The Original Occupy

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives.

Ah, the Great White North. America’s attic. Uncle Sam’s hat. The land of self-deprecation, Tim Hortons donuts and ice fishing. Less notably, it is the land of my birth. Although I became a U.S. citizen in the fifth grade, my Canadian roots were always a source of pride, despite precluding me from ever becoming president.

It has always amazed me how little we Americans think of our sister nation to the north. With the occasional exception of the tabloid coverage that accompanies “Bieber Fever,” the media here are devoid of Canadian news. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising there hasn’t been a single article devoted to the indigenous Idle No More movement that has taken hold in Canada. As we witnessed during the early days of Occupy, corporate media are indifferent to dissent unless it’s displayed in a faraway nation by throngs of angry Arabic men. (Congrats again on winning Best Picture, Ben.) Recall that it took weeks for any established media to begin covering Occupy in any meaningful way, and when they finally did, they were largely dismissive of it.

Yet the American news media do spend a good deal of time and ink discussing the relationship between the United States and China. Any news of civil unrest in China is worrisome to corporate America because of our obsession with our mutual economic interests. After all, we are the global champions of human rights so long as we’re not stripped of our fundamental economic right to slave labor.

Missing from this equation is the fact that China is America’s second top trading partner. The first is Canada. Yes, the land that calls its one- and two-dollar coins “loonies” and “toonies” is our number one trading partner on the planet. This is why the lack of coverage of the Idle No More movement is rather astounding given that our economic interests are involved. Not only have Canadian Indians disrupted commerce, they are providing the strongest resistance on the Canadian side to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project that would run from Canada through several U.S. states.

In December of 2012, four Canadian activists named Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Nina Wilson founded Idle No More to protest the Canadian government’s passage of C-45—a massive omnibus bill containing anti-environmental provisions that might surprise many Americans. Since December, native people across Canada have disrupted major events and even gained international attention from a hunger strike waged by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Protestors have closed off roads, blockaded bridges, cut off a road to a De Beers diamond mine and generally raised hell by attacking this bill for moving Canada further away from the path of sustainability.

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives. In January, Global Legislative Organisation (GLOBE), an environmental NGO, issued its third report on the legislative initiatives of 33 nations. Of the 33 countries, which include China and the United States, GLOBE gave 32 of them credit for making progress in enacting and adopting beneficial environmental legislation. The only nation to go backwards? Canada.

John Kane, a native activist and writer who hosts a show on Indian affairs on WWKB-AM in Buffalo, says that Idle No More “is about water, land and sovereignty.” Like many who have observed Canadian politics of late, Kane laments that the dominion has been besieged by a warped conservative agenda, characterizing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a “cross between Bush and Cheney.” Relations between the tribes and her majesty’s government, strained as they are, worsened as C-45 set off alarms among tribal leaders almost immediately.

“Harper initiated a suite of legislation,” says Kane, “that would lower the threshold to invade native lands and take streams, rivers, minerals, you name it.” Reading between the lines of a “jobs act” in the bill, Kane says that “job creation” is a euphemism for “the opportunity for other countries like China to participate in mineral extraction.”

Idle No More intersected with other activist movements in February when its members joined the massive rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the Sierra Club and 350.org, to call for President Obama to continue the U.S. obstruction of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 protestors descended upon the National Mall. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, was even arrested at the rally, breaking the organization’s longstanding prohibition against civil disobedience. (The rally was also woefully under-reported by corporate media.) President Obama is clearly important in the process and the U.S. has to clear far more regulatory hurdles to move the Keystone project forward. But the pressure to begin construction is coming more from the Canadian government than anywhere else. The Harper administration, with tremendous support from Canadian petro companies, is hell-bent on exploiting the Alberta tar sands, no matter how environmentally catastrophic the process is.

“This is an area the size of Florida,” says Kane. “The bottom line is Canada can make a lot of money by raping Alberta.”

Idle No More goes beyond the Keystone Pipeline. This week I spoke with Yoni Miller, who is the president of Occupy Wall Street—an intentionally ironic title as Occupy continues to be an amorphous, leaderless and volunteer movement. I reached out to him because the Occupy outlets were among the relatively few areas to obtain any information outside of native publications. Regarding C-45 and the potential toll on native territory, Miller said, “We all know it’s more than that—it’s about the ongoing and existing process of colonialization.” He also believes the tribes have better insight to environmental issues because of “their unique relationship to the land.” 

On Jan. 5 of this year Yoni was invited to Akwesasne, the Mohawk territory that straddles the St. Lawrence River between New York and Ontario. For several hours Iroquois members of Idle No More shut down the Seaway International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada—an experience Miller called “humbling.” When I asked him whether he felt Occupy had fueled any of the confidence in Idle No More, he was reluctant to take anything away from what had been accomplished.

“It may not have been possible without the energy from Occupy,” he said, but then quickly added, “but these people were activists before we were even born.  Indigenous resistance has been going on since 1492. It’s what makes this different.”

Both Occupy and Idle are relatively quiet at the moment. But John Kane and Yoni Miller independently expressed the same sentiment that spring is the season of awakening and that both groups will be on the move. Perhaps they will jolt the mainstream media from their hibernation as well, though I doubt it. These particular bears appear to be idle, forever more. 

 

Illustration by Jon Moreno

Gambling with Andrew Cuomo

Few New Yorkers will shed tears for our indigenous brethren who will once again find themselves on the losing end of a political battle. After all, breaking treaties with Indians is a time-honored tradition in the United States. We’re awesome at that.

New York State Gov. Cuomo of the Andrew persuasion continues to ride high in the opinion polls, and for good reason. His approach thus far has been pitch perfect, even tackling controversial issues such as gay marriage with remarkable finesse. Cautiously and quietly the governor has moved a fairly progressive agenda forward in the first year of his administration. Now, on the eve of his sophomore year in office, he is martialing his political capital to begin making fiscal moves that will test his popularity and his political resolve.

Cuomo has targeted two key areas that should sustain his reputation as a strong fiscal manager and reform-minded executive: his regional economic development initiatives and his income tax modifications to provide a marginal break for the middle class while imposing a slight increase to the state’s highest earners. How he proceeds on the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) upstate in the Marcellus Shale region could have a lasting effect on his record.
If fracking is allowed to proceed in the state, Cuomo risks alienating liberal democrats and environmentalists but the money generated from drilling operations may prove too tempting for the new governor to pass up. But as dicey as this issue is for Cuomo, there is another revenue-generating idea on his agenda with potential negative consequences upstate that will barely impact his approval ratings.

Up for consideration in his plan is the creation of private Class III gaming facilities throughout the state. Establishing more full-fledged casinos in New York may invite criticism from New Jersey and Connecticut as well as anti-gambling advocates, but it will undoubtedly pass the legislature’s scrutiny within the 2013 time frame delineated by the Cuomo administration. It entails passing muster in two consecutive sessions followed by a public referendum; but once approved, the state would then be allowed to issue licenses to private operators. In a statement Cuomo said, “Through this plan, we can promote job creation and recapture revenue that is currently being lost to other states.”
Fair enough, but why so many hurdles just to allow private casinos? We already have Off Track Betting, the lottery and Indian casin…. Ooooohhhh! Right. Those pesky agreements with the Indian tribes. The reason this move requires so many political machinations is that Class III gaming licenses were intended to be in the exclusive purview of recognized Indian tribes in the state. Contracts, by the way, which have been extremely lucrative for the state as well. The constitutional amendment and subsequent referendum are political-speak for “how government breaks treaties with Indians.”

The reason New York tribes have enjoyed any success in the gaming industry is because they have possessed the ability to construct and operate casinos on reservation territories without competition from private, off-reservation interests. It’s this exclusivity that has enabled tribes to succeed in spite of their remote locales. Introducing casinos into more urban areas will be a boon for the state and a disaster for the tribes. Ironically, this decision could also have the unintended consequence of further decimating employment in isolated upstate regions, many of which rely on direct and ancillary income and jobs created as a result of tribal gaming facilities.

Nevertheless, few New Yorkers will shed tears for our indigenous brethren who will once again find themselves on the losing end of a political battle. After all, breaking treaties with Indians is a time-honored tradition in the United States. We’re awesome at that. This latest move will have come as no surprise to tribal leaders who no doubt anticipated the inevitable demise of their rights before the ink was dry on the agreements. What I find so poignant about this turn of events is the timing and the characters involved as the target date of 2013 will be exactly 20 years after Andrew’s father, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, granted New York’s tribes the sole authority to operate Class III facilities.

This multi-generational twist–the old “the father giveth and the son taketh away”–is a great angle but not without precedent. In fact, our most recent national holiday provides the perfect historical illustration of intergenerational power struggles.

The pilgrims in Plymouth who survived the harsh winters of the early 1600s in their new home did so through the kindness and assistance of the Wampanoag tribe headed by the great sachem Massasoit. The friendship that blossomed between Massasoit and one of the original settlers, Edward Winslow, endured for the remainder of both men’s lives and is the stuff of legend. In fact, it’s through Winslow’s journal that we have one of only two accounts of what would come to be known as Thanksgiving. In his entry he states: “Amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”

Fifty years later, both Winslow and Massasoit were gone. The great Sachem’s son, Metacom–also referred to as King Philip by the settlers–was threatened and cajoled by the increasingly hostile colonists. In 1675 war broke out between the Wampanoag, led by Philip, and the settlers. A year later the colonists feasted and celebrated once again, this time by toasting their victory over the Indians in what is now known as King Philip’s War.
According to historian Jill Lepore, “the final day of Thanksgiving, of the war, is the day Philip’s head is marched into Plymouth. This decapitated head on a pole in the center of town is cause for a great celebration.” Philip’s severed head remained atop a stake outside of Plymouth colony for 20 years while his 9-year-old son was imprisoned and then sold into slavery. The governor of Plymouth, who is widely credited as having killed Philip’s brother and drawing Metacom himself into war, was none other than Edward Winslow’s son, Josiah.

The son of Massasoit’s most trusted friend and ally murdered both of his sons. Rather Shakespearian, wouldn’t you say? Such is life in Indian Country. So while Andrew Cuomo’s actions are certainly more tempered and less violent, he earns low marks for originality. At least Josiah Winslow had the decency to wait until his father had passed away before he unraveled the good intentions set forth by his elders.

A Mohawk Ironworker’s Widow Remembers 9/11

Brad Bonaparte was one of those storied Mohawk ironworkers who shimmied up skeletal high-rise beams building skyscrapers in New York City like his father before him. When the twin towers crashed to the ground he was just leaving “the Hall” waiting to be called out on a job.

When I began reporting on Indian issues in New York State a few years back, I was fortunate to meet Leslie Logan, the spokesperson for the Mohawks in Akwesasne at the time. Though Logan is Seneca she tenaciously represented the Mohawks in the spirit of the Iroquois Confederacy. You always count on her for the straight dope on any issue. But it was her long-time partner Brad Bonaparte who provided the color during my first trip to the reservation. He drove me around, introducing me to nearly everyone we met, and told me stories about seemingly every house or building we passed.

Years prior to meeting Brad and Leslie, I reconnected with my heritage after volunteering at Kanatsiohareke, a Mohawk community upstate New York founded by Tom Porter. The name Kanatsiohareke means “The Clean Pot,” which was the inspiration for the logo seen here to the left. A copy of it has hung in office and in my home ever since working there.

The next time I met up with Leslie she was back in Seneca territory and helping me with another story. In a quiet moment I asked her about Brad. At first she didn’t answer me. Then after a couple of awkward, silent moments her eyes welled up and she told me he was dying.

Before Brad passed, he and Leslie were married. They were already a family and had children together but had never made it official. As I perused the photographs she sent me from their wedding I noticed that it was officiated by Tom Porter, the man who founded Kanatsiohareke. Small world.

The next time I spoke with Leslie I had a chance to ask her about her relationship with Tom. We were only speaking about Tom and the community for a few minutes when she said offhandedly that Brad had actually designed the logo for Kanatsiohareke. As she spoke the words I happened to be staring directly at it.

Brad passed away shortly after but his spirit lives on through Leslie, their children and, tragically, 9-11. Brad was an ironworker who worked on “the pile” and subsequently died as a result. He is the reason I continue to write about Indian issues. His life and death perfectly portray the paradoxical existence Indians lead in America. Indians are continually maligned by the nation that conquered them, yet they fight for her during times of war. They famously helped build skyscrapers to house institutions that would marginalize them; then they dug through the rubble when they came crashing down. The story of Leslie and Brad is one of love and resilience, patriotism and disenfranchisement. It’s a story of family, honor and determination. It’s timeless, heartbreaking and uniquely Indian.

This is their story.

THE GENUS OF TEARS
By Leslie Logan

In the days and months immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the country was awash in tears of astonishment and horror. Thousands of people perished in four strikes against America. In one way or another everyone was indelibly touched, some more than others.

September 11th is one of those historic days of infamy never to be forgotten. Everyone old enough can tell you where they were and what they were doing.

I was two months pregnant with my daughter and rushing to drop off my three year-old at Nancy’s, my babysitter’s house before going to work at Cornell University. On the drive I heard NPR report a developing story—something about a plane crash at the Pentagon. When I got to Nancy’s she had an odd look on her face and greeted me with: “Did you hear?”

I followed her into her house where the television was on. Planes had crashed into the twin towers. We watched in disbelief as history unfolded before our eyes.

My partner Brad Bonaparte (pictured above working on WTC rubble) was one of those storied Mohawk ironworkers who shimmied up skeletal high-rise beams building skyscrapers in New York City like his father before him. When the twin towers crashed to the ground he was just leaving “the Hall” waiting to be called out on a job. He and his ironworker partner Andy Jacobs, also an Akwesasne Mohawk, were headed uptown to catch a train, but pandemonium ensued and they missed the last one. They became part of the masse that walked hundreds of blocks and across the George Washington Bridge to get off Manhattan due to the transit system lockdown. It took them the better part of that day to get back to their apartment in Jersey.

Two days later he and Andy reported for duty as part of the round-the clock ironworking crews enlisted to clear the wreckage at Ground Zero—a place that they would refer to as “the Pile” but was also “part hole and part hell” he would say. He was one of only a handful of Mohawk ironworkers who stayed on for any length of time removing the steel wreckage.

His very first night on the Pile he fell into “the hole” and was skewered through his side by a tie rod. The wound was serious and he was taken to Bellevue and admitted. He checked himself out hours later saying he felt as though it was a time of war and that he felt compelled to return to the battlefield.

He and his fellow ironworkers worked 12-hour, 10-day straight shifts, and in the more than three months that he was there he only came home maybe four times; each time for just a day and a half.

I worried myself sick about him night and day, sleepless and scared, my imagination running on all cylinders as I wondered what kind of impact that level of angst might have on my unborn child. I wanted Brad out of there, home and safe.

Every day the news reported on the biohazards and the air quality, the toxins and contamination at Ground Zero. Most of the reports focused on the police, the firefighters, the rescue crews and the New York celebrities that pitched in as volunteers to feed and serve those on site. There was little said about the ironworkers’ role.

When he came home for the first time after being there for 21 days he called ahead somber and serious and asked me to prepare a bowl of water with Osgwai’da (“Indian tobacco”) that he would need to wash with. The medicinal tobacco was used to cleanse away death and the remnants of unsettled spirits he had encountered. The tobacco is used in ceremonies and is believed to keep us and our children, who are most vulnerable, safe.

He arrived worn and unsettled, burdened with a haunted look of his own after witnessing and experiencing first-hand a tragedy few would know. He would talk about the smell of death, the haphazard respiratory checks and the lack of adequate face masks.

Just before Christmas he wrapped up his time at Ground Zero. CBS News’ 60 Minutes did a segment on the ironworkers that featured him. The Smithsonian American Indian magazine put him and his partner Andy on the cover and detailed their experience. My mom called him a hero. I was just grateful to have him home.

Along with full-fiber, deep-core exhaustion Brad brought home an unnerving, body-gripping cough that shook him awake at night. Between the nightly news reports that warned of unknown health implications and that disturbing, unmistakable cough of his, it was hard to ignore the alarm signals going off in my head.

I remember reading articles that suggested in 8 to 10 years, a wave of illnesses and conditions related to the hazardous conditions could surface among the first responders and workers at Ground Zero, much like the thyroid cancers that erupted in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the nuclear disaster.

So in October 2009 as Brad prepared to dress for my sister’s wedding, his shirt grazed a perceptible lump on his neck. He directed my attention there with a frown. I uneasily touched the undeniable growth. The first thing he said was: “It’s cancer and I’m going to die.”

I rolled my eyes at him and told him he was full of drama.

Indeed, for him it was the beginning of the end.

Sadly on the day before Thanksgiving 2009 my 47-year old partner of nearly 14 years received a phone call from his doctor with very little detail attached to it. We had been anxiously awaiting the results of a biopsy. Brad came home from his new dream job he had started only two weeks before as executive director of a Native arts and cultural center in his home community of Akwesasne, sat down and quietly, and simply stated, “It’s cancer. That was it. There were tears. He was told to call back on Monday, to schedule a follow-up appointment for more tests.

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday wondering in fear about what kind of cancer it was. There was no one to field our barrage of questions. Was it survivable? Was it burn-your-skin-and-make-you-go-bald kind of cancer? Was it kick-your-ass-and-kill-you kind of cancer? We didn’t know. The prospects weighed heavily on us.

We went to Montreal on a planned trip to shop, eat and have fun; but the laughs were few and forced, and neither of us had much of an appetite. I kept reminding him that people beat cancer all the time. But over the long weekend I would steal away to the bathroom to cry in private.

After Thanksgiving we returned to the Vermont Cancer Center. A team of doctors sat us down and told us they didn’t know what kind of cancer it was or where it was emanating from. The lead oncologist said, “If it is ‘primary unknown,’ that won’t be good. We’ll be reaching around in the dark and we’ll just throw Jello at the wall and hope something sticks. If it’s a testes cancer; that would be better because testes cancers respond well to treatment and you can get a couple of years out of that. If its colon cancer, the treatments are better now and you can get five years out of that.

At that point Brad and I traded grave looks of concern and took deep breaths. The doctor said, “if it’s stomach, pancreatic or esophageal cancer… he trailed off. He shook his head. He continued, “if it’s stomach, pancreatic or esophageal cancer, then we are looking at a severely diminished lifespan. The words: “a severely diminished lifespan was like a sharp punch to the stomach. I tried to blink back a rush of tears.

Several hours later I sat nervously by myself in one of the many waiting rooms while the doctors performed an endoscopy. I rocked like a child with autism, my hands tightly clasped, praying as I’ve never done, pleading to some unknown higher power, feeling all the while a touch of insanity as I hoped for colon cancer. I worked hard to force back the tears that were building inside of me.

Only an hour later the doctor called me in to join Brad in recovery. He was still delirious from the anesthesia. It was then that the tears unfurled. There would be many tears, so many tears that would flow and become lodged in the slim crevice of the next seven months.

* * *

Up in Alaska, in that wintry landscape draped white, urban legend suggests that Native Inuit speakers have 100 different ways to describe the many variations of snow. (Science, for its part, tells us that no two snowflakes are alike.) The truth is the Inuit have about a dozen ways in their Native language to describe snow. It strikes me that in the dark landscape of grief, tears are like snow; there are many different forms and numerous ways to capture the precipitation of tears that accompany sorrow and loss.

There is the nature of tears and the occasion of tears, the shock of tears, convulsive tears and fits of unrelenting, physically exhausting, emotionally depleting tears. There are tears that choke, tears that paralyze, tears that gut you and turn you inside out. There are tears of relief, tears of disbelief and denial, tears of sympathy, tears of fear, tears of contempt, burning tears of rage and recognition, tears of disappointment and betrayal, tears of dread and uncertainty, tears of regret and tears of hope. There are tears of letting go, tears of loss and devastation, and tears of complete bewilderment. There are quiet tears on automatic pilot. There are tears of gaping emptiness, plaintive tears of loneliness and desperation. There are doubled-over, gut-wrenching tears of pain, tears of a stunned, broken heart.

The tears of shock and denial I cried when Brad was diagnosed with all-guns-firing advanced, metastatic, inoperable, 4th-stage, terminal esophageal cancer—were different from the ones he and I later shared when we laid together in bed at night over the remaining months of his life. Scared in the darkness, holding each other tightly as though our bounded bodies could shield us from the inevitable, those tears throttled our throats and stung our lips as our faces, wet and slippery, pressed hard against one another.

Those tears were different from the ones that tumbled out only eight days after our January 2010 wedding when I received the phone call informing me that the tumors in his super clavicle had strangled the nerves to his left arm rendering his limb all but dead.

The tears were different when his pee turned the color of iodine and the ER doctors informed me that tumors in his kidneys had grown like ivy vines and choked his organs preventing them from functioning properly.

The tears were different when the oncologist told us in a somber tone, yet face unflinching, that there was now a tumor in the brain.

The tears were different when we were given the “You-have-fought-a-really-valiant-fight speech and the doctor transferred us to hospice care and tried to make “maybe three months sound like an optimal remaining timeline. In a blur of tears I remember firing a dirty look his way and thinking loudly in my head: LIAR—I knew we didn’t have three months.

The tears were different when the daily dose of round-the-clock meds climbed to 18 different prescriptions and he became confused.

The tears were different when the hospice nurse came to the house on a Monday and stated the obvious—“He’s having some ‘changes,’ and said he would not likely make it to Friday, when our daughter would have a featured role in her second-grade spring chorale program.

The tears were different when the social worker told me we had to break the news to our two children that we would lose him—the most painful and difficult conversation I would ever have. For months we had told them that Hahni (“dad in Seneca) was very sick and that we were doing everything we could to help him get better. The week before I finally broke down and told the kids that Hahni was not going to get better. My 8 year-old daughter’s face contorted as she cried out, “Not next week? He’s not going to get better next week? I never felt so helpless, so broken, so unable to protect her from the oncoming train of pain that would run us all down.

The tears were different when the very next day at his bedside he grabbed my arm and pulled me close to him, as he coughed and struggled out his last breath, his eyes wide and searching.

The tears were different when, on Father’s Day 2010, as we prepared to return his body to the earth, I sat in the Akwesasne Mohawk Longhouse gripping my children tightly against my quaking body to keep from visibly shaking.

The tears were different when in February, on a brutal, late Winter day my 11-year old son sad, angry and confused told me he missed his Hahni and had nothing to live for, then grabbed his BB gun and told his sister “You’ll never see me again! as he headed out the door in the freezing rain.

The tears were different on March 12, 2011 when I had the kids take Windex to the dry-erase calendar that for nine months remained untouched on the refrigerator door in a state of frozen time, locked on June 2010 when we lost him. For nine months June stared us in the face every time we went to prepare a meal or quench a thirst. Three squirts of Windex irrevocably erased the names of people who would visit, the places we would go, the events we had planned and intended; things we did and things we didn’t get to do and the day his proverbial battle with cancer came to an unavoidable end.

Some might argue that tears are all the same, but as with snowflakes, in the land of loss and grief, I believe that no two tears are alike. They are all related, rooted to a similar source, deep and familiar, yet varied according to a range of emotions. In our case, as with so many now across the country, our relapses and lingering tears flow back to the incident in lower Manhattan.

Ten years after Ground Zero, I am rattled with disbelief that my Mohawk ironworker failed to live to see the 10-year 9/11 anniversary tributes that are dominating the headlines. This week my children are riveted to the television, unable to escape the replay of images of that day. My son is transfixed by the coverage and inconsolable as he watches the news. He says, “If only Hahni never went down there, he never would have gotten the cancer…

Brad was widely known for being a storyteller, something of an old-school Iroquois orator, gifted with a quick wit and a smooth ability to draw in listeners to the details of his experiences and delights.

We miss his stories, his levity and his voice. The terrorists unwittingly have had an even deeper far-reaching impact that continues to this day with a death tally that grows exponentially. As a country we were all affected by 9/11; there are literally thousands of stories of loss and some of us have felt the devastation more intimately than others.

As with all cycles, there is change. The warmth of the sun melts the snow-covered terrain in Alaska, and in the season of mourning, the tears eventually dry and a new, different vision of the future unfolds. For my small Seneca family, as with an entire country affected by 9/11, we have learned to live with the loss; still we are strengthened by the knowledge that our lives were made better by the sacrifice and conviction Brad and others demonstrated in a time of national crisis and need.

Inside the Catsimatidis Cabal

The greased wheels of democracy behind the PACT Act carry a clown car of strange bedfellows like Peter King and Anthony Weiner down roads that all lead back to billionaire John Catsimatidis, the ringmaster of this bizarre circus of influence.

Good Morning Mr. Mayor, here's your AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! What is that?!?! Oh My God! Oh My God!!! The Horrorrrrrrr.....

John Kane is an Indian educator and advocate in upstate New York, who broadcasts a show on WECK-AM in Buffalo and blogs at www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. As a Mohawk, married to an Oneida woman, living in Seneca territory, he likes to say he has half of the Iroquois Confederacy covered. Kane brings native issues to light on radio and online from the native perspective, and over the past couple of years we have become fast friends, trading stories and anecdotes related to tribal sovereignty issues that I frequently write about, but he has mastered—an impressive distinction given the complexities and differences of opinion inherent in these debates even among Indians.

During the Anthony Weiner fiasco, Kane reminded me of the disgraced congressman’s duplicitous role in shepherding the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act) of 2009, of which he was the House sponsor, through Congress. In the middle of this ridiculous Twitter situation with Weiner, I spoke with Kane on his show about the scandalous nature of an act sold to the public as an anti-terrorism, tax-evasion punishment with positive public health consequences as Rep. Weiner argued on the House floor.  In reality, the act itself was a protectionist economic tool crafted by, and for the benefit of, the American tobacco giants and convenience-store retailers seeking a way to curb the growth of native brand cigarettes. The passage of the PACT Act is a textbook example of money and influence in Washington where holier-than-thou legislators preach from atop an artificial moral high ground from a pulpit made of campaign cash.

The greased wheels of democracy behind this bill carry a clown car of strange bedfellows down roads that all lead back to billionaire John Catsimatidis, the ringmaster of this bizarre circus of influence. Catsimatidis is a high-profile figure in New York politics whose fortune is derived from the oil-refinery, grocery and convenience-store industries. Most recently it was the high society nuptials between his daughter, Andrea and Christopher Cox—grandson of Richard Nixon and son of New York GOP leader Ed Cox—that put the Catsimatidis name in the public eye. This is a merger of the highest social order in New York, renewing the notion that Catsimatidis will take a shot at becoming the next billionaire mayor of New York City, a hope that had been dashed when current Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to run for a third term. Add to the mix that presumptive candidate and power-grubbing sycophant Weiner is out of the picture, and the Catsimatidis for Mayor campaign will undoubtedly be in full swing.

Catsimatidis stands in stark physical contrast to the relatively soft-spoken and diminutive Bloomberg.  A big man with bulbous features, he has a caricaturesque appearance. Apart from these visual differences the two men have much in common. They are self-made billionaires whose party affiliations are fluid and for whom the job of Gotham’s mayor is the brass ring. Less notably, but important where the tobacco industry is concerned, they are perfectly aligned in their unmitigated offensive against the native cigarette trade, and they were Anthony Weiner’s two top individual donors.

Bloomberg’s assault on the Indian cigarette trade has been well-publicized, but it’s Catsimatidis who truly keeps the fire stoked. For example, half of the sponsors of the PACT Act have been recipients of Catsimatidis’ largesse over the past several years. Since the 1990s he has spread around nearly a million dollars in campaign contributions under his name or his direct family members. He even dumped campaign cash into the coffers of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who, during the cycles he received money, produced a congressional committee report titled “Tobacco and Terror,” which attempted to establish a link between the native cigarette trade and Hezbollah. It was a marginal and laughable report until Rep. Weiner matter-of-factly referred to the report (produced by his political nemesis) as gospel while arguing for the PACT Act on the House floor. From that point, the fate of native cigarette traders was effectively sealed. The New York and Washington, D.C. tobacco cabal, bought and paid for by Catsimatidis, included provisions in the act that delivered a direct blow to the Seneca Nation in western New York, arguably the most successful tobacco entrepreneurs in the United States, and direct competitors to the chain of convenience stores and gas stations owned by none other than John Catsimatidis.

Ironically, but purposefully, the only winners from the PACT Act were the tobacco manufacturers and convenience store owners who essentially crafted the legislation and financed its passage. Big Tobacco reaffirmed its competitive economic advantage by squeezing off supply routes for native brands and Indian retailers, which in turn benefited convenience stores with multiple locations. The act had little to do with trafficking, public health or terrorism, and everything to do with asserting monopolistic influence over a growing native trade that was gaining market share.

Watching Weiner argue the bill crafted by his donors told me everything I needed to know about this guy long before he revealed his true sleazy nature.  “An act that goes after cigarettes, tax evaders and terrorism? Slam dunk… Who gets hurt? Indians? Where do I sign?” This was probably the extent of the conversation that transpired between PACT Act sponsors like Anthony Weiner and sugar daddy Catsimatidis. When it came down to it, Weiner could be bought. That’s the name of the game, I suppose, and whoever takes his spot will likely be no different. After all, a Weiner by any other name is still a dick. (You didn’t think I would get through the whole piece without a penis pun, did you?)

Coliseum Casino: Let It Ride

It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

Foxwoods Casino. Oh no, this just wouldn't do. Too pretty for Long Island. Next!

There is a renewed hullaballoo surrounding the proposed Shinnecock casino at the current site of the Nassau Coliseum. A deserved hullaballoo, I might add. The very thought of a casino in the middle of our bustling, albeit struggling, suburban landscape inspires clamorous debate among the many stakeholders that exist in relatively tight quarters. Even lame duck Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is quacking about building a casino at his beloved Yaphank facility claiming that it’s better suited further away from Nassau County residents.

Unfortunately, it will be a cold day in hell before Long Islanders in either county have a say in the matter. People you have never heard of in positions you didn’t know existed will never allow a casino to be built this close to New York City because it would potentially devastate the interests of the people they represent from upstate New York, Connecticut, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. I offer this, not to quell your enthusiasm but to issue a gauntlet of solidarity and self-determination: either we all get behind this, or we drop it from the start.

So let’s have a debate among ourselves. Long Islander to Long Islander. But allow me to establish some ground rules. First, take the emotion out of the ensuing discourse by recognizing that while there is no magic elixir to cure our financial illness on Long Island, Nassau County in particular, we must not allow ourselves to be constrained by classic NIMBYism. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big. Conversely, big thinking doesn’t always ensure positive outcomes. But the only journey that guarantees failure is one that never begins. Taxpayers can no longer afford pusillanimous behavior from elected officials who acquiesce to a vocal minority. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Huntington! Oops. Getting emotional. My bad.)

Further, in order to have a proper discussion we must move past the question of legitimacy; that is, whether the tribe has the right to construct a casino on this parcel. For the purposes of examining the potential impact of this type of development, let us assume that it is within their right to strike an agreement with the government to build on this property. Lastly, the only other stipulation I entreat you to heed is to refrain from casting racially motivated aspersions toward members of the Shinnecock Nation. It detracts from the merit of the debate.

Here are my assertions. Let the debate begin.

If you build it they will come. A casino nestled within such a populous community has the potential of being the largest-grossing casino in the nation. Factor in the public transportation access to this area from New York City residents and this is an irrefutable fact. The impact upon the local economy would be seismic. According to a 2008 study published by the Taylor Policy Group of Sarasota, Fla., the estimated impact of the gaming and related industries of the Seneca Nation in western New York is $820 million annually. The study places this figure in context by stating that “the impact of the Nation exceeds that of the [Buffalo] Bills and the [Buffalo] Sabres combined and approaches that of the SUNY Buffalo campus.” This project would create thousands of sustained jobs and provide badly needed work for the local trades, generate healthy revenues to the Long Island Power Authority and local municipalities, and have an incredible halo effect on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.

A casino would not create a seedy culture. This particular assertion is hotly debated. Casinos conjure up images of mafia hoods and prostitutes. Never mind that you can already gamble in dozens of OTBs, buy lottery tickets on every corner, find a hooker making the rounds in industrial parks, or get a happy ending at any number of corner massage parlors. The moment a high-priced call girl takes up residence on a casino barstool looking for an out-of-town businessman in a leisure suit with a name badge, our puritan alarm sounds and the torches and pitchforks come out. I’m not condoning the use of escort services, but merely pointing out our collective hypocrisy with respect to our view on what’s acceptable and where. Prohibiting this illegal indulgence is far more manageable than scouring Craigslist and cracking down on neighborhood massage parlors.

This actually is the best location for a casino. The modern casino is part of an extensive array of business and cultural services. They tend to be aesthetically pleasing (think Wynn, not Trump) and boost the viability of a convention center, sports complex and entertainment arena. If a gaming operation was paired with a family destination nearby (think Great Wolf Lodge), imagine the combined economic possibilities of family and business travel. I might also remind everyone that Roosevelt Raceway was a gigantic gambling facility. It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

This development would ease traffic. Yup. I said it. The amount of money generated by a full-fledged hotel, casino and convention operation with a family amusement center would fund the long-desired transportation hub between the railroad, Museum Row, and the local shopping destinations. It’s all right there; you just can’t get there from here at the moment.

The Islanders are worth fighting for. This team stood by Long Island for decades. Hell, they even looked pretty good at the end of this season and their prospects for next year are even better. This is our only professional sports franchise. Like I said, the Islanders are worth fighting for.

Hofstra would benefit greatly from this development. Hofstra University is emerging as the largest and most vocal detractor of this project. This is completely understandable given the fears gambling inspires. The two most salient points the University is making are that college kids shouldn’t have this type of access to a gambling establishment and that its proximity will have a deleterious effect on the school’s image from the perspective of parents considering sending their children to the school.

First of all, kids are gambling online and addicted to video games. This will be the addiction cross to bear for this generation. As for the perceptual aesthetic and moral issues of a peripheral gaming establishment, it’s hard to imagine the current “approach” to the University being any worse. I love the Hofstra campus but the immediate surroundings, including the dilapidated coliseum, leave much to be desired. Hofstra is a serious stakeholder that would and should be able to ask for the sun, moon and stars when the infrastructure is fully developed here. President Stuart Rabinowitz has done more to enhance the reputation of this institution, from which I proudly hold a degree, by hosting the Presidential debate, building a medical school and improving the overall academic standing of the school. Hofstra is already bigger than its environs and will continue to be so for decades to come, casino or no casino. Besides, you tell me which option sounds worse to a parent in Nebraska with a child considering a top-notch school in New York:

(A) Columbia University in Harlem,
(B) Fordham University in the Bronx, or
(C) Hofstra University on Long Island.

By now, I’m confident several of you vehemently disagree with these assertions. I welcome your commentsbelow and look forward to continuing the conversation.

With that, let the games (of chance) begin.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PREVIOUS ARTICLE ON THE SHINNECOCK RECOGNITION

American Genocide

Stossel’s report is packaged as an investigative news feature and passed off as real journalism despite the complete absence of veracity. Stossel prevaricates so often in attempting to prove that every Indian in America is poor, stupid and lazy that this piece almost feels like satire. Only it’s not.

Writing a column is sometimes an arduous process. When a thought is in the embryonic stage, yet deadlines require it to prematurely take shape on the page, it can be utterly frustrating. There are times, however, when the column gods smile upon you and organize your experiences in such a profound and unambiguous way that the act of writing is a denouement of sorts that reaffirms one’s faith in the process.

On Monday of this week I was reviewing materials related to New York’s cigarette taxation policy on Indian territories—a frequent topic of this column—in preparation for an interview with a friend upstate named John Kane, who discusses Indian issues on his weekly radio show in Buffalo. While I was organizing my notes, John sent me a message asking if I had seen a recent news report about welfare and Indians in America by John Stossel. I had not.

Full disclosure: I had no idea who John Stossel was prior to viewing this report. It didn’t take long, however, to arrive at the conclusion that this reprobate masquerading as a reporter is a modern-day sophist who obviously sold his soul to the devil a long, long time ago in return for fame, fortune and the worst ’70s porn moustache this side of Geraldo Rivera.

Last week, this veteran television “journalist” broadcast a segment titled “Freeloaders” on Roger Ailes’ ongoing anti-intellectual jihad known as Fox News. It’s a subject Stossel has “investigated” before. Only this time he directs his vitriol at American Indians, a group he refers to en masse in his introduction as “wards of our state.” Stossel then proceeds to churn out quite possibly the most one-sided, racist commentary on TV news since Dodgers’ executive Al Campanis told Ted Koppel in 1987 that black people don’t have “some of the necessities” to manage in baseball and lacked “the buoyancy” to be good swimmers.

Stossel’s report is packaged as an investigative news feature and passed off as real journalism despite the complete absence of veracity. Stossel prevaricates so often in attempting to prove that every Indian in America is poor, stupid and lazy that this piece almost feels like satire. Only it’s not. He blames outrageous government subsidies for poverty on Indian territories, not the fact that over four centuries, the Indians who weren’t extinguished and disposed of were herded into the remote, resource-poor areas of our nation and stripped of their land, rights, dignity, habitat, game and whatever else our government could steal.

But for Stossel, enough is enough. It’s high time Indians pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start making money without the assistance of the federal government or revenue from casino gaming.  Declaring “Capitalist Indians achieve,” Stossel sets out to prove that the American dream is available for Indians too, if they would just stop being so poor, stupid and lazy. In fact, not only can they still be Indian, they can be rich. Like the Amish.

No, that wasn’t a joke. He actually asks a pro-native advocate during an interview, “How come the Amish got wealthy?” While his guest is attempting to recover from the idiocy of this question, he steps in with his own conclusion: “Maybe they weren’t relying on government rules and Indian trusts and lawyering that teaches Indians to be helpless.”

 Every conclusion that Stossel arrives at is based upon absolute lies. He holds the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina out as the ultimate success story, insinuating that they are all thriving because they choose to ignore government subsidies and don’t let the United States control their land like every other tribe in America. He uses this example as the benchmark against which every Indian nation should be compared and ignores the fact that the Lumbee Indians exist in perhaps the strangest Indian purgatory with a status exactly unlike every other tribe in America.

First of all, there is no Lumbee reservation. Moreover, Lumbee is just a colloquial name given to an amalgam of Indian tribes who are federally “recognized” as having authentic Indian roots though hailing from a large and disparate geographic area. This condition is vastly different from being “federally recognized.” The distinction is of no moment to Stossel, who goes on to falsely claim that the U.S. government actually controls Indian reservations. Footage of poverty-stricken reservations out west provides the backdrop for venomous lies such as this: “Because the government owns most Indian property, individuals rarely build nice homes or businesses.”

I have neither the time nor the inclination to detail the copious ways in which Stossel lies through his cheesy moustache in this shameless “report.” I’ve wasted too much effort on this lowlife bastard already. Instead, I leave you with the perspective I gained from witnessing the perfect counterpoint to his dripping filth.

Tuesday night my wife and I attended an event at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County to hear Eli Rosenbaum speak. Rosenbaum, who hails from Westbury, is the director of human rights and special prosecutions for the U.S. Department of Justice and has the distinction of being the longest-serving prosecutor and investigator of Nazi criminals and other genocide perpetrators in history. His presentation was brilliant and captivating. But it was the courageous testimony of Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who spoke before him, that broke the hearts of every person in attendance.

What struck me most as I sat down to pen this column, and what the column gods undoubtedly intended me to experience in this period, was not as obvious as you might think. The obvious parable is the dichotomy between Stossel’s blatant racism and transparent hatred and the purity of Rosenbaum’s work and the tragedy of Mukeshimana’s story. But it’s John Kane’s perspective that broke through to me, and perhaps saddened me the most.

No matter what I write here or how many dots are ever connected in people’s minds about life in Indian Country, there will never come a time when the majority of Americans recognize the genocide hidden in plain sight: the American holocaust. This is how Indians like John Kane refer to it, and casually so, because for them it is living history, an ever-present reality. But it isn’t spoken of or acknowledged in white circles. There is no one for Eli Rosenbaum to prosecute. There is no Indian Mukeshimana who can testify to the atrocities.

As Americans we view ourselves as liberators, and in many cases throughout history, we have been indeed. We go so far as to blame ourselves for not intervening in places such as Rwanda but our national guilt ends there. And while I was simultaneously bursting with pride last night listening to Eli Rosenbaum—a Long Islander, one of us—and breaking with sorrow for Eugenie Mukeshimana, I must admit to what is perhaps the grossest of human emotions: envy.

I was envious that there are good souls in the world who value human life enough to listen, understand and learn. Envious that there are people like Rosenbaum who selflessly dedicate their lives to justice, no matter how belated it may be. Envious because neither exists for the invisible indigenous people of our nation considered by Stossel (and I’m sure many others) as “wards of our state.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW STOSSEL’S RACIST REPORT

No Country For Red Men

In 2011 we have new legislators, a new Cuomo, and the same old fight. Alas, the brief recurring respite Indian Country has between Election Day and Inauguration Day every few years is over, and the fight begins again.

Cuomo, Part Deux, presents the Executive Budget for NYS

Governor Cuomo contributed another brief chapter in dealing with what for centuries has been known as the “Indian Problem.” Frustrated by the rise in the Indian tobacco trade on tribal territories within New York and the state’s inability to collect taxes on this increasingly profitable enterprise, Cuomo took action and attempted to force tax collection on reservation tobacco sales—and ran into a brick wall of defiance.

No, you didn’t miss something in the first 100 days of Andrew Cuomo’s tenure. This was the 1990s under Gov. Cuomo of the Mario persuasion. But the former governor’s son has already taken his first step toward renewing this practice, by including $130 million presumptive tax dollars from taxes on Indian cigarettes in this year’s budget. Never mind the fact he is relying on reports from a department that acknowledges that 70 percent of what would be considered “bootleg” cigarettes—cigarettes purchased outside of, but consumed within, New York State—come from states bordering New York and Canada. The capriciousness of the $130 million estimate is even more suspect considering that “expert” testimony at various hearings over the years have placed the number anywhere between $65 million and $1.6 billion.

No matter how the state arrives at its figures, by inserting any number into the budget Andrew Cuomo has picked up where his father, and several others, left off.

In the waning days of Mario Cuomo’s administration, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens delivered the court’s 1994 decision in a case called Milhem Attea & Bros., granting individual states the right to collect taxes on cigarettes sold to non-natives on reservation territory throughout the United States. With the so-called collection authority in place from the highest court in our land, the issue of enforcement was left to the individual states to pursue. This is where it got ugly.

After an unsuccessful attempt to force Indian tobacco retailers to open their books and provide sales figures and tax revenue to New York, the state established a coupon system whereby taxes would be applied at the wholesale level and collected in advance. Trying to coordinate this effort between manufacturers, wholesalers and individual tribal retailers and the violent reaction it stirred in Indian Country—the Seneca Nation in particular—led the governor to institute a policy of forbearance. Forbearance is another way of saying “even though I think I’m right, it’s the next guy’s problem.” The issue was essentially too complex and heated to pursue, so Cuomo punted and passed the buck to the following administration.

CLICK HERE TO READ PRESS COVER STORY ABOUT CIGARETTE TAX DISPUTE BETWEEN U.S. AND INDIAN COUNTRY

Gov. George Pataki took up the fight during his first term in office, and was met with amplified defiance from Seneca that set the new administration back on its heels. Pataki too went “four and out” and punted.

Insert “Gov. Eliot Spitzer” and “Gov. David Paterson” into the paragraph above as they both attempted to traverse this well-worn path with no success. Every governor since Mario Cuomo, once learning the nuance of policy as it relates to tribal land and sovereign rights, winds up hiding behind the policy of forbearance. Last year state Sens. Craig Johnson (gone), Carl Kruger (indicted), Pedro Espada (indicted), and Assembs. Richard Brodsky (gone) and Michael Benjamin (gone) shook their fists at hearings and press conferences urging Paterson to step up to the plate and take on New York’s tribes.

But that was so 2010. In 2011 we have new legislators, a new Cuomo, and the same old fight. Alas, the brief recurring respite Indian Country has between Election Day and Inauguration Day every few years is over, and the fight begins again. My father is fond of the phrase “every 100 years, all new people.” The more you think about that phrase the more freeing, or paralyzing, it is. For Indians it’s more like “every 10 years, all new politicians.”

I bring this up now because Andrew Cuomo is by all accounts an extremely bright guy with a long memory; a bright guy who undoubtedly understands the intricate and delicate relationship with tribal nations in New York better than any governor that came before him, his father included. He has the benefit of an institutional knowledge his father had to acquire on the job and the added bonus of witnessing each successive governor fail with respect to imposing taxes on cigarettes sold on reservation land.

Given these circumstances, quietly inserting $130 million in tax dollars is more than a warning shot. It marks the beginning of yet another skirmish in a long, tiresome and 400-year war against the indigenous people of this nation.

Blowing Smoke Up Bloomberg’s Skirt

It takes great discipline and courage to continue writing about something you know very few people care about. OK, maybe courage is the wrong word. Too self-important. Let me start over.

One must be either extremely disciplined or extraordinarily stupid to continue writing about something no one gives a shit about. There, that’s better. Such is my plight with respect to defending the rights of Indians to sell tobacco products on reservation land to anyone—reservation residents and non-residents alike— without collecting taxes imposed by New York State. The lack of support for this issue has enabled powerful interests to (here come the puns) circle the wagons and attack sovereign Indian nations with impunity. Michael Bloomberg, the Lilliputian mayor of the tiny island next to our spacious and exotic Long Island, is like J. Edgar Hoover incarnate in his obsessive pursuit of Indian tobacco merchants.

Most recently Bloomberg released tapes from city investigators who were sent to the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic. The findings on the tapes were shocking. The merchants on the film were caught in the act of selling cigarettes without collecting the $4.35 tax! For the six or seven non-Indians who either care about this issue or are reading this on the toilet and have nothing better to do, allow me to explain for the umpteenth time why this practice isn’t illegal.

Here’s the breakdown: Federal treaties and state compacts with Indian tribes recognize the sovereign, independent status of these nations and their ability to operate businesses free of taxation from the United States. Under Gov. Mario Cuomo it was determined that Indian tobacco retailers should be required to collect taxes on behalf of New York State, sparking numerous lawsuits and disputes that continue to this day. But these rules were adopted unilaterally in New York without consulting the Indian tribes. For these laws to be properly enacted and adhered to by the tribes, they would have to be recognized and adopted separately by each Indian nation located in state territory, which they obviously have not been. And there’s the rub. New York believes Indian retailers should be collecting New York taxes from the sale of cigarettes because they passed a law that says so. Indian reservation retailers follow tribal law, which says they do not have to collect taxes.

The answer lies within the original treaties that govern U.S. and Indian relations. Unless there is mutual agreement between sovereign Indian nations and U.S. government entities, neither can impose their laws upon the other, particularly with respect to taxation. Take away all of the fighting and grandstanding. Shelve the reports and close down the hearings. This is the answer and only thing that matters.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to this issue. When New York blew all of the funds from the federal tobacco settlement and drove the budget deficit to something close to three gazillion dollars through mismanagement, it imposed enormous sin taxes on tobacco. The only thing the Indians did is keep on keeping on. But because of the price disparity created by the sin tax on smokes, reservation-based retailers have enjoyed an unprecedented and sustained spike in business, making the penniless legislators in New York, well, a little mad. Yes, the same people who messed up the state’s finances are upset that their tax-and-spend philosophy has benefited the poorest inhabitants of the state.

Now consider this: The state budget department acknowledges that more than 70 percent of untaxed tobacco entering New York comes from border states and Canada, not Indian reservations. So if you buy 59 cartons of cigarettes in Weehawken and smoke them all 20 feet from the doors of the Empire State Building, you’re fine. Take a day trip to Philly to see the Liberty Bell, grab a cheese steak and a pack of Marlboros for the road? Smoke ’em if you got ’em! But buy cigarettes from an Indian, and you might find yourself on Mayor Mike’s candid camera doing something completely legal and getting ridiculed for it.

Because the issue has become so complex, and the Indians have generated so little support outside reservation territories, there’s only one thing left to do with these people. Finish the job the settlers started and wipe them out. After Mayor Bloomberg publicly encouraged Gov. David Paterson to “get a cowboy hat and a shotgun” and confront Indians on the New York State Thruway, we can assume that Bloomberg will be on board the genocide train—though he may want to reconsider the blind guy leading the charge with a shotgun. Tiny Mike can hop in a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted tank and lead a group of Army reservists through all of the reservations in the state and probably annihilate the rest of the nuisance redskins in under a week. Hell, Poospatuck is only 55 acres, he could take them in less than an hour.

If it was any other population in Suffolk County, I would suggest getting County Executive Steve Levy involved to help deport them but since they are indigenous people whose ancestors were here long before us, there’s really no place to send them. Therefore, shooting them—like Bloomberg suggested—is probably the only practical solution. He’s a real visionary in an Andrew Jackson/Pol Pot sort of way. Another benefit is the amount of time I would personally be able to reclaim if Bloomberg was allowed to simply kill all of the Indians like he suggested. I could work on my tennis game, take up lawn bowling or buy a pack of cigarettes every day from Jersey and blow smoke up the mayor’s skirt like everyone else does instead of telling him what an asshole he is for trying to eradicate indigenous people from America.

Iroquois Lacrosse Team Denied

In short, this isn’t the first time the British and Americans have fucked the Iroquois Nation and it certainly won’t be the last.

Before the Game by Robert Griffing
Before the Game by Robert Griffing

During the American Revolution, the six tribes of the Iroquois Nation maintained a public policy of neutrality. Yet several individual members (my ancestor Joseph Brant included) sided with the British with the hope that tribal sovereignty would be preserved when the British ultimately prevailed. Of course, they didn’t prevail and the rest is history.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed, thereby ending the war, the British and Americans ignored Indian sovereignty and declared all tribal land to be part of America. After the war, the American government rectified this situation and established the bullshit reservation system that has endured to this day.

In short, this isn’t the first time the British and Americans have fucked the Iroquois Nation and it certainly won’t be the last.

What I’m referring to is England’s decision to ignore the guarantee from Hillary Clinton and the American government that would have allowed the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team to travel to Manchester and play in an international tournament widely regarded as the Olympics of lacrosse. When I wrote the column for the Long Island Press that appears as a blog entry below, it had been determined at the 11th hour that the team would be able to travel and a crisis had been averted. Naturally this wasn’t the case and the wrong thing happened yet again.

To the team members whose ancestors invented the game of lacrosse, I can only offer the following words.

Fuck ’em.

I hope you find comfort in this sentiment. Next time the tournament is held, let’s have it at Onondaga and deny the British passports when they reach the border of the reservation.

Iroquois Lacrosse Team Takes Flight

On the surface it didn’t appear to be such a big deal. But in Indian country, everything comes at a price. If the team had capitulated and agreed to accept U.S. passports to travel abroad they would have established yet another dangerous precedent in U.S./Indian relations. Acquiescing to this solution would essentially have ceded the issue of sovereign recognition on a very significant level.

Percy Abrams from Iroquois Nationals Shows His Passport

Twenty-three men waited five days. For five days they stood ready to do battle on a field for their nation, but were at risk of being denied the right to do so. They are warriors who engage in a time-honored tradition of championship lacrosse, a game that was invented by their ancestors. Ironically they were being stonewalled by the two nations who conspired four centuries ago to beat their people into submission. Just how high and how far did the debate reach? It took Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to wave her magic wand and allow this team to board an airplane with the guarantee they would be allowed to return.

The 23 men comprise a team known as the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, an internationally renowned unit led by octogenarian Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation and himself one of the greatest leaders and orators of the last century. Their attempt to board a plane for England was rebuffed by both British and American officials who initially refused to acknowledge the Haudenosaunee-issued passports residents of the Six Nations Confederacy—Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Cayuga—have been using for years.

The American solution was, as always, simple. When the British Consulate refused to accept the Iroquois passports without a guarantee the U.S. would let the team actually return after the tournament, the U.S. State Department rushed to their aid and offered U.S. passports to the team members and crew. As usual this is where the breakdown in communication occurs in U.S. and Indian relations. First off, the Iroquois Confederacy is within the geographic territories of both the United States and Canada. Moreover, each tribe within the confederacy is a sovereign nation. Consider them uber-states within America for comparison purposes.

To date the confederacy has been able to cope with the issue of international travel because most countries outside of the U.S. recognize the sovereign status of Indian nations and the informal U.S. policy has thus far been to let sleeping dogs lie. But homeland security and big brother have made the issue of the Haudenosaunee passport more opaque and left U.S. officials with a conundrum.

On the surface it didn’t appear to be such a big deal. But in Indian country, everything comes at a price. If the team had capitulated and agreed to accept U.S. passports to travel abroad they would have established yet another dangerous precedent in U.S./Indian relations. Acquiescing to this solution would essentially have ceded the issue of sovereign recognition on a very significant level. And while it may seem innocuous, I can assure you it is not. Every step closer to acknowledging that tribal lands are nothing more than bizarre extensions of U.S. territory is a step closer to losing the fundamental rights of indigenous nations. This is more than a lacrosse tournament.

For Indians, the State Department’s American passport solution was yet another extreme example of hubris and ignorance.

The tournament itself touts participating nations from around the globe, including the Iroquois Nation. Imagine how insulting it must be to be denied passage on an airplane because some bureaucrat at the airport check-in counter fell asleep in history class and wound up creating an international incident. The Obama administration has paid generous sums of lip service to tribes in the United States yet has proven to be callous and ill-informed in practice. True students of democracy would know that the Haudenosaunee compact that binds the six nations of the Iroquois together was so thoughtful and long-ranging in its conception that it was used as inspiration by our own founding fathers who framed the Constitution.

Of course, none of that matters to the 23 men who will be airborne as these words are being printed on the page. Throughout 400 years of poverty, humiliation and genocide, they have played this game that is as important to their nations as baseball is to America and soccer is to every other country on the planet.

On the field these warriors are one with their ancestors. Off the field they live in a cold, expendable reality. By the time this paper hits the stands they will have emerged from their international excursion and presented themselves on the field of battle, jetlagged and weary, without the benefit of practice. For today, Indian country can be thankful Mrs. Clinton granted them this one ceremonial leaf of dignity to cover the wound that has remained open and bleeding for too long.