Aug 27, 2013 - Custer’s Army Don’t Need No More Scouts by: Matt Remle

Recently, ripples were recently sent throughout Turtle Island, when Colby Tootoosis hung the Canadian flag upside down and carried it during the Manito Ahbee powwow’s Grand Entry. Reaction to the upside down flag were varied with many expressing support for his actions to the “to be expected” rants about disrespect of the flag and disrespect of veterans.

Personally, I loved it. It reminded me of the images from our AIM warriors who would fly the upside down United States flag during their rallies and demonstrations. And honestly, it made me wonder why it hadn’t been done before, but this article though is less about the flying of the Canadian flag upside down and Colby’s action, he himself sums it up best at, but rather I would like to explore this skewed notion that we as Native peoples somehow owe any semblance of support for either the colonial governments of the United States or Canada.

Cobly Tootoosis and upside down Canadian flag at the Manito Ahbee powwow


It is rather well known that as Native peoples we serve in the Armed Forces at higher rates, per capita, then any other racial or ethnic group on both sides of the border. The standard explanation for this is that we need some sort of outlet to release our inner warrior, which in some cases might be true, but I seriously question this as the sole reason why we enlist at such high rates.

I suspect that poverty may play an equally, if not more so, important factor as one of the reasons why so many Native brothers and sisters enlist. After all, poor people of all races make up the vast majority of enlistees in the Armed services. According to the Department of Defense’s own data, in 2004 nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, of recruits to the military were from counties that have average incomes lower than the national median. And we know that poverty in Indian country on both sides of the border runs deep.

But questions about motivations for enlistment aside, the deeper question lies around what does it truly mean to defend our “homelands”, as is so often stated for reasons to go into military service, when the honest brutal reality is that assaults on our traditional lands, natural resources, sacred sites, water ways, and health of our communities (think the locating of hazardous and toxic waste facilities) comes not from some foreign enemy, but from the Canadian and United States governments and their corporate rulers.

The Most Bombed Nation on Earth

The food that my people survived on is not here no more on account of this nuclear weapon that we have developed…the pine nuts aren’t here no more, the chokecherries aren’t here, the antelope aren’t here, the deer aren’t here, the groundhog aren’t here, the sage hen aren’t here.
-Corbin Harney (Western Shoshone)

From 1951 to 1992 the United States and Great Britain detonated over 1,000 nuclear bombs both above and below ground at the Nevada Test Site located on Western Shoshone lands. It is to no surprise that incidents of cancer in the region are astronomically higher then national averages.

Sadly, the Western Shoshone are not the only tribal nation whose lands were used as bombing ranges by the United States, other nations include, but not limited to, the Makua and Kaho’olawe in the Hawaiian Islands, Pine Ridge and the Badlands Bombing Range, Fort Apache, Red Lake, and the Walker River Paiute lands to name a few.


Badlands Bombing Range

Some 16 different tribal nations have had their lands used, and severely contaminated, by the United States military. The situation in Canada is similar with at least a half dozen reserves from British Columbia to Ontario that were used by the military as bombing ranges.

Land Seizures

In addition to seizing tribal lands to use as bombing ranges, millions of acres of tribal lands have been stolen by the United States government and handed over to the Department of Defense for a whole host of military related projects throughout the 1900’s to present day.

Recent notable examples include:

The Los Alamos National Laboratory whose 43 square mile weapons laboratory was built on land stolen from the Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos.

In Alaska, the military controls 1.7 million acres much of which is within the traditional territories of Alaskan Native villages.

In Washington State, 3,500 acres of Nisqually lands were illegally taken to create the Fort Lewis military base, which is still active to this day.

East of the Fort Lewis base in eastern Washington sits the 560-square mile sprawling Hanford Nuclear power plant. It exists entirely in the boundaries of the Yakama Nation. Hanford, which produced plutonium for nuclear weapons, is the largest nuclear waste dump in the Western Hemisphere, and has been known to be leaking nuclear waste into the environment. It is estimated that over 1 million gallons of nuclear waste have seeped into the soils and into the Columbia River.

Hanford Nuclear Power Plant

Corporate Land theft

Beyond the theft of tribal lands, and resources, by the Canadian and United States governments to give use to its militaries, each are also guilty of collaborating with corporations to gain access to tribal lands for resource exploitation.

Major battles are currently underway against the tars sands in Canada, located on tribal lands, and against the expansive pipelines TransCanada and Enbridge (ironically a “sponsor” of the Manito Ahbee powwow) seek to build that threaten numerous tribal lands and waterways.

Tar sands

The Lummi Nation and other tribal nations are currently engrossed in a struggle with corporations seeking to bring coal through their lands to be exported to Asia. In fact, the largest coal export terminal in the United States is proposed to be built at Cherry Point, WA of which is sacred lands to the Lummi Nation.

U.S. Imperialism and Empire Building

It is not far reaching to state that ever since Columbus sailed under the guise of the Doctrine of Discovery, early European immigrants and later the governments of the United States, and Canada to a lesser extent, have been engaged in near continuous wars in the name of Imperialism and Empire Building.

If we are real and honest with ourselves and engage in truth seeking behind the military conflicts the United States has been engaged in nearly all have been conducted in the name of Imperialism, U.S. expansionism and profit making.

It is also not a stretch to state that the legacy of U.S. Imperialism that sweep through Turtle Island did not stop at the Pacific Ocean. The exact same attitudes and beliefs that drove the colonization of our homelands is the exact same that drives the colonial desires to this day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Custer once led an expedition to find gold in He Sapa (the Black Hills), the U.S. Geological Survey led an expedition into Afghanistan were it “uncovered” a Trillion dollars worth of untapped natural resources.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command (in reference to the vast natural resources in Afghanistan).

Custer’s spirit lives on.

Warriors Needed

Mitakuyepi, my relatives, it is time that we stop fighting for the Imperialist governments of the United States and Canada. Their goals today are the same goals they’ve always had, remove indigenous populations, insert puppet governments, and steal lands and resources in the name of corporate interest and profit.

If one needs to exercise the warrior spirit then I dare say that our own tribal communities and lands are over flowing with the need for strong, committed, loving and compassionate men and women to step up and address anyone of the numerous issues confronting and or plaguing our communities.

To our brother’s and sister’s currently in the Armed services, we love you and pray for your safe return. This critique is solely directed at the corporate interests of the Imperial governments of the United States and Canada. We look forward to standing with you on the front-lines in the battles to protect our sacred water and lands to come.

Custer’s army doesn’t need any more scouts, but own children, grandchildren, elders, and Mother Earth sure could use a few good men and women.

Mitakuye oyasin

Wakinyan Wa’anatan (Matt Remle)

Last Real Indians