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The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book - Gord Hill, Ward Churchill Damn, this was quite a history lesson packed into eighty-seven pages! It’s not quite what I was expecting- in a good way. I anticipated a long litany of injustices perpetrated against the Native Americans since Columbus. There are a few pages of that, but not many. Author/illustrator Gord Hill essentially explains in the foreword that his intended readership is all too familiar with those things; no need to rehash them. He wrote this comic for Native American activists, and to augment what younger generation Indians* know of their history. The point of this book is to showcase little-known successes native people throughout the Western hemisphere have had in fighting oppression. The message is that resistance is not futile (to flip a popular saying), nor is resistance part of the distant past. It is ongoing! Since 1492, Native Americans have been subjected to genocide, cultural isolation/assimilation, forced relocations, legal harassment, and humiliation. It is fair to describe this as an undeclared war on them. Like in any war, there is a psychological aspect to the fighting. This would be called the “Psychological Operations“, or “Psy-Ops” in a conventional war, and it includes propaganda designed to weaken an opponent’s will to fight. If I understand him correctly, Hill takes the mainstream American interpretation of Native American history as a psy-ops, and I can see where he‘s coming from. Consider the following historical narrative:When Europeans discovered the Americas, they brought with them a superior technology, the benefits of sophisticated trade, and centuries of learning which had not been a part of native culture. They also brought with them new diseases, which the native populations proved to be particularly vulnerable to. Whereas most of the indigenous American cultures did not have elaborate, legalized ideas about land ownership, the Europeans did- and they were aggressive about winning territories over from Indians, either by trade, treaty or force. The Indians were caught off guard. Facing such overwhelming odds, they never had a chance. In a few short centuries, they found themselves second-class citizens in a Europeanized “New World”.Did I leave anything out? That’s pretty mainstream stuff. Is it psy-ops? Maybe not, in that it doesn’t come from some government propaganda office, but it is a pretty disempowering message. Imagine being a young Indian taught this stuff in school: The Indians never had a chance. All their fighting was doomed to failure. Their only hope is to become more like the Eurocentric world and fight for themselves within an alien system. Pretty demoralizing, huh? ...But isn’t there some truth to that last bit, though? The part about fighting within the system? Commercial success and education probably do offer a better material life, and a greater political voice to whoever wield them. The thing is, the Indians by and large are not fighting for a better material life or a greater political voice within the framework of the United States government. Here's an illustration of that: In 1975, the Lakota tribe sued the U.S. government for appropriating a large parcel of the Black Hills region in South Dakota to the U.S. Air Force, in violation of a standing treaty. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in the Lakotas’ favor, and in 1980 the Court awarded Lakotas a cash settlement of $122 million. But the Lakota don’t want the money; they want the land back, and in over thirty years, they haven’t taken one cent from the escrow account created for them. Instead, they continue to petition the Court to do the right thing: award them their land back. That isn’t likely to happen, since the Black Hills region holds nearly ¼ of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, in deep, reinforced underground missile silos. To you and I, the silos might seem like an extenuating circumstance, but to the Lakota, it compounds the moral offense.So…$122 million, but no land back… should this be seen as a victory or a defeat? A little of both. The Court’s ruling in their favor is a huge moral victory; essentially an admission of wrongdoing. But the failure to recapture the land fuels a sense that working within the framework of capitalism and democracy can only bring so much satisfaction. The problem is: if peaceful legal recourse doesn’t work, what else is there? Well, the book does go into activism… some of it legal, and some not. Part 4 (p63) details the recent political awakening of Native Americans. It seems 1968 was the season for minority empowerment. African Americans, gays, women, seniors, Hispanics (is that the right term- sorry if it isn’t), and others were all taking to the streets, protesting… marching on Washington, making the evening news. The Indians were no different- they were searching for a political voice of their own. I stress that last part, because Indians supposedly did already have a voice in the “National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)”- a state-funded group constructed for Native Americans by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This raises a question of what the NCAI true purpose is: to advocate for Indians, or to absorb their discontent, and channel it to acceptable forms? Their keynote address in 1967 was “Indians Don’t Demonstrate”. By ‘68 young Indians had had it with NCAI, and formed their own group: The American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM got more satisfaction for Native Americans in a few years than NCAI did in decades. Talk about empowerment! They took note of, and protested cases of police brutality against Indians, and won significant suspensions of abusive police. They also protested the whitewash of a murdered Indian man, Ray Yellow Thunder, in Gordon, Nebraska (1972). Despite plenty of evidence regarding who killed him, authorities didn’t want to bring the case to trial… until AIM organized effective boycotts that were felt in Gordon, NE. Gandhi would be proud! Some of the illegal but essentially nonviolent stuff that AIM did also fits in with Gandhi, like Indians fishing without licenses. I'm not sure where Satyagraha draws the line. When AIM broke into the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington DC, and destroyed over 20,000 lbs of files - there was property damage, but it was all nonviolent. Is that Satyagraha? Somebody out there can probably tell me.Things get stickier when the book explores the issue of violence. Some of the conflict seems like conventional warfare between nation-states, like the case of the Mapuche people of Southern Chile. They have been successfully defending their ancestral lands from the Chilean government, as well as from intruding settlers for over four hundred years! Today, they face mammoth challenges, but continue their fight. While many of them now live on reservations, the tribe has still demonstrated sovereignty over its core lands. Pretty impressive! I’ve wonder why I’ve never heard about them before. Is it because the Mapuche aren’t newsworthy (being so far from here), or is it because they don’t fit the image of powerless, hopeless, bewildered natives-in-a-white-man’s-world? ("The revolution will not be televised", you know?) I know all about the plight of Tibetians against China. Is that more newsworthy? Not to take anything away from Tibetians, but they’re at least as remote as Chile, yet they get more press. Why is that? Maybe sympathy for Tibet just fits more harmoniously with the rest of the mainstream media’s worldview.The cause of the Mapuche seems morally clearcut. Other confrontations in this book are more ambiguous. The 1990 crisis in Oka (Quebec), and the 1995 standoff at Ts’Peten (British Columbia), for example. Both degenerated into standoffs with Canadian police and military, and both turned violent. On one hand, I understand why Mr. Hill included them in this book, but neither one seems like an inspiring model for activists. Both crises could have been resolved nonviolently...and I’m not being pollyanna, saying that. Sure, Indian and Canadian forces could not have spontaneously joined hands and broken out in a heartfelt rendition of “Kumba-ya”, but the Indians could have gotten everything they wanted nonviolently. The areas around Oka and Ts'Peten have large Indian populations. These are places where a boycott like the one in Gordon, NE could have been effective. Moreover, the crisis in Oka started over a proposal to build a golf course on Indian land. A nonessential luxury venture like that would be very vulnerable to economic sanctions. Unlike the Black Hills case, this was hardly national defense we were talking about! What Oka store owner would have wanted to lose Indian business so he could make a stand for some country club that probably wouldn’t accept the likes of him as a member? Then there’s the issue of the press... which Mr Hill addresses, saying the Indians could never manage to get their side of the story out to the public. It’s hard to say whether there was an organized effort to prevent giving the Indians a voice, but it seems like the Indians might have had options to test that theory. Several Indian reservations have tribal-run radio stations. More tribes should look into this. Also, this may be a case where money could have made a difference. A country club building a golf course over traditional Mohawk burial grounds? A good PR firm would have had a field day with that! I know... I know... it’s easy for me to play armchair quarterback now, fifteen years after the fact. This is challenging material.To wrap up: this is a thought-provoking book, well worth reading. At $12 and only 87 pages (of graphic novel!), the time and money investment this book demands are minimal, yet the return is huge! My highest recommendation.---------------------------------------------------------------* a term both he and I use, which has Euro-centric provenance, but which has also been claimed by Native Americans, and -to be frank- makes for easier reading and writing on this subject.