Monday, January 4, 2016

Peaceful Resolution with Armed Dissent in the United States

Photograph of Geronimo, 1887 by Ben Wittick
Militiamen taking over a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon has me thinking about violent political actions. I have been studying American Indian history and there are similarities with actions some Indians took a generation ago. I hope the situation in Oregon will be resolved peacefully and there is precedent for this in the United States. The following are my thoughts based on an essay by Dean J. Kotlowski that is in the Roger L. Nichols compilation The American Indian: Past and Present


Kotlowski: Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, and Beyond


Social turmoil defined the era of the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s, and the American Indian was not immune to its effects. Society seemed split between an older establishment and a young, impatient, vocal youth. This schism manifested in the Indian community with Navajo leader Peter MacDonald praising US President Richard Nixon on one side, while activists like Russell Means, Dennis Banks and others with the American Indian Movement (AIM) going as far as to stage armed protests. I can understand MacDonald giving praise to Nixon—considering that Termination was in full swing twenty years previously. Nixon thought Indians were a “safe” minority (p. 358). Nixon calculated that a generous approach to Indians would be good politically for him with younger Americans, yet he conceded that there were real injustices heaped on these people with “very few votes”. While the tribal establishment may have welcomed presidential gestures, the young radicals were itching for a fight.

In 1969, fifty Indians occupied Alcatraz Island, a closed federal facility. This was on the heels of the Kent State shooting and the Nixon Administration was loath to escalate tensions. Instead of a fight, the authorities simply waited the occupiers out. The public eventually lost interest and the Indians fell into squabbling factions where most left the island (p. 359). In 1973, Wounded Knee II found similar tactics on both sides. In the end however, Means and the Indians surrendered their weapons after the government agreed to investigate the corrupt leadership of Richard Wilson on the Pine Ridge reservation. In 1974, Mohawks at Eagle Bay, New York planned to form their own nation, then posted guards around their camp. The government responded to this action in a similar light handed fashion—to the point where it dragged out for two years until the State of New York offered a settlement. Nevertheless, amidst all this unrest, the United States was still proactive in trying to help Indians.

President Ford continued Nixon’s Indian friendly policies by adding 185,000 acres to the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona. New Mexico Taos Pueblo’s and Washington State Yakima’s also physically expanded their reservations. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was another case of the federal government giving land back to Indians. Kotlowski says Nixon and Ford were “remarkably enlightened and a tolerant” considering the challenging circumstances radical Indians had created (p. 369).

The social unrest of the period was pervasive, and many Indians were vocal activists—despite that the President had turned the tide of Termination back. It is amazing that any progress was made in light of incendiary statements and actions by AIM and others.

There is precedent for peaceful resolution with armed standoffs with the federal government. I hope this will happen in Oregon.

11 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. but krist, the indigenous people of this country who had this land illegally seized from them had some precedent for these kind of actions, so, at the very least, their occupation should have been peacefully resolved. (which wasn't always the case, either~ wounded knee, sand creek, etc...) the precedent of these yokels (cattle ranchers!?!) is that their family members were convicted of arson and poaching on federal parks, so in some twisted way, they feel they have the right to seize a federal wildlife park and buildings WHILE ARMED and threaten violence if any attempt is made to remove them. I'm all for peaceful resistance to the governments strongarm tactics, but I don't see this situation as that. our national parks should be protected, absolutely.

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    1. If you actually research the men in question, you will have more insight into this situation. The ranchers had grazed their cattle on public land (this is a normal, acceptable, and legal practice across the country) for many year before, unknown to them, it was declared a wilderness preserve. During a season of grooming they collected up the dead and fallen trees, leaves, and debris, and collected them in piles to burn. This is done to reduce the risk of forest fires that come from having piles of dry or dead wood and flammable material in otherwise healthy forest.

      When they burned this material, which now belonged to the wilderness preserve, they were convicted of arson and served their time.

      I am not defending the actions of the men who have taken up arms in Oregon, but approaching this situation without understanding what is actually going on there is folly leading to bloodshed.

      I really hope that this situation is resolved peacefully without combat, if the federal government turns this situation into a warzone there won't be a wilderness left to protect.

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    2. The tensions in our country and world need to be toned down. People are always trying to beat the other side and I am afraid of where this thinking can lead us. It seems like the two ranchers were victims of mandatory-minimum sentencing. These types of laws are the result of grandstanding politicians and take discretion away from judges. The president should give clemency to them for that reason alone. If he does, the militia should then go home and leave the bird sanctuary be for wildlife.

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    3. I hear you. I was thinking myself of the similarity between the actions taken at Wounded Knee and other AIM actions. I think that a lot of the resentment is directed against the way the government tends to respond with disproportionate violence towards expressions of dissent in urban settings vs. this type of rural stand-off.

      On the other hand the government has used a far amount of violence towards rural militia men in the past. I hope that the situation ends peacefully as well and I agree that clemency makes sense. It would also make sense for the president to grant clemency to all of the disproportionate sentences that the appeals court mentioned that were caused by mandatory minimums when they overturned the judges ruling in this case, such as the 40 year sentence for selling weed.

      Of course justice and fairness aren't part of the justice system and this particular case high-lights it. But most poor folks disproportionately affected by heavy handed government sentences don't have the ability to respond with an armed occupation or even peaceful protest. They're just ignored and locked up.

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    4. How are gun toting demonstrators in any way comparable to AIM or any group fighting on principle? They are armed trespassers with no priniples or cause [if I were the prosecutor I'd settle for community service]. If anyone who has commented here tried the same thing back East you'd get arrested in a heart beat. If you were black or Indian you'd be shot. If you were a self proclaimed jihadist, if didnt get a hello from a military drone or a supermax or were forced to listen to GOP speeches for 3 days with your eye lids taped open, I would be amazed. I think the reason they appear to be off the hook is that Obama has directed DOJ to avoid a violent confrontation, eg, Bush's debacle at WACO.

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  3. The stealing of land by the government is the American way.

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  4. Hi, I'm from Chile . A question about the militia people ... these people have destroyed something in this occupation? that are taking place is a land without people? Exist the possibility that the government of your country was violent with these people to occupy an empty place?

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    1. As far as we know there have not been injuries or damage from this occupation. It is possible that our government may use violence against them, but they also may simply wait for the militia to go home on their own.

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  5. Peaceful resolutions are nigh impossible in a militarised and federalised police state. Every armed conflict or event (real or otherwise), is a win for the state. War is the health of the state--and that war begins at home.

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  6. Hey Krist wanted to reach out and through you an invite to our 3rd Annual Bad Singers and Worse Song Writers (under the radar) get together on Aug 6th.. At The Welcome Inn, here in Hoquiam.. You may know Maitland Ward he has been the main guy bringing himself and other talent like Stan Forman to our acoustic event along with others.. Check out our fb page and and message me personally at the Welcome Inn fb page.. Not sure if you would remember but we met a couple of times over 20years ago at your father in-laws house in Cosi..Thanks for your consideration..
    Sincerely
    Kevin Bradshaw

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