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'The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for.' (Photo:  Indigenous Environmental Network/Facebook)
‘The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for.’ (Photo: Indigenous Environmental Network/Facebook)

Dedicated to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Fight for Sacco and Vanzetti

“With his hand on my mouth
He shall drag me forth,
Shrieking to the south
And clutching at the north.”

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Moriturus

As everyone paying attention knows, we are about to die.

Unless indigenous people — the ones whose lead must be followed according to Noam Chomsky for us to survive as a species — can secure significant reins of decision-making power. Indigenous people and/or allies of Indians in Latin America, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere.

I’m not talking about merely demonstrating alongside them in North Dakota, making demands of career politicians who will never do the right thing by Mother Earth. Rather, I’m speaking about the necessity of indigenous people and/or their allies being in on calling the shots.

John Boorman came out with a film in the mid-80s — at the height of the butchery of the indigenous people of Latin America (courtesy of our School of Americas in the backyard of Jimmy Carter’s Georgia) — called The Emerald Forest. I didn’t care for the movie much, except that it did a very decent job of portraying exactly what was happening to the Xingu and the Yanomamo Indians of South America, as well as the Indian nations throughout the world. I’m not talking about “Indians” along the lines of Aztecs or Incas or members of the Zapotec societies, which can be characterized as tending to be imperialist theocracies. Rather, I’m zeroing in on authentic Indians, who are — by most standards — at the opposite end of the spectrum from abominable Western attitudes and lifestyles.

In addition, Boorman’s flick ticked away quite accurately respecting the inter-tribal interaction which comes down when one tribe is pitted against another by whites (by virtue of being pushed off of its own lands into the hands of other tribes (trying to protect their territories). And I cannot level enough praise for the way in which Western technology is depicted as destructive. No viewer can have any doubts about the thrust of the cinematic statement (dis)respecting bulldozers, dams and guns. Or how the film puts down Western expansion which has absolutely no regard for the forest or the people within it.

The Emerald Forest also shows white people from an Indian point of view. The Indians call the whites “the termite people,” because of how they destroy the forest; white society is “the dead world,” because the concrete environments it creates do not allow anything to grow.

I know why that last point made me think of Joni Mitchell.

In the 60s we sang along with Joni after Woodstock and beyond, but didn’t do enough to stop the pouring of the concrete. Yes, we screamed here and there, baring our heads so they could get bashed in at the barricades by cops in battle gear, no fear with our protest and jailing. We were railing, but trailing the powers that be badly in term of… achievement. We made ourselves feel good about ourselves, and — unlike today — we went at it ’round the clock very often, not taking time off as virtually all non-profits do today with their Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 office hours.

But… that’s all said not to pat myself and my compatriots (“comrades” at the time) too much. For — bottom line — the powers that be did pass the line we drew in the toxic sand. Everything we fought against — pretty much — has gotten infinitely worse during the last five decades. Half-a-century later and we’re participating in protests which (also) won’t give us a shot in hell at avoiding the proliferation of hell.

It’s Hell on Earth witnessing Heaven on Earth being turned into Hell on Earth in slow motion.

Back to the indigenous people in whom Noam says our salvation lies. With whom he urges us to move in solidarity. Today, the author of The Sustaining Fires of Standing Rock: A Movement Grows reiterated the need for such movement in solidarity, and provided much worthy information with regard to how we can be allies with the indigenous people rallying in North Dakota. That said, though, I’m obliged to point out that although I’ve written to him requesting an opportunity to discuss a new paradigm for proceeding… he hasn’t yet responded.

I’d be patiently waiting for his reply, if the lack of response wasn’t typical in my outreach. Usually, folks firing up readers with such messages for movement in solidarity don’t give their contact info. Roy did. But if I were in Las Vegas I’d take the odds that said he won’t get back. Or if he does, that he’ll be too much on the run for the kind of in-depth discussion that’s demanded to intelligently and seriously consider any new idea, not just what I want to recommend. I say this because I’ve had that kind of experience with concerned citizen writers on alternative sites for the last thirteen years incessantly. I don’t take it personally, and the dynamic doesn’t get me down. But it certainly precludes being able to embrace fresh ideas together with others.

Time for in-depth discussion along the lines I’m asking for must be allowed. Time must be set aside for such interaction. During the hey day of Occupy I traveled nationwide to many General Assemblies, and the discussion was very democratically handled, as a rule, but it was always fleeting, involving on the run exchanges. We need to slow down with one another. We need to get off of our activist treadmills. Stop having our next article or appearance be the primary concern.

Indigenous people know what it means to move slowly, and I humbly and respectfully submit that we ask some Indians to head a movement in the electoral arena, which will give them and their authentic allies a shot at securing decision-making power. Delineation of the details I have in mind can’t be done justice to with a telegraphic sound bite here, but suffice it to say that the discussion I’m asking for is appropriate to plead for on this alternative media outlet. Cries via social networking don’t gain traction for reasons I’d like to go through once a one-on-one exchange can be established.

In the Boorman film there’s a fascinating point where an engineer white father is urging the “chief” of a tribe to help him find his son in the forest. The engineer had asked for volunteers to no avail, and so he resorted to begging the leader of the tribe to push his young men to undertake the necessary exploration for his kidnapped son’s survival. The “chief” declines, explaining to the American dad, “If I tell a man to do something he doesn’t want to do, then I wouldn’t be chief anymore.”

This is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum from what comes from societies headed by a Commander-in-Chief who (orders and) makes multiple millions put their lives at risk to conduct illegal wars routinely. In fact, I put the word chief in quotation marks above because the Indians I imagine as leading the kind of movement I envision actually recoil in horror at such a title. For many thousands of years they have never been led by a counterpart to the European monarch that “chief” brings to mind.

Native Americans know what it means to move slowly. And their best form of democracy precludes any “chief” from quickly (and in stealth) unilaterally declaring war, or putting everyone into a position that makes war inevitable. But most U.S. citizens don’t know that. They don’t know the degree to which American Founding Fathers drew from the democracy that was practiced in North America for thousands of years prior to the white man’s arrival*. Nor are they privy — thanks to our intentionally misleading educational system — to the elements of Indian democracy which were omitted or altered to give us the system that doesn’t work for us today.

*Nor do they know the extent to which Marx and Engels borrowed concepts from Indians.

But we can change all that — have a shot at doing so — if we force the discussion along the lines that I am recommending, by the means I’ve only hinted at here. That is, we could get behind an Indian Party of sorts. One that aims to radically re-educate the U.S. public about its own history… while certain elements in the country attempt to compound ignorance with ignorance. One that aims to call a spade a spade with regard to the white man, and with regard to all career politicians at present (regardless of color). No one in the nation is really hard at work doing that hard work. Not a soul is engaged in attempting anything beyond doing different versions of the tunes we danced to in the impotent sixties (and seventies, Punk performances notwithstanding). Nothing, as things stand, that will produce our needed victory.

The concrete that Joni sang about with sixties sadness makes me think of the hardening of the arteries which has taken place in our electoral arena. The reference to spots on apples from DDT moves my mind onto the career politicians who are tainted toxic, and her trees in a museum line draws me into the used-to-be emerald forests where now “don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” plays night and day in concrete jungles.

Well, when I was very young Edna St. Vincent Millay walked with me not far from her beloved (and naturally canopied) Steeple top to show me how in Spring flowers could burst through concrete. All my long life I never told anyone about that. But it’s bursting out now for strangers ’cause I see the momentum that’s moving my children and everyone else’s children down the same dark parking lot.

And so… while I am promising to — down the road, maybe — to provide many more details about exactly what is wondrous and relatively unknown about Native American democracy (The Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Confederacy), for now I ask the reader to embrace authentic Indians; bonding and becoming their allies is the only way we will have a chance to crack through calcification of our electoral arena. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to speak the truth to ourselves. Power already knows the truth, and it’s not interested.

“I shall put up a fight,
I shall take it hard.”
 — from Moriturus

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He can be reached at aptosnews@gmail.comMuch above was drawn from Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations.

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The indigenous tribes and forest dwellers are the guardians of environment and protectors of life. They have the power of stopping commercialisation of natural resources. Hence, welfare of indigenous tribes – whether standing Rock or the Indian tribes in Australia etc – is crucial for sustenance of human life in the whole world

  2. Yet… People are people, instincts drive immediate survival. If arsenic will get you gold, the impoverished will poison streams. Whether native or not. The ‘noble savage’ is a myth that will not get our asses out of this mass extinction mess. Creature comforts ‘trump’ long term survival because they feel like enhanced short term gains. People don’t act on abstractions unless they feel secure in abundance. If the ‘future’ presents insecurity and scarcity, people will want their candy now. Not after they’re dead. The more dire things get, the more short sighted people will be.