One of our dear columnists, Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook, often reminds her home audiences that the Mohawk word for the number "four," is also the same word and expresses a related meaning for the concept, "thus, it is complete."
In that vein, the past four cycles of the grandfather and elder brother, the Sun, are coming to "completeness" with the first four years of the 21st century, which turns within the beginning of the third millennium after the birth of the Judeo-Christian Messiah. It is the season ...
Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, believe that Jesus Christ is the one, or just one of many noteworthy and luminary figures in human history, it is proper to acknowledge Creation at this time of the year, which in the northern latitudes ushers in a season of rest (under a white blanket of snow) for Mother Earth, while in tropical latitudes the Four Winds hold back the rains and assist the Earth to purify herself through a dryness that cleanses plants and trees of many parasites.
If only human history had such predictable or orderly cycles. While nature indeed does all it can to consistently harmonize the existence of the multiple life and energy currents that it generates, the progression of human events upon its surface manifests little such rhyme or reason; rather, by and large, humanity's trajectory appears propelled by cultural and religious distinctions and, all too often, hatreds, and by the lower passions - mainly greed and fear - manipulated by those who seek to acquire and sustain power. In reaction, what we are witnessing around the world is the rise of the religious zealots who set out as defenders of their own perfect utopias.
Signaled initially in America by the emergence of the Christian moral majority this is a movement that all too easily takes the reins of power with the election of George W. Bush in 2000. The ultra-conservative Texas Republican began as a compassionate conservative and has ushered in an American neo-conservative era in world politics. America supremacy in all matters is now seen as the primary policy goal. Since Sept. 11, 2001, this impetus takes on a global dimension and also near complete, unchallenged dominion on how and where to direct the federal budget.
For Democrats and the whole progressive wing of America, a new definition has begun, based on taking the fight to the finish line in 2004 and working in unity for the first time in a generation, yet losing by a hair once again. Vigorous "open-mind" (read liberal) dialogue is at a premium. But harping and yelping will not do. Only sound alternatives and clear positions that challenge negative trends in society will fuel this movement.
Through the closely divided American body politic squeaks in the reality of tribal existence; the Indian voting base exploded into action for the election of 2004, impacting less than predicted yet growing in campaigning skills and in the knowledge that participation in state and national political currents is supremely important at this time in history. American Indian tribal sovereignty, articulated and practiced in every possible way, remains the goal of tribal nations and their governments. This recognizable and self identified sector of America needs to coalesce even tighter into a collective approach to their common defense.
It will be a different century as a result of these past four years, a new era is perhaps upon us, one that ushers in:
The Preemptive War Policy. The preemptive, and some would say perpetual, war option has substantially escalated a climate of contempt of the U.S. by most peoples in the world. In fact, the action of attacking a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 quickly reversed world sympathy and alliance into world derision and opposition. Beyond the natural and expected response to the 9/11 attacks from the U.S., the current policy implies a much deeper and wider (and hugely expensive) military imposition by the world's only superpower. The reaction by most of the world, including many U.S. allies, has been extremely negative. America itself now runs the risk of becoming a "pariah" nation whose mighty economic power needs to be checked. This has never been so prevalent before and it is not good news for Americans and any people associated with the American interests internationally.
An America in hock. America is trillions of dollars in debt, and growing, as hugely expensive devices are blown up in wars while corporate and private wealth has become exempt from social responsibility at many levels. American baby-boomers from the 1940s and 1950s are concerned about their social security. Services that once could sustain an American safety net for people through tough economic times are being seriously diminished. Common citizens seem to be getting lost in the tumble.
Exported middle class. Out-sourcing as a concept goes from occasional practice to major international trend. As so-called American corporations increasingly look toward global work forces, American labor now must compete directly with the rest of the world's low wage labor market. The middle class runs the risk of shrinking as rapidly as the world's glaciers as the disparity between America's rich and poor grows ever larger. The average American family is squeezed while wealth continues to concentrate in an ever smaller percentage of the people. American Indian businesses and major tribal enterprises are notoriously of place and in place and highly unlikely ever to migrate or relocate, once established and successful. They stand in sharp contrast to the fickle loyalties practiced by many American corporations.
Acute ecological devastation. Environmental consciousness and practice has been set back, attacked as retrograde and anti-corporate. Maximizing profits trumps just about any environmental concern in the current vogue. The global warming trend and its clear causes in this era of massive fossil fuel burning is obvious to the world and most of science, but not to the political champions of industrial expansion now in power. Science be damned on this question as "more research" is called for by ideological economists.
Mumbo-jumbo policy making based on religious faith. Scientific methodology is under attack in many parts of America and around the world. Politician and even religious leaders denigrate it and try to inject their ideologies into it. Admittedly science is not perfect, but the scientific method, informed by common sense, rational inquisitive processes and human intellectual values, is nevertheless humanity's best common standard for human development and advancement. We say this with the highest respect for all religious philosophy and practice that values enlightenment and tolerance, but we also greatly value the scientific method for its ability to discern rote belief from determined fact.
Corporate media increasingly geared to affluence, power and political persuasion. The poor and dispossessed are not in vogue but out of sight an out of mind. American Indians, always on the media margins, grow in relevance with the growth of financial means. The concept of Native tribal rights has been projected into the public discourse as tens of millions of mainstream Americans visit and spend both time and money at Native-owned casinos. American Indian tribal political power, for decades a mere concept, now asserts itself with economic clout. This is new. Indian people, the most fiercely independent of Americans because of their inherent and preexisting governmental sovereignty, are now found among the country's economic power brokers. But huge problems persist, challenges remain for the communities to overcome, in both business management and governance that could and should help tackle social misery. The story of American Indian resurgence is wonderful and uplifting if incomplete, but the tribes are being recast again as America's enemies in a manipulated, and sometimes compliant, media as despicable "rip-offs" and greedy "special interests." The battle for America's hearts and minds about Indian country must be won by the tribes. This is the key campaign of the next four years.
Coalitions of groups opposed to American Indian governance and cultural rights surface nationally once again. This time they are more sophisticated than ever and tied in to larger political machines. In an era of constant attack against ethnic forms of social and political organization as "special interests," the concept and practice of Indian rights within American jurisprudence has many vigorous enemies. This is nothing new to any American Indian student of history, but nonetheless, ignorance fueled by hatred of American Indians is again on the march in America. Tribal leaders are warned to take this development very seriously.
States of the Union pull off the surgical gloves and grasp for the butcher knife as governors come after Indian financial gains with a greed lust not seen since the Termination Era of the 1950s. New York, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Oklahoma are among the states putting Indian tribes against the wall and shaking them down, often successfully pitting Indian nation against Indian nation. It is a shameless conduct by some of the world's largest economies to grovel after Indian money, considering the great need nationally by tribal communities. It is also confusing as to why some Indian governments would so willingly hand over millions, if not billions, to the states when so much of Indian country needs those resources more.
Tribal investment and philanthropy begins to grow. This is crucial. There needs to be a lot of it going on. The "Top 100 Club" of American Indian nations - in the context of tribal revenues - needs to float a major "no tribe left behind" national development bond - in the billions. They need to encourage and sustain the move to business and self-help initiatives among disadvantaged tribes. "Buy Indian" emerges as a must-do operational directive to all tribal establishments. This is not easily done, even by the strongest of tribal leaders. They are often reluctant to interfere in their own tribal enterprises. Proper and efficacious purchasing is a crucial part of running a profitable enterprise and is understandably guarded. Nevertheless, the "Top 100" Indian economies must reach out and build the capacity for other Indians to do business, always.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian opens to great enthusiasm. Finally, there is an Indian place on the Washington Mall. It is a place of culture which the communities can inform and which employs many superlative Indian people. An expected four million visitors will experience the museum every year. The NMAI opening was dampened only by some critiques of the opening exhibits and core messages, but its prominent position as a fixture of Indian experience and existence in the nation's capital combined with its ongoing commitment to excellence, serves as a powerful symbol of a hemispheric recognition and honor long overdue.
The plight of Indian corn. At once symbolic and completely necessary the survival of the open pollinated corn varieties developed over millennia by Indian farmers, particularly those within Mexico and Meso-America, is seriously in jeopardy. Hybrid varieties created in North American labs are beginning to contaminate the open varieties propagated by local farmers for millennia. Here is a case of science, corporate science, going awry of the current and ultimate needs of humanity, how to live on the land with respect and spiritual balance.
In many Indian communities, concurrent with the greatest higher education initiative in the history of Native peoples, going back to the roots of cultural tradition is still the mode for many young people, as interest in the longhouse, the Sun Dance and the kiva grows; the effort to appreciate and build the families that make community is palpable. Intense and loving attention to the proper growth and development of the upcoming generations - this is the message of this season.