Friday, April 10, 2009

Being an Indian in America: the Shonto Pete Story

There is no doubt a certain level of prejudice in every one of us. It is nothing to be ashamed of - it is a byproduct of the environment in which we were raised. It only becomes problematic when these prejudices overshadow our own reason and inhibit our ability to interact... be it with individuals of other sexes, ethnicities, cultures, or even regions. So, what happens when these prejudices turn to hatred?

Famous cases of such revealed prejudices are Gibson's anti-Semitic drunken rant, Michael Richards' rant in the comedy night club, and most famously but never talked about, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The BIA is the last official legal form of subjugation based strictly on ethnicity - aimed at perpetually impeding Indian Tribes' ability to overcome impoverishment. It is, in a way, the government's own condoning of state sponsored racism - not to mention the protectorate of the modern day concentration camps, called reservations.

In many of my previous postings on this topic, I have discussed these governmental problems surrounding the BIA - and in the case of Mary Ramos and her son, I have delved into the subject of Indian Child Welfare Act... Today, i would like to discus Shonto Pete, an Indian shot in the head (who has survived) by a drunk off-duty police officer who pursued out of hatred, with continuous threats that he intended to kill.

The police officer claimed that he was trying to stop Shonto, who he had claimed attempted to steal his truck. Shonto was found not guilty of the alleged attempted auto theft.

The police officer was put on administrative leave for two years, regardless of drunk driving and carrying and discharging a weapon while intoxicated. These are two clear violations which should have cost the officer his badge. This comes after a jury acquited the officer, Jay Olsen, of first degree assault and reckless endangerment (for drunkenly discharging his firearm in a housing community):
Olsen refused to talk to journalists assembled in the courthouse hallway, staying in the courtroom and deferring to his attorney, Rob Cossey.
“This trial was very intense. If (Olsen) had been convicted, he’d be facing a lot of
years in prison,” Cossey said. Asked if Olsen would likely be returning to his job as a swing-shift patrol officer in the Spokane Police Department, Cossey said he doubts it.
“He committed significant violations of department policy. I don’t think he’s getting his job back,” Cossey said. Those violations included getting drunk while off-duty in a local bar with a concealed weapon strapped to his waist, and chasing Pete but not calling 911 or police dispatch during the confrontation

There may be a civil case pending, for damages resulting from the shooting.

However, there is an underlying question regarding the system, the officer, and the perception of Indians in America.

In discussing Indian Affairs with a former high ranking member of the GOP, there was an underlying tone of prejudice against "reservation culture" - the belief that a Reservation Indian is somehow especially despicable, and labelled as drunk, violent or otherwise unstable. This is a perception perpetuated by the BIA, and their destructive policy of "ruling the reservations."

Would Shonto have been pursued or shot at if he were not Indian? Would the officer have been acquitted if Shonto were not Indian? Is there less justice in our society for individuals who adhere to their Indian Ancestry or who "appear as Indian" in our society? Is it an unspoken crime in our United States to be Indian?

So long as the United States Government holds lands in trust, by force, blocking the self government and community building needed for their societies to once again thrive, the Indian Peoples of this land will continue to be the target of prejudice, the victims of poverty, and perpetually derided in our society as a mythical creature of the old west.

I have posed this question once before, and I do so again... what is your own perception of Indians... when you imagine an Indian, do you feel disgust for the poverty stricken reservation Indian, do you feel curiosity for such a forgotten culture, do you feel empathy as an ancestor of a subjugated people, or do you look at the situation with apathy?

The worst crime against humanity has happened, and is happening within our own society... but for some reason we have accepted it as status quo.

What does it mean to be Indian in America?


  1. Shonto's MotherApril 10, 2009 at 1:49 PM

    I am an Indian and to me being Indian in America means that I am still surviving after years and years of oppression. I am still proud of who I am and pass that pride on to my children as long as I am alive. In my heart I have pride that I learned from my ancestors, my yaya (grandmother on my mother's side) taught me to accept all races of people. We are all human beings and all a part of creation. There is a reason for the different races. Some people have not learned to respect that. They have been brought up wrong and think more of material things than in respecting the Earth, the Sky, the Sun, the four leggeds, the winged and other races of people except their own. It is sad to say the least. I don't accept it when these hate mongers kill and get away with it. I don't accept it when I get put down for being Indian.

  2. Shonto's MotherApril 10, 2009 at 2:18 PM

    When put down for bing Indian I just ignore it and feel sorry for the ones who put down others for their own gain. The Olsen trial was a one-sided one. I attended it and saw much wrong. It was a big set up with facts suppressed from the start. I hope to get this wrong righted. We are right with the Creator and we need to pray more as there is more to this than meets the eye. Its time to act and not take the unjust ways. I feel there is good and bad in all races. We just have to find the ones who are good and appeal to them in a good way. It takes time and patience but we can't give up.

  3. Hey Thats good stuff there brings tears to my eye lemlemch snpaqci

  4. i'm proud of being indian in usa because people hate us and that's what the true indians want.

  5. We always talk about first generation who came to America, what would happen to the follwoing generations - would our Indian identity be lost??? Will this remain a foreign land forever even if we have good share in SSN??? - MA