'Making Things Right by People'
A scene in the film The Good Shepherd shows a conversation between an Italian-American grandfather and Central Intelligence Agent Edward Wilson.
"We Italians, we have family. What do people like you have?"
Wilson smiles. "We own the country. The rest of you are just visitors."
Examples of Wilson's mindset aired on Fox News after the memorial for Arizona's shooting victims. Commentators found University Professor Dr. Carlos Gonzales, of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, "very strange" and that he blessed "one too many things". Brit Hume opined that "by the time it was over [Gonzales] had blessed the reptiles of the sea and prayed to the four doors of the building. While I'm sure that is an honorable tradition with his people, it was most peculiar."
How "very strange" and "most peculiar" would this country's "owners" and Fox News commentators find the other "visitors" - Native Americans - and their prophecies?
A Mohawk prophecy declares:
After seven generations of living in close contact with the Europeans, the Onkwehonwe would see the day when the elm trees would die...the animals would be born strange and deformed, their limbs twisted out of shape. Huge stone monsters would tear open the face of the earth. The rivers would burn aflame. The air would burn the eyes of man. The Onkwehonwe would see the day when birds would fall from the sky, the fish would die in the water, and man would grow ashamed of the way that he had treated his mother and provider, Earth. Then the People would rise up and demand that their rights and stewardship over Earth be respected and restored.
Fortunately, indigenous youth concern themselves more with action than reaction. In the San Francisco Bay Area, members of Oakland's youth group Seventh Native American Generation - SNAG(1) - act on this prophecy. Last year co-founders Ras K'dee and Shadi Rahimi contacted their counterparts in Palestine then traveled there with small delegation to meet, dance with, learn from, and share a mutual vision to respect and restore Earth.
As K'dee explained, "Cultural exchange is one way people heal, learn to cope, and become resilient."
While each group researched the other's indigenous roots and history the deepest learning came from meeting face-to-face and experiencing Palestine's day-to-day reality.
Discussions ranged from experiences living under occupation and colonization to growing up in marginalized reservations and refugee camps, facing prejudices, acknowledging the moment when each realized that s/he was different from the mainstream, and recognizing that s/he had to struggle in ways others their age did not.
Exile from their birthright affects both communities too. Native American families were broken through the US government's once-endemic boarding school system. Palestinian families break when fathers, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers are exiled from their land or disappear into Israeli prisons.
Yet, K'dee said that celebrating serendipity in traditional dance and story-telling "allowed us all to connect with one another and the Earth."
Then there is their crucial commonality of access, or lack thereof, to natural resources...and the "monsters [that] tear open the face of the earth."
One Native American delegate arrived at Dheisheh Refugee Camp, south of Bethlehem, three days before K'dee and greeted him, "We've been without water since I got here. Welcome to the rez!"
This delegate had grown up on an American-style reservation and lack of water - and electricity - while distressing, was familiar.
Dheisheh, in fact, had been without water for 45 days. Emblematic of their chronic water problems, Dheisheh's school children, offered a choice of improvements funded by the international community - including a new soccer field, a basketball court, or other sports gear and equipment - chose a water filtration system. For, when they received it at all, West Bank's and Gaza's groundwater is often contaminated with Israel's industrial waste and with sewage and seawater from bomb-damaged sewer systems.
Until the mid-1940's Palestine was populated with thriving villages that, today, exist only in memory and impotent deeds to patches of rubble and cacti. Yet delegates noticed large portions of unused land that either still lies fallow or has been converted to Israel's national park system.
According to Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem - and with the assistance of giant Caterpillar bulldozers - "Some half a million Israelis...liv[e] over the Green Line: more than 300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality. (2)
Palestinians crowd into ever-shrinking villages and refugee camps across the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Municipality of Gaza, population density there is 9,982.69/km² - one of the world's most densely populated zones.
The Israeli company Elbit erects the security barrier wall in Israel. Homeland Security hired Elbit to erect the wall along the U. S. Mexico Border.
In the US - total area of the 50 states is 2.3 billion acres - the Federal Government has title to about 650 million acres, or about 29 percent. Native ("Indian") lands make up about 2 percent of the country's area. (3)
Until 1769, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to somewhere between 7,000(4) and at least 26,000(5) Ohlone (also known by the exonym Costanoan).
Once identified by eight linguistic regions - Awaswas, Chalon, Chochenyo, Karkin, Mutsun, Ramaytush, Rumsen, Tamyen - in more than 50 villages around San Francisco Peninsula, Santa Clara Valley, East Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey Bay, and Salinas Valley, today, descendents of the Ohlone are not recognized by the same Federal Government that dispossessed them.
Lack of federal recognition makes it difficult for Native American groups who are federally recognized to work with the Ohlone. Moreover, it de-historicizes the descendants of the Ohlone and means they have no land therefore little chance of a base upon which to re-create their socio-cultural history.
K'dee, a Pomo, said, "As a child, I heard in class that all my people are dead - that, in general, all Indians are dead. Sometimes that felt psychotic since I regularly attended Pomo ceremonies with my Pomo family."
Native Americans, Ohlone descendants, and Palestinians are determined to survive and thrive.
Early spring, 2010, Tony Cerda, the current Tribal Chairman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribal Council, told a small audience watching the Humaya Dancers in San Francisco, "Next time someone tells you that there are no more Ohlone People you tell that person that you saw Ohlone dance here today."
New year 2011 brought the world the Gaza Youth Break Out manifesto:
...We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, Fatah, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16's breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.
There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope.
...We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. ENOUGH...pain..tears...suffering...control...limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!
We want three things...to be free...to live a normal life...peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent [sic] of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.
We... start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves... break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect.. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance...work... to change these miserable conditions we are living under...build dreams where we meet walls. (6)
The Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay Area - the Muwekma - reaffirm their existence:
Makin Mak-Atuemi Muwekma-mak ic Eki'_i _i'nmatci-mak! (We will make things right for our People and dance for our children!)
This country's "owners" and Fox News may find Native traditions "very strange" and "most peculiar" but these traditions continue to enrich our extraordinarily diverse and courageous planet each day.
1. Seventh Native American Generation - SNAG: www.snagmagazine.com.
2. B'tselem comprehensive report, 2010: http://www.btselem.org/English/Publications/Summaries/201007_By_Hook_and_by_Crook.asp-based \
3. US Dept. of Transporation: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/1999cpr/ap_e/cpxe_2.htm
4. American anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber.
5. US Professor Sherburne F. Cook. The Population of the California Indians, 1769-1970: "Not until the population figures are examined does the extent of the havoc become evident." From 1769 to 1800 the population dropped to about 10% of its original numbers; by 1848 it dropped to about 3,000.
6. Gaza Youth Manifesto: http://www.intifada-palestine.com/2011/01/gazas-youth-manifesto-for-change/.