Sometimes when I can’t get to sleep I don’t count sheep but instead I go through an alphabetical list of Native American tribes. It usually starts well; Apache, Arapaho, Apsaroke, Assininboine…I falter on the B’s; Brulé Sioux…but the C’s are quite easy; Creek, Cree, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Comanche, and Crow (though that’s cheating a bit because the Crow are the Apsaroke).
I’m usually asleep long before I get to zzzzzz…Zuni
Several decades ago I read a couple of dozen books about Native Americans:
A small charity based in Leeds called The Onaway Trust acted as a focal point for those of us concerned with the plight of modern day Native Americans and when the pay packet allowed I would send off a small cheque.
In return they supplied journals containing articles about the continuing struggles most notably the (at the time) recent armed siege at Wounded Knee in 1973. From these we learned about the American Indian Movement (AIM) and of people like Dennis Banks and Russell Means.
In about 1980 Russell Means came over to the UK to give a few talks to small audiences at universities and colleges and I jumped at the chance to attend. He was accompanied by Floyd Red Crow Westerman who opened the proceedings by singing some songs. After the interval we listened in respectful silence while Means gave his talk on the ongoing struggles of Native Americans in a world of injustice and hostility.
We have reservations about our reservations
Recently the world has witnessed how the many Native American tribes and others have gathered together on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in a way not see for generations to protest the threat to clean water and the encroachment on ancient tribal lands of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
With a hugely impressive display of dignity, forbearance, and non-violent protest in the face of extreme provocation (tear gas, dogs, rubber bullets, water canon, tasers) they appear to have been successful in halting the progress of the black snake.
The pride felt by these people for their cultural identity is self evident. At the same time Europeans think less of tribalism and more about a homogeneous whole: a multicultural, border-less utopia in which diversity is celebrated and everyone is equal (but not the same).
Come with me to the winged isle
Northern father’s western child
Where the dance of ages is playing still
Through far marches of acres wild
European tribes have been confined to the controlled spaces of folklore and historical study lest they stir up feelings of patriotism and (horror of horrors) national pride. Reveal your interest in Norse gods outside academia and sport a tribal tattoo and you’re likely to be viewed with some suspicion as some kind of racial supremacist.
We’ve learned to mock or even fear our own heritage. King Arthur didn’t exist! St.George was Turk! Faery Lore is dangerous! How sophisticated we have become in our modern multicultural mish-mash.
We love to learn about other tribes and agree to respect their culture and traditions, but we’re less celebratory and even a bit embarrassed about our own ancestry and tribal heritage.
According to many the Europeans screwed up the world and created all the problems inherited by the current generations. When it’s pointed out that our ancestors behaved arguably much better and certainly no worse than many other civilizations past and present these simple facts falls on deaf ears. One should never let the facts of history interfere with the current trend for hand-wringing apologies.
If you’re a white Briton the likelihood is that your DNA contains a combination of Western European, Scandinavian, Ancient Briton, and Mediterranean, with traces from further like the Near East or North Africa. We know this because DNA testing proves what the history books have taught us about successive invasions and migrations.
The blood of the British contains elements inherited from over twenty different tribes, Celts, Romans, Vikings, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, and Normans etc as well as any slaves and camp followers that came with them.
It’s all there in your DNA, like a dormant software program ready to be brought to life with the right combination of circumstances, or perhaps it will remain asleep and you’ll simply pass on the heritage to your children.
How did it get there?
Whether it was military invasion or waves of migration the melting pot of DNA was created through procreation.
Integration came about through intermingling and intermarriage.
Our ancestors got along (eventually) because they got it on with each other.
So when we consider that in 2005 Trevor Phillips warned that the UK was sleepwalking into segregation and that the recently published Casey Review confirms that segregation is now at ‘worrying levels’ it raises all kinds of questions that as yet have no answers.
For integration to occur people have to relax, keep and open mind, and respect differences but if your culture suggests that you are superior to others then that will never happen.
You will continue to see yourself as better than them. You are highly unlikely to celebrate your son’s betrothal to an outsider or to marry off your daughters to someone of a difference culture and religion. Your cultural beliefs may prohibit same sex relationships and condemn all kinds of lifestyles that are accepted within other tribes.
For some generations to come Europe will continue to be divided along cultural and tribal lines. We are long way off from being fully integrated. The only way to make any progress towards integration (assuming that is the goal and not everyone agrees that it is the desirable outcome) is to drop the orthodoxy and conservatism that isolates one tribe from all others.
Tribes and cultures that have a live and let live attitude with a little intermingling and marriage at the edges are the best hope for Europe.
Can we talk of integration until there is integration of hearts and minds? Unless you have this, you only have a physical presence, and the walls between us are as high as the mountain range.
You may be aware that wars were fought and lost. Treaties were signed and broken. Friends were made and betrayed. The accounts of the massacres will make your blood run cold. The injustices and maltreatment of survivors will make your blood boil.
Perhaps you’ve read nothing but you’ve seen films that give you some idea of the tragedy and betrayal. Dances With Wolves is one such film. For once the cinema had managed to capture something of what we had read in the history books.
So you might think that with the Indian Wars receding into history and Native Americans taking their place in American society, politics, business, and culture all is well.
Except it isn’t. In fact, the brutal treatment didn’t end with Wounded Knee.
Once the tribes were defeated militarily they were confined to reservations on what was then regarded as worthless land. The intention was to to provide them with the means to survive but suppliers and middle men ripped them off.
Their remaining children were forced through a schooling system designed to turn them into Americans. They were beaten for speaking their own languages. Their culture, stories, and prayers were forbidden.
Despite all of this the tribes and their cultures endured and survived, though not without many casualties along the way. Alcoholism and suicide on reservations is all too common.
Once again American politics and business is riding roughshod over the Native Americans. The Dakota Access Pipeline is being driven like a lance through the heart of the land. With comes a high risk of pollution through leaks and spills into the water supply.
They are driving bulldozers through ancient and sacred tribal burial grounds. Can you imagine the outcry if they did that through Arlington Cemetery?
Those who protest are being treated like criminals and private security firms are setting their dogs on them.
However, this outrage has had an unexpected effect. it has united the tribes of the USA in a way that hasn’t been seen for centuries. They are coming from all over the USA and beyond to show their support.
Social media has spread the message far and wide, and the world is watching. Video footage of the protest and the reaction of those paid to guard the construction sites is there for all to see.
Supporters of the pipeline are well funded. They are exploiting social media to spread their message too. They have pointed out that the intended route of the pipeline doesn’t actually traverse any Indian reservations. Thus they demonstrate their failure to understand how all things are connected.
From an ecological point of view what is over there is connected to what is here. Fences and lines on a map don’t mean a thing.
On the one hand this this may seem like yet another example of the US government looking the other way while the Indians are abused by a powerful corporation.
But it’s much more than that and it has rallied tribal people and others from all over the USA and beyond. There is no political agenda. All people want to do is safeguard their access to clean water.
When I hear the President of the United States referred to as the ‘Leader of the free world’ I can’t help but wonder, “Free from what? Free for whom?”
Would it be too much to ask that the USA sets an example to the rest of the world?
Give the tribes a break. Demonstrate to the watching world that you can live up to the principles and ideals that you boast are your bedrock.