Note: While my focus is on the USA, the horrors of colonization- then and now- occurred and still continue, all across Abya Yala.
I received the video version of this post via social media. I got it more than once and from more than one Indigenous person. Its message, and the way my Indigenous relatives were lapping it up, broke my heart. The fact that the messenger is an Indigenous person, a woman, a Mother of Nations, only made it worse.
Then it pissed me off.
You see, this is some assimilating bullshit. So, let’s consider Ms. Mikaela Lyrea’s political message and compare it to the facts; “as…Native American.”
Fact 1: Propaganda
Critical thinking skills are not something we are taught in the American education system, and common sense gets lost in automatic reactions. Propaganda depends on this and Lyrea’s commercial hits where it hurts: an American Indian woman, reaching out to her Relations is a huge cultural soft spot. Russell Means, being an Indian hero, is another soft spot. Our yearning to heal our lineage from our history and present despair, our desire to make a difference for our People, having something to offer the future, while honoring our past… Lyrea’s message targets all these cultural soft spots and harpoons them on behalf of western politics.
But we can’t live off auto-pilot, we need to take the wheel. The work of decolonization, of bringing the Ancestor’s values to our modern daily living, demands we pay attention. It requires we take the time to sit with information, consider it from as many perspectives possible and reflect on how Ancestral truths can guide our lives in these modern days.
The speech Russell Means gave the senate in 1989, the same one that’s referred to in this political ad, is a good place to start decolonizing this commercial. It give us the context in which Means spoke- and then some. I invite you to view it. Even someone who knows nothing of Native American history or A.I.M. will understand his perspective, as well as get a sample of a history that is still repeating all across Abya Yala.
Russell Means stood against ALL western interference in the life and governance of Sovereign Native American Nations.
All western interference.
If you noticed, Lyrea says “he boldly paraphrased”, yet her presentation makes it seem as if she was quoting Means’ directly, when she wasn’t. She quoted him quoting Secretary of Interior James G. Watt, a conservative American politician. A republican. (8:45 minutes into the video.)
Think about that for a second. She quotes Means quoting an American politician when she could just quote the politician directly. Especially for a political ad. Especially for the same party.
Twisting the words of a dead Elder, particularly one who is so prominent among decolonizing American Indians, to fit your mainstream political message is low. But to twist the truth of our history, the horrors of our colonization and the present day suffering across Indian Country, just to garner votes and support for a mainstream political party is disgusting.
And Mikaela Lyrea, a Native American woman from one of the Southern California Tribes, is doing just this.
Using the deplorable conditions in Indian Country this way desecrates our history and mocks the suffering of our Ancestors. Once again the Indian is made a mascot, the Indian is made a pawn, the Indian is used as a means to an end for westerner’s benefit. American politicians get what they want and nothing changes in Indian country.
Because what’s happening in Indian Country is about genocide, not who’s in office.
I wonder if Lyrea has considered how her actions set the stage for yet another Native American removal act; to eliminate the threat of the Native American “socialist reservations system” and finally solve the USA’s “Indian problem” for them.
This is not ancient history.
Fact 2: Genocide by Design
The culture, the identity, the mental health of the Original People of Abya Yala has been decimated over the years by policies DESIGNED for just this purpose. Once we were incarcerated the policies were to destroy Indian ways of life, to force assimilation, to make us stop being Indian or be punished for it.
“In these United States of America, this great country of ours, we American Indians can be anything we want to be… except American Indian.” ~Russell Means, (1:57 mins)
When Indians were being hunted into reservations, one of the ways they coerced People to remain was by Treaty Agreement. The Great White Father promised that when the Indian could learn to be economically self-sufficient and able to manage their own lives as productive human beings, they’d get back their lands and freedom. The Indian would be educated, civilized and introduced to society when ready. Until then, their care, education and property would be “managed” by the US government.
The Great White Father created the policies that “cared” for the Indian, publicly stating that it was for their own good, when it fact it was to justify their incarceration and appropriation of Indian lands.
And after they took the lands and the responsibilities of guardianship, they abandoned tribes to starve in POW camps, stole their children, submitted them to slavery, torture and all kinds of abuses in the name of “assimilation”.
Those babies are today’s adults and elders. What you find in Indian Country today, the third world state of Indian reservations and the desperate dysfunction found among us, is the result of generations of western policies of Indigenous extermination; of programs implemented by Europeans and their descendants over the years, to destroy the Original People and their ways.
It’s all in that 18 minute video.
The loss of our homes, our ways of life, the abuses we suffer as we are forced to assimilate, periodic tribal termination that happens still today, cultural decimation and outright genocide; our history and current conditions… The Great White Father, in his cannibalistic greed for land did this, not some recent American interest in “socialism”.
Those images of our Relations living in desperate conditions that are shown in the commercial, is what happens when Big White Daddy is left to care for Indian babies: terror, oppression, sexual abuse…
This is not “socialism”.
If we really want to heal this, we can start with calling it what it is. This is ethnic cleansing. This is racism in action. What has happened to the Original People of Abya Yala, and what continues to happen to their descendants, This is genocide.
Fact 3: Treaties are Contracts
Lyrea’s political ad presents the reservation system as a handout, a favor extended to the Indian out of the kindness of American hearts…
As a Native American, I say Mikaela Lyrea is deeply colonized. I say she knows her whitewashed history very well. However, the facts of our colonization argues against this opinion. Even the BIA admits to our history when they say they’ve “evolved from subjugation and assimilation to promoting Indian Self determination”.
An abusive relationship doesn’t resolve overnight, and much less when the abuse continues. Consider that the termination era of 1940-1950’s wasn’t that long ago. In 1974 the Dept of Justice decided their behavior towards the federally recognized Indian wasn’t racial, but political. In 1977, the American Indian Policy Review Commission (AIPRC) gave its report suggesting an end to assimilative practices and supporting self-determination. It was denied. It was only 1978 that the American Indian received Freedom of Religion, yet we are the only American citizens to need legal permission to worship. In 1983 the USA decided there was no conflict of interest “by simultaneously representing competing interests” and tribal interests. And in 2004, Congress re-affirmed its authority over Indian affairs.
The fact is that USA has advertised its good-will while imposing western interests. And as time goes by, the budget the USA has designated for Native American health, education and welfare, the contractual obligations the USA has made over the years with various Sovereign Nations of these lands, the Treaty Agreements mentioned earlier, have been ignored.
The USA has broken each and every one of these contracts in its voracious hunger for land and expansion.
These contracts vary from People to People, as do the promises involved, but regardless of the details, these treaties, these contracts, are what gives you land to call “United States of America“. They are as old, and sometimes older, than the Constitution of the United States, and are just as valid.
Contracts are not one sided. Yet westerners have historically reneged on these, while keeping Indian lands. And today, after generations of physical/emotional abuse and torture, after generations of systematic governmental oppression, after years of having most of their identity as Human Beings stripped from them in the worst ways imaginable, the rez Indian has been convinced the oppressor’s story is true.
The federally recognized Indian will say they live off the “handouts” the American government gifts them. They were made prisoners, have survived continued torture and genocide, have been born and raised in third world conditions and suffer from all the mental health issues that come with PTSD and intergenerational trauma, and they say they have it too easy! They have internalized the colonizer’s judgement: that the Indian is lazy and doesn’t want to do anything for themselves because they are too comfortable. They get these handouts and don’t want to work, and drink the day away or shoot up. That’s what “those people” do.
“In Stockholm syndrome, there is a sudden, terrifying capture. The hostage is stunned, shocked and often certain that he or she will die. The hostage then becomes like an infant. He or she can’t talk, eat, move or use a toilet without permission. But then, in every one of these cases, little by little, small acts of kindness by one of the captors evoke feelings deeper than relief.” ~Frank M. Ochberg, Pyschiatrist
As my People, the Taino, are not federally recognized, I grew up in the mainstream, a foot in each world. I know that in Big White Daddy’s world, alcoholism and drug abuse are diseases, but in Indian Country it is laziness created by socialism. In mainstream America PTSD is a known result of war and violence, but in Indian Country it is a lack of personal character. In mainstream society Intergenerational trauma is recognized, but in Indian Country it is the primitive nature of the Indian that makes them a predator. In mainstream politics the Indian is presented as a burden on society, but in Indian Country they are struggling to survive a war that’s never ended.
We know that mainstream western society blames the victim, and the Indian is not immune. Battered for over 200 years, the rez Indian has been convinced that being a copy of the westerner is better than being an Authentic Human Being of Abya Yala; better than being the Identity carried by our Ancestors, the one that is ours by birth-right; better than being an American Indian.
And that is the goal of genocide.
As more resources are found in Indian Lands, the disbanding of whole reservations, many which could house several tribes, will continue. The government recinds Indigenous status, the People are dumped in ghettos and projects, far from community and relatives. Because they are American citizens, they are encouraged onto the welfare system, because Big White Daddy never kept his promise of equal education and economic opportunity. Instead the USA continues to sabotage, take from, and destroy the American Indian at every turn.
Contracts and all!
Fact 4: The American Indian is a Prisoner of War
By claiming “socialism” as the reason behind the problems in Indian Country, Lyrea whitewashes the myth of Manifest Destiny, the romantic ideal that drove expansion and labeled the Indian a “Vanishing Race”. This myth assured the settlers that the christian god was to “clear the land” for them, removing the savages and giving that bounty to His “chosen”. The colonizers did everything in their power, from the moment they arrived, to help their god make this happen. The massacres, the blankets, Indigenous slavery, the boarding schools, the work houses, the undercover sterilization programs, the terrorist acts against the Original People of Abya Yala – then and now – it all has a basis in this attitude of entitlement by divine decree.
If it sounds like some kind of Jihad, it’s because it was… Is. The colonization of this country has not been some peaceful thanksgiving, breaking-of-bread with the Indians. It has literally been a “divine” war against the People that live here. The subjugation of all others under a dominant paternalitic, patriarchal, western pattern. Whitewashed history doesn’t go into these gory little details, but modern history gives us a clue.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was created in 1824 by the US Dept of War to deal with the enemy. The savages that were in the way of divine providence. The American Indian. Us.
From 1885, mainland Indians were listed in rolls for different purposes. According to the BIA these lists were made for “…allotments, legislation, removals, treaties, and other activities“. In other words, these rolls were prison rosters, and the reservations were Prisoner of War camps. Means mentions his reservation is still known as POW camp #334. And the state of those camps today goes to show how the US military treats their prisoners of color.
Again, there is no need to look further than modern history. Consider what was done by the military in Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. Consider what was done to Japanese–Americans, most who were American citizens, during WW2.
Yet the average American citizen is surprised to learn that the USA ran concentration camps before Hitler did. They are surprised to learn there are POW camps, right here, on US soil. This is not covered in the whitewashed version of history but we are seeing it happen on the news right now.
Even the term “reservation” implies a zoo, a wildlife sanctuary. We have been considered animals by the western settlers and it’s how we’ve been treated. Indian well-being has never been a western concern, not even to religious groups. The only thing we had of any value to the western mind was the abundance of Abya Yala. So our relatives were removed and the survivors imprisoned in infertile, unwanted territories.
Until uranium and other valuables are found in these wastelands; then there will be another order for “removal”, “reorganization” or “allotment” for the “well-being of the American Indian”.
Look into the Lakota’s sacred Black Hills or the San Carlos Apache’s Oak Flat. I wonder if Lyrea knows that these desecrations were committed by the same political party she’s endorsing. Or that her party just signed a reorganization act in 2017.
If Means were alive, he’d be pissed! Means knew that Indigenous oppression happens no matter who’s in the White House or what kind of government is in power.
Look at the history and present conditions of the Original People all across Abya Yala. Almost no one lives in Ancestral lands and those that do are being massacred as we speak. In South America they are gunning down Indigenous leaders and holy people. In Central America they are still finding massacred villages with hundreds of previously unknown and uncounted victims. Today shit is so bad there, they are willing to walk for miles, children in tow, to escape their homes, because of American influence in their politics. In Canada they are publicly apologizing for Aboriginal abuses while encroaching on Aboriginal lands- simultaneously!
When you consider that the BIA is presently under the Department of Interior and not Social Services. When you consider that the Indian has been suffering under a genocidal agenda for centuries, you get a clear image of the Indian as a prisoner of war, not a lazy “socialist” addict.
Western history does not consider my island, Boriken (Puerto Rico), a reservation, but when you learn our story you’ll find the similarities: the governing system imposed by the US gives those on the island the right to die for the country, but not the right to elect it’s president. We have a representative who has no vote, and thus no political power. Our children were sent to the Carlisle Indian School when we were initially colonized and at one time 1/3 of the island’s child-bearing women were unknowingly sterilized. Our women were used as uninformed guinea pigs for the birth control pill that’s used today and the island has been abandoned to die in their need for clean water, electricity and medical supplies, with foreign countries sitting just outside our borders unable to accept the help because the island is legally bound to US management and the US government didn’t authorize direct shipments.
And the island, while not a state, is full of tax paying, American citizens.
View our history, the news and especially commercials, with an Indian eye. This is not socialism.
Means would agree. Just listen to his speech.
(c) A.Nanu Pagan, May 2019, Texas, May 2020 (added video link)