Political Matters
Native Issues in the Halls of Government
Friday, February 11 2011
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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'A plague of sexual violence' I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of my mother, Anna Waller Specktor, who journeyed on to the next world on Jan. 21. While my mom was in United Hospital last month, I happened to read the story titled "Tiny Little Laws," by Kathy Dobie, in the Feb. 2011 edition of Harper's Magazine. The subtitle of the story is "A plague of violence in Indian country." It’s a shocking report about rape and sexual molestation on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which covers an area the size of the state of Connecticut, mostly in South Dakota and stretching up into North Dakota.
Political Matters: Native Issues in the Halls of Government
Thursday, January 13 2011
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Betting on a racino
The Shinnecock Indian Nation happens to be located a stone’s throw from the mansions of the super rich in New York City. In the shadow of staggering wealth, the residents of the tiny reservation near Southampton, Long Island, subsist with a median annual household income of $14,055, according to the 2000 census. And many tribal members eye the lavish casinos in the region, such as the Foxwoods resort that’s owned by the Mashantucket Pequots.
The bid by the Shinnecock’s to cash in big with casino gambling was chronicled in a lengthy story, “Reservations,” by Ariel Levy, in the Dec. 13 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The author surveys the casino dreams of tribal leaders, and the objections of those who think that a mega-casino on the rez would be a disaster. In any case, the Shinnecocks became the 565th federally recognized tribe last fall, and a tribal casino in the Hamptons could be in the cards soon.
Death in the Sonoran Desert
Friday, October 15 2010
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In 1982, I traveled to a desert wash west of Tucson, Arizona, for the International Indian Treaty Conference, a forum sponsored by the American Indian Movement (AIM). The gathering was in the Gu Achi district of what was then known as the Papago reservation. The 28-million acre territory on the Mexican border is now known by the traditional name of its inhabitants, the Tohono O’odham.
In summer, the Sonoran Desert is a forbidding environment, where every living thing will prick you, sting you or bite you; and the 115-degree heat and merciless sun can induce sunstroke or kill you. I recall that the O’odham from Mexico – the “desert people” live on both side of the U.S.-Mexico border – complained about harassment by U.S. Border Patrol agents when they traveled to the reservation on the Arizona side. The O’odham on the U.S. side told me that their land was a prime drug smuggling route, with the dangerous trail for illicit cargo known as the “burro highway.”
The tribe’s official website now notes that the U.S. Border Patrol often “has detained and deported members of the Tohono O’odham Nation who were simply traveling through their own traditional lands, practicing migratory traditions essential to their religion, economy and culture…. Border officials are also reported to have confiscated cultural and religious items, such as feathers of common birds, pine leaves or sweet grass.”
The problems along the border have intensified, especially after passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, with hundreds of thousands of impoverished Mexican migrants coming north in search of jobs.
According to Walking the Line (2005), a compelling documentary film by Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest, more than 3,000 migrants died from dehydration during treacherous desert crossings over the previous decade.
Walking the Line, which focuses on crackpot vigilantes policing the border, also makes the point that federal border control schemes have had the effect of funneling migrants to the Tohono O’odham Nation’s 75-mile border with Mexico.
The controversy over illegal immigration has intensified with the passage of SB 1070 (Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act) in Arizona. The law, which goes into effect at the end of July, allows local police to question a person’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion” if a person is stopped for another criminal violation. The law has been decried as an invitation to racial profiling. Latinos, or anyone with brown skin, will be the likely targets of law enforcement authorities under the new law, contend opponents of SB 1070.
Many groups and governmental units across the country have signed on to a boycott of Arizona as a travel and tourism destination. Although somewhat conflicted, I flew to Phoenix in June for a Jewish newspaper conference where SB 1070 was a recurrent theme. A workshop panelist mentioned that he too had ethical qualms about traveling to the conference; he said that a friend in Arizona assured him: “It’s a dry hate.”
In fact, right-wing extremists have joined with mainstream politicians in supporting SB 1070, which is part of a fear-inducing campaign that scapegoats undocumented Mexican immigrants for all manner of crime in Phoenix. State Sen. Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, is an associate of J.T. Ready, a high-profile neo-Nazi active in anti-immigrant activities, according to Bill Straus, Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In response to my question about a TV new report in mid-June about two men in camouflage garb shooting high-powered rifles at migrants near the border at Rio Rico, and wounding one man, Straus mentioned that a Republican congressional candidate in New Mexico proposed planting landmines along the border. And, he added, an Arizona radio talk show host suggested setting up a tower one night a week and allowing guests on a TV reality show to take pot shots at Mexicans trying to enter the U.S.; the show would be called “Immigration Roulette.”
The Tohono O’odham went on the record in May as opposing SB 1070. “This law creates a hostile atmosphere for minority groups who will have to carry identification at all times just to prove their right to be here,” said Ned Norris Jr., the tribal chairman.
The economic disparities between the U.S. and Mexico guarantee that more desperate Mexicans will undertake the dangerous trek across the Sonoran Desert. Regardless of our political views, we should show some compassion for the poor souls who come to this country in search of opportunity, often only to be victimized or die a terrible death under the desert sun.
Dakota Activist Goes On Trial
Thursday, October 14 2010
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As I wrote last December, Scott DeMuth, a young Dakota activist from Minneapolis, has been charged with conspiracy to commit “animal enterprise terrorism.” I have talked with some of my lawyer friends who have no knowledge of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). In fact, AETA was passed with little fanfare in 2006, at the behest of “animal industry groups, corporations, and the politicians that represent them,” according to journalist Will Potter.
Potter has written extensively on the “Green Scare” (, the effort by federal authorities to paint environmental and animal rights activists as among the most dangerous of criminals. DeMuth, according to an affidavit by an FBI agent and superseding indictments, is alleged to have been involved in a 2004 raid on an animal research laboratory at the University of Iowa, in which rats and mice were taken and equipment was damaged, and in another animal liberation raid at Lakeside Ferrets, Inc. in Minnesota.
DeMuth’s trial is set to begin Sept. 13, in Davenport, Iowa, federal court. Apparently some of the government’s evidence against him, such as it is, was seized during a SWAT team raid on a house in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis on the weekend before the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC). Over the past two years, I have become well informed about the legal aftermath of the RNC, as my son, Max, 21, is one of the RNC 8 defendants. Max and his codefendants are charged with conspiracy to riot and to damage property, two felony counts; the RNC 8 trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 25 in Ramsey County court – it is a state-level prosecution.
Although the cases of the RNC 8 and Scott DeMuth are in state and federal court, respectively, and involve separate sets of facts, they are linked by the regime of political repression that preceded the 2008 RNC. The RNC Welcoming Committee, the anarchist group that organized protests against the Republicans, was infiltrated by an undercover deputy and informants from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, and by an FBI informant.
On the morning of Aug. 30, 2008, heavily armed SWAT teams raided three homes in South Minneapolis; the previous night, the Convergence Center, a meeting space for protesters near the High Bridge in St. Paul, also was raided. Max missed the raid at his house on Harriet Avenue and 35th Street; but the house was under surveillance by Minneapolis cops and FBI agents. On the morning of Sept. 1, before the RNC began in St. Paul, Max was arrested while riding in a van, in a targeted traffic spot about two blocks from his house.
The government’s current efforts to crack down on anarchists, environmentalists and animal rights activists represent a continuation of historical waves of government repression going back to the Red Scare of the early 20th century and COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to disrupt anti-Vietnam War student groups, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, etc. And in the post-9/11 era, everything has been conflated with “terrorism.”
The original charge against the RNC 8 was “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism” – the first time charges were brought under Minnesota’s version of the USA PATRIOT Act. The charges with “terrorism” enhancements, which could add 50 percent to the length of a sentence, were dropped in April 2009.
The politically motivated prosecution of the RNC 8 will likely cause Minnesota taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the upcoming trial is expected to last for two months. The RNC 8 Defense Committee has raised more than $100,000, most of which is going to pay the defendants’ lawyers.
The coming months will provide an opportunity for those who want to oppose the criminalization of dissent to support Scott DeMuth ( and the RNC 8 (
Alberta tar sands forum
A variety of local environmental groups, including the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), will sponsor a forum, “Alberta Tar Sands: Minnesota’s Dirty Oil Secret,” 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 at O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. A reception with sponsor information tables will take place from 6:30 to 7 p.m.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation and IEN, will speak. He will be joined by Simon Dyer, of the Pembina Institute in Calgary; and Michael Noble of the local group Fresh Energy.
The environmental activists will discuss how the massive oil-from-tar sands project has destroyed thousands of acres of boreal forests and endangered community health in Alberta, Minnesota’s role in tar sands oil, and ways to reduce our need for oil.
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