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The Tonto Files: In Defense of Comanches -


The Tonto Files is an occasional series of ruminations and riffs on Tonto, a fictional sidekick from the radio days who is suddenly the world’s most talked about Indian. That’ll happen when Johnny Depp plays you a $250 million summer blockbuster (coming June 2013). First up, filmmaker Jason Asenap. Take it away, Kemosabe:

Let’s all of us, in Indian Country, take one big collective deep breath now.


Okay. So I’ll start off by saying hold your horses, pun intended. Enough with the knee jerk reactions. The interwebs are aghast with the news that the Comanche tribe has adopted Johnny Depp. The reasoning behind this I can only surmise has to do with perceived opportunism. The Comanche tribe and Mr. Depp must have agreed to this “arrangement” to better themselves or to put themselves in an advantageous position. I mean, I think this is why some in Indian country are upset. (God forbid it be jealousy or any of those other traits that can exist in Indian country, where we like to tear each other down)

Johnny gets to become Indian, and more specifically a Comanche by way of this adoption process and gets an opportunity to learn about a tribe who accepts him and his good will and heart. The tribe gets to position itself as a host of Mr. Depp and perhaps opens lines of communication in the world of entertainment and popular perception, i.e. stereotype. The tribe in effect gets to have a say, albeit a small one, in how they can be portrayed in the future by having opened this line of communication.

I’m trying to find the fault in either of these scenarios.

To get it out of the way, if one knows any Comanche history at all, which a lot of the naysayers don’t, you will understand that the tribe has a long history of taking captives and making them Comanche. To be blunt we stole people. There weren’t ID cards issued on the rough and tumble southern plains. You either made it out alive or you didn’t. In this case, you either were a citizen of a southern plains tribe or you were the enemy. The Comanches weren’t the only tribe known to take captives either, far from it. Our Kiowa brothers and many others of the southern plains tribes took captives all the time.

One need only look at the history of Quanah Parker, a significant leader in the Comanche tribe, to understand this very basic theory. Quanah’s mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, part of a Parker family killed and captured in Texas. Young Cynthia was captured and became Comanche for all practical purposes, marrying a chief in the tribe and bearing children, one of which was one of the most feared Comanche warriors the southern plains ever saw, one Quanah Parker.

No one questioned his identity, and I’m pretty sure when cavalry soldiers were being chased by Quanah they didn’t stop and ask for his Certificate degree of Indian Blood.

Look, at the end of the day this is a grand opportunity, for not only Comanches but also Indian country in general. As an independent filmmaker, I welcome the notion that Depp will now keep in mind his new Comanche family and additionally, who knows, maybe he can make contributions in some way to Native film. Stranger things have happened.

It’s too late to take the crow off his head but it’s not to late to educate Mr. Depp and show him the fellowship that he has chosen to share with the Comanches. His heart is in the right place. Several of my friends and family attended this adoption and they have nothing but good things to say about him.

At the end of the day, this is a grand opportunity for Indian country to build bridges of communication and could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and dialogue.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt Indian country.

Take a deep breath, it will be okay.

Jason Asenap (Comanche/Muskogee Creek) is a veteran of the American Indian Arts/Disney/ABC Summer Television and Film workshop, and was one of four Sundance Institute NativeLab fellows. His current projects include Rugged Guy and a documentary about the history and influence of the Comanche Nation on the Native American Church

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)


indiancountry asked: I’m sorry you feel that way. Have you had a chance to examine our whole site? We are working very hard to bring the best content for Native Americans and Native American community supporters.


I have been a reader of ICT for a long time and I have had the opportunity to explore the website. This is why I feel comfortable saying that that there is a lack of quality articles about Black Natives and the issues that pertain to us.

When I first saw the article “Is Chris Brown Native American?”, I assumed that there was a purpose for the question mark. I assumed that I would be reading an article about why Chris Brown thinks he might have Native American heritage or why someone else thinks this might be true. We’re at a time and a place in the pan-Native community where Black Natives face almost constant suspicion and ridicule when they claim their heritage. More than Natives who have White heritage, we are asked to prove the legitimacy of heritage. Our family stories are dismissed with accusations of Blood Myths and us being Pretendians because folks either are ignorant of our shared histories or want to distance themselves from Blackness.  So, for Chris Brown to have just learned the specific tribe that his family, which is remarkable given the challenges Black folks and Black Natives have in doing this, I cringe when I see that question mark. It’s unnecessary and it casts the story under a shadow of uncertainty and suspicion. This tone continues throughout the article:

Brown was born in Tappahannock, Virginia, which is not inconsistent with the tribal affiliation he has, apparently, just learned of.

Poemsofthedead responded to my post and they made a very critical observation:

the thing that offended me was that they said Brown’s stated tribe was “consistent” with where he is from. Now knowing it is ICT, I’m triple offended by that statement because you’d think they had never heard of “relocation” by which many people are born across the country from their tribe’s reservations.

So if Brown’s family hadn’t been from a place that seemed ‘consistent’ with his heritage, then what? What then? Does that make his claim automatically unreliable? While I may be no fan of Chris Brown, his does not be disrespected in this manner. Nor do any other Black Natives. Why do we need other folks, Native or Non-Native, to validate us? It seems particularly outrageous to need this kind of ‘fact checking’ when Brown merely shared a revelation - he didn’t exactly start speaking for Native folks. This article gave me serious flashbacks to the article that was posted on ICT in January about Beyonce and her heritage.:

The “Native American” in Beyonce’s makeup (pun unavoidable) comes from he mother’s Creole heritage which, according to widely circulated profiles, includes American Indian.  …. This L’Oreal commercial adds another dimension to a popular theory that Beyonce doesn’t want to identify as black. The video has inspired hundreds of comments at the blog Bossip. Most of the Bossip commenters see an ulterior motive behind Beyonce’s cataloguing of her heritage — how should Indians feel?

While no comments were left on the ICT website, discussion about that article, particularly this excerpt above took place on Tumblr. I invite you to examine one thread of critiques that were offered by Tumblr Natives that felt that this article missed the mark.

Finally, there is no need to tag this article with Rihanna’s name. That only adds an element of sensationalism that is unnecessary and is disrespectful to her. Domestic violence is a serious issue in the Native community and I’m disappointed that ICT didn’t extend their sensitivity to Rihanna.

It’s because I’m a reader and supporter of ICT that I want more from the network. 

On Becoming One of Tucson’s Banned Authors -


This past week, I had the distinction of becoming one of a select list of authors banned by the Tucson United School District. Now this is no small feat. It turns out that the Tucson United School District (a city adjoining both the U.S./Mexico border and that of the Tohono O’odham, Yaqui and several other tribal nations) does not want to discuss Native American or Mexican American history—at least, as told by Native American and Chicano or Mexican American authors.

Hence, the decision to ban books in a 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday, January 10 by the school-district board. This is part of a larger state mandate banning Mexican American Studies. An estimated 50 books are being banned.

This morning, I am looking at one of the banned books, Rethinking Columbus: the Next 500 Years. The book, originally published in 1991 by Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools, is intended to provide educators with tools to re-evaluate “the social and ecological consequences of the Europeans’ arrival in 1492” and was written in time for the quincentenary. That was the event the Chicago Tribune had promised would be the “most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations.”

Perhaps a bit optimistic in retrospect. In the book, the question was asked, What were the consequences- both positive and negative of this “discovery,” or, in actuality, the blind luck of some poor navigation skills. Apparently this book is the pinnacle of what should not be read.

Rethinking contains writings of many noted and national award-winning Native works, including Buffy Sainte-Marie’s My Country, ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying, Joseph Bruchac‘s A Friend of the Indians, Cornel Pewewardy’s A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas, M. Scott Momaday’s The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee, and others. As a side note, Sainte-Marie won an Academy Award, and Momaday won a Pulitzer Prize.

My essay “To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility” was also included in the book. Interestingly enough, if I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would probably not be the one. The essay is the transcript of my opening plenary address to the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 1995, held in Bejing, China. Other books and writings banned include those by famed Brazilian educator Paulo Friere and, in a multiracial censorship move, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was also banned.

Book-banning has a distasteful history. Catholic priests burned Mayan books in 1562, Nazi Germany banned 4,100 or so books from 193 to 1939. Various books have been banned at many times across the world, including in the U.S. The American Library Association actually sponsors a Banned Books Week (upcoming this September 30 to October 6) as an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. According to the American Library Association, “Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.” Now those are some radical folks, those librarians.

Back to Tucson: Roberto Rodriguez, professor at University of Arizona, is among the nation’s top Chicano and Mexican American scholars. Rodriguez says, “The attacks in Arizona are mind-boggling. To ban the teaching of a discipline is draconian in and of itself.”

My response to the ban? Well, I’m traveling to Arizona next week. Probably going to distribute some new books and toast the First Amendment over coffee with some nuns, Natives and lawyers. And I am going to think about how special Arizona is. Take for instance the federal holiday of Martin Luther King Day: Arizona resisted celebrating the holiday until 1992, nine years after it was recognized by President Reagan. As well, Arizona also has some of the most controversial anti-immigration laws and search-and-seizure practices by law enforcement. Arizona is, in short, a leader of special thinking. Last time I was in Arizona, someone commented, “If states are the laboratory for democracy, Arizona is a meth lab.”

I am going to drink that coffee, and then I’m going to keep my eye on a piece of legislation that is the Internet equivalent to the banning of books by the Tucson School District: the legislation currently being debated in Congress, the SOPA and PIPA bills. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) would strengthen protections against copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, but Internet advocates say they would stifle expression on the World Wide Web. House Bill 3261 would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods,” according to Wikipedia—the online encyclopedia that is opposed to the bill.

While I, among others, am opposed to intellectual pirates (having been attacked by such pirates this winter), I am also a proponent of free speech and intellectual freedom. The proposed bill would have some potential severe impacts on whistle-blowers and free speech. The bill will come up for debate in February.

In the meantime, Abenaki writer Joseph Bruchac, whose children’s stories are a family favorite in the LaDuke household (and on White Earth KKWE Niijii radio 89.9 FM), ponders the Arizona decision: “ It made me wonder what the Tucson School Board would ban next—perhaps the Emancipation Proclamation? A school board and a community that cannot face sharing the truth of history with their children is one that is penalizing the very kids they may think they are protecting.”

I am a proponent of an independent mind, and that First Amendment is worth fighting for—I am sure of it. Many minds bring together great thoughts, which is how civilizations prosper. I think that Chief Sitting Bull’s quote, which graces the opening page of Rethinking Columbus may be the best comment yet: “Let us put our heads together and see what life we will make for our children.” That is, indeed, good counsel.

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations, and is the mother of three children. She is also the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline native environmental groups.

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)

It Didn't Go Away in 2011: Racism Continued -


Many people in Indian country thought it would be hard to top New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s racist comments in August, 2010, when he advised then Gov. David Paterson on how to collect taxes from cigarettes sold on Indian reservations. Using images of racial stereotypes from Hollywood’s shoot ‘em up cowboys-and-Indians movies, the Jewish mayor encouraged the African American governor to act with violence. “I told David Paterson, I said, you know, ‘Get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, ‘Read my lips – the law of the land is this, and we’re going to enforce the law,’” Bloomberg said in a television interview. He now has the dubious honor of being outdone in his racist remarks by others in 2011.

  • In January, in an article called The Language of Savagery Indian Country Today Media Network staff reporter Rob Capriccioso summarized the remarkable casualness with which elected officials, celebrities, and the mainstream media express racial disrespect, even hatred, toward Indigenous Peoples. The article notes the feeding frenzy of bigotry that took place when Carlos Gonzales—a Pascua Yaqui citizen and medical doctor— offered a prayer at a public event for the recovery of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had survived an assassination attempt a few days earlier. Fox News analyst Brit Hume, syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, conservative websites, including Power Line and and others all attacked Gonzales for expressing elements of his religion, including using the word “Creator” instead of “God.” Capriccioso told readers that Robert Williams, a law professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, has come up with a label for the phenomenon: the “language of savagery.”  “Some conservative commentators have an agenda against Indians, (Williams) said, noting that some see any minority as representative of an ‘us versus them’ threat. In his state, some conservatives conflate illegal immigrants and Indians, he said, although the irony there is that all non-Indians are (and were) the illegal immigrants.”
  • In February, March and April, Maine’s Regional School Unit 12, struggled over the issue of banning the offensive Redskins mascot from Wiscasset High School. The previous summer, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission had asked the board to drop the name, because it offends Native Americans in general and Maine’s four Wabanaki nations in particular: The Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, the Maliseets, and the Micmacs view the name as symbolic of the region’s historic racist policy of genocide toward indigenous people. The battle to remove the name was so contentious that during an unofficial survey when Wiscasset residents voted 503-128 against the change, someone wrote on a ballot slip, “Those who want to change this should be shot.” The board banned the offensive name in February, reinstated it in March until the end of the school year after students walked out of class in protest, and held a poll for a new name in April. When students returned to school in September, the new team name was the Wolverines.
  • In March, Fox News contributor John Stossel contributed some astonishingly ill informed and gratuitously offensive remarks on the air, limping together Indians, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and the Irish in a kind of melting pot of the socio-economically need. “Why is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs?” Stossel asked with incredulity. “There is no Bureau of Puerto Rican Affairs or Black Affairs or Irish Affairs. And no group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians, because we have the treaties, we stole their land. But 200 years later, no group does worse.” No further comment is needed.
  • Maine was in the headlines again in April when Philip Congdon, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, drew fire after allegations that he made offensive and racist statements at a Chamber of Commerce awards banquet in Aroostook County. He blamed problems among youth on “bad parents,” education and economic declines on educating African-Americans, and said those who want economic opportunities should “get off the reservation.” He resigned a few days later.
  • But perhaps the most audacious example of racist expression came in May when Indian country learned that the executive branch of the federal government had used the codename Geronimo for Osama bin Laden in the May 1 operation in which the U.S. military assassinated the world’s most infamous terrorist. Indian country reaction was swift and angry and spread throughout the world. Jeff Houser, the chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe – the successor to Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache Tribe – asked Obama to issue an apology, but none was forthcoming.

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)

Occupy Wall Street Stirs Up Radical Ideas in Indian Country


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement may be the most significant social movement in the U.S. since the pre–Iraq War protests in 2002, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets in some cities. But OWS has more in common with the activism of the civil rights era than the antiwar protests because it exposes the imbalances of American society, and while Native people are acutely aware of those imbalances, many of them are questioning the terms of the OWS debate—they wonder, for example, what it really means to “occupy” Wall Street, or any place else in America for that matter?

As many Native bloggers and activists have pointed out, Wall Street is already occupied—it was (and is) the territory of the Lenape and other First Nations. That’s why some Native activists see decolonization as a more appropriate framework for any discussion of the current economic crisis. This has been expressed in many ways throughout Indian country. In Albuquerque, the OWS movement based on the campus of the University of New Mexico that had been calling itself “Occupy Burque” voted to adopt a new name: (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, linking corporate greed to the theft of Native land.

In early October, the Albuquerque (un)occupation movement enjoyed vigorous participation by the community, fueled in large part by energetic students skilled in the art of street activism. A blogger on the website identified only as “evergreen2” noted that New Mexico, which is one of the most diverse states in the nation and is one of only four U.S. states with a majority-minority population—that is, less than 50 percent white—has a “very strong and vocal indigenous population” for whom the term occupy is problematic: “For New Mexico’s indigenous people, Occupy means 500 years of forced occupation of their lands, resources, cultures, power and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.”

The message is clear: While the OWS movement decries the corporate state which for decades has politically and economically disenfranchised the bottom 99 percent, there are some stunning differences among those 99-percenters. Alyosha Goldstein, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, argues in a recent article published on that the OWS movement would do well to

LO RES FEA Photo UnOccupy HI RES IndigenousPPlsDay 2011 270x350 Occupy Wall Street Stirs Up Radical Ideas in Indian Country

Indigenous People’s Resistance Day 2011

remember the messages of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign—that poverty and inequality were directly related to conditions of colonialism, racism and militarism. The coalitions that formed within a diverse spectrum of the poor and people of color coalesced during a six-week encampment in Washington, D.C. that became known as Resurrection City. Goldstein writes that “the disparate circumstances that motivated people to participate in the campaign produced multiple perspectives that could not be adequately expressed in a single set of demands—something that perhaps The New York Times today would deride as a ‘lack of clear messaging.’ But the form of the campaign itself—with its multiple contingents and numerous demands—underscored the irreducibility of its parts to a unified whole.”

The legacies of slavery, war and international trade agreements that favor corporations over people reverberates today in the widespread social displacement and poverty for African Americans, Mexican Americans and the ever-growing numbers of other ethnic minority populations. For them, the American Dream has turned out to be more mythology than reality. And the same is true for American Indians, and has been for more than 500 years now. Any American Dream—real or imagined—built on Indian lands obtained through violence is a constant reminder of the historical reality of colonialism and, from an indigenous perspective, shifts the terms of the OWS debate.

Put another way, perhaps OWS isn’t radical enough. Journalist and best-selling author Christopher Hedges, for example, believes that liberals who once stood for values like civil rights and equality for all have been co-opted by the corporate state “by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did.”

Hedges argued in a column on that “hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement. This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed.”

Invoking the M word is enough to send most liberals scurrying, but for others it heralds a welcome return to the radical politics of the civil rights era. For Indian country (and arguably all Indigenous Peoples) Marxism can send a mixed and confusing message because of varying interpretations of Marx’s writings. His early work is often criticized as being Eurocentric and espousing a view of the inevitability of the development of the nationalist state, which assumes the necessary (if unfortunate) subjugation of Indigenous Peoples. However, his later work, after he had done an in-depth study of Haudenosaunee societies, reflects his admiration for American Indian cultures and their superiority to the industrialized West. For Marx, capitalism’s biggest threat was its obsession with turning land into private property, a conversion the West accelerated by dispossessing Indians of their lands. Since colonialism paved the way for capitalism to flourish in the New World, a Marxist critique of capitalism can be instructive for Native communities. Pointing out that colonialism made possible the institutions of today’s corrupt capitalist system naturally leads to a talk of decolonization. In the Bay Area, Native activists and intellectuals have seized upon this as part of their campaign to Decolonize Oakland.

But decolonization is not part of the OWS movement, which is why Native people must demand that they are included in this public dialogue now swirling around OWS. Decolonization is inevitably connected with capitalist exploitation, especially when Native lands are at stake. The Keystone XL Pipeline is a recent example of Indigenous Peoples alerting the public at large to problems created by capitalism in the context of colonial domination, and in a way that was significant for everyone concerned. In early November, people in Vancouver, British Columbia, led by First Nations people, marched in a protest against the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine on the Unuk River in Canada. One banner read defend the land—frack capitalism, a reference to the environmental risks posed by the mining practice of fracking. Also in November, a summit of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Hawaii sparked large protests and counter-summit meetings held by Native Hawaiian intellectuals and academics to address the abuses of transnational trade agreements in Pacific Rim and Asian nations and their impacts on indigenous populations. Many Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) raised the issue of U.S.’s illegal annexation of the Hawaiian Islands and demanded that lands be given back.

While it’s unlikely that Hawaii will be returned to the Kanaka Maoli and the Kingdom of Hawaii restored anytime soon, such demands from Indigenous Peoples demonstrate their tenacity and commitment to justice in a capitalist world build on colonial exploitation. If OWS aspires to bring on truly radical change, it should take a cue from Indigenous Peoples and rethink the idea of occupation altogether.

(via rematiration-deactivated2013111)