Nanette Kelley: Activists fuss about a dead president when the live one is killing us

I don’t speak for all Indians; too many Indians already do that. In fact, that’s how we lost a great deal of our lands (Indians speaking for all Indians), and so I’m solely speaking for myself.

As an Indian (NDN)... oh that’s right, pardon me, I usually don’t use the words “Native American.” My grandparents and great-grandparents always used the word “Indian’” and although the “politically correct” students at Humboldt State University who usually mistook me as Jewish, Italian or Syrian tried to bully it out of me, I held my ground.

I recall one student saying, “they prefer the term “Native American;” I replied, “Oh, do they?” But I digress. Meanwhile, back to our saga…

I’m a part-time Humboldt resident, but currently I’m typing this from the Osage Nation reservation where among other things I’m lobbying against corporations and politicians who are threatening our land rights and making policies which will kill us. So, really, I don’t have much time for the image of a dead president.

However, as an Indian who is both Osage and Cherokee, I will note McKinley did irreparable damage to my family. McKinley took office when the Dawes Commission was breaking apart my great-grandparents’ reservation lands into individual allotments.

Nanette Kelley

At that time, although many peoples were of mixed tribes, the allotment forced those with multiple tribal heritages to choose one official identity, falsely lowering degrees of Indian blood. Then the settlers killed us for those allotments well into the mid-20th century (yes, I meant to write 20th century); continuing into today as their descendants still hold these lands in the murderers’ names.

It wasn’t long after my arrival as a transfer student at Humboldt State that I learned of the Plaza statue controversy. Some honored it as an homage to an assassinated president and others wanted it removed due to a monster’s imperialistically minded atrocities committed against indigenous peoples.

I should point out my arrival to Arcata was over 30 years ago and the Plaza statue conversation has now entered (at least) its fourth decade.

(We pause here for just a friendly reminder to put our reactionary tendencies aside for a moment and attempt to embrace active reading, I lived there long enough so I know who and what I’m dealing with.)

At an Oklahoma university, I argue almost daily with the future leaders of this country who see reservations, medical care, and treaty rights as “perks” for the “greedy Indians,” (and don’t forget, the Confederate Flag Rally is set for March 3 at the state capital).

I’ve been lobbying and coordinating educational events in attempt to minimize violent racists at university, county, and at state levels in Oklahoma.

I use the word “violent” because many of these culturally insensitive people with multiple corporations supporting their political habits are currently in or moving into positions of power which will somehow maliciously affect all of Indian Country.

Just recently Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed as head of the EPA; if you don’t know what his tendencies are, you should maybe take some time away from the statue stand-off at the OK Corral and check it out.

I lobby at the state and with tribal officials. I’m working with different entities to inform the public about specific legislation. The state of Oklahoma may be suing us because it says we can’t issue leases for our own water. The Osage County commissioners are trying to block our federal right to buy back land and restrict it as tax exempt.

There are multiple energy corporations coming in and siting energy projects and building into our Osage Nation reservation land without our permission, but because these corporations are “alternative energy,” the usual eco-groovy NDN-lovin’ call to action organizations have told me they don’t want to “confuse their followers.”

They don’t want to help save our reservation land rights regarding illegally built wind farms in our reintroduced eagle population habitat. The BIA has refused to send in federal marshals to defend us but has consistently refused to answer why.

The Osage County district attorney and sheriff just decommissioned our cross-deputized tribal police who now have no jurisdiction off restricted land; so, we can’t even defend ourselves… oh, and some guy wrote a bestselling book about our Osage murders and now the state tourism board has deemed our family graveyards “tourist destinations.”

By now you’re wondering, what does all this from some Indian woman in Oklahoma have to do with a statue in Arcata?

You see, if my tribe loses any of these scenarios in federal court, every single tribe in the nation will be adversely affected. Meanwhile, while the fight to keep or banish the image of a dead president continues into at least its fourth decade, the real threat is the living future and the living current politicians who continue to kill us and steal our lands.

Consider over 30 years of collective energy put into removing the stature of a dead man, and now there’s a group out there putting even more energy into keeping it?

Now, think of all the good these groups could do if they all came together to fight an immediate, real, live threat instead of each other.

Yearly, since 1913, new students of every race and demographic have attended Humboldt State and that statue and Arcata’s open conversations about one of the (many) worst U.S. presidents of all time teaches young people more about imperialism than any learning institution can.

Please, leave the conversation open, burying history is never a good idea... We don’t have the right to hide this president’s history any more than educational institutions have the right to hide Indian history. We are all part of both sides to this history, this history which happens to be repeating itself as I type.

The facts: People spend decades attempting to keep or remove a statue of a dead president v. currently a live president who is trying to wipe us off the face of the U.S. map.

We are literally dying under this administration and this community is going to take another three decades and fight over green a hunk of bronze? This statue is a complete waste of resources... we don’t have time for this.

“Act local and think global.” It’s on every Volkswagen bumper in Arcata. In this case, maybe (just maybe) acting local means to stop fighting? Maybe it’s time to take our heads out of the Arcata state-of-mind and act global?

Is Arcata such a liberal, utopian, self-absorbed, self-contained bubble now that a hunk of bronze is what the activists spend their time fighting over?

I’ll guarantee you the mere 3-D artistic representation of a dead president is unable to pass any harmful legislation, but if people just spend the next 30 years holding signs protesting, it’s the living one who will kill us.

Nanette Kelley is a McKinleyville resident, Osage-Cherokee NDN and citizen of Planet Earth.


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