Saturday, July 28, 2012

A tribute to indigenous leadership

I don’t usually like to intrude into the stories I tell but tonight I watched a concert of Lakota Indians at Mt. Rushmore in the US state of South Dakota--historically a center of Native American resistance to ethnic cleansing. It was magnificent musically & politically overwhelming. Once I had to come to grips with the facts that my grandparents & their generation were part of colonizing the US & Canada & exterminating Native Americans. As a child, I was on the cusp of that history. My parents took us to the state park where the great Mississippi River begins & we had to drive past tar paper igloos where vanquished Indians now lived. At the mouth of the river, a Native American man in feathered headgear sold American flags on a stick. He was an old man, of the generation that would have fought the US settler invasions, but now reduced to penury & beggary--& playing Indian for tourists. He seemed like a dead man walking to me & I tugged on him, asking, “Are you alive, are you real?” Which must have incinerated his dignity & he never flinched or moved in response. Later, as a teen-ager, we took a class trip on a school bus to an Indian reservation in that same park. In those days, Indians still had to ask permission to leave the rez to even walk into town to get a soda. But a bus of anglo school kids could drive around gawking, as if Indians were red-seated monkeys in the zoo. It was my first political protest. I demanded everyone sit down, look straight ahead, & refuse to gawk at people as if they were animals. Laws changed after the great Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s & Native Americans were allowed to move to cities--though their conditions of life & the oppression against them did not improve. So I am heartened beyond all imaginings that as the capitalist predators driven by greed destroy this planet, indigenous peoples from India to Colombia to South Dakota to Ecuador to Mexico to Australia & so many places have emerged as a leading force of resistance to renew a more humble, dignified relationship to Mother Earth, to reclaim their ancestral rights & homes, & to lead us in understanding that we do not control nature or defy it but only collaborate with it & them in fraternity & sorority. (Photographer unidentified but posted in honor of the man selling US flags at the mouth of the Mississippi River)

No comments:

Post a Comment