Finding My Place in the World

Image result for california indian culture and sovereignty center cal state san marcosImage result for cal state san marcos

When I was 47, after a life of reinventing myself several times, I went back to school to finally get that degree I’d dreamed of, but previously didn’t have the resources. In those years of attending college part time at night, I also could never make up my mind about a major. I gave up. But then my life underwent a dramatic change, opening up the opportunity to continue my education, and by then I knew–or thought I knew–exactly what I wanted. I would pursue a law degree, because I thought that would be the best way I could contribute to improving the lives of my Indian people. And I knew that a bachelor’s degree in Native studies would pave the most fertile ground for a post-graduate degree. Of that I was certain.


So off to the University of New Mexico I went, finally knowing, in mid-life, exactly what I wanted. I loved it more than I can say. I knew it was exactly where I belonged, and my education helped me grow more into myself and put my life into perspective. It was everything I believe an education should do for a person–expand your world, and give you tools to contribute to making the world a better place. About halfway through my undergrad years, because of wise council from a trusted advisor I came to understand that going into law is not the only, or necessarily best, way to work for Indian country. I was in the McNair program, a federally-funded program to support under-represented minorities to enter the professoriate by earning Ph.D.’s.  I decided against applying for law school and instead entered into a master’s program, thinking I’d eventually get the Ph.D. and teach. All I wanted to do was teach Native studies. I was clear about that much.


After six and a half straight years in college, and now in my 50’s, my life had once again taken some unexpected turns and I found myself at another crossroads. For a variety of reasons, I decided that a Ph.D. was not the best path for me. After earning my M.A., I went to work in the non-profit world at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, where we do amazing work in research, policy, and education for indigenous communities around the world. I also developed my skills as a writer/journalist, which led me to my adventure as an author. All along the way, I was volunteering my time as a community-based educator at the K-12 level, and doing increasingly more public speaking events in colleges and private venues.


Finally, in 2016 I was approached by Joely Proudfit, Chairperson of the American Indian Studies program at California State University San Marcos, with an offer to teach in that department. Because of a busy book tour that fall, I was not able to accept. She approached me again this year and this time the stars all lined up and I was able to accept the position of lecturer.


I think it’s uncommon that people get to a place in life where they know that they are in exactly the right place in their lives, doing exactly what they are meant to do. It took years and years for me to find my role in life, and it was a circuitous and often painful, difficult journey. When I went back to school, I was a single mom to a 9 year old who just lost his dad. I had no family around me, until my mom got really sick and had to come live with me, at which point I became her caretaker. She died a year and a half later, just as I entered grad school. I’d lost my dad my first year back at school. On top of that, I had a number of health issues, not the least of which was stress-related.


When  I look back, I don’t know how I made it through…sheer willpower, I guess. Pure stubbornness, probably.  But I can honestly say I made it, I am doing what the Creator meant for me to do in this life. My position at CSUSM is not a fancy tenure-track professorship. But I am still doing the work of teaching young and open minds, correcting history, and exposing them to the realities of Indian country and the relations between Native Nations and an oppressive federal legal system. And I couldn’t be happier about it.


The lesson? Never give up on your dreams. Just keep moving forward and believe you can do it. See in your mind’s eye what you want for your life, and go for it…you can’t create something you can’t first imagine it. And be willing to work hard for it, because for most of us, it’s not going to get handed over on a silver platter. It’s like Obi Wan Kenobi said to the young Luke Skywalker: your focus determines your reality.

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Discerning Your News And Information Sources

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this idea of “fake news,”  especially since DTs statement that CNN is fake news, and his obvious gas lighting approach to communications.  The lines between reality and non-reality, facts and “alternative facts” have for all intents and purposes disappeared. It feels like we are living in some alternate reality where illusion is indistinguishable from truth. But like they say, truth is the first casualty of war, and that we are engaged in some form of culture war in the US seems pretty undeniable at this point.

People understandably don’t know who or what to trust when it comes to the kind of information they consume. So as a scholar and journalist trained in information discernment, I’d like to share a few thoughts that might act as a helpful guideline for how to practice wise discernment about how you get information and how to interpret it.

First of all, I like the above graphic as a baseline example for how to classify the kinds of information you are most likely exposed to on a daily basis. I think CNN is incorrectly placed (I think it is pretty center, but not in the same category as USA Today); I think it should stay in the center, but be higher up the ladder. I also think the title is a bit misleading. It would more accurately, in my opinion, be titled something like “A Decent Assessment of Common News Sources,” rather than rely on lazy, reductive language like “fake” versus “real.” There are good examples of popular websites that fall clearly into either more ideologically left or right positions.

That said, it’s also important you understand corporate media and how it’s imperative is to please advertisers, at least as much as it is to report good information,  if not more.  So much news and information is simply ignored because it’s not “sexy” enough,  or doesn’t comport with dominant cultural narratives which more often than not are about reinforcing nationalist commitments to “good” citizenship and patriotism. This is a prime example of why alternative, listen-sponsored news media was born to begin with. The Pacifica Network is probably the first example of non-corporate sponsored media in the U.S.

But the concept of “fake news” itself must be interrogated. In reality, fake news is news or information that is clearly fictional–as in not based in fact– versus information that is based in fact, whether or not those facts are agreeable to one’s sense of politics, such as DT’s accusation of CNN being fake news. Just because he doesn’t like what CNN says about him doesn’t make it a “fake” news site. This is the very definition of “alternative facts” Trumps’s counselor Kelly Anne Conway, gave us. Good, reliable information is based on careful consideration of verifiable facts that both support a particular viewpoint, and oppose it. News stories should always include multiple perspectives, particularly on  controversial topics.

Be aware that good information, versus information that is too skewed in one direction or the other, should always be contextualized. This means understanding that a story or topic should include any relevant historical or other kinds of data. This is where frameworks and lenses come into play.  For example, as a Native American journalist and scholar I can say with certainty that most mainstream, non-Native media get it wrong when it reports on Indian country-based information. Much of the time when it’s written or reported from a non-Native source, there is such a lack of understanding of history, law and policy, and Native culture that a very incomplete picture is painted at best, and at worst is completely incorrect. In the case of Native stories, many if not most non-Native journalists are limited by their lack of critical education on subjects like colonialism or even simple anthropology.

The uncritical analysis of history or other “facts” can be illustrated by the Standing Rock story. It is impossible to accurately understand the depth of the protests there without understanding the very complex history of the interactions between the Standing Rock Sioux and the federal government. This is where short journalism format, which is most web-based news these days, is detrimental to conveying  an accurate picture of any given complex situation. One of the casualties of web formats is long form journalism (which contributes to the dumbing down of the population).

It’s also important to read not just straight news, but also analysis when it comes to issue-based journalism. They are not the same things, although news can contain analysis. Always look to see if an article is an op-ed. If so, it will most likely be analysis, told from the personal perspective of the author, which will be demonstrably right, left, or center. None are inherently good or bad, just subjective. Remember also that the idea of covering “both sides” of an issue paradoxically constitutes the myth of objective journalism.

Good analysis will include multiple perspectives, and will be based on sound argumentation, logic, and reputable sources, including experts, scholarly references, and other research sources.  Keep in mind that analysis is often normative, meaning it will try to convince you of something by any number of different techniques, i.e. exposing you to information you may not have already known, giving an alternative viewpoint, etc. Again, not good or bad, just subjective. Good analysis will minimize inflammatory language and judgmental verbiage, but give you enough information to help you discern truth from fiction, manipulative bias from honest evaluation.



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And the Trauma Continues

Yesterday in the ongoing demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, over 80 people were arrested for “rioting.” This is just the most recent in a long series of intimidation tactics designed to wear down the resolve of the water protectors, and brings the number of arrests made into the hundreds. The intimidation against the unarmed demonstrators to date includes the use of attack dogs, pepper spray, militarized police, the arresting of journalists, and routine strip searching. The use of the term “riot” is a false construct whose purpose it to justify the state’s violent crackdown on a peaceful but tenacious protest. 

In the wake of the arrests and up-to-the-minute updates–thanks to facebook live posting and other social media–a Native American facebook friend of mine posted that she was reduced to tears and feeling “triggered”. This was history repeating itself, she said, watching our Native brothers and sisters defending their lands and resources from government aggression. Instead of fighting the calvary as they clear lands for a transcontinental railroad–the iron horse– they are fighting the intrusions of another state-backed transcontinental project, this time an oil pipeline–the black snake. Same shit, different century. 

Historic, or intergenerational trauma is now a recognized condition in the world of psychology. It’s a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome that gets passed from generation to generation (many believe genetically inherited) in groups of people who were subject to intense oppression. Even though an event that caused PTSD may be in the past, the symptoms of PTSD can return through triggering events. They can be internal triggers, like memories or thoughts. Or they can be external triggers, like stressful situations or environments.   

Symptoms include a re-experiencing or reliving of a traumatic event, like a flashback, nightmares, or actual physical reactions such as increased heart rate or other physical symptoms; avoidance (thoughts, feelings, people); hyperarousal (edginess, sleep difficulty, irritability, a sense of danger); and negative thoughts and beliefs (distance from others, difficulty feeling positive feelings, feeling that your life may be cut short). 
My own responses to the Standing Rock standoff range from tears to a certain level of dissociation (avoidance). Always there is a sense of not being able to escape persecution, or not having the option to stop fighting. It’s more than exhausting to live with the feeling for your entire life that you must keep fighting. 

The problem is that these triggers are more than simply having flashbacks or memories of an event in a long ago past. The events at Standing Rock are a reminder of the system we have inherited that reenacts the original wounding over and over and over again. 

This is why Native people cannot simply just “get over” the past, as we are often told we should. For us, the past never ended. 

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RumiNating on Indigenous People’s Day

First book signing at Skylight Books, 10-4-16. 

It’s been far too long since I last made a blog post here, and for that I apologize. But now is a good time to pick it back up again, given that we have now entered the time of year when America talks about Indians. And also the fact that our new book is now out on the market, enjoying an astounding level of success right out of the starting gate, only a week since its release. As of this morning Amazon rated it its #1 bestseller in the Native American history category, ranked at 783. That means that out of around 1 million books being sold at Amazon, for now our book is the 783rd most popular book. A great start by any measure. 

We have an amazing public relations department at Beacon Press, which is why the book is doing so well. We’ve had tons of media attention, and Roxanne and I have been scrambling for weeks to keep up with interview requests for blogs, articles, radio, and TV. This, all in addition to the ongoing success of Roxanne’s previous book, An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States (for which she still is traveling and giving talks), and my regular work at the Center for World Indigenous Studies and Indian Country Today. We have also begun an ambitious book tour for this new book, whose official kick off was at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on October 4. We have dates this month in the San Francisco Bay area; in November we go to the Southwest, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest; and in December we go to the East Coast. For more about our event locations see the events link in our website, and on our Facebook page. Also on our Facebook page you will find links to some of the interviews, reviews, and excerpts the book has received so far.

But what I want to talk about now is how in the interviews Roxanne and I have been giving, most of the interviewers have been astute enough to make the connections between the history of the United States and Native Americans, and what it has to do with today. That is, after all, what the book intends to do overall–which is to un-erase Indigenous peoples from the discursive social landscape of the US. Right now with the #NODAPL movement gaining steam in the press, these journalists have been able to talk about what it means to abandon Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day and highlight the fact that the standoff at Standing Rock is just the most recent act of Indigenous resistance to capitalist exploitation, in the form of what we could call environmental imperialism. 

The Young Turks had a good piece, busting the Columbus myth, and it represents a snowballing trend of media responding to the fact that more and more cities are jettisoning Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day. Lest we rest on our laurels, however, believing that it is enough to simply change a national holiday that is a celebration of imperialism, the bigger point for Native peoples in the US is that the narrative of discovery has been woven into the legal system to which Native people are now subject, without their consent. This is what the Young Turks and many others so far fail to grasp. It shouldn’t be just about making the dominant society feel good about abandoning a history that celebrates atrocity. It must follow through the historical trajectory that led to the doctrine of discovery and other legal principles that construct Native people as inferior and therefore in need of the paternalistic, oppressive policies that still govern the relationship between the settler government and Native nations. 

Still, Roxanne and I both acknowledge that there is definite progress being made in American discourse about these very troubling realities. All eyes are on North Dakota right now, and the federal government is on trial in social media, dependent upon how it handles the pending lawsuits and permits for the pipeline. There is an important choice to be made right now: actually live up to its trust obligation to be a protector of Indian treaty rights and resources; or business as usual, and allow the rape and pillage of Standing Rock’s sacred sites and risk its only source of drinking water. I’m not making any bets because I know my history too well.    

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Website for New Book Now Up!

book website

As we anxiously await the release of our new book this October, we (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, my co-author, and our fabulous publisher Beacon Press) are busy getting the word out about it. This includes a brand new website! Follow this link. The site provides more information about the book and authors, and there is a page that gives a schedule for events where the authors will appear for book talks and other related activities such as media interviews, etc. You can also get yourself on our email list to win a free copy of the book or advance galley copy.

Thanks for checking it out and we look forward to your reviews once the book is out this fall!

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Writing History as Healing


Chemawa Indian School

Many of my friends and readers know that I have been in the process of writing my first book, which is a co-authored project with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. The title is “‘All the Real Indians Died off’ and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans” and it’s part of a series at Beacon Press that tackles different social issues; the two existing books in this series look at labor unions and immigration. Our book is the third in the series. Beacon Press is one of the oldest, most well respected presses in the country and they specialize in topics related to society, social justice, education, etc. Everything they publish is  serious non-fiction. It is truly an honor to be associated with such an institution, especially as a first-time author. The book is scheduled for release in October of this year.


Writing this book has been the culmination of years of formal education combined with the real life experience of being Indian. I went back to school at the age of 47 to get a degree in Native American studies because it has always been a subject that is closest to my heart. It certainly wasn’t because I thought I could make a lot of money with a degree like that.


I figured out a long time ago that there was a lot more to being Indian than everything I had been taught as a kid, and began when I first started learning about the boarding schools. That was in the early 90’s before it was the common knowledge that it is today. I learned that my grandmother and my great uncles were boarding school survivors; it was a concealed history, something my grandmother never spoke of. In fact, when my uncle Vern at the age of 75 told me about their experiences at Chemawa, I suspect it may have been the first time he had ever really spoken about it. His stories were classic tales of abuse  and humiliation, stories so commonly told now because there is greater social awareness, compared to 25 or 30 years ago.


It was learning this family history that set me on the course I am on today as a scholar and a writer, and before that as an artist. It stirred in me a deep commitment to learning  not only  about what had happened to my family, but the larger histories that I knew were carefully concealed in American history classrooms and society at large. Before there was something called “historic trauma” I dedicated my life to doing anything and everything I could to heal these ancestral wounds that I knew I carried inside me.


Writing this book has been part of that healing. My hope and prayer is that it will help contribute to the healing of other individuals  who share a similar history. If only one person  finds healing in this book it will have been worth it. But more than that, my hope is that healing will also happen on the societal level. For it is only in a society that can be honest with itself about its history that everyone can find healing eventually. For me, writing has been one of the most powerful tools for healing the intergenerational trauma I inherited. What has been your most healing practice?

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Surfing and Indigeneity in the United States

The women of the Institute for Women Surfers, Ventura, Ca. 2015

The women of the Institute for Women Surfers, Ventura, Ca. 2015

At first glance, using the terms surfing and indigeneity (as in “Indigenous”) in the same sentence may seem like a non-sequitur, something that doesn’t connect or make sense. Yes, it makes sense in the context of Hawaii given that the modern sport of surfing as we know it emerges out of Native Hawaiian culture. But what does surfing have to do with American Indians? Quite a bit as it turns out, based on research and writing I’ve been doing for several years now.

There is almost nothing that can be written about with regard to American culture that can’t be linked in one way or another to Native Americans, especially if seen through the lens of settler colonialism.  Simply stated, the historical processes of settler colonialism create the conditions of possibility for everything in the sociopolitical arenas of the U.S. to exist, even something as seemingly insignificant as the sport of surfing and the culture that surrounds it.

I was recently a featured speaker at the second annual Institute for Women Surfers. IWS “is a grassroots educational initiative in the Public Humanities that brings together women surfers, activists, artists, business owners, and educators, to create spaces of peer teaching, learning, and mutual aid.” IWS is part of a larger movement within surf culture that seeks to understand the broader sociopolitical implications of surf culture in the U.S. and the world more broadly. The movement has even found its way into academia in recent years and is generally referred to as critical surf studies.

My work in the areas of Native American studies and surf culture is a natural outgrowth of my American Indian identity (Colville Confederated Tribes but born and raised in Los Angeles) and the fact that I am a female surfer. Intersecting the two seemingly disparate arenas began when I was a graduate student and wrote a Master’s thesis that examined the role of an American Indian community in a campaign to preserve the world-famous surf break known as Trestles, in San Clemente, California. Since then, as a journalist I have written numerous articles about surfing history and indigeneity (one of which garnered a journalism award from the Native American Journalists Association in 2015). Surfing and indigeneity is also a topic of a future book project.

In my presentation at IWS—titled “UnErasing the Native in Surfing and Sustainability”—I gave a brief lesson on settler colonialism and indigenous erasure in Southern California, and recounted the history of the Save Trestles campaign. But the most powerful aspect of the presentation was a workshop I created that was designed to reveal the ways surf culture enacts the structures that we think about as settler colonialism and infuses the subculture with narratives of domination, privilege, and entitlement.

All of the Institute participants were women surfers (at least half of them are women of color) with high levels of social consciousness and education, and all of them understand the basic tenets of feminism, heteronormative patriarchy, and critical race perspectives. So it wasn’t too much of a stretch for them to think within even bigger frameworks of colonial histories and grasp how colonial narratives have resulted in pervasive stereotypes and myths about Native American people, and more importantly how the discursive erasure of Native people from beach landscapes enables the existence of surf culture.

The workshop brought into conversation several seemingly unrelated topics: American origin narratives, sustainability, Indians, localism, and surf travel. By identifying the three most pervasive “facts” of each topic certain themes emerged. It was eye-opening, for example, for them to see how paradigms of conquest and entitlement are woven into narratives of surf travel. Or how attitudes of domination, superiority, privilege, and exceptionalism fuel the violence of localism in neighborhood surf breaks.

In addition to the two and a half days of serious discussion, we also had the chance to share the joy of surfing together, which is, after all, why we surf to begin with. Surfers know the power of surfing to transform lives. Surfing has also, on the other hand, had profoundly negative impacts on cultures throughout the world. But it is conversations like these that are helping to make surfing and surf culture a site for social good and ideally, transformation at the collective level.

Video courtesy of Beth O’Rourke at SeaLevel.TV

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Upcoming New Book about Native American Myths

My mother and I at SCIC powwow, circa 2007.

My mother and I at SCIC powwow, circa 2007.

I recently announced on my Facebook page and am now disclosing here that I am currently under contract with Beacon Press for a book tentatively titled ‘There Are No Real Indians Anymore’ and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. The book is a collaboration with renowned scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz who is known for her work which spans a broad spectrum from North and South American Native studies to Marxism, anarchy, and other radical studies. Roxanne is currently on a book tour throughout the United States promoting her most recent book, An Indigenous Peoples History of United States, which is selling like hot cakes (which I highly recommend) and has already won two major book awards including the American Book Award and a PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. I am truly honored to be partnered with a scholar of her caliber in this new project.

The book is a  part of a series at Beacon which takes certain aspects of US American culture and dismantles the most common myths about them. The two previously published books in the series tackle immigration and labor unions. Our book takes a strenuous look the most common myths about Native Americans (as opposed to the cultural “mythologies” and stories of Native American peoples). In other words, it is about mythic historical and sociopolitical aspects of indigenous peoples in the United States. We identify what we think of as 21 of the most pervasive myths and dismantle them based on the best social science and historical literature in Native American studies and  related  disciplines. Although it is based on  rigorous academic work, it is written for a lay audience and designed to break down theoretical frameworks into easily digestible and highly informative topics.

We do this naturally through the framework of colonialism, and more specifically settler colonialism. It is based on the premise that the most pervasive myth about indigenous peoples is the vanishing native myth (you can read more about this in my most recent column at Indian Country Today). We argue that every other myth about Native peoples in the US can trace itself in one way or another to this one core assumption, and that the tenacity of the myth continues to misinform how Americans understand indigenous peoples in the US.

The book has tremendous potential to aid educators at all levels of education and will  hopefully be read by people in the highest levels of government as well. Look for its release in fall of 2016.

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Native American Journalist Awards

naja logo

I am deeply humbled but proud to announce that I was recently honored to receive two Native American Journalist Association awards as a result of this year’s competition, out of a total of three nominations submitted by Indian Country Today Media Network. Both third place awards, they were given in the categories of Best Sports Stories and Best Columns in publications with over 8,000 in circulation.


The Best Column category win was for “The Ugliness of Indian on Indian Racism.” It was based on an intensely personal and painful experience I’d had, one that I thought a lot of Native people would be able to relate to. In it I bared my soul with the hope that it would somehow help give a voice to others who have been hurt in similar ways. Based on the plethora of comments it received, it seems to have accomplished that, as well as having been bitterly criticized. But the criticism didn’t surprise me because nothing is as sensitive in Indian country as identity issues.

In the sports category the story “Surfing as Sovereignty: How Native Hawaiians Resisted Colonialism” was awarded. This was a big surprise to me, as I initially wondered if anyone in Indian country would even care about something so seemingly irrelevant as surfing. I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest generated in the various surfing articles I’ve written for ICT. Surfing is an indigenous sport and when we dig into it, we find that it interacts with Indian country in ways not obvious to many people. I am pursuing deeper work on the topic and more will be revealed in the future.

Thanks to all who read and comment, pro and con, at ICTMN. And thanks to the excellence of all the editors there who make these articles happen. I consider myself an “accidental journalist” as it was never my goal to be a journalist. The most important thing, however, is to raise the consciousness of all things Native. That’s what I hope to do.

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Tough Alliances and Tangled Webs: Indians and the Counterculture

The yearly gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light took place in the  Gifford Pinchot National Forest, in the Washington State, near Portland. Rainbow Gatherings are temporary intentional communities, typically held in outdoor settings, and espousing and practicing ideals of peace, love, harmony, freedom and community, as a consciously expressed alternative to mainstream popular culture, consumerism, capitalism and mass media. These gatherings are an expression of a Utopian impulse, combined with bohemianism, hipster and hippie culture, with roots clearly traceable to the 1960s' counterculture.  A 4-weeks road trip across the USA, from New York to San Francisco, on the steps of Jack KerouacÕs famous book ÒOn the RoadÓ.  Focusing on nomadic America: people that live on the move across the US, out of ideology or for work reasons.

The yearly gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light took place in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, in the Washington State, near Portland.
Daily Kos

The uproar about the Rainbow Family Gathering in the Black Hills reminds us that the counterculture is alive and well in the U.S. Not just a relic of a forgotten era, the hippies of the Rainbow family and their Black Hills gathering are at once a living testament to the ways in which American settler society not only dispossesses indigenous peoples but alienates large swaths of its own population as well. Lillian Moore’s open letter to Indian country makes this alienation clear (in however convoluted a way) by asking Natives for sympathy toward their plight as cultural “orphans.” Lakotas are implicitly expected to be gracious and welcome the Rainbows in their homelands, presumably because both share the commonality of being outcasts in American society.
In contrast, during the 1960’s and 70’s countercultural hippies were important allies who while sometimes antagonistic to Indians, also helped advance the Red Power movement in California, Washington, New Mexico, South Dakota and other places. This history shouldn’t be ignored.

I grew up in Southern California during those hippie days. A product of the federal government’s objective to assimilate Indians into mainstream society by pressuring Indians to leave the reservations, combined with the economic hardships of the Great Depression, my mother’s family first left the Colville reservation to pursue employment under FDR’s Works Progress Administration jobs program. Also the product of ethnic intermarriage, my mixed ethnicity meant that whether or not I wanted to, I could pass as non-Native, which is to say that as a Native person I was mostly invisible. Even though some might argue my invisibility is a form of light-skin privilege, on the other hand invisibility is another peculiar form of discrimination against Natives, especially if you consider that settler colonialism’s prime directive is to disappear Natives into the dominant society.

I spent almost 20 years living in Northern California where most of my friends were old time hippies and counterculture types. Generally more liberal and relaxed, Northern California always felt more comfortable to me, that is until I began to come face to face with cultural appropriators and their attitudes of entitlement to Native culture. Then, when Native assertions of sovereignty began to conflict with white liberal agendas after the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria began plans to build a casino in the town where I was living, many of those Indian-loving liberals showed themselves as the most vicious of NIMBY’s (“not in my backyard”). The line in the sand had been drawn, and my pro-Indian, pro-sovereignty, anti-appropriation politics postured me as the enemy in that predominantly white liberal countercultural community. Visibility or invisibility, I learned, is not always determined by skin color but by allegiances and political oppositions.

In the white liberal left environmentalists are often among the most condescending and judgmental when it comes to Native issues, as are wealthier property owners. Many of these folks are former counterculturists whose upward class mobility has shifted their far left-leaning tendencies toward the center. The more radical element of the political left are those who have consciously disavowed the capitalist imperative by choosing to live more simply and closer to the earth. Their lifestyles often marginalize and alienate them.

Given these distinctions, here’s what I say to Rainbow or other counterculture folks out there reading:

I understand that you are trying to connect with Lakota people because you find wisdom and beauty in their ceremonies and worldviews. But there are right ways and wrong ways to go about making those connections. Understand that coming from a sense of entitlement is the surest way to alienate Native people. Understand that Native people believe that the ceremonies and creation stories (their “Original Instructions”) were given to them by the Creator in the context of their places and worldviews, framed by their unique languages. They are for the purpose of perpetuating indigenous cultures, not to give you personal enlightenment and spiritual growth, or even to save the world.

One of the most important values in Native communities is humility. If you want the respect of Lakota or other Native people, you approach them with humbleness. For the gathering to be held in Paha Sapa (Black Hills), it should first have been given the blessing of the Lakota tribal leadership. If the blessing could not be obtained, it should not have proceeded there. Finally, put aside your Hyemeyohst Storm and Carlos Castaneda books and read up on settler colonialism. Then you’ll have a much better idea about why we’re even having this conversation.

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