Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shutdown: A Simple Proposal

Had to share this simple proposal from Liz Medicine Crow on responding to the government shutdown. Liz has been involved in, and led, many a reasonable discussion, and it is a reminder to me that there really are ways this could work.

A Simple Proposal

By Liz Medicine Crow
There are many people analyzing, questioning, and investigating the why and the how of the government shutdown and sequestration. This note was written to look at the situation from a different angle, and not detract from the hard work others are engaged in to try to resolve what can only be termed 'a real piece of work'. I don't intend to offend folks, but rather offer a different way forward or at least a new lens to look through to inspire other ideas or solutions. Whenever I find myself in a situation where I'm not at my best, I look to our cultural ways and try to think from a collective place. It usually helps.

Sometimes it takes an assortment of "that'll never happen's" to jar something loose for others to come up with a brilliant idea! So here goes...

A simple proposal.

Utilize Native knowledge and principles of engagement to leverage the congressional stagnation that is a sell out of the very democrat principles it espouses into something better than we have.

Democracy is about citizenship. As the saying goes, when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Let's convene a gathering of Native peoples, our friends, and those willing to try a new way of civic engagement to come together and think about the possibilities in the current situation.

Can we utilize our own values in leading a different way of thinking and mobilizing that reignites our ability to lead our leaders, I mean, our elected officials? People have stopped hearing each other, and instead of listening to what others are saying, have gotten in the bad habit of utilizing the time when their mouths aren't moving to come up with new ways to share already formed opinions. And by doing that foreclosed any real opportunity to establish a way forward. It will take real people and a methodology developed with deep heart and hearing at its core to move the dial beyond self-interest and high dosage opining.

It is a simple proposal but one that, at the very the least, comes at the government shutdown limbo from a place of rebuilding relationships with the help of Native people using tools we already have access to - Native values (human values actualized through a collective lens rather than that of an individual). It's a call for a re-centering on what and who are actually important, a call I think we can all agree whose time has come.

There are some strong, warm and knowledgeable Native people out there who know how to help lift others through the process to achieve a better outcome that works for The Peoples, not just further entrenchment into a failing stand-off. Isn't it time we try a place-based model of engagement that has stood the test of time for the First Peoples of this country and moves us into a different rhythm of operating? Lord knows we need it.

Why wait for the federal impotence to pass? Why think of this as a crisis bringing our country to its knees? My country, tis of thee. Who is thee? Thee needs to stop talking and start listening. The longer we wait for someone else to think and take action, the longer we wait.

Why don't we step into the gap and offer the solutions and then enact them? Congress is in a state of ideological inertia. Unwillingness to lead for the good of all- even those who may need more help and support than others- and willful intention to disembowel the country over individual party ideology that only affirms a small, privileged few, lands us exactly where we are. That may be the intent of a few, but don't the citizens have something to do with all of this? When one branch of this government cannibalizes itself, what can the other two branches do?

"We don't need another hero." We need the citizenry to establish a path forward. We can't leave it in the hands of elected officials and blame them for voting the way of their individual special interest- it's obvious we've given them too much authority - more than they can get along with which means far more than they need. There are many bright, caring and invested people out there, what are your simple solutions?

Let's drive ourselves together. I know, no one wants to actually spend time with people they can't stand, but if we can't make ourselves sit in uncomfortable places or actually take risks with our ways of thinking, how do we expect to get out of this situation? We can do more than we think by aligning our independent and autonomous natures into movement. Break the inertia, resolve to do what must be done and that is to agree to be better than we are.

Our Tlingit people had peacemakers, people trained to bring balance. Other indigenous cultures had similar people and processes. Our system needs an infusion of this type of equilibrium. It may provide a way to restore by bringing people together rather than letting them push further and further away- after all that is how fanatics are born, right?

This is our reality. There are some within the government whose beliefs and principles have sabotaged the way forward at the expense of The People of the United States. Under the US Constitution, that's generally considered treason. In a company, that would be called failure to uphold your duty of loyalty. We are not living the dream here, people! We are not free thinking citizens engaged in a democratic society if we wait for the 'leaders' to lead. They have shown that they are in need of our action. Invite them to participate in true citizen lead government- for the people, by the people. And our Native peoples have the tools and knowledge to help strengthen the outcome that would actually put us in a place of empowerment. Are we willing to do it? I look to my left, I look to my right, and I see the very fabric of Native culture and values as a blanket of support for all citizens. This country needs it. Despite all we have survived, isn't that something worth investing some time in?

How can people, Tribal governments, state governments, non-profits, foundations, and all other organizations or societies step forward in the breach of national representative leadership and come together utilizing a framework of dialogue and deep thinking?

As Native peoples, struggling to overcome years of belittlement and degradation, can we help undergird the national ecosystem of citizen action? By being who our Ancestors trained us to be, using tools of engagement to convene open forums, task diverse leadership teams to establish thoughtful ways forward that have stood the test of thousands of years of trial?

Step 1. Meet using indigenous principles. Agree to uphold them. You can't withhold consensus to forward movement, but you can offer solutions for deep and critical thinking and dialogue. And then, you get on the bus. Don't be afraid of change, even if dressed in clothes you would never wear. Change is what is needed. Not anarchistic change, not revolution or civil war, but rather civil peace. After all, these leaders reflect our society. Let's hold ourselves accountable, plan a different outcome and do it.

Step 2. Resolve to come up with solutions that look over the horizon. The current crisis is an impetus but it is not the boundary.

Step 3. Act. Track. Measure. Deal with emergent issues as they arise, placing in the priority que. Not everything is an emergency. Take care of people first. They have to commit to being part of the driving solutions- no bureaucratic posturing, no 'placing monkeys' on other peoples backs (meaning you can't do your part because so and so has to do theirs; that's a cop out and lack of accountability- find a way around unworkable positions). Let's get over ourselves collectively.

Step 4. Celebrate each step forward, focus on strengths, evolve and grow consensus, keep moving. Why are we here? Being here doing this work matters. Don't confuse leadership with politics again- they are not the same thing. Take time to be thankful for all that we have. And we have a lot.

Step 5. Repeat until resolved. Then repeat again.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wrongly Convicted: Looking at my own prejudice

I confess - I still have a lot of prejudices.

I mean, try being human and not having assumptions and unfair prejudices against other groups of people. It's difficult at best. Not because people are so bad. But because human beings are just built to protect their own hurts by building walls up against other people. Or even groups of people.

For my part, the imprisoned were just not a group of people I cared to... well, care about. I knew, logically, that people were certainly put in prison who did not deserve it, and even put to death. But that was somebody else's fight. I have plenty of my own battles, and I chose not to care about that particular one.

But if I am being honest with myself, it has nothing to do with why I choose not to get involved in so many other causes. It has everything to do with how I feel about inmates.

My own experiences with people who have gone to prison, more specifically with people who have gone to prison because of what they have done to me, entirely colors my view of how much I'm going to care that innocent people are imprisoned. Yes, it happens. But far more guilty people are imprisoned for far less time than they deserve. And how do you KNOW these people are innocent?

So a few weeks ago I was invited by someone I respect (the only reason I went) to hear Ted Bradford speak. Bradford, who has an American Indian heritage, was convicted for a terrible crime he didn't commit. Ten years later, he was freed and eventually exonerated because DNA evidence showed he didn't do it.

I heard him at a fundraiser for the Alaska Innocence Project, something I've known about but could have cared less to get involved with. Because who really cares about this topic anyways?

Obviously - this is the point. Because there are a lot more people like me out there who take an apathetic (or worse) attitude toward the wrongly convicted, it is almost impossible to raise funds, draw attention or take on the monumental task of proving something that's already been "proven" through the courts.

Hearing Bradford speak did make me reconsider this attitude. Just a guy. A normal guy minding his own business. And before he knows it, he is spending a decade behind bars.

Video of Ted Bradford talking about his false confession.

But I think the kicker was reading this post regarding the "Fairbanks Four" efforts to free four convicted Alaska Native men. It talks about another wrongly convicted man who was put to death for crimes he didn't commit. Jesus Christ.


Talk about putting a mirror up in front of your face. If Christ were put up in front of the courts today, would I be that apathetic one regarding his sentence? It's somebody else's fight?

I can't say it's made me an advocate quite yet. But as I look more at their cause and the enormous effort it takes just to free one innocent person, I must admit my own apathetic attitude is a big part of the societal problem.

Whether it's a small effort like donating or spreading the word about the Fairbanks Four or other cases, or larger efforts like getting directly involved in the cause, it deserves consideration, and not just a hardened heart and superior attitude toward the subject. Not only can I not afford the apathy in my own life, people like Bradford still behind bars can afford my attitude even less.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fact Wars by Joe Bedard: Once upon a corporate America...

 I'm introducing a new, regular feature on the blog, a guest post by a genius political Alaska Native man (a.k.a. Joe Bedard.) He is the rare sort of amateur political junkie that comes to his views through fact, and I'm looking forward to sharing what I've had the privilege of learning from (and debating with) him! - WR

Once upon a time in America. There was a corporation, created by a charter, granted by government and held by private shareholders. Human shareholders. The Corporation was property. These humans were granted rights, guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Corporate entity had no rights and was barred from petitioning the Government that had created it.

Then, through a series of Supreme Court rulings starting in 1886 and ending in 2009, Corporations were granted legal human status with full Constitutional rights. But unlike their newly found flesh-and-bone brothers and sisters called humans, the Corporation does not die of old age nor does it need to eat. It only needs money to sustain itself and money it can get in abundance.

It was not long until the Corporation discovered it had an unlimited right to petition the Government that had created it. All it took was money and lots of it. "No problem!" said the Corporation, we'll just order the Government to make more money for us to consume and in turn we shall lubricate the Government to our will. It's our God-given right, you know.

It was not long after that that the Corporation said, "Wait a minute! Corporations are created by the Government and we can order the Government what to do. Therefore, Corporations are government entities! "

Separation of Corporation and State NOW!
- JB

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

American History N8V X

Saw this a while back, and had to share.

What if people told European history like they told Native American history?

It's mostly funny because I am so often confronted with the perspectives of a dominant society that assumes "American" cultural history is the same for everyone. I don't know how often I hear that we should get back to the values of the 1950s or the 18th century or whatever era was more moral and less evil than our own.

This sounds like a rant, but in fact I am saying I am encouraged by the moral turns we are taking. Yes, we still have problems, and I don't like SO much of what has changed with values. But try being Native in 1950s America. Or black in 18th century America.

While I'm sad when I see values like that of Miss Spears or Honey Boo Boo held up as an ideal, I would still take that over the institutionalized racism and genocide of past "American values."

Just sayin'.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NEWSFLASH: Old dogs may be able to learn new tricks

I was talking to an older gentleman this morning who has pretty much an opposite view of every political stance I take. He believes Obama is the Great Satan, congressional republicans are doing the best they can, Dubya was a pretty good president who made a few minor mistakes, Pebble Mine should be developed without any more discussion... and on. When it came to Native issues, it just got kind of painful to try and discuss. As in - we should be grateful the government gave us as much as it did in land claims, there are no good Natives left in the villages, etc.

It was actually an interesting debate at time, but there was exactly one thing he and I agreed upon - that there should be a book or textbook with a comprehensive history of Native people in Alaska written by Native people.

This was a cause I took up some years back and it got changed into something I never intended. But coming from that conversation, I saw this article come across Facebook:

What if people told European history like they told Native American history?

It's got a great little example of what I grew up with in school. Namely, any Native history was relegated to a few paragraphs and an entirely skewed view.

The gentleman I spoke to had exactly those views, which may be why it was so surprising that he was in such agreement. But in a moment of unexpected openness, he said - maybe "admitted" would be a better word - that after so long living in Alaska, he never really got close to any Native people. He didn't know much but that statistics and bad examples that get attention in the news. He suggested that people like his granddaughter might not have his views if they grew up with a viewpoint other than what "his people" set out there. And he said he would be interested in reading such a perspective.

Just a nice little bit of hope for the day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

VAWA Success... Finally

Amidst the pressing political news about the sequester, I'm hoping this piece of good news doesn't get completely lost:

House passes Violence Against Women Act after GOP version defeated

For Native women, this means more defense against crimes that are going too often unreported or unprosecuted.

The National Congress of American Indians summed up the protections pretty well:

The constitutionally sound tribal jurisdiction provisions in VAWA authorize tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian defendants involved in intimate relationships with Native women and who assault these victims on tribal land. Current federal laws do not authorize tribal law enforcement or tribal courts to pursue any form of prosecution or justice against these perpetrators.

It still astounds me this act was opposed for so long, but today at least is a day the majority of our leaders decided women deserved justice and protection.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Guns and Suicide

I had to share this as soon as I read it - this is an EXCELLENT post on an incredibly important issue for Alaska Native people... and just people in general. Suicide, but particularly suicide and guns.

Warren Jones wrote the piece, and the voice of an Alaska Native man is exactly who we need to hear from on this issue. Not only do Alaska Native people have the distinction of the having the highest rate of suicide in the country, but Alaska Native men succeed in killing themselves at an even higher rate.

So why are our Native men killing themselves?

What is interesting about Warren's post is that he examines the logistical side of that question I've heard for so long - Why are our Native men succeeding in killing themselves?

In this moment of gun control debate, it is important to look at what the evidence says. Warren points to a New York Times article to highlight his own experience:

Anderson points out that guns only account for 1% of all suicide attempts in America. What is different about them is the extremely high success rate for suicide by firearm, which translates into firearms being a key component in suicide completion. That 54% of suicide completions are with a firearm while only accounting for 1% of the attempts is a staggering number.

I hope this national gun debate includes discussions around the topic of suicide, and not just an ideological stance. As an advocate for subsistence, I've never been "anti-gun." But when we get caught up in thinking everything about guns has to be entirely good or entirely bad, we lose out on real solutions to major problems.