Church and State – Part 3: Atonement

Church and State – Part 3: Atonement

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October 12, 2013


Poverty in Indian Country is not an act of God; it is, rather, the result of U.S. policy. While the Puritan heritage plays a role in the setting of U.S. policy, it is the Unfair Dealing of U.S. agencies that has institutionalized American Indian poverty. With poverty of American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations at 39%, one has to wonder what an impartial God would think of the 2009 settlement of Cobell, in which the U.S. Government reluctantly returned to Indian Country $3.4 billion of the $47 billion in misappropriated royalties from reservation resource extraction.

In seeking absolution for its many sins against Indian Country, the U.S. Government used the gaming industry as a means of ameliorating traditional Indian economies eradicated by Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery. While this allowed some parts of Indian Country to prosper, the casinos — like state lotteries — were mostly a means of replacing some of the revenue lost to inflation and reductions in federal funding. With per capita expenditures by the US on American Indians and Alaska Natives at roughly half of that expended on other Americans, it is not difficult to understand why poverty remains a significant challenge for Indian governments.

While redemption is important to some American Christian denominations, reparations to Indian Country remain off the table. Atonement for past and present sins continues to be constricted by notions of white supremacy and plenary power. As long as Christian fundamentalists conflate criticism of their political privileges with persecution of their religious beliefs, the only resolution of US Federal Taxation Disparities in Indian Country is for Indian governments to preempt externally applied taxes, and to reserve exclusive Indian government authority over reservation resources. Otherwise — as noted in the January 2013 report by the Center for World Indigenous Studies Good Government Research Group — the current level of commitment by the U.S. Government will ensure a significant increase in poverty throughout Indian Country.


In Steven Newcomb’s 15 June 2011 Indian Country Today article A Critique of a Doctrine of Reconciliation, he reviewed the Christian domination paradigm, and the assimilation/reconciliation process. As a destructive legacy of church and state domination, says Newcomb, it is senseless to speak in terms of reconciliation with such illegitimate religious ideologies. Yet, unresolved crimes against humanity by church and state are increasingly absolved from responsibility by truth and reconciliation commissions from Canada to Guatemala. If reconciliation is meaningful, it must be preceded by restitution.

In her 1 January 2013 article Co-opting the Memory of the Dakota 38+2 at Indian Country Today, Waziyatawin — a Dakota professor in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria — argues that reconciliation is inappropriate while injustice continues. Specifically addressing the December Dakota memorial ride to honor Lakota warriors hung at Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, Waziyatawin says the warriors are better honored by Dakota resistance to oppression that continues to this day, rather than forgiving oppression that happened yesterday. If the Dakota of the future are to achieve justice and liberation from this oppression, she admonishes, they will do so by fighting, not forgiving. Contrary to the rhetoric of reconciliation, she notes, justice must precede forgiveness, not the other way around.

In her 1 July 2010 Guernica magazine essay Living with the Enemy, Susie Linfield discussed what Jean Amery called “the moral necessity of undying resentment.” Examining the modern obsession of truth and reconciliation, Linfield discovers the only truth is that, “forgiveness and reconciliation are of far less interest to the victims than they are to the perpetrators.”

Given the ongoing betrayal of treaties and trust agreements throughout North America, it is not surprising that some First Nations in Canada are mirroring those of Oaxaca, Mexico through the use of direct action to bring the unsatisfactory situation to international attention. Over the last five years, highways and railroad lines have been blockaded by First Nations in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. Meanwhile, the Blackfeet of Montana proved systematic embezzlement of American Indian resource royalties by the U.S. Department of Interior, only to have a federal court tell them, “So what.”

First Nations of Bolivia now have a government that acknowledges and supports their inherent rights as Indigenous peoples, and is finally using that country’s assets to benefit them. In fact, they have been directly involved in revising Bolivia’s constitution, as well as in official acts to redistribute the wealth that was originally theirs alone. Indeed, the entire process of governance is being democratized in ways corporate-controlled Americans can hardly imagine.

But Bolivians were not handed this power over their lives by the landed aristocracy or the US corporations that helped them steal the Indigenous wealth in the past. Rather, it was the Indigenous people themselves who decided they’d had enough, and took to the streets to put an end to the infamy that plagued their lands.

North American Indians are not in a numerically strong position as the Indigenous of Bolivia are, but they are in a morally and legally superior position to the states of Canada, Mexico and the US, and in the end that is likely to be the key to victory over corporate autocracy and official corruption. They will, no doubt, need some help from mainstream civil society to implement economic security and environmental sanity, but the leadership on human equality is theirs to take, and they are apparently headed in that direction. It now remains for the rest of us to decide whose side we are on; fence-sitting is going to become increasingly hard to pull off with a clear conscience.


Domestic terrorism is hardly something new to American Indian reservations. From the experience with missionaries to the tragedy of boarding schools, Native Americans know what terrorism is all about. But today, with the advent of the New Apostolic Reformation, domestic terrorism practiced by born-again Native Americans against other Indians practicing traditional spiritual ceremonies is creating a climate of fear like no other. As Mary Annette Pember reported in her 12 December 2012 article Will Arson Attack Cause Holy War Between Born-Agains and Natives? at Indian Country Today, it’s like what the missionaries did long ago. Demonizing tradition, she notes, leads to crimes like arson and worse.


In illuminating conflict between modern states and Indigenous nations, I frequently examine aspects of the psychological warfare involved. Often, this psywar includes references to religious values that distinguish one side from the other. While these references are increasingly coded for marketability, occasionally dominant society participants let their hair down, so to speak, and express deep-seated, religious-based bigotry toward their foes.

A current example of this exercise of the Principles of Psywar is the narrative of white persecution and resentment deployed by the Tea Party movement in the United States for the purpose of intimidating non-white voters and elections officials. As documented in Abridging the Vote, a special report by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, fascist populism — exemplified by the Tea Party/Christian Patriot milieu – is bolstered by reference to this meme that resonates with fundamentalist Christians, who have deep roots in Southern racism.

While this particular disenfranchisement project of white supremacy is aimed at Blacks and Latinos, the Tea Party has also been targeting American Indian sovereignty and culture as something to eradicate. Since this nationwide effort to roll back civil rights and abolish human rights is a unifying mission for the entire spectrum of the American right-wing, American Indian organizations would do well to prepare for battle.


In the early 1990s, national Anti-Indian organizations joined the Washington Association of Realtors and the Building Industry Association in Washington state to create property rights groups with sufficient funding and organizational support to defeat implementation of Growth Management environmental protection by altering the political climate. Key to that Wise Use Movement task was the recruitment of paramilitary white supremacists willing to threaten tribal and environmental activists, thus generating widespread fear among communities in fourteen counties statewide.

Four years into their campaign to mobilize resentment, eight white supremacist Christian-Patriot militia members were sentenced to federal prison for violations of explosives and firearms statutes, in which they planned to murder their political opponents. I later wrote an eyewitness account of this turmoil.

Today, in the Klamath River Basin of Northern California and Southern Oregon, tribes and environmentalists are threatened from a mobilization of resentment by the agricultural industry, with assistance from national Anti-Indian organizations. As Charles Tanner Jr. reports at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, the nascent hate campaign is receiving active support from the Tea Parties.

Whether this confluence of white nationalism with industrial power will be able to derail restoration of the Klamath River is hard to tell at this point in time. What is certain, though, is that the reshaping of the political landscape there — as in Washington state twenty years ago — by white supremacists with industry backing, is unlikely to be one conducive to either conservation or cooperation.

In the 16 April 2013 issue of Cascadia Weekly, the editor, Tim Johnson, wrote in his op-ed A history of violence about the anti-Indian conference held ten days earlier in Bellingham, Washington, where national anti-Indian organizers from Citizens Equal Rights Alliance joined local Tea Party activists in a symposium on stripping Indian tribes of their federal treaty rights. Noting the participation of property rights advocate Skip Richards — who has a history of collaborating with Christian Patriot militias — Johnson observed that the event was an organizing tool for the extreme political right in coming local elections.

Said Johnson, “Dwarfing these groups, however, are thousands of potential voters activated through the politics of ressentment, a blending of resentment and hostility directed at the perceived cause of one’s frustration, attempting to assign a face of blame for one’s losses, made most plain in ‘white rage’.”

As Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network wrote in Drumming Up Resentment, “In addition to vertical integration from local to state to national organizations, the anti-Indian movement also developed horizontal integration, or ally relationships with groups and activists in other political and social movements. The anti-Indian movement,” he noted, “is allied with the anti-environmental wise use movement. There is,” he remarked, “extensive cooperation between anti-Indian groups like CERA and wise use groups like the Alliance for America.

Loose affiliation between anti-Indian groups and the Religious Right,” he went on, “is also evident primarily in the electoral arena and state legislature. Finally,” says Toole, “despite their best efforts, anti-Indian activists often stumble into the overt white supremacist movement. It is not a surprising stumble,” he says, “since both movements have racist ideas at the core.”

The Chairwoman of Republican Liberty Caucus of Washington (the Ron Paul formation), is Sandi Brendale, wife of Philip Brendale–a featured speaker at the regional Anti-Indian Conference held in Bellingham on April 6. Sandi is also active in Eagle Forum, a right-wing, political Christian organization.


On the 13 June 2005 edition of Democracy Now, the headline FBI Whistleblower: White Supremacists Are Major Domestic Terrorist Threat referred to former special agent Mike German, who in the 1990s infiltrated Christian Patriot militias, including those operating in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington. One of the guest speakers at the CERA anti-Indian conference in 2013 was the host for these militias over the two years preceding the 1996 FBI investigation that led to the convictions of eight individuals on firearms and explosives charges.

As the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance national hate campaign against American Indian tribes builds momentum on the issues of water rights, endangered salmon and tribal sovereignty, Christian Patriots and Tea Party activists nationwide are already advocating for lawless behavior. Whether that behavior will include mobilizing vigilantes to commit violent crimes remains to be seen. If the past is any indicator of the future, we had better be on our guard.

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