Foundation funding and its influence on NGO and institutional behavior has been a topic of discussion recently on North American indigenous activist list serves and news sites. Ford Foundation in particular is a major philanthropy in world affairs, including indigenous human rights. Because Ford funds academic institutions or NGOs or conferences does not mean that anyone working at these institutions or NGOs or attending their conferences supports neoliberal philosophy. What Ford tries to do is shape public opinion in favor of neoliberalism; supporting humanitarianism is essential to that psychological warfare.
While I myself would not formally associate with an organization that took Ford money, I do not demonize those who do. I know people who are ethical and do good work that take Ford money. They limit their strategies accordingly, attacking racism but not capitalism, but that does not make them evil. In fact, some of them were essential to my success as a community organizer way back when. Some even risked their lives to do the right thing, so I have a problem with categorical defamation.
I have also worked with FBI and IRS agents who were trying to protect people from violence by white supremacists. Without their help and acceptance of Public Good Project as a reliable source of information, good people would have been murdered. So when I hear radical activists denounce all people who work for federal agencies as untrustworthy, I know they don’t know what they’re talking about.
The radicals who divorce themselves from reality in their performance of moral theatrics create a parallel psychic world for themselves to inhabit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do the rest of us any good.
Another conspiratorial philosophy emanating from radical indigenous activists recently is that all tribal governments or councils are corrupt. Like all institutions, some councils are corrupt, some are not. That changes with elections and who is in leadership positions. A lot of the infamous corruption played up by professional radicals was eliminated by tribes under compacts they developed with the federal government over the last forty years, whereby they have become more independent from federal agency control.
Most of the corruption that you read about was fostered by federal agencies working with industries preying on tribal resources. As tribal governments have become more assertive in exercising their jurisdiction to protect their resources, that corruption has lessened. It’s always a challenge for the tribes, as it is for the rest of us.
As I noted in my recent editorial Tempest in a Teapot, one of the provocateurs who apparently devotes a lot of time to promoting conspiracism is Glenn Morris, Ward Churchill’s protege at the University of Colorado. Morris built his career on defaming others and being divisive, which is why AIM and the International Indian Treaty Council permanently expelled Morris and Churchill, labeling them “deceitful and treacherous”.
Readers who read my Report from Sycuan about the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples process might have noticed Morris’ opening attack on me in his response was to call my report on the Sycuan conference fiasco, “condescending, paternalistic, colonialist, ignorant, settler-privileged drivel.” While this approach might have garnered Morris his affirmative action position at university, it does not address the improprieties of the process I reported. Rather, it attempts to dismiss my concerns because I am white. Hardly what one would reasonably expect from a tenured professor, but consistent with a radical pious poseur.
Having launched his attack on, “white, male privilege” as a diversion from the topic of democratic process in the meetings preparing for the UN World Conference, Morris went on to elaborate over the course of several paragraphs that any criticism of an indigenous person by a white person — even if they were misbehaving or derelict in their duties — is not allowed, especially if the one criticized is a woman. Morris continued his nonsense by elevating the status of the self-selected, foundation-funded, state-appointed group that, following his lead, attacked legitimate indigenous governing authorities — elected by the members of their tribes to represent them and govern their collective affairs — to some imaginary global position of superiority, based solely on their delusions of grandeur, ironically made possible by the Ford Foundation.
Morris then went on such an incoherent rant in distorting reality that there is no purpose in attempting to decipher what it is he was saying or doing other than avoiding the simple topic I raised in my report. Which was that the process of allowing NGOs with no governing authority to thwart the participation of legitimate governing authorities through undemocratic procedures and intimidating tactics is not acceptable. Morris’ attack on one tribal leader, because she worked for state and federal agencies on her way to becoming a lawyer and tribal leader, is not because she is untrustworthy, but because by her genuine leadership she is showing him up for the fraud he is.
Suggesting that anyone who has ever worked for the IRS, FBI, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency or Pentagon is corrupt or evil is nonsense. Yet, conspiracism like this is the bread and butter of capitalist activists like Churchill, Morris and Kent Lebsock. Such is life.
In their conspiracism promoted to undermine the National Congress of American Indians, Morris and Lebsock recently suggested Ford Foundation, NCAI and the CIA were in cahoots with the UN and US State Department to defeat indigenous activism. Ironically, Lebsock’s organization also takes Ford money, but you won’t hear them saying anything about that.
The National Congress of American Indians, self-funded by its membership, comprises most if not all tribal governments in the US. The confusion by Indian Country Today‘s Peter D’Errico is that he suggests that by not directly challenging the US State Department at the UN, NCAI is supporting US subordination of tribal governments. It’s a leap of illogic unsupported by the facts.
NCAI, as I observed in my news article Ending Violations of Indigenous Rights: Indigenous Governments Propose Action, was at the UN to argue for tribal government status at the UN to be that of governing authorities, not NGOs, as they had previously been assigned. This instance was a matter of international diplomacy exercised by NCAI on behalf of its members, which have a collective embassy in Washington, D.C. for that purpose.
The diplomacy and litigation NCAI and its members exercise collectively and individually against federal agencies like State, Interior, Treasury and Commerce are national in orientation. NCAI and some tribal delegates addressing the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had to choose what parts of their struggle for international recognition of their sovereignty were fundamental, and also had to choose when and how to fight that battle.
Achieving international recognition as self-determining political entities is logically a priority to exercising that recognition domestically in their battles with individual agencies of the federal government. Choosing not to fight both battles simultaneously, especially when their position is on its face opposed to that of the US, only illustrates that NCAI is thinking strategically, determined to win the struggle rather than garner headlines like the radical pious poseurs.
This preparation, organizing, and strategic self-restraint, is perhaps an annoyance to those who think leadership is spouting radical rhetoric without any thought to the consequence, and certainly distinguishes the tactics of NCAI from the Churchill/Morris crowd. But then, NCAI is not trying to impress grant funders or obtain teaching positions based on white guilt.
Both D’Errico and Newcomb at Indian Country Today know better, but at the same time they are not governing authorities who have to negotiate with the UN and its member states. They are critics, knowledgeable ones, but susceptible to illogic if not conspiracism.
NCAI is challenging the US positions, just not the way some observers would like them to. That doesn’t make it complicit in some conspiracy or corrupt endeavor.
Before his career imploded, Churchill was essentially an entertainer on the radical speaking tour. Morris is not smart enough for that, and settles for being an agent provocateur from his state-funded ivory tower.
What they have in common is directing the naive but well-intentioned toward street theatre, rather than political organizing as a path to social change. Unfortunately, the street theatre path is a dead end.
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