Monday, February 01, 2016

Gyasi Ross - Powerful Talk

Spent the workshop time with Gyasi Ross and story telling.  And now he's the keynote speaker.  Let's see what he adds.

See Native student in class filling out Harvard application. . .  well, I'll let him finish the story.

Story, talking about his dukene.  Empirical fact:  respectable white folks have studied this and come back and said it was true.  We humanized this information, this is a beautiful father/son moment.  I'm teaching my son something that could have serious health consequences if I didn't have this conversation.

Sometimes if we talk about race, we get squeamish.  Well, if we don't have this conversation, it's ok.  But there are serious consequences if we don't have this conversation about race.  If we don't have these conversations with our kids and nephews and nieces.  If I don't tell him that native kids get arrested more than others, or that native kids drop out of high school more than others, then he's at great risk.  If I don't tell my nieces that 1 of 3 native women are likely to be raped, it has consequences.

White fragility is a real thing.  We're going to have an honest conversation, but these issues have consequences.  We have to be able to say 'penis' and not giggle, say 'racism' and not giggle, say one in three women are sexually abused and not giggle.

When we talk about racial equity, we need to separate it from racial equality.  We conflate terms, their catchphrase for 2016.  No.  There's a meaningful difference.

Game of monopoly, but there's special rules.  Start of with Treaty of Cession - everyone in the state of Alaska except Natives.  So, you can't own land.  And slavery for black folks - you can't own land, can't vote.  This game of Monopoly started in 1776.  John Marshall, Doctrine of Discovery, whoever finds this land, it's their land.  You folks didn't own it anyway, it's communally owned, so you didn't actually lose it.  Then there was a land grab.  White males taking land.  And the accumulated so much land that native people were pushed to the corners and assumed dead.  That's why treaties were made because dead men tell no tales.  By 1900 less than 250,000 left.  From maybe 90 million.  White people had been buying land from 1776 to maybe 1885, and going around that Monopoly board and getting all the good property.  Then 1887, 1886, said, OK blacks and Indians, you can buy stuff now.  But, there isn't much land left.  White private ownership 856 million acres.  Black private ownership is 70 million acres.  Native ownership is 3 million acres.  That's current day.  That's the difference between quality and equity.  Equality is having the same opportunity, rights, possessions.  That ship's sailed.  That's gone.  So we move into the reality of Equity.  What can we put into place to make it seem that we started at the Monopoly board at the same time.

Well, now that we have this many acres of land, now we can be equal.  Case in Texas this year - Fisher v U of Texas, Austin.  We have to be equal.  No, you've been around the board a few times, and we need some compensatory action to be sure that people of color have equal opportunity.  Leads to displacement.  And this is where whites get uncomfortable.  At some point, opportunity, college education or jobs needs to be equal.  It's a zero sum game.

I'm Gyasi Ross, I'm a lawyer.  I went to Columbia.  I need to nickel and dime this.  $2500 for law school exam.  Data behind it.  Took first practice exam.  Mediocre.  Found the money for this class, washed dishes.  Six week class.  During those six weeks, my test score went up 30 points, to the degree I could get into whatever school I wanted.  I felt like a rich white person for one second.  It's about institutional benefits.  It's not about white guilt for an individual.  University of Missouri, this school was built with slave labor.  No black person should ever pay for tuition at U of Missouri.  We have to work this equation right.

Stories.  Partners for the next ten thousand years.  Great theme.  Irrespective of history, we're stuck together, so it behooves us all to work on mutually beneficial solutions.  So there has to be some displacement of people who've gone around the monopoly board much longer.

Abraham Maslow.  After hierarch of needs, he studied with my people, the Blackfeet.  At the top of the hierarchy is self-actualization.  These Blackfeet have it different and right.  They actually start with self-actualization at the bottom.  Ten year old's playing with the babies.  They start of knowing why they're here.  Advanced economics - is as opposed to the white world where we hoard wealth, we get five portions and five houses, the way the Blackfeet accumulate wealth - and then they give it away.  Potlatch, powwows, where they give it away.  Opposed to white folks  . . .  tragedy of the commons - the prototypical capitalistic story.  The grazing area, the common area, where they bring a cow or sheep.  And the place so ample they could feed everybody in town.  So great, that people said it could feed a little more.  Capitalism happened.  Everyone wanted to be the person who brought the extra sheep, soon it's over grazed.  No good to anyone anymore.  That's why we have global warming today.

We have solutions.  Uncle Billie Frank Jr. - he identified a problem.  He said, "I'm a fisherman.  I fish salmon.  this is how my family fed itself for 20 million years."  Remember those treaties that we don't have to honor because they are all dead.  He looked at the treaty that says we can fish in perpetuity.  He got arrested 52 times over the course of 29 years, with the intent of redeeming his treaty rights.  Up here in Alaska - I got such an education here Vicky thanks - because I didn't know about Etok Edwardian, Elizabeth Peratravitch, Katie John.  These stories of equity, of justice of liberation, are right in front of us.  Answers not coming from DC.  No saviors.  These answers come from us.  People willing to get arrested to pursue equal rights and equity.

Strategy.  First, give up belief in immediate gains.  At breakout session we talked about power, heartbreaking story.  We talked about McKensie Howard from Kake.  This is equity in a nutshell.  Understanding about Native people, unapologetically, that we are in a unique kind of jeopardy that we didn't create.  We are required to find those gatekeepers who get us to that equity.  Those folks who fought didn't know there would be an end to it.  Billie Frank went on for 29 years.  I think about slavery.  Those folks didn't know - book Martin Delaney, first black science fiction writer in 1850s, about freedom for blacks.  I'm going to try to create this reality.  I'm sure Billy Frank had the same thought when arrested the 26th or 27th time, must have seemed like science fiction.  Same when Etok talked about Native claims.  In the heat of the moment easy to get caught up in short vision of time.  Understand that Uncle Billie got arrest 59 times over 29 years.  That's a short time in terms of the ten thousand years.  We have to be in this for the long haul.

Point #1 about Equity - we have to be in it for the long haul.

Point #2 - We have to have those authentic conversations.  We have to be loud, not hide.  There was an event with Bernie Sanders.  Two black sisters took the microphone.  Next thing I'm on the stage.  Afterward.  I was conflicted.  I'm an ally of black lives matter but also of Bernie Sanders.  I heard white allies.  It was a worker movement.  Mostly white people.  Heard these voices.  They had our support until they pulled this.  If you're going to conflate the action of two people with a nationwide movement, then you were never with us to begin with.  We have to identify the people who are really an ally.  You don't speak for me.  You can't turn and run when a native or black person does something that offends your sensibility.

We have to identify strong allies.  Going back to the example in Kake.  Find those allies, whether they are in the media.  We talked about it, about reliving the trauma.  To have to wait two days for any kind of services from the state of Alaska, and as a lawyer, it's unconstitutional.  Need allies at BIA.  You have a trust responsibility to our community.  You need to treat us as if this was your own child - that's your trust duty.  Then, we need to push them.  Can't be afraid to offend their white sensibility.  Like I had to say penis to my son.  I had to say it.  It's hard conversation, but we have to do it.  We have to hold them to the standard of being an ally.

Finally, when I look at equity, I realize that people spend money on what they value.  Capitalist culture.  Want to know what people value, look at where they spend their money.  We hear the stories of diversity, of equal rights, even equity.  But we don't necessarily see the money.  To remedy that. . . mike goes out . . .ok,  Similar to these allies, we have to be willing to use, see, white allies, now us taking a little ass whuppin.  Our values aren't screamers, well, sometimes we have to scream.  She was bad (Petravich).

At times we mistake our learned behaviors with our ancestral behavior.  Where I'm from on Blackfeet reservation.  We like to play that shy thing too.  But history says we're fairly aggressive and demonstrative.  County Coup (?).  I like Sam  - if we were at war with him, I'd sneak him into his camp and slap him on the back of the head.  I could have killed him, but didn't.  I humiliated him.  When I go back to my camp I get my face painted and I'm celebrated.  Nothing shy about that.

Chicken dance you have your chest out, show off, like a prairie chicken.  Courting dance.  Nothing shy or modest about that.  That shyness and quietness, I think comes from boarding school, from a beatdown spirit, often from end of a gun.  See their parents helpless to do anything about it.  First time they hear English and white people - what my grandpa told me - taken away to boring school,  they poor kerosene on me - all natives have lice - and chop off my hair but don't tell me why, if they do, I don't understand anyway.  If I speak I get punished because I only know one language - get my knuckles wrapped and my mouth washed out with soap.  That's where this shyness and weakness come from.  When I see Katie John, I don't see a shy person.  I see power, command.  I think we need to tap into that DNA, not that learned history, really apart of our past, it's just a drop in the bucket of our existence.  That small period of time when we were vulnerable, that's nothing at all.

Again, these are rough notes, lots of missing bits and pieces.  I'll add some video later - it takes a while to upload.  But this was an important call to Native peoples to look at the long haul in demanding equity.  And to keep white allies on their toes too.  And I'll go through this later and edit it more too.  j;k

We have to reclaim, say things loudly, publicly, unapologetically.  These are important conversations, no matter how awkward it is.  This conference is beautiful.  It's a start.  But understand, the way I read things, we are at the infantile stage of achieving equity in this state.  Because learned behaviors hard to get away from - those were survival behaviors.  We can't judge them.  But we can see, we're not going to do that any more.  Going to get rid of a general white supremacy.

Thank you very much.

They say 70% of statistics are made up on the spot.  So question me.  How do we change laws and policies?  We have about ten minutes

Q:  Fairbanks 4 case, blanket immunity police and courts have.  How do we take away the blanket immunity, how do we get the accountability.

A:  First, can we have round of applause for George Frese.  Plea agreement is unconscionable.  We have to be the keepers of the story.  We can't let those stories die.  We need to record them, get them into the school curriculum.  No quick solution, has to be in the long run.  Until it's an accepted part of the conversation.

Q:  How do we deal with blood quantum issue - like dogs.
A:  Tribes have 100% autonomy to define tribal membership.  Some base it on descendency.  Other places it's different.  We adapt.  We've adapted a million times.  We've adapted quicker than anyone else in the world, except in Papua New Guinea.  I think we have to do it in a way that's meaningful and relevant to who we are.  In my tribe they wanted to get rid of it, but I think we have to replace it with something.  Move from ethnicity to nationality and citizenship - residence and language.

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