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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Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Don't Vote! The Two Row Is Only One Reason

The basic question for a Native person is: "How does anyone who claims to be Sovereign; a person distinct from the American culture, a Native person tied to the land and ways of their ancestors, immune from US laws and jurisdiction, a survivor of the greatest genocide the world has ever know; vote in the elections of the government responsible for that genocide?" The Native person that votes or worse yet advocates other Native people to vote in non-native elections is not a survivor of that genocide. They are fallen victims. 

Genocide is a physical crime and a psychological one as well. The era of small pox blankets, mass executions, starvation, sterilization, murder, rape and concentration camps are by and large a thing of the past. But since the time leading up to the residential schools, the good Christian societies of the US and Canada adopted the "Kill the Indian; save the man" strategy. This turned assimilation into a whole new game. It worked hand and hand with major land reduction and major "depopulation" programs (some directly incorporated in the residential schools) but concentrated on indoctrination more so than extermination. Native languages were wiped out, often times, in one generation. Traditional names were erased from the lips and ears of children as were the stories, ceremonies, teachings and any sense of identity. Histories were rewritten and inferiority of our entire race was reinforced with alcohol and isolation. In 1924 when the US Senate "declared" all Indians born in the US to be US citizens, some viewed this as a step up from centuries of criminal mistreatment. But most at the time were as apathetic to this Citizenship Act as they were to all the other bullshit laws the state and federal governments passed. Besides, how could one nation legislate away the nationality of hundreds of distinct peoples anyway? Is that even legal? Where could such a thing be legal?

We have a wampum belt that has been used over and over again to symbolize a very simple concept. The Two Row Wampum, known as the Kaswentha or Tekeni Tiohate, is as simple in its meaning as it is in its design. Two rows of purple wampum each two beads wide separated and bordered by rows of white wampum, three beads wide; creating the image of two purple paths on a white background. One of those paths is ours, the Haudenosaunee. The other is for each those with whom we entered into a covenant of mutual respect. That first vow was with Creation. We acknowledged that all of creation had a path and that our path must respect the paths that Creation provided. We extended that "treaty" to other Ohnkwe Ohnwe, understanding that some of these relatives had paths distinct from ours and that overcoming man's tendency to war and violence required a symbol of mutual respect. When it came to the white man, this concept needed a new metaphor. Acknowledging paths across our "mother" couldn't work for a landless people. So when the Kaswentha was offered to them, the two rows were described as two vessels upon the river of life; the ship and the canoe. This new party and their relatives that followed had no common history and little common philosophy of all of the Creation as we knew it. So, much was spelled out about how neither vessel would attempt to steer or dominate the other. The voyage of each would be respected and unencumbered by the other. Neither people would attempt to ride with a foot in each vessel although each would offer friendship and assistance as the waters got rough. Simple and beautiful when bound by trust and respect. Simple and naive when offered to deceivers.
This concept absolutely cannot justify the Act of 1924 (or any of their acts of pretend legislation) or our people voting in non-native elections. The myth that our vote matters cannot justify taking a willing step toward assimilation either. 

But let me address this propaganda.

Not only has the Native population been diminished to a point of insignificance as a percent of the American population but our people have been sliced and diced, force marched from homeland to the lands of others, separated by imaginary borders (including national, state, county, town, state districts, congressional districts and who knows what else). The Seneca Nation alone has their adult population of a few thousand separated by three counties and at least that many congressional districts and state districts (if those could even apply on Seneca land). So when you cut, what some might believe could be, one voice up three or more ways it gets pretty insignificant. This, of course, does not even address the fact that not all of us would vote if it were appropriate or vote for the same party or candidate anyway. so where is this "power of the vote"? Voting in a system that arguably is not ours, forces us to accept the results and the ownership of these public servants. Of course, you gotta ask, who owns who? at that point.

Where our power is, is in our sovereignty. The very thing we jeopardize by lining up with them in their vessel. Our strength is in our autonomy; our distinction. And that distinction could not be made more clear than by erasing those lines that separate us, making clear that our lands are NOT in their districts, their towns, their counties, their states or their nation. Oh yeah, and by not voting.