Indigenous Voices Point to Race, Ethno-Nationalism & New Racism In Arizona

“Pascua Yaqui Native-American Carlos Gonzales gives a Native American blessing to start a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.” So states the text that accompanies a remarkable passing of time and politics in the place we call America.

When some colleagues told me that controversy and criticism had arisen about the introductory blessing at the service where President Obama spoke so well, I looked at it more deeply, recognizing a focus on the “Four Doors” and on Balance and Harmony (the Navajo literally say “Walk in Beauty” and as when I returned from S.E. Asia for medical treatment where traditional healers kept a focus on “balance”) after the personal introduction of “who I am” and being “given the right to speak” – and ending the blessing “All My Relations” (an interpretation of “Mitakuye Oyasin”), itself indicative of an Indigenous way of Healing and Restoring Harmony.

Here is the site you can link to for the youtube replay.

But then, what could cause controversy from FOX News Brit Hume, or the deep criticism of Glen Beck and others calling the Blessing both political and partisan? Could it be when Doctor Gonzales described his relatives as being survivors of “genocide” (which the Yaqui like so many other Native peoples assuredly are), and/or when Professor Gonzales described himself as descendant of Mexican peoples and coming from the “barrio” of Tucson (where many native and Latino peoples have shared families over the centuries, in his case fifth generation)? Why do “Sacred Words in Tucson” seem to enrage right-wing commentators?

Yet these are quite typical ways of introducing oneself in Native circles. Perhaps it is because, as I have respectfully noted, Carlos Gonzales not only had been given the right to speak by traditional elders, but had earned a medical degree and received tenure as an Associate Professor in a respected medical school at a Research I University, hardly the stereotypical minister or medicine man that one could dismiss with such simple mockery as “peculiar” (as Fox commentators did). Perhaps it is because so many pundits want to believe the memorial service only existed within the individual acts of a mentally ill person, not within the highly diverse society that Arizona has, represented so well by Carlos Gonzales in his many personae.

Herein lies the rub, of course. Arizona had just passed what amounts to racist legislation against immigrant populations (using the dehumanizing term “illegals” with reference to “hostiles” used to justify genocide against Native peoples who were not citizens or even accepted by a historical America), and further had just passed racist, hegemonic censure and attacks against ethnic studies curriculum which simply tells the stories of these many diverse peoples. These last set of attacks could only be focused on the K-12 educational systems, but the conflict has definitively moved to the universities who train the teachers and future leaders, potentially affecting the next generation in Arizona, and of America.

And Arizona has become ground zero for the hyperbole and suggested violence by Right Wing commentators and their closeted racist discourse, evidenced by the now infamous cross-hairs on Congresswoman Giffords district, the use of “target” along with “M-16 training” and “elimination” language in political ads, nearly all of it with historical antecedents in the repression of Native Nations, potential slave uprisings, and later the Mexican claims to treaty-rights in the great southwest taken from them under invasion and violent conquest. This confluence of events and attitudes assuredly is representative of what many scholars have called the “new racism” which, even as it actively denies a racist underpinning, attacks and censures those who historically racism has destroyed, exploited, and suppressed.

Perfect evidence of this is found in Sarah Palin’s response, attempting to paint herself as the victim of “blood libel” which refers to how the Jewish peoples have had their histories distorted and denied, leading to the ultimate decimation of the Holocaust, and a perfect reference to how Arizona wants to eliminate its history of destruction against Mexican immigrants, descendents, and the genocide of its Native peoples.

Rather than have a simple discussion of possible gun control or a civil discourse, perhaps what we need is what Professor / Doctor / Traditionalist Carlos Gonzalez has asked us to do, to pray and prepare ourselves for the Balance and Harmony necessary for healing and movement into a future. Here I can speak to what Lakota have done after one hundred years remembering the slaughter at Wounded Knee, instituting the Big Foot riders memorializing the “Wiping Away the Tears” ceremony which allows us to move forward as a people without forgetting the past. In this, I think an indigenous voice was a perfect blessing and philosophy for understanding what happened in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States of America.

“Mitakuye Oyasin” (respect to all my relatives, all my relations in the world)
James Fenelon, Professor, Poet, Native Philosopher (given right to speak by elders)

(See also: Indian Country media )