Thursday, February 16, 2017

Continuing outrage over Standing Rock

(submitted, but not printed, as Op-ed to New York Times)

Recent decisions regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline deserve outrage. How is it that the Army Corps of Engineers, having recently agreed to a full environmental impact statement and search for an alternate pipeline route, can, in two weeks of Trump Time, decide that they have enough information to allow the digging to begin on what NYT writer Jill Turkewitz labeled that “disputed patch of land”? Anyone who has half-followed the events at Standing Rock over the last year knows that an alternate route, which would have put the line closer to mostly white Bismarck, N.D., was scrubbed early in the process. And knows that news of “water protectors” representing over 200 North American tribes and indigenous people from Hawaii and the other Americas being shot with rubber bullets and hosed with water cannons in freezing weather has brought veterans groups, churches, and ordinary Joes and Josies to join the protest. I expect the outrage to continue, and the protests, including a March 10 event in Washington, to swell.

But there is room for broader outrage at a national press that has to be dragged into Indian affairs, that only briefly covers Indian stories, finds room for a few pictures of headdresses and feathers, and then moves on, reluctant or not knowing how to deal with the nation’s long bad history with Indians. It doesn’t have to be that way!

I’d like to take you back to March 18, 1973, when the confrontation between the FBI and tribal members on the Pine Ridge Reservation—near neighbors to Standing Rock—had devolved into violence. Because of that violence, because of prior events at Alcatraz and the BIA offices in Washington D.C., because of general unrest over failures in Vietnam, the country was on edge. But the New York Times and Alvin M. Josephy Jr. stepped up with a long, Sunday Magazine piece, “Wounded Knee and All That—What the Indians Want.”

In stinging prose and pictures, Josephy chronicled the Nixon White House attempts to reform the Bureau of Indian Affairs in a pro-Indian fashion, and the reform’s failure because of Congressional and Administration inaction and fear. By Josephy’s reasoning, the road to Wounded Knee seemed almost inevitable. But he didn’t stop there. He told us about a century of outrageous treatment of the Sioux by Americans and our government including the “first” Wounded Knee, in 1890. Times editors included an eerie 1890 photo of US troops atop a mass grave of Indians massacred by Gatling guns.

If Alvin Josephy, noted historian and founding board chair of the National Museum of the American Indian, were alive today, he would have an op-ed in the New York Times. He would be visiting Standing Rock, and pointing out that the “disputed patch of land” that investors, the State of North Dakota, and President Trump want for their oil pipeline is sacred, yes, is important for the water that flows through it, yes. But is finally, once again “stolen ground,” with a long history of broken treaties, and government dissembling, cheating, and war-making on the Indians who have lived their forever.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Before Alvin wrote about Indians--Denig’s Demons




Denig awards Alvin Bronze Star
Before he met the Nez Perce, before he wrote about American Indians, Alvin Josephy was a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent in the Pacific in World War II. He traveled with a typewriter and a wire recorder, wrote thousands of dispatches to local newspapers from the front lines, and the Library of Congress lists over 90 recordings made on Guam, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. A 15-minute version of the Guam landing recording played nationwide on all three radio networks.

Alvin’s boss was BGen Robert L. Denig, and the troop of journalists, photographers, and artists he assembled to get the Marine Corps story back home was called “Denig’s Demons.” It’s my thought that Alvin’s war-time experience was crucial in his quick absorption in Indian history and adoption of Indian causes. He was less than a decade out of the Pacific when he found the Nez Perce story—and the first thing he wanted to know was “where is the Indian side of things?” In the War, he was in the foxholes with fellow marines, not on ship or shore with the generals.

Alvin was always a Marine. He told me once about being at Pine Ridge when things were still testy among Indian factions and between the Indians and government agencies. In the course of his travels, he saw a Marine Corps insignia at a front door, and stopped to make a friend. They were both Marines.

Here’s a link to a Leatherneck Magazine story on “Denig’s Demons.” Alvin’s in it, but the important thing is the story, the vision of Denig and, I think, how it then played out in Alvin’s long career as writer and advocate.

Here’s the story:  http://josephy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/leatherneck2007.pdf

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Standing Rock Outrage!

November- Reuters News
In a brief story in the New York Times this morning, reporter Julie Turkewitz tells us that the Army has approved construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It took Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, two weeks—from the time of President Trump’s announcement that he was going to expedite the building of pipelines—to announce his decision to Congress. Speer said he didn’t need the entire environmental impact statement and news of other potential sites that President Obama had ordered, that he knew enough and is ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on this  “disputed patch of land.”

I glance at the NYT headline stories daily, then go to the opinion pages for the Times editorials, the regular columnists, and op-eds that relate to the day’s news. Standing Rock is missing this morning. Not one editorial writer or columnist chose to weigh in; not one piece of writing from an outraged Indian at Standing Rock or anywhere else in this country got space.

Indians, once again, are back page news.

According to Turkewitz, “the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault II, responded to the decision by vowing to fight it in court. ‘As native peoples, we have been knocked down again,’ he said in statement. ‘But we will get back up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact.’”

Didn’t I just write about Indian Resilience? Didn’t I believe that months of protests by members of over 300 North American Tribes and Natives from Hawaii and Central America, by environmental organizations and dedicated individuals from across the nation had convinced a country and its government that the planning for this pipeline was flawed, that the Army had once again short-circuited Indians, and that the proposed pipeline might endanger the water, the most critical of our natural resources?

Every day I learn something from Alvin Jospehy. Today I learned that Indians still don’t count for much in this country of ours. They are, as Alvin said, a sideshow in our history, or they are impediments in the way of progress. We’ll put them in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and watch cowboys take the West, We’ll glean spiritual knowledge from their commercial potions and sweats—the old traveling Medicine Shows often featured Indian cures, and hippies in the 70s favored feathers. We’ll celebrate them in pictures with Edward Sheriff Curtis, and picture them when it serves a purpose. Alvin liked to point out the State Department’s use of a mistakenly idealized American Indian—horse-mounted, feather bedecked Sioux of the Plains—in their “visit America” literature.

For over 40 years, Alvin wrote painstakingly about America’s curious and tragic historical omission of Indians. He paid special attention to broken treaties, and to the Sioux. In 1971, when he consulted on the movie, “Little Big Man,” he went to the Custer Battlefield with Indian friends and wrote about the “real Custer” in Life Magazine. In 1973, weeks after the FBI-Indian confrontation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he wrote “What the Indians Really Want,” a description of government misdeeds going back to the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, for the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

If Alvin were alive today he would have an op-ed in today’s New York Times. He would be visiting Standing Rock, and pointing out that the “disputed patch of land” that investors, the State of North Dakota, and President Trump want for their oil pipeline is sacred, yes, is important for the water that flows through it, yes. But is finally, once again “stolen ground,” with a long history of broken treaties, and government dissembling, cheating, and war-making on the Indians who have lived their forever.

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