The Silence of Our Friends

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Indians

In the last post I said:
"Our money", meaning white people, meaning their taxes. I'll get back to this in the next post.
this is a common misconception in Canada and when you read the excerpt below you will see it is also common in the US. People assume that there had to be wars between the Indians and white people and that treaties were surrender of land and rights by defeated peoples. There are a few like that, but most were the result of difficulties and misunderstandings and attempts at negotiating ways for the two sides to coexist peacefully. Here's an interesting little known fact, the US has broken every single treaty they have signed with Native people, every one. Indians did not give up land and resources, they made treaties and pacts protecting these things, and eventually white people simply overran them, took what they wanted, and ignored the treaties they signed in order to do so.

On to the excerpt from The Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes, copyright 1989 by the American Friends Service Committee, page A-21:

Between 1821 and 1839 the Maine Legislature authorized the harvesting of timber from Passamaquoddy land in violation of the 1794 treaty. Over the years, also in violation of the treaty, the Legislature authorized the sale or lease of various pieces of Passamaquoddy land without compensation and without consent of the Passamaquoddies. Several of the Penobscots' islands were sold without compensation, as well. In addition, in 1833, in violation of its own deed procedure as well as a former treaty, four townships or 95% of Penobscot land at the time, were transferred to the State of Maine.

In 1833 the Penobscot trust fund was established with the $50,000 that the State paid for the four townships. In subsequent years monies from the sale of timber, hay, and shore rights also went into this fund. The Passamaquoddy fund was established in 1856 by a deposit of $22,500 (for a lease of timber, grass, and power rights), the next year $5,225 was added, and in following years additional proceeds from the timber harvest on Passamaquoddy land were added. Interest on the deposits was supposed to be paid at six percent per annum. For a period of one hundred and ten years, from 1859 for Passamaquoddies (1860 for Penobscots) until 1969, no interest was ever paid, but rather went for the annual use of the Indian agensts.

The state's treatment of Indians was paternalistic, and the Legislature assumed the authority to make whatever decisions it thought necessary at any given time. Even the state courts fostered this attitude. In 1842, for instance, the highest court in Maine stated that "...imbecility on their [the Indians'] part, and the dictates of humanity on ours, have necessarily prescribed to them their subjection to our paternal control; in disregard of some, at least, of abstract principles of the rights of man."

People who had once lived in abundance were now impoverished, and wherever they went in the larger society they faced prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. Indians were lazy, it was said. Yet their livelihood had been taken from them. They lived on welfare, it was said. Yet the so-called assistance given to them was in fact income from the products taken from their land (hay and timber) or income from the rent or lease of their land. After 1930 the State of Maine arranged that this money be paid to the state; then it was passed on (not all of it, at times) to the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies. Thus, what was income was made to appear as welfare. During the nineteenth century Maliseets and Micmacs, who had always lived on both sides of the United States-Canadian border, lost their hunting territories in Aroostook County when Americans opened this area to settlement.

These kinds of things should be common knowledge, but instead it's the lies and misconceptions that are "common knowledge". The Wabanaki were nomadic within our territories. We travelled from campsite to campsite depending on the season, if the hunting was good we were in the woods, fishing and planting season we would have areas designated for that. When we were enclosed on reservations we could no longer sustain our livelihood and the white people over-hunted/over-fished/over-harvested the trees anyway which made it difficult even when we were allowed to roam. The Indian agents insisted that we become farmers instead, but gave us little training and would do things like deliver seed too late and too few for a good harvest anyway, and underpay us for our crops. Also, everytime we come up with an idea for a self-sustaining industry in order to get a little ahead it seems like white people step in and make up new rules and laws to stop us. This is what happens if we do try to run a forestry program or fisheries and now it is happening on the reservations that want to run casinos. There are lots of white people who were allowed to become millionaires doing these things but when we try it, suddenly they are worried about over-fishing and over-harvesting or morality where gambling is concerned and gotta have laws and regulations.

Basically, when white people pay taxes and some of that goes to Indians it is because of treaties that their leaders signed sometimes centuries ago. It isn't because Indians are welfare bums. You're forefathers assumed we would all assimilate or be killed off and didn't think they would be paying so long. And now you want to forget that these treaties exist and just "let bygones be bygones". It's always the ones who made fortunes on the backs of others who want to forget history and what is owed. They take everything away and then tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, only they took the bootstraps too. To those who say that your ancestors weren't here to steal from Indians (or that your ancestors didn't own slaves) you still benefit, your family benefitted too. You are probably living on stolen land right now and getting cheap resources because your government is still giving away what is ours for pennies on the dollar to oil companies, wood processors, mining, etc on our land. Yes, even now.

One last thing, alot of times white people say that Indians have no concept of ownership so it was okay for them to come in and take the land in a free for all anyway. But when you look at maps in history books do you notice they always have boundaries for the territories in which you will find certain tribes? That's because we didn't have ownership in the way that white people mean, individuals having deeds for specific plots of land, but we knew where our territory began and ended and unless we either asked permission or were looking to start a war we didn't cross into other peoples' territory.

13 comment(s):

Thank you for this post, Donna. Keep telling these stories, you have a captivated audience. ;-)

By Blogger Kai, at 1/25/2007 3:27 PM  

They take everything away and then tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, only they took the bootstraps too.

What a wonderful phrase, and it certainly makes the point.

Funny about those pesky details you Indians keep bringing up. We lied and lied and lied. Why haven't your people forgotten that? We did! *snort*.

I have a terrible joke about white people in Minnesota (like me, you know). Don't know whether I should post it or not. I'll e-mal you when I get home!

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 1/25/2007 5:19 PM  

Um, that WAS sarcasm above. Now I'm worried that I sounded like a complete asshole. Sorry if I did.

I remember the fights over spear fishing and idiotic Minnesotans yelling "go back to where you came from" to American Indians. It's amazing how little we who live in Indian country learn about the people whose land we usurped.

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 1/26/2007 4:42 PM  

Yeah, that's a good point. When I teach this in my race class, I make the distinction between collective ownership and private property.

Very good need to write a similar one about casinos. I have about a million students who think Native Americans are loaded from money they get from casinos, and that they pay no taxes whatsoever....and so on...I got this argument all the time when I lived in Connecticut. I had the good fortune one semester of having aguy who was enrolled in the Pequot Nation, who informed the students that the casino voluntarily pays "taxes" to the surrounding community, and of course, they employ like a billion local whites as well.

By Blogger RachelsTavern, at 1/27/2007 12:35 AM  

Also, everytime we come up with an idea for a self-sustaining industry in order to get a little ahead it seems like white people step in and make up new rules and laws to stop us.

This is the part that makes me really nervous about the response various woc groups like Incite! (which I belong to) offer to state sanctioned violence, etc. Solving problems within the community is a great solution until you start recognizing the fact that our communities live within a bigger structure that has a history of creating laws to take community control from our hands. I've always been interested to hear what the zapatistas are doing--how they are managing to create whole new structures of community that are functioning and thriving, but still exist (and somehow manage to thrive) while living within a larger economic structure.

I guess maybe that's a benefit of living way out in the jungles--unlike here, if you go out spear fishing or something, there's not a lot of opportunities for huge groups of people to come and harrass you.

By Blogger brownfemipower, at 1/28/2007 3:08 PM  

ravenmn, the joke is funny! Go ahead and post it if you like! I think I've already mentioned my brother-in-law at the beach here, but in case I haven't the spear fishing jeers reminded me of it. We were at a beach in Connecticut (Rocky Neck, really great beach!) anyway, there were alot of people of color there and my white brother-in-law said I wish those illegals would go home or something to that effect. Only...they were mostly Puerto Rican. There were Puerto Rican flags on beach umbrellas, towels, bathing suits etc. He really didn't know that Puerto Rico is an American territory and that Puerto Rican people are American citizens with as much right to be in CT as he has!

Rachel I don't think I could do a post on casinos justice since each tribe that has a casino has different arrangements with the state/province but yes those in the US generally pay taxes, it's usually part of the agreement in order to get the state and locals to agree and not drag it through the courts for decades. Also not every tribe has a casino nor do they want one, some are against gambling. My own reservation is in an uproar over the very tiny casino we run because there has been embezzlement and other corruption run rampant. I think alot of that has to do with the extreme polarity in the politics of Tobique. The party that had power paid off voters and family members by getting them jobs or writing out checks for questionable reasons. I make no excuses for the criminals hopefully they will be put behind bars for their part, but I also blame the Canadian government for forcing this style of government and politics on us. It's more like a city council with a mayor (chief) and council members (councillors) than the way our government was in the past. We used to have many chiefs because no one man/woman was an expert at everything, so you would have a chief who was the best at hunting, another who was best at medicine, another who was best at war/diplomacy, etc. And there were no followers per se. A chief had to be a great orator to convince the people or they would just wander off.

BFP, that's why the western tribes still have alot of their culture and beliefs because they were in the boonies where it took awhile for the white people to come and "civilize" them. There are very few speakers of Maliseet left, most of my generation and younger speaks only English. On my rez they hired a teacher to teach Maliseet to the preschoolers, that was my mother, she retired just this past year. Ironically, she didn't teach me or my sisters much besides a few words and phrases, when I asked why she said we wouldn't need it. She has since changed her mind and regrets that she didn't teach us. I think she should have taught us the language just for the laughs, our pronounciation is atrocious and hilarious.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/28/2007 10:58 PM  

This joke is based on words that a homophones, so it doesn't work all that well in print. You need to be saying it out loud.

You need to know that Minnesota is trying to build a wine industry, although I haven't tasted a thing I liked so far.

So here you go:

Question: Have you heard about the new Minnesota white wine?

Answer: No, what is it?

Question (in a whiny voice): "Why can't we have casinos, too?"

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 1/30/2007 9:56 PM  

That's because we didn't have ownership in the way that white people mean, individuals having deeds for specific plots of land, but we knew where our territory began and ended and unless we either asked permission or were looking to start a war we didn't cross into other peoples' territory.

The funny thing is that deeds only exist as a result of the feudal period of europe (which began a bit before 1000AD and ended a bit after the industrial revolution), they were an agreement between serfs and the knights about where the serfs could farm and live, and hte knights in turn had deeds detailing which areas and lands they could lease out to serfs on behalf of the barons, who in turn had deeds from the king (or equivalent rulers) that layed out which lands and areas were leasable by the barons. And out of such things, lawyers were created, walking the earth to spread their pestilence and death where ever they went.

And in return taxes were paid up the feudal social ladder, as duties to raise armies, build fortifications for and on behalf of the state's power (which was generally focused on the king, though the barons would routinely band together to undercut that power when it suited them) was passed down the social ladder from teh king onto the backs of the serfs through the various intermediates.

the western convention of property ownership then was shaped by this, with all ownership existing only on the sufferance of the state, and this carried on into the early democractic period (french revolution through to the creation of the unified italian nation state) which pulled this weird double bluff whereby the state was "owned" (or was "respondible to", except the states generally decided that "people" meant "barons" and similar landed gentry) by the people, and the state owned the land and all property, which worked out to the feudal system in effect, with the actual people having less say in how they related to the greater property ownership system as property gradually got replaced by the concept marx labels "capital" in the communist manifesto as the bourgious state emerged out of fuedalism.

The western conception of property then got a bit weird in america, because the idea of manifest destiny came into it, and all the colonising states (including the puritans, which were a state unto themselves, searching for a place to remake the temple in their own image) went forth believing that htey already owned all the land in america, and the aboriginals then represented an enemy state to be pacified.

That was the interface problem, by the sound of things the aboriginal conception of property ownership gelled much more readily with the libertarian myth of personal rather than state ownership of property.

And then the aboriginals didn't realise they needed to protect anything, or they didn't understand that they needed to organise to protect the whole fucking lot at once or else the westerners would take it all, for king and president and country, because their states owned it all already according to the western conception of things.

How closely does all that connect with how you know it? Especially the last bit?

By Blogger R. Mildred, at 1/31/2007 12:19 AM  

The gist of it is that Indians really didn't believe you could "own" the land, or animals, or trees, or any of the other resources, but you have a relationship with those things. It makes me think of the more modern idea of marriage, which is a partnership instead of ownership. There was more of a custodial role in the territory, for instance when an Indian goes out to harvest medicinal plants he or she will NOT take the best (largest, strongest, healthiest) plants. Those are the parent and will produce healthy offspring so you want to leave them behind. We were conservationists before there was a name for it. And it's only in the last century that white people are figuring out that if you clear cut there is nothing left for themselves, the children, grandchildren, etc. But this is what I mean by a relationship, you respect and preserve the land, plants, animals so that they will continue to provide. You also protect it from outsiders because if they are also harvesting it will deplete for future generations too quickly.

When it came to westerners, the way it was understood was that we were sharing territory and that they were asking permission to share. They didn't read the treaties that way (nor explain the language of their English only treaties that way). This caused most of the tensions when Europeans started clearing land for farming, fencing off areas for their livestock, and wouldn't let Indians cross through or take from their farms. (They had no problem stealing our crops when they first came and had nothing of their own though.) They also kept coming, it's not a problem agreeing to share with one or two dozen families, but when it grows into the hundreds and thousands, well it's too late to stop them. In New England I've read a couple of histories about "massacres" and generally what started them was the Indians killed someone's pig for a meal, or broke down a fence that was built across a needed trail, etc and the Europeans would retaliate by killing a few Indians, who would then retaliate by killing a few Europeans, and so on.

Thanksgiving, my ass, those Europeans didn't mind "sharing" or outright taking when they were in need, but if the Indians needed anything from them, TOUGH! Ungrateful bastards!

So yes, since the understanding was that we were sharing, we didn't think we needed to protect the land or lay any kind of claim on it in the beginning. And we found out too late when we were overrun that westerners don't share.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/31/2007 1:38 AM  

The general rule re: taxes (at least here in Minnesota) is that if you:

A) Are an enrolled member of a Minnesota Chippewa Tribe band or the Red Lake Nation


B) You live on one of the reservations

Then you pay no state income tax, but you still pay federal income tax.

The Mashantucket Pequot nation (CT) does indeed 'volunteer' to pay taxes. They are one of the most generous tribes in America.

Raven - nobody that I heard ever said "go back where you came from" during the spearing conflict. The situation is bad enough; you don't need to make stuff up to gin it up.

Great post. I work for a tribal college in MN, and this is exactly the kind of thing people need to hear!

By Anonymous k, at 2/02/2007 11:07 AM  

Hello, K.

I didn't make those quotes up. It was reported to me by several friends who went to the landings in Wisconsin back in the 80s. I took them at their word. Should I believe they lied or could we be talking about different events in different places?

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 2/02/2007 11:26 PM  

k, I've had that said to me before. It's a standard redneck answer to anyone who doesn't like how they are being treated by the state/government and rednecks aren't known to be especially smart. I don't see why they would reserve it for all other disputes with only spear fishing as the exception.

By Blogger Donna, at 2/03/2007 4:14 PM  

Your a bunch of crying liberals, who in turn compliment each other for your own stupidity. Donna, you are correct we should honor treaty agreements! However, where in the treaties of the 1800's did it say that tribla members could exploit resources the way the do today? Using artificial lights, motorized boats and large factory made gill nets to obtain a catch that is not eaten but RESOLD to the very oppressors that ravemn keeps crying about?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/17/2007 11:42 PM  

Post a comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link