Unfortunately, in spite of some gains here and there, the phenomenon of anti-Indigenous violence seems to be ramping up once again to match the sentiments of earlier colonizers around the world. Bolsonaro’s quote above — which is one of many the newly elected president of Brazil has expressed throughout his career, including those in his recent campaign promises — reflects this trend. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs reported in August 2018 that “more than ever before in recent times, Indigenous human rights defenders are being killed, attacked or harassed in their endeavors to protect their land. States, while not necessarily the perpetrators, are unwilling or unable to protect Indigenous Peoples and are even, in some cases, collaborating with the perpetrators.”
According to an analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for Democracy, the context was usually relating to mega projects linked to extractive industries and big business.
The United States is no exception. It is now clear that “Individual #1” can be considered a member of a group of dictators running world governments today, including a “new wave of elected dictators” that has recently emerged, who are engaging in assaults on Indigenous rights and lands. Moreover, like Bolsonaro, Donald Trump has a history of anti-Native racism.
In 2000, when New York was considering expansion of American Indian casinos, Trump’s own casino company took out more than $1 million in ads depicting American Indians as violent criminals with ties to mobsters. This lobbying, which was never reported as such and was instead presented as an anti-gambling campaign, was later found illegal. The state lobbying commission imposed a $250,000 fine.
Trump’s reversing the hard-fought victory at Standing Rock is, of course, another example. His action, like those happening around the world against Indigenous rights, was illegal, political and full of conflicts of interest. The order for an environmental impact statement to assess risks — a process that on average takes 3.4 years — should have been done from the beginning, should have been legally defensible, but the new versions of “executive” orders seem to “trump” the law when it comes to Indigenous peoples, as Vine Deloria Jr. has noted.
Moreover, the US Department of Indian Affairs — now run by a pro-corporate Alaskan Native with a long history of trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to resource extraction — is working toward taking reservations out of their “land into trust” contract. Additionally, the agency is attacking Native self-determination and sovereignty in alignment with Trump’s erroneous belief that “American Indian” and “Alaskan Native” describe racial rather than political groups or nations.
The Trump administration is also abandoning the US’s moral and legal obligations to Native health services, which have been underfunded for years, while making decisions that continue to take land and treaty rights away from Natives. From Trump’s ignorant and disrespectful comments to Navajo code talkers, to the harm American Indian reservations are suffering from the recent government shutdown, anti-Indigenous actions in the US and around the world will continue to amplify dangerously if something is not done.
It is important to understand that such actions by the current president are part of a long history in the United States. The problem is systemic. George Washington set the tone for anti-Native governmental policies designed to divest American Indians of their cultures as well as their lands, and that would shape US-Native relations for more than a century. His burning of Native villages was so horrific that the Iroquois, whose confederacy was initially used as a model for the US government, referred to him as “Conotcarious,” meaning “Town Destroyer.”
Of course, Andrew Jackson’s anti-Native racism may be the most blatant of any US president. As the founder of the Democratic Party, his genocidal policies included orders that the cavalry “systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete extermination.” Violating laws and dismissing Supreme Court rulings, Jackson stole Native land in the South for cotton plantations, initiated the infamous “Trail of Tears” and oversaw frontier warfare to expand settler colonialism across the country.
It would be nice if US jurisprudence could offer a counterbalance to the continuing governmental policies that work against Indigenous rights, but as the late Vine Deloria Jr. writes in Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America:
A survey of the history of federal Indian law reveals that it is possible to be legally condemned and lynched at the same time. Although guaranteed justice in the federal courts, Indians have discovered that far too often legal doctrines purported to ensure their political and treaty rights are used to confiscate their property, deny their civil rights and deprive them of the benefits that accrue with United States citizenship. So bizarre are the rulings of the federal courts when deciding an “Indian” case that the decisions appear to have come through the Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll.
Much law and legal precedent in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are essentially based on the same “Doctrine of Discovery” that Europeans used to steal land and rights from Indigenous peoples starting in the 15th century. Add to this the continuing dismissal of our original Nature-based worldview, one without hierarchical, materialistic and anthropocentric problems, and throw in the rise in neoliberalism, and we might understand the new wave of violence against Indigenous rights.
I have written a great deal about the importance of re-embracing our original, nature-based understandings of the world that guided humanity for 99 percent of our history. If more people came to know and respect the Indigenous worldview, we might be able to reverse our current imbalance, which has been influenced largely by cultural precepts shaped by the US’s dominant colonial worldview. A renewed appreciation for Indigenous worldview precepts would also support Indigenous peoples and their struggle for sovereignty. If more people truly valued this wisdom rather than ignoring, dismissing or attacking it, perhaps young people in marginalized Indigenous communities would gain more confidence in, and want to learn, their traditional ways. As it is, too many Indigenous youth are succumbing to Western hegemony, understandably weakened by historical trauma, political oppression, cultural insult, land theft, poverty, discrimination and worse.
Anti-Indigenous racism and violence for political and financial reasons is anti-humanism and anti-nature combined. If we allow its continuance we do so at our collective peril and that of future generations.
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Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), AKA Don Trent Jacobs, is currently a professor in the College of Leadership Studies at Fielding Graduate University. Of Irish/Cherokee descent and a made-relative of the Oglala, he previously lived and worked on the Pine Ridge reservation where he served as director of education at Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge and fulfilled his four sun dance vows with the Rick Two Dogs Medicine Horse band. He was named one of 27 “visionaries in education” by the Alternative Education Resource Organization, and is recipient of the Martin Springer Institute’s Moral Courage Award for his activism. He is the author of 20 books.