July 4, 2017 will be known as one commemorated by a widely divided American citizenry. For U.S. President Donald J. Trump, it will be his first since being elected, but also highlights a time to reflect on his Administration’s effective dismantlement of America’s preeminent role as a world leader. Closely following that global political abdication is the declining state of American Indian affairs involving both tribal governments and Native individuals alike. Are these indeed dire times to be living through as some say or is there a silver lining foretelling a wider international “peace in our own time”?
Across the globe, people are chattering, saying that America had left the world leadership stage empty when it settled on a narrow-sighted bigot who prefers loud talk over action. The expensive role as the world’s police department that the United States assumed in the 20th century has been defunded in 2017 as a result of neo-isolationism preferred by the myopic businessman turned reality television star. He has lived up to his campaign promise to surround himself with American military generals including one as Secretary of Homeland Security and a retired Navy Seal Team Commander as Secretary of the Interior to boot.
Trump’s recent public statement that he “loves” Indian country brings the message home all that much faster. While I may say that I also love Indian country, or at least the Indian Country Media Network, I abhor the legal notion of Indian country as representing the federal trust land status where many reservations are located. Like those affected Native people were given something as opposed to the distinction of people who had their actual homes taken from them under the threat of death.
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To many Americans, Independence Day represents freedom, with a healthy heaping of democracy dashed in for more good-feeling measure. But this national holiday does not speak to the weight of the displaced Native populations that gave the ground that today’s barbecues are held on in the face of their death in historical times. As my World War II veteran father would remind me, ignorance is bliss. Such thinking applies here annually. The happiest Americans truly do not give any concern as to how they found themselves in such a fortuitous position in the pecking order of life. But another old saying says all good things must come to an end.
Behind all of the headlines and bloodletting going on in cable news television talk shows these days are the American citizens and tribal members who are the most affected by the actions at the top of the political food chain. Any reductions in the budget of the Indian Health Services are too much; that budget was not high enough as it was, under the federal trusteeship arrangement. Poor Indians who did not even vote in the American 2016 Presidential election pay the price for a world they did not ask for now crumbling around them.
Liberty is another word that is thrown into this holiday vocabulary. It should never be forgotten that when the American colonists sought to make a political statement to the English ruler King George III, the Sons of Liberty attired themselves as Mohawk Indians before undertaking the seminal Boston Tea Party anti-tax protest in commandeering three vessels to dispose of their imported tea stores. The act that drove the American Revolution ahead was deliberately done by people who wished to portray themselves as the First Americans who lived freely in their own country.
This column is not intended to bemoan the loss of that free status as much as it is to implicate the modern consequences of such actions.
I watch the popular television program “Fear the Walking Dead,” and in a recent show, a mysterious character named Qaletqa Walker appeared, played by the talented veteran Native actor Michael Greyeyes. Walker makes the demand of a group of survivalists to vacate the land they are living on near the Mexican border, after shooting down the survivalist’s military helicopter. Some media reviews of the new episode were puzzled by the use of a Native land defenders plotline, apparently considering such a position as unlikely, even in the absence of a federal government amidst the background carnage.
So to me, a mentality appears to exist in the mainstream culture that anyone thinking to oppose the federal government is out of their minds in the present day, even when they have little to lose for their efforts. Scruffy, disguised tax protesters do well when called Founding Fathers, but the once-accepted First Americans are inconvenient when their cycle of poverty is publicized even theatrically. If there is a greater double standard within the conscience of the American psyche, it escapes me now.
The decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to step away from the trademark issues involving the NFL Washington, D.C. franchise sends an updated pulse out to the rest of the world that in America today, profitable slurs will go unchallenged and the public equity role vacated. Even as a longtime NFL fan, I find less and less reason to celebrate “America’s Game” because it is truly in the blood money business.
I share a record of U.S. military service along with that of my Opinion Editor, the grizzled Mohawk Marine Raymond Cook. My U.S. Army experience was punctuated by the cadence we sang as we ran down dark highways in unit formation, proudly yelling how we were keeping the peace by force, a familiar refrain from the 1980s. So neither of us have been taught to allow for others to do for ourselves, what we are capable of doing alone.
Yet, the very distance that President Trump is counting on in his advocacy of an America First agenda that may be filled internationally by the power of another country or countries. While the New York-based United Nations may not yet carry the true weight of the rest of the world combined, the will to oppose American hegemony through constant warfare is both present and increasing. For there is no doubt that the vaunted plight of Native North American Indians serves as among the highest examples of media poverty porn to be displayed against the United States government.
The revelations of the concerted effort against individual and confederated Native activists and their supporters in combative areas including the Standing Rock water defenders shows the psychology being employed to retain the status quo. The domestic threat risk elevation of traditional thinking Native people to possible jihadi mindset status is a testament that the battle lines have already been set with no higher threat possible.
Although the American democracy’s birthday will be celebrated guilt-free on July 4, it will be done by citizens of a republic founded on the backs of slaves working on usurped Native lands. The burden sharing that President Trump often speaks about should start first and be practiced at home before it ever is imposed upon the other nations of the world. The reverberation of such hypocrisy may eventually blowback upon the sole remaining world’s superpower, in a leveling way to bring it back down to size. North American Indians have kept the fire lit through our existence to show the world that anything is possible, despite overwhelming odds, and against seemingly undefeatable opposition. That survival is something which I will truly celebrate personally, each and every day.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.