Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Sound of Silence...

MASHPEE - Happy New Year! My New Year wish for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is "balance". Why do I say balance? We seem to be a people of extremes and the problem with extremes are that they prevent things from happening. Case in point, the tribe requested that people not speak to the media around social and political issues within the tribe. One one level this was an excellent move as much of what goes on is nobody's business and most of the press is pretty anti-tribe for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, this silencing comes accompanied with a certain censoring of all Wampanoags from doing or saying things publicly. For example, I was asked not to give a lecture on Black Indians and folklore under this gag order. While my lecture has absolutely nothing to do with the social and political affairs of the tribe, somehow this was seen as an issue. I'm a communicator by nature and have no desire to to represent myself as the voice of Mashpee Wampanoags; I speak for myself.

While there have been a number of people, for whatever reason, have tried to derail the progress of their own tribe. In some cases, the economic and social jeopardy that their actions put the 2000+ tribal members in was of no concern to them because they have the economic means to take care of themselves. Therefore, halting the economic, educational, social, health, and housing programs of the tribe was of no concern to them. However, under this silence, individuals have come under public attack for simply criticizing the way things are being done by the council. Even though this criticism has been internal, the attacks upon them have been very, very public. 

To some extent, I'm reminded of the McCarthy era and the House on Un-American Activities, whereby people were publicly paraded in front of congressional hearings and accused of communism based on hearsay and flimsy evidence. Unfortunately, gossip has always been a part of our community and we are quick to jump to conclusions about people and eachother based on very flimsy evidence. We also mistake personal issues with our ability to function as a people. The problem with this? WE ARE SOVEREIGN, a government can't be run that way, especially one where they are less then 5000 people involved. We can't afford to have internal enemies. In line with McCarthy, I'm reminded of the words of Edward Murrow, "If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox... Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the ... confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought."

The bottom line: I didn't know Sovereignty would be so oppressive.

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