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News ::
Narragansett raid, rally. (english)
18 Jul 2003
Modified: 26 Aug 2003
Report on the Narragansett Unity Rally, with a good dose of analasys of the events leading up to it.
Last night I went down to Southern Rhode Island to attend the "Unity Rally" held by the Narragansett Indian Tribe on their tribal lands. It's funny, because I don't think that most folks outside of this area know that there are still Native Americans in New England. We have this image of Native Americans as either having died out almost completely, or only existing in places like North Dakota or New Mexico. But the fact is that even the Biggest Little State in the Union has a reservation, and the folks living there face many of the same problems faced by Native Americans throughout the U.S.A. - namely poverty and bigotry.

The Narragansetts in some ways have more opportunity than, say, the Dineh, simply because of their location. Many Narragansetts live and work as laborers, skilled workers, or professionals in and around the region's larger cities. Still, economic opportunity is not always that great in the Ocean State, especially being in yet another Bush Recession. Even if individuals can find jobs in Providence, Fall River, or Newport, they are often still busting their ass to make someone else rich. Tribal members need jobs, and the Tribe needs money to fund its own services - just like any government. The Narragansetts, like most Rhode Islanders, are proud people and willing to put in a fair days work. They don't want to beg for handouts. They want to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Their dream is no different than the dream of millions of Americans who want to start their own business so that they can have more control over their own life.

Yet mainly because of thinly disguised racism, the Narragansetts find themselves in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. If they get government handouts, they are attacked by conservatives as leeching off the taxpayers. If they try to develop their own economy, they get attacked by conservatives for stealing revenue from "regular" (read: White owned) businesses or the State - which supposedly (by unspoken virtue of their Whiteness) deserve the money more than the Native Americans or their Tribal government.

It's funny, Governor Carcieri is up in arms because I can drive an hour South to buy cigarettes without paying Rhode Island State Sales Tax on them, but I can also drive about ten minutes East to do the same thing in Massachusetts. Hell, I can even drive an hour North and buy liquor with no tax at all from New Hampshire's State Line Liquor Store - but I don't see the Rhode Island State Troopers invading the Granite State. This could be because the New Hampshire government is largely White - unlike the Narragansett government. Or it could be that the Carcieri and his troopers are a bunch of cowards who will only attack if they can outnumber and outgun their victims.

The point remains the same. This isn't about lost tax revenue - especially from a rightwing governor who is normally so anti-tax. This is about authority and subservience. This is about the hatred and envy that petty people feel when someone they believe should "naturally" be below them (due to race, class, religion, or whatever) actually works to improve their own life. It's sad but true. There are Rhode Islanders out there who would rather see everyone else's life be worse, than their own life be better. They can't stand it that State employees have decent pensions, or that Indians might build a profitable business. At the same time these pathetic wretches have no problem with the amount of subsidies G-Tech gets, or the amount of money the head of Textron makes. They are only angry when someone does well for themselves if they see that person as inferior in some sort of hierarchy they've made up. It's no coincidence that the attack on the Naragansetts by the Carcieri admini
stration follows his attacks on union members and hard-working immigrants.

Deep down, Conservatives hate it when the "land of opportunity" actually creates opportunities for anyone but themselves.

That's why for all of the talk to the contrary, it's painfully obvious that this is not about taxes or the law, it's about plain and simple racism and hatred and keeping a dark-skinned people down merely for the sake of keeping them down. There is no real logic to it. It is simply the ugliest form of bigoted emotionalism.

All of this came to a head on Monday when the Narragansetts opened a cigarette shop on their land and claimed that because they are a federally recognized tribe, they do not have to charge State taxes. Carcieri sent in the Troopers to terrorize the Indians - simply to assert his authority as a White Governor over uppity Native Americans. The scene was like something out of the civil rights movement. Unarmed people set upon by attack dogs and State Troopers using violent takedowns with no provocation. Inside the smoke shop, away from the cameras, three plainclothes thugs attacked a woman and her fifteen-year-old son. The son told them men not to touch his mother, and for that they wrestled him to the ground and twisted his ankle until it broke. When the mother begged for them to stop, one of the Troopers looked right into her eye and gleefully gave another twist. This is not about taxes or fairness or law and order. This is simply about authoritarianism and plain, old-fashioned sadism.

The outcry from both the Native and non-Native population here is tremendous. As always, a few knee-jerk reactionaries who are incapable of thinking a police officer could ever do anything wrong (or a minority ever do anything right) were quick to commend "police restraint" - that codeword for cops beating the fuck out of people for no good reason but at least not murdering them - and condemn Native Americans for having the dignity to stand up for themselves against an unlawful and immoral invasion of their land by armed terrorists - wearing a badge or no.

[Note: some may quibble here with my use of the word "terrorist" - since we're only used to seeing that word applied to Muslims. However, a terrorist is commonly defined as one who uses violence against a small part of the population to inspire fear and terror in the larger population and ultimately win their political goals. Breaking a kid's ankle, sicking attack dogs on people, and destroying a community's vehicle for economic development is definitely violence, and its intended to terrorize the larger Narragansett population and make them afraid to try to reopen the shop or attempt any other plan to improve their lives.]

When the call went out for a Unity Rally on Narragansett land, my union brothers and sisters and I all agreed to cancel our planned social night and head down to Charlestown. We were very pleasantly surprised when we got there to see that well over two thousand people showed up. The media, of course, are reporting it as "hundreds" and "up to a thousand", but I've performed in front of two thousand Rhode Islanders before (with the Cumberland Company for the Performing Arts at our old Cumberland Faire) so I know what that looks like. In fact, I'd say the two thousand figure is a conservative estimate. Even the ProJo article that says that "perhaps as many as a thousand tribal members and supporters" attended the rally also says that there were 850 cars parked behind town hall. What it doesn't mention is that on top of those 850 cars, most of which most likely carried more than
one occupant, there were several busses and cars parked all up and down Route 2 and in several smaller parking lots and grassy areas. There is no way that with that many vehicles there that only a thousand people attended. Add to all of that the fact that even as we left at 9:15 p.m. there were still people pouring into the event.

Why reporters always feel the need to underreport the number of people at an event like this I'll never know.

The rally itself was great. There were people from all over, Native and non-Native alike. Obviously there were folks from every Rhode Island town, but there were tons of supporters from CT and MA as well. Native Americans from New York bussed up, and one guy flew in from Tennessee (where Tennesseein' is Tennebelievin'). The Tribal Government's phone has been ringing off the hook, and they've been getting calls from all over the U.S. and even from the UK. There were lots of families with little kids in attendence, and a refreshing lack of socialist sects trying to hawk their newspapers. I wouldn't be surprised, though, to still hear right-wingers who were not there describe it as a bunch of rich white college kids, as seems to be their only response when people gather to support or protest just about anything.

The event was well organized as well. There were food booths with hot dogs and burgers (none of this hippy vegan-lentil-soup-in-a-bucket crap), a place to make donations for the Tribe's legal fight against the State, and free t-shirts and bumper stickers. All in all a pretty huge turnout and well-organized event, considering it was in response to something that happened only three days earlier. They even had t-shirts big enough to fit a big guy like me. I was psyched.

The shirts read quite simply: In support of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. July 14, 2003. This is surrounded by the words: Homeland Security - Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.

Keep on fighting.
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Soverign Nation (english)
19 Jul 2003
If the Narraganset had not sceeded their land or leased it then they are recognized as a Soverign Nation. The courts of the US have no jurisdiction over it. They should then take the issue to the World Court. Bruce Clark has written on this issue. I believe that his books are still available at McGill University.
Narragansett Tribe (english)
26 Aug 2003
The fault of the situation lies mostly with the state Attorney General (but he's a Democrat so his name never comes up in the article). The governor and the State Police relied on his advice to close down the smoke shop, which is very likely going to be ruled as illegal. This is not to say that the smoke shop itself was legal, it most likely wasn’t, but that is a federal matter, not a matter for state or local governments.

What we need now is for the federal government to clearly state the legal status of the Narragansett Tribe, including all of the obligations the State has toward them, and what obligations they have to the State. Complete autonomy is obviously impossible, but they do have rights that any city or town could not expect. As long as there is grey area in the law, we can expect similar conflicts in the future.