They say the past is prologue.
Yesterday, as I watched President Trump sign an executive order to nullify years of our nation’s climate-change work and Clean Power Plan, I thought back to the Lakota holy man who called me Grandson. Chief Frank Fools Crow, born at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre, once taught me that the Lakota word ‘wasi’chu’ — which I had always thought just meant white man — actually means ‘greedy ones who take the fat.’ But the word goes beyond that, referencing a human condition based on racism and exploitation of the land, the earth.
Black Elk (Fools Crow’s uncle) once said that “the wasi’chu is driven crazy by the yellow metal (gold).” He said this in 1874 when Custer found gold in the Black Hills, sacred land that had been promised to the Lakota — in perpetuity — by way of the signed and ratified Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. As soon as gold was found, that treaty was torn up. Not exactly torn up, but withdrawn and nullified by executive orders out of Washington, D.C.
Black Elk knew this is what happens when the yellow metal drives the wasi’chu crazy. It had happened when the Spanish subjugated the Incas and the Aztecs; it happened when the French and English came hunting gold; and it happened in the 1820’s when European banks backed land speculators. Treaty after treaty was nullified by executive order, and those who resisted were killed. On land promised to the Lakota, Black Elk witnessed more than 50 million buffalo, the basis of the Plains Indian economy, slaughtered during his time — and he witnessed, at 27 years old, the massacre of his people at Wounded Knee Creek.
“These Indians are like children,” the government had said. They do not know how to properly use all of this land they think they must protect in the name of their Great Spirit — or for their next seven generations of unborn. They’re just savages and don’t understand ‘God’s will.’ Trump kind of said the same thing about those of us who care yesterday, when he called the existing climate change laws “pixie dust and hope.” Stephen Hawking, a fairly smart fellow, does not see it as pixie dust, and he certainly doesn’t see climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. What he does see is “a global revolt against the climate experts.” And he views Trump as ‘a demagogue who appeals to the lowest common denominator.” Or to those who will actually believe that an environmental protection ethos is pixie dust.
I once heard it said that imperialistic cultures find it necessary, in defense of their economy, to demean their victims. But, wait, says my Uncle Louie, what about the coal miners? Trump is going to make America great again by sending our coal miners back to work. No, Uncle Louie (who also calls me ‘Ugh, Kemo Sabe’ because of my support of Native Americans and the environment), take a look at the very top photo in this post. See those down-dressed West Virginians, clapping with the head of the EPA? They’ve been bamboozled with the promise of jobs that likely don’t exist anymore; most of those jobs are now filled by self-driving technology and robotics (see today’s NYTimes). Removing regulations would put very few back to work in the mines. It’s the Art of the Steal.
But back to some hardcore history — here’s how these things got done in Washington in those times: The government, being civilized enough to know that one must honor signed treaty agreements, would selectively appoint leaders of tribes and departments whom they knew they could manipulate. They sought out the corruptible, the “friendlies”, empowered them with titles. They were known to those like Black Elk as ‘paper chiefs.’
If we look at the pantheon of Trump’s cabinet it is a brazen line-up of Paper Chiefs. From Bannon to Pruitt and across the board, the president has empowered his paper chiefs to represent us and our land as he sets out to exploit it in a crass, short-sighted way. Demeaning victims and hitting the Twitter triggers of hatred and frustration. With respect, this is not the work of a business genius billionaire; a six year-old with a Sharpie could spike the economy by slashing and deregulating everything. As I watched him shake hands with EPA head Scott Pruitt, a church deacon from Oklahoma, I saw Fort Laramie 1874 all over again; from the Dakota Access Pipeline to global warming. “Do you know what this means?” the President said, smiling, to the paper chiefs and bamboozled coal miners gathered at his shoulders. “Do you know what this means?”
Yes, we know what it means. He said it himself the day before. “We must end the theft of prosperity.” How ironic as the violation of the American land — with global repercussions — begins all over again, by way of executive orders and paper chiefs.
I never thought I’d live to see the day when EPA came to mean Environmental Prostitution Agency. But that’s what happens when the yellow metal drives the wasi’cu crazy.