Native Americans and allies recently commemorated the 50th Annual National Day of Mourning at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims landing as part of the European colonization of North America, which led to land theft and massacres of the Indigenous Peoples living there. We speak with Jean-Luc Pierite of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe who currently resides in Boston about the National Day of Mourning and some of the ways European colonization and the genocide that resulted from it are ongoing. Pierite describes efforts he is involved in such as community programs, reenactments, and legislation and the solidarity that is building worldwide. He emphasizes the necessity of oppressed peoples’ voices being at the center of the struggle to decolonize the United States and bring about reparations.
Jean-Luc Pierite – Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, Jean-Luc now resides in Jamaica Plain. Prior to his election to the Board of Directors, Jean-Luc was also elected to the Community Linguist seat of the Advisory Circle for CoLang for the period 2016-20. The Institute on Collaborative Language Research or “CoLang” is designed to provide an opportunity for community language activists and linguists to receive training in community-based language documentation and revitalization. Currently, Jean-Luc volunteers with his Tribe’s Language and Culture Revitalization Program which is a collaboration with Tulane University in New Orleans. This program is based on tradition passed from Jean-Luc’s great-grandfather Joseph Alcide Pierite, Sr., last traditional chief and medicine man of the Tunica-Biloxi. The Tribe is an amalgamation of members from the Central Louisiana communities of: Tunica, Biloxi-Choctaw, Ofo, and Avoyel.
Jean-Luc has a B.A. in Humanities with a co-major in Mass Communication and Japanese from Dillard University in New Orleans. He also earned an A.S. in Video Game Design from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. Jean-Luc currently is the International Procurement and Logistics Manager for The Fab Foundation. The Fab Foundation was formed in 2009 to facilitate and support the growth of the international fab lab network as well as the development of regional capacity-building organizations. The Fab Foundation is a US non-profit 501(c) 3 organization that emerged from MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms Fab Lab Program.
Websites mentioned in the program:
Margaret Flowers (MF): Today we interview Jean-Luc Pierite. He’s a member of the Tunica Biloxi tribe.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Yes. He talks about the Day of Mourning, which some people call Thanksgiving, and he talks about the upcoming anniversary next year the pilgrims coming to Massachusetts.
MF: And that’s something that people can attend and support. Jean-Luc talks about a lot of the different ways that colonization continues and what they’re doing to try to change that, so stick around for that interview. Before we get to that, let’s talk about some things that are in the news. We just returned last night from a conference in Cleveland where labor unions and community members are coming together to create what they call Labor and Community for an Independent Party. This is an effort to create an independent party like we’ve seen with the teacher strikes that bring both workers and communities together to fight for common causes.
KZ: And their focus is on ending the two-party system, being an alternative to the corporate duopoly.
MF: And one of the big tasks that they have is convincing labor unions to break with the Democratic party. That has really failed as a strategy for the labor movement to think that the Democratic party is going to represent them when it’s really a big capitalists party that represents the interests of its wealthy donors.
KZ: And this is an effort that builds on the effort to create the Labor party, which still exists, they’re active especially in South Carolina. At the conference, we talked about some of the issues that show bipartisan agreement. We talked about regime change and how both parties get behind US regime change efforts and never-ending wars and we also talked about the health care issue.
MF: Medicare-for-all. That’s right. And we talked about immigration issues as well. One of the things I really like about the approach of Labor and Community for an Independent Party is that what they’re trying to do is form local community councils where people get together to talk about issues, make decisions about things that they need and then the leadership that comes out of that would have to represent the people in those community councils. So almost like what we see in Venezuela, really creating a participatory democracy and a structure that is accountable to the people that it represents, very different from what we have right now.
KZ: We have a so-called representative democracy that really does not represent the people. Studies show that the people’s views are very different than what the Congress and the president actually put in the law. If we had a representative democracy that represented the people’s views, you would see heavy high taxes on the wealthy. You would see a shrinking wealth divide, you would see well-funded medicare-for-all, free college education and the climate issue would be addressed and really never-ending wars wouldn’t be happening because people oppose these wars for a long time. So we have a representative democracy that represents the oligarchs, represents transnational corporations, does not represent the people.
MF: Yeah. I thought you were going to mention the study by Gilens and Page, which actually showed that in terms of policies passed by Congress – they looked at a 20-year period and found that the people’s support or opposition to those policies had no difference but the more that the wealthy interests were supportive of something the more likely it was to get passed and vice versa if they didn’t support it, not likely to get passed.
KZ: That is a very strong study. There are a number of studies that make that same point and starting a third party or a new party is not an easy thing. We have a system that’s designed to make that difficult. We’ve been very involved in independent parties and third parties. We see how tough it is. The two parties have set up tremendous barriers. Of course, the money in politics is the first gigantic barrier, especially when you have a lack of public funding, of public elections. We need to change that. And the problem with the just simple thing is ballot access. Now, this wasn’t a problem for most of US history. Now they have created tremendous hurdles for new parties to get, just to get on the ballot and then once you’re on the ballot to participate in the election. The media is very tied into the two parties. The debate systems exclude people beyond the two parties. The national debate commission’s controlled, it’s a corporation that is owned by the Democrats and Republicans, designed to keep third voices out. So, it’s a very big challenge and we hope we can unite people who are trying to do that, people on the left who are trying to challenge the two-party system because it’s going to take unity among the left if we are going to have a serious challenge to these two parties.
MF: Let’s talk about the election coming up this week in the United Kingdom Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Corbyn.
KZ: Well, they’re two of the candidates, the two leading candidates. There are other candidates running as well. They sure do present very different agendas. Boris Johnson basically has been running on a simple slogan “Get Brexit done.” And that’s pretty much it. He’s been exposed during the campaign of negotiating with Trump to undermine and privatize the National Health Service, which is very unpopular. Some documents were leaked that Jeremy Corbyn used…
MF: The National Health Service is not unpopular, the privatizing it is very unpopular.
KZ: Exactly. Corbyn has put out a very aggressive agenda. I mean, it’s not a perfect agenda. There’s things I disagree with it. But he’s put out a very aggressive agenda that would really focus on ending austerity, funding human needs. Health care would get a big boost, education, transit, internet. He has a major plan for high-speed internet for everybody. And so what’s interesting about the campaign is how it’s been unfolding. Johnson has been ahead from the beginning, had a start with a 13-point lead. That’s now down to single digits. It’s continually shrinking. They’ve had two debates and in each debate, Corbyn has shrunk the lead plus his campaign has shrunk the lead. At this point, it looks like Johnson is gonna win but we can’t predict it. But what’s really interesting is the incredible attack on Jeremy Corbyn, the character assassination against Corbyn has really been aggressive.
MF: What’s amazing to me is that people are falling for it. So, Jeremy Corbyn is a long-time anti-war activist. He’s been outspoken against wars, you know, supports Palestinian people’s rights, the end to the occupation of Palestine and so he’s been charged as being anti-Semitic because of that, something that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli State. Its anti-Semitic to be prejudiced against Jews. But this is a government we’re talking about. That’s stuck for some reason.
KZ: It stuck, and they keep hitting it over and over. The other thing that’s been really interesting, you mentioned he’s a longtime anti-war activist and he wants to break from being the lapdog of the United States. As a result, he’s getting a lot of attack from the US government, the US military, the Atlantic Council, which is a very pro-war, pro-militaristic.
MF: Wait, wait, is this a USAgate? Is the US interfering in the elections of the United Kingdom?
KZ: It is no doubt. One of the things they’re attacking him on through their various spokespeople is that the leaked documents on the NHS came from Russia. It’s just amazing the nonsense that you see out there. They’re trying to influence the election. The US through its various channels and they’re saying Russia is leaking documents to Jeremy Corbyn. So it’s just incredible falsehood based thing, but it just shows how threatening Corbyn is.
MF: [sarcastic] You know Russia is responsible for basically everything that goes wrong in the world, at least in the minds of the US media.
KZ: If Corbyn wins, they’ll definitely give credit to Russia.
MF: Well the UK has been a willing partner for the US and its international criminal escapades.
KZ: I think lapdog is a better word.
MF: Okay. There’s an excellent article in the Grayzone talking about the US intervention in the UK elections. And we have some very good news, which is that this past Friday December 6th, the US government dropped their simple assault charges against Max Blumenthal editor of The Grayzone Project and Ben Rubenstein, brother of Alex Rubenstein who is a journalist. Alex was an embedded journalist with us inside the embassy. Max and Ben helped to get food to us while we were in there, while these violent right-wing extremists were outside the Embassy in Washington DC preventing us from getting food. They were the ones assaulted. They get charged with assault. Fortunately, though, those charges have been dropped.
KZ: Yeah. What’s interesting, reading about the dropping of the charges is the rationale or the reason given. They lost key discovery information, tape recordings and documents about what happened the night that this is so-called assault occurred. They just can’t find them. They just disappeared.
MF: They’ve been able to give us like hundreds and hundreds of police body cameras and all sorts of information. They did a huge data dump on us for the discovery for our case for being arrested for being inside of the Venezuelan Embassy when the United States violated the Vienna Convention and came in and removed us, but suddenly they can’t find them. And as the lawyers pushed for them suddenly they said oops.
KZ: Yeah, so, you know what it seems really evident to me, if those documents were available they would exonerate Max and Ben. Great victory. Now, we have a court hearing coming up this Friday in our case and the key issue we’re fighting right now is over discovery. We’re trying to get documents from the government that talk about who’s really the President of Venezuela. You know Trump says that Guaido is president. But all of the actions of the Trump Administration show they know President Maduro remains the president.
MF: Well, they don’t just know it, they say it. Elliott Abrams has said over and over again things like the problem is Maduro is still in power. He’s still the president of Venezuela. Juan Guaido’s term doesn’t start until Maduro is out of power. They’ve been trying coups over and over again and then just this past week, having the meeting in Bogota Colombia to talk about the Rio treaty or the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, which we discussed last week with William Camacaro.
KZ: After that interview, we saw the results of that meeting and while they didn’t decide to invade Venezuela…
MF: Well, not yet.
KZ: I’m sure they are trying to lay that groundwork. They are continuing to increase sanctions, particularly against individuals like the Vice President, the Foreign Minister, the head of the National Constituent Assembly. They are making it impossible for them to travel to multiple countries in Latin America.
MF: We also have an excellent article on sanctions on PopularResistance dot-org right now written by Sara Flounders. What’s really interesting is that the United States and these are you know, we call them sanctions, but they’re not really sanctions, they are what are called unilateral coercive measures. These are measures imposed by the United States, there’s no legal process or anything really that’s gone through in many cases.
KZ: They’re imposed for the purpose of changing the government.
MF: That’s why they’re called coercive but there are, the United States currently has more than 8,000 sanctions involving 39 countries and one-third of the world’s population.
KZ: And that’s why the sanctions approach of the Trump Administration is, in the end, going to have a backlash effect against the United States. You can already see it building. Countries are uniting to work around US sanctions to conduct trade deals without the US dollar and organizing themselves to hold the US accountable for these illegal unilateral coercive measures. And the sanctions and regime against Venezuela, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported has killed 40,000 people in the last few years.
MF: That was just over a two-year period and that’s the thing about these unilateral coercive measures are economic war or economic terrorism is that they’re just as deadly as a, you know, military invasion, but they’re not visible like that. You don’t see the bombs being dropped. You don’t see the bodies, you know, injured, the social media of people being injured and killed.
KZ: People die slowly often because they can’t get essential medicine.
MF: So there is a campaign called Sanctions kill. We’re part of it. The website is sanctions kill dot o– r– g– and as part of this campaign to get the United States to stop using these illegal unilateral coercive measures, there’s going to be international days of action in March, March 13 to 15. So if you’re interested in that, go to sanctions kill dot o– r– g–. Let’s talk about our newsletter that we wrote this past weekend because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO held their 70th Anniversary meeting in London this past week.
KZ: Yeah, it was an interesting meeting to watch because NATO is so divided right now.
MF: What is NATO for? Why do we still have NATO?
KZ: That’s a really good point. I mean NATO really no longer has a purpose. It’s obsolete. Donald Trump said that during his election but since becoming president he’s become a NATO cheerleader and has in fact, he’s raised a lot of money for NATO by putting pressure on European and Canadian governments to put more money into it. It’s really growing massively funding wise, but it has no real purpose.
MF: Well, that was the, what was amazing is that the increase in funding for NATO since 2016 is a hundred and thirty billion dollars which is multiple times more than Russia’s the entire military budget.
KZ: Just their increase is multiple times more. So it, NATO, has grown giganticly, but its purpose of defending the West against the Soviet Union hasn’t existed for decades.
MF: The Soviet Union hasn’t existed for decades.
KZ: That’s exactly right. So there’s really no purpose anymore and they were divided over many issues. Macron, the President of France, called NATO brain dead. And he pointed at Donald Trump as the reason why.
MF: His poor leadership they said.
KZ: And there was constant conflicts between Turkey and other NATO countries and Turkey which is a member of NATO, invaded Syria without really the permission of NATO and they attacked the Kurds who had been allied with NATO against Isis and the Syrian government. Defining the Kurds as terrorists, that was Turkey’s view, but the rest of NATO didn’t feel that way. Then you had that moment where multiple, Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau, Macron, Princess Anne and others were together in a circle making jokes about Donald Trump behind his back, laughing at him, mocking him.
MF: Well, he left the meeting early I think as part of, as a result. [cat meowing] I think Dr. Whiskers wants to comment on what we’re talking about.
KZ: Trump called Trudeau two-faced for that. And so when he was having an interview with Angela Merkel, press interview, he called Trudeau two-faced. So there are real conflicts going on between them all personally, but they did unite about their survival and to try to find ways to continue to justify their existence.
MF: Yeah, and that’s the scariest thing. I mean one thing that was positive is I think the Trump administration was trying to push Russia as the enemy and other countries in NATO said, you know, we might not all necessarily agree that Russia is an enemy. But I think what’s really scary is the Trump Administration trying to push NATO to be stronger against China.
KZ: Well, yes, and that was, you can see that before the event, the meeting happened, the head of NATO pushing for China being a target, talking about China’s becoming closer to us, how they’re very aggressive in their economic policies in Africa, the Middle East and even in Europe and that NATO has to do something to stop China. At the meeting, the most they could muster, they did put out a page and a half or so long declaration at the end. And on China, they said they saw challenges and opportunities. So they were playing both sides of that. But this is the first time that NATO has discussed China as a target. Now, of course, Russia has always been a target and in recent years, one of the big problems in NATO is it has been expanding Eastward since the Soviet Union fell despite promises by United States that NATO would not expand Eastward. NATO is trying to expand. They want to add Ukraine and Georgia. Along Russia’s border they’re putting military troops and bases and weapons, missiles.
MF: All kinds of military exercises.
KZ: And big military exercises practicing attacks on Russia. So that, you know, essentially what you see with that is NATO adopting the great power conflict National Security strategy of the United States. We adopted during the Trump era great-power conflict as the new National Security strategy replacing the war on terror. Obama helped to move it in that direction with the Asian Pivot and moving troops to Asia and along the border with Russia, but it became official in the Trump era as great power and looking at NATO. That’s the model, they’re defining, Russia and China as two key targets.
MF: Well the United States has been very aggressive recently in terms of targeting China in a number of ways. Of course, the protest that the US is supporting in Hong Kong, the very anti-China, racist, violent protests going on there because the US does not want Hong Kong to reintegrate fully into China in 2047 as per the Basic Agreement made with the United Kingdom. And then going after China for their treatment of the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are a Muslim group that has lived in that area of China Xinjiang for millennia. And there is a section of the Uyghurs that is actually being radicalized. We talked about this with Andre Vltchek who’s written about it. We have another article on Popular Resistance this week talking about that as well. China is trying to stop radicalization and turning the Uyghurs into terrorists by providing vocational training and other types of opportunities for them instead but the US goes after China condemning it for doing that and now Congress at least in the House has passed something called the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 that will allow the United States to sanction members of the Chinese government.
KZ: And that comes on the heels of the Human Rights and Democracy Act for Hong Kong. Both these laws are basically excuses for the US to intervene into China on both the Uyghurs and on Hong Kong and to put in place sanctions. Now the Uyghurs have a portion of them are very violent. I mean, these are extremely violent terrorist acts going on in China and other places with the Uyghurs. If you really want to understand the Uyghurs, Vltchek’s article March of the Uyghurs will give you a real good insight because we get so much misinformation in the corporate media about that because I think…
MF: And the social media. There’s a strong social media presence.
KZ: Well, that’s one thing that the US regime change and great power conflict efforts has gotten much better at is social media and they very aggressively use Twitter and Facebook and get out memes and narratives that are supportive of anti-China great power conflict.
MF: I want to mention one other project that the United States is just starting out on targeting China and that’s this new Manhattan Project size project basically to create these communication nodes all throughout the Asian region of the world linking the US Navy and the US Air Force and it’s going to be this huge infrastructure build-out that they’re going to do so they can coordinate attacks on China. And so just think about this right now while we’re at home and we have generally compared to other countries not very good internet service and it’s very expensive, the US is spending tons of our tax dollars to build this communication network targetting China.
KZ: This is part of preparing for war with China. It’s not just the Air Force. It’s the Army and the Marines as well. They’re uniting all four of these together into a network and the’rey looking at China as a very big challenge to the military because it’s such a large country. They are trying to figure out how to go to all the different corners of China and be able to attack in a successful way. They see that as a big challenge and of course add to that the one other factor, which is outer space, the space force is being approved now by Congress, bipartisan. It’s been pushed since the Reagan Era and now Trump pushed it again and it is becoming a reality. By the way, that was one other thing that was talked about in NATO was support for outer space militarism. NATO is really playing the role of a junior partner with the United States on all these fronts of militarism. And so great power conflict, outer space, NATO’s right there and US is right now spending money planning aggressively for military attacks on China.
MF: Imagine if we put our money into actually supporting life. We could have a very secure world and society if we put as much energy and resources into providing people with the things they need as we do in finding ways to kill them.
KZ: And if we framed our relationship with China as not great power conflict, but how about great power cooperation? Think about what we could accomplish together if these countries worked together rather than saw themselves as competitors. There’s no need for the United States to be number one, a dominant military force in the world. The only rationale for that is…
MF: Because we’re exploiting other countries and they get angry at us.
KZ: That’s right. The reason the United States is a wealthy country is because of imperialism. That’s a word you don’t hear in US media is imperialism. That’s not discussed. But that’s the reality of why the US is the largest economy on Earth. We benefited after World War II and were able to really conduct major imperialist efforts around the world and we want to continue that. That era is ending and the United States does not want to face that reality. And so the Pentagon is aggressively fighting. We’re seeing military budgets go up consistently. Now about 65% of discretionary spending of the federal government goes to the military. We’re expanding into outer space. NATO is continuously expanding. Militarism is on the rise on all fronts because US Empire is fading.
MF: Let’s talk about a few more stories. In France, the unions and yellow vest protesters are now into their fifth day of a major strike in France. Last Thursday they shut down 90% of the country’s transportation, airline flights are being cancelled and the unions are saying that this is definitely going to continue through Friday, maybe longer. They’re protesting cuts to their pensions.
KZ: Yes, general strikes are a very powerful tool. When the United States activists, when we wake up in this country and are able to pull off general strikes for an hour, for a half a day, for a full day, then we will see our power increased dramatically and I know there are various groups working on developing that ability and I think once we do develop that ability, I think you’ll see a very change in the balance of power in US Government.
MF: Two articles I wanted to touch on, on Popular Resistance. One wrote about media from Hong Kong who have been screaming and screaming about the violent Hong Kong police against the protesters when the reality is that the police are pretty mild in Hong Kong went to France to cover the general strike and got to see up close and personal what violent police actually look like. Sadly four of the six of them were injured. Two of them were injured by these sting grenades that actually on impact they open up and either put out shrapnel or these rubber bullet type things.
KZ: They were injured almost immediately. Yeah. They got to really see what aggressive militarized policing looks like. Of course in the United States, we don’t hear about what’s going on in France as far as the militarized police but we hear about it in Hong Kong. But what we don’t hear about in Hong Kong is the violence of the protesters because the protesters, the wing of protesters who are involved in the violence are funded by the National Endowment for democracy and are part of this anti-China campaign.
MF: Right, so FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, did a report looking at major media coverage of Hong Kong compared to other parts of the world where major protests are going on, Chile, Ecuador, and Haiti. Protests in Haiti have been going on almost as long as Hong Kong. In Chile, Ecuador, and Haiti, dozens of people have been killed. In Hong Kong, two people have died throughout these six months of protests. One young man fell from a building and died. There was a 70-year-old man who was hit by a brick by protesters and was killed. There were 737 stories related to Hong Kong and for Ecuador, Haiti, and Chile, the most they got was 36 stories. When you look at a particular period like the time when the protests in Chile were at their peak, still then you had multiple, 10-time difference in the coverage between Chile and Hong Kong and of course in Hong Kong, they referred to the protesters as pro-democracy. They don’t talk about the violence. They don’t talk about them provoking police responses, but the protesters in Chile were called rioters and looters and you know, we can explain why.
KZ: Oh, yes. Definitely. I mean, it’s the false narrative of US regime change in Latin America and their effort to force an independent Hong Kong and the media is a handmaiden of US regime change. They walk hand-in-hand with the military. We see that in Venezuela. You know, preparing for our hearing on Friday, I was looking at the history of our case and some of the reporting going on in Venezuela. You see the same kind of thing. I’m amazed when I hear Elliott Abrams, Michael Pence, formerly John Bolton, the things they say, it’s just incredible falsehoods. I mean, they’re not even close to truth. And so we’re having a really interesting fight, I mentioned earlier on this, discovery in this case. If you want to follow it by the way, Defend Embassy Protectors dot-org. If you want to know what’s going on in our case.
MF: I did want to mention the President of the International Federation of the Red Cross announced just today, basically condemned the politicization of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. So the Red Cross in Venezuela, which is working with the elected government of Venezuela to provide much-needed medicines to people, is severely underfunded and unable to get the resources that they need. They’ve only been able to reach about 50,000 people out of 650,000 people who need their assistance and the president of the IFRC basically says this is only because of the politics of it because it’s being used as a weapon to hurt Venezuelans and create a crisis in their country. And this is immoral.
KZ: And that’s why Venezuela relies on countries like Russia and China and the Trump Administration criticizes Venezuela for being close to China, Russia, Cuba, and that’s why Venezuela relies on those countries because the traditional western sources of humanitarian relief or even just for basic medicine have been blocked by the US sanctions.
MF: Let’s remember that Julian Assange is still in jail, awaiting his hearing, his extradition hearing in February. Doctors wrote a letter to the jail demanding that he be transferred to a university hospital immediately because he is in very poor health. People are afraid he may die in jail and the jail has refused to answer that doctor’s letter.
KZ: And, of course, Chelsea Manning remains incarcerated just for not, for refusing to testify before a secret grand jury. She is opposed to the secret grand juries because they can be manipulated and she would testify in public but not in secret.
MF: And of course, she’s already testified and they’re just phishing and trying to get her to say something else that they can use against Assange. And we have to remember that the Conference of Parties 25, the COP 25 meetings are going on in Madrid Spain. Those will end this Friday. The attendees are trying to kind of finalize some of the rules for the Paris Agreement. They’re continuing to have disagreements. It’s looking like they may not be able to finalize those rules by the end of this session, simple things like for how many years do countries need to lower their emissions. Well to me, that’s a no brainer. It’s like forever, you know climate change is going to go on for thousands of years. So talking about a five or a ten year cap on when countries have to reduce their emissions is ridiculous.
KZ: The Paris agreement was inadequate itself because thanks to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, the US made sure that there were no enforceable standards pn GHG emissions. Emissions have been going up driven by the push for fracked gas as a so-called clean energy source, but of course methane which comes with fracked gas is a major GHG polluter.
MF: Especially in the short term. Lots of protests are going on in the COP meetings as well. Especially youth protesting what’s going on there. I have two more things I want to mention. One is people should be aware that there’s an organization called The Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future. It was created by corporations that profit from our current healthcare system. They are running anti medicare-for-all ads.
KZ: Spending millions of dollars. They sound like a nice group, Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. If you look behind it, it’s the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies and the for-profit hospitals and medical device makers.
MF: And let’s end on some good news. Kansas City has voted to provide free transit to everybody in the city. They are doing this for a number of reasons: One, it’s going to be what they anticipate a huge economic stimulus particularly for low-income people that are having to choose between buying transit or buying food or buying things that they need. It will also decrease the use of cars and that will help to reduce their emissions. And here’s one that New Yorkers oughta listen to, no more law enforcement for fare evasion. No more beating up people who evade fares or putting them into jail. This is in Kansas City, not New York.
KZ: New York will continue to beat up those who try to get in for free.
MF: But New Yorkers should be pushing for free transit as other cities around the country now that Kansas City is doing it, but let’s hope that other cities follow suit.
MF: And now we turn to our guest. Jean-Luc Pierite. He is a member of the Tunica Biloxi tribe from Central, Louisiana. He now resides in Massachusetts in Boston where he is the president of the board of directors of the North American Indian Center of Boston. Thank you for taking time to join us today, Jean-Luc.
Jean-Luc Pierite (JLP): Thank you, Margaret. Thank you, Kevin.
MF: So let’s start out with kind of a broad question. One of the reasons we wanted to invite you onto the show is to talk about the National Day of Mourning and this year was the 50th commemoration of the landing of the pilgrims in Plymouth Rock and all the ramifications that have extended from that. Can you talk about the National Day of Mourning, kind of how it started and what it actually is?
JLP: Sure. Yes. This is the 50th National Day of Mourning. It started in 1970. Actually, we’re going into the 400th year since the landing of the Mayflower and in 1970, there was actually an original speech that was supposed to be delivered to the descendants of those original settlers by the Wampanoag tribal member, Frank Wamsutta James. And it spoke to sort of the resiliency of our native peoples. And from that idea, it was sort of like this milestone speech where basically, you know, Mr. James was saying that this was the beginning of American Indians and Wampanoag people, in particular, regaining their rightful place in this country. We can certainly talk about like what that means but for us specifically, it means that Indigenous peoples, American Indians, we have our own unique cultures. We have our own unique ways of knowing and we retain our self-determination and our sovereignty and so that sort of like existence as our form of resistance. A lot of those ideas came out of that National Day of Mourning and I want to indefinitely express my gratitude to United American Indians in New England for continuing that tradition, especially the co-leaders Mahtowin Munro, Moonanum James and Keisha James.
KZ: It’s a very important event and I’m sure next year will be really a milestone one since it’s the 400th anniversary. It’s very interesting this time period in activist circles around indigenous issues. There’s a lot more recognition of the true history of the colonizers coming into the United States, well coming into North America and there’s also a recognition of the importance of people following the lead of indigenous people. Can you talk a little bit about what you see from your perspective on that front?
JLP: Yes, and then and just to kind of set the scene of the National Day of Mourning at Plymouth. Once again, you know, we started off the day in prayer and ceremony bringing in our ancestors into the whole observance and then following that we had speeches from people from all sorts of different indigenous nations. Of course, we recognize that initial treaty by Massasoit in 1621 with the pilgrims to sort of formalize the government-to-government relationships, not between United States but we’re talking about like European settlers and Indigenous Nations that are here. And of course, we honor that we are on Wampanoag territory when we’re in Plymouth, but as far as the range of people that were speaking at National Day of Mourning, we had speakers from Peru, we had speakers from the Taino of Boriken and we had United Houma Nation of Louisiana. And we also had the North American Mega-dam Resistance Alliance, the first nations from Canada and each of these speeches spoke to both the extractive policies and natural disasters and infrastructure projects that are happening on our traditional indigenous territories without our free, prior and informed consent. And so this is the day not only to sort of like talk about and sort of like reconcile the true history with sort of a mythology that you know, the sort of like American nationalism is based upon. Not only is it about you know, confronting all of that but this is a time for indigenous peoples to actually speak about their own political will in terms of like what it means to confront climate change. So there’s a lot of issues that got brought to the forefront and we’re just basically speaking out on not only about colonialism, imperialism and we’re talking about economic warfare. We’re talking about corporations abusing sovereignty of Indigenous Nations all mixed into that one day. So it was a really really dense observance.
MF: There’s a lot to talk about. Why don’t we start out with kind of talking to our listeners who probably many of them celebrate Thanksgiving Day, the United States holiday, and I think that more and more it’s coming out about the actual mythology of that holiday and I think like we’ve seen such a strong movement to change Columbus Day to be Indigenous Peoples Day. I think more and more people are starting to recognize that the Thanksgiving holiday is not something that we should necessarily be celebrating. Can you talk a little bit about why you call this the National Day of Mourning? I know it’s a pretty basic question, but I think it’s something that people still need to hear the answer to.
JLP: Yes, and this is not to say that, you know having a feast day where the community comes together, expresses gratitude, enjoying family, I mean, this is something that goes back in our own traditions prior to contact with European settlers. We have specifically in my tribe back home in Louisiana, we have our Green Corn Festival in the middle of Summer where we honor our ancestors and so, you know, we definitely have the types of thematically, you know a Thanksgiving. In the past week, I’ve seen messaging coming out of the Hispanic Council saying oh by the way, you know, Spain also has an observance of Thanksgiving in St. Augustine, the so-called oldest city here in the United States, or what we now know as the United States. And of course, there’s the stories that come out of Jamestown with Pocahontas as well. But as far as like Plymouth and the pilgrims, part of that story, part of that narrative that I grew up with certainly in my personal experience, it was sort of that myth of the pilgrims coming over to the new world in search of a place for Religious Freedom and that sort of ties in sort of that story in with the founding principles of the United States. What really needs to be brought to the forefront when we’re talking about our nations, when we’re talking about our issues, even though religious freedom is sort of a founding principle here in the United States, citizenship wasn’t granted to our indigenous peoples until 1924. And the Indian Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed until the late 60s and it wasn’t until 1978 that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in the United States. So, you know, while there is certainly, there’s like a lot to be thankful for and of course we’re not strangers to expressing gratitude and the being one, you know and feasting together as a community. We definitely want to make sure that this is a day when we are able to speak about our own issues and speak to it from our perspective.
KZ: That’s such an important voice to hear and perspective to hear. You mentioned in your earlier question answers about the initial treaty between the Pilgrims and the indigenous tribes. Can you talk a little about what that treaty was and what happened to it?
JLP: Yes, so the Massasoit’s Treaty, it was basically like sort of an agreement between the two groups saying that whatever is you know, if there was any like need for protection for the pilgrims as a Wampanoag would grant it and if the Wampanoag needed protection from other tribes, as well as perhaps other settler groups that the pilgrims would provide that protection and then actually that original treaty, has come up most recently. So the Mashpee Wampanoag right now have a legal challenge to the trust status of their reservation land and that has caused a ruling by the Department of the Interior under the Trump Administration referring back to a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 called Carcieri versus Salazar, but basically any tribe that was recognized after 1934, they wouldn’t be able to use the VITA Trust process in order to regain their tribal lands, but most recently the Department of Interior with the Trump Administration sent out a ruling saying that the Department of Interior was not under the authority to take the Mashpee on Wampanoag reservation land into trust. And so basically this needed a sort of legislative remedy from Congress. So the Massachusetts delegation, both the representative side and the senate side entered bills into Congress and hopefully through these bills the trust status of the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation will be reaffirmed. So talking about that treaty and then talking about the pilgrims and talking about, you know, having that government-to-government relations, to having that basis and actually how does that play into sort of like solidarity both between the tribes that exist today in Mashpee, Massachusetts and the townspeople of Mashpee, the descendants of the pilgrims who have you know said, yes the Wampanoag have been here. This is their reservation land. This should be something that should be reaffirmed by Congress. So, you know, we’re talking about things that have happened 400 years ago but have real effects on what’s going on today.
MF: Many people living in the United States that are non-indigenous kind of look at the history of Native Americans as just that, something that happened in the past and we don’t talk about the fact that all those, all the ramifications of the settlers coming to the United States and the way that settlers treated Native Americans and took the land and took the resources, the massacres and how all of those types of that the same mentality, it continues up until today. It manifests itself in different ways, but it’s ongoing. It hasn’t ended and you know, something as simple as respecting people’s rights to the land that has been their land, right? It’s something that should be very basic. So in the National Day of Mourning, I know that there were a lot of different issues that were touched upon. Are there any particular issues that you would like to inform our listeners about?
JLP: Yes, I think that it needs to be said more and more that our communities as indigenous peoples and we have different ways in which we are talking about government-to-government relationships, but we also have to be conscious of the different ways in which the United States government has regarded the Indigenous Nations. So there are you know, 570 tribes here within the United States that are federally-recognized but there are many more that are state-recognized or not recognized at all, but are still continuing to this day and being on especially the ones that are on the coast back home in Louisiana for me. I have my cousins at the Ile De Jean Charles band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw, they’ve lost 98% of their land since 1955 and putting that story out there. And you know talking with the community actually was part of a summit at MIT in October with the tribe. We actually were seeing solidarity with our relations out in the Pacific Northwest. So as things are happening along the Gulf Coast are also happening, you know in the Pacific Northwest. I’m talking to you today from Boston and you know people here in Boston they can say, oh, you know, oh my goodness, you know, look at the Gulf Coast. Oh my goodness, look at the Pacific Northwest. You know, I’m glad that I don’t live in a place like that and it’s like what do you mean? We are all on the coast, you know, we are all by water and things that are happening to Indigenous Nations, that’s not something that’s happening to those people over there that are so unfortunate or so poor to just be living where they are. It can happen to any city that’s on the coast. We’re talking about places that are going to be underwater if we don’t act soon.
MF: Wasn’t it the Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw who were the first group of people in the United States to actually receive money to move their entire place where they live?
JLP: Correct. It took them 13 years in order to get 42 million dollars from HUD. Now most recently, they actually walked away from that grant because there was some back and forth with the state of Louisiana. The state of Louisiana, as it was explained to me by Traditional Chief Albert Naquin, there was a scheme as far as like applying mortgages either to the land that they were going to move onto or the land that they were moving from. But basically, they did not see eye to eye as far as like the relocation process with the state of Louisiana. And this is a state-recognized tribe, you know they were indian enough in order to get the grant from HUD but once it got into the sort of the coffers of the state of Louisiana, then we get into this argument of like, well, you know now that the money’s here and now we kind of have the power of the purse so to speak, you know, and so it’s a game that’s being played and these are like whole communities. I mean the Ile de Jean Charles Biloxi Chitimacha are the world’s first climate change refugee community. So they deserve a lot more respect than what they’ve been given as of late.
KZ: Yeah, the climate crisis, putting in place infrastructure for fossil fuels, the taking of indigenous lands for those purposes, all that is one side of the story. But another side of the story, I also noticed in recent years, maybe just my own awareness or lack of awareness of previous times is a kind of a rising up of Indian culture, indigenous language, protection of sacred sites. Is that something you can talk about? Is that a new kind of or expansion of indigenous reality?
JLP: Yes. Yes. I mean when we talk about our issues and everything is so much interconnected talking about climate change. We’re also talking about the loss of indigenous languages. And once you lose a language, we’re talking about the disruption of transmission of ancestral knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge, ways in which people have been living on lands sustainably for millennia. So, you know language and culture, that perfect preservation, the revitalization of that, that plays into climate justice. Right now in Massachusetts, we’re working with the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda. This is a coalition of the North American Indian Center of Boston, United American Indians of New England, along with other different partner organizations, including Mass Peace Action. So we’re looking at about five different issues across a number of bills, one which is to establish Indigenous Peoples Day statewide here in Massachusetts. Another one is to take down native mascots in public schools. Another one is to change the Massachusetts state flag and seal, which currently shows a composite of a native figure and there’s a really ghoulish way in which that was devised. We’re also talking about protecting native heritage, specifically introducing state-level NAGPRA compliance. For public institutions who may not be receiving federal funds but receive some kind of public funding, we want to make sure that if there are sacred objects within those collections if those institutions move to the deacquisition those objects, those objects won’t end up in the auction houses. And finally, we’re also pushing for a commission on American Indian Alaska native education here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Currently, we are at 79 percent graduation rate for our youth. And our youth also face suicide rates two times that of their white peers. And so we’re trying to do everything that we can to keep our kids healthy, safe, make sure that they graduate from school, make sure they get four-year degrees, make sure they get full-time employment because all of these things lead to civic engagement and when we have more indigenous people getting involved with these systems, then we have much more of a voice when it comes to issues of like climate justice, economic justice, social justice.
MF: It’s a typical kind of when colonizers, or part of the process of colonization is to erase the colonized peoples’ culture and identity and so they lose that, so they no longer believe that they have something to fight for, you know, and to assimilate them into the colonizer’s way of being. I think that the work that you’re doing around language, the work around youth, that’s really critical and it’s been great to see the students up at Syracuse University who are fighting back against racist and hate incidents on their campus. And that includes not just black and brown people but Native American students at Syracuse have also been speaking out about you know, how they’ve been treated there and pushing to change the curriculum. So, I think this all comes together is really critical work for this moment.
JLP: Right. Solidarity is very important and one thing, you know, we were talking about how issues from centuries ago come up today and you know one story that I put out there that people don’t really realize is that up until 2005 it was illegal for American Indians to walk the streets of Boston unescorted. This was because there was a law that was on the books called the Boston Indian Imprisonment Act and this was a remnant of a war that was fought starting in 1675 called King Philip’s War. And so that law just stayed on the books and you know, despite all of our community members getting involved, pushing for, especially our elders, pushing to have this law taken off of the books that got us some progress, but what really brought it to reality was a conference of journalists of color that were supposed to come to Boston and when they found out that the Boston Indian imprisonment Act was still on the books. They said wait a minute, you know, we can’t have you know journalists of color coming to the city while this law is still on the books. We do have Native American journalists within our ranks, and if we pull our conference from your city, it’s going to be 45 million dollars of economic impact that Boston will miss out on and because of that, you know the city, the state complied and they said, okay we’ll go ahead and take this law off the books. Money is definitely a motivator but I would credit those journalists of color and the solidarity that we have between black and brown people. We need solidarity in order to advocate for our issues.
KZ: Solidarity. That’s a great solidarity story and I urge not only black and brown solidarity but white solidarity with the indigenous peoples as well. It’s so critical that we face up to the reality of our history. In fact, we cover whenever Thanksgiving or Columbus Day or other events occur on Popular Resistance, we always cover the true history of colonization and you know settler reality and the impact on indigenous peoples and it really struck me this year because we had just been in Palestine prior to Thanksgiving or the Day of Mourning and we drove through and visited many parts of Occupied Palestine seeing ethnic cleansing and seeing land theft and Jewish-only roads and areas where Israeli citizens are banned because the Palestinians control the areas. They are legally, you know, it’s against the law for Israeli citizens to go there. I mean it was just so in our face. We were shown maps of older than this country, villages that were destroyed when Israel was created and as well as seeing that it really reminded me of our own history and when we came back and moving toward Thanksgiving an Asian American ally of ours sent an article about, K J Noh sent an article about the history of Thanksgiving and it brought out a lot of the stories that you’re talking about and that we’ve covered before but it really struck me, the solidarity around the world. The indigenous struggle is not just a US struggle. It is a global struggle and what kind of relations do you see between indigenous peoples in the United States and people around the world?
JLP: Yeah. So, I mean that’s one of the sort of like the misconceptions is that when we talk about Indigenous, we’re not just talking about Indians here in the United States of America, we’re also talking about the Maori in New Zealand, the Sami in Norway and so what we have done at North American Indian Center in Boston, we’ve actually opened our doors, even though we have sort of an international scope because of the Jay Treaty we have First Nations that come from Canada and live and work in Boston. So we already have that type of international scope but we’re seeing our brothers and sisters from Central and South America in ICE detention who are not Spanish speakers, you know they’re speakers of Quechua and so it’s like what can we do to help our brothers and sisters in detention as they are. Or you know during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, we had delegations from Colombia, from New Zealand come to our center and they wanted to know exactly how we’re working with our local communities because even though we are different, we are similar because our nations are continuing despite the dominant nation-states that are imposed upon our traditional lands. So when we’re talking about nation-states, of course here, we’re talking about the United States and you know, what does that relation look like with the tribes that are still continuing to this day? We’re talking about New Zealand and what does that relationship look like with the Maori? And so forth and all of us are trying to figure out you know how to deal with all of these symptoms of suicide rates and addiction but the core of it is like what those relations look like, how those promises are being honored and how other entities like corporations and so forth are abusing our rights. And so we’re trying to get at some of those core issues. You brought up Palestine and I just wanted to just throw in there at the last public testimony hearing of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight here in Massachusetts, there was a bill heard on changing the state flag and seal, a commission to change the state flag and seal. Also during that hearing there was a bill being heard that was anti-BDS. And so we had people that were Palestinian, people that were allies and we each had our stickers and so some people had a Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda stickers along with you know, I want my right to boycott. And so seeing those people with both of those stickers on, you know on their chest like that, it was it was a really evocative image of like this is what solidarity looks like.
MF: That’s powerful. Yeah, and I just remember during the protest out at Standing Rock, the hundreds and hundreds of tribes that came together. I just had never witnessed anything like that before and that was incredibly powerful to see those connections being made.
JLP: Yeah. Yeah. And we just want to like throw out there, you know Standing Rock was not and is not the only front. We’re talking about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana. We’re talking about Trans Pecos in Texas. We’re talking about the Sable Trail in Florida, but we’re also talking about the mega-dams in Canada. We’re talking about, you know, the burning of the forests in South America, we’re talking about a lot of things that are happening that are not in our control. So to speak like the control of indigenous peoples were talking about things that are happening that are being imposed upon us. So again, we’re not just talking about us being a factor of history, but actually colonialism. How is that actually ongoing? What does the warfare look like today? You know, what does it mean when our children are being separated from our families either in ICE detention centers or even in boarding schools? That’s still continuing to this day as well for our American Indian communities here in the United States.
MF: Even children being separated from their parents by Child Protective Services, you know that there are high rates of poverty and other social ills that come when you oppress a people and squeeze them into small areas. So yeah a lot of connections there.
KZ: I had one question. I look at the treatment of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of African Americans forced here from Africa to be property of large landowners, I see those as kind of the twin founding evils and one reason we cover these issues on Popular Resistance and on this show is because I think the first step toward dealing with this is understanding reality. How do you see, I mean is there a potential for a Truth and Reconciliation process on indigenous issues in the United States and if that was something that enough political power developed to make happen, how could something like that work from indigenous perspective?
JLP: That is something that is starting now. North American Indian Center has partnered with the Upstander Project, which has produced a documentary “Dawn Land,” which focuses on the separation of Indian children going into boarding schools particularly in Maine and in Maine, there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was put together to address that issue. And so we do have a model for that here in the United States. I do want to kind of like build off of the idea of black and Indigenous solidarity in that sort of shared history because most recently, you know being from New Orleans, I went back home and I participated in the Dred Scott Reenactment of the 1811 German Coast Uprising and not only were there black slaves but there were Native American, American Indian slaves as well, indigenous peoples that were enslaved as well. And so all of us were walking in the path of our ancestors, all of us were chanting as people did during that Uprising, “Freedom or death,” “On to New Orleans,” “We’re going to end slavery.” We’re saying all of this 200 years after our ancestors marched in a landscape of plantations, but now that landscape, not only are the plantations still there, but there are strip malls and oil refineries. So when we’re saying, you know “Freedom or death,” when we’re saying, “Liberte” you know, we’re saying those things that our ancestors said but what are we really saying? And I think that that’s what that speaks to is the power of what does it mean when black and Indigenous people are able to tell our own stories and I think that that’s really, you know outside of having some sort of like official entity of the federal government or of state government. What is the real power of centering the voices of black and Indigenous people? And you know, how can everybody come together to actually, you know, get that voice out there? Change that narrative because right now we’re in a situation where American Indian genocide is an uncomfortable truth for people to grapple with, you know, in the establishment or talk about African-American reparations, that is also uncomfortable for people but the more that we talk about our own histories the more that the actual lineal descendants talk about that, the histories of their ancestors, the more we’ll be able to shift, you know, people’s comfort zone so that we can actually get to the truth of the matter.
MF: That’s fundamental and it’s that knowledge. We always talk about this, that it’s that knowledge and understanding, that awareness. That’s the first step to changing these wrongs that have been going on for such a long time. Jean-Luc thank you so much for the work that you’re doing and thank you for taking time to join us today on Clearing the FOG.
JLP: Thank you and for your listeners if they can go to NAICOB dot org or MA indigenous agenda dot-org they can find out more information about all the stuff that we talked about. Thank you.