Rethinking Columbus Day Event Held at GVSU

columbus wanted posterYesterday, Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Native American Student Association held a “Rethinking Columbus” panel discussion. The discussion offered an alternative to the prevailing mythology of Columbus as a great hero in American history and honored the legacy of indigenous people in the Americas.

The panel began with GVSU history professor Brian Collier discussing the origins of the “Columbus Day” national holiday. Collier explained that the Colombian Order first celebrated Columbus’ encounter with the Americas on its 300th anniversary in 1792. By 1892, a movement led by Italian-Americans developed to make the day an official holiday. That effort was largely spear-headed by the Knights of Columbus and it became more successful in the early 1900s as it was able to play off of sympathies directed towards Italians because of a series of natural disasters that struck Italy during that time. Denver became the first city to host a “Columbus Day” event in 1907, followed by New York City in 1909, and becoming a national holiday shortly thereafter. The day, according to Collier, has become a celebration of colonization and the killing of more than 100 million indigenous people–a number that dwarfs the 100,000 people killed in Italy’s natural disasters during that period. As an alternative to “Columbus Day,” Collier urged the audience to honor native peoples by respecting cultural knowledge, promoting sovereignty, supporting native businesses, and teaching others about natives.

Native American artist, actor, and activist Lee Sprague–a current resident of Oakland and Michigan native–spoke next. He addressed the problem of the panel being attended entirely by folks who already understood the devastating legacy of Columbus and expressed the need to both engage a larger audience as well as those with power in society. Sprague encouraged the audience to think about how media images of Native Americans–especially “romantic” images–dehumanize indigenous peoples. He repeatedly stressed the importance of being polite and willing to discuss issues with opponents. As part of that strategy, Sprague told the audience that it was important to do positive and forward-looking organizing–such as the renaming of “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” in Berkley adopting a native city as a “Sister City”–as well as trying to shift colonial paradigms, an example of which could be changing the language you use to say that you are from Michigan to saying that you are from “the territories currently occupied by Michigan.”

Sprague–who has a degree in international law–told the audience that it is also important to think of the conquest of the Americas in the framework of international law. Sprague explained that Article 2 of the United Nations’ “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide“–of which the United States is a signatory–describes the actions of both Columbus and the United States. Article 2 describes genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:”

“(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Sprague–who admitted that colonialists founded the United Nations–said that the mass killing of the indigenous peoples of the Americas should be considered genocide based on this Convention. However, it has never been described as such, nor has anyone ever been prosecuted for it, despite the fact that the Convention sets no statue of limitations. Sprague said that no indigenous nations are currently recognized at the United Nations and therefore nobody has standing to bring forth such a prosecution.

The final panelist was Ben Williams who is a local Native American drummer/singer and community activist. Williams–who was recovering from a recent cold–spoke briefly about Columbus and the travesty of “Columbus Day.” He reminded the audience that Columbus did not even land on North America and that from the time when he landed in the Caribbean he abused the native peoples, using them as games for his dogs, for testing their knives, and throwing their babies for “fun.” In reaction to the real legacy of Columbus, the state of Minnesota does not observe the holiday, South Dakota celebrates it as “Native Peoples Day,” and Nevada does not celebrate it as a holiday. He told the audience that “Columbus Day” is one of only two federal holidays named after people, with the other being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He said that this is an insult to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fight for equality. In closing, he shared the following graphic with the audience:

graphic: mlk and columbus: equal?

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“Let Indian Kids Exist” Protest Held on the Steps of the Grand Rapids Schools Administrative Building

Today, over 100 people gathered on the steps of the Grand Rapids Public Schools administrative building to protest the closing of a high school serving Native American students and to protest the ongoing mistreatment of Native Americans by the educational system in the United States.

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The Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) administrative building on Franklin was the site of a protest rally called "Let Indian Kids Exist" that highlighted the "generational mistreatment" of Native Americans by the education system in Grand Rapids and the United States as a whole. The protest was attended by around one-hundred people coming from a variety of backgrounds, including the Native American, Latino, and African-American communities. The catalyst for the protest was the recent closing of Grand Rapids' Bimaadiziwin High School.

The speakers emphasized the resiliency of the native community and the fact that the Native community has been repeatedly mistreated by the GRPS. Native American activist Deb Mueller asked the audience rhetorically, "who knows better than us what our children should be taught?" while other speakers emphasized that the Bimaadiziwin program was one of the only places where native culture was taught outside of the home. Rally organizer Dee Ann Sherwood told the crowd that history books teach people to fear Native Americans and that because people do not understand the struggle and fear the Native American community, they seek to destroy Native Americans and their culture. Levi Rickert explained that several audience members were wearing signs that read "$7,200" around their necks because that is the money that the district receives for each Native American student. He went on to state that this is $600 more than what the district receives for other children and highlighted his belief that if the federal government believes that Native American children deserve special treatment that they should get it by the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

After requesting a drum roll, Rickert read ten reasons why the Native community had gathered in protest on the steps of GRPS administrative buildings:

Native Americans have been left out of the process.

The Education system has failed Native Americans.

No longer will Native Americans be victims or treated as non-citizens.

The GRPS administration has misspent and mismanaged the $7,200 per native student.

The schools are scholastically retarded regarding native American history and culture. Native children continue to be damaged by history books that portray Natives as savages, fossils, or extinct.

The school has intimidated, threatened, and attempted to silence Native teachers. Natives have been lied to.

Natives demand that this administration let American Indian children be educated, excel, and exist.

Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, was the keynote speaker, reminding the audience that Native American culture is over a million years old and that it has remained despite the numerous attempts to eliminate it. Banks argued that current GRPS policy fits into a context of historical policies such as the 1884 policy that barred native languages from being taught and spoken in public schools and the 1888 policy that forbid drums and tobacco in schools. Like those policies, Banks said that the closure of the Bimaadiziwin High School is another effort designed to diminish Native culture. Banks asserted that the "Ten Reasons" reasons read earlier in the gathering sounded like a "ten count indictment" and Banks argued that the GRPS administration should go to jail for misspending money earmarked for native people. He told the administrators that they still have a chance to apologize and make the situation right, but also emphasized that people from all over the country are watching the situation because "when a native is hurt, the pain is felt all over."

To find out more about ongoing organizing efforts, visit peopleofthisplace.com.

Native American Community Plans Rally to Oppose School Closing

Members of the local Native American community have planned an April 23 protest featuring American Indian Movement (AIM) founder Dennis Banks to oppose the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ closing of the Bimaadiziwin alternative high school.

Members of the local Native American community are planning a rally on April 23rd to protest the closing of Bimaadiziwin alternative education program in Grand Rapids. The program serving high school age students is the only school in Grand Rapids that is specifically tailored for Native American students. The school, which is located at 45 Lexington NW on Grand Rapids’ west side, is operated by the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). Bimaadiziwin is scheduled to be closed by the GRPS because of financial constraints, a decline in enrollment, and increasing federal mandates after five years of serving the Native American community.

According to reports in the corporate media, the Bimaadiziwn program has failed to meet targets required by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, with GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor stating that state and federal regulations make it increasingly difficult to operate schools with small enrollments. WOOD TV 8 has reported that the school district is considering moving the program to Union High School where GRPS would add a Native American history course and create an after school club for students, although the same article reported that there are “slim” chances that the students would be kept together. However, such a plan would not match a program that is specifically catered to the unique needs of the Native community and that includes a curriculum infused with Native American culture.

In response to the announced closing, the local Native American community has organized to prevent the school’s closing. The community has organized a petition drive calling for GRPS to reach a “negotiated agreement” with the community and stating that the Native community “cannot support the reassignment of existing American Indian students to other programs or schools within the GRPS system” without such an agreement. In a letter to the local media, Native American activist Levi Rickert stated:

“One more time, the message to American Indians is: Your voice does not count. This administration obviously feels the American Indian community is the point of least resistance in the overall community, because no other alternative program is being cut at this time.”

Some in the Native American community have accused Superintendent Bernard Taylor poor treatment and have charged that the Grand Rapids Public Schools has misled the community about the program’s closing. Specifically, community members have charged GRPS with making promises about moving the Native program elsewhere and failing to follow through on the promises.

In addition to the petition drive, the local Native American community has organized an April 23 rally to be held at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administrative Building at 1331 Franklin St SE. The protest will take place at 11:00am and will feature a rally and march led by Native American activist Dennis Banks who was one of the co-founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1960s. In addition to the rally and march, organizers are calling for the Native community in Michigan to keep their children out of school in protest of both the recent treatment of the Native American community by the Grand Rapids Public Schools as well as the historical and ongoing mistreatment of Native Americans by the United States’ educational system.

Descendent of Sitting Bull Addresses Myths of Sitting Bull’s Legacy

Sitting Bull’s last surviving great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, spoke at GVSU and discussed the ways in which Sitting Bull’s legacy has been distorted by “official” histories. LaPointe contrasted the “official” story of Sitting Bull’s life with that contained in his family’s oral history.

Today at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Ernie LaPointe, the last surviving great-grandson of the Lakota leader Sitting Bull, spoke about his great-grandfather’s legacy and the ways in which Sitting Bull’s life has been distorted and mythologized in official histories. LaPointe, speaking to an audience of well over one-hundred students and faculty, told the GVSU community that while there have been a number of books written about Sitting Bull, most have gotten the story of Sitting Bull’s life wrong. Traditional histories have not related Sitting Bull’s human characteristics–his compassion, his generosity, and his humility–nor have they gotten even the simplest of facts right–the year and place he was born–according to LaPointe. Sitting Bull’s story has been preserved in his family’s oral history and stories of his life have been passed down to LaPointe with extraordinary detail. Yet, despite this, no scholars have ever approached him or anyone in his family when doing research on Sitting Bull.

One of the most famous distortions of Sitting Bull’s life is his murder, according to LaPointe. LaPointe explained that when Sitting Bull returned from Canada, he was seen as held as a “political prisoner” for two years and was then closely monitored by the United States who feared his influence. At this time, the Lakota people were badly fractured and split between those who supported the US government and those who had converted to Christianity, with few promoting the traditional way of life that Sitting Bull continued to advocate. The authorities at Fort Yates continually tried to get Sitting Bull to renounce his traditional ways and buy into the system, but Sitting Bull refused and consequently became a target for “elimination” according to LaPointe. In his account, LaPointe argues that the authorities viewed Sitting Bull as a “nuisance” and began to plot against him. However, rather than using the military to crush Sitting Bull, the authorities convinced the tribal police and some of Sitting Bull’s own relatives to turn against him. The “official” story of Sitting Bull’s murder argues that Sitting Bull either participated in or allowed the Ghost Dance movement to take hold on the reservation. However, LaPointe argues that Sitting Bull never supported the Ghost Dance–a fusion of Christianity and native spirituality–because he was a traditionalist. LaPointe claims that Sitting Bull had come to view the Ghost Dance movement as a problem after initially allowing it, and was attempting to meet with another chief–Red Cloud–when he was murdered by the state. In Lapointe’s version of Sitting Bull’s death, Sitting Bull was murdered on his way to discuss the Ghost Dance with Red Cloud after the authorities prohibited Sitting Bull from leaving.

LaPointe had several criticisms for anthropologists, archeologists, and other “PhDs” whom he accused of frequently distorting Lakota culture for their own gain. He explained that anthropologists often come into native cultures without respect and have very little consideration for the wishes of native peoples. For example, LaPointe described how anthropologists do not respect native spirituality and frequently write about ceremonies that they observe in books, despite LaPointe’s assertion that the ceremonies should stay where they are and should not be discussed in books. Similarly, the skepticism which some anthropologists report from “traditionalists” on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota comes from the fact the “traditionalists” remember what happened to their people during the colonization of the continent. However, LaPointe argues that if one approaches them with respect and in a humble manner, they likely will share their culture. Still, anthropologists continually miss the essence of native spirituality, isolating ceremonies and taking things out of context without relating the fundamental fact that native spirituality is a way of life. LaPointe had similarly harsh words for the “archaeologists [that] come to native areas like bees on honey… or roaches on bread” with no respect for native cultures.

Conditions remain very harsh for the Lakota people, with LaPointe articulating many problems that continue to face the Lakota nation. LaPointe asserted that South Dakota is one of the most racist states in the union with the white population being extremely hostile to native peoples. The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States and unemployment is widespread. Even those with college degrees often remain unemployed, because many Lakota college graduates have strong family bonds and ties to their homes and are unwilling to trade those ties for jobs. This underscores one of the many ways in which many Lakota people are unable to accept American society, as its ways of thinking are radically different from the Lakota ways. As an example, LaPointe contrasted views of warfare in the two cultures, explaining that in traditional Lakota warfare the goal was to disrespect or humiliate an opponent by hitting him on his head (“counting coup“) in front of his peers, not the annihilation practiced by this culture. his has driven many Lakota people to alcohol and it is such a serious problem that if a Lakota man lives to be 48 he is considered an elder because such a great number die from either liver disease or drunk driving accidents. Illegal drugs–especially meth–have also taken hold in recent years. Competition between individual Lakotas is a major problem as well, with competition undermining the sense of the Lakota as a “people” with common interests.

Despite the dismal conditions, the Lakota nation continues to survive and LaPointe’s work to correct Sitting Bull’s legacy is part of a larger native resistance to more than 500 years of conquest. In addition to talks like the one LaPointe delivered at GVSU, he is completing a two-volume DVD of his family’s oral history, is actively collecting materials pertaining to Sitting Bull’s life for an exhibit at the Little Big Horn battlefield, and is working to have Sitting Bull’s body moved from an unkempt gravesite rapidly becoming surrounded by development to a permanently protected spot on the Little Big Horn battlefield. LaPointe explained that these are just some efforts by natives to carry on their legacy, and briefly mentioned efforts by Crazy Horse’s relatives to get land that was promised to him.

Rethinking Columbus Day Panel Explores the Genocidal Impact of Colonization

On Monday, a panel discussion titled “Rethinking Columbus” examined the legacy of Columbus and the impact of the conquest of the Americas on the indigenous people of the region. The panel also explored the ways in which colonization is an ongoing process.

On Monday, Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Native American Student Association and the Office of Multicultural Affairs held a panel discussion titled “Rethinking Columbus” that examined the legacy of Christopher Columbus. The event, organized to fall on the same day as the official “Columbus Day” holiday, was attended by approximately fifty students. The panel featured four panelists—History professor Brian Collier, Modern Languages and Literature professor Yvette Fuentes, Latin American Studies professor Khedija Gahoum, and Jeff Smith of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID). The four panelists, while addressing a variety of different subjects pertaining to the legacy of Christopher Columbus, generally presented arguments affirming the fact that Christopher Columbus should be viewed not as a hero to be celebrated, but as a criminal who was responsible for setting in motion over five-hundred years of colonization that has resulted in ongoing genocide and racism toward the indigenous populations of the Americas.

The panel began with GVSU history professor Brian Collier who explored the historical origins of Columbus Day as a federal holiday. Collier described that the holiday—“offensive to so many [indigenous] people”—was first celebrated in the 1870s, but during the years of 1908 to 1912 was actively sought by Italian immigrants. He explained that Italian immigrants, coming to the United States out of a context of natural disasters in Italy and a poor economy, sought the holiday as a means of promoting their cultural heritage. At the time, with Italians immigrating in large numbers, opportunistic politicians were willing to support the holiday and it was eventually made a federal holiday without considering the ramifications that celebrating such a holiday would have on indigenous people living within the United States. Collier reminded the audience that over 800 million indigenous people were killed during the colonization of the Americas and that the death toll alone makes the day offensive, but that the day is further a reminder that the dominant culture discounts indigenous knowledge and promotes the superiority of western ways of thinking. He also described the “intellectual genocide” of indigenous people in the United States through the boarding school years, during which eight generations of indigenous people were sent to boarding schools at which they were taught to forget their languages and their tribal ways, forced into a system of colonization without physical violence. He urged the audience to support native communities by looking at the ways in which indigenous knowledge can benefit everyone (for example, the concept of restorative justice rather than punitive justice), supporting full sovereignty for native peoples, and opposing characterizations of native cultures such as Columbus Day parades, “Indian” Halloween costumes, and Thanksgiving pageants.

Following Collier’s presentation, professor Yvette Fuentes discussed the impact that Columbus had on the Taino people who inhabited the Caribbean when Columbus arrived in 1492. The Taino, who were the first to greet Columbus, were promptly enslaved and those who were not enslaved were killed, with a population of an estimated 8 to 10 million in 1493 being exterminated in the course of a few years. Fuentes explained that while this has been the traditional discourse on the fate of the Taino people, there has recently been an effort on the part of indigenous people to reexamine the idea that the Tainos were exterminated. Indigenous people, inspired by the American Indian Movement in the United States, have challenged traditional history that states that the Tainos were primitive or weak because they left no buildings or written language. They have highlighted the fact that many people in the Caribbean observe indigenous traditions and that they have maintained their culture in rural areas and through inter-marriage. This argument is also supported by academic research, with Fuentes citing a 1999 study that found that 61% of the Puerto Rican population carry the mtDNA of indigenous people.

Professor Gadhoum of the Latin American Studies program opened her portion of the discussion with a quote by noted Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano about how America was “not discovered” by Columbus but that it was already there. Gadhoum argued that this was part of the effort of “inventing America” that began with a German cartographer in the 1500s who started to write “America” on maps of the continent and continues to this day as the history of the Americas has been written from a perspective of capitalism that excludes the fact that Columbus introduced ways of life that destroyed native practices. While the Catholic Church famously ruled that indigenous people had no rights in the 1500s, colonization continues today via multinational corporations extracting natural resources that should belong to indigenous people, via the “curse of wealth” where those with greater financial wealth dominate them. Indigenous people are thus either completely marginalized or “exoticized” by the dominant culture. Gadhoum also described how the process of colonization is a process of “de-civilizing” whereby the colonizer engages in rape, hatred, violence, and racism.

Jeff Smith of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy explained how not only must we view Columbus Day as five-hundred years of colonization, but also as five-hundred years of resistance on the part of indigenous people in the Americas. Smith described how as colonization has continued to take new forms—trade agreements, resource extraction, and the theft of indigenous knowledge—indigenous people have resisted these efforts by being at the forefront of movements organizing around these issues. Smith argued that anyone enjoying neoliberal capitalist culture must understand that their way of life comes at the expensive of indigenous people and that we need to both acknowledge this and honor indigenous resistance by working on the aforementioned issues or confronting racist school mascots that belittle indigenous peoples and beliefs. He described how indigenous people in Mexico have been the most affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that indigenous people in Central America will be the most affected by the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Aside from these economic policies, Smith argued that colonization continues through media representation where indigenous perspectives are only heard of if there is a pow-wow or a casino, but not on any other issues relevant to indigenous communities. Furthermore, indigenous people are relegated to secondary roles in entertainment and never as primary characters. If this and other forms of ongoing colonization of indigenous people is seen as a genocidal policy, Smith argued that they violate international law and that everyone living within countries engaging in such polices have an obligation under international law to stop these policies.

Following the panel, Native American activist Deb Mueller described how colonization began with Columbus and continues through the mockery of sacred items, forced hair cutting, experimentation on women, and other means. This issue is particularly important in Michigan, which has the 9th highest population of Native Americans in the United States and she urged the audience to understand that “Indian country is here” and that there are opportunities for people to either work directly with indigenous people or in solidarity with them on a variety of issues. She explained that thousands of native children like her were socialized to hate who they were through the media, museum exhibits, or through popular forms of entertainment that worked to marginalize native culture. Despite these realities, indigenous people have survived and continue to organize to preserve their culture.

Andrea Smith Discusses Sexual Violence and Activism

On Tuesday, native author and activist Andrea Smith delivered a lecture focusing on the role of sexual violence in conquest and its relationship to American indian genocide. Smith also offered a number of suggestions for organizing and building a more effective and diverse anti-violence movement.

Tuesday night at the Wealthy Theatre, Native American author, activist, and scholar Andrea Smith delivered a lecture titled “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Smith, who has been a Nobel peace prize nominee and is currently a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, discussed sexual violence in native communities and sexual violence’s role in colonialism. Smith said that she came to this insight based on three realizations in her life—that as long as native peoples were destroying themselves through violence within their own communities that they did not need to be so focused on external threats, that there was a striking silence in native communities about rape, and that efforts by rape victims to seek support outside native communities was often met by opposition from other natives who opposed the “airing of the community’s dirty laundry” outside the native community.

Beginning with the argument that sexual violence is an inherent part of the colonial project, Smith gave several examples of how colonial thought and theory has been intertwined with an ideology of sexual domination. She discussed how the United States viewed the bodies of natives as “impure” and therefore “rapable” and explained how the mutilation of women’s genitals and public display of them at the Sand Creek Massacre was a manifestation of the sexual violence inherent in colonialism. It was also argued that patriarchy has played a key role in convincing people of the necessity of domination and that projecting a patriarchal view of natives onto them was necessary in order for the colonial project to succeed. Cultural appropriation, an ongoing aspect of colonialism, was also discussed as a form of sexual violence as it is an act of control and intervention that has its roots in the rhetoric of sexual domination, while it is manifest in its most crude way in books on “Native American sexuality” and spirituality. Environmental racism, with its notion that certain communities are “fit” for the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste (as they are impure or dirty) is a form of sexual violence, especially when it is considered that the first effects of environmental racism often manifest themselves in women’s reproductive organs. Similarly, the forced sterilization that targeted native women’s reproductive systems, both by the government and medical professionals as well as the various population control movements that arose out of the environmental movements in the United States, is also a form of sexual violence.

For Smith, violence, and specifically sexual violence, is an inherent part of a society centered on a patriarchal state and the struggle against colonization has to be a central part of organizing against domestic violence. Smith described how it is impossible for the state to be a solution to a problem that exists because of it and that laws created by the state to criminalize domestic violence more often put victims in jail than perpetrators. The criminalization approach is therefore flawed given that the approach exists in a society where fifty percent of men have indicated that they would rape if they could get away with it. Since nobody would seriously consider putting fifty percent of men in prison, the criminalization approach, based on the idea that there are a few isolated perpetrators of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. The idea of “restorative justice” for sexual violence is also flawed as it does not address state violence at the same time nor does it work in a sexist society that often sides with the perpatrator.

Smith, who in her opening remarks stressed that she did not want to be seen simply as one with a unique analysis but rather as a part of a collective struggle, also shared several strategies and tactics for organizing. She stressed that it is important that those working for social change in the United States work to build truly mass movements, citing an example of people she met in Central America who discussed how they repeatedly mobilized 10 million people over a series of weeks while activists in the United States typically muster no more than 200 people and spend time walking in circles where they were able to get permits from the state to “exercise their right to free speech.” Central to creating a mass movement is a need to rethink the nonprofit industrial complex, as Smith discussed how foundation funding limits mobilizing by making organizations reliant on foundations rather than their base for support which discourages organizing to mobilize constituents and instead creates a movement that is accountable to foundations rather than working directly for those in need of a particular service. Instead, Smith argued that independent movements outside of the non-profit sector are needed and that non-profits need to be made accountable to an independent movement. Similarly, Smith argued that while it is important to have people “working from the inside,” such efforts will have little success if they are not backed by a strong independent movement outside of the institution.

In order to build such a movement, Smith said that it is important for resistance to develop not just in isolated communities but that it needs to be spread into other communities in order to effectively fight empire and capitalism. To spread such ideas, movements in the United States need to look at how they organize and need to think of ways to organize so that people can participate in social movements when they have time rather than demanding the extreme self-sacrifice that often characterizes activism in the United States. Smith also argued that movements need to develop more creative tactics such as effective use of the arts, street theatre, and music, and use those tactics for outreach rather than always relying on the overly intellectual arguments and the notion that people can be convinced of a particular position simply from a deluge of facts. Such approaches are necessary because they can be used to convince privileged people that they are not benefiting from their privilege in the long-term and that by shedding short-term gains they could achieve substantial improvements in their lives as it is real only a few people that have the majority of wealth and power in the United States.

Viet-Cong at Wounded Knee

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

The activities of the American Indian Movement (AIM), while often grouped with the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s New Left, has received relatively little attention compared to the white movements of the period and the civil rights movement. Moreover, what scholarship does exist largely focuses either on the leaders of the movement or the United States’ government’s efforts to repress native movements for self-determination.

Within this context, Woody Kipp’s Viet Cong at Wounded Knee: The Trail of a Blackfeet Activist would seem to provide a welcome addition to the literature on the movement. Kipp is what one could describe as a “rank-and-file” member of AIM, he was not leadership at either the national or local level but was simply one of the thousands of native people that were attracted to AIM’s efforts. Nor was Kipp a life-long radical, he joined the movement after returning from Vietnam and encountering AIM members at his college. For Kipp, the realization that the United States government did not have his interests at stake was a gradual process. It began with his realization in Vietnam that the Viet-Cong looked similar to him and that there was little reason for people of color to be fighting other people of color in order to secure rights for them not afford to native people within the United States and concluded, in a rather startling manner, when, while sneaking into the AIM-occupied village of Wounded Knee, the United States government used the same machine guns that he was trained to use in Vietnam against him.

However, rather than describe at length his conclusion that he was, as far as the United States government was concerned, a Viet-Cong, Kipp’s book is filled primarily of his tales of “womanizing and drinking” of which there are many. In between these tales, the reader occasionally gets some interesting insight into the attitudes of the AIM rank-and-file but these insights are rare and are almost buried amidst page after page of explaining how Kipp and his friends were able to secure alcohol or how poorly they were faring do to the lack of alcohol. By the time of the epilogue, most readers will have wondered why they spent the time reading the book, as little of consequence can be gleaned from its pages. Such a conclusion is unfortunate, because the epilogue points to Kipp’s potential for great insight into AIM, contemporary issues facing Native Americans, and native spirituality. Had Kipp pursued these topics rather than writing a narrative encompassing his chaotic younger years, he would have made a valuable contribution to the literature available on the American Indian Movement.

Woody Kipp, Viet Cong at Wounded Knee: The Trail of a Blackfeet Activist, (University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

Indigenous Issues and “Preventive” War

Indigenous views in the U.S.

Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe) recently visited U-M:Ann Arbor and discussed the war, indigenous land recovery and various indigenous issues. ( link )

Indigenous peoples of the Americas know something about imperialism, invasion and occupation. In America, part of the picture is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A satirical and sardonic perspective imagines a post-war Bureau of Iraqi Affairs. ( link )

Kurds

Kurdistan is the borderless and stateless land of the indigenous Kurdish people, a people that have suffered mightily from Iraqi and Turkish atrocities and U.S. geopolitical shiftiness. Major tension between Iraqi Kurds and Turkish forces that are massing at the Turkish border threaten to destabilize Iraqi Kurdistan. Reported pressure from U.S., Germany and Belgium are trying to keep most Turkish troops in Turkey. The Turkish goverment is reported to have mandated any action necessary to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state in Iraq. An incredibly complex political and cultural situation in northern Iraq continues to develop.

The Latest:

Important and Recent Comprehensive Aspects of the War: