resuscitating language

one way palestinians and indigenous americans are alike is the long history of political imprisonment. it’s yet another means of separating people and destroying resistance recently leonard peltier was denied parole yet again. last week his attorney, eric seitz, wrote about it for the san francisco bay view news while going over some details of the case and letting us know what we can do about it:

The Bush administration holdovers on the U.S. Parole Commission today adopted the position of the FBI that anyone who may be implicated in the killings of its agents should never be paroled and should be left to die in prison.

Despite judicial determinations that the unrepentant FBI fabricated evidence and presented perjured testimony in Leonard Peltier’s prosecution; despite a jury’s acquittal on grounds of self-defense of two co-defendants who were found to have engaged in the same conduct for which Mr. Peltier was convicted; despite Mr. Peltier’s exemplary record during his incarceration for more than 33 years and his clearly demonstrated eligibility for parole; despite letters and petitions calling for his release submitted by millions of people in this country and around the world including one of the judges who ruled on his earlier appeals; and despite his advanced age and deteriorating health, the Parole Commission today informed Mr. Peltier that his “release on parole would depreciate the seriousness of your offenses and would promote disrespect for the law” and set a reconsideration hearing in July 2024.

This is the extreme action of the same law enforcement community that brought us the indefinite imprisonment of suspected teenage terrorists, tortures and killings in CIA prisons around the world and widespread disrespect for the democratic concepts of justice upon which this country supposedly was founded. These are the same institutions that have never treated indigenous peoples with dignity or respect or accepted any responsibility for centuries of intolerance and abuse.

At his parole hearing on July 28, Leonard Peltier expressed regret and accepted responsibility for his role in the incident in which the two FBI agents and one Native American activist died as the result of a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Mr. Peltier emphasized that the shootout occurred in circumstances where there literally was a war going on between corrupt tribal leaders, supported by the government, on the one hand, and Native American traditionalists and young activists on the other.

He again denied – as he as always denied – that he intended the death of anyone or that he fired the fatal shots that killed the two agents, and he reminded the hearing officer that one of his former co-defendants recently admitted to having fired the fatal shots himself.

Accordingly, it is not true that Leonard Peltier participated in “the execution style murders of two FBI agents,” as the Parole Commission asserts, and there never has been credible evidence of Mr. Peltier’s responsibility for the fatal shots, as the FBI continues to allege.

Moreover, given the corrupt practices of the FBI itself, it is entirely untrue that Leonard Peltier’s parole at this juncture will in any way “depreciate the seriousness” of his conduct and/or “promote disrespect for the law.”

We will continue to seek parole and clemency for Mr. Peltier and to eventually bring this prolonged injustice to a prompt and fair resolution.

Take action

News from North Dakota today is that Leonard Peltier’s parole has been denied. He won’t receive another full parole hearing until 2024, at the age of 79 years.

As sad as we all are, we are steadfast, undefeated. We will not go away. We will not be quiet.

Take a moment to reflect. Just a moment. But then put your disappointment behind you. Gather your strength. There’s much work to be done.

Action Item 1: Contact the Attorney General

On June 23, 1995, Amnesty International submitted a letter of concern about the Peltier case to the then U.S. Attorney General. There was no response. Write to Eric Holder, Attorney General. Ask him to conduct an executive review of the case and to finally right the wrongs of the past. Tell him it’s never too late to find the truth. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Write to Eric A. Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20530-0001, (202) 353-1555.

And while you’re at it, ask Mr. Holder why more than 140,000 documents from a more than 30-year-old case are still being withheld by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Tell him America has a right to know what occurred over 30 years ago and demand the release of all documents related to the Peltier case.

Action Item 2: Contact Members of Congress

Use all the resources at your disposal to contact your members of Congress and continue urging them to support freedom for Leonard Peltier. That support should be formally expressed in correspondence to President Obama.

Also demand a full congressional investigation into the Reign of Terror on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the ‘70s. It’s long past time for the truth to be told. See http://www.FreePeltierNow.org/call.htm and http://www.FreePeltierNow.org/write.htm.

Do you use Twitter? Try using this service to quickly and easily reach your members of Congress: http://tcxs.net/.

You also can sign the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Pine_Ridge/.

Congress will not be in session for most of August. This is a good time to meet with your members of Congress in their home offices. Make the appointment now. You can find locations, telephone numbers etc. via our congressional directory: http://www.FreePeltierNow.org/congressmaster.htm.

Action Item 3: Call the White House

Call the White House comment line to express your outrage at the outcome of the parole hearing. Demand that President Obama free Peltier now. Call (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1112.

You also can send an e-mail to the White House. Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.

If you prefer, mail or fax a letter: President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20500, fax (202) 456-2461.

Better yet … do all three. It’s time to set him free … because it is the RIGHT thing to do.

“When you begin a great work you can’t expect to finish it all at once; therefore, you and your brothers [and sisters] press on and let nothing discourage you until you have entirely finished what you have begun.” – Teedyuschung, chief of 10 Delaware tribes, died in 1763

To learn more, visit Friends of Peltier at http://www.FreePeltierNow.org or email contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info. The Bay View thanks Freedom Archives, www.Freedomarchives.org, for compiling this information. Questions and comments may be sent to claude[at]freedomarchives.org.

recently, dahr jamail wrote a great article called “kill the indian. save the man” for truthout in which he offers a great historical overview of how the united states actively worked to destroy the indigenous. of course, one method was imprisonment, but yet another was cultural genocide, specifically destroying the relationship between american indian tribes and their languages:

Steven Newcomb, a Shawnee/Lenape Native American and author of “Pagans in the Promised Land – Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” has written: “It’s a little known fact that the Catholic Church issued a number of papal edicts in the fifteenth century that set into motion patterns of colonization that became globalized over many centuries. In the documents “Dum diversas” (1452) and “Romanus Pontifex” (1455), for example, issued by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal, the pope “authorized” the king to send men to the Western Coast of Africa and “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue” all non-Christians, “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery,” and to “take away all their possessions and property.” Such patterns of thought and behavior became institutionalized in law and policy, and the patterns are still operative against indigenous peoples today under the concept of “the State.”

An effective means to institutionalize this process was to indoctrinate Native American children at highly religious boarding schools run by the Department of Interior. The children were severed from their families on reservations with the ostensible aim of saving them from poverty.

The original boarding school idea came from Gen. Richard Henry Pratt who formed the Carlyle Indian School in Carlyle, Pennsylvania, in 1878. He wrote in “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260-271, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Systematically, his school and its later extensions stripped away tribal culture. Students were forced to drop their Native American names, barred from speaking in their native languages and forbidden to wear long hair. Punitive measures and torture were rampant.

Pratt’s conviction of moral superiority can be gathered from his views on slavery, “Inscrutable are the ways of Providence. Horrible as were the experiences of its introduction, and of slavery itself, there was concealed in them the greatest blessing that ever came to the Negro race – seven millions of blacks from cannibalism in darkest Africa to citizenship in free and enlightened America; not full, not complete citizenship, but possible – probable – citizenship, and on the highway and near to it.”

here is one way palestinians and indigenous americans are different: palestinians still have their language. although in 1948 palestine there are some serious barriers to arabic for palestinians, particularly given the way the education and exam system is set up so that there are only incentives for palestinians to become adept in hebrew and not in arabic in the same academic ways. but there are american indians who are actively working to resist all that jamail catalogs in the above-quoted article. al jazeera did a great piece about indigenous americans and language on rageh omaar’s program witness a month ago and it’s well worth watching. it’s directed by amy williams and it follows tish keahna who shows us how the wind river reservation has created an arapaho language immersion school to reverse the effects of centuries of killing indigenous languages:

theatre of the oppressed festival

tonight i took some of my students from my drama class to see theatre of the oppressed, which is currently touring palestine. although i’ve taught drama classes for years and taken students to see plays–in ghana, palestine, and in the united states–i’ve never had the opportunity to see theatre of the oppressed live. i’ve only read about it and been very intrigued by the idea of it. here is a bit about the concept and its founding:

Theatre of the Oppressed was born in 1971, in Brazil, under the very young form of Newspaper Theatre , with the specific goal of dealing with local problems – soon, it was used all over the country. Forum Theatre came into being in Peru, in 1973, as part of a Literacy Program; we thought it would be good only for South America– now it is practiced in more than 70 countries. Growing up, TO developed Invisible Theatre in Argentina, as political activity, and Image Theatre to establish dialogue among Indigenous Nations and Spanish descendants, in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico… Now these forms are being used in all kinds of dialogues.

this is the second annual tour of theatre of the oppressed in palestine. there are several countries touring with their theatre troupes here: south africa, germany, bosnia & herzegovina, norway, sweden, and portugal. we saw the performance by house of azania today from south africa. they performed a piece called “who do you think you are?” which includes 8 interlinked acts, although we only saw 3 of them. given the way that theatre of the oppressed works i imagine that this is usual and given that they performed in nablus and had to return to ramallah tonight they had to leave before huwara checkpoint closed. they were performing oppression in a space of oppression after all.

theatre of the oppressed is unusual because the actors perform a scene that usually engages with a social problem of some kind. tonight they performed three such acts: one on ethnic cleansing, one on laborer’s rights, and one on xenophobia. the first one, on ethnic cleansing, was based on the group areas act, which later became the forced removal act, that forcibly removed black south africans from their land and their homes. here is a brief synopsis of that apartheid-era law:

The Apartheid Era was one of division and segregation based on the colour of one’s skin. The Group Areas Act of 1950 (Act No. 41 of 1950) was created on 27 April, the day that is today recognised as Freedom Day in the New South Africa. This act was created to split racial groups up into different residential areas of any given town or city.

The result of this act was that the best, most developed areas were reserved for the white people, while the blacks, Indians, and coloureds were assigned to the more rural outskirts of the major metropoles. 84% of the available land was granted to the white people, who made up only 15% of the total population. The 16% remaining land was then occupied by 80% of the population. This led to overcrowding, diseases, shortage of food and funds and a host of other problems. The areas assigned to the black people were dubbed the Tribal Homelands.

Once the areas were defined, anyone living in the “wrong” area was required to move, or else be forcibly removed. However, of the 3.5 million people who were required to leave the homes they had established for themselves, only 2% were white. And this group were moved to better areas than where they had been living.

Establishing the non-white areas on the outskirts of the metropole or city centre meant that they had to travel vast distances to get to work. But it also meant that they were isolated from basic amenities, such as hospitals, police stations and other emergency services. This created a sense of chaos in the homelands, an independent attempt at dealing with issues as they arose. This was dangerous for the residents, and led to many riots, outbreaks, and even deaths.

The only exceptions made were for non-whites who worked within the white suburbs, such as domestic workers. These workers were often required to stay on the white boss’ premises to avoid the daily commute and they were issued with special permission to allow for this. However, none of their family members were able to live with or even visit them. If they were found on the premises, they could be charged and imprisoned. This led to the splitting of many non-white families due to secular demands.

The assignment of areas to the black people was based on their tribal grouping, the record of which was often incorrect. The plan was that each homeland would eventually form a citizenship, so that blacks could no longer be considered citizens of South Africa, thereby relinquishing them of their rights and responsibilities. Between 1976 and 1981, four homelands were developed. The black people that had once occupied South Africa now needed a passport to cross the borders of their homelands into SA.

The Group Areas Act also stipulated that non-whites were not allowed to own or run businesses within the white areas. This limited their growth and financial development considerably, as they were only allowed to work in their townships and homelands. Even there, they could not usually afford major enterprises and would try to survive off small supply stores or basic services run from a shack.

of course this first sketch resonated quite well with a palestinian audience given the 122 years of zionist colonization making palestinians homeless and landless. one of the characters in this scene–the man playing the husband–tells his wife before the police bang on their door “they can’t take our houses from us. we’ve been here for generations.” sound familiar?

they performed the scene and then as with the style of theatre of the oppressed they performed it a second time immediately after. it is in the second performance that we see how augusto boal intended to use theatre for political ends. because in the second time an audience member is asked to yell “stop” at a moment when they want to join the actors on the stage in order to intervene in the problem. each scene is already set up in a way that there is a conflict–in this case between the family and the police–that is going around in circles and they cannot resolve. the audience member’s job is to solve the problem in some way by changing the action on stage. multiple audience members may join in and this was the case in most of their scenes tonight. a student from an najah university (not one of mine) got up on stage in this one and took over in the husband’s role because she felt he was being too passive. unlike his character–who in the end was willing to leave their house without much of a fight–she refused to leave the house and follow the colonist police officer’s orders. others eventually came up on stage taking on the role of neighbors who joined together to scare the police away and state that they would refuse to leave their homes and land. the first two pictures below are from this scene.

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the second scene was about laborers in south africa–particularly miners in the gold and diamond mines that made white south africans so very wealthy. the employer in this scene was unhappy with the workers because they sang while they worked. one of my friends got up on stage in this scene and staged a sit in for workers rights (next two photos).

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the final scene acted out was on xenophobia, which has been a big problem in south africa with respect to africans from neighboring countries moving to south africa and south africans feeling like their jobs are being taken, crime is increasing, diseases are spreading (americans should be familiar with this sort of racism especially as it is directed at mexicans). i found this to be a challenging piece for the audience here, however. the context is something that palestinians are not familiar with inside palestine. certainly palestinians have been on the receiving end of this whether as workers in the gulf or as refugees in places like lebanon banned from 72 different professions. but it is next to impossible for foreign workers to come here to work (my “work visa,” for instance, does not come from the palestinian authority, but from the israeli colonists and technically it is still a tourist visa, just a longer one on which they stamp the words “not permitted to work” ironically enough given that my university applied for it on my behalf). but two of my students got up and tried to intervene in this one. they did a great job, but i just think that the lack of context made this particular social problem a difficult one to engage with here (photos below).

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