From the Editor's Desk: Do Our Lives Matter?

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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgAs November’s Native American Heritage

Month, opened with a loud burst in Minneapolis when the Washington

NFL team came to town, barely. On game day, word spread through the

crowds of protesters marching up from Franklin Avenue to TCF Stadium

that the Washington team’s bus had an accident before pulling into

town and, according to media reports, the players were, “shaken.”

At the rally at TCF Stadium, comedian and activist Dick Gregory joked

about the turn around in temperature for the rally. “Dan Snyder,

you’re dealing with people who can change the weather! You can change

that name!” Someone set out some extra tobacco, it seems.

While protests and rallies are a way

for people to get together, share a common passion and draw attention

to an issue, personally, I’m not a fan. In my previous experience as

a political organizer, we measured how effective an effort was by the

results it produced, usually an election result. But in the process,

people feel connected and share their common passions. The important

part in movement building is to have a clear goal in mind and

calculated ways to achieve that goal.

Every struggle in America to achieve

rights guaranteed to us in the spirit of the Constitution has had

many prongs, whether the issue of slavery, women’s voting rights or

civil rights; there have always been many voices involved, not always

in agreement, but the goal was the same. In

the Native American community, 10 people can have 20 different

opinions on the same subject, it’s just the way we are as a people,

we take time to chew over a problem and posit different methods to

achieve our goal. But everyone has a place and every opinion is heard

in deliberation. At the end of the day, the strategy is adopted by

everyone involved.

My favorite model was the Women’s

Suffrage movement almost 100 years ago. While historians and scholars

more versed in it than I, the movement was encapsulated in the 2004

film “Iron Jawed Angels.” I’ve always appreciated the way the

dynamic between Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt was portrayed.

Paul was a radical of her time, wanting to gain attention in the

streets for her right to vote as a woman and Chapman Catt was as

close to a Washington insider as a woman could get at the time.

Paul’s tactics drew the ire of the establishment that Chapman Catt

represented but the effort was not lost as an opportunity. While Paul

was arrested, imprisoned, force-fed and humiliated, Chapman Catt took

the cue to whisper in the ears of power brokers, effectively saying,

“wouldn’t you rather deal with us?”

Our strength as Native people is that

– historically, at least – we always had a place for everyone. It

may have been out of sheer necessity, continuing our way of life

through our progeny but we never cast anyone out unless they

committed the most grievous of acts against our own. That built up an

ethic among us to listen and respect one another.

Then, colonialism happened and we were

fragmented. As Winona LaDuke put it years ago, “We cannot struggle

against the oppressor, so we struggle against each other.” That is

a greatest weakness at present. We forget that everyone had a place

in our society and that everyone’s ideas were heard; when it came

time to act, perhaps not all ideas were implemented, but we knew the

actions we took as a people were for the greater good and accepted

it.

It’s one thing to declare these

principles, it’s another thing to live by them.

On Nov. 22, three Sisseton Wahpeton

Oyate citizens were killed by a fellow tribal citizen. Among the dead

are Candace LaBelle, Angela Adams and Vernon Renville. While the

investigation is ongoing, it’s difficult to see why such an act –

although not uncommon on reservations – continue to happen in this

day and age when we are reclaiming our traditional identities and

working hard to live by our principles.

When The Circle visited

Sisseton in September, Renville was a leading figure in the Two

Spirit community on the reservation. He was a sundancer, knew his

traditions and found a purpose in reintegrating the Two Spirit

identity into his tribal community. Tragic does no justice to the

loss that nation has suffered.

Then came the news from Ferguson,

Missouri on Nov. 24 that Mike Brown’s death was effectively justified

by the police officer who fired the shots. Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old

in Cleveland, Ohio was shot after brandishing a toy pistol on Nov.

22. Also, Eric Garner’s death was justified by a grand jury in Dec.

3. Of course, the legal realities are simply that the grand juries

found no cause to indict the officers responsible for the deaths of

Brown and Garner and Rice’s death is under investigation and a grand

jury will hear the case.

In all of this, whether a mascot being

perpetuated, the deaths of our own people by our own people or the

deaths of our black brothers and sisters, it’s hard to know where

justice resides. It seems that justice is a paradoxical game of

chicken in America. The black and brown citizens want our inherent

human and legal dignity respected like anyone else and when it’s not,

we get angry and rightly so. Those in power then get scared by our

anger, saying that if we want to be treated like human beings, we

should act like it, withholding justice from atop the power

structure. One wonders if this is the period of blinking or

collision.