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Michael Munk PDX Historian

Red Cloud’s Revolution: Oglalla Sioux freeing themselves from fossil fuel

by MongabayFebruary 26, 2018

Henry Red Cloud, like so many Oglalla Sioux young men, left the reservation to work in construction. When he returned home in 2002, he needed a job, and also wanted to make a difference. He attended a solar energy workshop and saw the future.

Today, Red Cloud runs Lakota Solar and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, which have become catalysts for an innovative new economic network – one that employs locals and connects tribes, while building greater energy independence among First Nations.

The company is building and installing alternative energy systems, and training others to do the same, throughout remote areas of U.S. reservations, thus allowing the Sioux and others to leap past outdated fossil fuel technology altogether.

Henry Red Cloud’s company has another more radical purpose: it helps provide energy to remote Water Protector camps, like the one at Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Solar power and other alternative energy sources are vital at such remote sites, as they power up cellphones, connecting resistors to the media and outside world.

Portable solar arrays helped power the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which rose on the north end of the Standing Rock Reservation in the summer and fall of 2016 in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Though primarily powered by wood and gasoline, the camps also ran on a great deal of solar. Photo by Saul Elbein

It’s high summer in South Dakota, and a cruel sun beats down with an endless floodtide of photons that burns skin through t-shirts and tinted car windows. That’s the way Henry Red Cloud likes it. To Red Cloud – descendant of a great Lakota insurgent chief, founder of Lakota Solar, and self-proclaimed “solar warrior” – that July sun is key to the independence of his fellow Lakota and native peoples across America; it also embodies a hot business opportunity.

It’s July 5, the tail end of Red Cloud’s Energy Independence Day weekend, first announced in the wake of the Trump Inauguration, and meant to spread off-grid skills throughout Indian country – possibly with radical purpose.

I walked out of the sun and indoors to find Red Cloud leading a solar workshop, holding forth to a group of eager indigenous participants about photovoltaic cells and the danger of phantom loads – the way in which many appliances continue drawing current even when switched off. “Vampire” loads are a constant suck on household energy, consuming electricity and thereby emitting carbon to no purpose – while also draining an off-grid setup with limited juice.

A set up, like, say, the remote, off-grid camps at the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests in 2016.

Red Cloud offers up a hypothetical: “Let’s say you have a Water Protector camp, your solar array is charging, you notice the inverter is on, but nothing is plugged in.” The stocky 60-something instructor, with long ponytail and far-seeing eyes, frowns and shakes his head, indicating trouble. “Well, that empty power strip can draw more than your actual daily use,” draining down the batteries faster than they can charge.”

A bearded man in his late 20s raises his hand. “That bad for the array?”

“Well,” Red Cloud responds, “it’s not a problem if you know about it. Just plug in a couple cellphones,” and charge them up so protestors can reach out to the media from the remote site. That way, he says, at least now the array is doing some work.

Man with a plan

After the workshop, Red Cloud shows me his innovations. A solar trailer, small enough to be pulled by a compact car, is mounted with panels and an inverter. We step into a show-house built out of compressed earthen blocks – the hydraulic press that makes them runs on diesel, the only machine Red Cloud owns that depends on fossil fuel.

“And then there’s this,” he says, pointing to a plywood box with Plexiglas atop it, a 35V photovoltaic panel that sparkles in the sun. It’s a homemade solar furnace: in the brutal Dakota winter, it can generate a 190 degree Fahrenheit mass of air, along with enough energy to blow that warmth through a house, largely eliminating heating costs. He takes me to see the solar pumps that move running water through his two-story school building.Red Cloud’s training center and home is a model for something new and, not to put too harsh a word on it, revolutionary.

His compound represents an all-in-one alternative energy lab and off-grid resistance camp set in the middle of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. That’s a highly unlikely place for energy innovation: Pine Ridge is America’s second poorest county, a sprawling and desolate collection of about 40,000 spread across the South Dakota Badlands. Most locals are so impoverished, and so estranged from the cash economy, that some 60 percent of them can’t afford to hook up to the electric grid.

Which, to many Lakota leaders and especially Red Cloud, represents a huge opportunity – a chance for the tribe to leapfrog over the 20th Century energy economy of coal and natural gas burning power plants and regional transmission lines into a New Economy. The goal is to build an energy independent First Nation and modern lifestyle, beyond the reach of oil shortages, price hikes, and the environmental harm perpetuated by the U.S. fossil fuel-driven economy.

For more than a decade, Red Cloud has been running Lakota Solar, an off-grid skills school and solar machine factory – one of Pine Ridge’s few locally owned business, and the heart of a business network that extends to a dozen other reservations.

Over a thousand alumni have learned to build solar arrays, solar furnaces and solar-driven water pumps in his schools. To Red Cloud, these are practical skills that expand people’s economic and political options. But they’re also something mystical ­­– a key to a new personal and communal future. The two of us settle under a shade tree, and Red Cloud declares: “Number 45,” (that being his way of referring to U.S. President Donald Trump) “is changing a whole lot in our country. So we need to start banding together, natives and non-natives, and if we’re going to build this country let’s build it efficient.”

He wipes his forehead. “We’re all waiting for something. What? I don’t know. But it’s time to get started,” he says.

Campers at Oceti Sakowin in September 2016, sit on “Facebook Hill.” The height, being the highest point in the camp, was the only place to reliably receive the cell service that tied the “water protectors” to the rest of the world, including social media. Charging stations there used diverse forms of renewable energy including solar panels, bicycle generators, or the windmill seen here in the background. Photo by Saul Elbein

An independent tradition

In the early 2000s, Henry Red Cloud came home to the Pine Ridge Reservation and realized he had a problem. He’d spent years on the road, working seasonal construction, building with structural steel, interlocking the bones of skyscrapers “high above 5th Avenue” in New York City, and elsewhere, seeing much of America. But that wasn’t the world he wanted to live in.

“I had all these hopes of going home, having a job, getting to spend quality time with my people,” he recalls.

The word “home” for Red Cloud, and his moniker too, resonate with historic cadences. He is named for his five-times great-grandfather, the war-chief Red Cloud of the Oglalla Sioux. Though not a member of one of the traditional Oglalla ruling families, the original Red Cloud led a highly successful insurgency from 1866-1868 to prevent U.S. expansion into the productive buffalo grounds that the Lakota were then seizing from the Crow Indians.

During that conflict – now remembered as the Powder River War or Red Cloud’s War – the Oglalla and their Cheyenne and Arapahoe allies, defeated a number of U.S. expeditionary forces, wiping out an 81-man cavalry unit in the worst American military defeat at the hands of Plains Indians up to the defeat of Custer’s 7th Calvary at Little Big Horn, Montana in 1876.

The end of Red Cloud’s War resulted in the federal government signing the Treaty of 1868, ceding a vast territory to the Lakota that made up much of what is now the U.S. Midwest. Red Cloud then agreed to settle the Oglalla at Pine Ridge, and his fight ended there. When in 1876 the Hunkpapas under Sitting Bull rose against the U.S. in anger at the treaty’s violation, the elder Red Cloud stayed out, seeing no benefit in further battles against the Americans.

The Oglallas have been at Pine Ridge since, renowned among the other Lakota and Dakota peoples for the extent to which they have proudly maintained their culture. It is still common to meet elderly Oglalla who speak only their tribal language well, and English with difficulty.

One of the portable solar trailers that Red Cloud brought to Standing Rock. Photo by Saul Elbein

Here comes the sun

According to Henry Red Cloud, what the Oglallas lack today, and badly need, is a thriving economy. When he came home in 2002, he found a reservation that relied on something roughly comparable to a colonial economy – indigenous settlements were largely dependent on franchise stores and chains that brought little money into the community, but which sucked out dollars to the benefit of faraway corporate headquarters. About the only jobs on the reservation were with the tribe – as police, in schools and government.

With the initial intention of just making some cash, Red Cloud signed up for a solar installation course. It was a revelation.

“I thought, as natives we’ve been embracing the sun for eons,” he says, offering the Sundance as an example, the most sacred rite of the Plains Indians, in which devotees dance ecstatically for four days, exposed to the elements, without sleep, food or water.

“We have always believed in living off the land,” he says. After graduating from that first solar course, he decided there was no reason that this native self-sufficiency shouldn’t be reestablished.

He took more solar courses, learned more about alternative energy and green technology. He started working as a solar installer, always expecting to run into other Native Americans who had enjoyed the same epiphany he had. “But there weren’t any,” he recalls.

“I encouraged my brothers to come [and learn from me], but people can’t just get up and [come to my workshops]. Everyone is doing something, like making handicrafts or gathering wild food, to help their families survive. They can’t leave their families for 19 days. So I thought, what if I bring this knowledge here, to Indian Country?”

By 2004, he had learned solar installation; by 2005 he was making his own solar machines; by 2006 he had founded Red Cloud Renewable Energy and was employing locals to make solar panels to sell to the other tribes. Meanwhile, his alternative energy training school began turning out graduates.

Water protectors planting cedar trees in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline in September 2016. Mounting an effective resistance opposition against pipeline projects in remote areas requires that activists be able to operate – and stay connected to the web. To Henry Red Cloud, off-grid solar is the ideal technology to meet that need. Photo by Saul Elbein

Finding an alternative to the devil’s choice

For Red Cloud, solar and renewable energy are to the New Economy what the sun is to an intact ecosystem – the basis of everything, offering perpetual sustenance. A place as “underdeveloped” and remote as Pine Ridge, he says, has always presented its First Nation inhabitants with a devil’s choice: either continue in poverty, or sacrifice your culture to the world coming in from outside – usually the malls-and-suburban model of 20th Century America.

“But out here we’re rural,” Red Cloud says, pointing to the far horizon. “We’re the West of the West. At night you have a sky full of stars. You can see thunderstorms coming from 100 miles away. We have no Interstate, no banks, no nothing. And that’s how I like it – being able to go to the hills and see as far as the naked eyeball can see. I wouldn’t want to see mainstream America flood this place.”So, Lakota Solar and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center have become catalysts for an innovative economic network – one that employs locals and connects tribes, while building greater independence.

Ten years on, Red Cloud employs a dozen people at around $12 an hour, well above the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The products they make, they sell to other tribes, who add their own innovations to the mix. The nearby Rosebud Sioux have “gone to the next level,” says Red Cloud, installing residential-scale wind and rooftop solar. But they also buy their solar furnaces and photovoltaic arrays from Red Cloud. Lakota Solar is now the main supplier for three other native-owned small businesses – a solar-powered paper recycling company and two solar installation firms.

The alternative energy systems Red Cloud builds, and boosts, are what’s known as “grid-tie.” For now, they tie into the conventional electricity grid, providing a household, depending on its solar setup, with anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of their power. The systems are designed to be small scale and supplemental, offering a bit more power (or a bit more saved cash) to families that otherwise might go without, or fall short.

A mid-range residential setup from Lakota Solar goes for $3,500 and lasts about 30 years; that’s drastically below the $25 to $35 thousand dollar average cost for solar arrays found in the rest of residential America. His systems don’t pay the entire electric bill, Red Cloud says, “but it’s still money saved that goes back into the community. It’s enough to help build our own economy here.”

While not the be all, or end all, these inexpensive solar installations offer more than just extra electricity to High Plains reservations. For Red Cloud and other Native American leaders, these solar solutions possess a deep philosophical appeal, extending beyond economic or environmental motives, and extending into the communal, and even to the nearly spiritual.

“People don’t like being on the grid here,” Red Cloud says, “because they’ve been coexisting with the earth – the sun, the wind – for most of their history.” Clearly, the man who came back to the reservation in 2002 has found his way home, and he’s now bringing his people home too.

This article was originally published at Mongabay. It has been re-published at IC under a Creative Commons License.


Native American Protest
in North Dakota and Across the Nation


 in Cannon Ball, North Dakota

The Cannonball river flows into the mighty Missouri about 50 miles due south of Bismarck, North Dakota.

At its confluence, a protest encampment – really a series of camps, on both sides of the Cannonball, strewn with kitchens and canteens, portable toilets, stabling for horses, sweat lodges and tall teepees, and stands selling indigenous art – has sprung up.

The inhabitants are there to block the planned $3.7bn Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport fracked crude from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to a refinery near Chicago.

Many at the encampment speak of two prophecies, dating back to the 1890s. A leader called Black Elk foretold that in seven generations, the Native American nations will unite to save the Earth; another legend predicted that a zuzeca snake – a black snake – would threaten the world. For many of the protesters here, the pipeline is that black snake. They are the seventh generation: their moment of destiny has come.

A few days earlier, on 24 August, a federal judge in Washington DCdelayed a ruling over whether indigenous rights were violated by the approval of the project. Tribal members say they were not sufficiently consulted about the route and are suing for an injunction.

The population of the camp ebbs and flows. Many have given up jobs and brought their families here, and a core of between 500 and 1,000 people live here semi-permanently. Some, such as Wiyaca Eagleman, a member of the Sicangu Lakota from Rosebud, South Dakota, have been here since the beginning of April. He plans to be here, he said, “as long as it takes”.

Hundreds more join when they can, swelling the camp’s numbers on weekends. Others come when they get time and bring what supplies they can.

It is an unprecedented gathering. Members of more than 90 Native American nations and tribes have a presence here, according to Eagleman, who has become a sort of unofficial spokesman for the protest camp. Up the road, where the building site was besieged, the flags of many of those nations now fly together. The unity on display here is a dream come true for Eagleman. “There has been no moment like this in history,” he said.

On Saturday, a delegation from the Crow nation arrived from Montana, bearing offerings of firewood and 700lb of buffalo meat. That’s truly historic: the Crow and the Lakota have been enemies for more than a century. They were at war once; the Crow acted as scouts for Gen George Custer. Buffalo meat has powerful symbolic value: a gesture of solidarity and friendship from longtime former foes.

Dennis Banks, a member of the Chippewa nation of Minnesota and one of the founders of the civil rights group the American Indian Movement in the 1960s, who met the Crow delegation, recounted the meeting. “The main speaker said, ‘I know you think of Crow as working with the enemy – but we too struggled for water rights, treaty rights’,” Banks said.

Omaka Nawicakinciji of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota participates with his mother Heather Mendoza during a rally on the Dakota Access Pipeline.


 Omaka Nawicakinciji of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota participates with his mother Heather Mendoza during a rally on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Then he paused. “The Missouri river starts up there,” he added, to indicate that the Crow and the Lakota share more, now, than just food and firewood. The river connects them, too.

Ladonna Allard is a member of the Dakota Sioux. The first protest camp, named Sacred Stone for the perfectly round stones that were formed by a whirlpool where the two rivers met, was erected in April on Allard’s land. The whirlpool is gone now, its eddies quieted by a dam built by the army corps of engineers in 1948, which also flooded the lush forest that abutted Allard’s birthplace.

“This is sacred land,” Allard told the Guardian, speaking by a campfire on which burritos cooked in aluminum foil. Children and dogs played; a brilliant sunset had just turned to dusk. “This is not about trying to be a protester,” she said. “I am a mother. My son is buried at the top of that hill. I can’t let them build a pipeline by my son’s grave.”

Native American Tribes Take on Pot, Consider Gamble on Legalization

Curiosity, studies and possible votes loom on American Indian lands. 

A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, which opened in 2006, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles

The Department of Justice has said federally recognized tribes may grow and sell marijuana. 

By Steven Nelson + More

Native American tribes are eyeing marijuana legalization as a potentially lucrative business opportunity in the wake of a green light from the Department of Justice in December.

So far, no tribe has taken the plunge, but across the country tribal leaders who have not reflexively rejected the idea are taking a look at what may become a significant revenue stream.

In the Northeast, the Mohegan Indian Tribe, which operates the large Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, and the Narragansett Indian Tribe in neighboring Rhode Island are weighing the option.

Mohegan Sun casino and hotel is seen at dusk November 20, 2002 in Uncasville, Connecticut. The casino is owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe which is a sovereign federally recognized Indian Nation. The casino achieved net revenues of $786.8 million in the fiscal year 2001.
The Mohegan Sun casino and hotel in Uncasville, Conn.

Montana’s vast Fort Peck Reservation may
put the issue on tribal ballots in October,
and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota is conducting a
feasibility study on broad cannabis reform.

The Department of Justice says it will allow tribes to grow marijuana if certain enforcement triggers aren’t tripped — such
as sales to minors, involvement with
organized crime and the export of pot to jurisdictions where it’s banned — and the policy only applies to federally recognized tribes.

Some states, such as Virginia, Ohio and Georgia, have no tribes with federal recognition, and in others states, such as California, Florida and New York, tribal lands are placed by Congress under state criminal jurisdiction, throwing up a potential roadblock.

But in many states, including some near major East Coast cities, there are tribes that could conceivably welcome outsiders to buy and use the drug on reservation land.

the rest of the story:

American Indians at European Contact

Originally published as "Earliest American Explorers: Adventure and Survival"

by John W. Kincheloe, III
Used with permission from Tar Heel Junior Historian 47: 1 (Fall 2007): 6-8, copyright North Carolina Museum of History.

European explorers came to the "New World" oDetail from map: Novi OrbisDetail from 16th century map. "Novi Orbis" is "new world" in Latin.f North America in the 1500s. Before that time, the continent was an unknown place to them. These adventurers saw it as an entirely new land, with animals and plants to discover. They also met new people in this exciting New World—people with fascinating lifeways that the Europeans had never seen and languages they had never heard. This New World for Europeans was actually a very old world for the various people they met in North America. Today we call those people American Indians.

Archaeologists tell us that American Indians may have been on the North American continent for fifty thousand years. They were the first Americans, and they were great explorers, too. They didn't come to this continent all at once. It is thought that these ancient adventurers arrived at different times, over several thousands of years. They journeyed from Asia on foot or by boat. Their explorations took them through icy landscapes and along the coastlines. Eventually these earliest American explorers spread out over the entire continent.

Over time, their lives changed as they adapted to different environments. American Indians were creative. They found ways to live in deserts, in forests, along the oceans, and on the grassy prairies. Native peoples were great hunters and productive farmers. They built towns and traded over large distances with other tribes. These were the people the European explorers met when their ships landed in America.

read more at:

‘I have a dream for all God’s children,’
Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Roy Cook Editor

Those who still think that Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of social justice and equality for all people applies only to members of King’s own race must never have heard of John Echohawk.

Echohawk, a member of the Pawnee Tribe and executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, has been a leading legal and political advocate for the sovereign rights of Native American tribes for more than three decades - thanks to the influence of King.

“This principle of tribal sovereignty was one that captured our imaginations, and we saw great potential in enforcing this legal right in the political climate of the 1960s,” Echohawk said. “It was a controversial avenue to pursue, because the federal government’s policy relating to Indian tribes at that time was one of terminating our tribes, doing away with our relationship with the federal government and placing us under state jurisdiction—all against our will without our consent.

“Inspired by Dr. King, who was advancing the civil rights agenda of equality under the laws of this country, w

“Inspired by Dr. King, who was advancing the civil rights agenda of equality under the laws of this country, we thought that we could also use the laws to advance our Indianship, to live as tribes in our territories governed by our own laws under the principles of tribal sovereignty that had been with us ever since 1831. We believed that we could fight for a policy of self-determination that was consistent with U.S. law and that we could govern our own affairs, define our own ways and continue to survive in this society.”

In 1970, Echohawk and others did just that by organizing the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), which was modeled after the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. For the past 30 years, NARF has served as a political advocate and legal defender of Native American tribal nations in cases pertaining to tribal sovereignty and treaty enforcement; land, water and fishing rights; religious and cultural freedoms; and, among others, issues of taxation, gaming and Indian trust monies.

He thought that we could also use the laws to advance our Indianship, to live as tribes in our territories governed by our own laws under the principles of tribal sovereignty that had been with us ever since 1831. We believed that we could fight for a policy of self-determination that was consistent with U.S. law and that we could govern our own affairs, define our own ways and continue to survive in this society.”

In 1970, Echohawk and others did just that by organizing the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), which was modeled after the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. For the past 30 years, NARF has served as a political advocate and legal defender of Native American tribal nations in cases pertaining to tribal sovereignty and treaty enforcement; land, water and fishing rights; religious and cultural freedoms; and, among others, issues of taxation, gaming and Indian trust monies.

MLK legacy review:

“Martin Luther King was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.”

Harris Wofford was an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South in the late 1950s and became a friend and unofficial advisor to Martin Luther King. In 1957 Wofford arranged for King to visit India. According to Coretta King, after this trip her husband "constantly pondered how to apply Gandhian principles in America." In 1957 King joined with the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy and Bayard Rustin to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The new organization was committed to using nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights, and SCLC adopted the motto: "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed."

There had been a long tradition of nonviolent resistance to racism in the United States. Frederick Douglass had advocated these methods during the fight against slavery. Other black leaders such as Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin had successfully used nonviolence against racism in the 1940s. The importance of the SCLC was that now the black church, a powerful organization in the South, was to become fully involved in the struggle for civil rights.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. And inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters.”

“He directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream":

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough place will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning.

My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
of thee I sing:
Land where my father’s died,
Land of the pilgrim's pride,
from every mountainside
Let freedom ring.

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.”

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

Earlier in the 20th century messages of truth could only be conveyed in a non-confrontational comic-trickster context.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s essay on High John de Conquer, a mythic black figure who pre-dates John Henry and Stagger (or Stack-o) Lee. High John’s weapons are laughter and song. And speed. High John is fast, as Hurston writes in Zora Neale Hurston’s The Sanctified Church:

High John de Conquer came to be a man, and a mighty man at that. But he was not a natural man in the beginning. First off, he was a whisper, a will to hope, a wish to find something worthy of laughter and song. Then the whisper put on flesh. His footsteps sounded across the world in a low but musical rhythm as if the world he walked on was a singing-drum. Black people had an irresistible impulse to laugh. High John the Conquer was a man in full, and had come to live and work on the plantations, and all of the slave folks knew him in the flesh.

The sign of his man was a laugh, and his singing-symbol was a drum. No parading drum-shout like soldiers out for show. It did not call to the feet of those who were fixed to hear it. It was an inside thing to live by. It was sure to be heard when and where the work was hardest, and the lot the most cruel. It helped the slaves endure. They knew that something better was coming. So they laughed in the face of things and sang, “I’m so glad! Trouble don’t last always.” And the white people who heard them were struck dumb that they could laugh. In an outside way, this was Old Massa’s fun, so what was Old Cuffy laughing for?

Old Massa couldn’t know, of course, but High John de Conquer was there walking his plantation like a natural man.

Maybe he was in Texas when the lash fell on a slave in Alabama, but before the blood was dry on the back, he was there. A faint pulsing of a drum like a goat-skin stretched over a heart, that came nearer and closer, then sombody in the saddened quarters would feel like laughing and say, “Now High John de Conquer, Old Mass couldn’t get the best of him. That old John was a case!” Then everybody began to smile.

It’s about story — a story that came from Africa that sustained the slaves and their descendents for generations. It’s about song — songs that came from Africa and enveloped the best of the Christian faith and withstood the dogs and water cannons in Birmingham. It’s about laughter — laughter that came from Africa and enabled blacks in the Jim Crow south to laugh secretly at those who spent most of their waking moments trying to figure out ways to crush High John and the millions like him.

It is no accident, Hurston writes, High John de Conquer has evaded the ears of white people. They were not supposed to know. You can’t know what folks won’t tell you.

And so it is with what this music provided that enabled them to challenge the most powerful nation on the planet armed only with love and justice. It’s all there in those on spirituals and those unstoppable gospel songs, the stories, the laughter and the music.

Zora Neale Hurston is considered one of the pre-eminent writers of twentieth-century African-American literature. Hurston was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance and has influenced such writers as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambara.

Finally, Native Americans have much to acknowledge regarding the ability to live as tribes in our territories governed by our own laws under the principles of tribal sovereignty. We honor the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Nation-hood is a mighty power and freedom for many Native Americans.


In Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples

By Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Last I heard, contracts negotiated between two consenting and capable parties are supposed to be binding, with repercussions if one party violates what has been agreed upon and codified into a legal document.  That is, of course, unless it is the state entering into such agreements with indigenous peoples.

Then these legal documents are little more than lip-service, or so it seems, based on the actions of the U.S., Canadian, and other governments who have and continued to trample the rights of indigenous peoples with impunity. Instead of being held accountable to the legally binding agreements they have signed, these governments continue to deprive indigenous peoples of their land, their livelihoods, and their cultures. Worse yet, they have the gall to point the finger at indigenous peoples and their allies who resist this continued destruction of their land and resources, calling them the criminals.

The United States government has negotiated some 600 treaties with Native people, most of which it has violated. As just one example, were it to have adhered to its own agreement, the Lakota Nation would have encompassed much of the western Midwest (and some of the easternmost region of what we now call the West), with the vast resources offered by the land and water in that region. Instead, many Lakota live on reservations (or prisoner of war camps, as they might be called) like Pine Ridge, which is annually one of the most impoverished places in the United States. Unemployment rates run around 70 percent, and as of 2011, almost 50 percent of Pine Ridge residents live below the federal poverty line. Like a third-world country, life expectancy rates hover in the later 40s and early 50s, in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S, where the average women lives to be 81 and the average man to 76. But, when Native peoples have organized, like the American Indian Movement did in the 1960s and 1970s, they are presented as a threat, not as part of the solution.

Canada has done no better. Instead of honoring its agreements to indigenous groups, the Canadian government has stolen the land and poisoned the water, soil, and air in which many from the First Nations live. On October 15, 2013, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya issued a scathing report, noting that 20 percent of aboriginal peoples in Canada live in homes in need of serious repairs and that the suicide rate among aboriginal youth is five times greater than that of all Canadians.  Anaya called the situation a “crisis,” and, among other factors, traced it back to Canadian government policies that broke up homes and destroyed indigenous cultures by sending indigenous youth to horrific boarding schools where they were forced to become as White as possible.   

But, instead of critically reflecting on Anaya’s report, the Canadian government elected to further oppress this already marginalized group. Just days ago, when indigenous peoples and their allies organized to protest fracking in New Brunswick (a natural gas extraction process that devastates the land and groundwater) the RCMP responded with force. Instead of listening to the voices of indigenous peoples about the Tar Sands pipelines, the Canadian government has criminalized their voices and continues to plunder on.

So, while the U.S. and Canada are two of the wealthiest nations in the world, both should bear the responsibility and pay the price for becoming so through the extraction of resources and land that did not and does not belong to them.  

Indigenous people and their supporters have not and will not be silent about these issues.  Groups like Idle No More have organized, taken to the streets, and used traditional indigenous dance and culture as well as teach-ins and other nonviolent direct action to organize communities to speak out about the repressive policies. I was fortunate to hear from representatives from Idle No More recently and to participate in one of their rallies. To call it a humbling experience is an understatement.

For readers who are not familiar with these histories, I implore you to educate yourself. There is far more to the story than I have presented here. When you do, you too will be outraged, and hopefully called to act, to support indigenous peoples as they fight to regain that which is lawfully theirs and to ensure they can raise their children in non-toxic environments. It is the least we can do.


Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Peace and War: Native Ground

Native American tribes have been shamefully misused and abused by settlers, colonists, thugs, and others. In spite of this history of shameful, painful, and tragic mistreatment, many people survive. And it’s time to set things right.

The American Indian Movement and other tribal collectives are
working with everyday people to restore peace, justice & freedom.

Native Americans have the highest mortality rate of any U.S. minority because of U.S. action and policy. The biggest killers though were smallpox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and scarlet fever. All imported by the Europeans colonists.

But murders and mayhem which took place, above and beyond these deaths, are the most horrific consequence of the European invasion, occupation, and exploitation.

Two studies have been conducted that attempt to number the native people killed by colonists, settlers, racists, and the US military in the United States.

The first study was sponsored by the United States government, and while official, does not stand up to scrutiny: even this biased accounting admits to between 1 million to 4 million deaths.

The second study was not sponsored by the US Government but was done by independent researchers. This study estimated populations and population reductions using documented census data and the most accurate objective records.

Two figures are given, both low and high: between 10 million and 114 million Indians died as a direct result of US actions. (Some by violence and many by imported disease)

Note:  Given the fragmentary nature of the evidence, even semi-accurate pre-Columbian population figures are impossible to obtain. Estimates are made by extrapolations from small bits of data. In 1976, geographer William Denevan used the existing estimates to derive a “consensus count” of about 54 million people. If this were true, then more than
50 million died from disease, murder, war, hunger, or other causes.

Note that Nazi Holocaust estimates are between 6 and 11 million; thereby making the Nazi regime responsible for the 2nd largest mass murder of a class of people in history.

American Holocaust: D. Stannard (Oxford Press, 1992) – “over 100 million killed”

“One could reasonably argue that the Turkish pogrom against the Armenians during World War I qualifies as a crime against humanity, as does the United States’ ethnic cleansing of Native Americans.”
Sebastian Junger

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