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Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists.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

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?)

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