Syukhtun Editions

February, 2002

In The American Indian Quarterly, Winter 2001, the Navajo (Diné) writer Rena Martin commented on the Euro-American archaeologist who insisted that the homeland of the Diné (in this case New Mexico) is also a part of his cultural heritage. Martin sees this as evidence of a profound schism between the two cultures and how each regards the continent of our births. She wrote: ”The difference between myself and the non-Native archaeologist who referred to Dinétah [the Navajo homeland] as ’his’ cultural heritage is interesting. When I say ’my heritage or cultural resource,’ I am referring to connections of the place to my culture. I do not and will not refer to places like Mount Rushmore and Plymouth Rock as ’my cultural heritage’ because they are not directly associated with my culture.”

The numerous landmarks in the Navajo homeland, as well as other tribal homelands across the continent, are seeped in millenia-old traditions of ongoing spiritual teachings and mythologies. Many are veritable shrines as sacred to the Indigenous Nations as the church in Bethlehem, built on the supposed site of Jesus’ birth, is sacred to christians. Most non-indigenous Americans, alas, do not have this profound spiritual attachment to these landmarks, which have become mere ”recreational areas” for bored summer tourists who defile them. I am not among them, nor do I consider Mount Rushmore, Plymouth Rock or Disneyland part of my cultural heritage. The first of these, misnamed after an insignificant New York lawyer, is really called Tunkasila Sakpe (Six Grandfathers), one of sites of legendary medicine man Black Elk's vision quest. Due to a deep attachment to the natural environment of southern California from earliest childhood, I can unequivocally state that this is my most meaningful cultural heritage, and not the arbitrary institutions of an arbitrary nation, arbitrarily named after Amerigo Vespucci (a silly choice).

However, for certain tribes along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the continent was known as Turtle Island. For the most skilled of Europe's dreamers, Shakespeare, this was a poetic domain where Caliban's people dwelt, and where Ariel was ally. Turtle Island is a good name. But in his captivity Tatanke Iyotake (Sitting Bull) was doubtful about the merits of the name "America": "I feel that my country has gotten a bad name, and I want it to have a good name. It used to have a good name. I sit and wonder who it is that has given it a bad name." Amerigo Vespucci has simply nothing to do with me. Possessed of the poet's desire for a genuine application of language, a much more correct name is needed to refer to my nationality – Amerigo's stupid nickname no longer suits me. Henceforth, yes, to the very core of my being, I shall feel myself to be a Turtle Islander.

(from the prologue of Hitch-Hiker in Hades)

sacred Lakota mountain ..................... sacred Lakota mountain defiled

After all, the two hundred odd years of our national existence are but spit against the winds of tens of millennia of secret history. The sacredness of being human has ceded to fanatic patriotism embedded in bureaucratic institutions with (let’s face it) shallow significance. To endure tens of millennia , the People had no need of politics, usury nor other wasteful occupations, no mathematical theories, manifestos, constitutions or contracts written by liars doing commerce with liars. The great warrior chieftains of the continent outshine the presidents. Unlike politicians, they were the spiritual link between heaven and earth, and their peoples thrived within breathing, fluctuating boundaries in which flora and fauna were ordered in a carefully balanced tapestry in eternal formation on the loom of nature. The presence of interacting organisms spoke rom the depths of eons of continuity and oneness.

Suddenly, all that was destroyed by unnatural ideas formed in pedantic European minds. Men with surveying tools and maps and straight-edged rulers, glutted on mathematics and science, began drawing squares and other rigid geometric figures over the sacred tapestry, all ignorant of its beauty and inner equilibrium. Ungifted men in eastern cities, knowing nothing of the wondrous metabolism of Turtle Island, gradually destroyed the delicately balanced systems as easily as signing their names.

Three blooming yuccas, Lytle Creek, California

Gold was discovered in California in 1848. The next year, the ugly scourge of the "gold rush" began its manifest destiny to soil American history like few other epic crimes. Now the Americans had replaced the Spaniards as overlords, and their crimes were even more intense against the native cultures. The dregs of America came here in swarms from the east, those for whom no other moral code existed than gold! The cultures who greeted Francis Drake and Juan Cabrillo as kings two centuries earlier were now being exterminated like vermin. Just as our elementary school teachers proudly spoke to us children about the "mission times," so did they speak with pride about the "gold rush."

The People were hunted down and killed for sport, like rabbits, by the "Forty Niners". Those unfortunate people whose cultures existed in the vicinity of gold claims were to feel the full impact of genocide. One of the cultures who suffered such a blow is the Karuk nation, living today as they have for thousands of years along the banks of the Klamath river in northern California. Fifty years after the gold rush, only twenty-five percent of the Karuk were left alive. Other neighboring cultures didn’t have as much luck, and were exterminated to the last man, woman and child.

Hydralic mining was introduced by the gold-rushers, huge high-pressure water nozzles that swiftly washed away the topsoil of the river gorges and valleys to reveal the gold. The Karuk people experienced this catastrophic violation of their homeland like the Deluge – a veritable apocalypse. But the Karuk survived against impossible odds. Today they still dance the White Deerskin Dance and keep their language and ceremonies alive.

This was very difficult when school children were punished for speaking Karuk, and their ceremonial regalia and sacred objects were looted and sent to museums in San Francisco or back east. Common everyday household utensils were usurped, scientifically catalogued and packaged for shipment. Even the chairs were removed from their houses to be sent to the Smithsonian Institution! The Karuk singer, dancer and writer, Julian Lang, has recently written that his son’s generation is the first of five generations not to be forced to attend government-sponsored boarding schools. He continues:

The destruction occurring during the first fifty years of contact in northwestern California was as pervasive and horrific as the modern-day nuclear holocaust would have been if it actually had happened. [...] The problems caused by the Forty-Niners’ thirst for gold at all costs, both human and environmental, are only now beginning to be resolved, one hundred and forty-four years later.

(Ararapikva: Creation Stories of the People Julian Lang, Heyday books, 1994)

The things cherished by patriotic Americans (among whom are very many Native Americans) have no relationship whatsoever to the ultra-ancient landscapes cherished by the Indigenous Nations. In this respect, ”American” culture will always be a foreign intruder to the continent of Turtle Island, which it is methodically destroying. Although I too am a Euro-American, I can see Rena Martin’s Navajo point of view. But there are those of us whose ancestors were foreigners, but who have themselves become indigenous to the continent, like the eucalyptus tree.

Eucalyptus at Refugio, California

The eucalyptus tree is no longer an intruder to the continent, it is one with the continent despite its foreign ancestry. Growing up in California, the ancient emanations of the Pacific Ocean, the mountain ranges, the deserts and forests laid a powerful claim on my soul. Indeed, my attachment to these emanations has always been my highest priority, and not the nation, its constitution and politicians who are not on good terms with Turtle Island and therefore not to be trusted. The Vietnam war made me realize that national politics are not only shallow, but very dangerous. Innocent people by the hundreds in various parts of the world are still being blown to pieces by American bombs. Where I find depth, solidity and wisdom is – not in the federal bureaucracies – but in the ultra-ancient realities of Turtle Island.

In truth, there are not two worlds in America – the aboriginal and the American. There is only one. The Americans are living in the aboriginal world without knowing it. They founded their cities on sites already used as settlements by the tribes. They paved routes over which the tribes carried on trans-continental trade for centuries. They navigated the same rivers, climbed the same mountains, stood in awe before the same oceans. We are living in aboriginal dream time, even on the streets of New York. Dream time has been pushed out of the picture for a couple of short centuries, but it has always been here. That became most apparent at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In this respect, I do not trespass on Turtle Island even as a so-called ”Euro-American”. I too am indigenous to the continent, like the eucalyptus tree with foreign ancestors. Rena Martin writes that she does not deny that Americans are attached to the continent. She means simply that the attachment to the continent in the two societies is quite different – one sacred, the other deeming the continent a ”recreational area”. When compared to hundreds of thousands of patriotic and religious (read: christian) people among the Indigenous Nations, I have come much further in abandoning that which is only dead weight in our shallow culture.

Two things have always struck me as odd: one, that the religion that is responsible for mass genocides over the vast expanses of North, South and Central America is taken into the hearts of the survivors of these genocides, preached by them, cherished by them and passed on to their children and grand children. And two: that many of these same indigenous people patriotically salute the flag as veterans of the Vietnam War, after having taken active part in laying waste a tiny nation on the far side of the planet, giving their support to the killing, mutilating, raping and destroying in a way similar to that of American soldiers and their Native American scouts laying waste First Nation societies in the past two centuries. How odd this paradox! It is as unbelievable as if Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors had fought on the side of Custer at the Little Big Horn!

Update August 16, 2005


By declaring myself the enemy of Pride (along with Sloth, Wrath, Gluttony, Avarice, Envy and Lust), I offend just about everyone: Native Americans, African Americans, European Americans, Asian Americans and most of the population of the planet. Fools did not deem these things deadly sins – sages did. From all corners, from people whom I greatly admire to those whom I despise, pride is prevalent. All are proud of their pride. Where my family, your family, everyone's family were mistakenly fostered with the notion that the vice of pride is a virtue, the sage admonishes: "Extinguish pride as quickly as you would a fire." Does Herakleitos speak nonsense, or is this all-American darling – Pride – to be avoided like the plague?

One need not abandon self-respect by abandoning pride. On the contrary, one enhances self-respect, one is more in tune with self-improvement, by not being proud. This in turn removes obstacles for becoming. It is not pride that produces excellence. By indulging in pride one is saying, “Let us stop here and reflect: We have overcome hardships, gone far, done well – in fact, we are wonderful.” This in turns creates obstacles to excelling, for being proud of having done well does not inspire one to do better, and then to – in a spirit of humility – proceed into the great unending initiation of doing best. I throw knives. When I throw right on target, hearing the splendid "thud" in the thick wood, and then am proud of my accomplishment, I miss the next throw. Pride distracted me from the task at hand. The saying goes: “Pride is the sin by which the angels fell,” and there goes proud humanity, fallen angels, quite at home in Hell.

The Native American, like the African American, still goes through hell in the Excited States. To achieve the same things as a white man, he must exert double the effort to overcome the injustices inbred in "the land of the free". He may believe, wrongly, that in his suffering pride was absent because the white man stole it from him. He may feel that he wants and needs this absent pride. And so he proclaims in a loud voice to the entire world that he is proud, yes, proud like the very slave-owners who wielded the whip for centuries, like the very citizens and soldiers who massacred Native Americans with impunity for generations and stole billions of acres of aboriginal homelands.

The many genocides of indigenous peoples in North and South America were committed by proud white men whose pride led them to believe they were the master race. The white racists who were the misfortune of my school years in California are still numerous today, and one thing that marks them all is pride. And yet the black man, the red man, deems it wise to use his adversary as a model, to strut like the white man, to be proud like him. Like Louis Farakhan, many practice reverse racism – now they are superior! Nationalism – mass pride – stems from individual pride. Where one clearly sees the epic calamities that mass pride brings is in Yugoslavia, laid waste only ten years ago by Pride, staining its chronicles for centuries to come with massacres and perversities that have not been seen in Europe since World War II. “Extinguish pride as quickly as you would a fire.”

Update September 1, 2005

Ironic Facts

The outrageous injustices committed against the original inhabitants of Turtle Island for 500 years overwhelm a researcher with their abundance. No one mind can fathom all the evil deeds committed by the Europeans and their descendants in the Americas. However, devastating warfare, atrocity and genocide did not arrive with the Europeans – they were already here. The impulse to genocide is a human impulse. All too human. It should therefore be remembered that the above vices are also evident even among the oppressed. The Africans themselves traded captive slaves to Europeans on Africa's west coast, and slavery was as well practiced among Indigenous Americans as, for example, California's Yurok people. The wealthy class among the Cherokees gradually assumed the life-style of southern plantation owners and owned black slaves, sharing the view of the whites that the Africans were inferior to themselves. The Cherokee returned tribal members who were of mixed African and Cherokee descent to their white owners. Even today this issue is at the core of conflicts among the Cherokee.

For long bloody decades the Sioux waged genocidal war against the once numerous Mandans, who were forced to abandon one village after the other along the Missouri, retreating northward until the time George Catlin visited them, when they had only two villages left. If the genocide of the Mandans today is a fact, it has much to do with the genocidal tendency of the Sioux themselves. Nor would the Blackfeet have been adverse to totally wiping out the Nez Perce, this friendly nation that so hospitably received Lewis and Clark. When the unwarlike Nez Perce were forced to fight the Blackfeet, they were so valiant that, even in death, they inspired such awe in their slayers that, as Captain Bonneville wrote, the Blackfeet ate the hearts of the slain Nez Perce warriors in order to acquire their courage.

There are many historical incidents of inter-tribal relations that reveal mutual slaughter and an impulse to genocide which originate in the native cultures themselves. The Pima of Southwest Arizona are remembered as a highly advanced agricultural society whose skills in irrigation and raising crops were reported to surpass even certain European cultures. Again and again, European travelers report of their exemplary honesty and virtue. The Pima were the most economically powerful tribe in the region, and their devotion to agriculture required a sedentary life style. Their neighbors to the east and bitter enemies were the Apache, mounted warriors and hunters who made continous fierce attacks against the wealthy Pima.

In April 1780, the Apache, disguised as Spanish soldiers, descended on the Pima, killing or capturing 120. Six years earlier, they had attacked the village Sutaquison and killed 60 Pima. Several weaker tribes around the Pima were obliged to vacate their ancestral territories and merge with the stronger Pima, due to Apache (not European) invasions. But the Pima, although not horsemen, retaliated against the Apache, and a Spanish chronicler witnessed Pima warriors returning to their vllage after a battle with the Apache which resulted in 60 enemy deaths and 70 captives.(1)

In 1722, Iroquois leaders told Virginian colonists that they hated the Nahyssan tribes, “against whom we have had so inveterate an enmity that we thought it could only be extinguished by their total extirpation.” (2) This Iroquois declaration of a desire for “total extirpation” (genocide) of brother Native American tribes reveals that, indeed, the impulse to genocide is also intrinsic to Native America. Violent conquest of ancestral territories, atrocities against civilians, aberrant behavior (such as self-mutilation and cannibalism), and, very simply, bad character, thrived in the Americas, we can assume, long before Columbus arrived.

By 1729, the genocide desired by the Iroquois had not yet been achieved. In that year, when renewing the covenant of 1685 with Virgina and Maryland, the Iroquois deputies gave a wampum belt to governor Spotswood “in token of their friendship, and blandly requested permission to exterminate the Totero [one of the Nahyssan tribes].” (2) James Mooney concluded: “The great overmastering fact in the history of the Siouan tribes of the east is that of their destruction by the Iroquois.”

What is more, the very phenomenon of “colonialism” in Turtle Island is not only derived from European cultures, but is also intrinsic to the Indigenous cultures of the Americas. The Incas, Mayas and Aztecs were also colonial powers. Closer to home, the legendary Great League of the Iroquois – Hodenosaunee – is revealed in history as an indigenous colonial power. James Mooney has written that until 1670 the Monacan tribes had been “little disturbed by whites,” but were obliged to uproot themselves often in desperation due to “the wars waged against them by the Iroquois.” (2)

The Great League of the Iroquois was a veritable indigenous colonial power. At the time of the Iroquois’ genocidal utterances, the Tutelo (or Tutero), together with the Algonquian tribes Delaware, Munsee-Mahican, Nanticoke, Conoy and Shawnee, were collectively brought under the governance of the chieftain Shikellamy, who served as viceroy for the Iroquois-conquered lands and peoples in the Susquehanna region. “Viceroy” as in colonial official, not for a European power, but for a Native American power.

1. “None Excel Them in Virtue and Honesty: Ecclesiastical and Military Descriptions of the Gila River Pima, 1694-1848., David H. Dejong, The American Indian Quarterly, Winter/Spring 2005).
2.The Siouan Tribes of the East, James Mooney, U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 22, Smithsonian Institution, 1894: Washington D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984. As cited in The American indian Quarterly, Winter/Spring 2005, “An Odyssey among the Iroquois: A History of Tutelo Relations in New York,” Jay Hansford C. Vest.

Three dead yuccas, Lytle Creek, California

My People?

Relics of Humqaq (Point Conception),
Greece and Sweden

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