During my experience organizing on issues surrounding systemic oppression, I have heard countless times by fellow organizers that “no one people have suffered more than Black people.” Every time I’ve heard this assertion made, I feel deep frustration, but at the same time I am aware of the reality that births such sentiment.
Our education system in the US has failed us all, by omitting and excising from our history books the true story of the people. Whenever I overhear such a mistaken statement made in Western New York, I like to pipe up just long enough to remind those around me that it is in fact Seneca land we stand on when we have debates about whose oppression is most pertinent or pressing.
Thanks to truth tellers like historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, we as a people have access to sources of truth, independent from the failed school systems obsessed with standardized miseducation.
The oppressor’s toolbox is vast and well equipped, and there are many parallels to be drawn when we examine the tools of oppression utilized against both Indigenous North American Peoples and captured Peoples of Afrikan descent, who struggle for survival on the same continent. But, we need to pay specific attention to the differences between their respective oppressions as well. This can be a harder task to take up.
It can be argued that the “five acts” constituting genocide have been satisfied for both Black America and Native peoples, but this notion doesn’t sit well with many. There is a very real and significant difference between intentional genocide and continued, systemic exploitation of a people for utility purposes.
And, let it be known, it is a falsehood that slavery was abolished in the US. The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that slavery is alive and well, with the fortified prison industrial complex now standing in place of the plantation. As Michelle Alexander states in her book The New Jim Crow, “more Black men are in prison or jail than were enslaved in 1850.”
Despite the many differences, however, the history shared by Blacks and Natives is a full one. From the Buffalo Soldier cavalry units who set out to destroy the lifeblood of Indigenous North Americans, to the little known ownership of Blacks by many Cherokee families on the Trail of Tears, there is a very real, intertwining connection between these two groups.
To this day both still feel the full brunt of police boots on their necks and red hot bullets tearing through the flesh of an already dismembered populace.
Thankfully a new day is on the horizon, but how do we get there? The democratic system, so coveted by US power structures, has collapsed into a top down, trickle down schematic, stifling and drowning out the voices of the People, particularly the youth.
Seneca Tribal Councilor Arthur “Sugar” Montour discussed the shortfalls of such a system, illuminating alternative pathways of liberation, during a conversation had on Sunday night’s radio program “Let’s Talk Native with John Kane.”
Sugar says, “What the Native People did was educate the children–From the children up is where the strength comes from. And where the children’s strength comes from, is from their mother. And where that understanding comes from is from Mother Earth and how everything works in unison. If one oppresses the other, then there is extinction…”
Also in studio for Sunday night’s broadcast was co-host Matt Hill. Hill states, “The colonists, when they came here, saw what inherent freedom was, what they saw was inherent sovereignty in individuals, they saw what it was to be a People that had freedom of thought, freedom of belief, as a birthright. That it wasn’t something bestowed upon you by an entity of this world. It was something bestowed upon you, as we say, as those faces came out of this Earth.”
Hill went on to say, “All of our Brothers of color, we should all stand together, all of our colors, all of our brothers that may lack some pigment, we are human beings.”
Ramona Africa was the only adult survivor of the 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization’s compound by Philadelphia Police. At a 2013 address given at Burning Books radical bookstore in Buffalo, NY, Ramona mirrored the Native sentiment, emphasizing the guidance of Mother Earth.
Ramona acknowledges, “We don’t know what we’re doing. But Mama does. Mother nature does. And she coordinates things right. Every species, every chain in the link of life, has its role and is important… We need to learn to accept Mama’s coordination. We need to understand the importance, the urgency, of revolution… [A]ll revolution really means is putting things right,” says Ramona.
When we were off air during Sunday’s radio show, Matt Hill offered another way to describe the dramatic change Mother Earth has been crying out for. Leaning in to emphasize his point, Hill stated, “We don’t want revolution, we want evolution. With revolution you come right back around to the same point…”
But where was this starting point? Surely, there was a time when such widespread exploitation of the land and its Peoples wasn’t par for the course. Whether we subscribe to the term revolution or prefer to drop the leading ‘R’ in support of evolutionary progress, we can all agree that transformation from life as we know it is essential for our survival.
We have one last chance in this world to “put things right.” We must seize the day, empower ourselves, organize our communities and call upon all Four Winds to catalyze such transition.
link to the full conversation from John Kane’s “Let’s Talk Native” radio show,from this past Sunday, Dec 14– http://media.espn1520.com/a/100092216/let-s-talk-native-12-14-14-hr-1.htm?