Aug 25, 2015 - How US Politics Fails To Understand Native Issues, by Anpo Jensen
As an Oglala Lakota born and raised on a beloved reservation with hardworking parents and strong elders, I have quickly learned that I am the result of 200 years of resilience. Because of this, I can now speak English as well as speak my language. It still astounds me that despite everyone speaking a common language on Turtle Island, my people, Indigenous people, Native American people, remain the least understood in the nation.
The news is filled with politics every day and there are countless YouTube videos of current presidential candidates. It’s difficult to escape the topic without observing how it all stirs within the Native community. Donald Trump has caught everyone’s attention with his idea of tearing the 14th Amendment from its place and deporting “illegal immigrants,” including their American-born citizen children. And of course, many Natives on social media are keeping the humor alive by joking that this means Donald Trump can be deported. (At least, I think they’re joking). And others have mentioned Mexicans are also vulnerable, only across a line that was drawn by this 200-year-old government.
As for the Democrats, it appears Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also sparking interest. Bernie Sanders has strength from being involved the Civil Rights Movement, but is still considered the underdog. Meanwhile, Hillary has widespread support, but her issues with cybersecurity demand some concern. Everyone has their strengths, their mistakes, and their beliefs. However, as a Native person, what does this presidential election, let alone politics, mean to me?
After all, President Lincoln hung 38 Dakotas and two other men for leaving the reservation to hunt for their starving community. This was the largest execution in history. Voting for someone who will hear Native voices and Native representatives is vital. Who will not only hear our voices, but work with these sovereign nations against land grabs, pollution, and issues that surpass our lives into our future generations?
A well known Native voice, Winona Laduke once said, “Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water doesn’t make you a corporate terrorist.” Water is sacred. Ask any Native person you come across and they’ll tell you why. The sacredness of water is also described in our languages. In fact, scientists know the unique and vast properties of water.
For example, in my latest summer read, Weird Life, David Tooney reports that water appears to be under intelligent design. Water is polarized, has the strength to pull elements apart and creates microenvironments for organisms. For example, even extremophiles need water to survive in the most extreme environments, from fiery pits to the bottom of the ocean. Some organisms need to attain a process called anhydrobiosis, in which their metabolism is shut down until water is available and they are able to thrive again. Other organisms would even pull water from the air to survive.
Water takes care of all of life. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not magic. We’re trying to protect it for a reason; it’s all we have because, unfortunately, humans are not extremophiles, unless those in support of water terrorization can drink water from the air. In that case, please teach us how.
One threat I keep in mind during the presidential election is the Keystone Pipeline proposal. According to TransCanada’s promises (promises don’t fly well with Native Americans anymore), the pipeline passes the GHG emission test. However, like otherscientists have stated, that doesn’t account for the carbon emissions which are an inevitable part of the carbon life cycle from drilling to use. In addition, should a spill happen (and it almost certainly will), the pipeline will leak in the Oglala aquifer, which provides water for more than 8 different states and 9 different reservations. The proposal promises cleanup with support of the EPA, yet this stands as unreliable considering what had happened the Animas River and the pollution of uranium waste.
The EPA destroyed the Animas River. CNN reported that the damages done for the Navajo people extend far beyond monetary loss. As a result, Senator John McCain visited the Navajo Reservation. Another news source, as well as some personal videos, show him being chased off the reservation while young women and men sing a very powerful song. Native Americans share one definite responsibility in common, and that is the demand for the protection of our land and water.
Speaking of land, politics, and being misunderstood, I recently came across a video of John McCain saying this: “To state the obvious, when the Europeans came to America it was a clash of civilizations. And throughout history, the less mature civilization always suffers.”
First of all, Mr. McCain isn’t wrong about the clash of civilizations. In fact, this clash is, amazingly, still alive and well the pollution of the Animas River by the EPA is one example, the Apache land grab of Oak Flat, one of their sacred sites, is another. The list unfortunately ranges from the Keystone Pipeline all the way to institutional discrimination.
However, I wanted to put a stop sign on McCain’s second statement, the idea that Native Americans were primitive or less developed than Western Society. Dr. Martin Luther King has already stated the problem with the Eurocentric perspective when he said, “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race.” Genocide has happened and appears to still be happening as evidenced by all these current issues.
There are currently over 500 different tribes on Turtle Island. Each has its own unique traditions that signify history and experience on this earth. And Native American culture has greatly influenced this young country’s medicine, military tactics, fashion, science, and even politics.
Human rights? Most tribes already believed in gender equality well before Western civilization clashed with our culture. For example, a grandmother told me that our warriors could not go to war without consulting the women. Our ancestors understood that women knew the value of life because they gave life.
Government? The Lakota structured government was known as the Oceti Sakowin (the seven campfires). Coexistence? We maintained it even with over 500 different and distinct tribes. Medicine? Many of our traditional plant uses were later chemically extracted and commercialized. Military? We had different warrior societies, but U.S. adopted guerilla warfare from our people. Fashion? All of the Native American designs seen in clothing stores held significance and sometimes a story. Land conservation? My people were nomadic for many reasons, but in part so the land would have time to replenish before we returned to it.
Native Americans are misunderstood and far from primitive. We were more developed than I could ever imagine and it brings me gratitude knowing that today we’re thriving. We have respect for the land and its resources. We make prayers with the land. We acknowledge that we were not the center of the universe, but we were valuable to its puzzle. As a Native person, I recognize our priorities as people may seem different or less popular, but the takeaway here is that we are more logical than most recognize. I believe in us, our hopes, dreams, and beliefs of making our situations better.
All of these aspirations are being brought to life, if only the rest of the nation would listen.
First posted here: http://theodysseyonline.com/stanford/native-americans-listen/152456
Anpo Jensen, Lakota.