Colonizers In California and Palestine


​I attended a tribal gathering this past Saturday with my husband in Mesa Grande, California. We were each given a large reusable shopping bag, a raffle ticket, a $7 food ticket and a tee shirt. The event was free. This worked out well with our empty pockets. No doubt the casino in Mesa Grande helps enable this generosity at the tribe’s annual gathering, which also included cash prizes for the winners of as assortment of games, including all-night Peon. 

Tracy Lee Nelson played the guitar and sang, but I couldn’t hear him very well. The outdoor PA system was not delivering, and to get closer would have meant standing in the hot sun. I liked where we were sitting under a large shade canopy with a nice breeze blowing toward our backs.

The food we got was a piece of Indian fry bread with a generous scoop of beans, lettuce and tomato on top and a bottle of spring water. I ate the beans and salad off the top of my fry bread like it was a plate and was satisfied. My love ate all his food and then ate my fry bread too, and he didn’t feel well the next day. I felt great.

My husband enjoys his cultural singing and dancing, known as Bird Singing and Bird Dancing. We both enjoy walking around the various booths and talking to the promoters of various products and information. But there really is a lot of sitting time in which I am glad to have an ebook on my phone. I was reading, My Promised Land, the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. 

The natives of California have been colonized, exploited, abused and murdered for several centuries. 1848, the California gold rush,  was a time of particular horror for them. In the brand new US state of California, settlers were actually paid to murder natives. 

One of the biggest years of horror for the Palestinians was 1948, 100 years later. At first the Jews settling Palestine bought land legally and got along with the natives, trading with them and hiring them in their businesses (which were, at that time, mostly agricultural, such as orange groves). Then Islamic terror struck in the form of the murders of Jewish civilians by displaced Palestinians or Arabs who sympathized with them. The Jews, severely traumatized by the recent holocaust in Europe, panicked. Innocent Palestinians were driven from their homes along with the guilty. Many more Palestinians died than did the settling Jews.

Over the nearly 170 years since the mostly white gold panners rushed California, the California natives have gradually been endowed with human rights. They no longer grace the cross-hairs of bounty-hunters’ rifles. They are allowed into public parks and museums. During the 1920s they received the right to vote. 

A generation or two after atrocities occur we whites really do want to make amends. We favored affirmative action to our own detriment because it was the right thing to do. In California and many other states, gambling casinos are illegal except on sovereign Indian land. This is a mixed blessing for the tribes. It is raising their standard of living, but very unevenly, and is also benefiting the tribes’ nontribal business partners perhaps even more. Casinos are full of slick, seductive machines designed to separate gamblers from their money. Casino income is the reason for tribal members being kicked off the rolls, so there is more of the money for those who remain on the tribal rolls, resulting in disappointment, hurt and sometimes litigation. Members of non-federally recognized tribes, such as the Tonva of the Los Angeles basin and the Ahashemen of Orange County, historically two of what were once the most populous tribes in Califirnia, were never granted tribal land, nor are they able to benefit from owning casinos. The claim was made that these tribes had gone extinct, they were all killed off. Many were, but many survived by disguising themselves as a different ethnicity or hiding in the hills.  Still in an uneven, crude way, natives are benefiting from the casinos. They are helping to finance the cultural renewal that natives are experiencing. Native languages are being taught in tribal centers throughout the US and Canada. Basketry, archery, flute, rattle and drum making, tribal songs and dances are all making a comeback after generations of supression. Natives are no longer forced into boarding schools or forced to attend mass. They are free to learn what they like and worship as they see fit, but after generations of suppression they may not know a lot about the religion of their ancestors. 

Ari Shavit’s book dealt with the modern  history of the Jews in Palestine, now called Israel. I admired the way Shavit seemed to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians who suffered loss so that the Jews could have a country. Though his point of view seems more liberal than some, I didn’t like his emphasis on the supposed need of Jews to hang on to their culture. Does a people have the need for aspects of a culture that contain bigotry toward others? Does my culture, right or wrong, take precedence over someone else’s? Everyone should have a right to their culture, insofar as their culture is not a culture of murder, and Islam is probably at least as culpable as Judaism in that regard. The Christian culture has a murderous history as well. Perhaps it is time to leave that behind and root out aspects of all our cultures that are intolerant of others. The Jews may want to do that, but how can they do so without being themselves destroyed? That is probably the question asked by the book. 

Although I enjoyed the Shavit book, I did not enjoy learning that he may be a pervert in a web search on him I did after I had finished the book. He apparently sexually harrassed a beautiful, much younger, female reporter who met with him in order to interview him for the publication she works for. Then he resigned from his job because he was asked to, because other accusers had also come forward. I was disappointed that such a lucid, enjoyable writer as Ari Shavit appears to have such feet of clay.

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