Almost a year ago federal agents invaded the Kaniekeha community of Akwesasne, breaking into the Three Feathers Casino which had been closed for more than three months and charging members of the Men’s Council from the Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne (Longhouse).
Rarahkwisere and Kaneratiio, duly appointed members of that Council, were arrested and taken into custody. Sakoietha, a third member of that Council, was charged but refused to be arraigned, opting to remain free and at-large so he could, at least covertly, tend to his child who has been battling cancer for several years.
Rarahkwisere was denied bail and only this week after more than 11 months of unlawful imprisonment did a federal judge finally release him on his own recognizance.
This commentary is not specifically about the Three Feathers Casino case or the trial concerning it that is currently under way. My thoughts this week concern the hypocrisy and the stark contrast of the image that the U.S. and Canada try so desperately to maintain set against the reality of the current circumstance that Native people find themselves in.
“Is Sorry Enough?,” Murray Porter’s powerful song questioning Canada’s “apology” (albeit not an admission) for the genocidal policy that was the residential schools, opens with the line, “It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.”
This is also my mantra this week. Apologies, congressional resolutions, proclamations, executive orders, U.N. declarations, treaties, speeches and invitations to the White House are just words. And these meaningless overtures made for public consumption are just adding insults to the injuries when measured against reality.
This week marks the middle of National Native American Heritage Month. Barack Obama proclaimed it so. “I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities,” the President said. Once again, it appears no one got the memo — unless in some twisted reality the prosecution of a Longhouse in federal court now qualifies as an “appropriate program or activity.”
The criminalizing and dehumanizing of Native peoples is so ingrained in the culture of colonialization that the hypocrisy of “apologizing” for an act while continuing the very action is not even newsworthy.
In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an “official” apology for the residential school system of Canada, which stripped Native children from their families to place them in the prisons of this national school system. Yet the process of stripping children from Native families continues, only now rather than being placed in a government institution they are adopted out to non-Native families.
In 1993, a U.S. Congress Joint Resolution “apologized” for the unlawful overthrow of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii. President Clinton signed it – also during our “special month” – on November 23. However, in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court codified into U.S. law just how pitifully meaningless these things are by ruling that such resolutions have “no binding legal effect.”
Beyond proclaiming our “special month,” the current Rahnatakaias has issued Executive Orders including a couple that demand executive departments and agencies developing policies with “tribal implications” to consult and collaborate with “tribal leaders.” The Treasury Department and the Department of Justice are both executive departments and unless indictments, subpoenas and tax assessments are considered consultation and collaboration then these orders either have no force or had no intent. Regardless of which, they have no effect.
The words, “recognizing tribal sovereignty” are spoken every day in Washington, D.C. and, I suspect, in Ottawa. Parades of senators, congressmen, department heads, appointees, advisors and representatives carve valuable time out of their terribly productive days to offer their patronizing blather while federal agents continue to assault our people and charge them with crimes against the U.S. for exercising that sovereignty that is not only more genuine than their own but also predates the existence of the U.S. and Canada.
Like Murray said: “It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.”
So Rarahkwisere is out of jail but he is hardly free and he will certainly never get those 11 months back. But at least he gets to spend his “special month” with his family. The federal judge who ordered his release had this much sense but can he show enough integrity to really “do” the right thing and toss out the whole case? Don’t be surprised to read that this federal court rules that the Longhouse is a criminal enterprise. They have been treating us as such for centuries.
It’s what they do.