Equality for Native Americans Means Diplomatic Relations, Not ‘Full Representation’ - Activist
Although Native Americans are just 1% of the US population and face high rates of poverty, police violence, and discrimination, they are often left out of the conversation about racism, a Native activist told Sputnik. That makes it hard for many to understand what righting the wrongs of the past looks like when it comes to indigenous people.
In a recent Twitter post celebrating the swearing-in of Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), an Alaska Native from the Yup’ik people, US Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele (D-HI) said that “it has taken 233 years for the US Congress to be fully represented by this country’s indigenous peoples.”
There are now six indigenous people in Congress, including Native Americans, a Native Hawaiian, and now a Native Alaskan. In addition, the head of the US Department of the Interior, which contains the Bureau of Indian Affairs and manages the conservation of federal lands, Deb Haaland
, is also Native American.
However, this situation bears more scrutiny than it does joy, John Kane, Mohawk activist, educator, and host of the Let's Talk Native podcast and co-host of Resistance Radio on WBAI Pacifica Radio NY
, told Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits
Kane said the six Native lawmakers
are “the most assimilated people of Native descent that could possibly exist. I mean, these guys were assimilated enough that white people would vote for them.”
“They aren’t there representing us, they’re representing Alaska, Hawaii, and Kansas - that’s who they represent,” he pointed out, adding that analyzing their congressional districts only deepens his case. He also compared the situation to claiming that Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas represents Black Americans on the high court simply because he is Black.
Kane noted there is “a certain level of animosity that comes among the most high-achieving political figures in the non-white communities. You’re going to basically get people carrying water for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party and they don’t want to have a conversation about how their policies that either party, or both parties, are responsible for have contributed to the abject poverty that exists on Native territories. I mean, we weren’t born poor, the poverty on Native territories is, again, a function of racist policies from the federal government regardless of who is in office.”
‘What Was Taken Was Land and Autonomy’
Kane said that Native Americans are often “excluded from the conversation about racism,” pointing out how the consciousness about racism in the US public often only includes an awareness of how discrimination and hatred play out against Black Americans.
“The only explanation for the treatment Native people receive is overt racism,” he pointed out.
“I think there is really an effort to erase us as a group that still opposes this kind of subjugation,” he said, noting that statistics show, for example, that Native Americans are the most likely of any race
to die from police shootings are “easy to ignore … when we are not just such a marginalized people, but a depopulated people. I mean, we were once 100% of the population on this continent, now we’re less than 1% of the population.”
That, he said, is ultimately why the six members of Congress cannot be said to represent Native people, but must primarily be elected by non-Native populations.
“If you wanted us to be represented in places like the federal government, we would literally have diplomatic relations. They would be political conversations,” he noted.
When the United States was founded, the fledgling government engaged with Native nations on the basis that they were foreign powers
, conducting diplomacy and agreeing to treaties. Only later, during the country’s rapid westward expansion, did the Supreme Court redefine Native Americans
as “wards of the state” and end recognition of Native sovereignty. What followed was not only the wholesale seizure of Native land
, but also attempts to eliminate Native identity by placing Native children in residential schools, where they were reeducated in Western ways
, denied the right to practice their religion, speak their language, or dress as their people did, before being placed with adopting white families.
“Don’t even talk to me about ‘reconciliation,’” Kane said. “Let’s look at what was taken during that 150 years of residential schools: what was taken was land and autonomy. You want to talk about reconciliation? We need restoration of land and we need restoration of our political and our cultural autonomy. And that’s a conversation that nobody in US politics wants to talk about from either party.”
Zinke ‘Served at the Pleasure’ of ‘Overt Racist’ Trump
Ryan Zinke, who served as Interior Secretary from 2017 to 2019 under then-US President Donald Trump, has been found by separate investigations by the department’s inspector general to have both engaged in corrupt dealings while in office and to have investigators looking into the malpractice. He is now the Republican nominee for US Representative from Montana.
One IG report released in February
found that Zinke misused his position to shelve considerations to approve a casino for two Native American tribes in order to privately advance another project in which he has invested. Another, released last month
, found that Zinke obstructed the first IG probe by lying to investigators about his conversations with lobbyists and an unnamed US senator who were against the Native casino, as well as making false claims that he had shelved that casino’s paperwork after talking with department lawyers.
When asked to comment on the issue by hosts Michelle Witte and John Kiriakou on Wednesday, Kane said that “we have to decide if it’s Ryan Zinke’s or Trump’s corruption.”
“First, let me just say that Trump hates Native people. He blames his failure as a casino mogul specifically on Native gaming. He went before Congress
, and here’s this guy with more makeup and hair work than a drag queen saying that the Native people he was arguing about didn’t ‘look Indian to him.’ The absurdity level is off the charts.”
“These guys, Zinke and Trump, have worked really cooperatively to rail against Native gaming,” Kane said. “I’m not going to give Ryan Zinke a pass, but let’s be clear: he served at the pleasure of Donald Trump, who is an overt racist and has expressed much of that racism towards Native people.”
He noted that “we didn’t get a whole lot of help out of Deb Haaland, even though she again, supposedly broke that glass ceiling by being the first Native cabinet secretary. So, it’s hard to separate the roles of these cabinet members and the president.”