Ward Churchill: AN EXCLUSIVE NATIVE VOICE INTERVIEW

Ward Churchill, agree with him or not, has become an internationally-known symbol of Native American protest against the United States goverament, the “establishment ” and against anyone who would challenge his right to speak freely.

Churchill’s controversial writings and speeches, and subsequent termination from his tenured position as an Ethnic Studies Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, have gotten unprecedented media coverage world-wide.

His very status as American Indian has been challenged, by Native and non-Native alike, yet he persists in current affairs as the number-one most recognized Native American voice in the mainstream media.

Churchill is representing Native America, in some respects, to the greater public and the world, with media coverage literally circling the globe. A quick Google search turns up stories from every major news agency in America, plus coverage on Al-Jazeera, the Chinese newswire, and news programs in New Zealand and India, to name only a few.

The first question a recent visitor to our offices from Germany asked was “What do you think of Ward Churchill?” Partially because of his references to Nazi’s, she said, “He really has people talking about Native Americans and what they went through historically. There is a lot of debate around this guy, even at home (in Germany).”

He is the center of a firestorm of controversy, and many Native people have become frustrated by the attention he has garnered in the name of Indian people. He has certainly been accused of making things harder for Native people in the Rocky Mountain region, as AIM support has given the impression to some that he does stand for Indian people at large.

Ward Churchill’s supporters, including Russell Means and the Denver Chapter of AIM, are fiercely loyal. They stand behind Churchill to support not only the man, but also his messages.

The day after Ward Churchill was fired by the Colorado University Board of Regents, he invited us to come out to his home in Boulder to interview him and talk about the issues. Russell Means was there, and became part of our conversation, which went long into the afternoon and covered some unexpected ground.

We look forward to your comments and feedback, some of which we will print in the upcoming editions of The Native Voice. Please send your emails to: thenativevoice@gmail.com

A Two-Part Interview

The Native Voice: A lot of people know of you from the headlines, but they don’t know you as a person, per se. You’ve become more of a symbol.

Ward Churchill: Sure.

TNV: Your work at the University of Colorado in Boulder has been presented as radical. When you first started working as a professor, as a teacher, were your goals different then, from what they became in recent years, what we see today?

Churchill: No It’s kind of like this interview. It may have been different in a sense that I may have had different points of focus because, if you work enough at a base to try to rectify the Indian-White relations, or how ever you want to frame that, there are almost an infinite number of points of focus that you have to select from, so you can move from one to another to another and basically you’re doing the same thing. It’s just that your framing is going to be different.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been standing on the same bedrock, the same foundation all my adult life. Whether in the formal academic sense or an activist sense or a combination of the two, which has usually been the case.

TNV: Can you explain where that foundation comes from?

Churchill: In a way, it’s a paraphrase: In ’74 when they convened the International Treaty Council – the meeting, not the organization – what came of that was they gave the pipe to Russ (Russell Means) and he accepted it with a responsibility to take the 1868 Treaty in front of the community of nations to get involved in that particular discourse and to be considered in that way.

From the 1868 Treaty, then, by extension, you’ve got all these other sets of treaty relations between the Feds and indigenous peoples. In the end that translates to global treaty study that was undertaken by Alphonso Martinez during the later part of the 1980’s. That’s how these things hook up, but it was to take what was known to people in a particular context and put it where it belongs, which is in the international discourse because it is an international relations issue.

My thing has always to been take “Indian affairs,” as that term is applied by a federal government, the sets of relations that are involved there and the history of that, and put it into the discourse of the consequence of people.

More broadly, it is that consideration of indigenous people – their relations, their rights, and so forth – as not some esoteric side line field, but as part of the old world flow of the whole. That doesn’t land in a standard university Indian Studies position where Indians are developing knowledge and putting it in these Western forms for their own purposes, for internal education (that’s valid for as far is it goes, and I actually participated in it, but its not my focus).

It’s also not to try to make Indians a part of the greater whole in the sense of being minorities. Indians speak from their own position with the same integrity and right to be heard and considered in connection and comparison with other minority groups as anybody else.

TNV: So, who is your audience? Indians? Non-Indians?

Churchill: I’m always talking to Indians, to White folks, and Africans, Puerto Ricans and everybody else. We’ve got points in common. For one, we’ve got a common oppressor.

TNV: White folks too?

Churchill: A lot of these groups even including some of the White groups, have our different histories. We understand our differences and our commonalities clearly among ourselves. We have a basis for interacting and respect in the real world.

How do you get to that understanding? Well, you don’t do anything without consciousness, okay? Because consciousness is not insular, nor is it homogenous, like stirring cream into coffee.

TNV: So what was the basis of the problem at CU? Why do you think, ultimately, that they built a case against you to fire you?

Churchill: I don’t strive for either of these poles, so there is this tension at CU. But that’s where Indian studies was supposed to fit in the first place. Most people have forgotten this. We’ve got so many damn people trying to be professional according to quote-un quote standards that we were supposed to transcend! Our purpose was to transcend our understanding of Indian studies, to change them, to make them other than what they were through standard education.

TNV: When I was in college taking Native American studies, the first thing the professor said on the first day of class was that “Anything you ever learned in any classroom about Native America was all wrong. For you to be successful in this class past this day with me you have to be able to forget it” and start over to build your knowledge and understanding. I thought it was brilliant.

Churchill: And you’re telling the Indian students, “Well that’s in the past now, can’t you get over it and try looking at it another way?”…

TNV: …No, the professor meant it as a “de-programming” from American public schools…

Churchill: (continuing )…well truth of the matter is they can’t. That’s what’s scary, its not like you give em a pill. But in variable degrees of openness they can unpack a lot of this stuff and they can do it in a hurry if you approach them right.

And maybe that’s what the Creator gave me was an ability to straddle those two things because I can talk to Indian students and other people. I’m consistent with Indian peoples’ understanding, but I can nail these little White buggers right there in their seat and you can almost watch them undergo transformation. It’s like the cartoon of the lightbulb going on its like, “Oh sh*t.” You know, walk em into it. Let them walk themselves into a box of an argument.

And they realize they are in a box and they have to think their way out and it scares them to death because the final product of any course that I ever teach is that you gotta sit down and tell me what was important in the subject matter, and why you thought it was important. Pick anything you want from the whole subject matter. One little point in it or something you connected to from your own experience to the subject matter. But, you gotta explain why that is and then you’re gonna tell me what you’re gonna do with that outside the goddamn classroom in the real world.

It’s traumatic. Nobody ever asked them assign a significance to things. They’re always being told what the significance is, so they memorize, they write in forms, they fill out tests, little bubble circle things, fill in the blank multiple choice. You know, all that sh*t. You’re memorizing information, you’re regurgitating it, you’re never really learning, you forget it soon as you’re out the door, once you got your ticket punched for that school credit…

It propels them to engage, you gotta think your way to a conclusion. They are terrified but ultimately most of them do pretty well

TNV: Do you think that the part of that experience that you have with the students has been the context of the a big, public, state university system that you’re teaching in? For example, different schools have different expectations for their students, how they want them to learn, what they expect them to do with the information, etc. Meaning, a large university system undergraduate college versus a private liberal arts institution?

Churchill: Yeah, and you can still do it in a big school context. But where this does start to break down is with the number of students in the classroom. I’ve taught sections of 200 students, and you can’t really do what I’m talking about with that many students.

That starts to debilitate towards these idiotic instruments where you’re assigning arbitrary scores and you end up with people who are really able to do something with the information, they’ve got a handle on the subject matter, and they get a C because they’re not good at taking tests. And you got people who are total ciphers in terms of moral implications or the ethical implications or so on but they know how to do well taking tests and they are getting A’s. I taught 100-student blocks and I could get closer to what I’m talking about.

TNV: One of the things the media has focused on is how much money you make and how much you have cost CU. It has been reported that you will be paid $96,000 in severance for this upcoming year, and that the court case cost CU $352,000.

Churchill: It takes roughly 25 students at the University of Colorado to pay for a course. Anything beyond that is excess, is profit. So, if I’m teaching a 200 student block then I’m generating three dollars in profit in the institution for every dollar I’m using to deliver the course.

One line on that is the quote that tax payers of the state of Colorado, who anti-up six cents on each dollar of the operating budget for the institution, are paying for me. In fact, they have never paid me a dime, ever.

I’ve been at CU since 1978 in different capacities. In fact, if we were to settle accounts, they could send me a few million dollars that I’ve generated in income for them.

TNV: What about the point that there are two sides to every story, or at least two perspectives.

Churchill: Yeah, that’s what the Nazis said about the Holocaust.

TNV: Well, that’s a whole other discussion.

Churchill: No, it’s not. You said “every story.” That is a story (the Holocaust). No one expects that there will be another side to that story.

TNV: I’m talking about the story of what’s happened to you at CU, that there’s…

Churchill: …That’s just another story. There’s not necessarily another side. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The other side could be absolutely fraudulent. There is no other side.

TNV: People frame the truth based upon their own perception and perspectives and justifications and agendas. Now you start with a theory of what you were saying…

Churchill: …I’m not accepting that there’s two sides to every story. I’m saying that there can be the truth and there can be bulls*** and that’s the two sides.

TNV: Interpretation can be the whole issue…

Churchill: Then what the Nazi’s said about the Holocaust. How do you interpret their “truth?”

TNV: I don’t know how to answer that question.

Churchill: Nobody does, and there’s no expectation that they should which puts the lie right off the bat to this sort of liberal. “There’s always two sides and they should be treated equitable.” When you treat the Nazis equitably, bring a Jewish survivor from a camp to talk about that experience, it’s expected that will be counterbalanced by the testimonial of one of the guards? Then you can say that, but no one ever says that. So why is it that we gotta have perpetrators’ points of view given equal weight or even superior weight in historical understandings of what happened to Native people or the political understandings or the economical understandings? “Well, there’s always another way of looking at it.” Yeah, there is. There’s the Nazi way of looking at it.

TNV: So you are using the Nazis in comparison to what happened to you at CU? Well, there are justifications, and …

Churchill: Nazis have no justifications.

TNV: Absolutely not. I’m not saying that they are correct, or that you’re accusers are correct, I’m saying that people use different interpretations to justify their positions…

Churchill: …Well what I’m saying is that there’s no expectation that the other story has the integrity to be told.

TNV: I’ve looked at all the reports in the news, and someone likened it to…it’s a bad analogy, but their analogy was that it was worth using whatever means necessary to get you fired, and they compared it to getting a mob gang leader on tax evasion,…

Churchill: …And sometimes they fabricate something.

The way that it looks is that there were lots of little pieces of evidence pulled together to create a comprehensive body of evidence against you, in terms of your scholarly work. And its seemed that they had to take a little piece from here, and a little piece from there, etc., to remove you from your tenure at the University. (Professors who have been tenured have a secure position, for life, or until they retire. It is very difficult to terminate a tenured professor.)

Churchill: They had to create a pretext and an illusion. The pretext is that they were up and concerned about my footnotes (in published writings).

That was not the issue but that’s what they needed to say the issue was in order to do what it was they wanted to do for another reason.

TNV: And you have denied all wrong doing.

Churchill: Absolutely. Yes.

TNV: There is some concern over how your firing creates an imposed threat against being radical or controversial within the university context. There are other professors, who are may or may not agree with your politics and may or may not agree with the way that you would express yourself, who are concerned with what happened to you. They say your firing is a result of people disagreeing with your politics and your platform.

Churchill: Then where are they?

TNV: They’re quoted in the local newspapers, The Boulder Daily Camera and The Rocky Mountain News.

Churchill: I’ll give credit amply due, and to I could name them all, but there’s no need to take up the tape recorder…

TNV: There were only a few willing to speak out against your firing on the record.

Churchill: There are a number who come up to me in the grocery store or at McGuckin’s Hardware or when I’m buying flowers down at Frujos. They confide to really be behind me, but what are they really saying is that “I agree with you, I value what you’re doing and I don’t really value anything about it, so why don’t you carry the weight for us.”

TNV: Why do you think that is? Because they don’t agree with your politics or don’t like your delivery style?

Churchill: Because they’re scared.

TNV: What are they scared of?

Churchill: Because they’re scared of what the implications of this are. The implications are that the academic institution, which is supposed to be a protected environment of true thought and expression, has now had the attention of the Governor to put pressure on the University to take can of removing someone who they thought was, whatever, making too much noise, getting too much press attention, making too many waves, saying things that made them look bad in some way.

For accusing the United States of genocide, for example.

TNV: You’re not the first one to do that.

Churchill: I know.

TNV: Look at Vine Deloria, for example.

Churchill: Well, you know, from their position in a weird way I’ve done that far more effectively than Vine, and Vine’s my mentor. Vine was my uncle, my friend, so I’m not dissing Vine any way at all here. He had a problem with the word “genocide.” He didn’t really understand it and he used it straight up, for example, with regard to Guatemala, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to that here. And he would do cultural critique in the sensibilities of White people, but but he falls into what I call the “opposition trap of the United States.” That there is always this cast of characters that you can name that are the “evil doers.”

TNV: What is the “opposition trap of the United States” and who are these “evil doers”?

Churchill: Okay, so now it’s Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice. Now, which one of them ever picked up a rifle and killed an Iraqi or anybody else for that matter? I mean, Bush is a draft-dodger, Cheney’s a draft-dodger…Cheney said he had other things to do.

It requires somebody besides those evil figure heads to actually do it. And who is that? That s grass roots Americans, and a lot of Indian people. I’m fairly harsh on them, and I’m one of them (who served in the military). You are accountable for your actions.

This is the Nazi defense, saying, “Well, ultimately nobody was responsible but Hitler because it was after all the fuhrer’s state, and the orders ultimately issued from Hitler so he was the ultimate responsible party and everybody else was obeying orders, even highly-placed government officials. And, of course Hitler’s dead so there’s no nobody to blame now. So, let’s revile Bush and Cheney and all of them. Let’s state our opposition. Let’s protest against them even while we benefit from it and do not come to grip with the fact that our next door neighbor and the things we even embrace go into making this process work. In that way we’re not an effective opposition, we’re chasing our tail around and around the same rock.

Like alchemist thinking, if we do the same thing often enough it’s going to come out with a different result, rather than doing what actually would be required, which is to change the nature of the system.

When you get out of ritual forms that are approved by the State, it starts to scary ‘cuz there might be consensus for the state which becomes this immoral state that s slaughtering people all over the world.

By virtue of being a pacifist they might hurt you, that’s why cops carry guns. You know that’s why they employed Delta Force at Seattle when things got unruly (at the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999). What is Delta Force? It’s a surgical elimination unit. It kills people selectively. That’s all it is for. They were prepared to do that to maintain the economic state.

Okay, we’re non-violent. We take a pledge of non-violence, so we guarantee that were gonna be goddamn ineffectual…we’re only purer to you because were risking nothing.

TNV: Who specifically are you talking about?

Churchill: Mass movements. Go over here to the Peace and Justice Center in Boulder.

TNV: So you’re encouraging…you’re saying that peaceful movements, nonviolent movements are ineffectual? What about Ghandi? Nelson Mandela?

Churchill: I’m saying that is true if you constrain the realm of your activity to things that are sanctioned by the state, like free speech zones. You have to have a permit to express yourself, to assemble, to all the rest of this. You know what I’m talking about, we’re gonna do eternal prayer vigils with individuals burning incense, change our diets, build bike paths, everything, anything and everything that the state would approve and the one thing that might be effective is just, “I’m gonna exercise my rights and get the f*ck outta my way, I don’t negotiate my rights, I don’t need your permission to exercise a right.”

My whole point is to de-stabilize your point because your process is criminal. I don’t endorse it. I, in fact, oppose it in meaningful terms am I killing people beyond that set of principles.

TNV: So what are you calling on people to do?

Churchill: Am I making some argument where the only purity is an armed struggle? No. There’s no purity in forms of struggle. There’s no purity in pacifism, there’s no purity in armed struggle, there’s no purity in any point in between. Purity is to figure out how to effectively take that which you find to be morally intolerable – morally lethal, in fact, to primarily but not exclusively brown-skinned people the world over. And, we’ve got plenty of experience of that here that’s called day-to-day life – and change it into something that does not have that effect. The current system sanctions only those things which will not disrupt its current function.

TNV: Well, of course its primary purpose is to thrive in it’s own system…Having this conversation with you it is clear that the sentiment and argument against you goes way deeper than any footnotes in any book. You are challenging “the system” at large.

Churchill: And so is the line of historical interpretation which sets things completely on their heads. Everything that was celebrated, anything that was trumped up in American History, I challenge.

An exclusive Native Voice Interview with legendary Coach Dale Brown

Best known as star coach for SHAQ (Shaqullle O’Neal) at Louisiana State University, Coach Brown was a featured guest speaker on July 10 at the 2007 Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) in Phoenix, Arizona. He came out to speak to the kids about overcoming sports (and life) hurdles, with no excuses.

When Dale Brown arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in March 1972, he arrived with a dream that was perceived by many who knew the LSU Basketball program as impossible. The dream was to make basketball a fan favorite in Tiger Country and to make it a nationally respected program as well.

Dale Brown’s straightforward, determined approach, combined with the knowledge of the game, excellent recruiting skills, and his positive philosophy made his dream a reality. Equally amazing was his 25-year career as the Tiger’s head coach, the winningest coach in LSU Basketball history. He is also the second winningest coach in SEC history, surpassed only by Kentucky’s legendary Adolph Rupp.

Brown’s LSU teams won numerous SEC titles, and advanced to four Elite Eights and two Final Fours. He was chosen twice as the National Basketball College Coach of the Year.

105 of 160 of Brown’s players received their college degrees and those that attended LSU for four years had a graduation rate of 84%.

He began his career as a high school coach in North Dakota where he coached basketball, wrestling, football and track and field. He was an assistant coach at Utah State for five years and one year at Washington State before becoming the head coach at LSU in 1972.

In high school in North Dakota, Brown was the state’s leading scorer in basketball and set the school record in the 440 yard dash.

Brown earned 12 letters in basketball, football and track at Minot State University, making him the school’s only athlete to achieve that goal. In 1957, he received a B.S. degree from Minot State University and, in 1964, he received his. M.S. degree from the University of Oregon.

Coach Brown is a member of the North Dakota and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the North Dakota and Louisiana Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The SEC honored Brown by inducting him as an SEC Living Legend.

At the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament

July 10, Phoenix, AZ

The Native Voice; How did you find out about the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) Tournament?

Coach Dale Brown: I was in Phoenix a couple of months ago and Gina Marie Scarpa-Mabry came up to me. She was so committed and personable and told me about NABI and asked, if I would speak to the young participants. And I told her to look at my web site and call my secretary and set something up. She said, “We don’t have that kind of money, what you charge.” And I said, “Listen, for the Indian kids, I’ll do it free.” I felt that if I charged, it would take away from what I feel about what needs to be done and what needs to be said. And if you are paid, then what you are is a spokesperson for the fee you get. So that’s how I came here.

TNV: What would you hope that you could impart to these young people at the NABI tournament? What would you like them to know?

Coach Brown: My main thesis is that there are 6.5 billion people on Earth right now. It’s the most in the history of the world and everybody claims that they’re looking for success. But they also want to be happy. So, how do you get that? My theory with the young generation of Native Americans is that “You’ll never get to where you want to go if you forget where you came from.”

The Trail of Tears has never ended. It is important to give them some examples without giving a crutch to lean on. From 1607 to the present time there is no question that the American Indian is the most mistreated, neglected, cheated and forgotten ethnic group in American history. For far too long, Indians in this country have survived in the White man’s shadow. They have humbled themselves, becoming invisible, learning to survive, just barely, on hand-outs form the federal government.

So, how do you change this? Well there’s no simplistic way, but the number one thing you have to do is to become educated.

Nelson Mandela said it very clear. He said, “Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.”

I talk to the youth about becoming educated, and about discipline. Discipline in our personal lives, discipline about being on time, the commitment they have to make. Commitment is the best boon to success. Stick with it. Believe in yourself and persevere.

These Indian kids have come from a pretty fantastic spot. How this race has been able to survive after all these things…centuries of oppression, harassment, thievery, cruelty, slaughter…and yet the tribal members have survived. So this is a paramount example of the strength of the American Indian.

When Columbus landed on these shores, he wrote back to the King and Queen of Spain, after first encountering Indians (and I quote him on this) “I swear to you that there is not a better nation, they are sweet, they are gentle, and there are bright.”

TNV: So where do we go from recognizing the history and knowing where you come from, and finding success now?

Coach Brown: The question becomes, “Today, where do you change the system?”

There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.

I use examples of Shaquille Q’Neal, who I coached. There is no reason for him to be where he is now. His father was a drug addict – he didn’t have a father, really. But he had a step father who stepped in and got him educated. With all of the misery that the American Indian has gotten through, you can’t continue to look for a helping hand. You want a helping hand? Look at the end of your arm. Because the government has not done it. We’ve mistreated the American Indian.

It’s so easy for these youngsters to say “How in the world can I change the system? What can I possibly do?” Well, there were two unusual men who helped me. One of them was Nelson Mandela. 27 years he was locked in a prison, and yet he had a commitment because he wanted to change the system.

And there was a second man, an Oglala Lakota, a Marine lieutenant by the name of Billy Mills. He had been so beaten down, even in college, in Kansas, that he debated committing suicide. I had breakfast with him a few months ago in Phoenix. He told me that he thought about jumping out of a dorm window because his coach kept on telling him that “You can’t do this, Indians can’t do this.” Yet he becomes the only American who has ever won the 10,000 meter race in the Olympics (1964).

TNV: These kids at NABI are all basketball players, and they all have dreams that have gotten them at least to the point where they have earned the privilege of playing in the NABI tournament. What do you tell them about a guy like Shaq? Shaquille O’Neal is such a hero. What did it take, from a coach’s perspective, for him to become “Shaq”?

Coach Brown: I met him at thirteen years of age. I was speaking to the military troops in Germany, and this young man came up to me. I did not know that he was thirteen years old. He told he would be trying but for the team, and I thought he meant the military team. He told me he couldn’t dunk the ball and he had trouble running up and down the court, could I show him exercises? I said, “Sure.” So I came out from behind the podium and spent maybe ten minutes with him I bent down to my bag to get a pen and paper to write down his name and address. I told him, “Young man, when I get back to LSU I will mail you a weight training program.” I said, “How long you been in the service, soldier?” And broke out a big smile and he said, “I’m not in the service.”

I asked him, “How tall are you?” And he said, “six eight,” and I said, What do you weigh?” and he said, “About 250.” I said, “What’s your shoe size?” and he said “Seventeen.” I said, “What are you doing here?” and he answered, “My father’s a military man.” So, I sent him the weight training program. Six weeks later I got a letter from him: “Coach, I did everything you told me to do and my high school coach cut me off the team. He told me I was too slow, clumsy, and too big of feet. He told me I could never be a basketball player, and why don’t I try to be a goalie in soccer.”

Now, what profound statement am I going to tell a thirteen-year-old child, thousands of miles across the water…? So I sat down and I wrote him the following note: “Dear Shaquille, Every time I fail, somebody told me I couldn’t do something. I got my heart broken. I tried the following and it worked for me. I’ll bet it works for you. It’s very simple: ‘Always try to do your best, never give up, and God will take care of everything else.”

TNV: We want this message to get out to those kids who didn’t get to go to NABI this year. The ones who are saying, “How can I get to play at NABI,” let alone LSU or the NBA. So talk to us about what it is like on a daily basis when you are a coach, you got somebody like Shaquille O’Neal, you’ve got all the other players there as well. You know, people have good days and bad days. What do people need to have, every day when they get up in the morning, to be successful in something like basketball.

Coach Brown: In life in general, basketball, anything, you have to recognize that if you want to be successful, you will have to negotiate, jump over four hurdles. Everybody has to jump over them.

6.5 billion people on the planet. The most ever in this world living at the same time. The four hurdles for everyone: You have to overcome “I can’t,” you have to overcome failure, you have to overcome handicaps, and you have to know yourself. We all have to jump over these four hurdles. And you can’t barter, you can’t buy, you can’t cheat, you can’t lie your way over them. You’ve got to jump over them.

Any day of your life, you have 86,400 seconds in that day. During that 86,400 seconds you are going to face somebody telling you you can’t do something, or you thinking you can’t do something. That when you try something you are going to fail. So you have to know that your “FQ” is just as important as your “IQ.” That’s your “Failure Quotient.” You’ve got to get back up. You can’t let that failure keep you down.

Then, you’re going to have a handicap: “You’re Black, you’re Jewish, you’re a woman, you’re an Indian, you’re poor, you’re an orphan, you’re an immigrant, you’re illegitimate.” You’re going to have to overcome your handicap.

Then you have the last hurdle is.. .the most profound victory there is, that you are going to have, is over yourself. You’ve eventually got to know your self, you can’t play any games with your self.

TNV: You’ve got folks who have got a lot of talent, and you’ve got folks who have got a lot of guts. In basketball it sure helps to be tall. What do you tell kids who have the heart and drive, but maybe aren’t the tallest or the fastest?

Coach Brown: It’s very simple. The decathlete is considered the finest athlete in the world. Since the decathlon was started, five of the gold medal winners in the Olympics were 5’9″ and 170 lbs. Your size is not a handicap. Your size, your color, your race, prejudice, etc. Find where it works for you. Martin Luther King summed it up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”

TNV: Talking to kids who live on the rez, who have a dream, who may not have that mentor, that role model to help them along around them. What do you tell that kid? How do you tell them to dig down deep inside? How do they make their own opportunities? It sounds really good, but what if they say, “I don’t have anybody to help me?”

Coach Brown: I tell them my own personal story.

Two days before I was ever born, my so-called father abandoned my mother, and never returned. She came off a farm in North Dakota with an eighth grade education. We had to go on welfare, $42.50 a month. She had to babysit and clean peoples’ homes. I had to go to work practically after they snipped my umbilical cord. We lived above a bar and a hardware store.

We didn’t have any television, we didn’t have any automobile, we didn’t have any anything. She finally got a radio so I could listen to that. And my dad never did come back. He never called, he never wrote, he never sent any money. He just totally disappeared in the world.

From watching my mother suffer, from having a good mother in the house…she was a catalyst for me. She was uneducated but she kept telling me that I could make something of myself. And then one day I got in trouble in school, I got kicked out of class. I got sent to the Principal. And he was the ex-coach. And he said, “Get down here. You know what your problem is? You got a chip on your shoulder.” And I’ll never forget the next thing he said to me. I think it had the most impact of anything that ever happened to me. He said, “Dale, you want to know something? You need to know this. God doesn’t make any junk. You can be or do whatever you want to do. But, you’ve got to get the chip off your shoulder.” So, that’s basically the message.

TNV: What does is it feel like to struggle and win? You’ve had some pretty big wins in your life and some pretty big struggles. What does that feel like?

Coach Brown: It’s exhilarating and humbling at the same time. Both of those emotions take you over at the same time. There isn’t an arrogance, there isn’t an “I deserve this.” I can’t explain it. There’s a feeling of just exuberance, and feeling very good. But with the exhilaration, there is just this humbling feeling saying, “Man alive, I’m so blessed that I am able to reach this pinnacle.”

TNV: And you think this pinnacle is available to anyone with the guts and the heart to make it happen.

Coach Brown: The answer is very simple. When you are 27 years in a prison cell, like Nelson Mandela, because you don’t believe in Apartheid, and you finally got out and and you become President of South Africa… It’s Shaquille O’Neal who was abandoned by his father becoming who he is…Yes. Cinderella is not just a fairy tale. There are a lot of Cinderella stories. Gina Marie Mabry (Founder of NABI) is a perfect example. She told me her life story. It’s absolutely beautiful. She should write a book.

TNV: Yes. Definitely. She has really struggled to become who she is and look what she has created here.

So what are you on to now?

Coach Brown: Well, you might be interested in this. Shaquille and I and a group of others, with ABC, we’re doing six one-hour specials on childhood obesity. Tonight is our third episode. Obesity, as you know, is a major problem now, and also on the reservations.

TNV: We’ll definitely tune in and check it out. Any last inspiring words for our readers?

Coach Brown: My attorney is a Black Muslim from LA and my business manager is a Black man who graduated number one from Yale. So we get together once a year.

Last year we were finishing dinner, and I said, “You know that I speak from my heart. Tell me if I’m wrong. In my opinion, the Klu Klux Klan, racists and bigots, they can fold up their sheets and put them in the drawer. But now Blacks do more harm to blacks them these sick individuals do, and nobody will talk about it The White politician is trying to get the Black vote and they don’t even know how to spell ‘ghetto,’ and they won’t talk about it, the people who aren’t committed won’t talk about it, and, a number of Blacks don’t want to talk about it because they’ll be called ‘Uncle Tom,’ and Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson screw things up the other way.”

“You are 100% right,” they said.

Well yesterday, I watched on national television for the first time, “Bury the ‘N’ word.” Did you see this?

They had a rally with a coffin with guys in black suits holding the coffin, and they were “Burying the ‘N’ Word.”

They said, “We’ve got to quit blaming the White man. Our rappers use the ‘N’ word more than any White man, and we’re criticizing Whites. We’ve got to quit shooting each other, we’ve got to quit having illegitimate kids… We’re going to fight racism the rest of our lives. Let’s stop doing this to each other.”

Well, that’s the same thing that has to be done for the Native American. Yes, there’s no question that 370 treaties with the United States government, signed with Indian, and they broke every dog-gone one of them. But even in today’s society, somebody’s got to be talking about being late, being obese, the suicide rate, etc., and quit soft-pedaling it.

TNV: They use the “N” word, too.

Coach Brown: Well, that’s my message to these kids. Without knocking them down, but somebody’s got to tell them the truth, what they have at them. And how to get up and change the system.

TNV: Thank you.

[Sidebar]

“Martin Luther King summed It up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”

The ICE-T Interview

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, New York City – Standing in the buffet line at the after-party for the New York premiere of HBO Films’ BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, I realized that Ice-T was right behind me in line with his wife, Coco. I smiled and said, “Of all of the people here tonight, I would like to interview you, Ice-T, because I want to talk to someone who will tell me the truth about what they thought about the film.” He answered. “You know Ice-T is goin’ to tell you the truth!” Exactly.

If there was one person I believed I could count on not to give the usual “I loved it!” premiere post-party gushing review, he was the one. That’s why I took time out to visit with the man who pioneered gangster rap, who broke out of being “a thug” (as he described himself) to craft a life as a successful film and television actor without ever compromising his hard-core politics.

Ice-T has become recognized as a role model for youth everywhere, specifically the ones facing troubles who come from a tough life. He understands the struggles of his own people and has the compassionate heart of someone who can understand the struggles of others. He’s taken actor Adam Beach under his wing to “school him” in the ways of making the power play in Hollywood and dodging the proverbial bullets in the process. If you have any doubts, read on.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Tell me, what was your understanding, did you have any knowledge of the subject matter that was portrayed in the film before tonight?

ICE-T: Nah, I didn’t have any knowledge. I think the actual whole American history of Indians and stuff is really, really a blurred vision. For kids to grow up in America, you know, this isn’t in any history books and you gotta get a little bit as you can. You know, me, trying to be someone whose about rights and things like that, I mean I’ve done a little research, but nah. That’s why I came here tonight. I was like sittin’ in school. I was trying to suck up every little bit of information I could. The question I asked myself is, you know, due to the fact that I’m not Indian, is how close it felt to the reality from an Indian perspective. I don’t know, but it’s refreshing just to see something that kinda, you know, seems like it rings like the truth.

THE NATIVE VOICE: It has it’s difficult moments, but BURY MY HEART was the first time that we’ve ever seem a film anywhere even close to this level of potential worldwide exposure that uncovers the reservation realities, the beginnings of the reservation life. What did you think about the film?

ICE-T: Well to me it’s like, you know, it’s one of those things like when Black people saw “Roots” or “Mississippi Burning” or something like that where you see…it’s almost like you say “White people made this movie?” Its like, wow. But then the reality of the thing is all White people aren’t evil, you know? And there are some people that want the truth out there, you know? So I commend Dick Wolf (Executive Producer of BURY MY HEART, and creator of the Law & Order television franchise). I commend these producers and I always knew Dick Wolf was that kinda guy, I mean, even hiring someone like me to be on his shows. He always cuts against the grain, he does what he wants to do. So I respect that. You know, it’s really refreshing to see something like this. This movie needs to be in the education system, like put into the required viewing of all children.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Let me ask you this: are you aware of the fact that hip-hop and rap is the main culture for so many young people on the reservation? These days, that’s what the kids relate to, are attracted to, and they emulate everything about it – the culture, the attitudes, the body language, the clothes, everything. What do you think about that?

ICE-T: Well you know, hip hop is kind of – especially the music that I had to do with, gangster rap – was initially meant to shock, to say “You know, this is who I am” and it comes out the gate pretty aggressive. But after we got through the door, myself and NWA (Niggas With Attitude), the objective was “Now that we got your attention and we let you know that we crazy, we’re gonna try to guide the kids and teach them a little bit about it, like, this power.” And I think that the Native American kids just like that power and they like that rebellion. The problem right now in the hip hop community is a lot of the music is kinda like, it doesn’t have any direction, so to speak. It’s just like “Party, kick it, have fun, get high” which is kinda like the basis of rock and roll. But we miss that emotion, you know, like Public Enemy, we missed that focus where “Yeah, were gonna party and have good time but were still gonna Fight The Power” so to speak. I think that’s what people like KRS want and myself would like to see back in the music. Real good hip hop has a power of like, rebellion, in it. But it’s rebellion with a focus and that’s what we need.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Can you tie that back to what you saw in the film tonight? Now that you’ve seen a little more of the history, can you see why Indian kids would be attracted to rap, to hip hop?

ICE-T: The film is so deep you can’t even tie the hip hop to it, it’s just deep on a lot of levels.

THE NATIVE VOICE: The modern reality that the kids are dealing with, have come from this reality you saw in the film. They are a product of this history.

ICE-T: I jus’ think they go after anything that’s strong and they lookin’ at Black kids as going through something similar to them, so they kinda look at the ghettos in America as being another form of a reservation. And they see us fightin’ and they’re kinda connected to our battle, but you know, the Native American… If anybody’s got more beef with the United States than Black people it would be Native Americans. To me the heaviest line in the movie was at the end where Chief Red Could said, “The last thing we fear is your gun.” Which is like, “You are so diabolical that that’s the last thing we worry about.” And just looking at Adam Beach (playing Lakota Sioux doctor Charles Eastman) in that dilemma of trying to do so much right and being used as a pawn. And like, when he told his boys that “Yo, you know you’re Christian, you don’t believe in this,” (referring to the Ghost Dance) and the guy goes, “What do we believe in?” And Adam’s face is just like…confusion. In his head he’s doin’ everything right but to them “You’re the White man now.” And I think even the colder shot in the movie is when he had to go back and work for the Senator again (Senator Henry Dawes, architect of The Dawes Act, played by Aidan Quinn). And the Senator, by everything you see on this movie, portrays himself like he’s helping them (Eastman and Indian people at large).

THE NATIVE VOICE: And he really believed he was.

ICE-T: That’s the scary part of the movie! He really, really believed he was helping and it was weird, it was a weird warp. It’s like, “Was the devil really the devil?” And I think in true life, people really believe they’re helpin’, and they’re doing harm, and that’s a cold paradox.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Part of it was that when they took the Indians onto the reservations they became wards of the United States government…

ICE-T: I mean, KRS once said it best, you know: “There will never be justice on stolen land.” The problem with the United States as a whole is there’s so much corruption, there’s so much injustice, there’s so much murder, there’s so much like, deception. And then after this has all been done, let’s lay law over the top and ask for justice and peace. It’s like, let’s hide it and have justice. So now everybody is off balance. It’s kinda like, “Okay. Peace.” But we’re at war. It’s like, you know, its such a hypocritical playing field we’re on. Where is the truth? You know? Where is the truth? And it’s a cold game. It’s a real, real cold game. You know, I learned the streets as a hustler. It’s like they say, “The higher you go up the colder it gets.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: “The higher you go the colder it gets?”

ICE-T: Yeah. And that’s like climbing a mountain. And that’s how power is: the higher up you go, the colder it gets. So, you know. I got so much out of the film. I liked when the soldier sat in front of the Indian and tried to tell him, “Well, you mother f*****s was fightin’ before we got here so we’re just joining the fight. So we’re just like a new tribe, we’re just bigger than you…you guys was fightin’ first and we fought so now we’re in… So how were we wrong?” Interesting concept, you dig? You know? “We just kinda jumped into the fight, but everybody was fightin’.” Deep, man. It’s a deep movie and that’s what’s great about a really great film, it just feeds your head. It wasn’t so one sided that there wasn’t a question.. .you know? But the end result is, you’re sad. The end result is you’re sad. And it’s very rewarding to see something versus just a movie where your gonna laugh or you see a lot of explosions, a lot of action. History, when it’s done well, is great.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So what would you tell… I mean, so many kids look up to you and if you ever come out to the reservation you’ll see that a lot of times it is a ghetto on the’ prairie because of the government policies, because of the impoverishment, because of the lack of hope. Because of all those things, that’s what it is. We have government housing out there just like you have in the projects… it’s just that they build them wherever, in the middle of no where.

ICE-T: The problem with me goin’ on the reservation and really talkin’ is that I really, really am so unfamiliar. Truthfully, since I’ve been with Adam I’ve just been sucking up information from him. But I mean it’s really – to an average person, you know, Black kid, White kid – it might as well be outer space. Because we have no concept. We don’t know about the law…I’m asking him, “Well, what do you do? Do you have a jail? Do you do this?” I mean, I’m asking him and he’s like (gestures), “Whole ‘nother world.” And you know one thing I don’t comment on are things I don’t know about.

THE NATIVE VOICE: But you know about kids and you know about giving hope to kids, so what I’m trying to ask is, what can you give these kids? You know, we have record high suicide rates on the reservations right now.

ICE-T: You know what your kids need? They need somebody to win. You know? That’s why I know a lot of people bettin’ on my guy (Adam Beach). You know, when I first took him under my arm, I was like, “Dude, you’re important.” When I came outta the hood and should have been in Pelicans Bay, and I made it to NBC…? This is a big thing. It’s more than me being like a White actor that got a job, you know, it’s like, who cares? No one’s watching them. But the kids that watch me are like.. .they see if I can do it you know it can happen. Adam’s important, more than people know. And you know, I was like tellin’ him, I was just like, “Man, you gotta stand strong. You gotta stay out of this Hollywood drama. You can’t let ’em take you down. You talk about role model? Look at all the Black people who come out successful, semi-successful, like Shaq. He’s on the team but he don’t own the team, Oprah’s on TV but she don’t own the network, so let’s get it right. Yeah, but how many Native American people are famous?

THE NATIVE VOICE: How many Native American people are even on the team? They aren’t!

ICE-T: Right. So that makes him (Adam) so much more valuable. And I was just telling him, like, you know the main thing is you don’t slip and fall on none of this Hollywood bulls*** ‘cuz they love to make you look stupid. They love to make you f*** up. You got a big, big, big thing. So fortunately, he hooked up with me and I’m a rabble rouser. So I’m trying to school him, but the thing of it is, it’s like his fight is different. I can’t fight his fight. I can maybe give him some inspiration from the fight I fought, but I can’t fight it until I get more information. Actually he and I are working on a screen play, you know, so I have an idea for something to take this to the next level.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You think the world is ready for it, finally?

ICE-T: I think that it’s long overdue. I think that people from my community will really embrace this story. They need to know. I think everybody needs to know. I used to say that the schools in the United States need a course called “Humanity,” where you teach everybody why everyone is important, right? So you take a whole semester where you teach people what Mexican people have done that is great, not just Blacks. You gotta teach. That’s the only way people will respect each other.

You gotta teach everybody why everyone is important, like, “What is a Puerto Rican? Where did they come from? How did they get on that island?” People don’t know so they don’t respect it. So when you eliminate any education of pride, there will be no pride. So you know the kids, man, they just gotta believe.

I mean unfortunately, one guy said it in the movie, he said “White man controls the world.” That happens to be the truth, you know? And you know you’re gonna have to figure out how to insert yourself into this game to achieve what you need to help your people, you know? And that’s just a game, you know what I’m saying? So you can’t work outside. It’s like, even if you set up your own Native American studios, made your own movie, it still gotta get in the theatre! So somebody has to infiltrate the same way they infiltrated in the past. Re-infiltrate that way, and get what you want done. You gotta use the same tactics

THE NATIVE VOICE: It sound like you and Adam are on your way to doing that.

ICE-T: Well you know, I’m sitting with dude…and the beauty of Adam is he’s just very nice. He’s so overwhelmed by his own juice it’s almost like he’s the kind of guy that I’m like, “Dude, you don’t even know who the f*** you are! You’re the mother f*****g man, you know? You’re f*****g Tom Cruise, dude, you don’t even know! But you know, right now you got the power if you make the right move to really make some statements and change some sh**.” So, I’m on it, don’t worry about it. (laughs)

THE NATIVE VOICE: Thank you very much.

The Adam Beach Interview

Star of HBO’s “BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE” and featured on NBC’s “LAW & ORDER: SVU”

LOS ANGELES, CA – Few people come to mind when you think of Indian actors who have become a household name in mainstream America society, Wes Studi, Graham Greene, and … well, very few. There is actor who has recently followed their lead by breaking out of the rut of playing Native roles only in Indian films, and that is Salteaux First Nation actor Adam Beach.

As the newest face on the immensely popular television franchise, “Law & Order,” Beach is virtually insured celebrity status in the coming years through his two-year contract as Mohawk Detective Chester Lake on the “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit” series. It was through his role in HBO Film’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” that Beach scored this life-altering opportunity.

Currently one of the most successful producers on television, Dick Wolf is the creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” franchise, as well as the recently broadcast HBO Films adaptation of Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” It was through the friendship formed between Beach and Wolf while filming “Bury My Heart” that the role for Beach was created on “Law & Order: SVU.”  Beach said, “He’s a very good friend to have and powerful ally in the business…Dick Wolf is singularly responsible for creating this great new Native character for me on ‘Law & Order.’ He really gets it.”

The New York premiere for “Bury My Heart” brought out a who’s who of Indian country and many celebrity faces, including several of Beach’s fellow cast members from “Law & Order.” Ice-T, who stars as Det. Odafin “Fin” Tutoula. In a recent Native Voice interview, Ice-T said of Adam Beach, “He’s important, man…He’s frickin’ Tom Cruise, he just doesn’t know it yet.” Beach and Ice-T are currently in development on a high-action dramatic film script that will reportedly cast more Native people in non- “Indian specific” roles. (for more on Ice-T, see the exclusive Native Voice interview in this issue) Beach clearly has found a family in this new show, and the next two years should prove to be stellar for him as he continues to develop a platform through success in the entertainment industry, which he plans to use to “educate people on the issues” affecting Native North America.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you like people to know about your recent experiences in big-time television?

ADAM BEACH: I’ve been just shocked at how “Law & Order” has been catering to making me come across as a very powerful character on their show. It’s cool that the character is quick witted, he’s cool, and it’s just nice to have an Indian on television like that.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So, they’re making him a very likeable character?

BEACH: Oh, dude, hell yeah man. And, it’s all because of Dick Wolf, the executive producer, He’s been extremely supportive and wants to make this character on Law & Order a strong and well-developed personality.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You’ve been on the air with the show already, but when do you start appearing regularly?

BEACH: He’s in the season finale, but starting in September my character will be on regularly. … So, what did you think of BURY MY HEART?

THE NATIVE VOICE: It was hard to watch.

BEACH: Of coarse, it is hard to even read about.

THE NATIVE VOICE: It was hard to watch… those kids being gunned down, you can’t help it, I mean, I saw my children, I saw their relatives, their grandparents….Obviously there are issues with historical events and dramatic liberties taken with historic facts, but overall I liked the film. It is the first film to show the general public the events that happened to Indian people during the reservation era, it shows what they went through.

BEACH: Ever since I started acting, I’ve always spoken to our people about identity. I’ve spoken to kids, telling them: “Where do I get my strength to push through the barriers to get me where I’m at today? It’s my culture and my traditions, you know? When things are tough I do a prayer, I smudge, I do a sweat lodge. My sweat lodge has been the saunas of hotels, you know? It’s kinda weird when people hear me singing in a sauna, too. (laughs) But this film is going to teach our people about identity, and make them understand that there’s been generations and generations…over a hundred years of being assimilated. Of somebody saying, “Stop talking your language, it’s wrong, you have to learn this.” That really shatters the Indian man or woman. And right now we are picking up our pieces and collectively putting ourselves back together. But that assimilation has affected the generation we are living in now, it has affected my generation. Like, I don’t know my language. I know a little bit. At age sixteen, I started learning traditional ways and values that I carry now. But there’s a generation that’s not connected to any of that, you know?

THE NATIVE VOICE: What do you say to those kids, this new generation? You are saying, “Rely on your culture, rely on your traditions,” and then they say, “Well, I don’t know anything, my parents didn’t teach me.” They might even be on the rez, they live in housing, but they don’t know anything about their traditional ways. What do you say to them?

BEACH: Dude, we’re living in a generation where teaching is through the television. It’s a whole different concept now. And I’m so proud of this film because HBO is of that medium. Nobody’s going to read a book about this story. People have in the 70’s, but do you think kids are going to pick up a book like this (“Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown) now? No. And what I’m proud of is that I get to perform the struggles of identity of Indian people, and that’s the greatest teaching that I could tell them. Now it’s going to open up to questions where I could talk to people about it. This has been important to me for a long time.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Are you saying that it opens the conversation to the greater public that wasn’t there before?

BEACH: Yes. Right now, this film is going to introduce generations about what happened in the past, and a lot of them are going to want to find out more about the process of “assimilating the Indian.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: So, you are talking about the Indian viewer and the non-Indian public?

BEACH: Hell yeah, the world, dude! HBO is worldwide, it’s not the United States and Canada. This teaching is going out to the world, and it’s going to send a strong message out there. And right now there are a lot of issues that are connected to our past. Like right now in Canada, the government just wishes that we would give up on our land claims. They wish that we would give up our treaty rights and become a part of their society. They don’t understand that a lot of our people have perished for standing up, for keeping a part of themselves on the land.

THE NATIVE VOICE: There are a lot of similarities between the experiences of what happens in Canada and what happens here in the Unites States.

BEACH: Definitely, dude.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you like people to know about where you are from and how you related to doing this role about a Lakota Sioux, Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)? What did you draw from your own past?

BEACH: A lot of people have to understand that the Indian tragedy is a North American experience. When it comes to Indian people, there are no borders to us. Nobody points to me and says, “Oh, you’re a Canadian Indian.” Our people don’t associate themselves that way. My people, the Salteaux, the Anishinaabe, is of the region that goes from the area around Michigan and up into Canada. And there are land claim issues in Canada that are the same as the States.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Even though the United States and Canada had different governmental systems from the beginning, you’re pointing out that Indians were treated the same. So many of the policies that affected Indian people, and still do, in Canada are very similar to the US policies and the experiences of the Indian person here as well.

BEACH: Hell yeah, dude.

THE NATIVE VOICE: As an actor, how important is being Indian in terms of being able to create a character in a role? Do you think it’s important that someone is Native?

BEACH: The old controversy of that “An Indian can’t play that role” is gone now. They used to say, “There’s not really a strong enough Indian actor or one who has experience enough to carry this role.” That’s wrong now, you can’t use that excuse. Also, when you watch a non-Indian play an Indian role, you know it. There’s something that we as Indian people bring to the screen, there’s a depth that we carry. The issue now is to create those roles. I’m taking it in my own hands now to develop more films that are going to introduce more Indian characters, and help out other people with their dreams, and take on the responsibility to use my connections now to create those roles for other people.

THE NATIVE VOICE: I heard that HBO has got at least five Native stories in development right now. That WOUNDED KNEE is just the first one.

BEACH: That’s more than any other studio. That’s good. Maybe they understand that there is strength to our stories.

THE NATIVE VOICE: How was the process of preparing for the role of Charles Eastman? You are playing a story based on an actual person, and they are also a historical figure. How was that process for you? How did you get to know this person and the story of Wounded Knee?

BEACH: I got to know Charles Eastman through Eddie Spears (who played Eastman’s medical assistant in the film). I was working with Eddie and we were doing a scene where we had to watch this child die. And when we were done with the scene, he couldn’t stop crying. It was like, “You okay, bud?” And he just basically said, “It’s hard to know that this guy (Eastman) just wanted to make things work but the other side didn’t want to work that way. They were always after something. Eddie said that working with this story was like seeing ghosts. He’s a Lakota, so in that scene where the child dies, he’s basically watching a great-great-grandmother die in front of him. And when I heard that I was like, “Okay…now I get it.” So I portrayed my character into seeing ghosts everywhere. It became an alternate reality for me.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Speaking of alternate realities, you’ve shifted into high gear in Hollywood. How has your life changed in the last year?

BEACH: What’s changed is the availability of work. There has been a real, new focus on telling Indian stories, and acting-wise, I’m in the best creative force right now. It’s just kind of perfect timing that they’ve brought out these substantial characters and I’m just the one ready for it, I guess. It’s changed my life in that I’ve accepted who I am as that actor and what I mean to a lot of fans. I’ve accepted my role-model status… I’m going to be a pipe carrier in July, so, my responsibilities in who I am has really blossomed in the last couple of years. And I think for some reason it’s connected to what’s happening now – being this one-two-three punch of “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Bury My Heart” and “Law & Order.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: We know how hard you’ve struggled and that there have been times when it was really tough, but from the outside it looks like things have moved steadily upward for you.

BEACH: I’ve always understood that nobody’s going to hand it to me, and I personally never, ever would want a hand up. But I ultimately knew that it was the creator’s force that was gonna attract people. Every day I work on my acting skills, every day I watch what I can develop. When doing Charles Eastman I had to learn the rhythm of the speech of that era, and I had to become so concentrated on how I was moving and talking. So it’s “Be the best you can be, don’t stop…” You can always resurface and find a part of your personality, a part of your history, and part of your family, that could, you know, give you more confidence and strength. People are quick to be the negative parts, like, “Oh I can’t make it to Hollywood because the percentage of Indians are 0.2 percent working, so, forget it.” You know what I mean. I’ve kind of gotten to understand that I’ve lost a lot of life, and I say that due to the death of my parents (Adam’s parents passed away when he was eight years old). Nothing can be greater a loss than that. So why not give things a chance? It so happens that every year this business grows, you grow with it. I’ve been working in this business for seventeen years so I’ve been pretty fortunate.

THE NATIVE VOICE: But you’ve also put it all on the table. It sounds like you didn’t hold anything back.

BEACH: I did, I’ve sacrificed a lot, man, and I still am, because I’m still away from my two boys, who are in Ottawa, wondering when I’ll get a break to go see them.

THE NATIVE VOICE; How old are your kids?

BEACH: They’re nine and eleven. They understand now who I am. They know what I represent for Indian people.

THE NATIVE VOICE: I’d be really curious to see whether they look like you, sound like you.

BEACH: They have a bit of Adam in ’em, they have their own personality too which is great.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So are they like, “Dad, Dude!”

BEACH: Well, they say “dude” sometimes, and they are always telling me I’m weird. But they’re weird in a way of themselves too. (laughs) Yeah life is full of experiences and you gotta experience them, man. You know? For me there’s been a couple of times where I wanted to quit acting. The movies out there didn’t really represent us the way that my last two films have done. I’m happy that I didn’t give up, because it’s hard to stay focused when other people are saying “It’s never gonna happen,” or “You can only get this far.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: Or you have those voices inside your own head saying that.

BEACH: I was so naive, dude, of course. I was happy doing just one or two films a year, but you know I had to say “no” to so many projects because it just didn’t have any value for me personally.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What do you say about doing historic dramatic films where you know there’s such a responsibility? Indian people expect films to represent them correctly, and when you’re talking about films like “Bury My Heart,” it’s something that’s written by a non-Indian and directed by someone else and it’s not a documentary to start with…and then you have all of these creative people putting their influence on the project…so in the end the story is a “creative interpretation” and not a direct representation of history or a specifically “Indian” viewpoint. Every project created like this will have criticism, of coarse. How do you reconcile that? What do you say to people who watch “Bury My Heart,” for example, and are upset by things that they believe should have been portrayed differently?

BEACH: Well, they’ve got something coming to them, and that’s my heart. They don’t realize that this character I’ve been playing has been someone I’ve been talking to kids about all my life. I’ve been learning about me, trying to understand the Charles Eastmans in my life. When I run into a doctor or a lawyer who is Indian, whose taken the route of having to spend his or her life in the education system and kind of having to put aside their culture for some time… I have a huge respect for them, because when they have finished school and gone to work, they have to come back to their culture all over again, you know?

THE NATIVE VOICE: It’s an interesting story.

BEACH: The story that we are telling is of a hundred years of a government trying to assimilate the Indian. It’s like if you take a hundred years of people saying “You are bad,” being abusive, you’re gonna have a lot of generations, including mine, struggling with identity and wondering “Who the hell am I?” I’ve excepted that I’m no longer gonna walk in the negative world that people try to bring me in, you know? I’m out there to influence now because I work passionately with my heart…the teaching that I’ve learned about our culture and traditions has said “Your heart will lead the way.” So, the issue that I want people to understand is that this assimilation has created the situation where our people are fighting with our own people.

We can’t even balance ourselves, in that way we had back in the day. You know? So it works in a way where we are struggling for our own identity. It’s like, “Oh, you’re less Indian than me! I’m more than you! I carry a feather and you don’t!” You know what I mean? That’s not what we are about, but the assimilation process over a hundred years…dude, a hundred years! It’s gonna do some damage to our people, and right now some of us are really shattered and we’re slowly picking up the pieces and we’re really vulnerable, you know? And that’s why you have all of these kids hurting themselves. The suicide rate is tremendous! The worst thing that can happen to our people is having the young kids saying, “I don’t want to live anymore.” We have to show an example for our younger generations to give them hope, and what are we doing to motivate them to not give up? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves and not point fingers at anybody. Because it’s not about flooding money at these kids. It’s not about building them a new house or giving them a new car. It’s about telling them their history, let them know who they are. Make them believe in themselves, and how we do that is by believing in ourselves. You know what I mean?

THE NATIVE VOICE: Do you think that films like this are part of the solution?

BEACH: Oh, hell yeah! This is showing an example of the history of our people, that had to “sign or perish” (the treaty agreements) They didn’t give them a choice. They said “Sign or you’re dead.” What kind of choice is that?

THE NATIVE VOICE: One that would break you. Watching that happen in “Bury My Heart,” you just watch people’s spirits being broken right in front of you.

BEACH: Yeah, but each time I watch that movie, it gives me my strength back. The life I’m leading, the life I’m teaching to kids, is to be a strong Indian, to learn your values. I’m doing what my ancestors have done, would have done. I’m going against the grain of a people that was trying to tear our culture and traditions apart. And by me living an example of it, it gave me such a strength back that I was so proud to be an Indian man.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So what do you think this film can do?

BEACH: I know people are gonna watch it and want to learn more. We’re in a time where storytelling is on the television or in the feature film. Here we have a chance to tell our story. Now, what they take from it is up to them. But I know that I’ve taken a lot of strength from it.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You’ve taken strength from creating this film?

BEACH: I’ve taken strength from watching this film.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Ah. I can’t really speak about other people in other parts of the country, but in South Dakota this film, how things are portrayed is a big deal.

BEACH: Dude, I know what goes on in South Dakota and I know what this film is gonna stir up.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you hope that people would ultimately get from the film? What’s the message you would like them to take away from it?

BEACH: People can know that they haven’t lost their spirit, that that’s one thing we independently own. I’ve carried this with me this whole life: you can’t tell me how I’m supposed to live my life. But if we’re not ready to collectively help each other on the inside, the outside’s not gonna be of any help to us. This film is gonna send out a huge message, but there are a lot of our people who are in such despair that they don’t even want help. How can you get them out of that, how can you give them a sense of hope? Number one is a positive influence, a role model, like myself; number two, a film that explains where it started from; and number three is changing the way that “they” treat these issues, Indian issues. Do you know what I mean?

THE NATIVE VOICE: You mean “they” is the average American, the viewer, the mainstream public?

BEACH: Yes, and HBO is the champ right now, because they understand this.

HBO Films’ “Bury My Heart” raises questions and kudos, gets official sanction” from NCAI

New York, NY – The red carpet was rolled out for Indian country at premiere screenings of HBO Films’ “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in theaters across the country. From LA to New York, with several stops in between (most notably Rapid City, South Dakota), Native Americans were the honored guests of this new film. This happens every once in a while when major media decides to tell an Indian story and makes sincere attempts to “get it right.”

In recent years, we have seen big to-dos from Turner Network Television for “Into the West,” Disney Touchstone for “Hidalgo,” Showtime Television for “Edge of America,” and New Line Cinema for “The New World.” What is new this time around is that the National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and largest political lobbying organization for tribes in Washington, DC, took on the role of official consultants to the production and the subsequent educational materials that will be distributed nationwide to Indian and mainstream public schools.

In recent years, all Indian films line up their official “experts” to consult on the production. These folks act as cultural, historical, and even spiritual advisors to the project, and are also called upon to smooth feathers over controversial decisions over what can and can not be included. In some cases, they are used (literally) to justify certain, shall we say, “creative liberties” in the telling of the story. The painfully realistic sundance scene in “Into the West” immediately comes to mind. When things go right, the Indian advisors get thank yous from the production company, but are largely invisible to the movie-going public. When things go wrong, or there is controversy, however, these advisors take the heat. They are pointed to as the “permission givers” who had the authority to speak on behalf of the people being portrayed in the film. This role, therefore, can be a well-paying but thankless job. What starts out as an exciting opportunity to be a spokesperson to Hollywood turns out to be a painful lesson in being a token approval-stamper most often with little or no actual decision making power in the final cut.

The executive producer of TNT’s “Into the West” made a promise – after much controversy erupted from the first screenings – to “cut pieces of the sundance scene for the DVD version of the film.” I was personally assured at the Los Angeles premiere by Michael Wright, senior vice president of original programming for TNT, that this was in the works. When asked why the writer and TNT producers decided to portray a pierced sundancer even though it was clearly a problem for many Lakota people, the answer given by the TNT executive was that “It was important for the dramatic arc of the story.”

The way that this first episode is written, the sundance is integral to the storyline and dramatic climax. Russell Means, who had been an actor in the film and a consultant to the production, boycotted the “Into The West” premieres. He didn’t like TNT’s final choices regarding the portrayal of the sacred sundance ceremony, and found that he had little power to actually influence the final cut of the film. As it turns out, the scene was never altered for the DVD version, either.

To its credit, HBO’s ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” gets a significant amount of things right in the portrayal of the social and cultural history in it’s story. It is the first time that the largely untold tragedies of the reservation era have been told in a dramatic presentation with an international audience. The film depicts the creation of federal Indian policies and explains this part of history accurately. This is a huge deal. However, the film does take the usual artistic liberties that go along with trying to fit scholarly history into a dramatic format that is compelling and entertaining to mass audiences. As such, this film is not without its controversy.

The screenplay writer for “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” Daniel Giat, was either not listening to the negative reactions, or people did not express themselves to him, as he said, “We were just stunned by the emotion that and the gratitude that was expressed for telling this story (by Lakota Sioux who attended the Rapid City premiere), whether there are small inaccuracies here or there isn’t nearly as important to them as telling the greater truth of what their experience was…”. There are a few major points of history that have been changed for the purpose of creating a more dramatic storyline in “Bury My Heart.” Anyone who knows the history can see that putting Charles Eastman anywhere near the Massacre at Wounded Knee is fiction. He was at Standing Rock. Wounded Knee is in Pine Ridge. The two stories are not at all actually connected. The facts of Sitting Bull’s murder are changed. The list can go on.

The Massacre at Wounded Knee is portrayed in the film as follows: the Indians are armed to the teeth (which they were not), there are lots of young warriors at the encampment (it was mostly women, elders and children), and the massacre was started by an Indian shooting a soldier, which then becomes a cross fire of Indians and cavalry shooting each other. This last point is most significant, because the question of “Who fired the first shot?” is used to justify battles through the ages. And this detail is not lost on the writer of “Bury My Heart.” After the massacre, when Eastman is treating the wounded and dying (a fiction in itself), a U.S. Calvary man says to him, “We didn’t shoot first, I swear it!” How much damage is done by this simple shift in history? Many Indian people we surveyed did not have a problem with “Bury My Heart’s” historic portrayals. The problem is, most of them were not able to point out the fictionalizations, either. When told of the facts vs. fiction issue, most people were so moved by the film that they still thought the overwhelming good that the film will do to teach both Indian people and non-Indians overshadowed any historical inaccuracies.

However, at the New York City premiere, Elizabeth Weatherford, Film and Video Director for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, said she was “extremely disappointed,” stating, “Why couldn’t they have left the history alone?” Upon hearing of the plot line, several notable tribal leaders decided to skip out on the premieres in Rapid City, South Dakota and Washington, DC (at the NMAI). In traditional style, they used their silence, their absence, as a statement.

Ron His Horse is Thunder, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, did see the film. He said he was “angry” about HBO’s “mis-portrayal” of Lakota history and its leaders. When confronted about the criticism of the film, and specifically, the portrayal of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, NCAIs Communications Director Adam McMullin replied, “You know, there are several different accounts about what actually happened at Wounded Knee.” The film’s writer, Daniel Giat, delivered the same explanation on the red carpet in New York City, stating, “There are different accounts about what exactly happened at Wounded Knee…”. Responding to the question of why the film’s creators didn’t stick with the “facts,” writer Daniel Giat said, “One thing I did see on the reservation is there is a great deal of discord and disagreement over some of the historic detail.”

There is always more than one side to a story, including historical accounts, which is why a lobbying organization like NCAI exists to present the Indian perspective in Washington, DC in the first place. But, “Bury My Heart” is unique. This is the first dramatic feature film that has taken on the task of presenting the complicated and largely untold story of the Indian reservation era, and how the United States government federal policies regarding Indians and Indian country were formed. The film lays down a straight path that everyone can follow. It explains the historical events that laid the foundation of federal Indian policies today – from the land grab, the treaties, the Dawes Act, the founding of the reservation system, to the dismal failures of providing health care, education and general welfare.

As NCAI deals with the modern day manifestations of these policies, they are uniquely qualified to address these historic issues. According to Adam McMullin, NCAI has had honest discussions with HBO. When specifically asked to address the Wounded Knee Massacre facts for the film version that will be distributed to schools, he responded, “HBO said they are going to change the Wounded Knee scene for the educational materials.”

Abortion Debate Editorial. Religion: The Source of the Conflict (published Oct. 2006)

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Op-Ed and photos by Lise King

The anti-abortion cause is about a very well-funded and well-organized group of people who believe that their religious values are the correct ones, that anyone who does not agree with them are misguided and lost souls, and that it is their God-sworn duty to protect us from ourselves (sounding familiar?). I went to the rally in Rapid City in opposition to HB 1215, which is where I asked the Pro-lifers about their views on HB 1215, and their personal values.

I went as a journalist, and I made a supreme effort to hear both sides of the debate objectively. What I found was a debate divided clearly between the “pro-rights of the individual” versus the individual’s interpretation of the “word of God.” Religion, and the ages-old argument over whose interpretation is the correct one, is at the center of this very contentious debate. As I approached the rally on foot (parking close was impossible), I found myself becoming very emotional. I was surprised at the numbers of people who crowded the sidewalks, the noise, and the energy being expressed by those people who turned out in opposition to the Bill. Strong expression that is not of an evangelical nature is rarely seen in this Republican cow town. I was so proud of those men and women who came out to exercise their freedom of speech and expression in an environment that tends to punish those who would dare to contradict the our right-wing Christian majority in Western South Dakota.

After taking the prerequisite photos and notes, I turned my attention to the other side of the street where a group had gathered to oppose the opposition. They were dominated by Catholic church signs and children in strollers, and a gaggle of teenagers shouting at passing cars about Jesus and babies. They cheered and jumped, smiling wide, like they were at a football game as people honked at them. They waved American flags, they held cute pictures and had small children holding signs for the passing traffic to read. I was surprised by my own adrenaline rush in response to this scene.

As a journalist, I have found that I am human and will emotionally react to situations, but it is my job to acknowledge my reactions and still objectively represent both sides of an issue. So, I went bravely into the crowd across the street and began to ask questions. I approached one woman who was quieter than the rest, standing behind the shouting line at the edge of the curb. She held a sign that said, “Re: Abortion After Rape: Don’t Follow One Act of Violence With Another Act of Violence.” I asked her to explain. She said, “I don’t think the bill went far enough. If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will, no matter what….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.” She made it clear that her Christian faith guided her to know that this is God’s Truth. I pointed out that there were plenty of Christians on the other side of the street, to which she responded, “Those aren’t real Christians. They are lost. They are wrong. They don’t know the Lord like I know the Lord.”

Then I went to the screaming bunch at the front of the pack. One young man held a sign that said, “We Vote Pro-Life.” I asked him if he was old enough to vote. He said, “No, but I will be some day.” He was fifteen. It turned out that the young group, many of them in uniform, were from the local St. Thomas More Catholic High School. Several of them expressed that it was cool that they got to skip classes to be out there on the street. They all were very interested in telling me their opinions about abortion. Many of the boys were quick to point out that the sin was sex and that they were virgins. The girls, as a group, were less vocal about their personal affairs. Twice, our conversation was interrupted by adult men who wanted to engage me in debate. I was simply asking questions, I explained, not debating any issues. I told one man that I was “not interested in arguing with him. “But I am interested in arguing with you,” he responded aggressively. At that point I looked around to make sure that my husband was close by.

When I got back to The Native Voice office, I called the Principal at St. Thomas More High School. He said that the school was not affiliated with the event, but that more than thirty kids had been checked out of school that day by their parents to be at the rally. I asked him if he believed it appropriate for fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old students to be participating in an event that was, at the core, about sexual issues. He responded by saying, “In the Catholic Church, we teach them young, and we teach them often.” And therein lies the core of the matter.

The “Pro-Life” protesters were expressing a religious belief. I asked many of them how they explained the large numbers of Christians who were protesting HB 1215, and pointed out that President Bush himself expressed his concern about an anti-abortion bill that would not allow for his “three exceptions” of rape, incest and the life of the mother being threatened. The answer was clear and consistent: those are not “true” Christians who “know the Lord.” Two people said that the difference is one of being Protestant versus being Catholic. One person countered them, saying, “Oh, don’t go there.”

If that is, in fact, the core value split (this is not to leave out the non-Christians, but the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and in even ihgher numbers in South Dakota), there may be no reconciling the two sides. After all, Protestants are so-named because they were “protesting” the Catholic Church. As the French say, “Plus ce qui change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more that changes, the more that remains the same. As a publisher, it is very interesting to me that it was the advent of the printing press that historically went hand-in-hand with the rise of Protestantism. Before that time, for the most part the only Christian Europeans who could read were the wealthy aristocracy and members of the Catholic Church. Books, including the Bible, were made and written by hand. They were extremely expensive. Thus, the clergy “interpreted” God’s word for the masses, since only they could read and interpret and therefore teach the word of God. This proved useful in many ways.

Once the printing press made books affordable and more available to the people, people learned to read. And once they began reading scripture for themselves, they began asserting their own interpretations. This did not go over well with the Catholic Church, which at the time was selling indulgences to European royalty (these were pieces of paper that “indulged” the sins of the aristocracy, and forgave their sins, for a hefty price). Having the power to use one’s own mind to seek out the meaning of God and scripture rather than simply being told what to believe and being a servant to the decree of the church is a principle difference between Protestant and Catholic. Much blood has been shed over this debate. Let’s not carry that tradition forward into darkened rooms where women will resort to extreme measures to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States, there was concern over his being the first Catholic President. There was speculation that he would always be beholden to the word of the Pope first, not the will of the People. Kennedy was progressive in terms of the Catholic Church, and a Pope-centered presidency was not the legacy that he left.

One must wonder where the Catholic South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds’ views on abortion are formed. One must hope that he will remember that our Founding Fathers were wise in their musings on the necessary separation of Church and State. It is not to say that we are not to expect our leaders to have their lives guided by their spiritual or religious beliefs, but that they must be thoughtful, balanced and measured in their application of leadership – and that they must respect and defend the spiritual and religious diversity of the people they are supposed to represent. Catholic or not, Christian or not, “believers”…or not.

In the end, the issue isn’t even about whether or not you believe in abortion. It is about whether or not you believe in the right of government to legislate and regulate such personal matters based upon specific religious beliefs.

[Sidebar] Girls from St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Rapid City take a break from classes to rally against the HB 1215 protesters. [Sidebar] This protester’s belief: “If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.”

Joe Garcia, President of National Congress of American Indians, and Governor of Ohkay Owingeh (Pueblo of San Juan), addresses current leading issues in Indian country

Special to The Native Voice

Read more on http://www.nativevoicemedia.com

Q: What are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed, both at the NCAI Annual Conference and in the coming months?

First and foremost are the social issues, I am most concerned with the number of lives that we are loosing, especially with the younger crowds, and it has to do with suicide and the use of methamphetamine and things of this nature. A lot of us are forming partnerships in Indian country to address this together. The only way we are going to win battles, like this one, is by reinforcing our own partnerships and building a firmer foundation in order to work together. This is so we can take care of our people, and this issue is at the top.

Related to this is the Healthcare Improvement Act. which has not been approved at this point in time, and we need to continue to push that effort.

Also in terms of our youth, in terms of education, we continue to struggle. The No Child Left Behind Act has certainly been the driving force for changes in education, but it is underfunded. Monumental changes in education are expected to be accomplished with measly funds. That’s not how systems work and that’s not reality.

Compare it to business: if you are going to make major changes in business, you’re going to apply money to those changes. And it’s the same thing in Indian country. The truth is that if you are going to incorporate changes you have to have other dollars that will implement the changes, versus using the same programmatic dollars to continue running programs when we are underfunded to begin with. It does not make any sense.

Q: This is an important election year. We are looking potentially major changes in the balance of power on the Hill. What is the most important message regarding getting out the Native Vote?

The first and foremost is the message that Indian people have got to get out and vote. We need to be apprised about what voting means, and not just to the local issues, but more drastically, at the national level. There is a relationship between what happens locally and what happens nationally. But the ultimate is not just leaving it to chance that people are going to get out and vote. The important statistic, and it is wise for every tribe to know this, is that out of your eligible voters, how many are actually registered to vote? If we are sitting there at forty or fifty percent, we’re not doing our job. We’ve got to elevate the number of registered voters. And, we need those voters to get out to the polls and be knowledgeable about who are the appropriate people to support in these elections. If we can get those two things under our belt, then we will have a lot more say so and we will help Indian country by virtue of having that political strength.

I know we’re low in numbers, but there are ways that the smaller numbers can have effect and impact on key elections and elected officials, like senators, congressman, state legislators, governors.

Q: What are the other major national issues that you would like everyone to pay attention to now?

As far as legislation and other political things, the Cobell litigation has kind of gone haywire. I thought we were really close to getting something settled. Unfortunately, in this case, it is not so much that the tribes are not together, it’s more the (Bush) administration that we’re battling at this point. Even Congress is working on our behalf, it is the administration that is hindering a settlement.

The Cobell litigation is tied to trust reform. We’ve really got to be clear on things that we don’t want to compromise – in trust reform. Yes, we want to settle Cobell, but those things should not be compromised. The tribes should have a say so, not individual Indians or in this case, the plaintiffs. I think the important part is that we are working together with the plaintiffs and the attorneys and others to resolve the issue. This is a big positive sign.

As far as the issue on “rights of way” (regarding the Energy Policy Act of 2005) that has been pondered by Indian country, we have concluded that there need to be no changes. The tribes have the final say so on whether they want leasing agreements to go forth or not. No one else should have that responsibility, or in this case, the authority to do that. The tribes, as sovereign nations, should determine that.

Q: On the subject of energy in Indian country, what about alternative energy development for the tribes?

This is a key issue, in fact, because of the energy situation in this country. As you know, a lot of the potential energy development-exists in Indian country, it is important that we be involved in the development of energy and alternatives, and if its green energy, so much the better. But we have to be versed in technology and we ought to be driving whatever we think is appropriate to happen in Indian country.

We ought to be moving forward those initiatives that can be beneficial to us, but, the ultimate idea here is that the tribes then can say, “We are looking out for the best interests of the United States of America, not just my land and my people, but all of the United States.” And I think the tribes can really, really do that and demonstrate to this country what we are all about, and what we can do. And, with the energy bill and the energy titles for Indian country, I think we will be beneficial in that arena. We need to promote this a lot more.

Q: So you are referring to the legislative incentives, the financial incentives, that have been put in place for doing business in Indian country in alternative energy development?

Yes.

Q: Are you aware of the meeting that Senator Tom Daschle hosted with tribes interested in wind energy development?

This is one of those rare opportunities for Indian country to take the lead on something that’s actually going to benefit everyone, the larger population.

I think what we are doing is providing the knowledge building, if you will. Not only of our tribes and tribal leaders, but relaying the information and having a systematic approach to building that knowledge in the general public. For example, we’ve incorporated the media section in NCAI. If we can put out greater efforts and collaborations to get the message out, then we’ll be a lot better off. So I appreciate the opportunity that you are giving here, so keep up the good work.

Q: Thank you. We think it is an important part of the solution, so we are just doing our small part.

Every little bit of potential solution adds to the greater picture. All of the pieces all lead to the comprehensive solution in Indian country.

Q: This is NCAI’s annual meeting. It is by far a most important annual event in Indian country. That being said, would you like to paint the bigger picture of the trend of how the tribes are working together? Do you feel that there is a good amount of consensus, do you feel the need to call everybody together, are you feeling a good momentum growing?

I think we have a great momentum right now. All of the leg work that we’ve done in collaborations is a good indicator of that positive momentum, it doesn’t mean that all issues have been resolved to this point by any means, that is not the case. This is only because of the large quantity of issues that face Indian country.

And part of the underlying reason why we haven’t been as progressive as we might have been is that a lot of times the knowledge that is required is not yet developed. For example, the federal budgeting process is pretty complicated. Unless you get your feet wet and get into the system and learn that and understand the mechanics behind what drives the federal budgeting process, a lot of the solutions that we propose are blind solutions. Until we got involved in this national budget advisory council where a number of very good tribal leaders are members of this council, until we got our feet really wet and got our hands dirty, about the budgeting, did we clearly understand how much of a dilemma we faced. And we’ve been partly complaining to the wrong people, and bringing the issues to the wrong level, if you will. The target ought to be the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and the President.

All of these other times, we’ve been battling at the lower levels, and by virtue of that fact, we haven’t been as successful. And working together now with the tribes throughout the country has been a big plus.

Q: This sounds like a positive trend in political development.

Yes. One thing I need to tell you about, though, is that there may be too many national meetings. Where the same tribal leaders that need to be in one meeting are tied down because they attending another meeting that was scheduled at the same time. There is not a whole lot of concerted effort to get the schedules together so that they follow one another. Meetings are scheduled at the same time during the same week in completely different parts of the country.

We still need to do a lot of work on our time management system. With technology readily available, I think we can do that. We all need to be involved finding the right solution for that.

How much do we know about the systems that are available? And its not just in Indian country. This is what the world uses, so why shouldn’t it work for us? We just tweak the systems to fit our needs.

The tests still remain, but I feel very, very positive about Indian country working together. And it’s going to continue. We’ve not reached the ultimate solution, but we’re working towards that end. I trust that within this next year, we’ll get even farther down the road.

Q: Going back to what you said about working directly with this administration, can you fill in what is going on behind the scenes in the negotiations or communications with the offices at the White House and the OMB?

The important piece about OMB is that Indian country has never met directly met with OMB until last December. It was the first time we as a national budget advisory council met with OMB. That began a collaboration. OMB listens a lot, I found out, to the departments (Interior, etc.). They indicated that there is not a lot of down-to-earth advocacy (on our behalf) from the other departments. And it is their place to be doing that. But for whatever reason, it never comes across as such.

So the OMB meetings are really key, and we’ve had at least five meetings with the OMB staff, the main people who make decisions. We’ve also got to be sending our message, the same message, to each of the departments, such as the DOI. We have to be aligned with our messages – what we are proposing and what they are advocating on behalf of Indian country need to be the same message. So that when OMB meets with us, they hear the same story and the same truth, they hear the same needs and they see the same solutions that we all are talking about. We’re all on the same page. In the past, we haven’t been able to do that. I think that’s changed somewhat. Progress has been made.

The other thing to remember is that the budgeting cycles are like three overlapping cycles at any one time. There’s the implementation of last year’s budget, there’s the planning and implementation of this year’s budget, and then there’s the planning for next year and the year after that. Being able to juggle three phases going on at one time is an important piece, and that may not have been very clear to Indian country in the past.

Q: And how have you felt about the response from, for example. Reuben Barrales’ office at the White House, or the Department of OMB? How has the response been from that level of government?

In a sense, they are asking why didn’t we do this before? We can ask ourselves why, but part of the answer is the fact that we didn’t know the system. It’s just like not knowing what to do when a car breaks down. If you knew how that car operated you might be able to do something about it. So that analogy falls into play here, but the response has been really, really extraordinary from OMB, from the Budget Council, from Congress, and a lot of staff at the White House. I have to commend them for being out front and meeting with us.

The one thing that I still want to see happen is for us to meet with President Bush, and we have not had that opportunity as the embassy of tribes, we have not been able to do that. That is going to be one of the initiatives that we push forward at NCAI – the officers, myself, the tribal leaders and the tribes that make up NCAI. We really need to push for this.

Q: There have been some tough issues on Capitol Hill lately. What is the mood, the tone of the meetings with members of Congress lately?

We need to get away from the attitude that we are fighting Congress. Everywhere I’ve been and I’ve talked about Congress, I’ve never said that we’re “fighting” with Congress. What I said is that we’re “working” with Congress to find the solutions. Just from a human philosophical approach, that sends the more positive note to the parties involved. And I think that means a whole lot to all of us so we want to continue to push those efforts.

Besides Congress, we’ve initiated meetings with a number of other federal agencies that haven’t worked with Indian country, per se. One prime example, just the latest one of consultation – and you know how I feel about consultation – is the DOJ (Department of Justice). As long as its been involved in working with Indian country, which is years and years, the very first consultation was held just last week. This was the one in Minneapolis regarding the Violence Against Women Act. This in itself is a prime indicator that our efforts are having some impact. But, we must continue to be vigilant in working with the issues that face us.

As we speak, there is a lot of legislation coming on-line that we knew nothing or little about. One of them is HR 4, having to do with the benefits for employees of tribes. The other is HR 16, that is clarifying labor union issues in Indian country. Under the National Labor Relations Act, we are protected from labor unions setting up shop in Indian country. The latest interpretation was that tribes were exempt from that protection, and so HR 16 moved to clarify that tribes share the same protection as other government agencies.

We still see legislation being introduced that disadvantages Indian country. The latest one that I heard about has to do with the 8A status, that would give tribes no special attention or opportunities when it comes to business or business development. That in itself could be detrimental. What we’ve been pushing for all along is for tribes to do economic development and sustain their own economies by doing economic development, business enterprises and what not.

Q: What is the proposal on the table regarding 8A status for tribes?

What it says is that the tribes with 8A status should not receive any special consideration for governmental jobs or for projects. If it gets by, it wipes out our efforts having to do with economic development and the SBA 8A status that a lot of tribes have been moving toward. It would wipe away a lot of opportunity, a lot of momentum.

Q: There are a lot of tribes that have economic development and industry in place that are dependent on that 8A status.

That’s right. It’s being talked about, and chances are it could be introduced. The best effort would be to cut it off at the knees before it makes it to any other level.

Economic development, in my eyes, goes hand in hand with tribal sovereignty. If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.” If you relate that to reality, though, you see that the tribes are at different levels of economic development. Those tribes that have been very successful in their efforts, and there are those tribes that are still in need of help and development, a lot of it by no fault of their own: because of the systems, the funding, the locations, the regions why they have not reached that level.

Q: What is your vision for the future of tribes, of Indian country as a whole?

My vision is that the day will come that we will no longer be dependent on the federal government. We will stand on our own means. That is true sovereignty, that is true self governance, self reliability, self sustainability, and that’s what we all ought to be pushing toward…and this includes every tribe in this country, even those that are not recognized, because the lack of recognition was through no fault of their own. We can help our brothers and sister tribes, and I think that is happening more so than it was before. That is our own solution, if you will, absent of any other help from the feds or from the state. If we can accomplish that, then more power to us.

Q: We went to see the Dalai lama with Arvol Looking Horse last week, and Arvol mentioned that individual sovereignty is important to tribal sovereignty. That if you have the ability to be individually sovereign, then you can lead, have the full understanding of what sovereignty is. You can see this with Indian leaders from around the country, like yourself and Tex Hall. Some of the best tribal leaders are those that understand the meaning of personal self-sufficiency.

That is right.

[Sidebar]

If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.”

Arvol Looking Horse honored with presentation for the Dalai Lama

King: Arvol, you just drove all night to get here, you made a great effort to get here and arrived just in time. Why did you think it was important to be a part of this presentation?

Looking Horse: I wanted to take a message to the world… that there is so much problems, and that this place is the Dalai Lama, and this place, the temple that we came to, was made for peace. People traveled from all over the world, all over, to be here today. They want to see something, to hear something to help them pray for peace, or to help them understand what is going on in the world. And, as spiritual leaders, we need to be heard and that’s why I traveled all night over a long distance to be here.

We have our prophecy with our sacred bundle. Yet, a lot of people, our own people, do not understand why we do the work that we do, promoting peace, global healing.

How I feel as a spiritual leader of the Bigfoot Ride is that we’ve come a long ways. I myself bring prayers. One of my great, great grandfathers was Bigfoot. I never knew that until I came on the Bigfoot Ride. He died for the white flag of truce at Wounded Knee in 1890, when Bigfoot was massacred. He died for peace.

I know that I have to carry on his work. Riding in the deep snow and cold weather is the sacrifice that we’ve made.

Also, being the Keeper of the sacred chanunpa, the sacred pipe.

The story that was told among our people is that a spirit woman brought this spirit bundle, she brought this chanunpa when the people were having a hard time, and she said that “I shall return again when the people are having a hard time.”

In 1994, the first white buffalo calf was born in Janesville, Wisconsin.

King: The buffalo calf that was born white and changed colors?

Looking Horse: “Miracle” was supposed to change color. When the spirit woman brought the sacred chanunpa… when she left the chanunpa, and then she went back towards the West, she stopped four times. She changed colors…black, red, yellow, and white. And we use these sacred colors to the grandfathers to the four directions in our ceremonies from that time to today. And when Miracle was born, she was supposed to change four colors. She was born white, and she became black and then red. She died when she was in the third stage, yellow. Since then, every year a white buffalo calf was born. This year, at the same farm in Janesville, Wisconsin, another white buffalo calf was born August 25.

These white animals, the white buffalo calves, the story of the sacred chanunpa, and all these white animals being born, showing their sacred colors – they are all connected. We’re supposed to be the voice for them, our relatives. And that’s why we came here to be the voice for the relatives. And, this is what people are looking for with the Dalai Lama, to come to pray and speak with him. Leaders like that, they have the heart for the people, for peace, and for understanding throughout the world. So, there are many reasons why we came here.

King: Can you explain what is the connection for Native person on the rez care to the Dalai Lama? What is it about this man that makes him worthy to you to travel all this way to stand there to support him?

Looking Horse: He was exiled from him country of Tibet. He can’t go home. (The Tibetan traditional culture, including practice of the spiritual ways of the Buddhist people there, have been outlawed by the Chinese government). He has in his country the land, the sacred sites, the places that his ancestors they came from. He can’t go home to his spiritual homeland. We have a hard time here on our homeland, we were being imprisoned, and now we’re still having a hard time as a nation. So, he understands about the ways of our First Nations people, how we were, how we lived. And I, too, understand people like him that are spiritual and having a hard time because of what has happened. It has been difficult in the last years, but I also know that we have the keys to the new millennium. That’s why were are trying to gather, to bring our people together to unite spiritually, and globally.

King: What was it like to meet him, what was it like when you were talking to him?

Looking Horse: It was a great honor. If I didn’t have that coming here as a spiritual leader, I would be star struck, too. But I know where his heart is, and I met him twice before, so I knew that we had a very strong connection, where we come from and where we’re going.

King: You are always out there telling people, “Pray for peace,” and the Dalai lama is telling people to pray for peace. He also said today that “Praying for peace is important, but the action is important, the karma is in the action.” I really appreciated what he said, it was so simple and so powerful, “Positive action leads to positive consequence, and negative action leads to negative consequence.”

If you were to tell people one thing that they can do to embody the prayer for peace that you are both promoting, what would you tell them? What would you like people to do in their own lives to actively be about peace in their families, in their communities?

Looking Horse: Right now, our families and brothers and sisters are fighting and it seems like we can’t unite. And I would say that out of respect for our future generations I would tell people to work for peace. People need to see for themselves from their homeland what is happening throughout the world because all of our spiritual ways have brought us through hard times. We’ve survived, and that’s the only way we will survive now because of the stage that we are in. We are at war and there are a lot of sicknesses. So, we just have no choice but to work for this. I know it is a very hard journey, we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will make it.

King: You sound really hopeful even though you are saying it is hard and there are a lot of people fighting and you need to pray for peace. It is good to know that people are getting together and praying together and working on this together because it sounds like there is hope.

Looking Horse: I am the 19th Keeper of our sacred bundle, and when I was born, our ways were outlawed. When we talk about freedom and human rights, I feel like we’ve come a long way to be recognized in the world today. So, I’m very thankful, I wish our grandparents would see this day.

King: I think a lot of people need to hear this, especially the young people, because times can seem pretty tough.

Looking Horse: It seems like it’s pretty tough when we’re burying our young people from suicide. But it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people. That’s basically part of our ways, to take this to our heart and stand up and promote peace and harmony.

King: And that brings us back to this day and the experience of being with the Dalai Lama and the other leaders there who were promoting peace. I can see why the Dalai Lama is in brotherhood with you, because the message that he was giving today was very similar to yours, and in many ways, it is the same message.

Looking Horse: The message that he gave and the message from our prophecies is the same. And, it is the reason that I came here today. It feels good, we feel good to be connected with a lot of people, all with a heart for the people, praying in the same way. And it was an honor to be with all of the important people who were here, who brought their own message of peace, like Queen Noor of Jordan (a Muslim), and all of the important leaders who traveled to be here on this day.

King: Thank you. It was an amazing day.

[Sidebar]

Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, was honored recently by being asked to make a presentation for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Colorado. On the bright and cold Sunday morning of September 17, Looking Horse made a presentation to a crowd of 2500 people at the newly completed buddhist shrine, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, near Red Feather Lakes. Looking Horse’s presence at this event was due to his on going work to promote peace, both at home in Indian country and across the globe. While known for leading the annual Bigfoot Ride to commemorate the massacre at Wounded Knee, and his creation of World Peace and Prayer Day, Looking Horse also carries his message “to pray for peace” to countless gatherings, large and small, during the year.

We were invited to join Arvol on his trek to participate in this historic meeting, and sat down after the speeches and songs to visit about the day and the spiritual connections to the Dalai Lama.

[Sidebar]

Dramatically transforming the landscape of Shambhala Mountain Center, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is an expression of the aspiration for peace, harmony and equanimity for all beings. Rising 108 feet from its foundation, construction of The Great Stupa was initiated in 1988 and the monument was consecrated in August 2001.

[Sidebar]

“it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people”

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan visits Navajo Nation, Purpose of visit said to be “diplomatic”

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – One of the more controversial leaders in modern America has paid a visit to the Navajo Nation. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is well known for his polarizing political statements and large media gestures such as the Million Man March on Washington, DC in 1995. His visit to the Navajo Nation on July 18 and 19 marks the first time he has been invited to speak in front of a tribal council in Indian country.

President Joe Shirley’s office received a phone call from the Nation of Islam headquarters in January from Farrakhan’s granddaughter, Yo’NasDa LoneWolf Muhammed. She serves as the national director of the Indigenous Nations Alliance of the Millions More Movement.

According to a press release from the Navajo Nation, “The Nation of Islam seeks to establish a positive relationship with tribes across the country.” Farrakhan stated that “Yo’NasDa’s recently deceased mother was a full-blood member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.” Reasons for the visit were described as “diplomatic” by the Navajo Nation press office.

Farrakhan met with President Joe Shirley on Tuesday, July 18. He inquired about “Navajo life, government, politics, culture and belief.” When he spoke to the summer session of the tribal council on Wednesday, July 19, Farrakhan emphasized the similarities between the “black and red nations,” stating that “Here we are today with common problems, and, really, a common destiny.”

During his speech to tribal council, Farrakhan made several references to shared experiences at the hands of the “oppressor.” He emphasized the necessity of all people of color to form alliances and “recognize kinship,” stating, “I’m not a stranger. I am your brother.. .and I’ve come to establish that relationship with the greatest indigenous people in America, the Navajo Nation.”

President Shirley has been recognized for reaching out to other nations, and in the past two years has met with leaders of Latino, Jewish, Christian and indigenous organizations.

The meeting with Farrakhan presents an interesting tack in the Navajo Nation course, considering the fact that many leaders in the United States and abroad have refused to meet with Louis Farrakhan, citing his divisive politics. Probably his most infamous quote, which led to his censoring by the United States Senate was the statement, “Hitler was a very great man.”

Direct solutions for the Navajo Nations’ economic and social ills were not offered in Farrakhan’s speech, but his rhetoric of encouragement was met with a standing ovation. He said that “At one time, before the foreigner arrived with more powerful weapons, the Navajo people were known as fierce, strong and independent.”

He said that “something” happened to cause them to become dependent on the federal government, but now what the government provides is not enough to meet the needs of the people. On the outside, this visit was touted as “diplomatic” in nature. However, inside the tribal halls, political agendas were quietly being mused.

President Shirley is up for reelection in the Fall, and has stated his intention to secure a $500 million no-interest loan from the United States government to take care of a lot of the problems of the Navajo with one major influx of capitol. He stated that the Leader of Islam had “important contacts,” and that the Navajo Nation will look for the loan from other countries, if necessary.

Farrakhan and other black leaders have publically expressed their interest in merging their political influence in Washington, DC, including their voting power, with that of other “people of color,” including Indian country.

Impeached: OST president Cecelia Fire Thunder removed from office

PORCUPINE, South Dakota – The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted 9-5 Thursday afternoon to impeach tribal president Cecelia Fire Thunder. The tribe’s first woman president has successfully challenged two earlier attempts to remove her from office, and her staff has stated that she will again work to overturn the suspension.

Fire Thunder was removed from office this time under a cloud of controversy. She announced her intention to build an abortion clinic on reservation land after the South Dakota state legislature passed HB 1215, which bans all abortions except where the life of the mother is immediately threatened, and does not allow for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest or the compromised health of the mother.

However, according to tribal councilman Walter Big Crow from the Wakpamni District, the president’s impeachment “Had nothing to do with the abortion issue, that was just a way to get it on to the floor.”

After HB 1215 was signed into law by Governor Mike Rounds, Fire Thunder made several statements to the press about her intentions to challenge the state law by building “A Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal lands,” and initiated fundraising efforts.

Immediately following her announcement, Planned Parenthood said that they had not been contacted regarding the tribal president’s intention. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council also was not consulted.

Will Peters, the tribal council member who filed the impeachment complaint, said Fire Thunder didn’t have the tribal council’s approval to pursue the project.

Councilman Big Crow said, “She’s outstanding and she’s vocal, but she’s still a rookie when it comes to politics. She’s not a politician.” Fire Thunder successfully challenged the other two attempts to permanently remove her from office, but councilman Big Crow, who has supported her in the past, said, “Were not going to let her back in. She’s made some pretty controversial statements that are her personal opinions and has created a war…and then she expected us to fight her personal battles for her.”

When asked about the abortion issue around which Fire Thunder was removed from office, he said, “That’s a personal issue, that’s a woman’s issue. I don’t think it should have even been on the council floor.”

Although Fire Thunder has vowed to challenge the impeachment, she was elected in 2004 and her term ends in October of this year.