Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), aka Donald Trent Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D.
Assassination is a word that usually describes a politically motivated murder or the killing of a prominent person. I propose this word appropriately describes the killing of George Floyd. Wiki defines “political” as “activities associated with making decisions in groups or other forms of power relationships, such as the distribution of resources.”
Police brutality has always reflected such decisions in support of a white supremacist ideology (regardless of the color of the perpetrator.) It is based on fear of losing materialistic gain or ego security.
Was George Floyd, as an African American, “prominent?” Did he “stick out?” Of course he did. Racial profiling of non-white individuals or others whose differences stand out owing to other than Christian identities have been murdered and brutalized by police with impunity for decades. The white lie about so called “white supremacy” rationalizes this “assassination.”
Under the Trump administration, the white lie has grown in magnitude. He himself promotes it, intentionally using the same scapegoating techniques autocrats have historically used to divide and conquer. He blames American woes on easily identifiable intruders who disrupt the perceived perfection of white civilization. He keeps doing because it fosters applause and political support.
Americans, consciously or unconsciously, do not want to be reminded of events that create cognitive dissonance. They do not want to consider how their great nation has historically treated LBGTQ+ individuals, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, immigrants, poor whites, or even women who are not willing to fit into stereotypes that the white patriarchy may prefer. Nor do they want to sacrifice anything to make things right.
I pause now to ask you dear reader to consider how I carefully selected the words of my two opening paragraphs. For the first one, note that in talking about George Floyd in particular as an African American, I generalized racial profiling as relates to “non-white” or “other than Christian” individuals. I did not refer to only blacks.
Then in the second paragraph, I list a number of groups who historically and continually are marginalized in American society, but one group I intentionally left out. I left out American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AIAN) as almost always happens when legislators, media, protestors, educators and Black activists refer to such horrors.
I point this out not for “equal time” nor to exercise a personal bias for what group is most deserving of mitigation, but because I believe the reason for such omission is a dangerous hegemony that ultimately prevents helping any oppressed groups.
Hegemony is just how the ruling elite manages to convince the rest of us that the status quo works. In education, media and folklore, the masses then become the pawns of the hegemons.
Not so for Indigenous-based people who are on the front lines of land and water protection protests around the world. AIAN do more than remind people of horrible treatment by a nation that prides itself in equality and “for the people” rhetoric. AIAN, at least those still managing to hold on to their traditional beliefs, are the only marginalized group that challenges the very foundation of the United States.
If we have our way, more than just treatment of people would emerge for everyone to learn. If Indigenous people gain sovereignty, they will not want to become part of the American dream or have voice in national affairs beyond that which would affect them. We represent and advocate in behalf of a very different way of being in the world.
Treating all life as sentient and sacred, not just humans, for example, would disrupt many markets. Replacing capitalism would be mortifying. Not being able to “own” land would be unthinkable. Wanting to reclaim our original territories for sacred ceremonies and food gathering is unimaginable. This is why the Lakota have not accepted millions of dollars for a Supreme Court ruling saying the Black Hills of South Dakota were stolen from them. They want free access to the land and remain the poorest community in the United States on this principle.
Histories of violence against marginalized groups, along with data to verify it, reflect the realities of real people. Keeping their stories alive, they offer truths that curtail denial relating to past and present conditions. Awareness of these histories can motivate others to think twice about participating in any form of oppression based on discrimination.
If the existence of such behavior is hidden from sight, whether from institutions or from individuals supported by them, social transformation is more difficult. This kind of invisibility applies to American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AIAN) in the United States and to Indigenous Peoples around the world, the latter being assassinated in high numbers for protecting their land and water.
Indigenous Peoples of Canada are murdered far more often than any other ethnic group. AIAN are killed by police more often than any other ethnic group in the United States. Even with underreporting, data reveals that “American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities and locations, as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic. And 70 percent of these assaults are from non-Indigenous individuals or groups.
As for ecological injustice and violence, if more people had known about the repercussions of mining on Indian reservations, not only might we have given First Nations the ability to clean their environment, but we might have been warned about what is now happening to all of us.
Contamination of soil and water by waste from more than 160,000 abandoned hard rock mines on reservations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming have created a legacy of chronic exposures to metal mixtures. This plus drilling for gas and oil contaminates soil, air and water. It is likely the air pollution from abandoned, uncapped uranium mines that has caused the Navajo Nation to suffer more from COVID-19 infections than anywhere else.
In spite of such data, even amidst the current and justified protestation about the assassination of George Floyd, American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AIAN) are seldom included in discussions of problems, policies, programs or legislation about how to finally end such “racial” violence.
For example, recently Bernie Sanders gave a powerful and necessary speech to reflect frustration and anger with about the murder of George Floyd and other Blacks who have been similarly assassinated by the police. Throughout his presentation, he referred to “black and brown” people a number of times. There was, as is usual, no mention of AIAN, or “red” people.
Another example is today’s interview on of Professor Carol Anderson on DemocracyNow.org. author of White Rage. She correctly identified how anti-Black violence is systemic and built into the Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress and “it is designed to undercut Black achievement and advancement. She makes no mention of the 1494 Treat of Tordesillias that declared non-Christian lands could be colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, a doctrine Thomas Jefferson applied in 1792 to the newly formed United States.
That media coverage is very rare about how often such statistics about the current plight of AIAN are ignored when talking such oppression of particularly vulnerable groups, it is up to all of us to realize that all of this started in 1492 for the Americas. Would the important dialogue going on now in the shadow of George Floyd’s murder by police officers, be more likely to lead to a transformation we all wish to see? Perhaps. As Vine Deloria, Jr. writes in my book on anti-Indianism in America, “conquest masquerades as law.” He says it is built into our constitution and court precedents. This is where we must target transformational politics.
One can understand why we target Black issues to the exclusion of AIAN in light of the many video’s that have been made public documenting in vivid details the policy brutality. Such documentation rightfully keeps the abominations on our minds, as do the subsequent protests.
Not forgetting that Hispanics and Blacks are closer to their Indigenous roots than others, those identified as Indigenous remain forgotten for the reasons I propose.
There are no excuses for the invisibility of data in spite of claims that is difficult to access. Rather, there are reasons that are intentionally and unconsciously operating in the colonized mind. Every marginalized group must recognize that the opposite of exclusion is not inclusion. It is decolonization.
Understanding the source, the source of the kind of injustice, brutality and murders happening all around us in the United States stem from the original colonized acts near the end of the 14 century we have yet to address.
Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), aka Donald Trent Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D. Formerly Dean of Education at Oglala Lakota College and a tenured Associate Professor of Education at Northern Arizona University, Four Arrows is currently a professor with Fielding Graduate University. Selected as one of 27 "Visionaries in Education" for the AERO text, Turning Points, he is author of 21 books on Indigenous Worldview and its applications for education, sustainability, wellness, and justice. He is a recipient of a Martin Springer Institute for Holocaust Studies "Moral Courage Award for his activism in behalf of Indigenous Peoples and sovereignty. Co-editor of the Indigenous section of Sage's new International Handbook for Critical Pedagogies, his book, Teaching Truly: A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education, was selected as one of the top 20 progressive education books along with Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Neil Postman. Other books have been endorsed by Noam Chomksy, Vandana Shiva, Michael Apple, Thom Hartmann, Jon Pilger, Darcia Narvaez, Henry Giroux, and other notable educators. Dr. Michael Fisher wrote a book about his work entitled Fearless Engagement of Four Arrows (2018). His newest book is The Red Road: Linking Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives to Indigenous Worldview (in press, IAP). Four Arrows and his mustang Briosos made the first alternative to the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team for 1996. He is also a World Champion "Old Time Piano Player." He lives with his wife in Mexico in the winter and in British Columbia in the summer.