A few weeks back, while stuck in another one of Seattle’s infamous traffic jams, I sat idly staring at the back end of a Chevy littered with right-wing propaganda bumper stickers. On the bottom left corner of his bumper was the all too well worn “Freedom Isn’t Free” slogan draped in the colors of the red, white, and blue. Implicit in the slogan is that the supposed freedoms and liberties of the modern colonial population of the United States are owed to U.S. military actions and interventions.
With no disrespect to the brave women and men who served, and serve, in the armed services, I find the whole concept behind “Freedom Isn’t Free” bogus.
Before contact with European Christian settlers our indigenous ancestors were already free peoples. They were free to live and exist as original peoples whose existence was tied to the greater cosmos and the cycles of the natural world. As children of Maka, and as relatives to all other creation, we understood that as relatives we each carried roles and responsibilities towards the existence and maintaining of the balance of life.
Genocide and the proceeding colonization and its by-product assimilation have greatly impacted both our continuation and fulfillment of these essential responsibilities. Through this understanding, it is not difficult to understand that the world of we live in today is out of balance.
To say that we live the freedoms experienced and known by our ancestors is to show that one does not truly understand both what it means to be an indigenous, originally free, peoples and the extent to the blanket illusion of “freedom” the colonial elite has cast on all peoples.
Historically, and traditionally, we as the Lakota Oyate synced our movements across the Northern Plains in relation to the movement of stars and appearance of certain constellations. This was most pronounced in the night skies between the spring equinox and summer solstice when certain ceremonies were conducted at certain geographic locations throughout He Sapa (the Black Hills) fulfilling our roles and responsibilities as Lakota.
While many Lakota continued to fulfill the completion of these yearly ceremonies many had to do so in secrecy especially in the late-1800’s when Lakota, as well as, all Native ceremonies were rendered illegal by the United States government. While the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act “decriminalized” our ceremonies, the ability to conduct ceremonies became severely restricted as traditional ceremonial sites and lands fell into the hands of private settlers, corporations, and local, state, and federal governments. Last Real Indian’s recent campaign to save Pe’ Sla is one such example.
There is perhaps no single war the colonial empires, later the colonial government of the United States, has engaged in since its “founding” that has ever had anything to do with securing freedom’s and liberties for its populations. Rather, it could be successfully argued that the military campaigns of the U.S. have had less to do with securing freedom and liberties than they had to do with securing lands, wealth and resources. One could also successfully argue that the inherent goals of the Doctrine of Discovery, to go forth and claim and colonize the lands of non-European non-Christians peoples, in the name of European Christian empires simply carried forth with the creation of the colonial empire of the United States.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are both examples of colonial expansion to secure lands and resources while cloaked in the rhetorical language of “freedom” and “liberties.” Ironically, many of those so-called liberties were further eroded with the passage of the Patriot Act (indefinite detention, the death of the 4th amendment to name but a few).
Even more horrific was the attempt to propagate that the recent military campaigns in the Middle East were actually being done on behalf of securing “freedom” for the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. How securing vast oil fields and other resource rich regions for U.S. and ally corporations had anything to do with securing freedoms for the peoples of those lands is beyond me.
The reality is that all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, have become and are subjugated by the institutions that interweave together working to keep all of the children of Maka confined to a perpetual state of subjection disguised as an illusionary state of freedom. One need go no further than looking into the monetary system controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank, globalized by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to understand that money = debt and debt = subjugation and that each and every one of us are directly tied to it.
Years ago one of my Uncles said to me that we, as Native peoples, are in the middle of a spiritual war. He proceeded to say that we are in a war against drugs and alcohol, a war to save our languages and remaining lands, a war against assimilation, a war to protect Ina Maka our first mother. He shared that historically we as Lakota and Dakota peoples, specifically as men, lived in part to protect our women and children, but that assimilation has turned that warrior spirit away from protecting our women and children and homelands to fighting for the colonial expansionist goals of the United States.
Given the high rates of suffering faced within our own communities, let us heed the call to again carry the mantle in this spiritual war to protect our women, children, and Ina Maka. We need language warriors, warriors to protect Ina Maka against the onslaught of abuses inflicted by multinational corporations, warriors to stop the high rates of sexual violence experienced by our women and children. Lastly, we need those willing to stand and work for the reemergence of our traditionally free nations separated from the colonial grip of the settler society.
As the traffic finally broke, I thought about Pte Oyate the buffalo nation our relative. Because the U.S. military had been unsuccessful in defeating our Lakota warriors on the battlefield, the United States government and military employed the tactic of total war and targeted our relative the buffalo in attempts to both starve us to death and destroy our traditional economy. It is estimated that 60-100 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains prior to European settler colonization. By 1902 only 23 buffalo remained confined to newly established Yellowstone National Park.
In many ways the plight of Pte Oyate mirrors that of Native peoples. Once originally free Nations who roamed the vast lands of Turtle Island, free to live and exist as meant to be, subjected to gross genocide and colonization with surviving members confined to geographically isolated regions.
The Pte Oyate now lives under the illusion of freedom as it is “allowed” to roam the imaginary borders of Yellowstone only to face execution if they should happen to cross its false borders. Ranchers fear that brucellosis, a disease carried by buffalo (though non-fatal to them), will transmit it to their cattle and kill them, this despite not one single case of a transmission ever occurring. According to the Buffalo Field Campaign, since 1985 7,632 buffalo have been killed in Yellowstone for crossing park boundaries.
Like the buffalo that eternally searches to escape the confines of imprisonment yearning for their freedom, we too endlessly work towards our own liberation. It is upon us to understand freedom beyond the illusion of freedom and work towards restoring balance with Ina Maka and all our relatives.
by Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle)