As school starts anew in Seattle, we think of the families still forced apart

As school starts anew in Seattle, we think of the families still forced apart

Suddenly it's September. Somehow it's already the end of the first week of school.

Every summer goes by a bit too fast, but this was a special year for our family, so the past few months went by in a blink.

I began a summer-long break from writing at the beginning of June, and soon after that we welcomed a perfect new baby girl into this world. So, less than two weeks into my little hiatus, mom and baby Sojourner were home full-time along with me. In a matter of a few more days, the school year had ended for our two boys, and we were all home together in a little time-space cocoon spun of family ties. It's a rare gift to have such free and uninterrupted time as an entire family, and we made the most of it -- on the road, in the woods, and especially at home together.

But then, on the first day of school, the bubble popped.

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The Indian Removal Act was signed on this date in 1830. What does it mean today?

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

Today is an important anniversary to remember. It’s not one to by any means celebrate, but neither is it one we can forget.

On May 28, 1830, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.

According to the Library of Congress, this “allowed the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the ‘Trail of Tears.’”

From the U.S. Office of the Historian:

In his 1831 ruling on Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “the Indian territory is admitted to compose a part of the United States,” and affirmed that the tribes were “domestic dependent nations” and “their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” However, the following year the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that Indian tribes were indeed sovereign and immune from Georgia laws. President Jackson nonetheless refused to heed the Court’s decision. He obtained the signature of a Cherokee chief agreeing to relocation in the Treaty of New Echota, which Congress ratified against the protests of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay in 1835. The Cherokee signing party represented only a faction of the Cherokee, and the majority followed Principal Chief John Ross in a desperate attempt to hold onto their land. This attempt faltered in 1838, when, under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe were forced to the dry plains across the Mississippi. The best evidence indicates that between three and four thousand out of the fifteen to sixteen thousand Cherokees died en route from the brutal conditions of the “Trail of Tears.”
 

When our government was established, it operated on a system of slavery and a burgeoning belief in “manifest destiny” as justification for genocide of indigenous people.

By 1830, our president was still a slaveowner, and he signed a bill that allowed him to sign treaties never intended to be kept even more freely than before.

Fast forward 183 years, and I can't help but ask what the government has done in that time to earn our trust. More than finding reason to believe in the possibility of tomorrow, I find I'm starting to lose hope.

An article published yesterday by The Intercept, for instance, reveals through public records requests and leaked emails that Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipeline, hired a private mercenary firm to work directly with the FBI, BIA and various levels of federal, state and local law enforcement to conduct illegal surveillance and to treat peaceful #NoDAPL demonstrators in Standing Rock last year as “terrorists” and “rioters” on a “battlefield.”

I might be crazy. I’m aware of that. But in a conflict of interest between a for-profit corporation and an organically formed group of people (mostly U.S. citizens), the United States government acted with military force on behalf of the corporation. It's just one of many examples of this phenomenon. What does that mean?

It happened while Obama was in office, and it’s continued with Trump. It's neither a partisan issue nor a new one. What does that mean?

And what does it mean for our kids that we’re sending them to schools made mandatory by this same government? I know that’s a crazy-sounding question in the “normal” world, but it’s one I again can’t keep from asking.

And apparently I'm not the first to ask it, because it’s also one that Malcolm X may have already answered: “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Our government has shown throughout history a perfect willingness to treat its own citizens like the enemy. Does that mean we’re fools for thinking we’ll ever find what we’re looking for in their schools?

Yesterday Trump honored the racist Bryan Adams lookalike Obama tried to leave behind

Donald Trump laid a wreath on the grave of former President Andrew Jackson yesterday on what would have been Jackson's 250th birthday.

It turns out Trump is the latest in a long line of presidents who have paid homage to Jackson. Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt, among others, all visited Jackson's home and adorned their predecessor's grave while in office.

But why the persistent interest in Old Hickory? (Evidently that was Jackson's nickname, by the way -- Old Hickory. As a one-time ballplayer, I'm jealous. Anybody called Old Hickory could probably hit like the dickens.)

Well, for one thing, he was a white man in America, which means that his thoughts, words and deeds were and continue to be considered inherently more important and more valuable than those of most people around him.

Further, like many of his similarly heralded colleagues, Jackson was a sanctimonious slaveowner who was directly responsible for the murder of many, many indigenous people, and for the forced relocation of many more. He rests on the same prickly laurels as Washington and Jefferson and our other most star-spangled heroes.

Even Barack Obama paid Jackson some (un)love. Barry made an effort during his time in the Oval Office to have Jackson's likeness removed from the $20 bill, paying his subtle respect to Jackson through the "any publicity is good publicity" avenue. I'm told that effort fell short, but I haven't seen a bill the size of Jackson's in years now.

It should probably be no surprise that Jackson -- and his views on race -- remain relevant. Our country has shown time and again that oppression and violence against people who aren't white men is enough to keep you celebrated for centuries. But in Jackson's case, there may be more to the story -- a conspiracy worthy of Doc Brown's DeLorean.

I don't believe any of these presidents are visiting the grave of Andrew Jackson. They are visiting Andrew Jackson himself.

Don't believe me?

Then how did Andrew Jackson release a piano-pop album as "Bryan Adams" more than 200 years after his "death?"

I don't know.

What I do know is that Wikipedia credits "Bryan Adams" with the following on Reckless

Bryan Adams – lead vocals, guitars, piano, harmonica, hand claps, foot stomping

"Hand claps, foot stomping." That's very weird... just like everything I've written here. Coincidence? Bryan Adams thinks so.

Anyway, you know what else is weird? It's hard to look at who our country chooses to honor and who it chooses to forget (for instance, honoring Jackson on the $20 bill and forgetting every person of color and most women) without thinking we are intentionally working to maintain the racial hierarchy Trump is being so honest about.

We can't forget that Andrew Jackson is the founding legacy of the Democratic Party, but we can stop treasuring his memory.

We shouldn't forget the legacy of oppression and destruction left by Old Hickory and his white-power brethren, but until we stop considering them emblems of patriotic morality, I fear we are doomed to perpetuate the shadows of our past.

It's time to be brave enough to build a future that doesn't build on the oppressive values of its founders. It's time to recognize new standard-bearers and hold them to a higher moral standard, as Reckless as that might seem.

And it's time to take Bryan Adams off the $20 bill.

With largest #NoDAPL camps evacuated, Standing Rock picks up the pieces

I drove back to the #NoDAPL camps at Standing Rock this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with Morton County Law Enforcement issued a deadline of 2 pm Wednesday (Feb. 22) to clear the Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin), which sits on contested land, as well as Rosebud camp and part of Sacred Stone, both of which are (were?) on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but below the flood plane.

I wanted to be present for the deadline, to do what I could to help, and right at 2 p.m. I found myself in the Oceti camp in a pickup truck trying to find two kids who we’d been told needed to get out (and they did).

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by  Matt Halvorson .

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

 

The strange thing, though, was that the police were not particularly aggressive in clearing out the camp. They arrested either nine or 10 people Wednesday, depending on which report you read, and I’m told that something like 50 more were arrested the next day when the police came back through and fully cleared the camps.

The police tried to intimidate and definitely inflicted some physical injury, but all in all, the eviction was surprisingly peaceful. It only takes one police officer responding with too much force too quickly, or one person reacting too strongly to seeing his grandmother being handled by the police for violence to erupt and turn a situation like this into a disaster.

Instead, it was peaceful-ish, as policing goes. Or if peaceful isn’t the right word, well, nobody died. The police were not startlingly violent toward the water protectors who chose to stay in camp and pray until the end, which is what I was afraid of. But then, the #NoDAPL movement has never been characterized by fatal violence.

Set aside for a moment the grotesque images of water cannons, rubber bullets and explosives used by police in riot gear in Standing Rock.

During the protests in Ferguson of the past few years, militarized police frequently shot real bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters and occasionally killed them. Even when the PR risk should have steadied their trigger fingers, fatalities were commonplace. On the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder, for example, St. Louis Police shot and killed another young black man during that night’s protest.

In Standing Rock, on the other hand, through more than 10 months of steady demonstrations and consistent police confrontation, not one water protector was killed. The police inflicted serious injuries and committed atrocities, but everyone survived.

This has been on my mind for months but hasn’t been something I’ve known how to talk about, partly because I was in Standing Rock bearing witness to much of the police violence that has made the news. And it was painful and traumatic and frightening. But I also made an appearance in Ferguson, and I know that the stakes were more immediate there, though no higher in the long run.

I don't know what it means. Our government and law enforcement certainly have a deep and storied history of killing indigenous people. They just haven't done that in Standing Rock yet, even as they're doing it elsewhere. Maybe it just means that our oppression of people of color has been tailored to each specific community.

Whatever the case, just as happened on Dec. 4 last year when the Army Corps under the Obama administration denied the easement needed for Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a time of change and transition for the #NoDAPL camps. Roughly 600 people remained in the camps from mid-December through mid-February, and only a handful of reinforcements arrived this week.

Now many of them are heading home. Many more are staying and continuing the fight on the ground in North Dakota, and a group of committed indigenous activists have promised to continue finding new sites for prayer camps to continue if needed. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who owns the Sacred Stone land and founded the original camp last April, has vowed to maintain a community on her own land as well, come figurative hell or literal high water.

And everyone who is leaving is leaving profoundly changed, it seems, carrying with them a sense of invigorated spirituality and an empowered sense of capability and responsibility to stand up more fiercely than ever to injustice.

Perhaps my greatest takeaway has been the interconnectedness of movements that had remained, until now, disparate. The issues being raised by #NoDAPL water protectors, indigenous rights advocates, environmental activists, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrant rights groups, education advocates, workers' rights groups and countless others are all symptoms of the same disease, branches of a tree whose trunk contains the sickness of capitalist greed, colonial entitlement and systemic inequity.

I see the possibility for enormous breakthroughs as our passions are shown more clearly to have a common enemy, and as it becomes harder to ignore that our own liberation is dependent on our neighbor’s.

We’re all in this together — even the police officers and DAPL employees who are following orders in order to maintain an income they’re afraid to lose. Even Trump and everyone who voted for him. We are protecting this water for everyone. We are shouting for everyone’s sake that Black Lives Matter -- not just for the Black men and women who face the greatest immediate risk -- because no life is truly valued by a society that declares some expendable. We are demanding equitable access to high-quality public education because its absence leaves a cavity in our country and our communities.

No matter what you hear in the mainstream media, the #NoDAPL movement isn’t ending. It’s just shifting, dispersing, expanding. Water falls from the sky as millions of individual drops, but those beads of water don’t remain separate. They can’t help but combine, to join together as they touch, and in doing so, to become a roaring, powerful body of water.

We, too, seem like millions of individuals, but we come from the same source, whatever that is. We are intrinsically connected. And when we act out those connections, they deepen, and we awaken the potential of our unified power to overwhelm the hate and division that plagues us now.