Category Archives: Original Peoples

Reporter’s Alert: Part VI

Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly hard to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.

We started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here is the sixth installment of suggestions:

1. More states are recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, giving rise to the need for a broad report on all the treaties tribal nations signed with the U.S. government that are still intact and that are still violated by the U.S. government. Recall for example, on Thursday July 9, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court had occasion to recognize the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s rights to the land in much of Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma as being part of their reservation. (See, https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-9526_9okb.pdf). There will be fascinating revelations from a report on this topic.

2. Numerous people have been asking me “What’s happened to all those lawsuits against Trump?” Trump has escaped the grips of the law for years, most recently the stalled civil justice (tort law) suits by several women claiming sexual assaults, by prosecutors in New York, Washington, D.C., and Georgia. Trump has even managed to escape, so far, depositions under oath, including one that Robert Mueller should have demanded. This is so remarkable that there should be a seminar at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown Law Schools about how Trump has escaped, with all the ways his lawyers have shielded this serial outlaw from federal, state, and local laws.

To make his escapes more current, since Trump is a clear-cut violator of criminal statutes, including the Hatch Act and the Anti-Deficiency statute, obstruction of justice, again and again, brazenly and openly, one might expect the Justice Department should be readying some law enforcement. See letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland recounting the DOJ’s avoidance of its duties vis-à-vis Trump’s sexual violations, thus demonstrating that Donald J. Trump is indeed repeatedly ABOVE THE LAW. Also remarkable is that this topic has to be suggested to the Fourth Estate as a major, comprehensive inquiry.

3. State legislatures and governors in many states are using “pandemic” pretexts to eliminate rights and democratic procedures. In California, which has one of the more liberal legislatures, lawmakers are taking bills to the floor discarding past rules providing every bill have committee staff analysis and a legislative hearing with questions from legislators, and testimony from citizens. Assembly Bill 2167 is one such example, favoring the insurance industry. Imagine what more conservative state legislatures are doing. Also, the California State Assembly voted to allow votes on bills without members being present in the chamber, despite an opinion from the state’s legislative counsel that it likely violates the state Constitution.

Governors, citing the pandemic, have issued dubious executive orders that let vendors in healthcare avoid the tort laws for their negligent (or worse) injuries to innocent persons. For reporters, the quest is to find out how widespread these strictures have become and how permanent.

4. Sports injuries are more prevalent than ever before. Despite, more advanced knowledge, training, and self-care by athletes, professional teams are experiencing so many recurrent injuries that some sports announcers have started a regular “Injury Report” on sports radio. In baseball, injuries have become epidemic, when in the 1950s and 1960s they were quite rare. It is not a candidly discussed subject among the sports media and fans receive few if any explanations. The injury epidemic is so pronounced that the Yankees baseball radio announcer has started a daily Injury Report brought to you by an orthopedic practice ad in New York.

Some reasons suggested are (1) the players are bigger, and (2) the play is more strenuous. In baseball, pitchers’ arms start getting strained in their teenage years, given the dreams about throwing 100 miles per hour fastballs in the major leagues. These days after every pitch announcers note what the mph was. Tommy John operations are numerous every year. With the ever-greater emphasis on home runs, players are becoming muscle-bound with added risks of straining a ligament. Certainly today, baseball professionals have better equipment – helmets, gloves, safer shoes, and they are protected by padded walls in the outfield. These advances prevent injuries, yet today’s players are placed on the injury list far more than those in the past. What with the many years of covering up concussions in football etc., it seems important to look into this broad area. (See, leagueoffans.org). Sports reporters take note!

5. What’s happened to NASA? It has increasingly become an agency that outsources or contracts out, losing the technical and scientific capacity to better pay offers by the contractors. The brain drain is rampant: nearly 80% of NASA’s budget is contracted out. The Old NASA did far more things itself and kept its intellectual property close to the vest. NASA is now a shadow of itself, a trademark on press releases; so much so that it is losing control over policy and other matters to the contractors. A reporter should get copies of these contracts and see the extent of the multiple giveaways, corporate welfare, and undue influence taking the search all the way to congressional committees.

P.S. Next week from October 22-23, 2021, corporate crime specialists from around the world will attend the symposium at Georgetown Law Center titled, Imagining a World Without Corporate Criminal Law (Register for the event here).

The post Reporter’s Alert: Part VI first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Free Indigenous Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier

In this special Indigenous Peoples’ Day episode of Rattling the Bars, TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with author and activist Ward Churchill about the wrongful imprisonment and deteriorating health of Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier. A member of the American Indian Movement who was sent to prison in 1977 after a dubious trial sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, Peltier’s continued imprisonment remains a stain on our “criminal justice” system.

The post Free Indigenous Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Taking the Long Way Home

Finding one’s identity and purpose can be mystifying, especially for the the poor and displaced. Tom LaBlanc, aka Strong Buffalo didn’t know he was Indigenous until he sneaked a peek at a document on his social worker’s desk when he was 15.

Until then, the only clue about his identity came from the grandmother of two brothers he’d met at a Catholic boys home in south Minneapolis. He remembers vividly sitting on her lap while “she patted my head like a dog” and listening to her Ojibwa words as her daughter translated them into English — “this little boy is Indian… look at his eyes… he looks like lost deer that come out of woods. You boys take care of him — he’s your brother — we take care of lost children. That’s his name — Little Lost Deer.”

Even though LaBlanc’s unmarried mother was a Dakota Sioux from the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, he knew nothing about Native Americans. All he knew, was that the wrinkled, white-haired woman wearing a beaded headband and a buckskin dress with a brain-tanned scent looked beautiful and made him feel like he was part of a family. And that to him, felt powerfully good.

His father was presumed to be Japanese-American and LaBlanc was taken from his mother who was sterilized without her knowledge four days after his birth in Minneapolis. After that he was handed off to the Catholic Welfare Association in Hennepin County where he bounced back and forth between foster care facilities throughout south and north Minneapolis for 13 years. His earliest memories are being tied to a chair when he was three and beaten and called derogatory names by a WWII Veteran who didn’t like the way he looked. He remembers his surrogate mother wearing a bra and panties and drinking beer in the living room. LaBlanc said the vet screamed “I fought your kind in the war” and “Why do I have to take care of you?” at him.

Offensive comments about his appearance continued to dog him, and he recalled a teenager repeatedly teasing him about being a “fish-head” or a “chink” until an Ojibwa foster brother told him those words were bad. Not understanding all the implications of ethnic slurs, the 10 year old LaBlanc sat in his chair seething until school was out and then chased down the teenager and fought him until he ran away. Not content to win the fight, he followed the kid home and ended up getting swatted in the backyard with a straw broom by the boy’s mother who told him he was a “damn savage.”

By redirecting this drive and determination he became a Minneapolis (North Side) City Champion in Junior Golden Gloves for two years. He said his boxing coach told him he had “the killer-instinct like Rocky Marciano”

There was little applause outside the ring. He got into trouble frequently, received poor grades and was already playing with cigarettes and alcohol. He also lost his part-time job climbing up drainpipes or trees to crawl through 2nd and 3rd story windows and open back doors for a North Side burglary ring. A visit from detectives who he said, “were looking for a little brown monkey” involved in area break-ins put the kibosh on a racket that paid about five-dollars a caper.

He’d had it with adoption interviews, too, after noticing white orphans were getting farmed-out to foster homes and he wasn’t. It got to the point where he became reluctant to show up for interviews because those who were looking to adopt were almost invariably white and wanted white kids. Sometimes he wouldn’t hold back his contempt for what he considered to be a charade and would snarl or growl at potential foster parents.

It wasn’t long before there was talk about sending LaBlanc, who had been through 105 social placements, to a state correctional facility in Minnesota until he was 21. Not wanting to spend the next 8 years in jail, he was given the option of going to a Catholic boarding school in Nebraska called Boys Town. About a week later he was put on a Greyhound bus to Omaha with a note pinned on him that said “To Whom it May Concern.”

The new school soon found a spot for him on their football team which gave him a chance to take buses and planes to cities around the country. During the summers he’d travel back to south Minneapolis to an ongoing seasonal romance with the widow of a friend who he thought of as a brother. Their relationship with plans to marry ended abruptly a few months before he was supposed to graduate prompting the bewildered and enraged star football player to run away from Boys Town, steal a car and break into a family’s house and eat some food.

He was caught later in suburban Minneapolis, but was able to escape extradition back to Nebraska when then Attorney General Walter Mondale intervened on his behalf. After that, he skipped town with a girlfriend and rented a dumpy apartment in Chicago where he fathered a child who died shortly after birth from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This brought about an inquest and spurious accusations from policemen who thought the couple murdered their baby.

The sorrow of living in a place where the baby died became too much. He began drinking heavily, wandered off and took a job on a Kansas ranch for a year or so where he learned how to ride horses. His Boss, who LaBlanc said liked him, fired him though after he got into a mean fight with another Indigenous person from an Oklahoma prison.

If you don’t remember your heritage, you don’t know where you came from — consequently, you don’t know where you’re going.”
— Jim Northrup, Anisihinaabe poet, author, and story teller

Military

Back in Minneapolis and not believing there was much to live for, he joined the Marines. He had hoped to be an infantryman, but the Marines had other ideas when he scored high on a technical ability test. Making matters worse, was his new girlfriend’s naval captain father who hated his guts. “Her dad made me stand at attention for maybe 45 minutes while he yelled racist things in my ears,” said LaBlanc

Thinking the captain would find more ways to punish him, he went AWOL and walked or hitchhiked through Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas until he was picked up by the highway patrol and sent to the brig in San Diego. He said he was released a few days later by a lieutenant who remembered his athletic abilities from Boys Town on the condition that he play football for the Marines. He started boxing again too.

Leadership skills emerged after he joined a tough, advanced-infantry outfit. At the request of his superior and after winning the the respect of troops for his fighting skills, he helped train them. He was “Marine of the Month” before going to Vietnam.

The first of his 7 military operations was in the Vietnam Central Highlands in 1968 where he first saw fellow Marines ripped apart by bullets. That scenario along with adrenaline rushes and feeling his leg shake uncontrollably during a firefight changed his mind about not caring if he lived or died.

Excellent eyesight along with his ability to analyze predicaments didn’t go unnoticed by higher-ups who started including him in briefings and he was put on point by the battalion commander. He saw a lot of action and used crumpled napkins and pastry plates at our coffee shop table as visual aids to show me combat strategies he’d devised. He also wrote about 250 poems when he was in the service that he left on a bus.

His views on the war’s legitimacy started to change after he caught a glimpse of an enemy who looked remarkably like him plus, he was beginning to feel sorry for unarmed and starving Vietnamese he saw creep out of the jungle at night to get food. He began to talk out loud against the war and became more disgusted with his deployment after he was assigned to guard a Coca-Cola plant and a Mobile Oil refinery near the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Plans for his promotion and awards including medals were canceled he said after word of his open dissent got back to headquarters. He left Vietnam disillusioned along with thousands of dollars that he’d saved from monthly checks and some clandestine side-deals.

Agent Orange, White and Blue

While the enemy was digging caves
to hide underground from the chemical war
to force out the guerrilla
the smart men of war
forgot or intentionally allowed
their own sons to stand naked above
breathing the agent Bother’s stench,
I am, now, the son of Dioxin
and you shall see me groping out
of hidden underground caves
looking for you!

— Tom LaBlanc

Activism and Artistic Pursuits

When he got off the bus in Minneapolis it was 1970 and he was still in uniform when an Indigenous woman near the Leamington Hotel downtown said, “Hey Jarhead, are you an Indian? — you should be in here.” A few minutes later he was inside a bar listening to the principle founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and others making plans to interrupt a huge meeting organized by the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) at the hotel.

Which they did by walking on stage en masse and taking away microphones from other speakers to tell the audience things they felt they should know There was some applause at the end of their talk with the NIEA finally agreeing to give AIM speakers a platform at the conference. LaBlanc would later become the Minneapolis, AIM Executive Director for two years.

Meanwhile, he was getting to know his relatives after meeting some of them for the first time in a notorious dive-bar that used to be called Mousey’s. Soon he was playing basketball with his many relations and started feeling proud to be an Indian. He was also partying hard between advocating for Indian rights, Sun Dancing and visits to his mother’s reservation to learn about tribal traditions. In south Minneapolis he’d become an outspoken luminary to Native Americans and a perceived trouble-maker to local law enforcement. The Dick Bancroft photograph in this article became a familiar poster in south Minneapolis and other parts of the world.

Eventually he would be worked-over by the police during encounters and mentioned that a policeman in south Minneapolis once told him: “You’re not going to look so pretty when we get done with you” and was beaten unconscious by 3 or 4 cops. He spent some nights in jail too and served 18 months in a South Dakota prison in Sioux Falls after he was implicated in a huge fight outside a bar. The prosecution had asked for 325 years contending that LaBlanc and others were guilty of a long list of crimes including attempted murder. Indigenous peoples who were incarcerated with him appreciated reading the stories he was writing that portrayed Indigenous peoples as comic book super-heroes (which guards failed to censor) and his dedication to Indian solidarity. He said he was given a rabbit skin hat with eagle feathers when he was released in 1976.

”The Warriors” — photo by Dick Bancroft in July 1978 at the Longest Walk in DC. Standing in front of the FBI building, left to right: Stacy LaBlanc, John Blue Bird, Tom LaBlanc

Two years later he joined several hundred other Indigenous people in a five month march from San Francisco to Washington DC called the Longest Walk to draw attention to the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. Members of the group eventually occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and raised enough awareness to put a stop to proposed legislation that would have further violated Indian treaty rights.

After giving up bourbon he started writing more and involved himself further with First Nation and environmental causes that put him on a path that zig-zagged around the world.

In 1983 we organized the first U.S. veteran’s delegation to revolutionary Nicaragua which was besieged by the CIA’s Contra terrorists. The CIA was also pushing Indigenous groups on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast to fight against the Sandinista government, and there had already been several deadly clashes. Tony Gonzales and Tom LaBlanc both associated with AIM, were invited to join peacemaking talks between Miskito Indians and the Sandinistas. Their participation was reported to be very helpful. I remember Tom being strong, centered, peaceful and friendly.
— Gerry Condon, activist and former national president of Veterans For Peace

His book Dakota which was published in Norwegian provided an additional incentive for him to revisit Norway over a dozen times for peace conferences, poetry readings and to establish the One People Trust Foundation. He also flew to Japan numerous times to participate in spoken word events and raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear power by running marathons between nuclear reactor sites where he stopped to pray with Buddhist monks. And he has a hilarious story about riding side-saddle on a horse when he went to Libya with Black Panthers and Brown Berets to meet with Muammar Gaddafi after Gaddafi’s daughter was killed during a U.S airstrike.

Interrelated interests with art and social justice led him to accept humanitarian invitations and participate in poetry readings across the U.S. as well. He chuckled about crossing paths unexpectedly with AIM friend Russell Means, at a poetry recital in Davis, California, who he said yelled from the other side of the room, “Hey Tom, I didn’t know you could write.” He retorted, “Hey Russ, I didn’t know you could read.”

And he could be hard to track sometimes. One never knew if his stint with a San Francisco social service outfit would last five years, how long he’d work with the International Indian Treaty Council, remain Executive Director of the Indigenous Uranium Forum or if he’d impulsively leave Minneapolis for two years to work with a band in New Orleans. Among other notable missions, he went to Los Angeles in the early 80’s to help stop the production of the adult video game “Custer’s Revenge” that used an image of an Indigenous woman as a rape target.

In the Twin Cities, he remains involved with AIM and a number of other organizations that focus on Indigenous issues and art projects including Oyate Hotanin which are Dakota words for the Voice of the People. He was part of a committee that persuaded the city of St. Paul last Summer to recognize Indian Mounds Park as a burial ground and is a regular emcee/promoter for the monthly Buffalo Show at Bryant Lake Bowl in south Minneapolis.

Singer-songwriter and community organizer Larry Long remembered writing a song with LaBlanc and letting him stay at his house in south Minneapolis before ever meeting him. He believes LaBlanc “is hitting his stride.”

Now 75, LaBlanc continues writing, performing and occasionally releases a CD or chapbook while remaining seriously committed to Indian traditional ways and his children and wife Laura.

As long as I have known Tom, I have known his first love is for his children. He prays for each of them and their children every day, he prays for their health and happiness. He prays for all of us.
— Laura LaBlanc

At the end of the interview, this father of 10 and grandfather and great grandfather of over 60, recollected watching his two-year old grandson Warrior Tommy LaBlanc dance at a pow wow last August. Judging from the beatific expression on his face — this too, must have felt powerfully good.

The post Taking the Long Way Home first appeared on Dissident Voice.

First Peoples: The First and Forgotten Slaves on Turtle Island

Modern perceptions of early modern slavery associate the institution almost solely with Africans and their descendants. Yet slavery was a ubiquitous institution in the early modern world…The story of European colonialism in the Americas and its victimization of Africans and Indians follows a central paradigm in most textbooks. The African “role” encompasses the transportation, exploitation, and suffering of many millions in New World slavery, while Indians are described in terms of their succumbing in large numbers to disease, with the survivor’s facing dispossession of their land. This paradigm—a basic one in the history of colonialism—omits a crucial aspect of the story: the indigenous peoples of the Americas were enslaved in large numbers. This exclusion distorts not only what happened to American Indians under colonialism, but also points to the need for a reassessment of the foundation and nature of European overseas expansion.

— The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Commission majority voted for key recommendations, including the following: The United States expects all nations to live up to their treaty obligations; it should live up to its own…We exchanged 400 million plus acres of land, and our way of life, and our very lives, for peace, and for the provisions that are provided for in the treaties, and a basic human dignity of having basic services for American Indian and Alaska Native people.

— Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans: US Commission on Civil Rights, 2018

*****

No Context Required

A nineteenth century engraving depicting a battle from the Pequot War via Wikimedia Commons

As a full-time substitute teacher in a school system on the Eastern US seaboard, I am assigned to cover for state-certified teachers who are absent from duty. I’ve had many assignments over the past couple of years including working with special education/students with disabilities, and monitoring Spanish, Math, Art, and US History classes. It was the content, or lack thereof, of the US History class that was the impetus for this article.

Students in the US History class were learning about the various Indigenous tribes located across the United States. The assignments included determining former tribal locations on a blank map of the United States using crayons, and writing a postcard about the hunting, foraging and tools/technologies of assorted tribes such as the Lakota of the Great Plains, the Haudenosaunee of the Northeast Forests, and the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw of the Pacific Northwest.

Some of the 6th and 7th grade students found the assignments boring with one saying, “What’s the point of writing a postcard.” Most liked using coloring pencils to note the locations of the tribes on the map (who doesn’t like coloring?). As far as I could tell, the lesson plans presented by the certified teachers depict the Indigenous peoples as living bucolic lives and being “one” with nature. Lessons exclude study of tribal wars over fur and Bison and, at this point in the US History class, no mention of the horrors inflicted on them by European settlers has taken place, or why that course of events happened at all. I spent a few minutes talking to the students about the Trail of Tears. They listened to my short talk with indifference. They all knew what Black Lives Matter is/stands for but were unaware of the Indigenous peoples plight other than the few tidbits they may have been told by their parents and me.

During one of the US History classes I was covering, a visiting teacher arrived and discussed, among other matters, some of the natural resources available to Indigenous peoples. He told the students that the salmon run in the Pacific Northwest was “so thick you can reach your hand in the water and grab a salmon or even walk across the river on the backs of the salmon.” I mentioned to him that the Lower Snake River Dams (Snake River is a tributary of the Columbia River) have pushed the salmon population to near extinction and with it the Salmon people’s way of life.  According to America’s Most Endangered Rivers, “The dams on the lower Snake River are an ongoing source of injustice and the loss of salmon is violating Native American rights ensured by treaty with the U.S. government. The dams and reservoirs submerged or impacted between 600 and 700 important tribal cultural sites along the lower Snake and its tributaries, thousands of acres of treaty-based hunting and gathering places, and countless graves of loved ones and sacred and ceremonial places.”

In the midst of social justice efforts such as Black Lives Matter, the Transgender Movement and even the revisionist 1619 Project, among many others, it seems that American citizens in-and-out of those movements have selective amnesia when it comes to remembering the destruction of the First Peoples by their own United States government; and, prior to that genocide, the British Colonists brutalization and enslavement of Native Americans. Why the great forgetting of Indigenous history by the American people at this late date: 2021?

Human Capital for the Taking

It is hard to know where to begin this tale of woe. It is clear that from the start Indigenous peoples were fated to be steamrolled first by British colonists and then by the US Government and the economic interests that destroyed their homelands and enslaved them. The First Peoples were viewed as intellectually and culturally inferior by British colonists and by the empire builders of the early United States and, moreover, were simply in the way of “progress”.

According to The Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History,

the Colonists participated in Indian slave trading to obtain capital. It was as if capital could be created out of thin air: one merely had to capture an Indian or find an Indian to capture another. In South Carolina, and to a lesser extent in North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana, Indian slavery was a central means by which early colonists funded economic expansion. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a frenzy of enslaving occurred in what is now the eastern United States. English and allied Indian raiders nearly depopulated Florida of its American Indian population. From 1670 to 1720 more Indians were shipped out of Charleston, South Carolina, than Africans were imported as slaves—and Charleston was a major port for bringing in Africans. The populous Choctaws in Mississippi were repeatedly battered by raiders, and many of their neighboring lower Mississippi Valley Indians also wound up spending their lives as slaves on West Indies plantations. Simultaneously, the New England colonies near eliminated the Native population from southern New England through warfare, slaving, and forced removal.

Hope?

The Biden Administration promised to increase federal funding for Indigenous peoples and followed through in March 2021 via the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden. It provides $1.75 billion in funding for “Indian Country” infrastructure, social services, health care and public safety. The US Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs will funnel the dollars to tribal interests.

Reuters reported that

Federal officials will meet with Native American tribes next month to gather recommendations as the federal government seeks to move ahead with efforts to protect and restore tribal homelands…Tribal leaders will be asked for advice on several topics, including the process to take land back into trust, leasing and treaty rights, among other issues under the Biden administration’s initiative to streamline steps allowing tribes to regain their land.

The two sides plan to meet in mid-October.

That’s good news but the redress efforts of the Biden Administration are tempered by the knowledge of events like the Bear River Massacre. According to the Washington Post:

The Bear River Massacre of 1863 near what’s now Preston, Idaho, left roughly 350 members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation dead, making it the bloodiest — and most deadly — slaying of Native Americans by the U.S. military, according to historians and tribal leaders. The Indians were slain after soldiers came into a valley where they were camping for the winter and attacked, leaving roughly 90 women and children among the dead.

Martin Luther King’s comments (below) on Indigenous peoples should be mandatory reading for students and adults from sea-to-shining-sea. It is a stinging assault on the United States’ character and bitter medicine to swallow, but it’s part of American history and should not be relegated to the dust bin.

Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.

— From MLK’s book Why We Can’t Wait, 1963

The post First Peoples: The First and Forgotten Slaves on Turtle Island first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Wet’suwet’en Occupy CGL Drill Site and Call for Support on the Ground and Action in Solidarity!

Support on the ground needed!
Full Press release from Gidim’ten Checkpoint:

The access road to Coastal GasLink’s drill site at the Wedzin Kwa river was destroyed. Blockades have been set up and sites have been occupied to stop the drilling under the sacred headwaters that nourish the Wet’suwet’en Yintah and all those within its catchment area. Cas Yikh and supporters have gained control of the area and refuse to allow this destruction to continue.

Days ago CGL destroyed our ancient village site, Ts’elkay Kwe. When Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ attempted to monitor the CGL archaeological team and contest the destruction of Wet’suwet’en cultural heritage she was aggressively intimdated by CGL security guards. Tensions have continued to rise on the Yintah as CGL pushes a reckless and destructive construction schedule with the support of private security and the RCMP.

Now, CGL is ready to begin drilling beneath our sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa. We know that this would be disastrous, not only for Wet’suwet’en people, but for all living beings supported by the Wedzin Kwa, and for the communities living downstream. Wedzin Kwa is a spawning ground for salmon and a critical source of pristine drinking water.

“our way of life is at risk. Wedzin Kwa is the river that feeds all of Wet’suwet’en territory and gives life to our nation.” -Sleydo’, Gidimte’en Checkpoint Spokesperson

As Coastal Gaslink Continues to trespass, we will do everyting in our power to protect our waters and to uphold our laws. Gidimt’en Checkpoint has issued a call for support, asking people to travel to Cas Yikh Territory to Stand with them.”

Video Update from Yintah_access

Warriors Watch Over Wedzin Kwa

“Sleydo’ and Shay speak about the importance of defending Wedzin Kwa. Every day is a fight when you commit to living an Indigenous way of life. They have been trying to kill us since contact. What they haven’t learned yet and what Sleydo’ articulates so perfectly is:

“Our warrior spirits are stronger than they’ll ever be”

Our ancestors fought for our yintah, we have stories of great wars, and we will continue their work.

Today there was another arrest, after release the person was sent to get medical attention in an ambulance. There are no broken bones thankfully and the person is resting comfortably tonight.

We anticipate more RCMP tomorrow. We ask anyone thinking of coming out to support locally please come early in the day, we will have coffee on and a place for you to gather. Check in at 44 km. Covid protocols in place, please bring a mask and a mug.

For more information visit yintahaccess.com.

The post Wet’suwet’en Occupy CGL Drill Site and Call for Support on the Ground and Action in Solidarity! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Decolonizing Minds, Including My Own, About U.S. Capitalist State Settler Colonialism

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the hunting of black skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels tread the commercial wars of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre.

— Karl Marx1

The first fact of the history of American immigration is genocide: the displacement and destruction of the Native people of North America. This is part of the story of immigration, it is not some other, parallel history.

— Paul Spickard2

Through the centuries, the Republic that eventuated in North America has maintained a maximum of chutzpah and a minimum of awareness in forging a creation myth that sees slavery and dispossession not as foundational but as inimical to the founding of the nation now known as the United States. But, of course, to confront the ugly reality would induce a persistent sleeplessness interrupted by haunted dreams, so thus far this unsteadiness has prevailed.

— Gerard Horne 3

Destitute Peasants Leave Norway For The American Frontier

On April 21,1885, a steamship left Christiana (now Oslo), Norway for Liverpool, England and then on to a 9-day voyage for North America. Among the ship’s 1500 passengers, most of them in steerage, which meant below the water line, no windows and only scant light and ventilation, was the recently widowed Elizabeth Thorson and her five children. The youngest was ten-year-old Emma who would become my grandmother. Elizabeth’s decision to emigrate was an act of awe-inspiring courage and resolve even though she had more than ample reason to fear for her family’s future if she remained in Norway and realized that the American frontier was her only option.

There is insufficient space to detail Norway’s rigid social order that allowed no opportunity for advancement. Suffice it here to say that the apex of the class system consisted of an aristocracy of professional men who controlled the economy and the government. Their rule included the hierarchy of the powerful and reactionary Norwegian state Lutheran church for which it was unlawful not to be a member.

Due to topographical dictates, only 3 percent of the land was tillable and most of that was held by the King (the “King’s Commons”), the church and other large landowners. Property relations were such that the vast majority of rural folk were landless. Although some resistance sprang up in the 1850s, it was easily crushed by the state’s large-scale police action.

Some 85 percent of the population was rural, consisting of small farmers, cotters (poor tenants) and servants. However, unlike the English feudal dispossession of the peasants from their land and replacement of them of them with sheep which occurred in the sixteenth century in what became known as the enclosure movement, Norwegian peasants lacked even the option of selling their labor to toil in factories under debasing Dickensian conditions.

In 1825, the first organized emigration of Norwegians occurred when a small group of religious dissidents, many of them Quakers, departed from Norway on the sloop Restauration and after a hazardous three-month crossing landed in New York harbor, most of them eventually settling in rural New York state. In the 1840s, immigrants did a reverse journey on a promotional tour sponsored by U.S. financial interests to spread “America fever” and this prompted more departures.

Subsequently, the first major wave occurred from 1866 to 1873 (111,000) when income inequality in Norway reached unusually high levels. This was followed by several years of depression, agricultural disasters causing famines, mounting debts and forcing people to sell themselves into indentured servitude just to survive. Intrepid voyagers like Elizabeth joined the second surge from 1879-1893 (250,000), that averaged more than 18,000 annually, such that only Ireland had a higher rate of emigration.

A third and final wave from 1900 to 1910 saw more than 200,000 departures, in part due to a substantial population increase. Altogether, nearly one million people emigrated to North America during the second half of the century. Whatever else might be said about them later it’s indisputable that this was an emigration of severely oppressed people whose lives had become unbearable. They faced two choices: emigrate or starve.

For a visual, albeit fictional sense of this period, I recommend two internationally-acclaimed films, The Emigrants (1971) and the sequel, The New Land (1972), that graphically convey the travails of, in this case, Swedish emigrants in a manner that closely mirrors that of my Norwegian ancestors.4

My take is that my ancestors were pushed and pulled by forces over which they had little to no control over forces which sociologist Karen Hanson contends, “dislocated peasants and dispossessed Native peoples.”5 Hanson doesn’t go into specifics about these “missing pieces” but prefiguring later discussion and as one other astute observer explains, upon arriving in North America, the ends were unchanging. That is, the intentions of those responsible for colonialism was “to shore up access to Indigenous people’s property for the purpose of state formation, settlement, and capitalist development.”6

The genesis of these global forces originated far in advance of England’s rise which eventually led to London’s invasion of North America, settler colonialism, slavery, white supremacy and 1776. The continuity continues apace today with the U.S. capitalist global empire.7  As such, I’ve tried to be mindful of Frank Joyce’s wise counsel that “Knowing how the system was created is essential to working out how to take it apart and reconstruct it.”8

In what follows I attempt to revisit and unpack the reasons for my previous externally manufactured ignorance and vast storehouse of misinformation about the reasons for my ancestor’s arrival here and in dispossessing the indigenous people. My conceit is to insert instances of personal memoir in hopes they will help explicate the subject. I discuss the capitalist logic of dispossession, invasion, elimination, role of settlers, the “whiteness” factor, mascots, state policies of brainwashing Indigenous children through boarding schools, cultural misappropriation, assimilation, revisionist history and the future.

What lessons might we learn from deconstructing this history and begin doing what Kenyan novelist and postcolonial scholar Ngugi wa Thiog’o describes as “decolonizing the mind.” He used it to explain how colonized people needed to liberate themselves from an insidious, brainwashing colonial mentality that all things “Western” were superior to being indigenous.9  Here I’m suggesting that we descendants of a colonial state also need to liberate our minds no matter where that leads. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable, and oftentimes gut-wrenching undertaking, but we need to critically reconsider what we’ve internalized about U.S. history. We need to reconstruct it because substantial portions were lies. Absent that deprogramming, the most propitious path for moving forward will remain elusive.

Finally, in initiating this exploration, my intent was not to shame, blame, exculpate or pronounce absolution on settlers but to find at least a close approximation of the truth.  Further, I readily acknowledge that over time my ancestors assumed a white identity with all its attendant benefits, many of which adhered to their descendants, including, of course, myself.

My Grandparents Obtain Land

My grandfather, Tobias Aanonson, also of peasant stock, was not the eldest son in the family therefore not in line to inherit any property. His prospects in Norway were nil and he left Norway for Minnesota during that same period and began toiling as a lumberjack in the state’s North Woods.

Prior to marrying Tobias, my grandmother Emma had been sold into indentured servitude by her indigent mother to a wealthy family owning a boarding house in northern Minnesota who paid for her steerage tickets. There, she labored under harsh and restrictive rules and it was common for young girls to perform this work under 5-7-year contracts but in many cases the servitude for a child would last until maturity. Conceivably, the term for my grandmother continued until she reached 17 and married my grandfather who was 15 years her senior. Family anecdotes have it that her experience as a boarding house servant was embittering and exacted an emotional toll for the remainder of her life. One result was bitterness toward her mother and another was that she despised indoor work like cooking and cleaning. These were left to the five daughters as Emma labored outdoors alongside Tobias. I suspect that variations on this story could be recounted by many others.

My grandparents began farming in southern Minnesota in 1892. Given that the best land was already claimed, documents show that they purchased their plot from someone who had almost certainly received it “free” under The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln. In a speech in February, 1861, Lincoln had told the nation that “wild lands of the country should be distributed so that every man should have the means and opportunity of benefiting his condition.” Indigenous people did not fit this category.

With their passage, the Homestead Acts became, “unquestionably the most extensive, radical redistribute government policy in US history” as they granted 246 million acres to 1.6 million individuals, some ten percent of the land in the United States.10 In terms of Norwegian-Americans, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Homestead Act because “Individuals without property to earn a living in their home country now had an opportunity to become landed.”11 Claimants had only to be U.S. citizens, intend to become one, file an application, pay a fee of $18, improve the land while remaining on it for five years and file a deed of ownership.

In 1863, some 20,000 claims were immediately filed in Minnesota and the total acreage was the largest allotment for any state in the nation. Less well known is the fact that all the elements needed to actually start a farm were expensive, roughly $795 (or $17,500 in 2003 dollars) and thus beyond the reach of many. And we learn from the National Archives, that through massive fraud, “Most of the land went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumbermen and railroads.”  12

Betty Bergland, professor emerita of history at the University of Wisconsin/River Falls, makes the important, clarifying observation about the Homestead Act that it was primarily the federal policies of war, removal, exile and reservations that enabled Norwegian immigrants to “claim land, gain citizenship and opportunities to pass that along to succeeding generations.”13 Again, as will be addressed later, the motives behind these policies require further explication.

The “pull” of the land was also furthered by the Federal government’s after-the-fact legalization of “squatting” on unsurveyed land, boosterism from land agents, government officials, and town promoters, ads appearing in local newspapers and letters from immigrants themselves sent back to Norway. In the 1890s and early 1900s, my mother and her seven siblings were born and raised on one of these parcels of land near Belgrade, Minnesota.

I should state that my Norwegian immigrant ancestors are neither abstract “settler colonialists” to me nor tinged with its pejorative connotation. Perhaps part of my inability to conjure up that image stems from fond memories of summer visits to my grandparent’s farm in Minnesota with its plain, wood frame farmhouse, heated only with a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Across the farmyard, I recall outbuildings that included a sagging, red painted barn with a hay loft and empty stalls. A ramshackle poultry house with cobweb laced broken windows but still containing some scattered chicken feathers, an aging tractor, two-hole outhouse and a rusty water pump that required priming. (Note: My mother told me that rope was strung between the house and the barn for safe passage for doing chores during whiteout winter blizzards.)

One experience indelibly imprinted on my mind occurred when I was about seven or eight years old. My Grandpa Tobias let me be his “hired hand” for the day and we started in the wheat field. My assignment was to gather and stack several bundles of wheat together to form a shock. After a long morning in the field I’d only managed to assemble one vague facsimile and it was falling apart due to my inept application of baling twine. On our conversational-less walk back to the house for lunch, my Grandpa uttered a few words in Norwegian and pressed a silver fifty cent coin into my palm. The coin disappeared soon thereafter, but a few years ago, I purchased three of them, all dated 1951, to pass along to my grandchildren one day along with a story about their great, great, grand-father. (Note: When the farm was sold after my grandparent’s death, no proceeds were passed along to my mother and her siblings and instead went to pay taxes.)

Settler’s Preconceptions?

Some evidence suggests that the newcomers believed a vast virgin wilderness was waiting to be settled, a “land without people for people without land,” the founding deception so effectively employed by Zionists to lure unsuspecting Diaspora Jews to Palestine. Another interpretation is that settlers were under the impression that the Natives had moved on long before the settlers arrived.

As will be explored in some detail later, we know that in the 1860s, Norwegian journalists helped spur a sizable influx of Norwegians to North Dakota and Minnesota. For just one example, aware of the major economic collapse in Norway and its desperate land-poor peasants, Paul Hjelm-Hansen, a journalist employed by the governor of Minnesota, portrayed the region as an agricultural oasis “with places for many thousand farmers.”14 Minnesota and North Dakota were magical landscapes where “one only had to arrive, put plow in the ground, and throw seeds into the rich black earth.”14 Hjelm-Hansen’s articles appeared in several Norwegian newspapers in 1869 and had the desired effect.

Whatever their preconceptions might have been, one authoritative source explains that as immigrants surged into the Minnesota territory they found that the land was “already settled by Native Americans.” Due to a devious, semantic sleight-of-hand this was taken to mean “the right of occupancy, not the right of ownership.”15 According to Swedish scholar Gunlog Fur: “The fiction of empty land available for cultivation required an active denial of an Indian presence, even when they were everywhere… It also served to deny the integral role of violence in the expansion of white settlement across the North American continent.16

Two brief scenes, highlighting a few fairy tale assumptions are found in the aforementioned film, The Emigrants. In the first one, two boys are excitedly reading a promotional booklet about the promising New World and one exclaims “Even slaves have a higher standard of living than most European peasants. I want to sign up to be a slave!” In the second, some Scandinavian immigrants are on a paddle boat heading across the Great Lakes toward Minnesota, when one expresses amazement at seeing wealthy, first-class passengers strolling on the upper deck. A fellow passenger patiently explains that the U.S. is not at all like the class society they fled because in America “These people who have been here long enough are already rich. We’re still poor because we just got here. It takes a little time.”

The historical record reveals soon enough that many of these naive settlers began experiencing the “promised land” as a cruel lie when the power of capital emerged with the likes of robber barons Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P Morgan. In short order, a substantial number of farmers lost their land as the very wealthy, white 1% claimed ownership of over half the property in the country and one fourth of the nation’s wealth. By 1900, that grew to 10 percent owning 90 percent of the country’s wealth.

In response, class conflict began with a railroad strike on July 16, 1977 and the consequent Great Upheaval of workers was met with massive state violence against strikers, workers and protestors over the next three decades.”17  Historian Mary Neth captures what this meant for family farmers: “In rural America, the development of industrial capitalism directed collided with a family-based labor system” and many people were displaced, “…including farmers on small farms, tenants, hired workers, and unpaid women and youths.18

Foreshadowing a position amplified later in this essay, I’m suggesting that the immigrants had performed their indispensable function for the capitalist colonial state in settling expropriated land, increasing population numbers and legitimizing the property state. It only remained for elites and their enablers to retain settler allegiance via myriad forms of scapegoating, repression, and propaganda, especially a stepped-up emphasis on “whiteness.” Concurrently, if not literally eradicating all the remaining Indigenes, they began devising methods to commence cultural genocide.

Beneficiaries Of Government Policy

By the year 2000, the number of adult descendants of the original Homestead Act recipients numbered at least 46 million people or a quarter of the US adult population, virtually all of them white.10 Only 5000 African-Americans benefited from the 1862 Act. It’s beyond disputation that these government programs and policies funneled myriad opportunities to white people at the expense of others. As one student of the subject points out, “For the wealthy, inheritance provides a genealogical distance from conquest, genocide, and colonial slavery that offers a cover of ostensible innocence and launders accumulated incomes.”19 Confining ourselves solely to approximate economic calculations and excluding cultural capital which is immensely important but harder to determine, land acquisition itself translated to several trillion dollars.

This bookends the dollar value that white Americans profited from unpaid Black slave labor with those estimates starting at $1 trillion dollars, a sum attaching graphic numbers to “white privilege.” By contrast, there are three million descendants of the native peoples who once inhabited this land and we know that indigenous people as a whole have the highest poverty rate among all minority groups in the United States.

In the South, there were some four million emancipated African-Americans in 1865 and the Southern Homestead Act (SHA) was passed on June 21, 1866. The Act opened some 46 million acres of public land — much of it unsuitable for farming because of swamps and forests — in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. African Americans were given priority until January 1, 1867. However, several insurmountable obstacles blocked recently freed slaves from benefiting from it. The most egregious barrier was that at the end of the war, former slaves had been tricked, cajoled or forced into signing labor contracts, often to work on former plantation land as sharecroppers where they also accrued steep debts.

Breaking a contract resulted in onerous consequences, including the chain gang. As historian Keri Leighton makes clear, Blacks were “locked into these contracts until the very day when they would stop receiving special homestead benefits” As a result, by 1869, only 4,000 African Americans succeeded in staking a claim under the SHA and only 1,000 property deeds were issued. Again, most of the recipients were white.10 The law was repealed in 1876. If it’s not been done, a research project on the fate of the original recipients and their descendants would be valuable. My hypothesis is that because of state sanctioned oppression and myriad forms of informal white supremacy, any positive gains were stillborn.

The Logic Of Indigenous Removal

In terms of Indigenous removal, the picture will remain opaque if we don’t grasp that the logic of dispossession was not premised on race but on where Indigenous people lived. In Deborah Bird Rose’s pithy observation, “To get in the way of settler colonialism, all the victim had to do was stay at home.20  The Australian anthropologist and ethnographer Patrick Wolfe, famously argued that “It is ‘territoriality’ that remains the colonialist’s irreducible element, not race, or religion, ethnicity, grade of civilization, etc.21

This operates through a “protracted invasion” and the logic of elimination” that necessitates the destruction of indigenous people — but not necessarily genocide, as land is the objective. Eventually, this even allows for granting limited individual rights and cultural protections as these help rationalize expropriation, tie the indigenous remnant to the state and help to convince white people that they are superior and the more deserving occupants of the land.

The methods for violently oppressing Indigenous peoples and Blacks were different. On the one hand, as noted, the colonialist state’s policies of extermination and forcible relocation of Indigenes was for the singular purpose of seizing land. To reiterate, in political scientist’s Walter Hixson’s concise wording, this was a “winner takes all” proposition. On the other, the Black experience centered on enslaving, breeding and violent control in pursuit of cheap labor. Their bodies were commodities. Both cases involved massive state terrorism, rooted in the categorical capitalist imperative of “Expand or Perish” — by any means necessary. It’s in this specific economic context that we have the artificial social construction of white supremacy and race.

After the Civil War, for Blacks it was Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, exclusion from key provisions of the New Deal, formal and informal segregation, COINTELPRO, the prison-military complex, Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” a racially biased “drug war” leading to the incarceration state, revival of Jim Crow stereotyping, “super-predators,” decimation of black wealth, racist police violence, and the complicity of the black mis-leadership class. For Indians, after 1890, it was more broken treaties, continued dispossession, slaughter, exile, the reservation, writing Indigenous people out of history, cultural appropriation, commodification and forcible assimilation. The latter means that 80 percent of Native Americans reside off the reservation, primarily in large urban areas.

Assimilation As A Disingenuous Euphemism

Assimilation deserves special attention in that nothing approaches its magnitude and unspeakable cruelty more than the cultural genocide practiced by Indian Boarding Schools. Their purpose, in the pithy words of Gen. Richard Henry Pratt, who founded the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, was “To Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Over the years, hundreds of thousands of children were taken from their families and communities, beginning with the Civilization Act of 1819 which sought to introduce children as early as six years old to “the habits and arts of civilization.” Uncle Sam paid bounties to those capturing runaways from the schools. Later, under the Indian Appropriation Act of 1851 and the Peace Act of 1869, these schools went off-reservation and parents were not even allowed to visit their children because it might retard the pace of the civilizing process. The children were schooled in the importance of private property, material wealth and Christianity. David Wallace Adams was not engaging in hyperbole when he titled his book on Indian Boarding Schools, “Educating for Extinction.”

By 1926, more than 60% children or 83 percent of Indian school-age children were attending these boarding schools. Coincidentally, in 1924, the government had imposed full citizenship on Indigenous peoples, also meant to foster assimilation in the form of nationalism, patriotism, and accepting the “American Way of Life” — while further distancing themselves from their tribal identity, culture and language. As for the boarding schools, it’s almost unfathomable to realize that parents did not gain the legal right to deny their children in one of schools until 1978 with passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Indigenous Dispossession

It’s not generally known that for much of the West, homesteading was not the primary means of dispossession. It may sound like a difference without distinction but the 1830 Indian Removal Act used the U.S. Army to force several tribes to relocate west of the Mississippi River in order to accommodate white settlers. In Nebraska, the federal government had already seized some 30 million acres from Nebraska tribes before 1862. Further, in many places, white vigilantes and local “militias” acted on their own in tracking down and murdering Natives with the government a convenient few steps behind.

In Minnesota, some indigenous land was taken by the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, signed on July 23, 1851 under which the Sioux were forced to cede 24,000,000 acres of their territory and “relocated” to temporary reservations along the Minnesota River. Payments for the land proved to be far less than promised and then were halted altogether. Nevertheless, in the Dakotas and Minnesota, after 1862, homesteading played the major role in dispossession.

In 1862, the Dakota Sioux, in retaliation for years of mistreatment by whites and facing imminent starvation, embarked on an implacable, fierce, but ultimately futile attempt to drive out the colonial invaders. They were crushed by the U.S. Army in the Dakota War of 1862 and this culminated on December 26, 1862 with the largest mass execution in American history. After a hastily convened military commission and totally unfair trial, 303 Dakota were sentence to death and on signed orders from President Abraham Lincoln, thirty-eight of them were hanged from a giant scaffold in the center of Mankato, Minnesota (another town in which I lived) an event attended by 4,000 spectators. Just as the trap door began to open, each one called out his or her name in native tongue and declared “I’m here. I’m here.” (Note: Confederate generals killed over 400,000 union soldiers. Lincoln never ordered the execution of a single one.)

After the hanging, the remaining Dakota were evicted from their ancestral homeland to prison camps in Iowa, others were forced to march barefoot in the snow to Crow Creek, SD. Many died in prison or in a concentration camp in Sisseton, SD while still others escaped to Canada. A bounty was placed on the scalps of every Dakota man, woman and child. The hangings followed six weeks of fighting between Indigenous peoples and the U.S. Army that had signaled the advent of three decades of fighting between Indigenous peoples and the U.S. government across the Great Plains. Several accounts agree that many Norwegian-Americans began voicing increased antipathy toward Indigenes after 1862.

In 1877, the Dawes Act was enacted and led to catastrophic consequences for Indigenous people. Named after Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, Dawes left the Sioux Nation broken into isolated, fragmented small reservations surrounded by immigrants. Each Indian head of household was given a plot while the remaining substantial tribal land was declared “surplus” and made available to white homesteaders. Under the Dawes Act and the “Dead Indian Act” of 1902, 100 million more acres were lost, some 65 percent of reservation land. By 1920, all the prime land had been taken over by non-Indigenous ranchers.

In February, 1890, the federal government broke a treaty with the Great Sioux Nation and divided the reservation in North Dakota into five smaller ones. The primary reason was to make more land available for settlers but it was meant “to break up tribal relationships” and “conform Indians to the white man’s ways, peaceably if they will, or forcibly if they must.”22

On December 29 of the same year at Wounded Knee Ridge in South Dakota, the U.S. Army surrounded a Lakota Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Ridge in South Dakota. After setting up Hotchkiss guns that fired one shot per second, the troops proceeded to mow down some 300 unarmed old men, women and children. After this bloody massacre, the government awarded Congressional Medals of Honor to 20 of the soldiers for demonstrating “conspicuous and intrepid bravery.”

Skirmishes punctuated the next several years but Wounded Knee demarcated the “closing of the frontier.” After this final military defeat of the Indigenes, white identity and a host of other factors merged to rationalize dispossession. However, I will tip my hand and suggest examining these factors should not divert and obscure our attention from the fact that the United States was founded as a capitalist state colonial entity. The state and its enablers were the legitimating authority for genocide and whereas “Whiteness” assumed a critical instrumental role, it was not the determining one. As I will argue later, class retains primacy over other important, coterminous but ultimately among auxiliary secondary factors in our search for the ultimate causal explanation.

Today, two of the five poorest communities in the United States — Allen #1 and Wounded Knee #5 — are located in Oglala Lakota County which is totally contained within South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. The county also has the lowest life expectancy, highest unemployment, and at $8,768, is the poorest in the United States.

The “Fighting Sioux” Mascot

Although I also lived in Minnesota and South Dakota, my formative years were spent in Fargo, North Dakota along the Red River of the North on the eastern border of the state. The city was named for William Fargo, an owner of the Wells-Fargo Express Company and one the directors of the Union Pacific Railroad whose tracks ran through the center of town and held up traffic three times a day. When UP engineers and surveyors first arrived, they were accompanied by U.S. Army officers. This continuing symbiotic partnership between the capitalist state and big business was exemplified by Congress granting rail companies 10 million acres of free public land in Minnesota, amounting to 20 percent of the state’s land area. It was, of course, in the interest of railroad officials to lure immigrants to the region because it increased the value of their line. The construction of Fort Abercrombie in 1857, just thirty miles south of Fargo and the first fort in North Dakota, helped prompt immigrants to surge into the region through the “Gateway to the West” and stake their claims. Fort Abercrombie was followed by six more military bases across the state in the 1860s and early 1870s.

A program closely related to the aforementioned Dawes legislation was The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 and expanded in 1890, which gave the proceeds of the sale of federal land expropriated from indigenous tribes to state governments to set up land grant colleges and universities. Our house in Fargo was not far from North Dakota State University (NDSU), a college established under The Morrill Land Grant Act. As with so much else, I was totally ignorant of this history and if I thought about it all, I probably felt Morrill was actually something that the government got right.

NDSU’s athletic teams are called “The Bison” or “The Thundering Herd” and their traditional in-state rival is the University of North Dakota (UND), “The Fighting Sioux.” After a seven-year legal battle with the NCAA and a state-wide vote, in 2015, UND’s name was officially changed to the “Fighting Hawks” in 2015. Opponents of the change said the logo showed “pride and tradition” but the 21 Native American-related organizations argued that it disrespected their culture and the strongest advocates for the name change were members of the Standing Rock Tribe.

Even in 2021, the Fighting Sioux logo remains on seats in the hockey arena, on a huge statue of Sioux Chief Sitting Bull sitting astride a horse outside the arena, and many fans still wear clothing adorned with the vintage logo to games. This Indigenous cultural appropriation was perfectly normal to me and reinforced stereotyping while simultaneously having a damaging effect on Native Americans’ sense of self-worth, self-confidence and self-image.

In the words of Paul Chat Smith, a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, “Multiple studies have shown that these mascots, which are stereotypes of Native peoples, cause real damage.” The American Psychological Society concurs and in 2005, after citing voluminous research on self-esteem and social identity development, called for “the immediate retirement of all-American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by high schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations” A.P.A. President Ronald Levant added these negative lessons “are sending the wrong message to all students.”23

Emblematic of its continuing currency is the fifteen-year controversy that was only resolved this year in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania. The issue that divided this affluent community and its highly rated high school (#4 in the state) was the high school’s mascot: An American Indian warrior known as the Radnor “Red Raider” Starting in 2016 and again in 2018, the school newspaper began condemning the “Tomahawk Chop” performed at athletic contests and advocated rethinking the mascot. After several contentious public meetings and vehement opposition from older alumni, a list of names, minus Red Raiders, was whittled down to four, and students chose the name “Raptors.” In 2020, some 2,000 schools and institutions continue to retain these mascots.  In my home state of Pennsylvania, 64 high schools still retain Indigenous mascots and names.

Indian Head Penny For Your Thoughts?

A personal example that might seem innocuous on first glance and not fit the mascot designation, is the Indian Head Penny. Having Native-Americans on my mind in recent months, I recalled that in my youth I’d been given a small collection (10-12) of these Indian-themed coins from my mother who’d probably received them from her parents.

The coins were produced by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1859 to 1909 when they were replaced by the Lincoln penny. James Longacre, Chief Engraver of the Philadelphia Mint, designed the coin and used the facial image of his daughter Sarah to depict “Lady Liberty,” an Indian princess adorned in a traditional Indian headdress. Longacre found nothing morally objectionable or inconsistent about the image and certainly not “repulsive to be associated with Liberty.” He said the implicit message was that “We were never in bondage to anyone.”

The Mint’s director loved the depiction and wrote that the new “Indian Head would present an ideal of America — the sweeping plumes of the North American Indian giving it the character of North America.” There was some initial grousing about the image of a “savage” Indian on the face of America’s legal tender but using “a sanitized Caucasian girl with Greek features to represent an Indian made it okay.” She was in fact a “Good Indian,” the direct opposite of those marauding ones who were resisting the gifts of civilization proffered by the colonialist state.24  The fact that the coin was being praised and circulated during the period when the mass slaughter of Indians was in overdrive qualifies the statements as an early example of chutzpah.

Lest one think this is now discredited thinking, in surveying sites that buy and seek rare coins in 2021, I found the consensus view remains that the “The Indian Head Penny embodies the bold, independent, timeless spirit as much today as when was first minted in 1859.” Not only does it reflect “Native Americans’ unique role in shaping U.S. history,” it’s motif “honors the United States’ Native American heritage” and “When it comes to American coins it is hard to get more American than Lady Liberty and Native Americans.”

In writing about the motives behind employing such images, Yale historian Alan Trachtenberg concludes they were about the fact that “Indians had been slaughtered for the sake of the new race of Americans; they must be resurrected and commemorated, their ‘pure’ image pressed in gold” — or in this case, copper.25 The coin sanctified manifest destiny and conveyed the message that Indians were done an enormous favor for which they were ungrateful. Finally, to return to my earlier point, the Indian Head Penny was “an early version of an Indian mascot,” some of which could be found over a century later in valuable rare coin collections. It’s another image lodged in America’s delusional, collective, colonized mind.

Another egregious example to which I was oblivious was that the two states admitted to the union on November 2, 1889, were North and South “Dakota,” appropriating the name the Sioux nation called itself and meaning “friends or allies.” Today, about half the names of American states are Indigenous in origin, a not subtle assumption of ownership whereby “white dominant society assumes control of the meaning of Nativeness.” It justifies the “maintenance of a system of domination and control — whether intentionally or unintentionally — where white supremacy is safeguarded.”25 in short, this was and remains a crude attempt to sever Native people from their cultural heritage as they are subsumed by white supremacy and are continually reconquered by other means.

Finally, there’s a long history of cultural misappropriation on behalf of commercial projects and one egregious example is the travel industry. From 1933 to 1950 there were “Wigwam Motels,” mostly in the Southwest, the Wooden Indian Bar in New York City’s Americana Hotel only closed in 1992 after protests and in 2017, Airbnb issued an apology for an ad promising a “true Sioux” experience in Joshua Tree California even though no members of the tribe ever resided there. Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is changing its name after complaints from Native Americans that the name is a racist and sexist slur. Just this year, an Arizona businessman proposed building a massive glamping resort on the outskirts of Flagstaff. Called “2 Guns,” it would have all the usual amenities but also feature 70 tepees, 12 hogans and incongruously, 43 Conestoga wagons. The premise was that “authenticity” would lure well-heeled tourists.26

My Episodic Encounters With “Indians”

In terms of my personal experience, I had few direct contacts with Indians — or were they simply unseen? That five percent of the state’s population was scattered on five reservations and North Dakota remains the only state with a majority of Indians living on reservations. I recall a few Indians hanging out on one seedy downtown street in Fargo where they would sometimes purchase liquor for under-age guys and be repaid with a bottle of ultra-cheap Thunderbird, what we called “bum wine” and associated it with Indians.

Here, one anecdote that merits retelling concerns Fort Yates in North Dakota. It was constructed to keep the Indians in line and after Col. George Custer’s “tragedy” at the Battle of Little Big Horn” on June 25, 1876, the number of troops stationed at the Fort peaked at 3,000 and 65 buildings. The fort was named to honor Captain George Yates who died in the battle. Also, after Sitting Bull was killed on December 14,1890, he was buried at Fort Yates and earlier, white missionary assimilationist nuns had started an Indian boarding school there in 1877. I mention this background because like so much else, I was totally ignorant of this history and only several decades later did I began to recognize more examples of constructed Indian-ness, really, manufactured ignorance, for the racism they embodied.

In 1961, as a high school, cross-country runner, I competed in the state xc championships against the storied runners from Fort Yates, the perennial favorite to win the title. A town some 60 miles from Bismarck, Fort Yates had a population of 1100 at the time which has now dwindled to less than 200. Before the race, my coach cautioned me that my major competition for individual honors was an Indigene from Fort Yates. Curious, a few minutes before approaching the starting line, I asked a member of his team to point him out. His teammate replied with a laugh, “Oh, he was too hungover this morning and missed the team bus.” I mention this because that conversation undoubtedly reinforced the idea in my mind — one common at the time — that Indians were weak, unreliable and naturally predisposed toward alcoholism. I had internalized the dominant society problematizing of Indigenous youth that contributed to stereotyping of Natives as inferior to whites. I went on to win the race but is it totally implausible to speculate that the outcome was a symptom of the colonial condition?

Whether or not it was applicable in that particular case, I was totally oblivious to the historical context which is summed up by two authoritative researchers on alcohol use in Indian country: “What is not recognized is that alcohol use and even suicide may be functional behavior adaptations within a hostile and hopeless social context.” In other words, we need to know more about alcohol abuse and historical trauma. Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran go on to advocate a need for a “postcolonial history of alcohol.”27

Parenthetically, the following year I raised funds at my Minnesota college for SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s civil rights activism in the South and even hitch-hiked to Louisiana in an attempt to get involved. At no point did I connect those actions with the historical and ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in my own backyard. Growing up on the Great Plains, I knew nothing about this actual history and like my peers was subjected to disingenuous, sanitized, elite-serving origin stories.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills!

A microcosm that serves to encapsulate several points in this essay and is illustrative of the woeful state of my political awareness at the time is Mount Rushmore. Carved into the granite slope over the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mount Rushmore was a popular and almost obligatory destination for family car trips. Until only a few years ago, I was unaware that this “Shrine of Democracy,” this revered site of Americana, was known to the Lakota as Six Grandfathers Mountain. Its location was considered not only sacred religious ground but the apex of the universe for the Lakota people. After signing the 1968 Treaty of Laramie with the U.S. government, the Lakota obtained exclusive use of the Black Hills. Ten years later, when gold was discovered and thousands of miners rushed to the area, the government rescinded the treaty. On February 28, 1977, the federal government officially stole the land for the second time and began profiting from the gold, minerals and timber.

The following essential background, which like so much else, is egregiously ignored by historians and missing from the classroom, is as follows: In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer to take his troops in the Black Hills and his official mission was to find the optimum site for a military post. Left out of the narrative is that Grant paid out of his own pocket for two prospectors to accompany Custer to follow up on rumors that the Black Hills was rich in gold. The first dispatch from a journalist on the expedition confirmed the rumors when he wrote: “From the grass roots down it was ‘pay dirt.” A “New El Dorado” had been discovered and Grant began scheming about how to renege on his earlier, solemn “Peace Policy” pledge toward the Indians.

Documents unearthed by diligent researchers at the Smithsonian reveal that in a closed meeting, Grant said, “The Lakotas must go or get whipped” which was a subterfuge to begin manufacturing complaints against the indigenous population. In the meantime, believing they would refuse to leave, a secret plan was hatched to launch a campaign against unsuspecting Indian villages. And in response to his insistent instigation, Grant’s Indian agents in the West sent back totally fabricated stories about the Indians not only being defiant and “hostile” but recommending that a thousand soldiers be dispatched to the Black Hills “to throw the ‘untamable’ Lakotas into subjugation. One unanticipated consequence was the Little Big Horn debacle but after the Indians had been subdued, Secretary of War J. Donald Cameron assured Congress and the nation that “the accidental discovery of gold” did not cause U.S. military operations in the Black Hills. On October 4, 1927, the sculptor Gutzon Borglum took on the Mount Rushmore carving project, in his words, as “a testament to American exceptionalism” and “a space for uncomplicated patriotism.”28 Looking back, what if instead of presented with a totally fabricated history, a visit to Mount Rushmore could have been a lesson in critical thinking, a teaching moment?

Formal Miseducation

A closely related adjunct to the above, is that undergraduates at my Minnesota college were in a potentially privileged position to learn about the truth about these matters, and especially immigrants’ settlements and in our own Red River Valley, from a nationally acknowledged expert on the topic. A local farmer himself, Hiram Drache was a professor in the History Department, author of a dozen books and invited speaker for hundreds of talks around the country. Even after this long passage of time, I hoped I would recall at least one class lecture on the near annihilation of Native-Americans but none come to mind.

To check my unreliable memory, I went back and looked at Drache’s books and found only a few scant references to Indians including “Indian problems,” a single mention of the terrifying “Sioux outbreak” of 1862 and a military garrison being constructed “to watch the southern Minnesota Indians.” In what was arguably his well-known book (now in 12 printings) from 1964, the five stages of settlement, from rugged frontiersman to the frontier’s end with the arrival of urbanization I was unable to detect even a hint at the violent methods by which all the free, fertile land had been obtained.29

In an effort to see if he’d made amends for his earlier professorial sins of omission, I looked over his 343-page book from 1992, titled Taming of the Wilderness, the focus of which was on the northern half of Minnesota. It was praised for its enlightened treatment of this “huge empty space” I was not surprised by the meticulous research and attention to the smallest detail. However, the only reference to Native Americans was about the Minnesota State Supreme Court ruling that Indians living on Federal property could not vote in a referendum on changes in the liquor laws.30

We might also have learned from a bona fide expert that at the higher levels of officialdom, Territorial Governor, Alexander Ramsey’s wasn’t an outlier when he wrote to President Lincoln in 1862 and placed all the blame on the “savage” Indians: “This is not our war, it is a native war… More than five hundred whites have been murdered by the Indians.”  Another individual who was emblematic of elite opinion and the rhetoric of extinction was the aforementioned Henry Hastings Sibley from the Dakota War of 1862.

I recall Sibley’s name being memorialized by counties, parks, streets and schools across the state including my traveling on the Sibley Memorial Highway near the Twin Cities. As with so much else about local history, I was totally ignorant of the fact that Sibley, Minnesota’s first Governor, was also Ethnic Cleanser-in-Chief on land that he’d once characterized as “pristine.” Col. Sibley commanded 1,200 troops U.S. troops during his “punitive expeditions” and in 1862, he wrote the following to Alexander Ramsey about Indians: “My heart is steeled against them, and if I have the means, and can catch them, I will sweep them with the besom of death.”

Fittingly, after being mustered out of the military, Sibley served as president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, on the boards of railroads, banks and was a regent of the University of Minnesota. Princeton University bestowed an honorary doctorate on Sibley in 1888. It’s encouraging that, in 2020, under pressure from Native Americans and citizens who’d previously known only a sanitized version of his past, Sibley’s name was erased from a high school in the Twin Cities and changed to Two Rivers High School. A quarter of the current students and many previous graduates signed a petition supporting the name change.

On a related note, after years of fierce wrangling and court reversals, the name Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis was restored to its original Lakota name, Bde Maka Ska. It had been named to honor U.S. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, prominent slave owner and author of the Indian Removal Act. In a split decision in 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the change and shortly thereafter, shopping centers, public squares, entire neighborhoods, cycle shops, and gyms quickly shed the name “Calhoun.” The speed of change was undoubtedly expedited by the new awareness following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement.

A final example, although not specifically about Minnesota and the Dakotas, concerns my miseducation about Lt. Col. Kit Carson, the iconic frontier hero of the Old West. As a child I had a Kit Carson cap pistol, wanted to be Carson when playing Cowboys and Indians and in the early 1950s I faithfully watched The Adventures of Kit Carson every day after school. Undoubtedly, this was also true for kids in Colorado where I later did my graduate work from 1968-1973 and became familiar with the 14,000-foot Mount Kit Carson, one of the “Elevens” revered by climbers in the state.

Yet, even though then in my mid 20s, I confess to being unaware of the fact that Carson was a war criminal who spearheaded the U.S. government’s genocidal campaign against the Navahos. In 1862-63, after some “Indian trouble” — translated: they refused to accept confinement on a reservation — Col. Carson led a brutal campaign against the Navajos, burning their crops, destroying their villages, and slaughtering their livestock. He then proceeded to round up 8,000 Navajo men, women and children and forced them on what became known as the “Long Walk” of 300 miles from Arizona to the Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico, a trek taking over two months. In 2011, by a 10-0 vote, a federal agency denied a request to rename the mountain. However, an encouraging development occurred last year when the Kit Carson elementary school in Las Vegas changed its name.

The annual Kit Carson Mountain Men Rendezvous goes on in Kit Carson, Colorado where participants are strongly encouraged to wear “primitive” clothing as they participate in gun-shooting centered festivities. And if one is in California, they can relax at the “rustically elegant” Kit Carson Lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains, a resort that dates back 95 years. Yet another available option for “pioneer fun” and an authentic legend of the Old West experience is the five-day Kit Carson Wagon Train re-enactment. Finally, on the educational site “Kids-n-Cowboys” we learn that Kit Carson helped make “the great American expansion possible.”

Socialists Among The Settlers?

At this point, I admit that before starting this undertaking I assumed I’d come across a few heroes, some radical dissenters who at least raised the matter of indigenous dispossession even as they gained from it?  We know that by 1920, some 50,000 immigrants returned to Norway. Many had sent money orders to the old country for the eventual purchase of land. It’s not inconceivable that some of them also returned out of disgust with what they learned on the American frontier but, in general, the record is silent. In terms of those who remained, two of the most instructive, albeit troubling cases I came across were Marcus Thrane, a radical Midwest socialist and GAA PAAS (Press Forward), the leading Norwegian-language socialist newspaper of the time.

Marcus Thrane admired the Paris Commune, organized the first rural workers’ union in Norway with some 30,000 members, edited it’s newspaper and framed union demands that included universal suffrage and land reform. Sensing a threat from below, on July 7, 1851, Thrane and several other leaders were arrested in a large-scale police action that easily crushed any incipient revolt. Thrane and 132 other union members were arrested and sent to prison in 1855. After serving eight years, Thrane resumed his organizing efforts but with little success and, frustrated, he emigrated to the United States in 1862.

Upon arrival, he immediately resumed his radical politics among Norwegian immigrants including the editorship of two socialist newspapers, public speaking and writing populist plays, including some satirizing the Lutheran Church. The latter prompted church leaders to condemn his socialist ideas further diminishing his radical project. After once having seen so much potential in his adopted country and having urged others to seek a new life there, Thorne became thoroughly disenchanted with American society and its government. He was prescient in predicting that the United States would never be “The Shining City on a Hill,” or the “Citadel of Democracy” admired across the world. Thrane died in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1890 and later, the Norwegian Labor Party referred to him as one of its founding fathers and today monument honoring him sits in his hometown of Drammen, Norway.31

In retrospect, if anyone should have recognized that the Indian was, in legal scholar Felix Cohen’s words “the miner’s canary” in flagging the sham of American democracy it would have been Marcus Thrane. However, I searched the record in vain for even a passing reference to this vexing indictment of “liberty and equality for all” and found only a glaring moral blind spot. However, can I say with conviction that I would have acted differently?

The second example is GAA PAA (Press Forward) the prominent Norwegian-language socialist newspaper in Minnesota. In an important article, the noted Scandinavian studies expert Odd Lovoll described GAA PAA thusly: “The collective life of the Norwegian-American community can be viewed through the prism of this socialist organ” and the paper’s editorial position was that Norwegian farmers were the natural allies of the working class “…in the battle to defeat capitalism.”32 All the more striking to find that any concern for the indigenous population never surfaced in any issue of the paper, perhaps early evidence of colonized minds, including socialist ones.

Parenthetically, I should mention that growing up in North Dakota I was always proud of the state’s history of agrarian radicalism which began in the 1880s. In 1918, the Nonpartisan League (NPL) won all three branches of government and immediately enacted its program of “state socialism,” easily the most progressive in the entire country. Concurrently, voices across the board cried out against farmers and laborers being exploited by bankers, Twin City grain merchants and the railroads. I mention this because at no point did it occur to me that Indian dispossession was ever mentioned.

What Did They Know And What Does It Matter?

Here we return to the question of whether the vast majority of these first Norwegian-Americans were cognizant of the formal and informal structures, the nefarious mechanisms involved in colonialism, the broken treaties, officially sanctioned bloodshed, myriad injustices, toxic ideology, and the economic motives of rapacious empire builders? If they were not, is it necessary to parse the meaning of “settlers” and perhaps reconfigure their role as being closer to self-interested pawns manipulated by others?

For me, the answer to questions regarding the ordinary immigrant’s self-perception and view of the Indigenes remains maddeningly problematic. I recently came across sociologist Karen V. Hanson’s inestimably valuable book, Encounter On The Great Plains, the focus of which is Scandinavian immigrants to North Dakota from 1890-1930. These settlers included some of her ancestors who’d settled on Indian Reservation land near Devil’s Lake and although their circumstances were not identical, her take on them is as follows:

Norwegians like my great-grandmother did not come to be settler colonialists or to usurp the place of others. They deeply resented having been colonized by Danes and Swedes and could not conceive of themselves as occupying an oppressive position in a foreign country. As newcomers, immigrants were searching desperately for a place to make a home: they were steered onto the reservation enterprise by forces largely beyond their control and outside the kin. With vivid memories of the suffering endured in Norway and Sweden and the sacrifices made during migration, they judged themselves and their descendants worthy of the land… They dwelt on the present and future as land takers often do, and they rarely probed the past or questioned laws that privileged them and disadvantaged others.33

As I began delving further into the history I found contrary opinions among elite opinion shapers, those farther up the social hierarchy. For the area where my grandparents settled, I came across this official history of Stearns County, Minnesota which contained a telling excerpt:

What title did the Indian have to the land? Why should the Indian be considered the owner of the land? Just because he occupied it first? One would judge that by the highest ethical standards the superior civilization has the right to the land.

And then, this statement about the meager sums frequently paid for the land:

The Indian, this simple child of nature has been given a fortune which he could not care for… If the Indian had used wisely what our government has paid them, every man, woman and child of the race today would be well-to-do.34

We also have Anders Bo Rasmussen’s meticulous, indispensable research which strongly suggests that the Scandinavian immigrant elite, including opinion shapers like newspaper editors, historians and Civil War officers “transplanted Old World perceptions of class and race to the New World, which, in turn, helped to inform how Scandinavians immigrants confronted the post-war reality of slavery’s abolition.” The very first edition of the Norwegian-language newspaper, The Fatherland, described the new American republic as a “glorious institution in accordance with human and divine law” that was created “on liberty and equality.” Articles like these were widely shared in Norway, especially in rural areas.

Rasmussen makes a compelling case that many Norwegian immigrants arrived with preconceived perceptions of white men “at the top of a racial hierarchy,” who deserved a higher rung on the “agricultural aristocratic ladder.” They resisted Black people having equal opportunities in the Northern labor market and believed “whiteness separated them from what they described as a “lower class of people.”35 Soon, it was no contest between egalitarian ideals and economic opportunities for whites. This view is reinforced by Terje Mikael Hasle Joranger, Curator of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Oslo and a widely acknowledged expert on the subject. In his generous response to my inquiry, he wrote:

In my research I have come across very few references to America in letters, for example, showing any sign of remorse or thoughts connected to land-taking seized in an improper manner from indigenes. There is a great silence connected to references to the indigenous population among Norwegian immigrants in letters, diaries, and reminiscences. References to land in letters are to a large extent tied to concrete mention of land prices of government land, to heads of cattle, and to the growth of various crops.” Joranger continues that the letters largely reflected a concern of practical matters and thinking about how to improve his lot. These individuals “were not looking back in order to judge any harm done to the indigenous settlers.11

A related explanation comes from Hanson’s aforementioned research. Drawing on 130 oral interviews and fifteen years of archival research, Hanson concludes that these early immigrants were not consciously “settler colonialists” but were, nevertheless indispensable to the colonialist state’s imperial expansionist project. In short, they unwittingly solved the government’s “Indian problem.” Indeed, by 1929, Scandinavians owned more reservation land than the Lakotas.

Hanson’s search was prompted, in part, by trying to come to terms with her “troubled conscience” over a past that privileged her at the expense of others. Her observation about Scandinavians surely applies to virtually everyone of immigrant descent in the United States: “Scandinavians past and present have eluded the thorny past by misrepresenting it or by living uncomfortably with their personal or ancestral history.”5 Given only those two choices, my sense is that misrepresentation still prevails, leavened with heavy doses of denial to reduce the discomfort level. However, this essay suggests that filling a gaping lacuna of ignorance with the actual facts regarding the past might open a third choice and I now turn to sketching out more of that context.

Demythologizing History And Decolonizing Our Minds

Consistent with the abiding concern of another analyst looking into this past, my motive has been “…to understand the ongoing processes that have shaped our world… The predicaments in which we find ourselves derive in part from the history of colonial conquest, slavery, imperial warfare, and the inequalities that emerged from this history we might discern the scope, force, direction and likelihood of the change ahead — and be guided by the example of our ancestors.36

Put another way, believing the “personal is political,” I began this exploration with a combination of personal and political activist motives. On the one hand, I was uncomfortable with the lacuna about my ancestral background and wanted some resolution — wherever that might lead. On the other, would an objective understanding contribute to greater clarity and utility regarding my existing political commitments? At this point, after substantially enlarging the scope of my inquiry, it feels as if I’ve tentatively arrived at a productive intersection of the two concerns.

By now it’s apparent to the reader that I’m ambivalent about portraying my Norwegian-American ancestors with the broad, often pejorative brush of “settler colonialist” as the last word on the subject. My sense is that there remains a larger, more politically propitious perspective that’s routinely overlooked or avoided. At the same time, I’ve been sensitive to Gerald Horne’s accusation that many hypocritical analysts have avoided giving sufficient attention to his assertion that after being “deputized,” European settlers became accessories in victimizing the indigenous.37

Trying to assess degrees of moral culpability is both unavoidable and necessary in terms of advancing our political understanding with an eye on the future. For radicals like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, the capitalist state bears the major responsibility whereas for many conventional historians, settler colonialism operated from the bottom up. For example, in one recent book which was fulsomely praised in establishment circles and was a National Book Award Finalist, the author makes much of newcomers in the 1830s being enthusiastic exterminators and being “too avaricious” to allow indigenous people to remain. And he almost offhandedly contends that a consistent application of the Republic’s “radical revolutionary values” could have avoided this outcome altogether.38 Again, I could not find a negative word about “capitalism” in this 396-page tome and perhaps needless to mention, mythical feel-good origin myths about the country are simply taken for granted. Most historians simply evade, dismiss or gloss over the entire matter.

Where so many mainstream writers miss the mark is that whereas dispossession was a zero-sum game, these would-be settlers, mostly peasants, were fleeing feudalism at home. It may seem a distinction without a difference, but there is no evidence suggesting they arrived here with the conscious intent of exploiting the indigenous population for economic gain. Their complicity, if that’s the proper word, is that they functioned as foot soldiers to the unceasing capitalist logic of elimination, in service to a merciless capitalist logic from which they initially benefited. Horne argues that for these settler recruits, land was their “combat pay” for serving as white invaders. Again, another reading of this period suggests that, indeed, a cross-class convergence of interests occurred but only one partner was dimly aware, if that, of being used as an indispensable tool in establishing the property state for private capital accumulation while also serving elite interests in offsetting the vast number of slaves in the country, the “enemy within” feared by the existing polity. If so, I don’t believe it’s exonerating the settlers to recalibrate the term “settler colonialist” when applied to them. Building on earlier discussion, I’m suggesting that it’s impossible to arrive at a meaningful answer to my overall inquiry or draw any useful lessons without engaging the work of some of the revisionist critics who have convincingly undermined comfortable American origin myths about liberty and equality.

Regrettably, many people, including most scholars and some of the self-identified left insist on portraying the American Revolution as besieged patriotic colonists, forthrightly standing up against British economic tyranny, a glorious confirmation of U.S. exceptionalism. One of countless examples is Joseph J. Ellis, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Founding Fathers. Ellis recounts that “No less an authority than George Washington observed at the end of that any historian who managed to write an accurate account of the war for independence would be accused of writing fiction.”39 Washington was not wrong about the fictional accounts, only just how far they would depart from the actual truth.

Ellis’s own fawning account of Washington would qualify as he extolled the countless virtues of the “brothers” as men who would win the title for “The Greatest Generation” hands down. According to Ellis and countless other myth-making historians, the great activity of this revolutionary generation was their devotion to popular sovereignty and their “common sense of purpose.40 The transparent truth is that the American Revolution was “[T]he first chapter in an inter-imperial war between Great Britain and its dissident elites in North America” and also the advent of American imperial warfare.”41

We know that as early as 1760, less than five hundred men in just five colonial cities controlled most of the shipping, banking, mining, manufacturing and commerce on the eastern seaboard. In truth, our venerable Founding Fathers were slave owners, wealthy men who wanted a system that would further their interests.42 Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (subject of a recent, disingenuous Broadway musical) bought and sold slaves for his wife’s family, owned slaves himself and spoke about Indigenous peoples as aggressive “savages.” In her new book, Dunbar-Ortiz includes Stanford law professor and historian Gregory Ablavsky’s observation that Hamilton and his fellow federalists resolved to “solve the problem of Indian affairs by committing the federal state to empowering, not restraining the inexorable westward tide.”43

Many of the Founders, including George Washington, were land speculators and long before King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, forbidding settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, these men had begun making claims on this native land. They were eager to push forward into Indian territory. Jumping ahead a bit and in what was already a fait accompli, in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the British agreed to recognize American independence all the way to the Mississippi River.

These wealthy slave owners wanted a system that furthered their interests and fifty-six of these noteworthy members of the propertied class later signed the Declaration of Independence. All of these famous “patriots” had only contempt for actual democracy, feared it and recoiled from it. As one American historian corrects the historical record, “The American state, even in its earliest incarnations, was more concerned with limiting popular democracy than securing and expanding it.”44

Here it’s imperative to remember that Europeans did not think of themselves as “white people” until it became an arbitrary social construction and to the extent that my ancestors did it was a relatively recent phenomenon. In earlier times, people saw themselves as members of a clan, tribe, religion or geographic area. And when the transformation began, its contingency was tied to its service to England and later the United States’ exploitation of “the other,” including Blacks and Indians. Gerald Horne adroitly depicts the latter transformation with only a trace of hyperbole when he writes:

All of a sudden when crossing the Atlantic, in a narrow manner that would make Madison Avenue blush, all are rebranded as ‘white’ which subsumes many of the tensions, ethnic and class among them, in a new monetized and militarized ‘identity politics’ of whiteness based on expropriation of the indigenous and enslavement of the Africans.45

In two works, Horne demonstrates how, since the sixteenth century, whiteness/white supremacy “became the ideological glue allowing disparate European nations and peoples to justify confiscating resources, land and labor from those on the darker side of the color line.”46 This was racial capitalism and the operative words here are “ideological glue.” As noted earlier, this tool was honed to perfection by European and later the American capitalist class in “settling” North America.

I’m acutely aware of accusations of class reductionism that are lodged by apologists for identity politics. In response, I don’t deny for a moment that the arbitrary social construct of race, its sociology, exerted and continues to impact people’s lives in hideously consequential ways. And, of course, working people of color are simultaneously exploited and suppressed. However, as exceptional political scientist Victor Wallis reminds us, “Of all the non-class or cross-class identities, race is the one that comes closest to having been created in the service of class interest.” And further, concentrated class power collectively suppresses all intersectional constituencies.47 Finally, I would be hard pressed to come up with a better, consciously created, ruling class tool than white identity. It’s integral to the sleight of hand deceit, the manufactured ignorance that racial capitalism employs to conceal the underlying brutality of our capitalist order. I’m suggesting we make a serious error if we mistake the means of domination for the end.48

The incipient and then full-fledged capitalist state project required what David Harvey, in a different context, described as “accumulation by dispossession.”49 Colonization was not peripheral but was, along with slavery, a central pillar in the development of capitalism in the modern United States. This required the dispossession of the Indigenes, followed, as we’ve seen, by erasure through cultural assimilation. A line can be run from crucial moments in the sixteenth century on to Marx’s “so-called primitive accumulation,” which he illustrated by the clearing and privatizing of the commons, on to Boston’s merchant class rebellion against the monarchy, to dispossession of the Indigenous tribes which also was the genesis of the U.S. military establishment and finally, extending to the U.S. empire spanning the globe today and which is enforced by massive direct violence.

Ripping off surplus value via dispossession of Indigenous tribes initially appears problematic because it doesn’t directly involve wage-labor exploitation. However, as Couhart and others clarify, although there were early efforts to enslave Indians, colonization was “uniquely oriented toward the seizure of indigenous lands, rather than the labor-power of Indigenes.” However, “…the ends have always remained the same: to shore up continued access to Indigenous people’s territory for the purpose of state formation, settlement and capitalist development.”50 Hence, I would argue that only an intentionally tortured reading of Marx would deny a close relationship between primitive capital accumulation and land dispossession. If we think of settler colonialism as a stage in a long-term project there’s no contradiction.

Horne asserts that for these settler recruits, the “free land” was their combat pay for serving as white invaders. Perhaps deviating slightly from Horne, I’m suggesting that another reading of this history divulges a cross-class convergence of interests where only one partner was only dimly aware, if that, of being an indispensable tool in establishing a private property state for private capital accumulation — primitive accumulation — while also serving the elite goal objective of offsetting the vast number of slaves, the feared “enemy within” to the existing polity.

Howard Zinn and Gerald Horne are two preeminent, groundbreaking historians who’ve helped to further our understanding. I have no reason to believe that Zinn would disagree with Horne’s assessment that 1776 marks the date when nascent capitalists “pulled the ultimate coup and exhibited a novel display of patriotism by ousting London altogether from the mainland colonies south of Canada, while convincing the deluded and otherwise naive (to this very day) that this naked grab for land, slaves and profit was somehow a Great Leap Forward for humanity.”51 Horne goes on to refer to the United States as Great Britain’s “revolting spawn,” the “bastard child” determined to establish its own empire. And in 150 years it went to become Britain’s global capitalist rival.

In support of my assertion, here are a few excerpts from Zinn’s magisterial book, A People’s History of the United States, in which he cogently explains that over a relatively short period of time, the colonial elite was able to:

…take over land, profits and power from the British empire. In the process they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership. When we look at the American Revolution in that way it was a work of genius.

[The Declaration of Independence] was a wonderfully useful device, the language of liberty and equality which could unite just enough whites to fight the Revolution, without ending either slavery or inequality.

…the rebellion against British rule allow a certain group of the colonial elite to replace those loyal to England, give some benefits to small holders and leave poor white working people and tenant farmers in very much the same situation.52

Prof. Horne’s more recent work complements Zinn while devoting considerably more attention to events long preceding the Declaration in 1776 and even, 1492. In his 2018 book, Horne cogently outlines the genesis of emerging capitalism in England as the “dawning of the apocalypse for non-European people.” The most pivotal moment is the much misinterpreted “Glorious Revolution of 1688” when the propertied classes triumphed over absolute monarchy. The former wanted access to the “Crown’s control over the wildly lucrative African slave trade which ultimately provided the wherewithal for the overthrow of the reign of the monarch in 1776.” Horne doesn’t mince words in concluding this “blatant power and money grab by merchants was then dressed up in the finery of liberty and freedom, as the bourgeois revolution was conceived in a crass and crude act of staggering hypocrisy.” As such, “…1776 completed the apocalypse began in the seventeenth century.”53

In an earlier book, Horne depicts two events that explain why the colonists finally broke with the Mother Country and neither flatters the consensus origin story of the nation’s founding. The first was a judgement of the English Court of King’s Bench in June,1772. This was the issuance of the Somerset Decision by the Chief Justice of England, Lord Mansfield and involved James Somerset who was a slave then residing in England after being brought there by his owner from Boston. Somerset was about to be sold to a plantation in Jamaica but Mansfield declared that “The state of slavery is of such a nature it is incapable of being introduced on any reason, moral or political…and therefore the black [James Somerset] must be discharged” from his enslavement. Although Mansfield offered no judgement on overseas territories of the British Empire, the future Patriots, mostly slave owners and slave traders, feared that Somerset abolition in Britain and set a precedent applicable to the thirteen colonies, thus jeopardizing their existing and future financial gains.54

The second event that further heightened anxiety and finally tipped the scales in favor of the colonial elites breaking with Britain happened in November, 1775 when Lord Dunmore in Virginia offered to not only liberate but arm North American slaves. According to Horne, with that proclamation, Dunmore “entered a pre-existing maelstrom of [colonial] insecurity about slavery and London’s intentions.” It also “effectively barred any further possibility of rebel conciliation with London.”55 In short, the “Patriot” portion of the colonial elite was petrified, and not without cause, that the British would cease supporting the right to own slaves in the thirteen colonies. In the words of historian Colin Calloway, the colonial elite “saw tyranny in Britain’s interference with their ability to make a [financial] killing in the West.”56 What remained was to rally ordinary people to support separation from the Mother Country. In pursuit of that end Horne points to an often-overlooked statement within the Declaration of Independence. In the list of grievances against the King we find:

He has excited domestic insurrections among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose rule of warfare, is an indistinguishable destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Through a combination of Jefferson’s lofty rhetoric and disingenuous appeals such as this one, the “rebels” prevailed in the propaganda war and convinced “enough” of the remaining skeptics and were able break with the Mother Country in 1776. After bourgeois democracy was established the former “Patriots,” among other pursuits, methodically proceeded to extirpate the indigenous population. Notably, my ancestors began arriving some one hundred years later.

In any event, even as they wittingly or unwittingly collaborated in dispossession, most settlers would soon become members of the working class and victims of the merciless logic of capitalism, “subject to the tyranny of the market in its stead.”6 Wealth was extracted from their labor and their share of the colonial booty declined in favor of economic elites. Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not for a moment suggesting equivalency for what befell blacks under slavery and subsequently under racial capitalism and the plight of the white working class. I’m asserting that a narrow focus on settlers per se, tends to divert attention from the capitalist project itself and its identical state agency. Finally, I would argue that we’re further from grasping the dynamics of that project today — from realizing class consciousness — than our working class ancestors were at the time.

In Lieu of a Final Conclusion

I began this project, in part, to investigate what it means to be a descendent of Norwegian-American settlers. It remains a gray area because we don’t know for certain if they knew they were the “boots on the ground” for the capitalist state project of dispossession. But, if they did know, would it have made any difference? The word “silence” appears with regularity in writings about Scandinavian self-awareness about encounters with Indigenes in Minnesota and North Dakota or postulating about why the land was available and perhaps that approximates a certain unease or an almost total self-denial.

Reaching a definitive conclusion on the above is less important to me now then it was at the outset of my search. As I expanded the inquiry to encompass the power forces of capital accumulation, and the identity, motives and methods of the penultimate colonizers, these assumed pride of place in terms of explanatory power. I don’t think it’s exculpatory to suggest that the settler’s role paled in significance. The settlers were instrumentalized on the ground and functioned, in Horne’s term, as “handmaidens.” As such, refocusing the familiar settler-indigenous dichotomy through the lens of class analysis and objective historical contextualization, reveals a more plausible picture.

When I was still teaching undergraduates, I often said that one reason to study history, arguably the most important one, is to discover that it’s an illusion to believe that certain events were inevitable, as somehow preordained. At various interstices, choices are made that if made differently can lead to vastly different outcomes. In that vein, in response to a question I posed to noted historian Steven Hahn about the prospects he foresaw for serious political change, Hahn wrote, “Change is not linear by any means. I think the arc of the universe is a very long one, and the struggle is over which way to pull it. There is no natural bent. For the most part it has bent toward injustice. But we need to think it can be bent toward justice – and that is a struggle worth having and participating in.”57

Finally, noted activist and author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz draws our attention to the words of the late indigenous scholar Jack Forbes who “always stressed that while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of the past.58 This is especially germane for those who, after a certain age, have had the luxury of time, education and access to a wide spectrum of information. For them, ignorance about the past is no excuse.

*****

As always, I’m grateful to have Kathleen Kelly as my in-house editor and co-conspirator. I’m also grateful to Faramarz Farbod for his meticulous reading of an earlier version as well as his crackerjack computer skills.

  1. Capital 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, ed. Frederick Engels, (New York: International Publishers, 1967), p. 703.
  2. Almost Aliens: Immigration, Race and American History and Identity. (New York: Routledge, 2007). p. 25.
  3. The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020), p. 191.
  4. Directed by Jan Troell and starring Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow, they are based on Vilhelm Moberg’s novel, The Emigrants. During the film’s production, Troell made extensive use of locations in Minnesota.  For a brief but poignant sequence from early in the film, see Liv Ullmann, On the Emigrants and The New Land.
  5. Karen V. Hanson, Encounter of the Great Plains (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) p. 238.
  6. G.S. Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014) p. 25.
  7. I’m referencing the work of the historian Gerald Horne. The importance of his masterful, original, and path-breaking studies on these origins cannot be overstated. See, especially, Gerard Horne, The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020); and on the seventeenth century, Horne.
  8. Frank Joyce, “Exploring America’s Hidden Past as a Center for the Slave-Breeding Trade,” Caricon, 9/16/2016. In terms of steps toward re-education I profited from viewing “Exterminate All the Brutes,” the 4-part series written and directed by Raoul Peck. It’s based, in large measure, on Sven Lundquist’s eponymous book, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past.
  9. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. See his Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1986).
  10. Keri Leigh Merritt, “Land and the roots of African-American poverty,” Aeon, March 11, 2016.
  11. Terji Mikael Hasle Joranger, “The Creation of a Norwegian-American Identity in the USA,” Journal of Migration History 5 (2019) p. 489-511.
  12. Lee Ann Potter and Wynell Schmel, “The Homestead Act of 1862,” Social Education, 61,6 (October, 1997); Ray Allen Billingston, Westward Expansion: A History (New York: Macmillan, 1960).
  13. Betty A. Bergland, Norwegian migration and displaced peoples: Toward an understanding of Nordic whiteness in land-taking. Jana Sverljuk, et al. Nordic Whiteness and Migration to the USA (New York: Routledge, 2020).
  14. Kathleen Ruth Brokke, Transformation of the Red River Valley of the North: An Environmental Study. Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota, December, 2015, p. 53-54.
  15. Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1860, Vol.1. June, 2005.
  16. Gunlog Fur, “Indians and Immigrants,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Spring, 2014, 33/2. 58.
  17. For a trusted source on this period, I can recommend Jeremy Brecher, STRIKE (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2020, revised and updated) which I regularly assigned as a text in my courses. Also, Nell Irvin Painter’s highly accessible treatment, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).
  18. Mary Neth, Preserving the Family: Women and the Foundation of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1949 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 3 and 5, as cited by Hanson, p. 219.
  19. Aloysha Goldstein, “On the Reproduction of Race, Capitalism and Settler Colonialism,” Race and Capitalism: Global Territories, Transnational Histories, October, 2017, p. 45.
  20. Deborah Bird Rose, Hidden Histories, (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991), p. 45.
  21. Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol.8, 2006, pp. 387-409.
  22. Anthony F.C. Wallace, “Revitalization Moments: Some Theoretical Considerations for Comparative Study,” American Anthropologist, 58, (2) 1958. pp. 264-81.
  23. Andrew C. Billings and Jason Edward Black, Mascot Nation: The Controversy Over Native-American Reproductions in Sports (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2018); Laurel R. David Delano, Joseph Gone & Stephanie Frybers, “The psychological effects of Native-American mascots: a comprehensive review of empirical findings,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Education, June 8, 2020; For a revealing interview with a female, Native-American, Division 1 basketball player, see, Jaden Urban, “Offensive Mascots Take Toll on Indian Athlete,” Indian Country Today (n.d.).
  24. Bob Schmidt, “The Indian Head Penny,” Newspaper Rock, December 18, 2008. The author is an expert on several Native-American issues and contributor to Indian Country Today.
  25. As cited by Rick Green, “What It Means to Be an Indian in America,” The Hartford Courant, January 9, 2009.
  26. Karen Schwartz, “Is Travel Next in Fight Over Profiting from Indigenous Culture?” The New York Times, August 9, 2021, B5.
  27. The quotes are from Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran, Native American Postcolonial Psychology. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995) as cited by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitakers, “Indians Are Naturally Predisposed to Alcoholism,” Myth #18, in Dunbar-Ortiz, 130-136.
  28. The entire sordid story is laid out in meticulous detail and by Peter Cozzens, “Ulysses S. Grant Launched an Illegal War Against the Plains Indians, Then Lied About It,” Smithsonian Magazine, November, 2016; Also, Amy McKeever, “The heartbreaking, controversial history of Mount Rushmore,” National Geographic, October 28, 2020. The sculptor’s previous project upon which he worked closely with the Ku Klux Klan, was a massive bas-relief at Stone Mountain, Georgia in which he memorialized Confederate leaders.
  29. Hiram Drache, The Day of the Bonanza. (Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1964), p.3. In his conclusion, Drache mentions that one of the truly memorable contributions of the settler era is that it served as a “dramatic basis for innumerable tales of greatness and folklore which are only matched by Paul Bunyan.” p. 220; The Challenge of the Prairie (Fargo: ND: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1970); Taming of the Wilderness: The Northern Boundary Country: 1910-1939. (Danville, Illinois: Interstate Publishers, 1992).
  30. Hiram Drache, Taming of the Wilderness: The Northern Boundary Country: 1910-1939. (Danville: Illinois: Interstate Publishers, 1992).
  31. Anders Bo Rasmussen, “On Liberty and Equality: Race and Reconstruction Among Scandinavian Immigrants, 1864-1858,” in Jana Sverljuk.
  32. Terje Leiren, “Lost Utopia? The Changing Image of America in the Writing of Marcus Thrane,” Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 60, No.4; and by the same author, Selected Plays of Marcus Thrane, New Directions in Scandinavian Studies. The University of Washington, 2008.
  33. Odd Lovell, “GAA. PAA: A Scandinavian Voice of Dissent,” Minnesota History, Fall 1990, pp. 87-89.
  34. William Bell Mitchell, History of Stearns County, Minnesota, 1915.
  35. Email to author, July 27, 2021.
  36. Brad Evans, Interview with Vincent Brown, “Histories of Violence: Violence, Power and Privilege,” Los Angeles Review of Books, March 1, 2021.
  37. Gerald Horne, “Against Left-Wing White Nationalism (Organizing Upgrade).”
  38. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020).
  39. Joseph J. Ellis, The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783. (New York: Liveright, 2021), No page. According to pre-publication reviews, the book attempts to shed light on some unsung heroes of the period; Joseph J. Ellis, Band of Brothers (New York: Random House, 2000); Another recent, celebratory example is Mike Duncan, Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette. (New York: Public Affairs, 2021).
  40. Book Browse, An Interview with Joseph J. Ellis (nd). In 1779, this “common purpose” included Washington’s explicit order for the genocidal Sullivan expedition against the Iroquois nation in upstate New York. According to plan, more than 40 villages were burned to the ground and all crops and winter provisions were destroyed. Their morale totally broken, those not killed or captured fled to Canada. The Haudenosaunee named the first president, the “Town Destroyer.”
  41. Historian William Hogeland, interviewed by Jonah Waters, “Not Our Independence Day,” Jacobin, 07/04/2006. 48.
  42. Michael Parenti, Democracy for the Few, Ninth Edition (Boston: Wadsworth, 2011) p.11.
  43. Gregory Ablavsky, “The Savage Constitution,” Duke Law Journal, 63, No.5 (February 2014): pp. 999-1000, as cited by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants’ Boston: Beacon Press, 2021) p. 40.
  44. Hogeland.
  45. Gerald Horne; Charisse Burden-Shelley makes this point in her critique of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents in “Caste Does Not Explain Race,” Boston Review, December 15, 2000.
  46. Horne.
  47. Victor Wallis, “Intersectionality’s Binding Agent: The Political Primacy of Class,” New Political Science, 2015, Vol 37, No.4, p. 614.
  48. Gary Olson, “A Few Thoughts on White Identity,” Dissident Voice (June 12, 2021); David Barber, “Renouncing White Privilege: A Left Critique of Robin DiAngelo’s ‘White Fragility,” Counterpunch, August 3, 2020.
  49. Sai Englert neatly summarizes this in “Workers, Settlers, and the Logic of Accumulation by Dispossession.”
  50. Coulthard, p.125. Also, see the fine analysis in Siddhant Issar, “Theorizing ‘Racial/colonial primitive accumulation: settler colonialism, slavery and racial capitalism, Race & Class, 2021, Vol.63 (1) pp. 23-50. As detailed by Andres Resendez, colonists did, indeed, enslave Native Americans, especially in the West and Southwest in what Resendez terms “the other slavery.” Because these labor regimes were illegal, they differed in form from African slavery and were mostly covert and clandestine. Andres Resendez, The Other Slavery (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2017, paper).
  51. Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018) p. 67. I found this related interview with Horne to be helpful: “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Origins of the United States of America,” Zinn Education Project, June 29, 2021. This site has several additional background readings on the American Revolution.
  52. All quotes are from Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States. (New York: Harpers, 1980, 2015).
  53. Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. p. 16-17.
  54. Gerald Horne. The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and The Origins of The United States of America. (New York: New York University Press, 2014) p. 209-218.
  55. Horne, p. 222 & 237; Horne cites historian Alan Watson’s assertion that Lord Dunsmore’s edict “did more than any other British measure to spur uncommitted white Americans into the camp of rebellion.” p. 224.
  56. Colin Calloway, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), as cited in Walter L. Hixson, American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2013) p. 56.
  57. Email from Hahn to author, June 24.
  58. Cited by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, p. 235. My intellectual debt to Dunbar-Ortiz for this magisterial volume and her other work is immense. Her most recent book is, Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants’ (Boston: Beacon Press, 2021).
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I Awakened Here When the Earth Was New

Alisa Singer (USA), Changing, 2021. Source: IPCC.

In late March 2021, 120 traditional owners from 40 different First People’s groups spent five days at the National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change in Cairns (Australia). Speaking on the impact of the climate crisis on First People, Gavin Singleton from the Yirrganydji traditional owners explained that ‘From changing weather patterns to shifts in natural ecosystems, climate change is a clear and present threat to our people and our culture’.

Bianca McNeair of the Malgana traditional owners from Gatharagudu (Australia) said that those who attended the gathering ‘are talking about how the birds’ movements across the country have changed, so that’s changing songlines that they’ve been singing for thousands and thousands of years, and how that’s impacting them as a community and culture. … We are very resilient people’, McNeair said, ‘so it’s a challenge we were ready to take on. But now we’re facing a situation that’s not predictable, it’s not part of our natural environmental pattern’.

Arone Meeks (Australia), The Gesture, 2020.

The Yirrganydji traditional owners live on Australia’s coastline, which faces the Great Barrier Coral Reef. That majestic reef faces extinction from climate change: a period of consecutive years of coral bleaching from 2014 to 2017 threatened to kill off the precious coral, during which fluctuating temperatures caused coral to expel symbiotic algae that are crucial to the nutritional health of the coral. Scientists assembled by the United Nations found that 70% of the earth’s coral reefs are threatened, with 20% already destroyed ‘with no hope for recovery’. Of the reefs that are threatened, a quarter are under ‘imminent risk of collapse’ and another quarter are at risk ‘due to long-term threats’. In November 2020, a UN report titled Projections on Future Coral Bleaching suggested that unless carbon emissions are controlled, the reefs will die and the species they support will die out too. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority notes that ‘climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs worldwide’. That is why the Yirrganydji traditional owners created the Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers to care for the reef against all odds.

‘Most of our traditions, our customs, our language are from the sea’, says Singleton, ‘so losing the reef would impact our identity. We were here prior to the formation of the reef, and we still hold stories that have been passed down through generations – of how the sea rose and flooded the area, the “great flood”’. The Yirrganydji Rangers, Singleton points out, ‘have their hearts and souls’ in the reef. But they are struggling against all odds.

Pejac (Spain), Stain, 2011.

Not long after the National First People’s Gathering disbanded, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report. Based on the consensus of 234 scientists from over 60 countries, the report notes that ‘multiple lines of evidence indicate the recent large-scale climatic changes are unprecedented in a multi-millennial context, and that they represent a millennial-scale commitment for the slow-responding elements of the climate system, resulting in worldwide loss of ice, increase in ocean heat content, sea level rise, and deep ocean acidification’. If warming continues to reach 3 °C (by 2060) and 5.7 °C (by 2100), human extinction is certain. The report comes after a string of extreme weather events: floods in China and Germany, fires across the Mediterranean, and extreme temperatures across the world. A study in the July issue of Nature Climate Change found that ‘record-shattering extremes’ would be ‘nearly impossible in the absence of warming’.

Importantly, the 6th IPCC report shows that ‘historical cumulative CO2 emissions determine to a large degree warming to date’, which means that the Global North countries have already taken the planet to the threshold of annihilation before countries of the Global South have been able to attain basic needs such as universal electrification. For instance, 54 countries on the African continent account for merely 2-3% of global carbon emissions; half of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have no access to electricity, while many extreme climate events (droughts and cyclones in southern Africa, floods in the Horn of Africa, desertification in the Sahel) are now taking place across the continent. Released on World Environment Day (5 June) and produced with the International Week of Anti-Imperialist Struggle, our Red Alert no. 11 further explains the scientific and political dynamics of the climate crisis, the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, and what can be done to turn the tides.

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Ivory Coast), Le serment du Jeu de Paume, 2010.

Governments will gather in October for the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Kunming (China) to discuss progress on the Convention on Biological Diversity (ratified in 1993) and in November for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow (UK) to discuss climate change. Attention is on COP26, where the powerful Global North will once more push for ‘net zero’ carbon dioxide emissions and thereby reject deep cuts to their own emissions while insisting that the Global South forgo social development.

Meanwhile, there will be less attention paid to COP15, where the agenda will include cutting pesticide use by two-thirds, halving food waste, and eliminating the discharge of plastic waste. In 2019, an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report showed that pollution and resource extraction had threatened one million animal and plant species with extinction.

The link between the assault on biological diversity and climate change is clear: the opening of wetlands alone has released historic stores of carbon to the atmosphere. Deep emission cuts and better stewardship of resources are necessary.

Amin Roshan (Iran), Wandering, 2019.

Strikingly, just as the IPCC released its report, US President Joe Biden’s administration asked the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost output of oil production. This makes a mockery of the Biden pledge to cut 50% of US greenhouse emissions by 2030.

A recent paper in Nature shows that the passage of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), whose gradual elimination from aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and Styrofoam packaging prevented ozone depletion. The Montreal Protocol is significant because – despite industry lobbying – it was universally ratified. That treaty provides hope that sufficient pressure from key countries, pushed by social and political movements, could result in stringent regulations against pollution and carbon abuse as well as meaningful cultural change.

Simone Thomson (Australia), Awakening, 2019.

Places associated with global negotiations to save the planet include cities such as Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009), and Paris (2015). First amongst these should be Cochabamba (Bolivia), where the government of Evo Morales Ayma held the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April 2010. Over 30,000 people from more than 100 countries came to this landmark conference, which adopted the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. Several points were discussed, including the demand for:

  1. The states of the Global North to cut emissions by at least 50%;
  2. Developing countries to be given substantial assistance to adapt to the effects of climate change and to transition away from fossil fuels;
  3. Indigenous rights to be protected;
  4. International borders to be opened to climate refugees;
  5. An international court to be set up to prosecute climate crimes;
  6. People’s rights to water to be recognised, and that people have the right not to be exposed to excessive pollution.

‘We are confronted with two paths’, former President Morales said: the path of ‘pachamama (Mother Earth) or the path of the multinationals. If we don’t take the former, the masters of death will win. If we don’t fight, we will be guilty of destroying the planet’. Gavin Singleton and Bianca McNeair would certainly agree.

So would the Yorta Yorta poet and educator Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), whose ‘Spiritual Song of the Aborigine’ (1978) awakens hope and lays the soundtrack for those who march to save the planet:

I am a child of the Dreamtime People
Part of this land, like the gnarled gumtree
I am the river, softly singing
Chanting our songs on my way to the sea
My spirit is the dust-devils
Mirages, that dance on the plain
I’m the snow, the wind, and the falling rain
I’m part of the rocks and the red desert earth
Red as the blood that flows in my veins
I am eagle, crow and snake that glides
Through the rainforest that clings to the mountainside
I awakened here when the earth was new
.

Warmly,

Vijay

The post I Awakened Here When the Earth Was New first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Afghanistan:  The Abomination of “White Man’s Burden” and Fake Feminist Narratives

Take up the White Man’s Burden, send for the best ye breed,
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives need – new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child…
Take up the White Man’s burden, the savage wars of peace.

— Rudyard Kipling (1899)

The 2011 UK census recorded that Asian groups together numbered roughly 7% of Britain’s population, Black people 3% and mixed-race 2%, making a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) total of 12%.  In various combinations they are the decedents of people who’ve once been owned, colonised, lost their lands, original culture, languages etc, and in modern societies have little or no collective institutional or financial power, to combat their ghettoisation in the lower reaches the UK class system.  The reason they are here, subject to western structural racism, is because the Tony Blairs of the 18th and 19th C slaughtered and enslaved their ancestors.  Throughout this period of the slavery and racist-imperialist gravy-train – and as Rudyard Kipling’s famous sentiments demonstrate – this oppression was represented as doing indigenous peoples some sort of service or favour.

Elites abandoning the post-war decolonisation consensus in our era, returned to this racist faked foreign policy benevolence, force-feeding the public the narrative, that from intrusive Iraq, Afghanistan wars and elsewhere, ‘America is spreading democracy’.  The extent to which America is itself a democracy is up for debate, but this marketing is simply a rehash, of the 19th C ‘Onward march of western civilisation’ expansionist ideology. When asked, Ghandi is reputed to have mocked the notion of western civilisation saying ‘I think it would be a good idea’.

Modern racist-imperialists – prominently Blair, his former ministers and his media enablers – blatantly reuse tropes of the same racist propaganda.  As the US project in Afghanistan grinds to a halt and tragedy overtakes the country, this propaganda practice has again gone into overdrive.  The BBC and most of the corporate media continue to re-spin the years of western domination of Afghanistan as about, educating its women and children.  In light of the new US withdrawal position, this is not just last year’s Orwell-like Ministry of Truth-style propaganda, but also a racist narrative that’s again hundreds of years old.  During the period of the 18th/19th C imperialist gravy-train, western conquest was similarly represented as ‘civilising the primitive savage’ and justified by narratives of supposedly ‘teaching the ‘w*gs/ darkies Christianity’.  Obscuring the slurs of implied ethnic primitivism from modern media presentation, hardly changes the truth of the material and ideological dynamic.

The ‘educating Afghan women and children’ narrative would, as public discourse, be treated with the shocked incredulity it deserves, were indigenous Afghan casualties, from western conquest and occupation, not as a editorial agenda frequently media played down, effaced and censored from representation,   No matter how many Afghan mothers protest the western killing of their children, this phenomenon has been mainly absented from prominence in news agendas.

When the UK Times unusually broke ranks reporting a 2009 US atrocity, it was left to campaigning scrutiny site Media Lens to follow up in 2010, writing… “American-led troops dragged Afghan children from their beds and shot them during a night raid on December 27 last year, leaving ten people dead. Afghan government investigators said that eight of the dead were schoolchildren, and that some of them had been handcuffed before being killed.”

The extent of the problem meant in 2011 after a further nine children died in a NATO air strike, even President Karzai – an ambitious local politician in effect, simply a western satrap – was forced against potential self-interest, to embarrass General Petraeus publicly stating   “On behalf of the people of Afghanistan I want you to stop the killings of civilians” and the subsequent apology was “not enough”.   The France 24 news site covering Karzai’s statement, also referred to the similar indigenous 65 non-combatants killed during operations in Kunar province’s Ghaziabad district; six civilians killed in neighbouring Nangarhar province, and the hundreds who took to the streets of Kabul protesting the killing of children, all by western forces.

The brutal Taliban shooting of Malala Yousafzai was used as a propaganda boost to the ‘advancing civilisation’ narrative by western media and political elites.  But it is perhaps significant that the Taliban who are hardly public relations sophisticates, felt they need only appeal to the lived experience of indigenous people in Afghanistan and the bordering area of Pakistan – in a 2013 response to the surviving Malala, publicly questioning…

if you were shot but [by] Americans in a drone attack, would world have ever heard updates on your medical status? Would you be called ‘daughter of the nation’? Would the media make a fuss about you? Would General Kiyani have come to visit you and would the world media be constantly reporting on you?… Would a Malala day be announced?… More than 300 innocent women and children have been killed in drones attacks but who cares… (numbers unverified).

Even career politician former President Karzai was similarly in line with grassroots experiences, after this year’s withdrawal announcement, telling Russia’s RT (UK) “The US has lost the war in Afghanistan…years ago, when it bombed Afghan homes”.  And that this western violence had recruited for the indigenous Afghan Taliban and enabled them. “Things went wrong. They (Taliban) began to re-emerge and the part of the population went with them.”

Given that women and their children are most often the first victims of war, there has never been a significant grassroots pro-imperialism feminist movement.  In fact, in contrast to the attempts by pro-war neoliberals to camouflage their atrocities in the clothing of women’s concerns, a generational spanning tradition of anti-war feminists exists, including figures like Jane Adams, Ruth Adler, Vera Brittain, Betty Reardon, and Sylvia Pankhurst who opposed the Italian conquest of Ethiopia.  Current media spin about supposedly helping women in Afghanistan also deliberately side-lines significant figures like CodePink’s Medea Benjamin who recently commented…“A shout out to all who joined CODEPINK and other peace groups to oppose the invasion of Afghanistan. From Bush to Obama, we called for our troops to come home. Now we have to stop the military-industrial complex from dragging us into new wars.”

Another issue is can altruism – particularly with regard to educating indigenous women and children – be remotely believed as a motivation for those responsible for the West’s conquest of Afghanistan? Education has been comodified in George W. Bush’s America, and resulting student debt is at record levels.  Similarly, in contradiction to previous UK Labour Party traditions, the governments comprising PM Tony Blair, Chancellor Gordon Brown and their cabinets abolished the mandatory student support grant and even introduced fees for what had previously been free education.  Consequently, the marketing of the state education policies of Blair et al were frequently parodied by Party grassroots supporters as instead ‘Exploitation, Exploitation, Exploitation’.  Blair’s New Labour cuts to lone parent benefits – primarily harming single mothers and their children – is frequently cited as the moment Labour’s traditional support realised they had been betrayed by neoliberal entryism.  Would Britain’s neoliberal political elite attacking domestic lone mothers and working-class opportunities, really expend financial resources just to help Afghan women and their children?

Historian David Stannard has documented 100 million dead indigenous people of the Americas as victims of the largest holocaust in human history, occurring as a result of the overall conquest of the continent. For its part the US currently has a population of 331+ million people.  There are only 6+ million Native Americans left as part of this population, whose life chances are largely limited by the constraints of the Reservation system. Native Americans are practically un-findable, excluded, in most US cities, and invisible on film and TV.  If President George W Bush wanted to help indigenous people, he could have started at home.

If Bush simply wanted to ‘do good’, given former manufacturing city powerhouses like Detroit are wastelands, suffering from the export of US manufacturing jobs to global sweatshop economies, he could have fought poverty and the resulting homelessness crisis.  Perhaps most significantly he could have tackled the economic underpinnings of the ongoing post-19th C Black human rights crisis.  Are then we really supposed to believe his US conquest of Afghanistan was about some sort of ‘white man’s burden’ altruism?

In contradiction to the western white man’s burden narrative, both Bush and Blair presided over torture programs victimising Muslim people-of-colour.  One victim of the UK Blair torture regime – Fatima Boudchar – was actually pregnant when kidnapped along with her husband for rendition.  In Afghanistan torture was carried out at Bagram which corporate news outlets largely misrepresent as simply an airbase.  Most of the news outlets now pretending to be outraged by human rights concerns under the new Taliban, spun western torture under the entirely new invented term ‘water boarding’ as if it were akin to harmless surfing.  For decades prior to this it was simply known as a Nazi torture technique.  Not particularly a secret given it was represented even in popular film culture.  In Battle of the V1 (1959), a Polish female partisan subjected to Nazi water torture dies after her heart gives out.  In Circle of Deception (1960), it’s features, similarly used on a Canadian officer played by Bradford Dillman.  Yet, when the victims are simply Muslim people-of-colour, the status of the torture technique suddenly changes.

So what are the real incentives behind the US-led conquest of Afghanistan?  On 9/11 the Pentagon and Twin Towers were attacked by 15 violent Sunni Whabbist Saudi Arabians and four other Muslims.  It was suggested that Saudi Whabbists had used the Afghanistan wilderness as a training ground.  The extent of cultural collusion between the Pashton Afghan Taliban and Whabbist Saudi Arabs is often disputed.  In any case Osama Bin Laden was found in neighbouring Pakistan.  The question is if you want to combat violent Saudi Arabian Whabbists, why not stop their export and go to source – Saudi Arabia itself? Saudi Arabia is not only the source of the 9/11 attackers but its appalling human rights on the oppression of women and judicial punishment arguably exceeds that of pre-invasion Afghanistan.  In fact, since 9/11 the US instead of dealing Saudi Arabia which coincidentally is also its long term regional ally and oil supplier, has attacked or militarily threatened numerous countries that either have nothing to do with the country, or even in ethnic terms have an adversarial relationship to the Saudis – among these predominantly Shia Iraq, Syria, Iran and Berber Libya.

The approach Julian Assange and Wikileaks took to the issue in 2011 was to follow the money, and consequently put some flesh on the notion of a ‘Forever War’ that President Biden is currently citing in justifying US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.

What Assange and Wikileaks are alluding to is a form of ‘Military Keynesianism’.  Keynesian economics originated as a method of circumventing the dictatorship of the marketplace, for societies to instead allocate value to things deemed socially functional – sometimes this is augmented by printing money to maintain particular activities. It was supposed to help society’s poor and working-class.  In our era it has been a way of redirecting money to the corporate rich – here particularly the military industries.  The money printing supporting this – like so many things – has been relabelled, and now termed ‘Quantitative Easing’, but condemned as Welfare or Socialism for the Rich by working-class activists.

This is not the end of the incentives Afghanistan offers.  The corporate media are now suggesting the indigenous Afghan Taliban might be motivated by the country’s wealth in Lithium – vital for cell phone products – and Copper deposits.  Strange in two decades of coverage, it has never been suggested this was a motivation for the US to go halfway around the world.

It is also worth looking at how Afghanistan fits into the entire Neo-Con agenda.  Globalised capitalism is very good at internalising its profits, while externalising its costs onto the general public and society at large.  Economically, globalised capitalism doesn’t’ actually work unless subsidised by unfeasible levels of fossil fuel supply at therefore unfeasible low cost levels.  The general public has to bear the social cost, the environmental cost, the cost of wars for oil and the potential national security cost of not having localised manufacturing production.

In keeping with this and in contrast to any genuine post-9/11 agenda, US Neo-Con wars have predominantly had two functions – attacking oil rich and/or Russian allied nations.  It only takes a casual look at the regional map to show that a US military presence in Afghanistan provides a useful jumping off point for a war or simple military intimidation of Iran.  It also gives access to gas powerhouse Turkmenistan and potentially moves America’s military ever closer to Russia’s borders.  Predictably, despite Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, at no time during the US-led occupation did the corporate media query the military’s relationship to the country’s borders in the manner that they are doing now the indigenous Taliban are in charge.

Fuel prices are close to record highs, something that is regarded as a detriment to global trade.  As Biden announced his intention to go through with the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, OPEC said they were willing to increase global supply.  Iran seeing the knife about to taken from its throat seemed believe they were about to be let back into the global oil market, and boasted of being able to boost production.  Israel contrived a dispute with Iran over a tanker, apparently believing that this might have a negative effect on any potential ongoing US/Iran negotiations, designed to bring the country in from the cold.

If this conjunction plays-out the way it appears, then Biden ironically for equally capitalist materialistic and environmental hazardous reasons, is going to be the first prominent Democrat in decades, to open up clear blue water between himself and the Republican pro-war Neo-Con agenda, but at least hopefully we will be avoiding attacks on Iran and other future wars.

In the meantime those like Tony Blair who have hitched their careers to the Neo-Con imperialist wagon train will continue to impotently stamp their rhetorical feet, while demanding that their ridiculous white saviour narrative be believed.  While aided and abetted by the BBC and corporate media, seemingly unaware they are doing last year’s Ministry of Truth propaganda, and repeating century old racisms.

Afterword:

In reaction to Tony Blair’s latest media temper tantrum, Peter Galbraith, former UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said:

In terms of what was imbecilic, frankly it was the strategy that was followed for 20 years, which was to try to build a highly centralised state in a country that was as diverse – geographically and ethnically – as Afghanistan, and to engage in a counterinsurgency strategy without a local partner and the local partner was corrupt, ineffective, illegitimate.

The post Afghanistan:  The Abomination of “White Man’s Burden” and Fake Feminist Narratives first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Global Protests as Brazil’s Supreme Court Set to Begin Landmark Indigenous Rights Ruling


Over 6,000 indigenous people from approximately 170 peoples are protesting at the Struggle For Life camp in Brasilia against the Time Limit Trick. © Survival

Indigenous peoples from all over Brazil are protesting in a week-long action in Brasilia against the “Marco Temporal” (or “Time Limit Trick”), draft bill 490 known as the “Bill of Death”, and a series of other genocidal plans and actions by the Bolsonaro government.The “Struggle for Life” (“Luta pela Vida”) global action is led by APIB – the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

Indigenous protestors hold a vigil in Brasilia on the night before the Supreme Court begins its vote on the Time Limit Trick. © Survival

APIB have held a vigil outside the Supreme Court, which is due to restart voting on the Time Limit Trick, a proposal put forward by the agribusiness sector claiming that indigenous peoples only have the right to territory that they were physically occupying on October 5, 1988 – the day the current Constitution came into force.

A series of actions have taken place across the globe, including in San Francisco and London, by protestors calling for an end to the genocidal attacks being waged by President Bolsonaro and his supporters against Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

Protest outside Brazilian Embassy in London on the day the Supreme Court begins its ruling on the Time Limit Trick. © Survival

The Time Limit Trick poses a threat to hundreds of indigenous territories, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and dozens of uncontacted tribes, including:

  • The Xokleng: one of their territories is the subject of the Supreme Court ruling which will judge the validity, or not, of the Time Limit Trick.

Large parts of Xokleng land and other indigenous territories were allocated to
Europeans settlers encouraged by the Brazilian government early last century. The government also financed a so-called “Indian-hunting militia”, which accelerated the colonial land grab and the genocide of indigenous peoples. The Supreme Court could now set the effects of these and subsequent evictions in stone, establishing a precedent which would have far-reaching consequences for indigenous peoples in Brazil.

    • The Guarani: nearly all their land was stolen before 1988 and is now used for agribusiness. They would be among the hardest hit. Their campaign to get their land back, already a mammoth battle, would become even harder and bloodier.
    • The uncontacted Kawahiva: their existence and location was officially confirmed after 1988, like many other uncontacted tribes.
    • Many other uncontacted tribes, whose existence still hasn’t been officially confirmed by the government, despite plenty of evidence. There are 86 such cases, one of which is the uncontacted people of Ituna Itatá indigenous territory, whose emergency Land Protection Order is due to expire imminently.

    Indigenous people lay out the names of indigenous territories that will be affected if the Time Limit Trick were to be passed by the Supreme Court, Brasilia, 2021. © Survival

    If approved, the Time Limit Trick would set indigenous rights back decades and could wipe out whole uncontacted tribes. The indigenous movement and their allies are campaigning for it to be scrapped.

    APIB said: “May the country listen to its indigenous peoples. Our lives are linked to the earth, as we live in communion with it. We are the guardians of the forests and all forms of life that live there. We are facing a Congress that continues to push its anti-indigenous agenda. We are fighting against the Time Limit Trick, scheduled to be voted by the Supreme Court on August 25th. We will resist!”

    Caroline Pearce, director of Survival International said today: “This is the most critical court ruling for Brazil’s indigenous peoples for decades. The future of hundreds of thousands of people is at stake. It is also a crucial test of Brazil’s judiciary and democracy. It is up to the Supreme Court judges to uphold the constitution which recognizes indigenous peoples’ original rights to their lands as the country’s first inhabitants.”

    Protesters in London stand in solidarity with Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples outside the Brazilian Embassy in London. © Suzanne Plunkett / GreenpeaceThe post Global Protests as Brazil’s Supreme Court Set to Begin Landmark Indigenous Rights Ruling first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Justice and Politics: When Words are Betrayed by Deeds

Michael Kovrig-Meng Wanzhou-Michael Spavor. Photograph: (Agencies)

For neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III

Simply put, hypocrisy is when words and actions don’t agree. It is revealing when one applies this straightforward definition to the cases involving two Canadian detainees in China, business consultant Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, and the Chinese detainee in Canada, Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou.

The United States is seeking the extradition of Meng for fraud-related charges. The two Michaels were apprehended soon after in China and charged with spying on national secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities.

On Wednesday 11 August, Spavor was sentenced by a Chinese court to 11 years in prison.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was dismissive of the verdict. “Today’s verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.”

There are many parts of this statement by Trudeau that require deeper consideration.

First, Trudeau notes the duration of the detention, more than two and a half years. It is commonly held that justice delayed is justice denied. When the wheels of justice grind too slowly, there is a danger of a gross injustice being committed. When detainees are found to be not guilty, a nonrecoverable portion of their lives has been squandered. If Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are innocent, then a gross injustice has occurred. However, this applies equally in the case of Meng Wanzhou who has been under house arrest for over two and a half years.

Does Trudeau’s concern for long-term detention only apply to Canadians? Has Trudeau ever uttered one word regarding the over a decade-long detention and torture of Julian Assange for revealing US war crimes, a detention for which Canada may well be complicit?

Second, Trudeau claims the detentions are arbitrary. However, if the verdict reached was just, then the fact that Spavor was found guilty would indicate that his detention was not arbitrary.

The Global Times argued:

The Dandong Intermediate People’s Court handled the case of Spavor in strict accordance with the law, fully protected Spavor’s litigation rights, respected and honored the Canadian side’s consular rights such as visiting and receiving notification, and arranged for the Canadian side to attend the trial. However, Canada, disregarding the political nature of the Meng Wanzhou incident and acting as an accomplice of the US, has detained Meng, an innocent Chinese citizen who didn’t violate any Canadian law, for nearly 1,000 days. This is arbitrary detention in every sense of the term, the embassy in Canada said.

The Chinese Embassy in the US also said Meng has never violated any Canadian law but has been detained by Canada until today. Canada chooses to be an accomplice to the US and this is a textbook example of arbitrary detention by “exercising leverage over a foreign government.”

And as the film The Secret Trial 5 makes clear, arbitrariness is part of Canada’s so-called justice system; people can be locked away for many years in Canada without ever being charged.

Third, Trudeau has not denied or refuted the charges against the two Michaels. His words are directed against the process.

Fourth, as for the process, rightly or wrongly, a lack of transparency is the norm when the cases involve state secrets. The same lack of transparency holds true in Canada.1 A lack of transparency is antithetical to protecting the rights of the accused and for seeking justice. Nonetheless, to cast stones at the actions of another while carrying out the self-same actions speaks to hypocrisy.

Trudeau’s statement continues: “For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible.” In this regard, the Canadian authorities’ sentiments and actions for the Michaels are shared by Chinese authorities for Meng.

Canadian foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau said the verdict against Kovrig is “not acceptable in terms of international rules-based law.” Such a statement falls flat in light of the recent charge that Canada is violating international law by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, arms that can be used to continue its aggression against Yemen. One needs to dig much deeper into what the rule of law means for Canada. There is no escaping the fact that the country is a colonial-settler state imposed through genocide against the Original Peoples of the landmass designated Canada by navigator Jacques Cartier. Still today, one headline makes clear that “Canada Is Waging an All-Front Legal War Against Indigenous People.” This points to the quintessence of Canada and its political class. Despite having seized political control through genocide, having committed to reconciliation, and having pledged (as Trudeau did) to a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples … [as] a sacred obligation,” the words have exposed betrayal. Instead capitalist exploitation continues unabated while the Canadian state stonewalls reconciliation and legal redress for the Original Peoples.

Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, rejected accusations that Spavor’s trial was unfair and not open. “I would like to say that the minimum standard is for other countries to respect our judicial sovereignty. So here I would like to stress that actually it’s the Canadian side which did not meet the minimum standard of the international norm.”

What is the American Gambit?

Foreign affairs minister Garneau seems to have faith in American president Joe Biden being able to secure the release of the Michaels by “treating them as if they were American citizens detained by China.” This is following previous president Donald Trump politicizing Meng’s proceedings: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

It points to a double standard for extradition as a means for achieving justice. Consider the case of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat who the US refuses to send to Britain to stand trial for her hit-and-run accident that killed teenager Harry Dunn in 2019. Some Americans, it seems, are beyond the reach of the law.

China is well aware of what is transpiring. China’s Huawei is the world leader in cutting-edge 5G technology. The US fears being left behind and is seeking to dissuade other states from using that technology. Thus, China’s government views Meng’s arrest as part of US efforts to hamper its technology development. Neither are the allies of the US exempt from America’s extraterritorial reach as a weapon to stymie competition. The French company Alstom experienced this as its former senior executive Frederic Pierucci was arrested and imprisoned for over 2 years in New York. Alstrom eventually had to pay a huge fine of US$772 million. Said Pierucci, “That [fine] facilitated the buyout of 70 per cent of Alstom by its main American competitor General Electric, blocking a potential merger between Alstom and Shanghai Electric Company.”

Canada is harming its relationship with the rapidly developing economic colossus of China to appease the United States. However, it ought to bear in mind how the US swooped in to replace Australian exports to China. This was after Australia aligned itself with a belligerent US policy toward China causing China to curtail imports from Australia.

A Possible Deal?

Yesterday (14 August), Canada’s National Observer published an ad hominem piece calling for an exchange of detainees. It begins, “The ugly messy truth about the two Michaels is that we must get past our indignation, however justified, over China’s gross violations of all international norms.” What is the justification? What if Chinese indignation is justified? What adduces the hyperbolic “China’s gross violations of all international norms.” All?

The National Observer grants, “Meng is charged purely for geo-political gamesmanship.” What the newsletter does not discuss is that Meng previously turned down an offer for her release in return for admitting wrongdoing.

Doubts can be gleaned from the notes of the associate chief justice Heather Holmes who is presiding over the extradition case,

Isn’t it unusual that one would see a fraud case with no actual harm, many years later, and one in which the alleged victim — a large institution — appears to have numerous people within the institution who had all the facts that are now said to have been misrepresented?

The National Observer insults China by calling its government a “regime.” The Chinese “regime” is one that lifted its entire population out of absolute poverty. Elsewhere on Canadian streets, one will see too many homeless people, people whose dignity is disparaged by having to rely on food banks, begging, or dumpster diving to quell hunger.

So which “regime” is interested in looking after the people — all its people?

Meanwhile, Kovrig, who stood trial in March, continues to await word on a verdict. And Meng awaits a decision on the extradition outcome.

  1. Read “Kafka’s Canada at 15: The secret trials of Mohamed Harkat” and “Canada’s Supreme Court authorizes secret trials and arbitrary, indefinite detention.”
The post Justice and Politics: When Words are Betrayed by Deeds first appeared on Dissident Voice.