(eng) The Covert War Against Native Americans

Arm The Spirit (ats@etext.org)
Tue, 28 May 1996 05:39:55 +0200


The Covert War Against Native Americans

By Ward Churchill

There is a little considered aspect of the covert means
through which the United States maintains its perpetual drive to
exert control over the territory and resources of others. It
concerns, however, matters internal rather than external to the
geographical corpus of the U.S. itself. It seems appropriate to
quote a man deeply involved in the struggle for African
liberation, Kwame Toure (formerly known as Stokley Carmichael).
In a speech delivered at the Yellow Thunder demonstrations in
Rapid City, South Dakota, on October 1, 1982, he said: "We are
engaged in a struggle for the liberation of ourselves as people.
In this, there can be neither success nor even meaning unless the
struggle is directed toward the liberation of our land, for a
people without land cannot be liberated. We must reclaim the
land, and our struggle is for the land - first, foremost, and
always. We are people of the land."
So in Africa, when you speak of "freeing the land", you are
at the same time speaking about the liberation of the African
people. Conversely, when you speak of liberating the people, you
are necessarily calling for the freeing of the land.
But, in America, when we speak of liberation, what can it
mean? We must ask ourselves, in America, who are the people of
the land? And the answer is - and can only be - the first
Americans, the Native Americans, the American Indian. In the
United States of America, when you speak of liberation, or when
you speak of freeing the land, you are automatically speaking of
the American Indians, whether you realize it or not. Of this,
there can be no doubt.
Those in power in the United States understand these
principles very well. They know that even under their own laws
aboriginal title precedes and preempts other claims, unless
transfer of title to the land was is or agreed to by the original
inhabitants. They know that the only such agreements to which
they can make even a pretense are those deriving from some 371
treaties entered into by the U.S. with various Indian nations
indigenous to North America.
Those in power in America know very well that, in
consolidating its own national landbase, the United States has
not only violated every single one of those treaties, but that it
remains in a state of perpetual violation to this day. Thus, they
know they have no legal title - whether legality be taken to
imply U.S. law, international law, Indian law, natural law, or
all of these combined - to much of what they now wish to view as
the territoriality of the United States proper.
Finally, they are aware that to acquire even a semblance of
legal title, title which stands a chance of passing the informed
scrutiny of both the international community and much of its own
citizenry, the U.S. must honor its internal treaty commitments,
at the very least. Herein lies the dilemma: In order to do this,
the U.S. would have to return much of its present geography to
the various indigenous nations holding treaty-defined and
reserved title to it (and sovereignty over it). The only
alternative is to continue the violation of the most fundamental
rights of Native Americans while pretending the issues do not
exist. Of course, this is the option selected - both historically
and currently - by U.S. policy-makers.

The Native American Movement

It is precisely from the dynamics of this situation that
overt liberation organizations such as the American Indian
Movement (AIM), the International Indian Treaty Council, and
Women of All Red Nations were born. Insofar as their struggles
are based in the reaffirmation of the treaty rights of North
America's indigenous nations, theirs is a struggle for the land.
In essence, their positions imply nothing less than the literal
dismantlement of the modern American empire from the inside out.
The stakes involved are tremendous. The "Great Sioux" of
Lakota Nation alone holds clear treaty rights over some 5% of the
area within the present 48 contiguous states. The Anishinabe
(Chippewa) are entitled to at least another 4%. The Dine (Navajo)
already hold between 3% and 4%. Most of California has been
demonstrated to have been taken illegally from nations such as
the Pomo and Luisano. Peoples such as the Wampanoag,
Narragansett, and Pasamadoquoddi - long believed to have been
exterminated - have suddenly rematerialized to press treaty-based
and aboriginal claims to much of New England. The list is well
over 300 names long. It affects every quarter of the contemporary
United States.

Vast Natural Resources At Stake

Today, more than 60% of all known U.S. uranium reserves are
under reservation lands, and another 10-15% lies under contested
treaty areas. Similarly, approximately one-third of all minable
low-sulphur coal lies under reservations, while the figure easily
exceeds 50% when treaty areas are lumped in. With natural gas,
the data are about 15% under reservations, 15% under contested
lands. The same holds true for oil. Almost all American deposits
of minable zeolites are under reservation land. Very significant
strategic reserves of bauxite, copper, iron, and other crucial
minerals are also at issue.
Giving all this up - or even losing a modicum of control
over it - is an obviously unacceptable proposition to U.S. policy
makers and corporate leaders. In order to remain a superpower (in
both the military and economic senses of the term), the U.S. must
tighten rather than relax its grip upon its "assets". Hence,
given its priorities, America has had little choice but to
conduct what amounts to a clandestine war against American
Indians, especially of the AIM variety.

The Propaganda War

In pursuing such a policy the U.S. power elite has
replicated the tactics and conditions more typically imposed on
its colonies abroad. First, there is the matter of "grey and
black propaganda" through which U.S. covert agencies, working
hand in glove with the mainstream media, distort or fabricate
information concerning the groups they have targeted. The
function of such a campaign is always to deny with plausibility
public sympathy or support to the groups in question, to isolate
them and render them vulnerable to physical repression or
liquidation.
As concerns AIM, grey propaganda efforts have often centered
upon contentions (utterly unsubstantiated) that the "Indian
agenda" is to dispossess non-Indians of the home-owner, small
farmer or rancher type living within the various treaty areas.
[This flies directly in the face of the formal positions advanced
by the AIM and associated groups working on treaty land issues.
AIM has consistently held that it seeks lands held by the U.S.
and various state governments (such as National and State Parks,
National Forests and Grasslands, Bureau of Land Management areas,
etc.) as well as major corporate holdings within the treaty
areas. Small landholders would be allowed to remain and retain
their property under "landed immigrant provisions" or, in some
cases, naturalization.]
In terms of black propaganda, there have been a number of
highly publicized allegations of violence which, once disproven,
were allowed to die without further fanfare. This has been
coupled to "leaks" from official government sources that AIM is a
"terrorist" organization. [This is based on testimony of a single
informer at a hearing at which the AIM leadership was denied the
right to cross-examine or to testify.]
The propaganda efforts have, in large part, yielded the
desired effect, souring not only the average American citizen's
perception of AIM, but - remarkably - that of the broader U.S.
internal opposition as well. The latter have been so taken in
upon occasion as to parrot the government/corporate line that
Indian land claims are "unrealistic", "not feasible", and
ultimately a "gross unfairness to everyone else".

Repression And Liquidation

With the isolation of Native American freedom fighters
effectively in hand, the government's clandestine organizations
have been free to pursue programs of physical repression within
America's internal colonies of exactly the same sort practiced
abroad. At one level, this has meant the wholesale jailing of the
movement's leadership. Virtually every known AIM leader in the
United States has been incarcerated in either state or federal
prisons since (or even before) the organization's formal
emergence in 1968, some repeatedly. This, in combination with
accompanying time spent in local jails awaiting trial, the high
costs of bail and legal defense, and the time spent undergoing a
seemingly endless succession of trials, is calculated both to
drain the movement's limited resources and to cripple its cadre
strength. [To cite but one example of this principle at work:
Despite a ceasefire agreement assuring non-prosecution of AIM and
traditional Indian people relative to the 1973 Wounded Knee
occupation, the FBI proceeded to amass more than 300,000 separate
file entries for judicial use against the people in question.
Russell Means, an occupation leader, was charged with more than
140 separate offenses as a result; his trials encumbered the next
three years of his life, before he went to prison for a year.
There are many such cases.]
Even more directly parallel to the performance of U.S.
covert agencies abroad is physical repression conducted at
another level, that of outright cadre liquidation. For example,
in the post-Wounded Knee context of South Dakota's Pine Ridge
Lakota Reservation, independent researcher Candy Hamilton
established that at least 342 AIM members and supporters were
killed by roving death squads aligned with and supported by the
FBI. (The death squads called themselves GOONs, "Guardians of the
Oglala Nation.") This was between 1973 and 1976 alone.
In proportion to the population of the reservation, this is
a rate of violent death some 12 or 14 times greater than that
prevailing in Detroit, the so-called "murder capital of America".
In a more political sense, it is greater than the violent death
rate experienced in Uruguay during the anti-Tupamaro repression
there, in Argentina under the worst of its succession of juntas,
or in El Salvador today. The statistics are entirely comparable
to what happened in Chile in the immediate aftermath of
Pinochet's coup.
As is currently the case in El Salvador, where the Reagan
administration contends that the police are understaffed and
underequipped to identify and apprehend death squad members, the
FBI-which is charged with major crimes in reservation
areas-pleaded "lack of manpower" in solving the long list of
murders involving AIM people. (The FBI saturation of the Pine
Ridge area was greater on a per capita basis than anywhere else
in the country during this period.)
[To date, of the murders documented by Hamilton, *none* has
been solved. On the other hand, the FBI experienced no such
personnel problems in identifying and "bringing to justice" AIM
people accused of murder. The most famous example is Leonard
Peltier, accused of killing two FBI agents on Pine Ridge in 1975;
pursued in what the Bureau itself termed "the biggest manhunt in
history", and convicted in what turned out to be a sham trial,
Peltier is currently serving a double life sentence. (See, "The
Ordeal of Leonard Peltier", by William M. Kunstler]
More to the point than this transparent rationale for
inaction is the case of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. A young Micmac
woman working with AIM on Pine Ridge, Aquash was told outright
during the fall of 1975 by federal agent David Price (who was
involved in the assassinations of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton
[Black Panther leaders] in Chicago in 1969, and who has been
involved more recently in paramilitary operations against the
Republic of New Afrika) that "You'll be dead within a year".
Aquash's body was found less than six months later, dumped in a
ravine in the northeast quadrant of the reservation. A
pathologist hired by the government determined her death as being
due to "exposure." An independent pathologist readily discovered
she had died as a result of a .38 calibre slug entering the back
of her head at a pointblank range. [ATS Note: Recent events and
allegations have implied that Anna Mae Aquash's murderers were
AIM members. See August 1995 interview with Robert Robideau for
more information. Of course, FBI involvement in her murder is
highly probable but likely of a different nature than what is
described above.]
Nor is Pine Ridge the only locale in which this clandestine
war has been conducted. Richard Oaks, leader of the 1970
occupation of Alcatraz Island by "Indians of All Tribes", was
gunned down in California the following year. Shortly thereafter,
Hank Adams, a fishing rights leader in Washington state, was shot
in the stomach. Larray Cacuse, a Navajo AIM leader, was shot to
death in Arizona in 1972. In 1979, AIM leader John Trudell was
preparing to make a speech in Washington, DC. He was told by FBI
personnel that, if he gave his speech, there would be
"consequences". Trudell not only made his speech, calling for the
U.S. to get out of North America and detailing the nature of
federal repression in Indian country, he burned a U.S. flag as
well. That night, his wife, mother-in-law, and three children
were "mysteriously" burned to death at their home on the Duck
Valley Reservation in Nevada.

Conclusion

What has been related here is but a tiny fraction of the
full range of events-facts intended only to illustrate the much
broader pattern of covert activities directed against the
American Indian Movement for well over a decade. It is hoped that
the reader will attain a greater appreciation for the
similarities between the nature of U.S. clandestine operations
abroad and those conducted at home; the parallels are not always
as figurative as is commonly supposed.
Further, it is hoped that the reader might become more
attuned to the "why" of such seemingly aberrant circumstances:
that the liberation of Native Americans fits well within the more
global anti-imperialist struggles waged elsewhere, as the
quotation from Kwame Toure indicates. AIM presents the same sort
of threat to the U.S. status quo as do land-based movements in
Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.
This situation, so little known in America, has been
recognized in locations as diverse as Nicaragua, Vietnam, Libya,
Iran, Cuba, Mozambique, Ireland, Palestine, and Switzerland,
through the work of the International Indian Treaty Council. It
is high time that it was fully realized by those among the broad
progressive [sic] opposition within the United States itself.
For those who desire further and more detailed information,
the following are recommended as excellent additional readings:

Brandt, Johanna, "The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash", James
Lorimer and Co., Toronto: 1978.

Churchill, Ward, and Vander Wall, Jim, "Agents Of Repression: The
FBI's Secret War Against The Black Panther Party And The American
Indian Movement", South End Press, Boston: 1988.

Churchill, Ward, and Vander Wall, Jim, "The COINTELPRO Papers:
Documents From The FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent In The
United States", South End Press, Boston: 1990.

Johanssen, Bruce, and Roberto Mastas, "Wasi'chu: The Continuing
Indians Wars", Monthly Review Press, New York: 1979.

Mathiessen, Peter, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse", Viking Press,
New York: 1983. New release with epilogue, 1991.

Messerschmidt, Jim, "The Trial of Leonard Peltier", South End
Press, Boston: 1983.

Wyler, Rex, "Blood of the Land: The U.S. Government and Corporate
War Against the American Indian Movement", Everest House
Publishers, New York: 1983.

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Arm The Spirit is an autonomist/anti-imperialist collective based
in Toronto, Canada. Our focus includes a wide variety of
material, including political prisoners, national liberation
struggles, armed communist resistance, anti-fascism, the fight
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