Kindred Spirits: How the Choctaw Responded to the Irish Potato Famine

In the early 1830s, the United States forcibly removed nearly 15,000 people of the Choctaw Nation from their homeland in the deep South to what was called “Indian Territory” (now Oklahoma). Along their Trail of Tears, 2,500 died, Wikipedia said.

About 15 years later, the Choctaw people learned about the Irish suffering from the Great Potato Famine and scraped together $170 to send to alleviate their suffering, a gift memorialized in 2015 in Ireland with a beautiful sculpture. Continue reading

Racist Editorial Cartoon Mocks Phillips, Native Americans: How Best to Respond?

Sometimes the best response to racism is to ignore it and walk away, declining to give oxygen to the fires of hate. Sometimes the best response is to try to calm the situation; that’s what Native American elder Nathan Phillips did when he tried to intervene in a racially charged situation between Black Hebrew Israelites and a group of Catholic high school teens near the Lincoln Memorial. (For background, see Indian Country Today’s news roundup).

And sometimes the best response is to speak difficult truths about what you see.

The question came to me recently in a group email where people where sharing their anger over an ugly political cartoon that mocked Phillips and Native Americans in general. Continue reading

Here’s to the Upcoming ‘Greatest Generation’

I am proud to know a few of the indigenous leaders and youth of all colors who are working tirelessly to stop climate disaster by opposing the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects. I believe these will be part of our next “Greatest Generation.”

Continue reading

Evangelicals Beginning to Take a Hard Look in the Mirror Around Race and Politics

There are deep rumblings within the evangelical movement, a movement defined for decades by being mostly white and politically conservative — and more recently, pro-Trump. The current divisiveness and political rhetoric has shaken some evangelical leaders to their core and they are questioning the ways they and their religious kinfolk are living out their values.

Perhaps one silver lining to the current political mess is that it’s so jarring that a lot of people are waking up, getting active, and questioning their reality in a way that might not happen if things were “normal.”

This blog diverts from past writings, which have focused on issues important to Native American communities (and educating white readers about those issues). Instead, this blog will focus more broadly on the issue of racism, the current political climate, and the self-indictment now emerging among evangelical Christians.

Consider two recent articles that stem from dialogue among evangelical leaders held at Wheaton, an evangelical college in Illinois and Billy Graham’s alma mater. Continue reading

Predictable Push Back: D.J Tice’s Stale Arguments Against Reinterpreting Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling

Star Tribune columnist D.J. Tice offered predictable and flawed push back against needed truth telling at Fort Snelling.

Tice’s opinion piece — Fort Snelling: New Vision, Old Wounds — focuses on plans to renovate and reinterpret the Fort, plans which would give a prominent place to acts of injustice and cruelty that were part of Minnesota’s founding and whose legacy continues today. Plans would bring forward stories about the brutal concentration camp below the Fort that held Dakota women and children following the Dakota War of 1862, a camp where hundreds died. It would talk about the Dred Scott case and the fact that Scott was held at Fort Snelling.

This new narrative would challenge the political correctness of a prior age.

Tice uses several common arguments to push back against such truth telling.

  1. The Plan is Too Critical of the Past: Tice mixes the Fort Snelling debate in with recent efforts to remove Confederate statues in the south and to restore the name Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun. He wraps them under the broad heading of the “new censorious spirit” of our age. (Censorious, according to Merriam Webster, mean hypercritical, fault finding, or carping. It’s basically a put down for those seeking change.)
  2. The Plan Needs More Historical “Balance”: Tice seems to argue that it’s okay to add some stories of past injustices, but apparently we shouldn’t overdo it. History needs to be balanced.
  3. The Plan Victimizes Veterans: Tice cites retired National Guard Gen. Richard C. Nash, raising concerns that the fort’s military history will be pushed aside and replaced with more painful stories.  This “zero-sum” thinking raises the fear that adding to the historical narrative unfairly diminishes the Fort and veterans’ stories.

Tice’s closing paragraphs argues for a blame-free and “balanced” historical narrative:

One might wish for an approach to history in which the very purpose is to try — not so much to condemn or to justify — but to understand the passions and motives of all peoples of the past. Yet maybe a truly balanced view of history has always been too much to expect.

It is, though, what Minnesota should strive for.

Tice’s narrative doesn’t go for balance. He prefers emotionally charged words, such as “censorious,” “score-settling,” “reproachful,” and “villainous whites and victimized minorities.” Continue reading

Pushback Against “Bde Maka Ska” Latest Example of White Privilege

The Star Tribune ran a disturbing Op/Ed Monday titled: I asked 350 people who live along or near Lake Calhoun about renaming it — The breakdown is 20 percent for and 80 percent against. Equally interesting are the reasons.

The author is critical of the proposed name change from Lake Calhoun to its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska (or Mde Maka Ska). Here are four examples of how the Op/Ed embodies white privilege.

#1: White voices matter most: The author, a CEO of  a venture capital group, starts out by telling us he talked to his “Lake Calhoun” neighbors to gauge their feelings about the name Bde Maka Ska. As he describes it, he polled  “virtually every homeowner who lives directly along Lake Calhoun, plus another couple hundred neighbors who live within a few blocks.”

The result? Some 80 percent were for keeping the name Lake Calhoun. The underlying premise here is that the voices that matter most are those who live closest to the Lake, those who are predominantly wealthy and white. They see themselves as entitled to preferential treatment. Did the author think it was important to talk to anyone but his immediate neighbors, say some Dakota people? Apparently not. Apparently their opinions do not matter.

The author says his neighbors “were overwhelmingly disgusted that public officials were spending all of this time and energy on the lake renaming issue when there are so many other pressing problems facing the community that need to be addressed.” This world view ignores the fact that people in other parts of the city might have different pressing issues which are equally valid for the city’s consideration. Continue reading

Media Called Out on Claim Las Vegas Was Deadliest Shooting in U.S. History

The mass media was quick to label the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The alternative media and others have been quick to challenge that claim, noting that it fails to take into account the mass killings of people of color, such as the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 that left 150 to 300 Lakota men, women and children dead.

This is not to diminish the tragedy of what happened on Sunday and the tremendous grief and suffering that the attack caused. But it is important to remember our past and not ignore other significant massacres that have left communities scarred for generations. It is especially important because many of these massacres happened to communities of color; failing to tell their stories, and their sufferings, only reinforces the narrative that their lives do not matter.

Christina Woods, who is Anishinaabe, posted the following image and comment on her Facebook page.

Image may contain: one or more people, horse and text

The media claims the Las Vegas shooting was the biggest in our HISTORY. Not true… what kind of citizens forget their own massacres? The kind that practice several form of bias. …

Don’t let the media white wash any of this!

The publication The Root provided examples of the other mass executions that have been ignored. The article was headlined: Las Vegas Is Only the Deadliest Shooting in US History Because They Don’t Count Black Lives.

It recounted several other massacres that tend not to make it into the history books or get remembered in media accounts of shootings and massacres:

“Bombing of Black Wall Street” Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921

In the early 1900s, blacks in Tulsa had developed a thriving business sector, called Black Wall Street. That success angered white residents, the article said. Tulsans “accused a black man of raping a girl and attacked the area.” The article continued:

While white citizens used dynamite and planes to bomb the city, leaving more than 8,000 people homeless, eyewitness accounts charge that the vast majority of the people killed (estimates range from 80 to 300) died because the city’s law-enforcement officers deputized every able-bodied white man and handed out weapons from the city’s armory.

Continue reading