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Vol. 16, No. 2, 2017
 
     
 
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  Editor
Robert J. Lewis
 
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
 
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
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Howard Richler
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Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
 
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  Past Contributors
 
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
 
     

BROKEN FEATHER'S LAST STAND

by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

___________________________________

Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
LIttle frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanese,
O! don't you wish that you were me?
Robert Louis Stevenson

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.
Chief Dan George

"If me die, it not matter. If you die, it plenty bad."
Tonto to the Lone Ranger

 

There is no accounting for it unless it is the Canadian Indian’s not-so-secret death wish: the epidemic of gas and glue sniffing, spousal abuse, acute alcohol dependence and a suicide rate that bends the mind and chills the heart.

Broken Feather once had a home and native land. It was taken away from him, and he’s been on a non-stop downward spiral ever since. He now finds himself at the precipice contemplating an empty appease-pipe and a break-away trail of feathers riding the eddies above the abyss.

When the Mesoamerican Indian looks back (circa 700 A.D.) to the glories of the past, he swells with pride before the magnificent Aztec and Mayan temples in Coban, Tikal, Uxmal and Teotihuacan. When the North American Indian looks back he cowers in shame beneath the quavering shadow of his teepee -- bison hide on a stick against a hail of bullets. When the Indian was performing his morning ablutions in a hole in the ground, the Romans were constructing spectacular aqueducts which still stand today, two millennia later. When the white man was making his Industrial Revolution, the Indian was chipping flint for fire and turning the smoke into a medium of long-distance communication.

Where there is no avoiding the hulking mountain range of facts and arguments, it should be self-evident to both insiders and outsiders that to be born Indian is to be born without hope, without a future, into a life-long inferiority complex; and that no rewriting of history (or anesthetizing the brain) can remedy the hard facts of the past: the bow and arrow were no match against the white man’s superior firepower.

From their first exposure to the teepee – a dwarf structure next to any cityscape – to serialized portrayals of very dense and doomed Indian braves defiantly circling the white man’s wagon train, to the on-going fragmentation and collapse of one community after another into a heap of self-loathing against which all the money in the world is as effective as the Iroquois' war cry against the march of progress, the young are initiated into the downs of negative self-esteem before they have learned to walk and talk.

But the Indian, refusing and/or unwilling to make a clean break with his dead-end culture and traditions, instead fatuously romanticizes it, offering up a myth that tells of a golden age of hunting and fishing, and that the Indian (impositioned between the two competing cultures) merely has to commit himself to the past-perfect and he’ll find his way to the sources of his ancient pride. But it is not happening. The young only have to observe the depraved, despoiled adult world around them and they know it’s all a lie, that the myth is just another drug on the corner, that at the end of the day there is no cure for being born into humiliation and defeat. In the great clash of civilizations, the Indian was found consummately unfit.

So why does he stubbornly cling to his loser’s ways, why has he refused to renounce his culture -- the dead-weight that ensured his initial demise and subsequent abjection? If the underlying, evolutionary purpose of envy is to actuate a recognition of an advantage we should want for ourselves, has the Indian been short-changed of that vital emotion or has he refused to act on it?

After having given it his best, it is one thing to lose everything (all the wars and self-respect), but it’s altogether another matter when a self-loathing, complex-ridden people choose to refuse to let go of a defeatist mentality whose empty promises are tantamount to a death-wish. If, without any education or marketable skill, I lose my job and the respect of my wife and children, I regain what has been lost by returning to school and learning a skill. I do not cling to or defend my past ignorance, or the environment that nurtured it, nor do I wallow in self-pity; but answer to the best of my ability the challenges of survival. But this simple lesson has been lost on the Indian, and, it must be added, with more than a little help from a succession of irresponsible Indian Affairs administrations that have been pumping billions of dollars into a causa perdidit. Notwithstanding centuries of catastrophic decision making for which the Indian is solely responsible, Canada’s political class has been unable and unwilling to speak the truth to the Indian: that turning your back on your language, traditions and identity (your Indian-ness) is a sacrifice none too great when survival is at stake.

According to a Fraser Institute report, spending on First Nation’s people rose from 79 million in 1947 to 7.9 billion in 2012. And what has this incontinent spending produced? An on-going suicide contagion and 24/7 lineups at the local gas station.

According to every available index as it concerns life expectancy, education, single parent families, depression, percentage of young girls entering prostitution and the incarceration rate, the living conditions of life on the reserves are worsening. Meanwhile, both sides refuse to acknowledge that largesse and best intentions have had and can have no positive, salutary affect on a people epigenetically ensnared in a hermetically sealed, self-perpetuating circle of shame and inferiority.

The residential school system that sought to “kill the Indian in the child” failed because it was mandated and not voluntary. First Nations’ community leaders and councils refused to acknowledge what should have been self-evident to the least astute observer: that being born Indian is a syndrome that has rendered him wholly unfit for life in the modern era. In an either/or crunch, the Indian parent failed to grasp what was required of him to save his children: that he beg, borrow and persuade them to become non-Indian. As to the widespread, unforgivable (criminal) abuses suffered throughout the residential schools, it could be argued that it was trading one hell on earth for another: being born First Nations is already a life sentence.

For the long list of historical injustices done to the Indian, all government apologies and restitutions are lies because there can never be an apology adequate to winning a war and decimating a people. What hasn’t occurred to policy makers on both sides of the divide is that apology is beside the point next to survival.

How bad does it have to get before First Nations’ people (a de facto nation of the walking dead) begin asking of themselves what difficult choices must be made in order to gain admission to the winner’s circle?

“What would I save if my house was burning down?” asks the poet Andre Breton? “I would save the fire.” Short shrifted in the Indian’s anxiety over the loss of his sacred culture and traditions is his apparent indifference to the survival and transmission of his genes. An Indian who fully integrates himself into modern society will surely lose his culture, his Indian-ness, but his genes will survive and mix with genes that are well-fitted for the challenges of life in the modern era. Should not this be the matter that matters most?

The Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia escaped the deprivations and degradations that consumed other tribes because they sagaciously adopted modern and proven entrepreneurial and agricultural business models. And when meeting and dealing with them in person it occurs to you that they don’t seem Indian, that is exactly the point. They have made a choice, they have disbanded, abandoned their ways, and are now fully integrated into the 21st century. Apart from his physiognomy, nothing is left of the Osoyoo Indian; he has made himself of his own free will into an interchangeable unit with the new world he has embraced. That he is irrevocably estranged from his language and culture is a small price to pay since his genes (his children) will enjoy a robust future. In consideration of the pluses and minuses that come to bear on every decision, there is no better indicator of a child’s future than being born into a community that is thriving and self-esteeming.

What responsible parents, sub species aeternitatis, owe their children are the means and tools to ensure their survival, which makes the Indian’s centuries-deep betrayal of his children an indictable offense. His crimes against the young stem from an ignorance born out of a twisted sense of romanticism that has been enabled by the white man whose lack of vision and gutless policies have conspired to keep the Indian in a permanent chokehold. In the on-going blame game, it’s anyone’s call: the Indian refuses to speak the truth to himself and the white man refuses to speak it to him.

With the hourglass running on empty, and the second edition of the Indian Book of the Dead overwhelmed with new applicants, we wonder out loud when First Nation’s people will finally find the wherewithal to look into the mirror, make peace with what is there, and then turn their backs on what they see for all time. Anything less is a dead-on-arrival promissory.

Every people, every individual is on a unique journey and that is where one begins, just as it is never too late to become what you want to be.

Regardless of one's personal views on the role of irony in history, the white man decimated the Indian who must now decimate himself if he is to survive.

 

REQUIEM FOR THE REDMAN

Bent over truce and treaties
and fallen teepees
the land surveyor pens another community.

Paper maps create mishap.
We will settle the west with our best.

Unremembered deeds and a charge of weeds
appoint the sacred grounds.
Hopes of a young braves
race crazy raging rivers
in birch canoes tried and true.
     At the broken neck of dawn
     bloated bodies on the dew.

Solace sperms
in a ceremony of tear-brine and chyme.

Smoke and ash are the remains of the clash.

A god-fearing man
drops coins in the box
then aims at his feathered friend’s wife.
     "Now I’m ready.”
He loads up his shotgun
pulls up his pants
and says “dance.”

Triggered in her tracks
the squaw falls dead.

 

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COMMENTS

user-submission@feedback.com
On the surface you make a convincing case, but it's from the outsider looking in. However disadvantaged or trapped you feel in your culture, it's almost impossible to give itup even though that might be the logical thing to do. Our connection to land and culture is almost as deep as an instinct, so by asking of First Nations People to give it all up is asking them to make a logical decision when logic has nothing to do with it. In a way you're asking them to do the impossible. Let's pretend you are a coffee drinker and your doctor orders you to stop. It won't be easy, will it, so imagine giving up your entire culture. If there's a problem with First Nations people adapting to the modern world, you haven't helped them, you haven't shown them the way in any way at all.

rfilip@videotron.ca
Congratulations for your gutsy essay about native Indians. You really nailed their plight -- and passing on wiser genes
is a solution that I have discussed with my students. And yes, I was accused of being a "racist" too when I claimed that Inuit throat singing, for example, is a disgusting practice. Getting rid of it wouldn't hurt civilization as much as losing
Bach's Mass in B Minor.
Unlike the buffalo jump, the Indian jump has allowed aboriginal people to land successfully on their feet. Pauline Johnson would recite her poetry in two acts: one wearing European clothing, and in the second half, her native Mohawk dress.
And readers all over the English-speaking world continue to enjoy her wonderful poem "The Song My Paddle Sings."
And we, white folks, have also sacrificed language and cultural ties in a process of adaptation to a changing world; be it the Highland Clearances, the Holocaust, or the Gulag. I married an Asian wife, a Filipina. She respects my Lithuanian tradition of "Kucios" at Christmas, and I respect her Flores de Mayo celebrations. Marriage, music, food, are great unifiers. Each individual native Indian needs to rework their concept of sacred land, and being a "brave."

user-submission@feedback.com
You speak in broadest terms, in one brush stroke, which makes you an ugly racist. You only see what you want to see to make your argument -- a very hurtful, unproductive rant.

parmenius@videotron.ca
That was a brave piece and I applaud you for taking on King Kong. Few have the courage to stand up to the giant progressivist ape that dominates the scene with threats, lies and slander. A few quibbles—I don’t think victory has to be apologized for; J. Fiamengo, for one, is not as upbeat as you are about the Osoyoos Indians. As a native of BC familiar with the region, she knows how they have cleverly profited from their status. They haven’t given up being Indians, they just know how to play the game. But be that as it may, you’ve spoken a powerful truth and will reap your reward in calumny and exclusion. Which means, as the old saw has it, that you’re over the target.

 

also by Robert J. Lewis:
Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
1-800-Philosophy
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034

 

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