The experience of the American Indian Movement, especially in the mid-1970s, provides what amounts to a textbook exposition of the nature of the society we now inhabit, the lengths to which its government will go to maintain the kinds of domination AIM fought to cast off, and the techniques it uses in doing so. These lessons teach what to expect, and, if properly understood, how to overcome many of the methodologies of repression. The lessons are applicable not simply to American Indians but to anyone whose lot in life is to be oppressed within the American conception of business as usual.
Ultimately, the gift bestowed by AIM is, in part, an apprehension of the fact that the Third World is not something “out there.” It is everywhere, including behind the façade of liberal democracy that masks the substance of the United States. It exists on every reservation in the nation, in the teeming ghettos of Brownsville, Detroit, and Compton, in the barrios and migrant fields and sharecropping farms of the Deep South. It persists in the desolation of the Appalachian coal regions. It is there in the burgeoning prison industry of America, warehousing by far the largest incarcerated population on the planet.
The Third World exists in the nation’s ever-proliferating, militarized police apparatus. And it is there in the piles of corpses of those—not just AIM members, but Black Panthers, Brown Berets, Puerto Rican independentistas, labor organizers, civil rights workers, and many others—who tried to say “no” and make it stick. It is there in the fate of Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and Ché Payne, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt and Alejandina Torres, Susan Rosenberg and Martin Luther King Jr., George Jackson and Ray Luc Lavasseur, Tim Blunk and Reyes Tijerina, Mutulu Shaku and Marilyn Buck, and many others.
To win, it is said, one must know one’s enemy. Winning the sorts of struggles these people engaged in is unequivocally necessary if we are to effect a constructive change in the conditions they faced and we continue to face. In this, there are still many lessons to be drawn from the crucible of AIM experience. These must be learned by all of us. They must be learned well. And soon.
[America’s] myth purports to give substance to basic nationally professed ideals: democracy, freedom from oppression, and material success deriving from morality and hard work. American history, as it is purveyed supports the myth. And American history as it is ingested by the masses of Americans, is, by and large, pure Bullfinch. Bullfinch it must be. For if our government and our church (those noblest of institutions, one human and the other divine) be complicit, to put it gently, in rapine, slavery, and genocide, what shall sustain us? Not the thought that such unpleasantries were but labor pains, the inevitable trauma of man emerging from a state of viciousness and evil to one of nobility and justice For the myth that has hidden from us what we have been, and have done, still hides from us what we still are, and what we still do. It’s not that we must suppress historical truth to preserve the myth the way some societies we call closed do. We need not burn books, even though we sometimes do. The crucial realities, both historical and current, are quite available. We just ignore them. Probably we can’t stand to confront them. To do so would not make us psychotic: it would simply reveal our psychosis. For even an incipient comprehension of the vast gulf between our myth and the reality would make our schizophrenia acute.
The French had come up the St. Lawrence looking for profit. The profit was in beaver pelts for which there was an enormous demand in Europe. The French secured the Hurons (themselves an Iroquoian people) as allies in order, through them, to control the fur trade. They seduced the Hurons with the usual European products - guns, powder, shot, hatchets, traps, kettles -which gave the Indians who possessed them complete physical supremacy over those neighboring tribes who did not. The Iroquois maintained a semblance of parity with the Hurons for a time by trading beaver to the Dutch for these same products of European civilization. But soon the Iroquois beaver supply was depleted; the French and Hurons controlled the trade routes and the trade. The Iroquois must share in this trade or die (a civilized arrangement imposed on the Indians with the arrival of the Europeans). Efforts between the Hurons and the Iroquois to share the trade were frequently frustrated by the French Jesuits who, along with the civil authorities, wanted no peace that would divert furs to the Iroquois and thus wealth to the heretical Dutch. By inflaming animosities, priests helped prevent amicable settlement for 25 years (1620-1645). Under the profit motive triumphant, French missions were indistinguishable from French trade. Such an arrangement, as the Jesuit Father Rageuneau pointed out at the time, was “necessary for maintenance of the faith in all these regions, for the good of the French colonies, and the support of New France.” Whatever other intentions the Jesuits had, the Iroquois considered them to be the “chief clerks of the fur trade.” Finally, however, under terms favorable to the French, a peace treaty was signed in 1645 between the Hurons and Iroquois which guaranteed Iroquois participation in the fur trade. Nonetheless, with French and Jesuit encouragement, the Hurons immediately broke the treaty in 1646, by delivering all pelts to the French, thereby depriving the Iroquois of their only means of survival.
The Iroquois, consequently, did the one thing they could do - attack the French-Huron trade routes. Joques was caught by an Iroquois war party in 1646, as he entered Mohawk territory in another attempt to convert them. Jean de Brébeuf was captured in the Iroquois attack on the French-Huron trading post near St. Ignace, Ontario, in 1649. Both were put to death. Repeated Iroquois attacks cut off the Hurons from their sources of trade, and since they were exclusively traders, they had no stores of food. In the winter of 1649-50, the Huron Nation ceased to exist. It starved to death. Of 35,000 members of a noble people, some 300 survivors straggled into Quebec after the spring thaw. Genocide. French variety. Orchestrated by church and state.
And what of Tekakwitha? What of the Venerable Kateri Tekakwitha, the glory of the Mohawks? Did she not leave her own people, the savage Mohawks, with their paganism and violence and lechery, and go to live with Marquette’s fellow white Christian Jesuits? And did she not fast and pray and remain chaste? And did not her skin, as Father Holland rhapsodizes in the Song of Tekakwitha, immediately after her death turn from swarthy to white? Lily white. Whiteness, the ultimate criterion of her sanctity. Shall we not honor her? No, Tekakwitha needs no honor from us. She was what she was, and in honoring her these white Europeans are but canonizing themselves. And so, today, Indian children in mission schools are taught to emulate Kateri Tekakwitha, the white Mohawk - a dishonor to her, an insult to her people, and a testimony to our determination that our national myth will be perpetuated by any and all means possible. The Indian people do not need you, Tekakwitha. The whites do. You are a necessary part of our myth. And a pope, Pius XII, seals your alienation from your people when in the decree proclaiming your venerability, he affirms that you come from a people “most corrupt and steeped in heathen error”. (Perhaps some theologian will rise up to render papal authority compatible with papal bigotry within the narrow confines of a single sentence.) But the myth is not disturbed by such irregularities.
So while the Indians are ghosts, the myth lives on. It reinforces our conviction of absolute righteousness in our history and our destiny. And so the horror has no end. Cotton Mather is Lt. Calley. French Catholicism and English Puritanism were alike bastard offsprings of Christianity and greed, as are any current counterparts. Ordinances of the original 13 “council fires”, as the Indian called them, appropriating funds for Indian scalps, are not qualitatively different from later-day Pentagon demands for Vietnamese body counts. The spirit that enabled American fighting men to wear Indian women’s genitals as hat bands and play ball with their severed breasts is the same spirit which in a later day would enable American fighting men to rape Vietnamese women before wasting them. The reality is ineffable and unsufferable tragedy. So we must have myth.
There’s no difference between corporatism and capitalism. The former is the neofuedalistic manifestation of capitalism’s final stage. Stop obfuscating the obvious.