Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
An American community: But where were Miccosukee Indian Kirk Billie's peers?
Posted: April 18, 2002 -- 1:50PM EST
by: Carey N. Vicenti / Columnist / Indian Country Today
A couple of weeks ago, NBC Dateline did a story about Kirk Billie — a Miccosukee man who killed his two children. It was compared to the Susan Smith case, you know, children in the car drowned in a local canal. Billie denied knowing the children were in the car, drunk as he was, intoxicated with anger.
This was a portrait of America though. You had to be watching the people of America as they were watching this show. Surely America watched with a predictable morbid curiosity — the network counted on it. And the people condemned Kirk Billie when he smirked at the announcement of the guilty verdict. A juror even expressed his desire to see the man condemned for that smirk, something Billie described as his acknowledgement of his expected fate.
To these Americans, it was probably irrelevant that this was an intra-tribal matter. The families involved were Native. The victims were Native. The Tribe even felt obliged to settle this tragedy between both the mother's and father's families. After all, this was a tragedy of their community and no other.
But because the incident of those deaths occurred just yards off Indian land, the State of Florida chose to intervene. The nearest non-Indian family lives dozens of miles away. The swamps in the region are traditional Indian lands, with the spirits of Natives lingering there still, disturbed by the wars of containment, a legacy of Andrew Jackson. A non-Indian has no business being there, unless, as Dateline depicted, the non-Indians were restless.
What was merely touched upon in that reputedly balanced program was the fact that the Tribe had already settled the matter among themselves. Tribal leadership considered the matter settled, and in that light, refused to allow the State of Florida to subpoena tribal members as witnesses. The families affected by this tragedy had reached their repose and closure, and yet, the State of Florida had to interfere.
It is that pathology of American thinking to believe that their justice is the only kind of justice, a continuing arrogance that has been forced down Native throats for centuries. Yet, even American legal scholars admit the failings of the American legal system. Florida wanted to replace the Native sense of restoration with its pathological craving for punishment for the deaths of innocent Native children.
But when the State, in its prosecutorial zeal — a state of mind most accurately compared to that of a Spanish Inquisitor — interfered with the organic outcome of traditional tribal deliberations, it could not have known what it destroyed. It didn't care to know. Kirk Billie may have been required to perform necessary ceremonies of cleansing and remorse. He may have been required to perform acts of contrition necessary to the restoration of harmony among the Miccosukee people. He may have been central to releasing the spirits of those children to the holy road.
It was not important that the State knew the inner workings of tribal justice, however. It should have trusted that anything it did would be an interference with the community of the Miccosukee people. Out of respect for them, it should have let the matter go. It should not have allowed itself the compulsion to interfere no matter how inviting the faces of those precious children appeared.
But there is the telling moment. Their jury, none of whom were Native, in theory, represents the American community and all of its sensibilities. They wanted to impose their sense of community filled with retribution and hate upon the person of Kirk Billie. They wanted to impose their values upon the Miccosukee people, and in the process, negate the Miccosukee values.
America, they would argue, loves Native children, and the deaths were on their side of the boundary line — those would be their excuses. They wanted an American way of life for those children, filled with an American Disney/McDonald's sort of happiness. They'd adopt them if the law allowed them to. Ironically, though, they deplore such children when they grow up to live the reclusive tribal existence exemplified by the Miccosukee, and a smirking Kirk Billie. Billie got life imprisonment — and we all got the American community.
Hercules vs. Coyote: Native and Euro-American beliefs
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