Dreaming a New Dream Cowboys, Indians, Global Violence and the Gospel
by George Tink Tinker, Professor of American Indian
Culture and Religious Traditions, Iliff School of Theology, Denver,
Plenary address at CTA National Conference, Milwaukee, Wis., Nov. 5, 2000
Kon-btha e win-ah-non wa-thon- da-ki-the wi-ta. I am thankful for your work in the Catholic Church, for your work in this country called the United States. I am thankful for your presence in this world of globalized violence.
|Tinker addresses CTA Conference.|
I am what is called in the American Indian world a mixed blood. I am American Indian on my fathers side and an ordained Lutheran minister on my mothers side! My mother hates it when I introduce myself that way, but being Lutheran is an ethnic identity in the United States. Lutherans in North America are not just Amer-Europeans. They are Amer-Northern Europeans Germans and Scandinavians.
I am an Osage. (We prefer to call ourselves Ni-u-kon-ska wa-zha-zha, but the government never could pronounce it, so they settled on Osage.) Here is a thumbnail sketch of the modern history of the Osage Nation. In 1803 our land was purchased by the U.S. Government from France! (a gambit we still havent figured out) something called the Louisiana Purchase. In those days we controlled most of Missouri, a big chunk of Kansas, and a little of Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma everything west of the Mississippi, north of the Arkansas, south of the Missouri Rivers. In an act of unprecedented generosity, we ceded all of that territory to the U.S. Government so they could open it up for Lutheran refugee resettlement. (Maybe you have heard of the Missouri Synod!)
I am a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and of the Colorado chapter of AIM, which is also the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. We are here today handing out information about Leonard Peltier*, one of the key political prisoners held today in U.S. prisons. Actually all our prisons are filled with political prisoners, and prisons themselves become an issue of justice and peace. We lock up more people per capita than any other country in the world, especially Black, Latino and Indian young men; and we call this a free country. Why are we locking up so many people? How have we created a society with so much violence? Ill come back to that.
Helen Prejean and Roy Bourgeois, fellow Louisianians, share a laugh at CTA's opening session. Prejean told the crowd of 3,700 her personal story about your book, "Dead Man Walking," and the struggle to abolish the death penalty. Bourgeois accepted CTA's leadership award for school of the Americas Watch, which he founded.
I am spiritually involved in my community. These days, I dont function very well as a Lutheran minister, having reclaimed my fathers identity in the struggle each of us goes through in deciding whether we will live out that of our fathers or our mothers. As much as I love my mother, I had to make a choice to live one culture or the other, because they are radically different from each other. I decided that if I were to help Indian people, I had to become involved. So for 12 summers I completed the rite of vigil, I have participated in dozens of sundances, I am a member of the Inlonska Society of my tribe, and in Denver I am regularly (if embarrassingly to me) introduced as one of the spiritual leaders of our local Indian community.
I could talk about Indian spirituality for days, but it wouldnt really get us anywhere useful. I would rather talk today about the whole history of violence that we have generated on this continent in the last 500 years.
500 years of violence The violence began with Christopher Columbus Cristobal Colón in 1492. It continued with the Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts and Episcopalians in Virginia. It continued in the formation of the United States, the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by Thomas Jefferson, and his sending of Lewis and Clark to explore their new piece of property. It continued in massacre after massacre of Indian peoples. And it continues today. How can we stop this violence together? How can we see that all the things you and I are struggling against are somehow linked: the injustices and genocide against the aboriginal people of this country, the violence against women, the abuse of children, the globalization of capital (IMF, WTO, etc.), and U.S. involvement in things like the School of the Americas?
Leslie Silko, a woman from the Laguna Pueblo, begins her great American Indian novel, Ceremony, with a reference to the creator of the world in the Laguna mythology. This creator is a woman called Spider Woman. (In American Indian understanding of the world, the sacred is always both male and female.) Silko begins with a poem in which Spider Woman is thinking into existence the story that Silko is writing, just as the world comes into existence as Spider Woman thinks it so.
We too live in an imagined, thought-up, world. Either we imagine it together, or we let that world be imagined for us, and play out parts that other people have imposed on us. I want to suggest that we begin to create our own world anew, to think it anew, to dream it anew, and to dream out of existence the violence, the globalization, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the School of the Americas, to reimagine out of our world the abuse and subjection of women, and the racialization of blacks and whites, yellows, browns and reds.
Felix Cohen, a half a century ago, in his Handbook of Federal Indian Law, suggested that American Indians in North America are the miners canary for the United States. Miners take a canary deep into a mine to make sure there is enough oxygen. If the canary dies, the miners leave.
Id like to read the opening words from American Indians in Western Legal Thought, a book by an American Indian legal scholar, Rob Williams. It is a great book that traces the legal traditions invested in American Indian law all the way back to Innocent III and to canon law in medieval Europe.
At the dawn of Renaissance Europes discoveries in the New World and conquest of the American Indian, Europeans already enjoyed the singular advantage of possessing a systematically elaborated legal discourse on colonialism. This discourse, first successfully deployed during the medieval Crusades to the Holy Land, (and, I should add, eventually in the English colonization of Ireland), unquestioningly asserted that normatively divergent non-Christian peoples could rightfully be conquered, and their lands could lawfully be confiscated by Christian Europeans, enforcing their peculiar vision of a universally binding natural law. This is to say that for centuries our churches have been involved in the colonization and conquest of the world on behalf of Europe.
Replace the word Christian with its religio-economic counterpart, capitalism, and the sentence rings more true than ever. Non-capitalists can rightfully be conquered and their lands can lawfully be confiscated by capitalist Europeans, enforcing their peculiar vision of a universally binding natural law. Think of the work of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, of the religious dimensions of what gets called development. And we who work in the churches must remember: our churches are part of this new religious movement called the globalization of capital. You and I are deeply invested in it, so that when we act in resistance, we are acting against ourselves on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the disenfranchised of the world.
The result has been a whole history of violence that has been unaccounted for in contemporary America. When the first Europeans came to the Americas the Spanish to the Caribbean, the English to North America they came with clearly preconceived notions of conquering peoples, and theological ways of making it legitimate and self-righteous.
Violent solutions created the need for more violence. Whenever we decide that violence is the only solution, we can create the scenario for using violence and making it seem right, but it always generates the need for more violence. Once a bully hits someone in a schoolyard, the bully must be prepared to hit that someone again, and to take on that someones friends. Violence begets more violence. As soon as the one who was hit has enough friends to make the bully back down, the bully must find more friends, so that the bullying can continue. When a man is abusive towards a spouse, it doesnt just stop with one act of abuse. The battering must continue. Its not enough, as Williams says, for the colonizer to think that he is right in his abuse of the colonized. He also needs for the colonized to believe that the conquest is just and right.
White Americans need for black and brown, yellow and red people to believe that whites are superior to people of color. Men need to have women believe that men are superior to women. Otherwise the conquest must continue, until normative divergence is completely wiped out. To understand international politics, we need to connect all the dots and put this complex jigsaw puzzle together. We must go from the abuse of women to the globalization of capital. The U.S. must say, as Clinton did recently, that freedom can only be measured in terms of free enterprise, free markets. Now for us this may be a leap, but the U.S. is invested in its economic conquest of the world. So we must tell Third World countries through our wholly-owned subsidiaries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that they must have free market systems in place in order to do business with us.
Isnt that exactly the rationale of the Spanish conquistadores 500 years ago? In a document called Requirimiento, the Spanish made clear that the aboriginal peoples of the Americas had no choice but to do business with their conquerors. Not to so agree left the aboriginal peoples, owners of the land, at risk of a Spanish declaration of a just war of conquest. Of course the document was read in Latin, on a hilltop some distance from the village. If the Indians did not respond and concede in half an hour, the Spaniards were free to slaughter them. It is not a pretty picture we read in Bartolome de las Casas: they engaged in wholesale slaughter of Indian communities because they refused to acknowledge the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel overheir lives, refused to acknowledge the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and refused to allow the Spaniards to trade with them. The Indians could not understand any of the words, of course, but they understood the blood. Las Casas says in his report of the conquest of Cuba that the blood ran through the villages like rivers.
CTA conferees were among 300 in protest march Nov. 3 in downtown Milwaukee against the Kohl retail chain for sweatshop abuses in Nicaragua.
To join CTA's campaign against sweatshops, click here.
Violence: An American value
But the violence is still going on. In fact, its one of the key American values. Its even part of what we call family values, and we teach it to our children in Hollywood productions, on TV, in cartoons. When my kids were little, they were fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They arent police or some other legitimate part of our legal justice system, but act outside the law to apprehend the bad guys and put them behind bars. They dont kill anybody, of course, because these are childrens movies. Like The A-Team, they just toss people around and beat them up, but to spare the kids grief, no one dies. The message, however, is clear to our children: as long as you think you are right, you can engage in an act of violence on behalf of justice and righteousness as you define it.
This is what American individualism has come to and is what our children are learning from their parents who work in the corporate world. They watch their fathers act with unusual viciousness in corporate takeover policies, or in competitive free market enterprises, where the task of business is to put other companies out of business. Its not enough to have a market. They must corner an increasing market share, to sell more this year than they sold last year, to raise their market share from 12.4 percent to 12.6 percent, or 15, or 20 percent which means your job is to put other people out of business. Thats the way capitalism works!
|Tinker (left) gets feedback from CTA audience to his ideas on globalized violence.|
Then we wonder why their children behave the way Klebolt and Harris behaved not far from where I live, at Columbine High School. And all the press can say is, These were two sick young boys. Or not even admit they were boys, and say, These were sick men killing children. Never mind that the children they shot were the same age as the children who pulled the trigger. We excuse ourselves of any social or moral responsibility by claiming school murders to be an aberration. But they are not. Some say that gangs in American cities are made up of young men of color who have failed to understand the American value system. Just the opposite is true, as Jim Wallis of Sojourners Community, a white minister living for some 30 years in a black community in Washington, D.C., says: children in gangs have understood the American value system. They are trying to implement it as best they can.
Violence eventually becomes habitual. Violence is a deeply embedded part of the fabric of American society both in the private and in the public sphere. In the private realm we have violence in our communities and in our families, men against their wives, adults against children. In the public sphere, we had President Bush deciding to prove his testosterone to the American public by attacking Iraq ostensibly to punish one person. In the process he killed 200,000 civilians, and of course Saddam Hussein is still there. Then we elect a pacifist Democrat who ends up behaving in the same way, sending jets to conduct a missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in northern Africa under the vague notion that it is an arms factory.
When does the violence stop? When do we begin to say: Enough is enough? We know enough today about addictive behavior like alcoholism or abusive conduct to know that it will not stop by itself but that it will get increasingly worse. If there is no healing intervention with the alcoholic, the person finally drinks himself to death. But in this case the person is all of us together in North America. That violence is eating away at the spiritual and emotional core of our being as a country. We must begin to respond in new and creative ways.
In Denver, we have protested against Columbus Day, not because of what Columbus did. That was bad enough. If you read the primary sources, and the analysis generated by scholars, the problem isnt just that Columbus got the ball rolling and eventually the genocide of Indian peoples happened. As the parade organizers in Denver insisted to us protesters: Columbus didnt even come to North America. Why are you all so upset with Columbus? Of course, this raises another interesting question: why are they celebrating Columbus if he never even came to North America? There is an underlying reason. It is a critically important reason, and we had better be aware of what is at stake in the celebration of Columbus Day. The abuse of every wife is at stake, not just the abuse of Indian people.
Columbus killed people. Thats a fact. Even the press has become part of the systemic problem, finding a subtle but irresponsible way to raise questions about the legitimacy of our protest. In Denver the press consistently wrote, Indians allege that Columbus was a slave trader and a murderer. No, we dont allege. No one allows the press to say, Jews allege that Hitler killed six million Jews. No one alleges the death of six million Jews during World War II. Neither do we allege that Columbus killed people. Its a matter of historical record. Read the texts.
Columbus and violence
Columbus as Governor of the Caribbean was directly responsible for the deaths of between two and three million people during the first eight years (1492-1500). And as we read Las Casas we understand that they didnt all die of diseases. Some of them died because of too high an iron concentration in their bellies on the point of a spear, or a sword, as Spanish soldiers bet with one another to see who could come closest to cutting a person in half with one swing of the sword or who could kill both a pregnant woman and the baby in her womb with one thrust of a spear. I apologize for the gory detail, but Las Casas is even more explicit and relates gory detail for hundreds of pages.
Yet even that is not the problem of celebrating Columbus Day. The problem of Columbus Day is first of all what we in addictions therapy call denial. Celebrating this holiday is an act of denial on the part of white Americans. Lets be clear then: Columbus is really a white mans hero. Columbus Day is an act of denial by white men in America, over against those atrocities of genocide, murder, kidnapping, and slavery.
Secondly, its more than denial. Columbus Day becomes a legitimization of the conquest, an act of self-righteous self-justification by white men in North America. It thus becomes an act of defending white male privilege. Columbus Day, then, is a sexist, racist, and classist act of self-validation. It brings together all three categories: race, gender, and class. It is also part of the same systemic whole that justifies the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the School of the Americas and the U.S. presence in Central America, or in any Third World context. It justifies the exploitation of natural resources and labor in Third World countries. And Columbus Day is all the more pernicious because it is a federal holiday. That is to say, it is state supported hate speech.
Eco-feminist thologians from three continents shared their insights at the cta conference about sexism and the fate of the Earch: (from left) Ivone Gebara of Brazil, Chung Hyun Kyung of Korea, and Elizebeth Johnson of the U.S.
We need to understand that all these things are related. Columbus Day symbolizes all these things for Indian people today. It stands for the continuation of violence both in the public sphere and in the private sphere of the home and small local community.
In Denver, the two organizers of the Columbus Day parade were declared Italian Catholics of the Year in the Archdiocese of Denver. The Denver Catholic Register devoted nine or ten pages to glorifying these two organizers, and Columbus, and the conquest of Indian peoples, because, as the largest banner in the parade declared, Columbus brought Christ to the Americas. In this way, state-supported hate speech becomes church-supported hate speech.
The justification of an economic system, of economic violence, is based in their minds on a gospel that you and I dont know. We know of it, because you, like me, are victims of that kind of gospel. If Jesus were here today, he too would be a victim of that kind of gospel, for it has nothing to do with the Jesus you and I know from the New Testament.
What is our solution? What we can do? Its incredibly complex as though every person in this room were involved in two or three justice and peace issues. it, right? But sometimes I can get so bogged down in the little world of my concerns for justice, that I fail to see that what I am doing is connected with what each of you is doing. Its so complex that it can seem overwhelming to try to put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. But if I am right, and this is a problem of massive communal addictive behavior, and if we are part of it, then we cant just say its those people over there. Nor is there any possibility of a simple solution. Electing just the right candidate, for instance, will not work because the very forces we are struggling against control the whole electoral process and maintain the mere illusion of what can only be called a procedural democracy opposed to a more substantial and more real participatory democracy. And we need to be clear, two days before the election, that this systemic force is going to be perpetuated in the most decisive manner by either Al Gore or George W. Bush. We and the world wont be too much better off if an Al Gore is elected. There will be some social programs and some policies that will be less patently violent with Al Gore, but never forget that Clinton sent Al Gore to Russia to give them the green light to invade Chechnya. There are no heroes at that level of the U.S. government. The problem is so systemic that no one can rise to the top without committing to the violence of the system. (Ive been telling people how I voted this year. I voted for Winona La Duke and whoever shes running with.)
If we are going to find a solution to this addictive behavior, we must understand what we have already learned from studies of addictive family systems. It takes people roughly as long to get well from their addiction as they spent being addicted. If someone was an alcoholic for 20 years, it will take 20 years of sobriety and self-conscious therapy to put that life back together again. Its scary. Adult survivors of child abuse, who typically come to some understanding of the abuse in their 30s, will be of retirement age before they are healthy, and only if they do some really good therapy along the way.
The addiction I am talking about has been going on for 508 years in this hemisphere. If we put it off until next year, it will take 509 years for this country to get healthy again. We might as well start now. It will take the energies of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for at least seven generations to bring things back into harmony. Take a deep breath. It will be a long haul.
We need to create a new kind of liberation theology that moves beyond what our Latin American, African and Asian brothers and sisters developed in the last third of the last century. We need to dream a liberation theology that makes a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed, but also talks about how each of us can become free. Indian peoples will never be free on this continent until white Americans are also free, until men are freed from the systemic structures of sexism which automatically give privilege to men in this society, even to those of us who struggle against them and claim to be listening to our feminist colleagues.
You who are white are still privileged in this world, whether you want it or not, just as the systemic whole privileges men, even those of us who try to object self-consciously. We need to be freed from systems that cause us to be involved in the oppression of others even when we think we are struggling against them.
You are here because you already know this to some extent. Thats why Call To Action exists. You know you cannot be free apart from the freedom of everyone else in this globalized world. Chiapas cannot be genuinely free until Mexico is free. Mexico cannot be free until the United States is free, in the real sense of liberated freedom. We are caught in an international web of violence and greed, of mass consumption and manufactured desire, where weve all got to have the newest and hottest thing on the market. These systemic forces have manipulated our minds so that I dont think I can write unless I have a really good laptop computer, with the most recent version of Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Windows, etc., etc. I cant struggle against the forces of development, progress and technology unless I have a really good cellphone so I can make the best use of all my time.
The only way out of the web is to dream a new dream, to reimagine ourselves in a new story, and to tell a different story to our kids and grandkids to counteract the story they get from Hollywood. That is our only hope for counteracting the negative and destructive image that a movie like Dances with Wolves creates for Pawnee people primitivizing and savagizing them, even while Kevin Costner, the good white man who comes as another Christ figure, tries to save the good Indians (the Lakotas) from the savage (bad, really bad) Pawnees. And this is liberal Hollywood at its best!
With Jesus on the margins
You and I have to tell the Jesus story in a way that many of our colleagues in the churches, Protestant and Catholic, have lost sight of: a Jesus who didnt insist on obedience so much as on faithfulness, love, and compassion. It means that a lot of us may end up, like Patty Crowley and Joan Chittister, with the honor of being called dangerous. Indians, along with all racialized others in the U.S., exist on the periphery of society, marginalized by the system both economically and politically. Today, all of you, just by being here at Call To Action, have moved one step further away from the center and toward the margins, where all my people live.
As Christians, you need to take Jesus seriously in ways that he has not been understood for centuries, maybe not since the year 323 when Constantine was converted, and Christianity became a state religion a power center instead of a marginalized presence. Jesus was marginal and peripheral as was earliest Christianity. To help Christians today begin to tell that story and to live it, we Indian people in our ceremonies and sundances and sweat lodges, in our rites of vigil are praying for all of you. Even when we feel we must insist: No white people in our ceremonies, we pray for our white relatives. We pray for your healing, because we know that your healing is a part of our own.
Inclusiveness means creating an inclusive world, in which we all do what we need to do spiritually, and we can talk to one another in absolute trust in each others good intentions. Every week in Denver, we gather to pray in a traditional ceremony. I promise you that Call To Action will be a part of our prayers. I in turn know we can count on your prayers for us and for all Indian people.
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