Monday, February 18, 2008

Hegemony Begins At Home

Guest post by B Dewhirst:

Recently, our host was surprised that the Tomb’s American readership now equalled that of the UK. As an American, I'm not entirely surprised. Perspective is a bitter medicine, but once you realize you're living in a nation which doesn't admit its hegemonic relationship towards other States, but still expects to be obeyed by them without question, a fresh point of view is the only thing which convinces us that we're still the sane ones.

This slow creep to Empire began a long time ago. It now spans the globe, but its first victims are still at our doorstep. Before our 'special relationship' with Britain, before we were propping up and knocking down dictators to keep the sources of our energy reserves divided, there was the small matter of the people who were already living on this continent before we arrived. The most deplorable men of the 20th century looked to the American Reservation system as an example of how to deal with 'inconvenient' groups. With this history, and with the sorts of attitudes underscoring its design, it is no wonder that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is among the worst-managed branches of the American government. Since those subject to it have no say in how it operates, the BIA is run with the same 'genius' that decided to disband the entire Iraqi armed forces, from General to Private, so as to work from a 'clean slate.' Thanks to a court order in 2001, the BIA is cut off from the Internet to prevent them from losing any more of the Indians' funds in their care. As related in John Anderson's Follow the Money, the wholesale looting of everything the Bush Regime has their fingers in extended to the Department of the Interior and BIA. The infamous Jack Abramoff was involved in taking money from one tribe to lobby against another, then taking money from the party being lobbied against to lobby in the opposite direction, and while his days as a lobbyist with the scruples of an arms dealer are over, many reservations are still in ruinous condition.

Should someone be under the mistaken apprehension that the US moved smoothly from a conquest-driven, genocidal model to a faultless if bumbling bureaucracy, they may wish to reflect on the career of Dillion Meyers, who was placed in charge of the BIA from 1950 to 1952, and his successor, who followed many of his policies. One of the most interesting things about Meyers, apart from his conscious effort to abolish Indian hopes for autonomy by forcing the residents of the reservations to assimilate rather than renovating the reservations, was the job he had held previously. He was in charge of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, as Richard Drinnon relates in Keeper of the Concentration Camps.

Indigenous peoples across the world won a victory in September of 2007, when the U.N. general assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 143 to 4. (The reason that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States voted against it should be obvious.) A constant theme on Lenin's Tomb has been the Palestinians' right to, and need for, sovereignty. This is a need shared by the Lakota Indians in the United States. Unlike many of the tribes in the eastern US, the US government clearly treated the Sioux Nation as a sovereign entity prior to an expansionist campaign which left the Lakota without control over their own borders. In light of this recent UN Declaration, and the inability of the United States to comply with a succession of treaties it signed with these Indians' ancestors, prominent delegates reasserted the sovereignty of their nation in December of 2007. They argue that their recognized representatives are illegitimate patsies for the BIA, and have invited American citizens to join them in their new nation.

Their legal case, referencing national and international law, is laid out on the website of The Republic of Lakotah, an advocacy group working to promote a peaceful separation from the United States. They've also collected a sizable list of grievances against the US government.

Some have suggested that independence won't aid them in redressing their problems; however, it is difficult to see how exchanging an inept, corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs for a sovereign entity with control over its own borders wouldn't be preferable. As with the Palestinians, hopelessness is among the chief problems plaguing the reservation system. Alcoholism is also prevalent, and without the ability to control borders, activists have been arrested for preventing the flow of alcohol into the reservations.

Many have questioned the legitimacy of the activists. In response, I wonder who elected Nehru, Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, or Mandela, or any of the other anti-colonial champions of the 20th century. Many of those leaders were subsequently democratically elected by grateful citizens of newly reborn states. The process of independence for the Republic of Lakotah continues with Russell Means, an AIM co-founder and Republic of Lakotah spokesperson, visiting the Mohawk Indians to relate in his own words what they are trying to accomplish and to answer questions. They continue to seek the support of other nations, and considering the number of post-colonial nations in the world, have some reason to hope they'll be recognized. Bolivia's President is an Indian peasant by birth, and there are any number of governments outside of the American Hegemony (Venezuela, Cuba, Iran) who might recognize the young nation out of solidarity.

Means is, however, a problematic figure. He has had his differences with the rest of AIM in the past, notably when he travelled to Nicaragua to help organise Miskito rebels against the Sandinistas. The 19th century American capitalist ideology he appeals to was once championed by the same men who advocated extermination of his people. That the colonial powers were capitalist was not simply some accident of history, but rather this expansion is central to capitalism. Means is a libertarian, but past libertarian experiments have not fared well, to put it mildly. Should this enterprise succeed, it will do so because it is not, in fact, a libertarian experiment. Though damaged by centuries of abuse, there remains a core social structure, a central idea, of how the Sioux people relate to one another. Should this new nation be recognized by by Bolivia, by Cuba, by Venezuela, it is likely these groups will have as much impact on the new nation as Russell's libertarianism, and the culture which is to be preserved by this separation will have a stronger impact still.

It is my hope that the base Means is attracting is better than his faults and as good as his most worthy ideals, as this may well take decades to fully resolve and it will be those who are attracted to this cause now who see it through. Further, while Means is certainly the most visible activist promoting this cause, he is certainly not the only one. At this stage, calling attention to their legitimate right to secede from the United States, as well as present and past abuses, is much more important than whether or not they immediately are recognized as a country or the specific details of the form of that nation. Surely, there is a better answer than casinos for some and abject poverty for others. I, for one, wish the whole movement the best of luck. Hegemony ends one revolution at a time.