Created on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 16:14
Written by Sherwood Ross
Indigenous Peoples are Locked
in Global Struggle to Survive
by Sherwood Ross
hile commanding the Continental Army to liberate the colonies from the British yoke, George Washington informed his troops they could “kill every Indian” that had set up a village along the Missouri and Mohawk rivers.
* The same Thomas Jefferson who earlier wrote the stirring words “all men are created equal,” as president called for hunting down Native Americans as they would “a wolf.”
* On the day that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation he approved the execution of 38 Dakota Native Americans for “stealing” a cow that had wandered onto their reservation.
* As for Theodore Roosevelt, whose face appears with the above-cited presidents on Mount Rushmore, he created a 52-million-acre National Park system---much of it taken from reservation land that had been officially designated for Native Americans.
If these disturbing stories are not being taught to American schoolchildren today it may be because Tiokasin Ghosthorse, host and producer of “First Voices Indigenous Radio
,” is not in charge of the curriculum. He makes assertions that would surprise most people raised believing traditional American values---and that omit such charges against our presidents.
A native of the Lakota tribe of South Dakota, Ghosthorse is perhaps the world's leading advocate for the viewpoints of some 350 million indigenous people from the rain forests of Brazil to the islands of Polynesia, including the survivors of the European invasion of North America, which Ghosthorse dubs “our First World War.”
He says that when Americans next celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it will be regarded by indigenous peoples here as a “National Day of Mourning.” Listeners to WBAI Radio at 99.5 FM in New York City at 10 A.M. Thursdays can hear his commentaries, as can those on a dozen other stations that rebroadcast his show.
With his salt-and-pepper hair hardly contained by his headband, Ghosthorse cut an imposing figure when interviewed on Comcast's “Educational Forum,” presented by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover and the American College of History and Legal Studies of Salem, N.H. Interviewer Kurt Olson, a professor at the law school, said he was immediately struck “by Tiokasin's nobility of spirit and imposing presence.”
The Lakota native has assumed the task of reminding the world that indigenous peoples “have prior rights to their territories, land and resources, but often these have been taken from them” and they are under “constant threat of territorial invasion and murder, the plundering of their resources, cultural and legal discrimination, as well as a lack of recognition of their own institutions.”
Ghosthorse says, “We (Native Americans) are the only minority in the United States that cannot legally own land. We have a right to occupy land and hold a piece of paper that says we can live (on our land) but we cannot own it.” The U.S. government, he adds, “took away the land of the Native peoples but did not give the rest of America the true knowledge of why they were forcing these relocations.”
As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, “international extraction corporations were coming onto the land and drilling holes and they discovered uranium and oil and gold and coal and all the precious minerals and reserves of energy that were on the 'worst lands' where we had been driven to relocate.” Removed from their original lands “we became welfare state people, and we lost face because we weren't beggars in the first place or thieves. That goes against our philosophies of life. We always shared, we were fiercely self-sufficient people.”
Today, he says, even though the public thinks Native American tribes all own gambling casinos and are rolling in profits, many do not and the only people worse off materially than Native Americans as a group are destitute Haitians. He believes the government wants Native Americans off their remaining reservation land so that it, too, can be privatized. “Metaphorically, I say, if you want a piece of the American pie, just don't forget who owns the bakery,” is pure Ghosthorse.
Native Americans saw early on that Columbus and his men “had money in their eyes, and that value was new to us because we gave all the time,” Ghosthorse says. “Our Number One value is generosity and so when they (Europeans) came they took advantage of that generosity with greed. And when you come from a land (Europe) that's divided up among kingdoms and serfdoms and whatnot, you're going to have want. And in our culture, we don't have the word for want as we don't need it because you're in a sharing culture. You're always asking, 'What can I give?' rather than 'What can I have or take?' So we don't have a word for 'ownership.'”
Ghosthorse goes on to say that Native Americans recognized that Columbus and the early settlers were “poor in spirit” and in response “we helped them.” For example, the Tainos, a Caribbean people, helped Columbus salvage the contents of his ship Santa Maria when it ran aground. History books say that the Taino and Arawak tribes that interacted with Columbus “are dead and gone but, in fact, they are speaking Taino in New York City today,” Ghosthorse affirms.
“When we think about Columbus and that mentality,” he continues, “it's like a virus and we have to protect ourselves from the virus of ownership by war, which is a word we don't have in our language.” He notes that when those who had nothing in Europe settled in America acquired possessions they would say, “Look, we're not poor any more. We're somebody now, because we have material (possessions).” And while Native Americans may be poorer materially since their land was taken from them, “spiritually we are in a better state,” Ghosthorse says, “because we are resilient, we are resistant to what they are calling themselves as the power, because it's ruled by greed and war.”
He says the Founding Fathers got some help from Native Americans of the Iroquois Confederacy in formulating the U.S. Constitution. “(Ben) Franklin and Jefferson did go at least thirty years before the Constitution was written into Mohawk territory to learn their jargon, and they thought, 'Wow, these people have equality, men and women.' And there were millions of Native people across the continent at the time, not just 100,000 or so, who lived the same way,” Ghosthorse asserted. Ironically, he adds, when the Founders drafted the Constitution in Philadelphia, they invited the Indian chiefs to Independence Hall only to lock them in an upstairs room where, from time to time, they were asked questions. Like blacks, women, and poor whites, Native Americans were denied the right to vote by the Founders, Ghosthorse says, and so they were treated as property, not human beings.
Indigenous peoples, Ghosthorse says, today live on 71 percent of the land on the planet that is still considered “pristine” as it has “clean water and clean air and clean land.” But if these territories are taken away “by so-called higher civilizations” and they destroy the Earth, “that's not higher thinking.” On the contrary, “you have indigenous peoples who are living the highest form” (of intelligent lifestyles) “by taking care of the land, and not cutting it down to make books to read about what they cut down.”
The so-called higher civilizations of the Occident, including America, he says, “have tended not to use energy properly” and by using too much we are “depleting other parts of the world---like water is energy and pollution is “energy that has gone astray.” Ghosthorse adds, “And that's what we're “looking at, to view things in a positive light so we can use energy in a proper way.” He said that today's American culture, exemplified by “Mickey Mouse and McDonald's” is “not a culture compared to Lakota” because “we've been here 10,000 or 100,000 years ago” and the traditional songs and stories go back to “the time of the dinosaurs. That's how old we say we are.”
Growing up, he recalls, his family lived “in a clean way” and had “clean water, clean air, and even clean gardens long before it was organic.” Then his family was told that they could not live that way and were moved to cluster housing with running water. “But then, because they took the land away or we were moved from those places (where) we lived, they took over and they mined and they polluted the water that we were getting in those running water taps. So I don't know if it's a better way. I don't know if it's a better way to go bomb other people because they threaten you.”
Ghosthorse questions “the atomic bomb mentality that we've all been living with (and) whether or not we are going to exterminate ourselves.” However, he says he doubts extinction will come from the atomic bomb because “we don't know how to treat Earth any more. That's the ultimate.”
“We're not ever going to save ourselves,” he reflects, “because salvation point mentality says it's got to come from someplace out there, and not from within, so we can have a savior or a UFO come down and save us at the last minute.” That, he says, “is not going to happen because that implies there will only be a chosen one, which cannot be within Lakota philosophy since we are all responsible for each other.” Asked how the Lakota perceive Creation, Ghosthorse replied, “We have in our original creation story that life, this planet and the stars was created by thought. We can't understand it in our little brains where thought came from...(but we believe) we came down and we helped create Mother Earth.”
He goes on to say, “As a Lakota, we have no need for a heaven or for a hell. It's right here. We're not worried about going to Hell. We are right here. We are conscious. There's no past. There's no future. It's all right here, right now. So we evolved into this state of consciousness that says, 'I am you and you are me. My body is in the soul. You are my soul and I must respect you.'” This, Ghosthorse says, is preferable to the view, “My soul is only in my body, separate, so I must gather in order to feel like I own and I am somebody because it's about individuality.”
Ghosthorse stressed that in the Lakota language there are no words for “I” or “me” and that the emphasis is on sharing, not procuring for oneself. Western religions, he says, emphasize that the individual who practices their faith will be rewarded with good things.
“The more nicer things you have, well, that must make you a nicer person. And God's going to look at you and give you these things, and then you're going to go to a place up there with pearly gates and streets paved with gold. Now, what thinking Native person would want to go someplace that has pearly gates and streets paved with gold? Not one Native person who knows himself would ever want to go there.” The Lakota language, he continues, has the word “wasicu,” meaning one who takes too much or “fat.”
There is a philosophical clash between the positions of Western and Native American religions, Ghosthorse says, and he is concerned that young Lakota children are being made to want things by TV advertisements, “things that belong to them individually.” More recently, the “new” Lakota language has added the words “I” and “me” first and foremost, a development he laments.
Speaking of religion, Ghosthorse says he believes “We just don't die. Our spirit, our energy just goes back to Earth, and that's a good thing. In the Lakota philosophy we believe we were alive before we came here. We're alive now and we'll be alive, even though physically we may change because all of our reality in this way of rational thinking is contained within our physicality.”
“We don't have words like 'believe,'” he continues, “because, if you think about it, it's a spiritually lazy word. Because a book describes somebody else's experience, is that believable? No. It's not your experience. Your experience says that you know this and that's how you become wise. In Lakota, we have a saying, in order to protect ourselves be careful of the education that they bring you and force upon you because that education may educate the wisdom out of your soul.”
Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Further Information:
To comment or contribute to his Anti-War News Service, reach him at