Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Who Gives the UNDRIP Force? We Do, That's Who!

The United Nations has designated every August 9th to be the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. I usually don't pay much attention to these things because as it turns out, that while plenty of Native people from North America make the trek to the UN and quite frequently, there is little or nothing the UN has for programs to support the Native people in the US or Canada. Why? The US and Canada won't allow it!

But this August 9th I happened to be in New York to guest host for Tiokasin Ghosthorse on his program, "First Voices Indigenous Radio" and as more luck would have it; the theme for our "special day" was "Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices". Now I was not invited to this event, mind you, even though I regularly host the only weekly Native talk radio show in the state other than the one I happened to be guest hosting. But having sat in for Tiokasin on that Thursday morning, doing a pretty good show I might add, I was packing up for my trip back home when I received an email about the event. I was literally staying walking distance from the UN and had no reason to rush home so I made a call to make sure they'd let me in and off to the UN I went.

I was a little surprised that the event was generating a decent crowd but then I realized that Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, himself was giving an address to start us off. His words were strong and supportive as were remarks from the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (the entire event was webcast by the UN and can be viewed at http://bcove.me/pqzmwpkm). As all the "Indigenous" events at the UN are, this one too was dominated by Native people from here and, yes of course, I managed to get to a microphone as well. As I often do, I raised the question about where the rubber meets the road on the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); where does it get teeth to match its strong words and detailed restrictions.

I don't go to the UN often but when I do, I usually leave with a hollow feeling. I never get the sense that the international community is ever really going to address the American genocide that still continues today. But a funny thing happened this trip. after hearing some comments from one of the panelists, Professor J. Kehaulani Kauanui from Hawaii via Wesleyan University, and engaging her a bit in my comments, I had a change of heart. Professor Kauanui mentioned two things about the UNDRIP. First she acknowledged the absence of the force of law regarding the Declaration. She mentioned other proclamations, resolutions and announcements, including the US apology for the crimes committed against the people of Hawaii, and how courts have deemed them inadmissible or of no legal consequence, just words. But she expressed the significance of them anyway. And it hit me that it is not the US or Canadian courts that need to give these ratified documents force. It is us that need to. The only true court of the people is the court of public opinion and it is in this court that we must prosecute those that violate the rule of law, Natural Law. That is really all this document acknowledges; the simple laws of nature and birthright. We need to cite every article and section that is violated every time they are violated. No matter what nation it is or what state or province it is that violates it.

The other suggestion Ms. Kauanui made was to bring the education of the UNDRIP local. Get the all those universities, most of which sit on negotiated parcels of our lands, to host events where Native and non-native people can learn how the world views our issues, including state, provincial and federal officials. This is how WE give the Declaration force. US and Canadian courts are not the places for our issues to be "remedied". We don't need their law makers to add to the long list of ambiguous, or otherwise meaningless, "Federal Indian Laws". To the contrary; their courts need to stop trying adjudicate our sovereignty away and their legislatures need to stop trying legislate sovereignty out and "our special status" in.

It is simple, just follow what every UN nation has agreed to; the UNDRIP! They all signed it. We now need to hold them to it. We need to give it force. And let those nations who are concerned that the UNDRIP may conflict with their constitutions, laws, or worse yet, their religions, have that conflict exposed. Let us show the  rest of the world the world we live in and let us show the clear genocide that continues still today in spite of this Declaration.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Is it True that Casino Gambling is tied to Organized Crime?: Has the Lure of Easy Money Turned NYS to Extortion?

Allow me to once again state the obvious. The State has no right to revenue from Native gaming operations. According to federal law, they may negotiate repayment for their costs associated with the regulation of Class  3 gaming but they are not entitled to a "cut". The State may, however, offer something of value to a Native gaming operation for some consideration and this is the crux of the current conflict between the Senecas and the State.
The Seneca people always felt that their gaming enterprises should be a part of a regional development and that a certain benefit should be realized by the entire Western New York region. As such, the plan to develop some level of revenue sharing was never a problem for the Senecas. The question was what was the "thing of value" that could be offered up for a share of gaming revenue? Well it wasn't exactly the only question as it turns out. The powers that be in Albany wanted to be out in front of this conversation and basically took the position with the Senecas that Albany would take care of Western New York and that any "deal" would be with them.
The standard offering in other states has always been gaming exclusivity for a percent of the slot drop. There is clearly a benefit for a gaming enterprise if there can be an assurance that there would be no competition within their market area. For the most part this is really all the states can offer, outside of direct financial support. And so this is what New York served up; a competition free zone that would include all of Western New York in exchange for 25% of the slot revenue. Out of this cut that the State would receive 75% would stay in State coffers for Albany to squander with a quarter going to the three cities where the Senecas reclaimed land for gaming and none to the region as a whole.
And for this generous offering from the Senecas the State was to ensure gaming exclusivity for the region. Now this may not reek of extortion yet even if it has the hint of "protection money" because, let's be honest, it is protection money. The Senecas agreed to pay the guys with the muscle to protect their market and in more than a small way allowed the State to get into the Casino business by proxy. Where this less than holy arrangement gets even dirtier is when the State decides to violate its side of the deal and not just allow competition against the Senecas but to be the competition. And not for a minute did the State hesitate to insist that the "protection money" keep flowing.
New York State now has 9 of its own casinos, placed discretely on grounds already tainted by the sin of gaming, their failing horse racing tracks. Three of them are in the "exclusivity zone" of the Senecas. Although it is not clear how much these venues generate it is rumored that the State's casinos pull in close half a billion dollars per year. It is also unclear if the State writes a check for 25% back to those "host communities" but what is clear is that they are not writing a check to the three cities that lost out when the Senecas stopped paying the State for protection that isn't there.
In a campaign to pit Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca against the Senecas, the State plugged itself in between the relationship from the start and now leaves those communities with no benefit from gaming revenue; not from the Seneca sites nor from the racetrack sites. As effective as this campaign may have been in certain political circles, it has not forced anyone's hand. Although the effects of how much this has degraded Native/State relations has been fairly obvious, only now through several recent comments is it clear how vindictive the State and State leadership has become.
When the State only had estimates on how much money they believed they were losing to Native retailers over tax issues they could keep a steady drum beat going and keep some momentum going on pushing anti-Native policies. But having a specific and known number like half a billion dollars in an escrow account just out of reach or gaping holes in three of their municipalities' budgets where gaming dollars once were, certainly has emboldened the Governor in ratcheting up the pressure. Add to this an obvious dislike for each other and the inflated egos that both the executive of the State and of the Seneca Nation have, and the seeds are sown for even more hostility.
So this brings us to a grave admission from the Governor and at least one of his commissioners that a conscious decision has been made to connect the gaming revenue dispute to the State's refusal to fulfill its obligations to maintain the roads that cross Seneca territory. Who knew that it would be Mr. Cuomo that would show such a lack of forethought and composure? It would be different if the crumbling roads and bridges traveled by significantly more non-native than Native people were only in a general state of disrepair. But a large piece of Interstate 86 where it cuts through the Seneca territory of Allegany fell in the river last year and it was just luck that no one was killed. This road which only recently gained "Interstate" designation has the worst stretch through Seneca territory and is a tire blowing, rim bending treacherous ride even without a road collapse. The bridges over the Thruway (I-90) on the Cattaraugus Territory are equally disturbing as is the bridge entering the territory on Routes 5&20.
For the Governor to consciously place public safety at risk, not through negligence but as a strategy and to offer as a solution to shut down unsafe roads clearly crosses a line and even in the absence of exaggeration or embellishment meets the threshold for extortion. It certainly begs the question as to who has been corrupted here.