Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Larry Greene: Smoke-shop clash no surprise — U.S. Indian policy rewards violence
NO CRYSTAL BALL was necessary to foretell the Narragansett Tribe's response to a Rhode Island State Police raid on the tribe's illegal smoke shop. A groveling Gov. Donald Carcieri is unaware why police need guns, handcuffs and training in physical confrontation. Lawbreakers permit the police to uphold the law, he believes.
While blaming the police for doing their job is bizarre, the greatest blame doesn't lie with the tribe, but with an idea.
The idea that tribes on reservations are sovereign nations is primarily to blame. Tribes are specially privileged wards of the federal government. If tribes were truly sovereign, the Narragansetts wouldn't need state permission to open a casino. True sovereignty is worth fighting for, but tribes have confused special privileges with sovereign rights.
For decades, confrontations over selling cigarettes or having gambling on reservations have erupted. About 10 years ago, in Colchester, Conn., the Golden Hill Paugussett War Chief Moonface Bear staged an armed standoff against the state police over the sale of untaxed cigarettes.
The founding fathers of violent confrontation were the members of the American Indian Movement, created in 1968 in Minneapolis. AIM noted that although Indians were a small percentage of the city's population, the majority of arrests made were of Indians. Whether Indians were actually committing crimes wasn't considered relevant.
The next year, AIM gained national attention and sympathy by its involvement in the 19-month Indian takeover of California's former prison on Alcatraz Island.
Having found its niche, AIM took over an abandoned naval air station outside Minneapolis and then the Bureau of Indian Affairs' main office, in Washington. Next, it helped the Lac Court Orieles Ojibwa take over a Wisconsin dam.
The government responded with special handouts.
AIM's "Trail of Broken Treaties" march on Washington in 1972 ended with a second occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office and a 20-point "solution" paper given to President Richard Nixon. The 20 points included re-establishing treaties and handing over 110 million nontaxable acres to tribes, along with never-ending handouts of billions of taxpayer dollars for tribal housing, education, etc.
In February 1973 came the siege at Wounded Knee, the South Dakota site of a controversial battle between Indians and soldiers a century before. The 71-day siege was highlighted by AIM members' and supporters' attacking federal agents, leading to almost 1,200 arrests. The longest federal trial in U.S. history ended when a misguided judge dismissed all charges, claiming government "misconduct."
AIM could do no wrong, and some members were about to take that idea to the extreme.
In June 1975, two FBI agents, serving an arrest warrant near the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, in South Dakota, attempted to pull over the wrong vehicle and came under a barrage of gunfire. Within 10 minutes, the agents' two vehicles were hit with 125 rounds; many more rounds were never recovered. Each agent managed to get off only five rounds. Lying bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds, Special Agents Ronald A. Williams and Jack R. Coler were approached by three men, one being AIM martyr-in-the-making Leonard Peltier, wanted for attempted murder of a police officer. The two agents were then fatally shot at close range. As other law-enforcement personnel converged on the scene, they too came under fire.
Two of the three men accused of murdering the agents were acquitted, for lack of evidence. Peltier fled to a Canadian Indian reservation until arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Armed to the teeth, he said he would have killed the Canadian police had he known they were after him. Peltier received two life sentences for first-degree murder. A massive campaign to free Peltier continues, although on TV's 60 Minutes he admitted having shot at the agents.
President Nixon, sensing that the throes of political correctness were against him, pushed for the Indian Self-Determination Act. The American Indian Review Commission was created and a tribal-recognition process was established. Numerous pieces of legislation granting special privileges to Indians were passed. Reservation gambling was successfully winding through the courts.
Violence paid off for AIM.
So, when a Narragansett threatens that he's willing to die if another raid takes place, he's also implying that he's willing to kill. As violence typically results in appeasement by government, we can expect more violence.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently reported: "American Indians rank near the bottom of almost every social, health and economic indicator." It didn't blame America's apartheid system — the topographic, economic, social and political separation of Indians, falsely called sovereignty — as the real culprit behind Indian problems and the festering violence.
Larry Greene, of Preston, Conn., is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Responses from Indianz.com
Narragansett Smoke Shop Feud
Look up the definition sovereign it means at a basic level, independent. The king and ruler part came from europe. Tribal nations continue to be independent as possible, not because they are trying to upset all the poor dispossessed rednecks but because they have been given a precious heritage that they choose to preserve for the future nations.
Posted by D Vandall at July 23, 2003 12:44 PM
I hate to agree but Larry is partially right when he says that Tribal Sovereignty and True Sovereignty are being confused. It's the white government that has it confused though...they think Tribal is NOT True sovereignty and they act accordingly. If Larry did any research at all (too bad most reporters/writers don't) he would know that regardless of how the US acts, there are laws and opinions on the books that invalidate his obtuse statements.
Posted by Nick Kedrowski at July 23, 2003 02:23 PM
It's a sad state of affairs when non-Natives think of sovereignty as something other than self rule, or define it as something that benefits themselves....Non-Natives are fine with corporations monopolizing business, as [does] the government, but when Natives try to develop themselves economically it all of a sudden becomes wrong. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
Posted by Torry at July 24, 2003 06:55 PM
Larry Greene, the author of the opinion linked above, appears to be the same Larry Greene who frequently appears on the Letter to the Editor pages of The New London Day and The Norwich Bulletin and is critical of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and sovereignty in general. He also appears to be the same Larry Greene who is cited as a source in Jeff Benedict's book "Without Reservation" against the Pequots but was allowed to write a review of the book for The Day without mention of the connection.
Greene thinks Indian nations are seeking "special privileges," not "true sovereignty." But as Kedrowski implies, they're seeking as much sovereignty as the federal and state governments will allow them. That they don't have full sovereignty isn't their fault; it's the fault of the white man's government, which won't allow it.
Constitutionally-protected treaty benefits aren't special privileges or handouts no matter how many times people like Greene bray it. If he doesn't like the Constitution's provisions, he can try to amend it. Or he can move to another country without indigenous people. Or he can urge Congress to void the treaties and return the land to the Indians.
Because—repeat after me—the so-called "handouts" are payment for that land and its resources. Morally and perhaps legally speaking, Greene has two choices. Pay for the confiscated land, or give the land back.
An extra demerit to Greene for focusing on two violent episodes—Wounded Knee II and the Narragansett raid—as if they prove Indian country is especially violent. In both cases, Indians defended themselves, as they've always done, against illegal or immoral incursions. If the government forces wanted to avoid violence, they shouldn't have acted violently to begin with.
In reality, Indians have been fighting for their sovereign rights in peaceful, legal ways for centuries—long before Indian gaming was an issue. To suggest otherwise, as Greene did, is to imply Indians are inherently angry and aggressive—i.e., incapable of diplomacy and debate. This is a variation of the age-old stereotype of Indians as savage and uncivilized.
Indians as welfare recipients
The facts about tribal sovereignty
The facts about Indian gaming
. . .
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