Day and Hammock Day.

How absurd.

The expectation for Indigenous peoples of Albuquerque is: let us consume your culture for entertainment and your “holiday” is meaningless. This message indicates clear unwillingness to humanize Indigenous peoples and furthers the agenda to represent Indigenous peoples as mere objects for entertainment.

The three young men who murdered Diné men Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson last year were also looking for a good time by “Indian rolling,” the violent practice of harassing and killing unsheltered Native peoples in this city. To minimize and make-fun of progressive attempts to humanize Indigenous peoples furthers the genocidal agenda Columbus brought to the Western Hemisphere.

We should expect this kind of dismissal from Anglo-dominated cities. But Albuquerque is the opposite: a “minority-majority” city.

This opportunistic attack represents the minority opinion. Six City Councilors endorsed the Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation, understanding its historical and political importance. Three simply refused to sign.

Councilor Dan Lewis, one of three who refused, initiated the recent censure of Garduño over the question of the proclamation. Lewis’s petty interest in this debate, however, is overshadowed by his own dismissal of Indigenous peoples. During the reading of the proclamation and community response at the Oct. 7 council meeting, Lewis had more important things to tend to on his iPad. He casually sat facing away from the audience with his legs crossed, flicking his finger across the touchscreen, obtusely ignoring his responsibilities as a public servant and ignoring the Indigenous peoples standing before him.

Maybe the Journal condones this offensive behavior? Perhaps it is reflected in their reporters’ continued use of racial slurs, such as the R-word, after they were asked to stop using offensive language by organizers of Monday’s march.

Nevertheless, the Journal has chosen the wrong side of history by siding with Dan Lewis. If these editors had attended the march and listened to the diversity of voices and perspectives, they would have understood this is more than just a holiday and that Indigenous peoples are more than objects of entertainment.

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Native Students, You are the Ones We Prayed for

I’m inspired and moved beyond words by the posts from SD GEARUP students to their Facebook and social media pages about how much the program means to them. I have been reluctant to comment on anything publicly, for fear that anything I say may cause more harm or damage.

Nothing anyone has written in the media I’ve read, however, has been from the perspective of GEARUP students. It breaks my heart to see the adults, the people supposed to protect our children, tear this program apart in the media.

None, apparently, seem concerned with its accomplishments. That’s the state of Native affairs in South Dakota and our own communities. People have come out of the woodwork to attack something they clearly don’t understand.

Our young people face enough challenges, the continued assault on the GEARUP program, a program that has helped thousands, is a clear assault on Native education.

Consider that about 75 percent (or more) of Native high schools students drop out. Amidst the myriad other depressing crises facing Native youth, critics should consider the real perpetrator of these crimes—a system that has allowed this happen, not the people who try to make life a bit more livable for our already persecuted Native youth.

When something negative happens, now they’re interested in GEARUP? That concerns me deeply.

Where were your cameras and insights as we achieved success, demonstrated our brilliance, and made history as Native youth?

Some of us have been doing this for decades now. I ask the many critics of this program, where were twenty years ago? Where were you ten years ago? Where were you this year?

I did not see you working with our children or documenting their achievements, celebrating their successes.

This program isn’t for adults. It’s for Native students, students such as myself. Students from the GEARUP family.

I want to share with you what this program means to me. GEARUP saved my life more than once. I don’t know where I would be without it.

I’m currently finishing my doctoral degree here in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico and I’m from Cohort Five (I’m an old guy!). On a recent visit, I saw a lot of my former students at the University of South Dakota, my alma mater. There were so many Native students and most were GEARUP students. I couldn’t believe it! It made me well up with hope that things are changing. Our young people are on the move!

When I attended USD, there were 17 Native incoming freshmen. I was the only one to graduate with my four year degree. The reason for my success was four years of preparation from GEARUP (at the time it was SKILL) programs. Today, I imagine there are more than just seventeen incoming Native freshmen, and I imagine many will graduate, not just one.

I was thirteen when I first met Stacy Phelps. I had no ambitions to go to college. It never crossed my mind. My first summer away at SKILL, I didn’t call home until the week it was time to pick me up!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting ready for the rest of my life. I was too busy trying to be “cool” with peers to realize that. I took it for granted, as we do when we’re young. Now I look back and understand what was happening to me.

I grew up in Chamberlain. There weren’t many Natives in my high school, so going to SKILL each summer with Native men and women who had earned bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral degrees was nothing short of inspiring.

The program seemed foreign to me, since many of my experiences living in Chamberlain were alienating and feeling like I didn’t belong.

My GEARUP family, however, was one of brilliance, inspiration, and belonging. It always has been. Nothing in the media about GEARUP has yet featured that aspect.

As the years passed, Stacy became a brother to me and our families became close. My mom was a single parent, raising me and my brother, and I had few positive male role models in my life. I learned how to be a respectful, honorable, and responsible young Lakota man from the GEARUP program. I’m almost thirty now, and I just now understand how this program molded me into a leader and an adult. I’m sure many of us feel the same way.

It gave me the capacity to aspire to be something I never thought I could be.

When my mom passed away four years ago, my GEARUP family was there. They took care of me, they always have. Mom had worked for the program after I graduated as a student. Her lasting legacy is the GEARUP planners, “How to Go, How to Pay, How to Stay,” you may love or hate.

All of us older students and graduates send so many prayers and best wishes to GEARUP. When I was a student, there were only 30 of us. Now there’s almost 300! There are thousands of us out there. That gives me hope, and I pray for this program and the success of my former students everyday.

I want to tell Native students, especially you younger ones: You are the ones we’ve been waiting for. When we prayed, we prayed for you. Everyone at GEARUP prayed for you and worked hard to make sure you have something in this world no one can take away from you—your education.

You are the ones that are going to change this world, to make it livable again and make it a place where we have dignified lives as Native people.

You should be proud of yourselves. I am.

Whatever you may read or hear, just remember this program and all its staff have one interest in mind: you—the young people. As older people, we will do our best to make sure you have what’s rightfully yours in this world.

Hecetu Welo!

Open Letter: Protect He Sapa, Stop Cultural Exploitation

Many of us feel that there is a side to the Rainbow-Lakota controversy being overlooked. Here are the generous thoughts Dakota and Lakota scholars and writers (such Kimberly TallBear, Richard Meyers, Joel Waters, Taté Walker, and myself) share as an educational document as well as a stand against cultural exploitation. Please share and distribute widely.

“Blood Money”—Life and Death in Gallup, NM

Click here to read the full story “Blood Money”—Life and Death in Gallup, NM on Gallup law enforcement, the liquor economy, Native exploitation, 36 unnatural deaths of Native people in 2014, and border town violence.

On Columbus Day, UNM Students Organize “Indigenous People’s Resistance Tour of the University of New Mexico”

La Jicarita

Photos by DAVID CORREIA
Text by DAVID CORREIA & HARPER CORREIA-KUEHN

Albuquerque, like most of the rest of the country, celebrated Columbus Day this October 13, 2014. Native students at the University of New Mexico, however, celebrated it as  Indigenous People's Day and organized an "Indigenous People's Resistance Tour of UNM" as a way to remember European colonization of Native people's land as genocide and to remind people that UNM sits atop Native land. The day began when activists began a series of banner drops on various buildings around campus. Above, students dropped a banner from the Humanities Building. Albuquerque, like most of the rest of the country, celebrated Columbus Day this October 13, 2014. Native students at the University of New Mexico, however, celebrated it as Indigenous People’s Day and organized an “Indigenous People’s Resistance Tour of UNM” as a way to remember European colonization of Native people’s land as genocide and to remind people that UNM sits atop Native land. The day began when activists began a series of banner drops on various buildings around campus. Above, students dropped a banner from the Humanities Building.

Banners were quickly removed by UNM staff. The one above was dropped above the entrance to the Johnson Center. Banners were quickly removed by UNM staff. The one above was dropped above the entrance to the Johnson Center.

One of the organizers of the Indigenous Resistance Tour of UNM, Nick Estes, talks to marchers as they gathered southeast of the Student Union Building. He reminded people that the Red Power resistance movement of the 1960s emerged in bordertowns like Albuquerque. "An indigenous presence anywhere is always political because indigenous land is everywhere."  One of the organizers of the Indigenous Resistance Tour of UNM, Nick Estes, talks to marchers as they gathered southeast of the Student Union Building. He reminded people that the Red Power…

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Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Originally appeared in La Jicarita:

Reviewed by NICK ESTES

unknownHistory, especially Indigenous history, is still a site of struggle in academia, in public education, and in the popular national imaginary. The narrative conventions of U.S. history often create convenient niches for the so-called “Indian Wars” under the umbrella of a “history of the West.” Past atrocities safely remain in the distant past, perhaps unfortunate, but nonetheless in the past. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States derails this narrative. She contends that the genocidal history of the U.S. against Indigenous peoples was not only foundational to bring the nation into existence but required to export it as a global project in the twenty-first century. Indigenous peoples, perhaps the first and longest standing enemies of U.S. empire, remain central to this history of the U.S. and its future.

For this reason, Dunbar-Ortiz’s highly accessible An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is the Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee of our times. When Bury My Hearthit bookstores in 1970, it became a national bestseller. Mass protests against the Vietnam War drew connections to the U.S.’s genocidal and imperial past of Indian-hating and colonial massacres. In the same moment, the burgeoning Red Power movement was radically altering the landscape of Indigenous scholarship and political struggle on the domestic and international stages. It didn’t call U.S. imperialism exceptional, but rooted in the genocide of Indigenous peoples. Dunbar-Ortiz, a participant in both of those struggles, writes in a time when the militarization of the globe under U.S. empire in a post-9/11 world has again exposed the fallacy of U.S. democracy. Yesterday’s enemies of empire, Indians, are made anew in our present moment as the ever-looming “terrorist threat.”

To understand this, Dunbar-Ortiz asks us to reconsider the foundation of the U.S., making several claims. First, the U.S. is a colonialist settler-state, which “is not to make accusation but rather to face reality, unless Indigenous peoples are erased.” (7) The “refusal or inability” of U.S. historians to understand their own history is the source of the problem, or “the absence of the colonial framework.” (7)

Second, Indigenous resistance is over five centuries old and needs to be re-framed within a broader history of the Americas that does not result in complete annihilation and disappearance. She writes, “Surviving genocide, by whatever means, is resistance.” (xiii) This also means rethinking history from an Indigenous perspective as active participants in shaping their own histories of themselves, the land, and the formations of U.S. colonialism.

Lastly, U.S. “culture of conquest” means violence, genocide, expropriation, destruction, and dehumanization of Indigenous peoples. It is a historically rooted structure, not an event that happened in the past. Indian hating was a requirement to export colonial violence to rest of the world. “Perhaps it was inevitable,” Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “that the earlier wars against Indigenous peoples, if not acknowledged and repudiated, ultimately would include the world.” (12)

Piece by piece, An Indigenous Peoples’ History dismantles the U.S. national narrative, and rigorously interrogates it from an Indigenous perspective. Beginning with the origin stories of European settlers arriving in the “New World” who sought to transform the landscape into the image of the land they left, death and elimination of Indigenous peoples followed in their wake. They appropriated the existing infrastructure of trade routes and agriculture and initiated war after war of extermination to seize land and resources. Here, Dunbar-Ortiz works against the so-called “terminal narratives” to which many U.S. historians subscribe, that Indigenous population decline was mainly due to biological factors such as disease. Conveniently absent from these narratives is over three centuries of colonial warfare waged against Indigenous peoples. “Commonly referred to as the most extreme demographic disaster—framed as natural—in human history,” Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “it was rarely called genocide.” (40)

European ideas of property also played a crucial role in the colonization of the Americas. Peasantry dispossessed of land and livelihood, especially in British occupied Ireland, comprised the rank-and-file of newcomers who came to make a life of their own. They had little choice in the matter when faced with the alternative of starvation and death at home. With them also came soldier settlers, or Ulster-Scots, who were seasoned and violent settlers in the colonization of Northern Ireland. They also brought the practice of scalping, which they first used on the Irish, and the tools of colonization necessary for violent war making against Indigenous peoples. These Scots-Irish settlers formed the wall of colonization as both fodder for the “Indian Wars” and as militant settlers who pushed frontier boundaries. They willingly or unwillingly cleared the way for “civilization” by transforming the land into real estate. The myth was born that white European civilization was “commanded by God to go into the wilderness to build the new Israel” and “entitled to the land through their blood sacrifice.” (55)

Revered U.S. presidents from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln also washed their hands in Indigenous blood. Jackson’s genocidal Muskogee war won him his political career. As president from 1829-1837, he won support from landless, poor settlers to whom he promised land by implementing removal policies for many of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole) in the South. Killing and hating Indians was not only politically profitable, it was a requirement for office after Jackson.

Lincoln’s tenure was no different. Credited as the author of the 1863 “Emancipation Proclamation” and for “freeing” black slaves in the Civil War, his role as a national “hero” is irreparably stained by his treatment of Indigenous peoples. Lincoln won favor with poor white settlers, much like Jackson, with his promises of “free soil” under the 1862 Homestead Act and the Morill Act, which opened up Indigenous land in the West for settlement and “land grant universities.” (140) He also sent Union troops to violently crush the Dakota in Minnesota Territory and expel them from their homelands in 1862; 38 Dakota men were hung in a public display of force. To date, this remains the largest sanctioned mass execution in U.S. history. Lincoln was also president during the 1864 Navajo “Long Walk” where thousands of Navajo were rounded up and forced marched to an open-air concentration camp.

Successors would walk proudly in these “bloody footprints” across the land and through time. What became known as the “Indian Wars” violently opened up Indigenous land in the West to help relieve the pressures of class conflict and economic crises in the East due to industrialization. With the so-called closing of the frontier and the massacre of 300 Lakota people at Wounded Knee in 1890, almost all land in the U.S. had been divided and privatized. This was further exacerbated by the 1887 Dawes Allotment Act, which gave reservation land allotments to individual Indigenous families and then allowed the sale of “surplus” lands to settlers on the cheap. Indigenous peoples also became a lamentable footnote in the U.S. popular imaginary, as their population reached their lowest numbers. “With the ‘dead Indian,’” Dunbar-Ortiz observes, “the ‘American Century’ was born.” (161)

“The American Century” also served to continue the process of conquest of Indigenous peoples. A large number of Indigenous peoples served in the military during World War I, even though many were not U.S. citizens. In recognition of their service, citizenship was granted through the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. Many Indigenous peoples, however, protested citizenship because they had not asked for it. As part of the New Deal, perhaps the most dramatic transformations took place. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act ended allotment and allowed for tribal governments to become politically organized around a U.S.-based constitutional model. Overwhelming numbers of Indigenous peoples also served in World War II, only to return from service to be met with 1950s termination and relocation policies that promised to end federal recognition of tribes and relocate them off their reservations. Much of the Indigenous resistance to these federal policies fueled the resistance to come in the following decades.

The long history of Indigenous anti-colonial resistance, or the “culture of resistance,” from Tecumseh to Crazy Horse, remained (and still remains) in the hearts and minds of many. The post-World War II formation of the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Youth Council, and the American Indian Movement (among many other organizations) pointed to a new generation of social movements, some of which also broke onto the world stage at the United Nations. In fact, much of the twenty-point program of the 1972 “Trail of Broken Treaties” nation-wide march to Washington, D. C. served as a framework for the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But many of the achievements of the international struggle came with consequences; the 1973 73-day standoff at Wounded Knee resulted in a violent FBI crackdown. Nonetheless, the vibrant international culture of Indigenous peoples still exists and thrives today.

With these insights in mind, Dunbar-Ortiz closes the book by looking to the future. Weighing heavily on the moment in which she writes, the U.S.’s endless “war on terror” is, in many ways, a re-fashioning of the “Indian Wars” or the creation of new Indians of empire’s frontiers. Challenges to U.S. empire must then come with the understanding and appreciation of Indigenous existence and resistance, deeply embedded within this particular history. She argues that any social movement that intends to disrupt settler colonialism and empire must account for Indigenous peoples: “Indigenous peoples offer possibilities for life after empire.” (235)

But An Indigenous Peoples’ History is not another litany of white guilt. Dunbar-Ortiz invokes the late Lenape scholar Jack Forbes when she argues that although living settlers are not responsible for their ancestors’ acts of genocide, “they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past. Assuming this responsibility provides a means of survival and liberation.” (235)

This is a book that should be shared among the Indigenous and non-Indigenous reading public as well as read and taught in college and high school classes. It will serve as a reference point for many scholars and activists to come.