Sunday, June 10, 2012

Indian Tribes Are Insane!

Albert Einstein is said – by some – to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By this definition, the Indian tribes of North America are certifiably nuts.

In 1492 and for a couple of centuries thereafter, Europeans landed on these shores in relatively small numbers, relatively lightly armed (though admittedly and usually unconsciously possessing wicked agents of germ warfare), and took over swaths of territory, establishing a toehold from which they would explode out across the continent. Did the tribes organize to oppose this invasion? They did not. Some accepted the foreigners as potential friends and trading partners, some actively assisted them in whomping on other tribes, settling their own scores in the process. Some doubtless just scratched their heads and wondered what the hell was going on. It’s safe to guess that most appealed to the Spirit World for succor and direction.

Bad mistake, obviously, but understandable – the Europeans were a new phenomenon; who WERE these guys? No one could be expected to know how to deal with them.

Fast forward to the late 18th century. The thirteen English colonies along the east coast are getting organized, and the Spanish colonies in the southwest are stabilizing (in advance of their early 19th century radical reorganization) and expanding. But there are powerful tribes in their way, who by now have had almost three hundred years to learn the ways of the wily white-eyes. Do the tribes organize to oppose the expansion of what would become the United States and, for awhile north of the Rio Grande, the Republics of Texas and Mexico? Nope. Despite the efforts of a few visionary leaders, once again it’s every tribe for itself. Some fight but almost always lose, being by now massively outgunned. Some help the Whites, and most cut deals – each largely uninformed by knowledge of what others are doing. Many sign treaties put in front of them by the Whites, in languages they don’t understand, translated by people with vested interests in their acquiescence. Many speeches are made, most appealing to the Spirit World, and often now to the great White father in Washington for relief from sufferings. Whatever happens in the Spirit World it doesn’t have much obvious consequence on earth, and the GWF gravely nods his metaphorical head and authorizes more oppression.

This sort of thing goes on throughout the 19th century, so that by the early 20th, most tribes are confined to reservations, often far from their ancestral homelands, severely restricted in their freedom, and oppressed socially and economically.

In the mid-20th century, some tribal leaders struggle mightily to put their centripetal tendencies behind them, with a rather surprising degree of success. We see the organization of intertribal groups like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and later such effective action organizations as the American Indian Movement (AIM). We have the Trail of Broken Treaties march on Washington, the occupation of Alcatraz and the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices, and enactment of a string of laws to improve the lot of tribes, provide greater opportunities and protections, give a semblance of respect to tribal cultures, religions, languages, values. But by the early 21st century…..

Well, now the GW(sic)F continues, as GWFs always have, to mouth platitudes about respect for tribes, properly consulting them about their concerns, respecting their religions, cultures, values, and environments, while his agents ignore those selfsame variables and the tribes’ loud protests in their rush to – for instance – industrialize the southwestern deserts in the interests of ostensibly “clean” energy production. See for example and

And do the tribes organize, take collective action to resist this exercise in the arrogance of power? Nope. One or two file suit, but don’t put the resources into the effort to be successful – and certainly don’t cooperate with others to mobilize and deploy such resources. Others sign memoranda of agreement with the GWF’s agents – noir treaties – that acquiesce in the projects’ moving forward based on vague promises to do things better in future. Most just make moving appeals to the Spirit World, the “public,” and the GWF himself; see for example, And the beat goes on.

There is, I suppose, virtue in consistency, but on the other hand – for pity’s sake, people, over the last 520 years this sort of strategy has effectively lost you the continent; why on earth (or anyplace else) do you think it will be effective now? Whether Einstein ever said it or not, you must be nuts.

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