Spring, History, and Reparation

In The PinkThe leaves are out and the lilacs are in bloom. This morning the squirrels have joined the birds in mating. This make for some entertaining moments at the feeders a everyone seems engaged in some playful, or occasionally confrontational, mating behavior. Spring is truly here!

This being an election year, we humans are engaged in some enigmatic behaviors of our own.  Down in Massachusetts the  election contest for the Senate, apparently lacking any real issues to address, appears focused on whether Elizabeth Warren meets criteria as a Native American. Nationally, Indian identity is a hot topic in Native and Neocolonial circles alike. Short Stories For Children entered the fray by writing sensibly about her experience as a Mixed Blood:

I can break treaties with myself all the time.

You see, I’m one of many Oklahomans — probably like Elizabeth Warren — who grew up hearing stories of my family’s mixed heritage. my grandfather talked about his Native American roots, and my mother’s lineage stretches back to Francis Scott Key. yes, that Francis Scott Key.

This is playful, direct, subversive writing at it’s best. Of course the truth is that the vast majority of folks who identify as Indians are of mixed blood. People of different ethnicities come into contact and some of them fall in love and create children. There are also, seemly inevitably, contact and greed driven experiences of rape and prostitution. Oh, and let’s not forget women, whose preferred partner pool has been greatly reduced due to war, look elsewhere for mates. Colonialism, in all of it’s forms including slavery, breeds the Mixed Blood experience.

Unfortunately, the complexities of history are usually completely outside the parameters of any discussion of First Nations identity in North America. In order for these confounding facts to be incorporated into our understanding of Native experience they must be allowed into the mainstream historical record. (The Canadians have begun this process by openly discussing the Residential Schools.) Then we must speak together about them.

Bringing First Nations experience and history into the larger societal conversation about priorities and meanings would surely complicate matters enormously.   The City explored this theme in a discussion of the First Nations response to the despoiling of yet another sacred site, in this case a known Indian burial ground in the Vancouver, B.C. area:

The Musqueam band marched and rallied on Thursday, May 3rd to protest the continued development on ancient burial grounds in Marpole (1338 SW Marine Drive), where Musqueam ancestors are buried. Recently, intact 4,000-year old infant remains were discovered on the site, which prompted the band to renew efforts to stop development on the site and further desecration. The developer has indicated that construction on the site will continue, despite the Musqueam’s call for work to cease.

The work may well not cease, as that would presumably mean a loss of potential income. One wonders whether the project would have gone forward at all had the cemetery been occupied by Europeans. Of course, there is really no platform on which we might have that discussion. It is as though Indians, whether full or mixed blood, still lack standing as human beings.

Intercontinental Cry noted, a few weeks ago, that Chevron had stated this clearly in court:

On February 15th of this year, Doak Bishop, a lawyer representing the American oil giant Chevron, claimed that all 30,000 people affected by Chevron’s 16 billion gallons of oil pollution in Ecuador are and have always been “irrelevant”.

Now that the United States has agreed, at least administratively, to abide by the United Nations Charter on Indigenous People, all this harmful behavior has fallen under international scrutiny. NPR interviewed S. James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, who is currently investigating the plight of Native peoples in the U.S.:

ANAYA: The basic finding is that there needs to still be some reconciliation between indigenous peoples and the United States government. Indigenous peoples suffer a range of social ills, high rates of poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, low educational attainment. And these are a product of what’s been referred to as intergenerational trauma spanning decades, really centuries, since the founding of the country and before.

So the historical oppression that indigenous peoples have suffered, the taking of their lands, the undermining of their cultures, the taking of their children to boarding schools in order to wean them away from indigenous culture, these have had profound effects on indigenous peoples. There’s yet to be a real reckoning of that history and reconciliation.

Of course, as the Colorado Legislature recently discovered, there is enormous pressure to avoid just such a coming to terms with history. Yet we know healing requires us to confront and set right histories of abuse and oppression. Without a thorough review of the historical record, and a full coming to terms on all sides, the wounds of history fester. This is true for families, communities, and entire nations.Those of us who work in Human Services are reminded of this truth daily.

Let us remember that Spring always returns, and reminds us that healing is there for the choosing. The Creator invites us to remember and repair. Let it be so.

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