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During the American Revolution, the six tribes of the Iroquois Nation maintained a public policy of neutrality. Yet several individual members (my ancestor Joseph Brant included) sided with the British with the hope that tribal sovereignty would be preserved when the British ultimately prevailed. Of course, they didn’t prevail and the rest is history.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed, thereby ending the war, the British and Americans ignored Indian sovereignty and declared all tribal land to be part of America. After the war, the American government rectified this situation and established the bullshit reservation system that has endured to this day.
In short, this isn’t the first time the British and Americans have fucked the Iroquois Nation and it certainly won’t be the last.
What I’m referring to is England’s decision to ignore the guarantee from Hillary Clinton and the American government that would have allowed the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team to travel to Manchester and play in an international tournament widely regarded as the Olympics of lacrosse. When I wrote the column for the Long Island Press that appears as a blog entry below, it had been determined at the 11th hour that the team would be able to travel and a crisis had been averted. Naturally this wasn’t the case and the wrong thing happened yet again.
To the team members whose ancestors invented the game of lacrosse, I can only offer the following words.
I hope you find comfort in this sentiment. Next time the tournament is held, let’s have it at Onondaga and deny the British passports when they reach the border of the reservation.
Twenty-three men waited five days. For five days they stood ready to do battle on a field for their nation, but were at risk of being denied the right to do so. They are warriors who engage in a time-honored tradition of championship lacrosse, a game that was invented by their ancestors. Ironically they were being stonewalled by the two nations who conspired four centuries ago to beat their people into submission. Just how high and how far did the debate reach? It took Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to wave her magic wand and allow this team to board an airplane with the guarantee they would be allowed to return.
The 23 men comprise a team known as the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, an internationally renowned unit led by octogenarian Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation and himself one of the greatest leaders and orators of the last century. Their attempt to board a plane for England was rebuffed by both British and American officials who initially refused to acknowledge the Haudenosaunee-issued passports residents of the Six Nations Confederacy—Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Cayuga—have been using for years.
The American solution was, as always, simple. When the British Consulate refused to accept the Iroquois passports without a guarantee the U.S. would let the team actually return after the tournament, the U.S. State Department rushed to their aid and offered U.S. passports to the team members and crew. As usual this is where the breakdown in communication occurs in U.S. and Indian relations. First off, the Iroquois Confederacy is within the geographic territories of both the United States and Canada. Moreover, each tribe within the confederacy is a sovereign nation. Consider them uber-states within America for comparison purposes.
To date the confederacy has been able to cope with the issue of international travel because most countries outside of the U.S. recognize the sovereign status of Indian nations and the informal U.S. policy has thus far been to let sleeping dogs lie. But homeland security and big brother have made the issue of the Haudenosaunee passport more opaque and left U.S. officials with a conundrum.
On the surface it didn’t appear to be such a big deal. But in Indian country, everything comes at a price. If the team had capitulated and agreed to accept U.S. passports to travel abroad they would have established yet another dangerous precedent in U.S./Indian relations. Acquiescing to this solution would essentially have ceded the issue of sovereign recognition on a very significant level. And while it may seem innocuous, I can assure you it is not. Every step closer to acknowledging that tribal lands are nothing more than bizarre extensions of U.S. territory is a step closer to losing the fundamental rights of indigenous nations. This is more than a lacrosse tournament.
For Indians, the State Department’s American passport solution was yet another extreme example of hubris and ignorance.
The tournament itself touts participating nations from around the globe, including the Iroquois Nation. Imagine how insulting it must be to be denied passage on an airplane because some bureaucrat at the airport check-in counter fell asleep in history class and wound up creating an international incident. The Obama administration has paid generous sums of lip service to tribes in the United States yet has proven to be callous and ill-informed in practice. True students of democracy would know that the Haudenosaunee compact that binds the six nations of the Iroquois together was so thoughtful and long-ranging in its conception that it was used as inspiration by our own founding fathers who framed the Constitution.
Of course, none of that matters to the 23 men who will be airborne as these words are being printed on the page. Throughout 400 years of poverty, humiliation and genocide, they have played this game that is as important to their nations as baseball is to America and soccer is to every other country on the planet.
On the field these warriors are one with their ancestors. Off the field they live in a cold, expendable reality. By the time this paper hits the stands they will have emerged from their international excursion and presented themselves on the field of battle, jetlagged and weary, without the benefit of practice. For today, Indian country can be thankful Mrs. Clinton granted them this one ceremonial leaf of dignity to cover the wound that has remained open and bleeding for too long.
The latest and greatest darling of Wall Street, Tesla Motors, rocketed onto the Nasdaq Exchange under the ticker symbol TSLA in its initial public offering this week. The isolated enthusiasm surrounding this company belies a greater unease that crept back into the markets as investors grow increasingly wary of a global double-dip recession. Tesla’s rise to fame has also had the effect of highlighting the company’s namesake, Nikola Tesla, who endures as one of the most significant influences on science and technology in the modern world. Tesla, an investor in the late 1800s and early 20th century, was the father of technology such as alternating current (AC Power), hydro-electricity, radio signals (sorry, Marconi fans) and the modern engine, among myriad other staggering accomplishments in the field of science.
But Tesla’s resurgence can also be seen as a cautionary tale to those that followed him, the Tesla Motor company included. While Tesla’s achievements are arguably more significant than even his contemporary (and mentor-turned-adversary) Thomas Edison, he rarely receives the recognition he deserves, and has been curiously relegated to footnote status in American education.
Tesla, who was prone to disturbing visions and hallucinations, would be in good company with the delirious investors in Tesla Motors. But Wall Street loves a fun story and glamour wins the day over pragmatism, and thus the era of the $100,000 electric automobile is upon us. Despite the company’s own admission that profits are a distant dream, and an IPO with several government requirements and restrictions, America is at least (momentarily) talking about zero-emission transportation. The blessing and the curse of American ingenuity is we tend to think big. Big inventions sometimes have big repercussions that spawn big solutions with several inevitable repercussions of their own. And the cycle continues.
But if Tesla Motors has Wall Street on its side for now, Tesla the inventor virtually had it in his pocket for a brief period. JP Morgan and George Westinghouse were early supporters of his genius, but it was Morgan who pulled the plug on what may have potentially altered the course of power generation forever. Tesla constructed a tower with Morgan’s backing in Shoreham (how’s that for Kioli?) that, according to Tesla’s laboratory research, would have essentially electrified the earth and used it to conduct power, thereby eliminating the need for power stations and transmission lines. At the 11th hour Morgan shelved the project upon realizing this model for energy would have provided free power. Free anything in Morgan’s world was a bad thing. Herein lay the cautionary portion of the tale about glamorous projects that are supported by Wall Street and the government.
Tesla continued working and lecturing for several years before fading into obscurity and dying penniless and alone in New York City. Not dissimilar to the fate suffered by pre-grunge rock band Tesla, who currently reside in the “where are they now” file. But I digress. The important lesson to be learned is that the vagaries of our national agenda coupled with the powerful counter-interests of oil companies should be enough to temper the enthusiasm of any investor in the electric car market. Add to this a product whose hype centers on its ability to reach a speed of 60 mph in less than four seconds—the auto equivalent of “this one goes to 11” and Tesla redux has the makings of flash in the pan. (Yes, I have now gratuitously referenced Spinal Tap twice in one paragraph. Tesla, the band, inspired this line of thinking.)
The electric car requires a national recharging infrastructure as robust as the network of petroleum filling stations. While there are notable entrepreneurs in this field and a loose patchwork of government subsidies to encourage investment in this arena as well, the movement isn’t even in its infancy; it’s still in utero. Any combination of the oil industry lobbying against it, the government running out of subsidies and a product that is impractical and expensive, and Tesla could very well wind up as the subject of a documentary titled Who Killed The Electr… Hey, wait a minute!
For now, we will ooh and ahh over this bright, shiny new bauble and marvel at the possibilities of zipping silently across the country at 180 mph under clear blue, smog-less skies. Ultimately, clean energy will be accomplished in less sexy ways. Somewhere Jimmy Carter is shaking his head. What would be really weird is if he was rocking out to Tesla on his iPod while doing it.
Short of actually sticking the president into the gushing hole in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m not clear what exactly people expect Obama to do right now. This is a public relations fiasco that is as unprecedented as it is unwinnable and the response to his response has been puzzling to say the least.
Republicans accuse Obama of taking advantage of the spill to push renewable energy and clean technology. Um, OK. Democrats are lining up to accuse Obama of not emoting enough on television. I see. One can only surmise the proper reaction then would be to demand greater dependence upon fossil fuels during a nationally televised address where the president breaks out his hanky and furiously mops his brow while channeling his inner Jimmy Swaggart.
That leaves us with the working men and women who rely on the Gulf for their livelihoods. Here again, a PR non-starter. On one side are representatives from the fishing industry lambasting the administration for not holding BP’s feet to the fire in processing claims immediately. On the other is the oil industry—incensed over Obama’s six-month moratorium on off-shore deep-water exploration—claiming the penalty for companies in good standing is too harsh and negatively impacting workers in the industry.
One can only imagine the prevailing sentiment in the Exxon Mobil board room is “there but for the grace of God…”
Ultimately the only issue I have with the president’s handling of the spill is in his characterizing it as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” This is a hollow proclamation that examines the spill in a vacuum. The worst disaster is our pernicious environmental policy agenda that allows ignominious corporations to reap enormous profits from our insatiable consumerism that is fueled by other less tangible, but wholly calculated corporate misdeeds such as planned obsolescence and the rise of industrial agriculture.
Thirty years ago the IXTOC I well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and proceeded to pour approximately 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. It took eight months to cap the leak. The immediate effects on the fishing industry and wildlife from a spill this size are devastating. However, the long-term effects of an oil spill of this magnitude are reported, even by environmentalists, to be rather benign. That is to say, oil is a natural ingredient of Earth and over time it will break down and return again to its original form. None of this is any consolation in a situation that is as maddening as it is sickening.
In practice, our reckless pursuit of fossil fuels is less sustainable for humans than Earth. The great Chief and Faithkeeper of Onondaga, Oren Lyons, says it best: “Whatever happens to us will not have any impact on the world. In time, the world will regenerate. It will come back green, and the waters will be clean again. It’s just that there won’t be any people here.”
And there it is. Suicide by consumption.
What we require in the interest of self-preservation is leadership that demands investment, not into “bridge fuels” like natural gas exploration and inefficient ocean-based wind turbines, but into a massive micro-level renewable energy plan that can be easily adopted by the states. Renewable energy technology on a micro level is more portable and easily funded than quixotic pursuits of windmills and the folly of “clean” coal and “safe” nuclear power. The effort must begin at the top but be decentralized enough to allow the states to administer a plan to simultaneously curb consumption and reward conservation through economic incentives, thereby sparking a global manufacturing race.
Unfortunately, this agenda is neither sexy nor easily explained, but it can be inspired and effective. Either way, this recipe for environmental and energy independence success is a political recipe for disaster.
In a stunning revelation this week, the federal government has concluded the Shinnecock Indians are indeed Indians. The lightning pace at which they arrived at this determination can only mean we are days away from declaring independence from British rule and uniting the colonies!
This is not another column longing for the day when the United States comes to the realization federal recognition is a bogus, unilateral stamp of approval for a gaming license and has nothing to do with the qualifications of a group’s “Indianness.” It’s as ludicrous as it is insulting. It cannot, however, match the absurdly racist and discriminatory report authored by State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) and released the same week as the Shinnecock Nation celebrates the farcical honor of being told they actually exist.
The report issued by Johnson’s committee is the result of several months of testimony and supposed research into the issue of tax collection on Indian reservation territories within New York State. The fact the committee chose the one week everyone knew the Shinnecock Nation was to achieve, at the very least, a moral victory and celebrate its federal recognition offers keen insight into the scandalously insensitive nature of these lawmakers. While New York State is hamstrung by infighting and ineptitude and barely staving off a historic shutdown, this committee issues a report so rife with inconsistencies and backward logic that it could have taken minutes, not months, to produce.
The only thing that is clear is this speciously crafted report, replete with one-sided arguments, is intended to obfuscate the fact that The Empire State is the primary culprit in squandering enormous sums of potential revenue from cigarette taxes. By affixing his name to this report, Johnson is less of a patsy in this regard than he is a “cleaner”—much like Harvey Keitel’s “Wolf” character in Pulp Fiction, here brought in to clean up Albany’s mess.
Much of the text in the report is written in a decidedly patronizing tone that attempts to assuage the ultimate message to Indian tribes of New York: Pay up or face the consequences. The committee rationalizes this stance by ignoring the numbers given by its own tax department and instead recognizing the more advantageous figures given by people who stand to gain from legislation that would negatively impact the tribes. The testimony of the tribes was an exercise in futility as it is glaringly apparent this committee and the “powers that be” in Albany are determined to continue their centuries-old mission to ethnically cleanse Indians from New York through economic warfare.
Unfortunately, none of this is a surprise. What is utterly disheartening was the conclusion of the 20-page report. The final line of the report simply states: “The State should revoke its recognition of the Poospatuck Tribe.”
First of all, the tribe is Unkechaug. The reservation is Poospatuck. Second, not only is there no legal precedent for this ridiculous recommendation, there have been numerous opinions written by New York State itself declaring this idea (not the first attempt at this) unconstitutional.
This recommendation can only be classified in the following categories:
D) All of the above
For those of you keeping score at home, the correct answer is “D.” Attempting to revoke the status of a nation that predates our own and eradicate an entire race is the type of Machtpolitik that should evoke terror in our society. We should bristle at this type of caustic political language that stokes the fire of hatred and intolerance. Instead, the headlines referring to Indians on Long Island revolve around speculation regarding the location of a Shinnecock casino now that the tribe is federally recognized.
Recently, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas made a similar remark recommending all Jews leave Palestine and return home to Germany, Poland, the United States, and “everywhere else.” Helen Thomas, at least, had the good sense to hang up her cleats after allowing us to peer into her cold, black soul. Hers was an epic lapse in judgment caught on video by a citizen journalist that went viral. Conversely, the recommendation Poospatuck be obliterated was carefully considered over a period of months and delivered as the kicker in an official government report. There is no apology that can mitigate what was written and every person on this committee has been revealed for what they truly are: bigots. Unlike Helen Thomas, however, I doubt any of them will have the decency to retire.