See Dr. LoCicero's blog, Paradigm Shift, on Psychology Today at
May 1, 2017
Culture, Capitalism, and Violence:
The Continuing Attempts at Genocide of Indigenous People and Culture
Neither the majority of European settlers and immigrants in the US, nor the majority of their descendants, have understood, or embraced, the fundamental values, beliefs, or cosmology of Native Americans. The common beliefs, practices, and ways of knowing of indigenous groups that populated the continent now known as North America were of no interest to settlers or their descendants, for they did not see the indigenous people as human. Rather they saw them mostly as obstacles to their grand scheme of empire. European Americans were occasionally creative and often simply brutal in claiming ownership of land, when, for indigenous groups, the land—the earth—was a source of life that could not be owned. The settlers did not understand the indigenous systems of justice, nor did they understand the Native practices of prayer and ceremony.
We can say, on the one hand, that this failure to understand is emblematic of the tolerance for ignorance that is, and has been, a hallmark of settlers and citizens of the US. However, we can also say that ongoing failure to understand was, and is, more specifically motivated. Rather, European settlers—and today’s descendants—did not and do not want to understand the indigenous system except as a tool to be used in the service of empire. Because clearly the cosmology, lifestyle, practices, and beliefs of Native Americans—such as the sharing economy-- pose a threat to the usual capitalist, imperial belief that greed and competitiveness are fundamental to human nature. They pose a threat to the idea that the earth is ours to plunder for personal and corporate gain. And they pose a threat to the idea that capitalist competitive and imperial values somehow lead, ultimately to “good.” Indeed, even in the time of approaching annihilation of humanity through nuclear or climate disaster, many Americans continue to live as if capitalism and individualism are the only, or even the best, ways forward. This is illustrated in the recent election of a government that is pro-fossil fuel, denies climate change, and is willing to consider nuclear war as a viable option.
The US government succeeded in destroying the lives of many, many Native Americans by stealing their land, killing them outright, enslaving them, and sending their children to boarding school—an experience akin to torture for children and their parents—where they were abused, traumatized, and brainwashed in an attempt to “kill the Indian to save the man.” That is, Americans, even into mid-twentieth century, acted as if they believed that by giving Indian children complete makeovers, forcing them to assimilate completely, and brutally punishing them for acting like themselves, they could make them more human. Or perhaps they simply thought that they could kill the idea that there was a viable alternative to European style culture.
Fortunately, western attempts to destroy indigenous cultures and peoples, while they have done grievous damage, have not succeeded in obliterating the culture altogether. This is a fortunate outcome for all, because once indigenous culture is understood, it becomes clear that indigenous culture, cosmology, and practices are far more sustainable than capitalism. They pose alternatives that have proven indestructible, despite the many efforts of European-Americans to kill Indian culture and to kill Indians. More importantly, they provide alternatives that can lead the human race to survival.
The recent Standing Rock encampment received much support and praise around the world, but did not amount to a deeper understanding of Native culture by mainstream Americans. Indeed, even some who spent time there and even contributed to its success as prefiguration of a sustainable future, failed to deeply understand or participate in Native culture. What Standing Rock did accomplish, however, is that members of many Native Americans families who have long been deliberately and violently separated from their traditions, and seldom felt comfortable participating in traditional rituals, prayers, or ceremonies, are reconnecting with those traditions, and experiencing pleasure and pride. And Native Americans from vastly different traditions found great common ground. The traumatic disconnections and destruction of values, practices, and beliefs deliberately and violently applied to indigenous families and communities are being undone—sometimes gradually and sometimes, as illustrated in the recent Standing Rock encampment and its aftermath, with dramatic strides. I think, and hope, that a critical point has been finally reached, where the culture will begin to thrive.
In an upcoming paper, I will describe the transformations and recovery of pride and identity that is reported by multiple Native Americans who participated in the Standing Rock encampment. I will also describe what I learned at Standing Rock. As a non-native psychologist, I spent time there only after being trained for months by the Society of Indian Psychologists. After training, I was encouraged to go to Standing Rock as a provider of emotional support services, only to work under the direction of native healers. Besides speaking about what I heard and saw, I will suggest some ways forward, whereby the healing and transformations that occurred at Standing Rock can continue, and can be supported by Europeans of good will, who also want to save humanity from nuclear and climate disasters.
North Dakota: At the daily meetings, anyone who wishes to speak can do so, for any length of time, on any topic. Others listen carefully, patiently, and respectfully, in order to learn from those who do, and those who do not, initially, look like they have a lot to teach. For non-natives, noticing the patience and listening attentively is the first lesson: That there is a different way to engage—that unwavering focus with determination to meet a known goal is not the only—and not always the best--approach. That pushing someone to get to the point might lead you to miss the point entirely. The wisdom the speaker has to share might come in the first sentence or the last paragraph, or throughout the comments. You cannot know in advance. You must remain engaged. In the meetings I attended, some who spoke had traveled—some by foot-- hundreds of miles to share their experiences and their hard-won wisdom—from other actions in other times.
Grandmothers led the communal prayers that began each meeting, and ended it, and their prayers of gratitude, of memory, of humble request, and of hope, were enhanced by drumming and singing, done by men—usually young men. Those prayers reminded us we were all in this together now—indigenous people, immigrants—voluntary and forced--and the descendants of immigrants. All races and ethnicities. We all share this one, beautiful, earth. And every meeting left me in hope and awe, as I watched privileged young men and women—the descendants of colonizers--who had opted to learn, for now, from their indigenous relatives, rather than from their college professors. And young Native men and women who had committed themselves to stand up and lead others in non-violent actions to protect the water. Everyone there was ready to stand with all willing relatives—we are all relatives--putting our bodies and souls on the line to protect the water for future generations.
This experiment in democracy, sustainability, justice, egalitarianism and community, was not viewed favorably by the larger community. It was viewed with suspicion, hatred, and condemnation. And the response of the authorities in the nearby non-native communities, with the support of non-native community members, was unbridled, unjustified, absurd levels of violence, both direct and indirect. Violence toward the water protectors and toward the water itself.
Indeed, for hundreds of years, the democratic, egalitarian, spiritual, communal societies of indigenous western hemisphere natives have been viewed by non-natives with fear and hatred. They have consistently been treated with absurd levels of violence, because, for all this time, the settler/colonizers and the generations following the settler/colonizers did not—and probably could not--see the indigenous groups as human. If they had, it would have posed a challenge to the colonizers’ values and way of life, with its central assumption that it is normal for humans to be driven by greed, competition, and individualism. With such values, respect is given not to those who share, but to those who own land, animals, and people.
Note: For those who want to know more about, and to support, the ongoing actions of the water protector community, you will not learn much from the mainstream press. I suggest you look for the many Facebook groups about Standing Rock, and also to look to our Native colleagues through the organization Society of Indian Psychologists. Or you may contact me directly, via the Peace Psychology website.
copyright Alice LoCicero, 2016
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