Shoshoni spiritual leader cries out in the bowels of the Fuller Lodge Los Alamos, NM, the place where it all began
Pay attention to how it ends..
Shoshoni spiritual leader cries out in the bowels of the Fuller Lodge Los Alamos, NM, the place where it all began
Pay attention to how it ends..
Jacqueline Johnson Pata thought about the question and ran her hand through her hair.
It’s a question that keeps her up at night and motivates her all through the day.
Is it harder to get an 80-year-old Native American to vote or a 20-year-old?
An 80-year-old Indian,” she said slowly, “but they are both kind of challenging.
“An 80-year-old has felt enough disenfranchisement to have a reluctance to engage. A 20-year-old has a sense of hopelessness. That’s difficult to get past, too.”
Johnson Pata is executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, which is trying to increase voter participation among Indians heading into the Nov. 4 election.Her efforts are best represented by a simple button that appeared on nearly every chest at this week’s NCAI conference in Phoenix.
The button says: “I’m Indian and I vote.”
Making sure that actually happens is not going to be easy.
“Indians do not vote in high numbers,” said Ken Poocha, Arizona’s executive director for Indian affairs. “It has gotten better in recent elections, but we have a long way to go.”
One reason for low turnout is geography, as many Indians in the state and across the country live in rural areas.
That can make just getting to the ballot box difficult, Poocha said.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is precluded by law from tracking the voting patterns of any race, ethnicity or gender, department spokesman Kevin Tyne said.
But he said the office is actively trying to encourage increased voter participation “across the board, and particularly on reservations.”
Those efforts include registration-outreach programs and education through town halls across Arizona, Tyne said.
A total of 224,846 Native Americans in Arizona are old enough to vote, according to Native Vote, the nonpartisan voting program run by the NCAI.
They represent a potentially significant voting bloc. But only if they vote.
“I see a lot of Native peoples not voting. They think nothing is going to change, so why bother?” said Al Thomas Spencer, 34, of Mesa, who is of Navajo, Hopi and Zuni ancestry. “But, of course, nothing will change if you don’t vote.”
Johnson Pata hopes to eventually get Native Americans to participate in non-Indian politics as much as they do in Indian politics.
“We show up to vote in tremendous numbers for reservation politics. It can be up to 90 percent,” she said. “But there is a disconnect.”
Native Vote has encouraged tribes to hold their elections on the same day as general elections as a means to increase participation.
That will be the case this year on the Navajo Reservation, where ballots will also be available in the Navajo language.
The NCAI points to two recent campaigns where Indian voting appeared to significantly influence the outcome of elections.
In 2002, Sen. Tim Johnson won his seat in South Dakota by a margin of just 524 votes out of more than 330,000 cast. Johnson campaigned aggressively for Indian votes. In 2006, Sen. Jon Tester won his seat in Montana by 3,500 votes, also after working hard to garner votes on Indian reservations.
Results like these give some Indian voters hope.
Emma Polelonema, 54, a Hopi living in Phoenix, was picking up an “I’m Indian and I vote” button at the NCAI conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. “We’re not visible enough,” she said. “We need to push our young people to vote. And our elders, who are not likely to vote, we need them, too.”
Aanya Smallcanyon, 25, a Navajo from Kayenta, said she plans to vote in November, and, as a volunteer for Native Vote, she hopes to get more of her generation to join her. “It matters so much,” she said. “If we don’t vote, we are just throwing this time, this opportunity, away.”
The British Muslim singer Yusuf Islam has lost the chance to sing “Peace Train”, the hit he made world-famous as Cat Stevens, in Israel after his planned visit to the country was cancelled by the hosts who originally invited him.
Islam was to perform at the high-profile 10th anniversary celebrations in Tel Aviv of The Peres Centre for Peace, a leading organisation founded by Israel’s present President, Shimon Peres, and devoted to improving Israeli-Palestinian relations. But the centre confirmed yesterday that the star – who was refused entry to Israel on security grounds eight years ago – would not now be coming after a “re-evaluation”.The terse statement added no details but it was issued after a report in Israel’s largest circulation newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot which said that Islam, 60, had been enthusiastic about the trip and had asked to add words to his 1971 hit -covered among others by Dolly Parton-in support of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The paper quoted the centre director, Uri Savir as saying: “The idea to bring Stevens to Israel sparked a huge row the moment it was made public, and we sent his passport number to a conventional security check. We took the matter into consideration and decided to cancel this idea. Cat Stevens will not arrive in Israel at the moment.”
The singer, philanthropist and chairman of the Islamia Schools Trust, has criticised as being against the Islamic faith “crimes against innocent bystanders” committed by Muslims, including the 9/11 attacks and the 2004 school seizure in Beslan which left more than 300 dead. In 2000, the Interior Ministry had said Islam, who became a Muslim in 1977, had been “transferring donations and funds to Islamic elements hostile to Israel”.
On one bank of the Truc Bach lake a small electricity sub-station is plastered with flyers touting a local plumber. Along the road is an aerobics studio where youngsters lazily sip coffee and browse the papers. Thirty yards out across the water – rancid and bobbing with dead fish – is moored a handful of pedal boats shaped like swans.
It was within this unlikely triangle of landmarks – exactly 41 years ago this Sunday – that John McCain crash-landed and, say his captors, began his run for the United States presidency.
For even if the cold, barely conscious US Navy officer did not know it at the time, says Le Van Lua and the other Vietnamese whose lives entwined with Mr McCain’s that day, this little spot of Hanoi is undoubtedly where pilot turned politician. If fury had prevailed, it is a transformation that might never have happened, says Mr Lua, 61, a factory worker who was the first on the scene after the crash and swam out to retrieve the battered, politically valuable prize.
He mimes clutching Mr McCain’s hair in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other: “I didn’t care about the politics, I just saw a man who had killed so many Vietnamese that I longed to kill him. He was injured badly and at the time I was desperate to finish him off. We only stopped because we were told he was more valuable alive. Now I’m glad I did stop: that day was truly the turning point in his life.”
Mr Lua’s account of that day – along with Vietnamese accounts of the five and a half years that Mr McCain spent as a prisoner of war – differ significantly from the presidential candidate’s own record. Mr Lua speaks of quickly getting Mr McCain to the safety of a police station (now the aerobics studio) before any harm was done. Mr McCain writes of mob attacks on his shoulder, ankle and groin with rifle-butt and bayonet.
Where the accounts differ most starkly is in the period of Mr McCain’s long incarceration as a PoW – first at the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton, then at The Plantation.
Tran Trong Duyet, the former prison director who now surrounds himself with caged birds in a house in Hai Phong, first met Mr McCain a year after he had been shot down. He recalls a defiant rule-breaker, the patriotic son of an admiral and a fervent believer in the war. What he does not recall, however, is a victim of torture or violence.
“I never tortured or mistreated the PoWs and nor did my staff,” says Mr Duyet in contradiction of Mr McCain’s account and those of other prisoners. “The Americans were dropping bombs on military and civilian targets – so it’s not as if they had important information we needed to extract.” Mr Duyet says that he sympathizes with Mr McCain and other PoWs for claiming that they were tortured. “It’s up to the Americans to decide whether or not he counts as a hero. He was very brave, very manly, he dared to argue with me and he was very intelligent. But all the talk of being tortured is for the sake of votes.”
The McCain campaign refused to comment on the claims yesterday. Mr McCain did eventually sign a confession to his supposed crimes against the Vietnamese people and holds that it was only extracted after weeks of pain inflicted by his tormentors. In a more recent interview Mr McCain explained the signing of the confession as his failure.
Nguyen Tien Tran, another of the directors at the prison, confirms his colleague’s story: “We had a clear code of taking care of the injured. We did our best to patch McCain up and he was treated by a good doctor. Why would he say that he was tortured?”
Mr Tran recalls Mr McCain’s persistent rule-breaking and even remembers an angry threat to deny him medication if the defiance continued. He also denies that there was any ill treatment of the prisoners, and even remembers sleeping next door to Mr McCain in the hospital to protect him from anyone trying to kill the “crown prince”.
Even with differing accounts, those that played a role in his crash, rescue and imprisonment all draw direct lines between themselves and Mr McCain’s political ambition.
Back in 1967, what is now the small electricity sub-station by the lake was a sprawling plant that supplied power to much of the North Vietnamese capital.
For the Americans it was a hugely desirable target and what Mr McCain had been ordered to destroy that morning – his 24th bombing mission since the war began.
Flying across the city in a wide sweep, Mr McCain’s A4 bomber turned for its final run but was hit by a missile launched 12 miles away. Now a ball of fire, the plane was screaming towards earth as its pilot ejected, broke his arms and knee, and plummeted into the Truc Bach lake.
In a sleepy village two hours outside the capital and surrounded by statues and portraits of Ho Chi Minh, Major Nguyen Lan, 78, traces the day’s events on a dog-eared map of wartime Hanoi. “It seems that because of what happened that day I am an important part of his political career,” he says quietly.
Mr Lan points to the spot where his Russian-built surface-to-air missile unit was hidden and describes the joy of carefully second-guessing Mr McCain’s flight path, giving the launch order at precisely the right moment, and then cheering with delight as the blip disappeared from the radar screen. “I was so angry with America then but time has passed. Shooting down McCain is a happy memory from a terrible war.”
Like many Vietnamese, Mr Lan believes Mr McCain has ultimately been a force for good in improving postwar relations between Hanoi and Washington, and holds out hope that, as president, he would continue to strengthen political and economic ties.
“If he does become president it would be good to see him again,” says Mr Lan with a chuckle. “We both know that there was a time – that day 41 years ago – when I was more powerful than him.”
He offers Mr McCain best wishes for the election but is puzzled at the idea that the candidate could possibly describe himself as a “war hero”.
To demonstrate this Mr Lan pulls out an old tin box stuffed with medals he won during a lifetime of military service. Several bear images of burning B52 bombers. The collection includes one of the highest military honors, awarded by “Uncle Ho” himself.
“In Vietnam we are taught to honor the whole unit, rather than the individual but I know it is different in America. Even so, I really don’t think that McCain qualifies as a hero. The truth of that day is that he failed and I succeeded. He failed to destroy what he was supposed to bomb and just killed some fish. That is not a hero.”
Nguyen Thi Thanh, now a chirpy 81-year-old who is following the US election closely, also briefly had power of life and death over the brash young pilot. As the nurse who first attended to him after he was dragged from the lake, Ms Thanh describes the agonizing choice of whether or not simply to kill him in revenge for the destruction that his bombs had rained on her city.
“As a nurse I had to help him. As a Vietnamese I just wanted to kill him. Everyone around me wanted him dead too but we had to follow the Ho Chi Minh ideology. As I walked home from the nurse station, people were furious – screaming at me for saving his life.”
She wonders aloud about what sort of president he would make. “In the end I think that he must have known that what he did was wrong. If he does become president of the US, he must do good things. But everyone has secrets hiding in their minds. I’m sure he’s still extremely angry.”
As the months of captivity in the Hanoi Hilton and Plantation rolled on, Mr Duyet wanted to examine those attitudes for himself. He describes a growing fascination with Mr McCain and a series of regular discussions the two had.
“I wanted to deal with him. I wanted to talk about the war and to discuss who was right and who was wrong. In the end I don’t think either of our opinions changed. Maybe after the war, or as he was leaving, he saw the destruction that had been done and saw he was wrong.”
He is clear that he played a role in turning Mr McCain from a pilot into a politician. “If he says it was the war that changed him it must be true, because he spent most of the war with me. I was there to do two jobs in that prison – one was practical, the other political – and I believe I succeeded in both.”
Of all the Vietnamese who knew Mr McCain, Nguyen Tien Tran, the director at The Plantation between 1965 and the release of the PoWs in 1973, believes that he has the deepest insights into the man’s character.
“He’s not [morally] good enough, not enough to call himself a ‘good man’ after everything he did, with the bombing and the destruction and the thousands he killed. He has done good things for Vietnam-US relations but none of it is enough for him to call himself a good man. If he makes it as president I want him to come back here and admit that the war was wrong.”
Critically, Mr Tran believes that it was during one of their regular conversations that Mr McCain first mooted the idea of becoming a politician.
“I once asked him, ‘What are you going to do when you get home?’ I asked him because of his injuries – I could see that he wasn’t going to remain a pilot for much longer. He paused, and thought about it, and told me he would become a politician.
“Now he stands on the brink of becoming the world’s most powerful man, I want to tell him that I’m like his father. I was the one who gave him a second birth.
“He’s come back here ten times but he’s never met the people who saved his life. So I can’t believe he’s a good person.”
Life on the inside
“I was hauled into an empty room and kept there for four days. At intervals, the guards returned to administer beatings. One held me while the others pounded away. They cracked several of my ribs and broke a couple of teeth. Weakened by beatings and dysentery, with my right leg again almost useless, I found it impossible to stand.
“On the third night I lay in my blood and waste, so tired and hurt that I could not move. Three guards lifted me to my feet and gave me the worst beating yet. They left me on the floor moaning from the pain in my arm. Despairing of any relief from pain and further torture, I tried to take my life.”
Adapted and extracted from Faith of My Fathers, by John McCain (Gibson Square)
A recent article published in Ethos by Naomi Adelson brings up several important points concerning indigenous peoples and mental health. Specifically, she highlights some of the disjunctions between Euroamerican mental health categories such as stress, and Cree First Nation Women’s understanding of this category and its place in their lives.
Allan Young’s classic thesis on stress discourse underscores the way in which the biomedical discourse of “stress” reflects and legitimizes existing social inequalities even as it removes the language of stress to the decontextualized domain of the clinic. In this article, I address the way in which the “stress discourse” of a group of young adult Cree women who live in a remote northern Canadian village reflects and reinscribes the social, cultural, and historical conditions of inequality as part and parcel of community life. This study, as a reflection of Young’s thesis, reveals that sometimes one is bound to replicate inequities because it is necessary to do so. The women with whom I spoke are entangled in an historical and social reality that they are wholly aware of such that the paths of inequity that are expressed in a rationale of “stress” cannot readily be challenged or changed.
For the women of Whapmagoostui the term stress is at one and the same time a foreign yet wholly recognizable concept, understood as an emotional and psychological response to the heavy demands of their lives. Although there is are shared challenges in terms of the various historical, economic, political, and social determinants of stress in their daily lives, there is a concomitant perpetuation of the idea that “stress” needs to be managed on one’s own. For these women, socially and culturally drive practices of inequity, heightened by the circumstances peculiar to the institutionalization of colonial and missionary practices, emerge as problematic predominantly through the individualized and embodied popular discourse of “stress.” Although that decontextualized language serves initially to give women a means to express their discontent, there are significant implications in terms of how they can substantively address their personal and collective concerns.
The result is that social and community engagement with problems expressed through the language of stress are curbed.
If outside professionals narrow the discussion of “mental health” issues amongst Aboriginal populations into “measurable attributes” we may simply not be able to see those socially and culturally sanctioned practices that impinge on some members of a given community and not others.
The women with whom I spoke in Whapmagoostui clearly recognized their distress as fundamentally linked to the present-day remains of colonization and pervasive effects of the resulting asymmetrical social relations, often expressed through the norms of cultural practices. They do not want, however, a prescriptive, unexamined return to “culture.”
Within Aboriginal communities in the last few years, First Nations women in particular have begun to speak out about the difficulties that they face in their personal, social, and economic lives. For example, see the work of Kim Anderson (2000), Cecelia Benoit and Dena Carroll (2000), Mary E. Brayboy and Mary Y. Morgan (1998), Madeline Dion Stout (1995), Marilyn Fontaine-Bright Star (1992), Camille Fouillard (1995), Sherry L. Hambly (2000), Winona LaDuke (1995), and Joanne Reid (1993). The issues they raise include everything from the extremes of suicide, drug or alcohol dependence, physical abuse, and disease to the struggles of poverty, unemployment or limited employment, workplace harassment, difficult home life experiences, lone parenthood, or the balancing of work and family responsibilities.
The range of life traumas that First Nations women experience must be understood – and addressed – as part of a larger sociopolitical process that reaches back to the history of colonization and its enduring effects. This collective burden, or social suffering, compounds whatever personal traumas women may be experiencing in their everyday lives. We must attend, in other words, to the social, economic, and political realms of distress and how they articulate in women’s lives.
The full citation of this article is: Adelson, Naomi. (2008). Discourses of Stress, Social Inequities, and the Everyday Worlds of First Nations Women in a Remote Northern Canadian Community. Ethos, 36(3):316-333.