Tag Archives: Native Americans

A Land Called México

They have experienced the glory and the pain.

They have weathered through generous pride and torrid shame.

They have felt the hate and the love.

They have lived through peace and seen blood.

They worshipped then, as now, both sun and moon.

They have guarded their temples and slept quietly in their tombs.

They have fought savage invaders and their very own.

They have been dragged through dirt and scraped their bones.

They have suffered through individual and collective emotions.

They have seen painful strife and been betrayed by unwanted notions.

These are the people who looked down from the mountains and built a nation on a lake they named Texcoco.

These are the people of a land called México.


I wrote this poem in the early 1980s and had it published in 1984 in “Our World’s Most Beloved Poems”, a compilation of poetry by the World of Poetry Press.  There’s not much information available now on WPP.  They published my poem for free, but – of course – I had to buy the gigantic book in which it appeared.  Yes, it’s amazing how naïve people can be at the age of 20.

Odd, but I never considered myself a poet.  A writer, obviously; yet poetry generally ranked somewhere between Reader’s Digest and the local classified ads, as far as I was concerned.  Still, outside of my blog, letters to a newspaper editor and a couple of anonymous romance inquiries circa 1990, it’s the only thing I’ve officially had published.


Image: “El Mercado de Tlatelolco” by Diego Rivera, c. 1935.


Filed under Wolf Tales

Wrong Right


No sooner had the group taken control of the tiny town than various branches of law enforcement – from local police to the U.S. Marshalls – arrived fully armed and fully prepared for combat. The group expressed anger towards the federal government and decried a system of oppression and brutality. But both the federal government and the police viewed them as mere renegades whose goal was destruction, not revitalization of a battered community. The day after the siege began both entities exchanged gunfire. Seventy-one days later it ended.

The 1973 occupation of the small South Dakota hamlet of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM) startled most other Americans and garnered international attention. It really shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but many non-Indians believed then their Native American counterparts were content to live in isolation on land carved out just for them. Who outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation knew things were so bad? The history of Wounded Knee had already been written in blood. In December of 1890, a violent clash between the Oglala Sioux nation and U.S. federal troops left some 150 Indian people dead. That cataclysm was fresh in the minds of AIM members, including co-founders Russell Means and Dennis Banks, when they overwhelmed Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973. Things hadn’t changed much for the residents of Wounded Knee or all of Pine Ridge, for that matter, in the period since the 1890 event. Poverty, sickness and infant mortality were high, while employment and opportunities were low. The U.S. federal government had failed the entire community. But it didn’t fail to react to the sudden occupation by AIM. If you study that fiasco from the vantage point of AIM and residents of Pine Ridge, you should get an understanding of their angst and the long brutal relationship Native American communities have had with the federal government. If you look at it from the U.S. Marshalls’ view, it was a military success – albeit one that lasted too long for their liking.


AIM members literally readied themselves for battle when they overran Wounded Knee in 1973, exacerbating the fears of many White conservatives: Indians with guns.

I thought about the 1973 Wounded Knee quagmire, when a group of anti-government activists seized a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon two weeks ago. They’re protesting the treatment of two local men, Dwight Hammond and his son, Steve, by the federal government. The Hammonds had been charged with starting two fires – in 2001 and 2006 – on their farmland that ultimately encroached upon federal territory. The Hammond property has been in their family for generations, but it interlocks with publicly-owned territory managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The government allows Hammond-owned livestock to graze on the federal land. The Hammonds claimed they set both fires on their land strictly as a clearing method and had informed the government in advance. But U.S. officials deny receiving any such notification and claim the family was trying to cover up evidence of illegal deer hunting. The 2001 fire burned 139 acres of BLM land, while the 2006 blaze burned only an acre. Dwight and Steve Hammond were arrested and charged with destruction of federal property and sentenced to three months and 366 days, respectively, in prison in 2013. A series of appeals resulted in early releases for both men. But the government recently backtracked and ordered the men to serve more prison time. By the time they peacefully turned themselves in to authorities, the occupation of Malheur had begun.

The rebellious group’s leaders are the sons of another land owner, Nevada’s Cliven Bundy, who was the crux of a federal dispute two years ago that resulted in another standoff. Bundy, a wealthy cattle rancher, had been using federal land in Nevada to feed his livestock. The government allows people to do that, but the farmers must pay fees. Bundy hadn’t paid his share of fees since 1993, and in 1998, a judge ordered him to remove his cattle from federal land. He refused and in March of 2014, federal officials tried to seize some of his livestock. In no time, a large contingent of supporters descended upon the Nevada ranch, armed and ready to fight. The government backed off and returned the cattle to Bundy without further incident. Bundy apparently still hasn’t paid his fees. Shortly after that incident concluded, Bundy showed his true colors (pun intended) when – recalling his experience driving past a Las Vegas housing project – he said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. [A]nd in front of that gov­ern­ment house the door was usu­ally open and the older people and the kids — and there is al­ways at least a half a dozen people sit­ting on the porch — they didn’t have noth­ing to do. They didn’t have noth­ing for their kids to do. They didn’t have noth­ing for their young girls to do. And be­cause they were ba­sic­ally on gov­ern­ment sub­sidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young chil­dren, they put their young men in jail, be­cause they nev­er learned how to pick cot­ton. And I’ve of­ten wondered, are they bet­ter off as slaves, pick­ing cot­ton and hav­ing a fam­ily life and do­ing things, or are they bet­ter off un­der gov­ern­ment sub­sidy? They didn’t get no more free­dom. They got less free­dom.”

Looking at the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff and the current Oregon mess, two facts are obvious: the protestors in both situations are White and that the federal government hasn’t fired a shot. At least they haven’t done so yet in Oregon, and I doubt they will. Unlike the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff, the government has been patient.

Oregon protestor, Jon Ritzheimer, displays a family picture on his phone and a copy of the Constitution to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.  He needs bottled water and Ramen noodles, too.

Oregon protestor, Jon Ritzheimer, displays a family picture on his phone and a copy of the Constitution to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. He needs bottled water and Ramen noodles, too.

What would happen if a group of Indians took over the Malheur site and demanded the U.S. federal government stay away for good because it had been Indian land for thousands of years and should remain that way? How would the government react if a group of Mexican-Americans descended upon the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas and ordered the state and federal governments to cease making it a tourist attraction? What if a group of African-American Chicago residents, tired of rampant poverty and police abuses, overwhelmed city hall and demanded the mayor and police chief resign? Can anyone honestly see the U.S. federal government reacting with patience and diplomacy if any of these scenarios actually occurred? If you do, I have a box of gold bullion I’d like to sell you for USD 100.00 a bar; just give me the money (cash only) and I’ll ship it to you postage paid.

The people at Malheur are just a few members of a larger anti-government contingent here in the U.S. While the state of Oregon overall has a reputation as a bastion of liberal ideology, its eastern sectors are much more rural and conservative. The same holds true for its northern neighbor, Washington. For its southern neighbor, California, the northern half is the rural, conservative portion with strong anti-government sentiments. (On more than one occasion some northern California residents have launched concerted efforts to secede from the rest of the state; most recently in 2014.)

There have always been anti-government insurgents in the United States. From 19th century abolitionists to 1960s-era Black Panthers, various groups have organized and protested against what they view as an oppressive regime. The modern-day militia movement spawned from anxiety over tumultuous civil rights protests. Blacks, Hispanics, Indians, women and gays and lesbians form the bulk of their frustration (fear?), as they call for a rebirth of core American values. The militia movement is comprised mostly of devout Christians of European extraction. Publicly they trumpet their concerns about a federal government out of control, but many of their actions shout White supremacy. Any would-be social cataclysms are the stuff of pure hysteria. In other words, these clowns are conjuring up shit that hasn’t even happened.

The U.S. federal government, however, isn’t so left-wing. Cliven Bundy’s oldest son, Ammon Bundy, leads the Oregon militia and has promised his fellow Americans that “we are not terrorists.” The crop of loudmouths seeking the U.S. presidential nomination in the Republican Party have denounced President Obama for not using such terms as “Islamic terrorists” or “Muslim militants.” But they haven’t applied similar monikers to Bundy’s gang in Oregon or to the young White man who shot and killed 9 Black people after a Bible study session in a Charleston, South Carolina church last year. They were quick to slap the terrorist label onto a Muslim couple who ambushed a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California last month, killing 14 and injuring 22. But they offered their usual “thoughts and prayers” after a mentally deranged man opened fire in a Lafayette, Louisiana move theatre last summer, killing 2 and injuring several others, before taking his own life. The Lafayette killer allegedly praised the Charleston killer in a written screed that displays the “angry White male” syndrome in all its raging effervescence. More importantly, both men had purchased their guns illegally.

In 1968, thousands of law enforcement personnel swarmed into Chicago in advance of the Democratic National Convention. Emotions were still raw for many after the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Police swiftly targeted unarmed protestors; part of their paranoia over rumors that leftists planned to spike the city’s water supply with LSD. Mayor Richard J. Daley had the Illinois National Guard in place, as convention participants arrived. The sight of police beating the crap out of unarmed protestors, while business proceeded as usual in the convention center horrified most Americans.

In November of 1969, 89 AIM activists sneaked onto Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and demanded the federal government turn it over to them, so they could convert it into a Native American cultural center. The island had sat mostly untouched, since the government closed the Alcatraz federal prison six years earlier. The AIM occupiers claimed they had rights to the rocky island under the terms of an 1868 government treaty allowing Native Americans to appropriate any unused federal land. And, of course, we all know how great a job the U.S. government has done in honoring those treaties. Officials tried in vain to get the occupants to give up peacefully. Increasingly squalid living conditions and some infighting, however, led to AIM’s complete desertion of Alcatraz by April 1971. Perhaps it was AIM’s reluctance to give up immediately that led to the government’s more virulent response to the Wounded Knee occupation.

The federal government had kept a close watch on Martin Luther King, almost from the moment he became known for his peaceful resistance against American apartheid. The government did the same with the Black Panthers, but they went further and tried infiltrating the group. In 1967 then-California governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which barred citizens from publicly displaying firearms. It was the closest thing to gun control the future conservative icon ever did, but it was a direct response to Black Panther activities; they had begun patrolling many all-Black neighborhoods to fight crime and stand against police brutality.

The government also kept track of civil rights activist César Chávez who led a series of farm worker strikes in California, beginning in 1962. Documents in the archives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prove they had him and his followers under surveillance. He, too, was a target of Reagan who bore a dislike of organized labor. Reagan appealed to White conservatives in his first run for the presidency by promising to do as much as he could to return America to its pre-1960s period; before all the non-Whites had the audacity to demand equality, voting rights and other such anarchist claims.

The whole world was watching the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago:

Fights even broke out inside the convention hall, proving how nasty politics and media can be.


In contrast, the government reacted slowly to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s, which naturally corresponded with the rise of Black civil rights. Despite frequent lynchings, church bombings and other violent acts, the FBI didn’t even consider infiltrating the Klan until after the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.

Although conservative voices slam government overreach with such things as the Affordable Care Act, the feds have treated mostly-White anti-government groups with care. Two 1990s-era events – Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas – are often cited by conservatives as hallmarks of government gone awry, but actually show just the opposite. In August of 1992, a standoff erupted between government agents and a family of White separatists, headed by Randy Weaver, in Ruby Ridge; a mountainous region of northern Idaho where many fellow White separatists had established themselves. The siege resulted in the deaths of one federal agent and Weaver’s wife, Vicky, and son, Sammy. The FBI had the Weavers and family friend Kevin Harrison under surveillance for months; in their native Iowa, they had ties to White supremacist groups that the government suspected were responsible for a series of bank robberies throughout the mid-West, beginning in the 1980s. Authorities didn’t believe the Weavers were tied directly to the robberies, but that they served as a conduit for firearms trafficking. Randy Weaver had been charged with selling two sawed-off shotguns and was scheduled to appear in court. When he didn’t, the family and Harrison came under greater scrutiny.  While still in Iowa, the Weavers allegedly sent their kids to school wearing Nazi armbands.

Conservatives equally slammed the government over its response to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco in the spring of 1993. As with the Weavers, the feds believed the group was stockpiling weapons and ammunition, which ultimately proved true. Moreover, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh was suspected of child molestation. When agents approached the Davidian compound, they were met with a hail of gunfire. A lengthy standoff ensued whereupon the government tore into the compound with military-style precision; killing 76 people, including 23 children.

However, social conservatives haven’t been so quick to condemn the actions of law enforcement during the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Established in 1972, MOVE (much like their White counterparts) is an anti-government group whose members all adopted the surname “Africa,” in symbolic protest of the Atlantic slave trade that stripped millions of Africans of their identities. The group came under federal surveillance from the moment of their inception. In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, May 13, 1985 (Mother’s Day), police literally dropped a bomb of C4 explosives on one portion of a section of row houses in West Philadelphia. The resulting conflagration killed 6 adults and 5 children, injured several others and destroyed 61 residences. Like the Weavers and Branch Davidians, MOVE members were no angels. They had more people living in one house than city rules allowed; windows were covered with plywood; and they blasted the neighborhood with loud music and vociferous protests. Police also suspected – rightfully – that the group possessed a large cache of weapons and ammunition.

Aftermath of the 1985 MOVE disaster.

Aftermath of the 1985 MOVE disaster.

Still, in a recent editorial, Jesse Walker questioned the legitimacy of denouncing the Oregon protestors as “terrorists.”

“The occupiers do have guns, and they have said they’re willing to use them if the cops come storming in,” Walker opines. “Yet they have no hostages, they haven’t fired at anyone, and if they do fire, they will almost certainly not aim at a civilian but at someone professionally charged with removing them from the premises. You can call that a lot of things, but it’s absurd to call it terrorism.”

In typical right-wing fashion, Walker goes on to point to the Ruby Ridge and Waco affairs as reasons the government is taking a cautious approach with the Oregon group. Anyone who views Randy Weaver and David Koresh as heroic figures isn’t just misguided; they’re assholes. One of them was Timothy McVeigh, mastermind of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which he said was revenge for Waco. McVeigh was videotaped near the Branch Davidian compound during the standoff holding a sign asking observers if they felt their religion met government approval.

White supremacists and serial pedophiles are essentially terrorists. What else should they be called? People with “emotional issues”? While many White conservatives still refer to Ruby Ridge and Waco with anxiety, many Blacks view the MOVE bombing more as a blatant example of the usual police brutality. But I haven’t heard any African-Americans refer to MOVE members as heroes.


My tweet to Jesse Walker after reading his editorial last week.

More recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement was practically halted before it gained any real traction. The group of racially diverse upstarts launched reasonable protests against the same government as others; theirs, however, were directed towards the affluent bankers and hedge fund managers who almost destroyed the U.S. economy and plunged the nation into the worst recessionary period since the Great Depression. The protestors were mainly peaceful and non-violent, yet police from New York to San Francisco plowed into them with mace and batons. Scouring the news about Tea Party rallies – where racist diatribes and threats of violent insurrection are common – I can’t find one incident where police even tried to stop them.

I don’t know what will happen next with the Oregon standoff. Malheur is primarily a bird sanctuary, so I hope no avians are harmed. The interlopers have put out a call for much-needed supplies, such as bottled water and toiletries. In a strange sort of way, I support their frustration in that I have no faith in the U.S. government to do anything right. The years since 2001 have pretty much proven that. Along with bottled water and deodorant, I’d provide a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which the group surely has. But, my copies would highlight this essential passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even though the term “men” can now be easily translated to “people,” I want them and their supporters to understand they are no more deserving of this thing called the “American Dream” than anyone else. We all possess that inalienable right to “life” and “liberty” – whether we drink bottled water or not.

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Filed under Essays

The Grandest Trickery


“Francis – Latin: Franciscus – ‘Free man,’ a man subservient to his government.”

Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, 1963.


After a brief and heavily-publicized tour of the United States, Pope Francis returned to the Vatican last Sunday night. Amidst his hectic schedule, frequent baby-kissing and the usual slew of parades, complete with Miss America-type waves, Francis became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the first to hold mass at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The media and Catholic faithful couldn’t get enough of it. I’d had enough the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil.

In a way, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was returning home; since he’s the first pope from the Americas and the first outside of Europe. But he’s of Italian extraction, and his hometown of Buenos Aires is more European than Latin American. So, he’s not that different from his predecessors. You know what would be different? If the Church had selected a full-blooded Indian who was raised dirt-poor in the mountains of México; perhaps even a man who had been married to a woman and then widowed or (better yet) divorced; maybe someone with a criminal background, like burglary or auto theft. But that would make him too imperfect. I can’t see someone with that many scars rising to the lead one of the most self-righteous institutions the world has ever seen.

I’m not concerned with perfection. No such quality exists in humans. Most everyone in America, from President Obama down to the latest illegal immigrant across the U.S.-México border, was smitten with Francis. As a recovered Catholic, I could see right through the velvet and silk menagerie of angelic verbiage and outstretched hand. Yes, Francis may sound different; offering juicy tidbits of progressive ideology by saying, for example, it’s improper to judge gays and lesbians and criticizing the growing wealth divide. But he’s still head of one of the most powerful and affluent entities on Earth; an empire with an estimated net fortune up to $750 billion. As a former altar boy at a Dallas Catholic church, I wonder now if any priest or nun thought of molesting me; knowing how shy and obedient I was during my childhood. Francis has convinced many people to return to the Catholic Church. I left the Church years ago for one primary reason: its mistreatment of women. And I’ll stay away. I’ve always had a tendency to hold grudges, but this goes beyond personal feelings.


Women’s Work

Of the world’s estimated 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, women comprise more than half, which corresponds to the world’s overall population; that is, women make up more than 50%. Yet, unlike most of the planet, certainly unlike developed nations, the Church is far behind in how it views women and their “place” in society. Women actually make the Church function; they’re the ones who teach the kids, sweep the floors, cook the meals, do the laundry, carry the water and so forth. Meanwhile, their male counterparts (term used loosely) don all those chic designer gowns and issue judgmental pronouncements on human behavior. In medieval times, for example, the Church condemned as heretics any medical practitioner who sought to ease the pains of pregnancy and birth for women. Such agonies, the Church declared, are the price all women must pay for Eve’s trickery in the ethereal “Garden of Eden.” You know the story: the one where the wicked female shoved an apple, or some type of fruit, down Adam’s throat; thus making him and all of humanity a victim of feminine wiles. Even now, the Church refuses to grant the role of priesthood to women. It was hell – almost literally – for them to allow alter girls. But, aside from the convent and church secretaries, there aren’t too many formal positions for women in Roman Catholicism. The Church still won’t even sanction birth control.


Native Americans

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwa. It was a unique moment in the Church’s history. Native Americans have a contentious relationship with Roman Catholicism and all of Christianity. That came to the forefront recently when the Church announced that Francis would canonize Spanish missionary Junipero Serra. Canonization is exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church; a lengthy and exhaustive process a deceased individual undergoes before achieving sainthood. Sainthood is that coveted status in the Church where people are proclaimed to be as God-like as humanly possible. Someone has to do a great deal in the name of the Church (and God) just to be considered for canonization. It’s sort of like the U.S. Medal of Honor, except the Church doesn’t acknowledge the recipient may have killed some folks along the way. More importantly, Medal of Honor recipients don’t try to convince people they’re above humanity.

In the 18th century, Serra established one of the first Christian missions in what is now the state of California. I’ve always proudly announced that Spaniards were the first Europeans to colonize the American Southwest; building entire communities. But I’m just as quick to acknowledge the other side of the epic tale: the indigenous peoples of the same region often fell victim to the violence and oppression Europeans brought in their hunger for land and precious metals. When Spain’s Queen Isabella, who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyages and who’s also one of my direct ancestors, learned that her minions were torturing and killing the Indians, she ordered them to stop – which they did. She then ordered them to begin trying to convert the Indians to Christianity – which they did. Then Isabella died, and the slaughter continued. The brutality was almost as bad as that imposed by British and French royalty who had no problems killing those people who either didn’t catch the flu and died or dropped to their knees and started praying to Jesus. In America’s infancy, many White Christians held a concept called “Manifest Destiny.” Some still do.

Francis proclaimed Serra “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts of his native Spain to spread Christianity in the Americas. Absent in the virtual deification is the fact that Serra was a tool in a brutal colonial system that killed thousands of Native Americans and subjugated thousands of others who didn’t perish. In August, the California state senate voted to replace a statue of Serra with one of a truly heroic figure: the late astronaut Sally Ride, a California native who was the first American woman in space. You know that had to piss off the Vatican elite. A woman given higher status than a male missionary?! How dare they!

Naturally Francis didn’t address the Native American holocaust; the longest-lasting and most far-reaching genocide in human history. Instead, he said that, when it comes to Christian missionaries, we must “examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and shortcomings.” In other words: we don’t give a shit how you people feel.


The Pedophile Scandal

In June of 1985, American Roman Catholic bishops held their annual conference in Colorado. There, they were presented with a report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner.” Labeled “confidential,” the massive document was prepared just as the church was dealing with the case of Gilbert J. Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette, Louisiana who had been convicted of child molestation. While we now know the pedophile priest scandal stretches back for decades, the Gauthe case is where the madness first came to light. Revelations about what the Church knew and when shocked and horrified the Catholic faithful. That the Church tried to cover up the scandal by spiriting its gallery of child rapists from one diocese to another – a sort of ecumenical Witness Protection Program – initially seems unimaginable. But, with its vast financial resources and entrenched role as a global powerhouse, I’m not the least bit surprised. Like any international conglomerate, the Church didn’t want to concede it was wrong; opting instead, to pay out millions to keep the loudmouths quiet.

There’s no amount of money that can make up for the pedophile scourge. The damage has been done. This is not a 1950s-era TV show where mom dents the car, and the kids stumble around trying to keep dad from finding out. Francis grudgingly acknowledged the pedophile conundrum during his visit to the U.S. by meeting privately with a handful of victims and proclaiming that “God weeps” at the sexual abuse of children. I guess God weeps when old fuckers like Francis couch their disdain for talking about it publicly by using such generalized terminology. I say this because Francis also praised American bishops for how they confronted the scandal and told priests he felt their pain. For the record, the Roman Catholic Church never confronted this scandal, until U.S. law enforcement got involved. And the priests certainly aren’t the ones who endured any pain – unless it was pain from handcuffs that were too tight or soreness from sitting in a chair for hours, while giving a deposition. But I don’t feel that qualifies.

In the myriad dreams my writer’s psyche produces, the disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the grandest. But it’s still a dream. We’re talking about an institution nearly two millennia years of age. It’s the foundation of all Christianity – something evangelicals are loathe to admit. It’s not going away anytime soon, unless a comet strikes the Earth or every super volcano on the planet erupts simultaneously. With his soft voice and impish smile, Francis may have convinced a number of people he’s a pope unlike any other; a man wanting to bring the Church into the modern age. After all, he has a Twitter account!

Social media savvy or not, I see the same ruse. I see the same hypocrisy. I see the same figurehead. I see the same wicked entity. It just won’t change for the better. It can’t. It’s deceived too many souls.


Image courtesy J. Belmont.


Filed under Essays

Food for the Soul

Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz poses for a picture in front of an altar he built using corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12.

Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz poses for a picture in front of an altar he built using corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12.

As Pope Francis returns to his native South America for the first time since becoming head of the Roman Catholic Church, Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz is ready with an edible altar. Composed primarily of thousands of ears of corn and pumpkins, Ruiz’s giant art piece conveys the mixed Indian and Spanish heritage of Latin America. It’s no accident he chose corn and pumpkins: both are indigenous to the Americas. Probably originating from an archaic plant called teosinte, corn was first cultivated in what is now central México as far back as 5,600 years ago. It migrated into North America around A.D. 200 and remains a staple of the Indian people’s diet. Seeds related to pumpkins found in México have been dated to 7000 B.C.

Ruiz’s altar is 131 feet (40 meters) wide and 45 feet (14 meters) high. I don’t know if its presence had an impact on Francis. After arriving in nearby Bolivia last week, the Pontiff did something no other pope – or any well-known Christian leader – has done. He acknowledged the Church’s role in both decimating the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and subjugating the survivors.

“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said.

I don’t anticipate we’ll hear anything similar from the Church of England or U.S. evangelical Christian leaders in our lifetime. Those clowns never want to admit they’ve done something bad, especially if no White people got hurt. But it’s a nice gesture on Francis’ part.

Corn and pumpkins survived the European conquest of the Americas and – despite what U.S. history school books say – so did the native peoples. On that note, let’s eat!


Detail of an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12 during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion

Detail of an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion

Workers put the finishing touches to an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12 during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion


Filed under Art Working

Seattle Goes Native


Seattle, Washington has become the latest city in the United States to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day.” On October 6, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to celebrate the nation’s indigenous inhabitants instead of the Italian-born adventurer who didn’t know where he’d actually landed. Columbus Day has always been a point of contention for Native Americans. Saying that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America is akin to stating that Galileo “discovered” the moon. Many Americans of European extraction believe that Columbus technically opened the door for a new society. Most Indians feel it was the start of the world’s greatest and longest-lasting holocaust; the effects of which are still being felt today throughout the Western Hemisphere.

In 1992, celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage met with strong blowback from indigenous groups. A parade in Denver, for example, was canceled that year for fear that protests would turn violent. Some have, given the hostilities that exist; due, in no small part, to the racist ideologies of some White Americans, as well as the arrogance of some Italians. It’s odd because Columbus couldn’t get financial backing from his own people. In the 15th century, Italy was actually a collection of city-states that wouldn’t jell into a single nation until the 1860s. Even now, some people may refer to themselves as Sicilian, instead of Italian, which is like saying the sky is azure, not blue. Columbus turned to Spain and Queen Isabella I. He had wanted to find a western route to India to gain an advantage in the lucrative spice trade. It’s difficult to imagine now, but spices were as precious as gold and silver at the time.

I’ve always felt Native Americans should have their own holiday. I don’t see the point in revising Columbus Day; let the Italians have their holiday, if they want. All the renaming won’t change history. We simply can’t go back and make everything all better again. It’s happened, and we need to continue moving forward, while still acknowledging the past. We’re all part of the human race, so ethnic divisions serve no real purpose. Some day, I hope, everyone else will realize that.


Filed under News

Native Americans and Northern Europeans More Closely Related Than Previously Thought


I know this will send the folks at FOX News and in the Republican Party into epileptic fits, but research published last month in Genetics, the journal of the Genetics Society of America, shows that people of Northern European and Native American ancestry are closely related.  In fact, very closely related.

Using genetic analyses, scientists have discovered that Northern Europeans descend from a mixture of two different ancestral populations, and one of these populations is related to Native Americans.  The revelation helps to provide some explanation for genetic similarities between what would otherwise be divergent groups.

“There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans,” says Nick Patterson, co-author of the report.  “The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe.”

Patterson worked with David Reich, Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics, and other colleagues to study DNA diversity and found that one of these ancestral groups was the first farming population of Europe.  Their DNA survives in Sardinians, people of the Basque Country and perhaps the Druze population of the Middle East.  The other ancestral population probably comprised the initial hunter-gatherers of Europe.  These two populations were considerably different when they met, but today the hunter-gathering ancestral populations of Europe appear to have its closest affinity to people in far Northeastern Siberia and Native Americans.

Scientists have long since theorized that people traversed eastward out of Siberia into North America during the Great Ice Age.  Initially, some placed the migration between 15,000 and 11,000 B.C., while others push it back to 25,000 B.C.  Oddly, though, Dr. Ron Janke, a professor of geography at Valparaiso University in Indiana, presented a theory in 2008 that the first peoples in the Americas actually came from Europe.  Considering that the Human Genome Project pretty much proves that we’re all related as a people, no one should be too surprised by these revelations.  Regardless, as someone of mixed European and Indian ancestry, I feel I’ve been vindicated!

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