My great grandfather Heavy Runner (Blackfeet) must have gone to his grave wondering about that in 1870 when the US Calvary massacred him and my grandmother on the Bear River (Marias) in Montana along with about 200 others in a tragedy that is now known as the Baker Massacre. He had made a peace with the US government and emerged from his lodge holding the paper of peace high on that cold winter day in January. He was gunned down before he got very far from his lodge and all out massacre ensued.
I know that many Indian people, myself included, are so very weary, tired of waiting and hoping for justice. I see it on the faces and hear it in the voices of my family and relatives and in the Native communities I work with. Far too many of our young people decide it is a better option to commit suicide than live as a commoditized serf or non-person in the current system. I never condemn them for this choice. I think there is a level of correctness in their assessment of the reality in which we live though I strongly disagree with the remedy of suicide.
Growing up I always heard the rallying cry of the Blackfoot people: Ikaakimaat! Take courage, try hard, don’t give up. Sometimes, those voices in my head are the only thing standing between myself and total hopelessness.
Hope does spring eternal, though. Just when it seems all is lost, hope revives, and the eternal flame of hope for justice roars back to life from an unexpected direction, unexpected source. For me the Occupy Wall Street movement is that new hope. What I see in the Occupy Wall Street movement with its focus on economic justice which is entwined with social justice, growing and strengthening and merging with the environmental movement is the beginning of new hope. Not just for Native Americans, but for all Americans and all citizens of the world. Our Indigenous philosophies have always told us we are all related, we are all connected, we are all in this together.
This movement, with its growing alliances of economic justice, social justice, and environmental justice activists will be formidable if they hold. Climate change, endless wars, and a yearning for freedom beyond a future of corporate serfdom seems to be driving and strengthening new opportunities and alliances. Sunday, the Occupy Denver assembly unanimously adopted a 10 point platform put forth by the Colorado Chapter of the American Indian Movement.
Correctly, the movement blames both Wall Street and Washington for orchestrating the upward shift of money, assets, resources, and power to the governing elite, the 1%. This collusion perpetuates, expands, and institutionalizes poverty for the masses, where most Indigenous people reside. Poverty and war are social justice issues, deeply entwined with economic justice. Now,with the merging of environmental justice into this movement and the proper identification of the real source of injustice, the collusion between Wall Street and Washington, there is real hope for real change.
I have come to the conclusion that Barack Obama, who sold himself to the hopeful masses as the face of hope and change is severely hindered in that he, like his predecessors and too many members of congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, are beholden to the Wall Street masters and their money. I think this movement has a real chance precisely because it refuses to be co-opted and, like so many of the American people, it no longer trusts Democrats or Republicans. Correctly, it acknowledges that both parties who dominate our political system are similarly corrupted by the same greed and lust for power that rots Wall Street at its very core. People are taking to the streets now because they realize that change will not come solely from the ballot box.
In my community organizing work, I sometimes heard a saying. “It does not matter on which boat your ancestors came here, we are all in the same boat now,” to which I would add: “even if your ancestors did not come here in a boat, we are all in the same boat now”. The window of opportunity to bend the course of history back towards justice is once again opening. It will not stay open long. Let us, Native Americans and all others who have not given up hope for a world based on real economic, social, and environmental justice, not squander this opportunity. It may very well may be our last.
John Bird M. Ed. (Blackfeet) is a long time community organizer and mental health and wellness activist. He was one of the founders of NANACOA and one of the developers of the original GONA curriculum. He lives between his home on the Blackfeet Reservation and Tucson, Arizona where he is helping to raise his two grandchildren who are half Tohono O’odham.