Polygamy news: Utah ruling and Canadian name-rights case

The affect of polygamy on children remains one of the most contentious issues of that institution. Image:Teens from polygamous families, Wikimedia

The affect of polygamy on children remains one of the most contentious issues of that institution.
Image: Teens from polygamous families, Wikimedia

Did you ever imagine polygamy would become so…topical?

Confession time: I have never seen any of the TV shows that have sprung up on this topic. The few books I have read on the subject left me with a decidedly dim view of polygamy.

While I can accept a theoretical right for adults to choose their own relationships, I see valid reasons to find polygamy objectionable. Critics allege that in many polygamous sects girls are raised to be married off young, at the whim of male elders, without much ability to dissent. Boys may be exploited for their labor then jettisoned as surplus competition for mates. Some would consider that sex crimes and child abuse – at least as adjudicated by conventional standards.

Anyway, this week saw an important ruling out of Utah. As reported by the International Business Times:

A federal judge has struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, following a lawsuit brought by the family featured in the reality TV show “Sister Wives.”

The ruling effectively decriminalizes polygamy in the state, while maintaining bigamy as an offense.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups’ ruling follows a similar order that he handed down last year. The final ruling on that case was delayed due to procedural matters.

The ruling strikes down a provision of Utah’s anti-bigamy statute, that can be applied when someone “cohabits with another person” to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The judge found that the statute violated the family’s freedom of religion.

Bigamy, you’ll recall, is the offense of being married to more than one person at the same time. That’s still illegal. For now. But apparently it’s become difficult to legislate against polygamous co-habitation that falls short of bigamy. (Which make sense. I mean, once it became legal to live together outside of marriage, something most have come to accept, how can one legislate against multiple co-habitation among consulting adults?)

Meanwhile, in the courts of British Columbia, the Vancouver Sun reports that

Polygamist Winston Blackmore is fighting the mainstream Mormon church in court for the right to use the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Blackmore has registered the name in B.C. and won’t give it up. It’s all because of polygamy.

In response to a civil suit launched in June by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Blackmore argues that he and his 500-or-so followers deserve the name because they continue to practise polygamy as an essential tenet of their beliefs, just as Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith set out in 1838.

Blackmore is part of a sect of Mormons known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Buzzfeed has this eclectic list of 19 things you probably don’t know about FLDS polygamists.

The larger, U.S.-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) initially repudiated “plural marriage” in 1890 and makes a point of renouncing that practice today. So the question of trademarks and brand (if you will) over who gets to use the name is naturally contentious. As the Vancouver Sun explains, the LDS may have dropped the ball on protecting their name:

But the problem for the church is that it never registered the name in Canada.

So, in May 2010, Blackmore cleverly registered “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” in British Columbia, omitting the hyphen and putting the capital letter on “Day.”

While the number of mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons in Canada remains small relative to the U.S., LDS history does include early outreach into Canada.

Writing for the National Post, Tristan Hopper explores how no less than martyred Church founder Joseph Smith once went knocking door-to-door in Upper Canada back in 1833, without much success:

Crossing the border in October, likely with only a small carriage, Smith dubbed Canada “very fine country” and “well cultivated.” But, he also said he “had many peculiar feelings in relation to both the country and people.”

The feeling was apparently mutual.

Unlike the Americans, Canadians never assaulted, killed or tarred-and-feathered any visiting Mormons, but many did react negatively to Yankee strangers telling them they had gotten Christianity all wrong.

“It was seen as sectarian and fanatical and there’s improbable claims, right?” said William Goddard, a local historian in Hamilton, Ont. “’Angels and golden bibles, so how can we put any faith in this?’”

It’s an interesting article about a little-known over-lap of Mormon and Canadian history.

Utah polygamists in prison, circa 1889

Portrait of Mormon polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, circa 1889. Image: Wikimedia Commons


Arctic tour puts unintended spotlight on climate change

This August, Stephen Harper became the first Canadian Prime Minister to travel to the Northwest Passage. Photo: Prime Minister's Office

This August, Stephen Harper became the first Canadian Prime Minister to travel the Northwest Passage. Photo: Prime Minister’s Office

For 9 years running, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent part of his summers touring Canada’s Arctic regions, including this year’s Operation Nanook 14.

He goes to wave the flag and bolster territorial claims in the area. He goes in anticipation of a coming boom once resources and shipping are more accessible. And many think he goes from a genuine respect for the history and potential of the far north.

On tour, or back in Ottawa, what Canada’s most important political figure seldom discusses is a little thing called climate change. Which is odd, considering how the Arctic absolutely, utterly proves that something big is happening to our planet.

Particularly in the U.S., one can still get arguments about the cause of receding glaciers, changes in sea ice, and shifts in weather, animal and plant life. But in the Arctic, it’s virtually impossible to deny major changes are happening, often even faster than initially predicted.

Residents there know that first-hand. The Arctic Rangers, a mostly-indigenous civilian reservist force that patrols the region, say nearly everything is changing. As reported by the Canadian Press:

“The elders used to be able to predict the weather by looking at the clouds; they can’t do that anymore. You can’t predict the weather anymore,” was a typical comment on the impact of climate change, which has reduced snow cover, led to earlier springs and generated fiercer winter winds.

Snowmobiles are becoming less available as the snow disappears, making it harder to travel.

“We never used to have forest fires. Now we have more and more each summer,” said one participant.

“There are new species now like small birds, ducks, salmon, foxes, grizzlies and an unknown species that is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly,” said another. “We never used to see any of these species before.”

Meanwhile, staples of the indigenous northern diet — caribou, seal and polar bear — are migrating north to escape the warmer weather, leaving fewer animals to hunt.

“Polar bears used to be fat and tasty,” said one ranger. “They taste different now.”

And the Arctic is no longer a natural refrigerator for the hunt, said some.

“When we are on the land and living in tents, we dig holes to put the carcasses in to keep them frozen. Now even six feet down it is not frozen.”

Natural Resources Canada map showing

Natural Resources Canada map of estimated burn sites near Yellowknife NWT, toward the end of the 2014 fire season.

CBC news reports the fire season has been unusually bad in the Northwest Territories this year:

The worst forest fire season in decades has ravaged about 33,000 square kilometres of land — an area larger than the size of Vancouver Island.

Most of the destruction has been in the North Slave region, where Alfred Arrowmaker hunts and traps.

“I went out weeks ago, looking for moose, and there was nothing there. Everything is burned. There is absolutely nothing out there,” Arrowmaker says.

“I have lived in Gameti my whole life, and I have never seen this kind of fire in my life before.

Micheal Den Tandt traveled with Prime Minister Harper’s entourage for Postmedia News. Summarizing the tour, Den Tandt said it went very well, on the whole. With two glaring exceptions.

Problem one is improving the many frustrations and poor conditions still faced by Canada’s indigenous populations. And, as Den Tandt put it,

The second elephant in the room is, of course, climate change. In the Arctic this is neither debate nor symbol; it is a fact on the ground. Moreover, it’s one the government clearly recognizes, at least in deed. The opening of northern sea routes now in its infancy underpins virtually every aspect of the Harper government’s Arctic strategy, from the search for the Franklin ships, to the need to project sovereignty northward, to the military’s Operation Nanook on Tuesday, which envisioned a tourist ship running aground in York Sound, near the Davis Strait.

None of this would be happening were it not for the gradual withdrawal of the summer ice. Climate change is a fundamental to the emerging geography of the Canadian Arctic. And yet, the two words “climate change” were not uttered a single time over the span of six days, by the PM or any of his ministers, that I am aware of. At this late juncture, with the Arctic so central to their plans, that is simply astonishing.

Readers who are still with me are probably interested in the Arctic as a region. So I wanted to call attention to a fascinating article in the New York Times on the mystery of what happened to the Dorset, an Arctic people who survived well in isolation for 4,000 years before vanishing about 700 years ago.

The article concerns a new study published in Science Magazine this August ”The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic“ which examined DNA evidence to conclude the Dorset were not absorbed into surviving populations.

Researchers feel the Dorset likely had problems caused by their too-isolated gene pool. But the coup de grâce may have been environmental, according to New York University professor Todd R. Disotell (who was not part of the DNA study):

Another possibility, Dr. Disotell explained, is that the Dorset braved generations of harsh tundra conditions only to succumb to the effects of climate change. In the Arctic, even minor shifts in temperature can devastate marine life, cutting off vital food sources. The archaeological record, in fact, suggests that several such events had nearly wiped out the Paleo-Eskimos before.

“When you’re dealing with sea ice, just a few degrees can be transformative,” Dr. Disotell said. “Three bad winters in a row where you can’t hunt seals, and you’re in trouble.”

Of course, some will seize upon the fact that climate has changed – dramatically – long before humans were burning carbon counts as another challenge to today’s understanding of global warming and its causes.

But maybe the salient point is this: climate change matters. Argue all you like about what causes it. Just admit that some of these shifts become issues of survival.

A striking image from the Prime Minister's 2014 Arctic tour.

A striking image from the Prime Minister’s 2014 Arctic tour. Photo: PMO

Tax hassle leads to increased renunciation of US citizenship

Record numbers are opting out of U.S. citizenship because of strict new filing requirements for those living abroad.

Record numbers are opting out of U.S. citizenship because of strict new filing requirements for those living abroad.

I’ve written before about how recent changes in U.S. tax laws are causing misery for Americans who live and work abroad. The problem is largely invisible within the U.S., but continues to make waves in the ex-pat community.

Consider this from Forbes contributor Robert W. Wood (8/19):

Never heard of FATCA? You will. FATCA—the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act—is America’s global tax law. It was quietly enacted in 2010, and after a four-year ramp up, it’s finally in effect. What is most amazing is not its impact on Americans—although that is considerable—but its impact on the world. Yes, the whole world.

Never before has an American tax law attempted such an astounding reach.

Wood’s full article explains why the scope of FATCA is so audacious. This lengthy article from the Wall Street Journal gives examples of “minnows” caught up in nets designed to catch big tax cheats.

Global News says this is creating a crush of applications to renounce U.S. citizenship:

Dundas-based tax and immigration lawyer David Lesperance said on Twitter yesterday that he booked 2014’s last renunciation appointment at the Toronto consulate for a client on Tuesday.

In an e-mail Tuesday, the Toronto consulate said the earliest date they could book for a renunciation is January 22, 2015.

Until recently, appointments to renounce U.S. citizenship in Toronto could be made within three to six weeks, said Toronto-based cross-border tax accountant Kevyn Nightingale, who specializes in tax advice for people giving up U.S. citizenship.

In my February post on this topic a number of readers asked why the fuss? After all, the vast majority will owe no additional tax. But the requirements, the reporting hoops and the penalties for non-compliance are the stuff of nightmares. Which means simple compliance is very burdensome.

Nightingale says he charges $1,000-$1,500 for “very simple” U.S. returns.

“Filing U.S. tax returns is complex, and the reason is that everything that happens to a U.S. citizen in Canada is foreign. People who are able to do their Canadian tax returns easily and relatively cheaply, once you add the foreign layer on to it, ordinary people have problems that need to be dealt with sophisticated tax people.”

“This is a giant, expensive hassle” is one complaint. Then there is a corollary issue of so-called accidental Americans, most of whom are dual-nationals with no ties to life in the U.S. who are also bound by the new obligations.

There is a legal challenge right now regarding Canada’s effort to comply without compromising Canadian privacy concerns. The Financial Post quotes Roy Berg, director, U.S. tax law at Calgary’s Moodys Gartner Tax Law as saying that cure is worse than the disease:

“The plaintiffs seem to think that victory means reversion to a pre-FATCA world,” Mr. Berg says. “Unless the U.S. Congress or the U.S. courts repeal or invalidate the legislation, that’s not what’s going to happen.”

This is where I wish I could point to something that appears to offer some remedy to the mess. Sorry! Haven’t found that yet.

Observers doubt FATCA will be repealed. Which is why the line up to dump U.S. Citizenship is long and getting longer.

Free cookbook makes inexpensive eating fun

Click here for free .pdf version of this cookbook

Click for a free .pdf version of this cookbook

Here’s a “feel-good” story that isn’t especially new, but deserves more attention. Specifically, a free cookbook designed to help anyone living on a tight budget enjoy food that’s healthful, delicious and very economical.

The item did appear on NCPR’s regional news page in early August, sort of buried away as something from NPR with a Canada tag. Having just stumbled across that, I want to call it out as a great story, produced by Molly Roberts, an intern at NPR’s Washington bureau.

Here’s the article: “Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How to Eat Well on a Food Stamp Budget”. (Yes, please go the original coverage.)

When Leanne Brown moved to New York from Canada to earn a master’s in food studies at New York University, she couldn’t help noticing that Americans on a tight budget were eating a lot of processed foods heavy in carbs.

“It really bothered me,” she says. “The 47 million people on food stamps — and that’s a big chunk of the population — don’t have the same choices everyone else does.”

Brown guessed that she could help people in SNAP, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, find ways to cook filling, nourishing and flavorful meals. So she set out to write a cookbook full of recipes anyone could make on a budget of just $4 a day.

The result is Good and Cheap, which is free online and has been downloaded over 200,000 times since she posted it on her website in early June. A July Kickstarter campaign also helped Brown raise $145,000 to print copies for people without computer access.

Download the book by clicking on the link in the paragraph quoted above. The Kickstarter page has more info too.

All sorts of people are interested in eating well on a budget, as explored by former NCPR interns Kelly Bartlett and Natalie Dignam in a “dorm chef” post from earlier this summer.

Even high-end foodies are told time and time again by gurus like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan that the the first thing everyone should do more is cook real food at home. As Pollan told Bittman,

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

Good and Cheap author Leanne Brown shares that view:

I think everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.

Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.

The Kickstarter campaign produced 6,000 free physical copies of the book, but that supply has been exhausted. Brown says non-profits can order copies at $4 each through this link during the month of August. She is also working on a a Spanish edition and would welcome volunteer help making that happen.

It’s times like these that NY needs a vibrant GOP


Rob Astorino (center) wants to replace Andrew Cuomo as New York’s governor. But a lot of New York voters aren’t even giving him, or his Republican Party, a serious look. Photo: Astorino campaign

The last couple of years, the Democratic Party in New York has been hammered with ethics and corruption scandals. It’s not a new phenomenon, but the drum beat of allegations, prosecutions and convictions is so steady that Governor Andrew Cuomo found himself joking about it in an interview with public radio’s Susan Arbetter.

“Seems like every week there’s another open seat, given the travails of our friends in the legislature,” Cuomo laughed. The joke boomeranged this summer when the New York Times’ three-month investigation found that Cuomo’s own staff had intervened directly in the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, with the newspaper concluding that Cuomo’s office “deeply compromised the panel’s work.”

Federal investigations are now underway, but one curious phenomenon is becoming more and more clear: Despite the Democratic Party’s shoddy track record for self-policing and purging its own miscreants — including those politicians accused of severe sexual harassment — Republicans have failed to make gains in the polls.

After weeks of brutal press and his own clumsy responses to the scandal, Governor Cuomo is still beating Republican challenger Rob Astorino by nearly 30 points. “Is the governor’s race all over? Did it ever start?” Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll said in a statement.

The bottom line is that the GOP has become almost completely marginalized in statewide politics. The party doesn’t hold a single statewide office and seems incapable of mounting a serious challenge for those positions.

Aggressive gerrymandering and some skillful political maneuvering in Albany has allowed Republicans to cling to a fragile quasi-majority in the state Senate, staving off complete irrelevance, but even in those races voters statewide prefer Democratic politicians by wide margins. (When you add up all the votes cast in state Senate races, Democrats garner significantly more support.)

This is deeply problematic, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. There is no reason that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Alphonse D’Amato and George Pataki shouldn’t be able to provide a credible, coherent alternative for voters, particularly when Democrats are busily shaming themselves in Albany.

Unfortunately, the GOP has steadily eroded its own popularity with average New Yorkers while falling into a deadly cycle of feuds and embraces with the Conservative Party and the Tea Party. Rather than producing a sound, detailed plan that would attract a wider base of support, Republicans continue to be wooed by national red-button issues that just don’t play well in the Empire state, from gun rights to opposition to gay marriage to hostility to Obamacare.

Republicans have also failed to embrace the reality of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic New York. Instead of recruiting candidates of color, bringing blacks, Hispanics and Asians into leadership posts, and developing issues and ideas that address the problems of minority voters, too many GOP leaders have continued to rely on old narratives about “Upstate vs. Downstate” and “New York state versus New York City.” Everyone understands what those code-phrases mean. We get how the battle lines are drawn.

But the demographic imperative for abandoning that fight is clear. Only 70% of New Yorkers are white. That’s ten percent fewer than in the nation as a whole and the numbers of whites are certain to dwindle rapidly census by census. If Republicans hope to compete, and provide a viable choice to voters, they need to end their reliance on one demographic group as a base of support.

The alternative is what we’re seeing now. Even when significant questions are being raised about the Democratic leadership, their ideas, their ethics, a majority of New York voters simply don’t see the GOP as an option. It may be that scandals and outrages will grow serious enough by November to change that in 2014, but I’m skeptical.

Rob Astorino has proved himself to be an able campaigner. He’s a veteran politician with some interesting ideas. Voters should be giving him a serious look. But right now, the burden of his party’s brand is just too heavy. Forced to choose between a candidate like Cuomo, now viewed by many as flawed, and a Republican Party viewed by many New Yorkers as flatly unacceptable, a lot of voters don’t see any choice at all.

One candidate can’t change that dynamic. But the GOP’s leadership needs to go to the mountaintop and think hard about its values, its message, its demographic appeal. It’s not enough to wait around and hope that the Democrats will continue blowing themselves up. Republicans need to once again become a credible, familiar, viable choice for all New Yorkers, from the Bronx and Brooklyn to Buffalo and Plattsburgh.


Progressives gather in Ottawa for “Peoples Social Forum”

Happening now in Ottawa.

Happening now in Ottawa.

A progressive I know steadfastly maintains mainstream media is enslaved by tiresome voices from the right and the left. Just so much Tweedledum and Tweedledee, no real choice at all.

There’s lots of room to debate the state of choice in political life. But it is a fact of life that voices outside the mainstream have a harder time getting equal attention within our usual circles of news.

So, in the spirit of the marketplace of ideas, let it be known that many, many progressive products are being hawked in Ottawa this weekend.

Here’s how event organizers bill the next few days:

Peoples Social Forum: Ottawa, August 21-24, 2014 Build together, win together! The Future is Ours!

I was in grade school in the heady 60s, not at any free speech sit-ins at Berkeley. But the sound of this reminds me of the “teach in” movement, sort of. There are at least 17 formal themes (climate, communication, knowledge, work, etc.)

According to the Ottawa Citizen, organizers are predicting “…the largest gathering of social movements in Canadian history.”

More than 3,000 people have registered for the forum, so far, and hundreds of people are volunteering for the event, organizers say.

“House an activist” posters have been up throughout Ottawa, and many people have offered lodging for participants who can’t afford it, said organizer Darius Mirshahi. About 1,000 rooms are booked at the University of Ottawa dormitories.

A fair number of street marches are planned as well, with the potential to tie up traffic.

So, something to avoid, if you prefer life as usual. Something to consider if the flame of progressive action speaks to your inner activist.

Definitely a menu with more choices than tired old political Party A or equally-frayed political Party B.

Does democracy work if your politician is a no-show?

vacant districtThis morning we’re airing a special report from WNYC, our sister station in New York City, about the remarkable number of empty legislative seats in Albany.  Thirteen seats, in theory representing roughly 2 million New Yorkers — many of them black, Hispanic or Asian — sit unfilled.  In many cases they’ve been empty for more than half of the last elected term.

The causes vary:  scandals, people taking higher-paying jobs, and so on.  But the outcomes are the same:  citizens without clear representation.  “It’s the kind of situation where they have no voice at all, and that is something that should be unacceptable,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute on Latino Policy, in an interview with WNYC’s Karen Rouse.

As I listened to Karen’s story, I kept thinking about all the ways that our Assembly members and state Senators fill niches in North Country life, the connections they make in Albany, the problems they sort out.  What would we do without them?

I also found myself wondering why I haven’t heard more about this.  We hear all the time about “voter fraud,” despite the fact that studies show it to be, factually speaking, a non-issue.  The most recent report found that approximately 31 false ballots had been cast in a pool of votes that topped 1 billion.  (That’s billion with a B.)

It’s puzzling right?  We obsess about a statistical irrelevance and we don’t talk at all about millions of our neighbors and fellow citizens who have no voice at all, or only a limited voice, in the state capital.  Check out WNYC’s report, if you missed it, by clicking here.  And then chime in.  How important is your representation in Albany?  And would you be mad if you got a “we’re closed for business” answering machine message next time you called your lawmaker?

The Souls of White Folk

soulsofwhitefolokA little more than a hundred years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a book of essays that strove to examine “the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.” It strikes me, watching the violence and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, that it is long past time for an equally great author to write a similar text about the souls of white folks.

I’m not that writer, but I think I can point to some of the questions that he or she might pose to the rest of us who live in an America where whites will soon become one minority among many, one racial tribe among a family of tribes.

First, I would ask how it is that so many of us who are white have been encouraged and trained to forget the agony and burden of our own history?

We are a nation that often describes itself as “Christian” and “European,” meaning that we are comfortable thinking of a man who lived 2,000 years ago as a present and inspirational figure in our moral lives. We talk about the long chain of ideas that stretch back through the Puritans of England, the Enlightenment philosophers of France and Italy, even as far back as the thinkers of ancient Rome and Greece.

Yet we rush eagerly to pretend that events that occurred on our own soil a century ago, or a decade ago, or last year are somehow old news–dead history. We stand proudly on the shoulders of giants when talking about our national greatness, yet we insist cravenly that the crimes of our forefathers have no bearing on present circumstances.

This kind of deliberate ignorance is not a sign of strength or courage, but a symptom of deep, abiding shame.

Racism grows from many seeds in America. But the most robust and the most poisonous, surely, is this kernel of sad and secret guilt, which we hide away behind euphemisms and sly bigotry and code words and unexamined privilege. This is the strange meaning of being white in 21st century America.

We know the facts–or at least anyone does who has not chosen to embrace the intoxicating bigotry of TV networks and websites that peddle deception and propaganda. We know that we have inherited the vast prosperity of a nation built on stolen labor and stolen soil, our foundations laid in the suffering and the evil malignancy of slavery and land-theft. Not just in the South, but across the United States, the seed corn of our present wealth was planted not with a fish to nurture its growth, but side-by-side with the ruined and used-up bodies of human beings.

The liberties that we cherished in our documents and in our bold words grew, unsound and untested, around the canker of peoples shackled and peoples thrown violently from their ancestral territories. In the 1860s we conducted a Civil War in an effort to purge this sickness, hoping to buy in fresh blood some redemption from the old stain. But the surgery was crude and primitive and from the damaged body of our nation grew new deformities, new diseases.

The last 150 years of American history have been a study in secret white rage, savage violence and race-hatred.

After the Civil War, America’s whites launched a war of oppression and slaughter against the Native tribes of the West, a siege that lasted at least until 1907, when the US Cavalry was still skirmishing with Navajo tribesmen.

We erected a government-sanctioned system of white privilege and opportunity known broadly as “Jim Crow,” that insured well into the 1960s that blacks would be denied the freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution.

Decade by decade, whites showered insults and brutalities on African Americans; and at every turn we pretended, in our sickly shame, that blacks were themselves at fault for our own shattering falseness. We allowed a system of terror and oppression to exist across the United States — not just in the South — that decorated our land with the “strange fruit” of black men and boys dangling dead from trees. They were tortured and murdered not by thugs and hooligans, but by the upstanding citizens and officers of the peace of our sacred small towns.

While the rest of America grew and prospered and saw its seed corn grow up into great cities and suburbs and 21st century industries, blacks were again and again denied the ability to buy homes in our best, safest neighborhoods.

They were deliberately excluded from the businesses and the clubs and the schools and the churches — often, from whole communities — where our growing bounty was nurtured and shared.

Meanwhile, along that terrible journey, whites kept telling themselves pernicious lies about blacks. Blacks were to blame for their own poverty. Blacks were to blame for their lack of wealth, for their lack of opportunity. We invented and nurtured the comfortable fiction that black men are criminals and drug addicts and “thugs.” We used them as bugbears in our political campaigns, as symbols of disorder and chaos.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when we saw black communities foundering in a wave of poverty, joblessness, addiction and lack of education we responded, not with a Marshall Plan to help raise up their communities, but instead we created a vast and growing network of militarized police, and public and private prisons. We reinvented our criminal justice system so that it began, almost overnight, to funnel tens of millions of black men into jail cells.

Whites committing the same crimes were, in the vast majority of cases, sent for drug rehabilitation, for job retraining, parole, or for military service. Blacks, by contrast, were made into an army of felons, and permanently denied many of the basic dignities and rights of citizenship.

Along the way, we watched as the growing army of overwhelmingly white police failed to perform the basic and fundamental public service of making black communities safe. Instead, blacks found themselves “stopped and frisked” without cause. They found themselves being watched and stopped and harassed with a frequency that no white American would tolerate. They found their young men, even those who were unarmed, guilty of no crime or only minor infractions, lying dead in police shootings.

It is time and long past time for a great American scribe to take up the challenge of examining the strange souls of white folks who live in this great nation and who bear the great burden of this racial legacy. It is time to demand a new chapter in our history, one of remembrance, one of accountability, one of courage, and one of penance.

W.E.B. Du Bois talked in his book about the halls of Jubilee, with its bricks “red with the blood and dust of toil.” That is undeniably the foundation of our great America. We are a remarkable nation, but we sank a great part of our taproot into shame and villainy and hatred.

But it is in our spirit, as white Americans and black Americans and Americans generally, to be courageous and to speak plain truths and to pay our debts. The rage in Ferguson, Missouri, gives us one more chance to begin writing this new chapter, one more day on which to wake up and rise up and make ourselves accountable to the vision and idealism and, yes, the higher moral burden laid upon us by citizenship in our Republic.

This great book about the souls of white folks, laying out the steps required for redemption, has yet to be written. In the meantime, there is something that we can all do to begin the healing. Tonight when you see African American men raging on your television screen, don’t waste your time thinking about what those images say about blackness. If you are a white man or woman, that is not your burden, not now, not at this juncture in our history.

Your burden–and it is a grave burden–is to think about what those images say about you and us and whiteness and the long, terrible road that brought us all to Ferguson, Missouri.

Possible evictions from Montréal tribal land for “marrying out”

Bilingual Stop sign in Kahnawake. Image by Peter Van den Bossche, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Bilingual Stop sign in Kahnawake. Image by Peter Van den Bossche, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

What rules are reasonable to protect limited tribal resources? How does who one marries affect cultural integrity?

Like many other specific groups, the Kahnawake Mohawk community on Montréal’s south shore is struggling with those issues.

The main council website includes details on the rules, rights and responsibilities of membership. Membership Law is set forth in a 35 page .pdf that can be found on this webpage.

Here’s the source of on-going struggle and pain:

20.1      A member who:

  1. a)  married, or marries, a non-Indigenous person after May 22, 1981, or

  2. b)  commenced, or commences, after May 22, 1981, a common-law relationship with a person who has no Kanien’kehá:ka or Indigenous lineage, will have their entitlement to receive any of the benefits and services to which they would otherwise be entitled as a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawá:ke, suspended for so long as they remain married or in a common- law relationship with the non-Indigenous person.

(Note: There are exceptions, including permission for relationships established before that date to stay on. )

Enforcement has been intermittent but that may soon change. According to the Montréal Gazette, as many as 200 people could face eviction for being in violation of that rule, including Kahente Horn-Miller.

“What’s going on here isn’t making us a viable community,” she said. “It’s tearing our people apart. It’s tearing our families apart.”

Kahente, a visiting professor of aboriginal studies at Carleton University, explained that, in Mohawk history, membership wasn’t focused on race. “This whole idea of measuring how much blood we have is so foreign to us,” she said. “Our ancestors brought people to replenish the community, not the blood. They brought people into our communities and we’re all descendants of them.”

The issue would perhaps be less fractious if it didn’t involve competition for limited resources. CBC news cited Michael Delisle, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake as saying:

 …Kahnawake’s limited real estate means the 6,500-person community’s ability to grow is stunted, and allowing non-natives onto the reservation takes space away from Mohawks.

Delisle also made the case that non-native people living in Kahnawake largely benefit from the same perks Mohawks are entitled to, notably tax exemption.

This 2010 letter to the editor of the Kahnawake News says the issue needs more thought:

Dear editor,

It seems to me the problems with membership are: 1. it seems it can be taken and given on a whim. One’s membership (citizenship?) should not change depending on your current or past marital status. All non-Natives should have neither status nor be citizens; but spouses should be able to reside (though not own). Children can own and be citizen/members etc… At some point we have to recognize that keeping people out who should be members/citizens in fact weakens the “blood quantum” or Mohawk-ness (if you’ll allow), this becomes a mixed Native community, not Mohawk as the so-called law and council suggest.

2. Demanding that people prove their worth, especially women who were taken off the roll. is both insulting and very “un-Mohawk.” Women should be asked to come back, celebrated in fact, having once been a matriarchal culture, this seems obvious, and the ultimate resistance to the Indian Act. Their children and grandchildren are a lost generation of Mohawks.

So much more to say… but shouldn’t these points be discussed? Are they being discussed? This story doesn’t become about one woman it has to be about all those people who have lost membership for getting married or living with someone. It has to ask how does it create a prolonged culture when those who have been ostracized can never come home….

Someone needs to ask these questions, no?

Christopher Fragnito

A difficult challenge, to be sure. One that is exacerbated by modern pressures, like taxes and competition for limited space.

Amish and “English” come together in response to abduction

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Amish buggies. Archive Photo of the Day: Judy Andrus Toporcer

Here in the North Country, the Amish and English live side by side, neighbor next door to neighbor. Lives intersecting mostly superficially—you stop at the display of baskets set up in a village parking lot, you see the sign “Eggs” on a back road and pick up a dozen, or you just barely avoid a collision with a buggy on a narrow road late at night.

The barriers were crossed yesterday as we English mustered everything we have—cars, phones, helicopters, internet, law enforcement records on sex offenders, search teams—to find the two Amish girls abducted from the vegetable stand in front of their Heuvelton farm.

I live in Amish country. On my road and on every road in the old DeKalb/Depeyster/Heuvelton area, Amish people are our neighbors and, in some cases, our friends. English and Amish were consumed by the abduction. On Route 812 and the side roads off of it, searchers on foot combed the ditches and corn fields. Police and emergency vehicles lined the shoulders; helicopters hovered around Mt. Alone across from the  farm where the girls live. We were all worried and imagining the worst.

My first instinct yesterday was to visit my closest Amish friends who are neighbors and friends with the family whose girls were abducted. Actually, I stopped by their place twice and later met them on the road as they were headed over to lend their support to the family.

My conversation with my Amish friends was the same as my conversation with everyone else I talked with yesterday. We were all sick at heart, worried, horrified. We all agreed that this was a terrible “first” for our community, something shocking that had never happened before.

Because we are friends, I could take it a little deeper: talk about the impact this would have on so many Amish families whose children run the vegetable stands. It’s part of their farm economy. I could mention my horror that people would take advantage of the Amish vulnerability –no phones or cars to use in response to an event like this.

I felt ashamed and somehow responsible—our “sick” English society, you know—for this terrible event.

We shared many of the same feelings. But their perspective is a bit different: they do not feel like “special” or “other” victims. This could happen to anyone. And, they pointed out firmly that as soon as the girls were taken, the family raced to an English neighbor’s home and the police were called within minutes of the abduction.

My Amish friends see the person or persons who abducted the girls as “sick” or even wicked. It was a good vs. bad person or behavior thing. I was trying to lend my Amish friends support through a sharing of the anguish. In fact, they lent me support by making this a human, a family, a parental story rather than an Amish vs. English thing. They made me feel a little better, in the midst of the worry we all shared.

This event may lead to some changes in how Amish families run their vegetable stands, at least in the near future. But I think it has also changed, perhaps in a small way, how our two cultures intersect. This was our collective disaster. We came together from our hearts. Later today, when I see my friends we will share our relief. Isn’t that what everyone across the county is feeling today? Not so Amish vs. English. Just all of us relieved and thankful.