I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Extermination of Indigenous Cultures

Protect the Sacred: Save the Peaks!

4th Ave/W. Washington St Parking structure

Phoenix (June 24, 2011)

My friend Garyn just pulled these points together on Spacebook better than I've been able to anywhere lately, putting the attacks on Arizona's indigenous communities into the bigger context. Thanks to him for letting me share this.

by Garyn Klasek on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 9:53pm

In these modern times, its frowned upon for people to take actions without thinking about the impacts they will have on others. This doesn’t just go for individuals, but for entities such as corporations, governments and the like. Although it may sound like a good thing, it can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a way that the people can keep others, including governments and corporations, in check. However, this also leaves a loophole for discernment between various peoples and perspective on who represents the popular majority. This can be seen on so many levels, but will be narrowed down into three particular areas within the struggles of indigenous peoples. These areas, in many ways, have either been conquered, obliterated or transformed in order to capitalize off of indigenous cultures and attempt to absorb them. The following points to be illustrated are sacred sites, sweat lodges and tribal governments.

A good point to open with is sacred sites. One of the biggest detriments to indigenous sacred sites is “the constant search for energy” that industry prefers to keep underground (Lyons). Coming from a southwestern standpoint, this can include dams, coal and uranium mining, however these aren’t limited to just this region. As well, there are not only other regions and tribes affected by this corporate desire for energy companies to thrive, but other fuels that are sought after. Of course, a very popular example is oil, which has been extracted in tribal lands the world over. A major detriment for many tribes that hits close to home is recreation on holy land. A ski resort called Snowbowl, which exists on the San Francisco Peaks, has been challenging various tribes in legal battles for decades now. Not only does the resort have negative impacts on tribal religious culture, but it stands as a threat for public safety as well as the unique ecosystem in the northern highlands of Arizona. In the courts, this struggle “is one of the first to test the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and ultimately show[s] [a] lack of protection for sacred sites “ (Benally). All of this goes to show that the state will often defend corporate interest when ruining sacred sites, even when facing off against thousands of indigenous people.

Another point to mention is sweat lodges. Ironically, this one has been exploited by mainstream culture for profit. Apparently, many people within the New Age community and their followers believe that they can tackle this piece of indigenous culture without offending indigenous people and even more ridiculous, they believe that they can perform this rite safely. This isn’t to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with being from an outside culture and being included in a sweat lodge in an indigenous cultural setting. An Assiniboine spiritual leader named Gary Adler Four Star “tutors non-Indians about Native American values and even admits some to sweat lodges, provided they understand their responsibilities” (Haederle). This can hit close to home when you live in a state with much tribal land, at least in comparison to others, and where the New Age community has made headlines in this area. In Prescott, 21 people took ill, about a third in attendance, and of those two died after a sweat lodge ceremony was conducted at a New Age retreat. When something that bad occurs, it shows a strong lack of knowledge and respect for indigenous religious rites. Joseph Bruchac, a writer on the topic, mentions that if one “imitate[s] someone's tradition and you don't know what you are doing, there's a danger of doing something very wrong” (Fonseca). Perhaps conducting rites like this should be left to those who have been passing down the proper methods for centuries.

The final point is tribal governments. This is one of the biggest attacks on indigenous cultures. Not only have tribes battled and been forced to face genocide, slavery and a new kind of nation that has always been seeking to conquer and/or eradicate tribal nations, but now they have to accept, deal with or confront tribal leadership that is acknowledged by the very government that have been fighting against for over 200 years. In essence, tribes “are now being subjected to the raw forces of cultural transformation that often play themselves out through violent interpersonal conflicts” (Porter). It doesn’t seem very surprising that this would occur when having leadership that has at the very least worked for indigenous peoples for thousands of years replaced with a far lesser model that has vested political interests that more often than not seem to align with the U.S. government. There are several examples of tribal government not representing its people in Arizona alone. One is the Tohono O’odham tribal government, which has sided with the U.S. government when it comes to issues their people face, like the border wall and its impacts on their free movement, religious practices and burial grounds. Another is the battle that Gila River faces with the Loop 202 extension. Their indigenous council is pushing for the freeway to either cut through their land, contaminating the health of their people, or cut through the South Mountain Preserve, which would contaminate their spirituality as well as target some endangered species. Ironically, there’s an option to fight the freeway that the council is not mentioning to their people. Then there’s the Navajo Nation leadership, “who have voted to give themselves gold rings, and drain tribal funds meant for capital improvements and for tribal employee raises”, despite an uproar from the Navajo people (New York Times). As if out of the Lord of the Rings, and comparable to every other government, it seems that even tribal leaders don’t represent their people unless they can get something precious in exchange.

In conclusion, three areas that mainstream culture has brought disrespect and control to indigenous cultures are in relation to sacred sites, sweat lodges and tribal governments. These represent just a few areas of which indigenous cultures struggle with mainstream culture. Because of this, it’s our responsibility to stand up with indigenous cultures and not allow this sacrilege to continue. This isn’t because indigenous cultures are a minority on these issues. The minority are those who choose to recreate on indigenous sacred sites. They are those within the New Age community driven by profit motives and no grasp on performing indigenous religious rites. They are those that the U.S. government deems acceptable to govern their people despite popular opinion. We must fight any and all travesties if we want to truly consider ourselves a democratic society.

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