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From the Editor's Desk: Do Our Lives Matter?
Friday, January 09 2015
 
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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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.


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