Friday, June 15, 2007

Indigenous War Talk

“An American Indian friend of mine who lives in the Indian Nation of Alcatraz put it to me very succinctly. He told me how as a boy on an Indian reservation he had watched television and he used to cheer the cowboys when they came in and shot the Indians, and then suddenly one day he stopped in Vietnam and he said, ‘my God, I am doing to these people the very same thing that was done to my people,’ and he stopped.”

Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, April 23, 1971

It has been 36 years since John Kerry (now U.S. Senator Kerry) delivered this critically conscious, non-cryptic message to the American public on behalf of one Indigenous soldier who was able to recognize the contradictions (and perhaps the horrors) of his actions: killing other brown, poor, oppressed, Indigenous Peoples like himself. This young man’s statement, however, is by no means unfamiliar to many Indigenous soldiers, tribal government leaders, and communities members who have asked ourselves this same distressing question: Why do our people serve in the military of the United States of America and assist it do to others what it did to us? The answers to this question are difficult at best for many of us. But for the sake of our own tribal humanity, and that of all others we share this planet with, it does require us to answer this question in an in-depth, precise, just, and honorable manner.

Some common responses such as the “lack of employment on the reservation,” “to uphold our warrior tradition,” “because it’s a family or community custom,” “to serve my country,” “to get the military education benefits for college,” or “because I need discipline,” appear remarkably insufficient when one considers the carnage, suffering, and horrors produced by war. These responses seem even more inadequate when we find out that the “enemy” we signed up to fight did not attack us, did not pose any threat, and was invented to serve the interests of others. Painfully and conspicuously absent are justifications as, “we have proof they plan to attack our reservation,” “because they blew up our tribal government building,” “we have proof that they are planning to steal our lands and children” or they have outlawed our languages and traditional tribal ceremonies.”

Below are three documents I wrote focusing on Indigenous Peoples (Native American) and the Iraq war. I had hoped that each paper would help to ignite numerous formal, open debates in tribal communities regarding the participation of Indigenous soldiers in this war. So far they haven’t had the desired effect.

The first paper, We Oppose the continuing U.S.-led War Against Iraq: A Statement from Native University and Tribal College Professors, was written in April of 2003 shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq. At the time I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on sabbatical leave from my faculty position in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. The statement, published as a quarter-page ad in the tribal newspaper Indian Country Today, stressed that our role as Indigenous academics is to contribute to the intellectual conscience of our tribal nations and the world community “by providing honest and intelligent assessments of what is truthful and just, and what is not.”

In our assessment of this war we concluded that there was no compelling moral or political justification for it and, in fact, it was an illegal, unprovoked, and inhumane attack upon a sovereign nation. We asked “our tribal nations to join us in condemning and resisting all future unjust, illegal wars and aggressions and instead use the wisdom of our tribal traditions to promote policies of peace and diplomacy throughout the world.” While fifty Indigenous professors from several different universities across the US and Canada signed on to this statement, it received little response from the general Indigenous public.

The second paper, written and sent out shortly before the Fourth of July, 2006 celebrations in the United States, is an open letter to all Indigenous Peoples entitled, Why Are Indigenous (American Indian) Soldiers Serving in Iraq? The major aim of this work was to strongly urge “all of our nations to hold critical and independent discussions on why we are committing our young people to serve the U.S. military in its occupation of Iraq.” I was hoping that the shocking, brutal war crimes (murder, torture, and rape committed by American soldiers), in addition to all the other illegal, wasteful, arrogant, and unjust aspects of this war that I discussed in this letter would be enough to get tribal leaders and communities to immediately launch critical dialogues assessing the participation of Indigenous soldiers in the Iraq war. My greatest hope was that our tribal leaders would exercise their sovereign powers to deploy our people out of this war and “impose a moratorium upon any further enlistments of our young men and women into the U.S. military.”

With the help from friends and colleagues this letter was sent to several Indigenous and non-Indigenous websites, listservs (email mailing lists), and individuals who were asked to forward the document to their family, friends, and tribal representatives. I put my email address on the letter in the hopes of hearing from tribal leaders and representatives. To my surprise and delight many individuals, veterans and non-veterans, Indigenous and non-Indigenous from around the world wrote me to express their appreciation and support for this statement. Several posted it on their organizational websites, some posted it and discussed it on their blogs, and others posted it on their personal pages in venues such as the popular social networking website - MySpace.

Of the group that I hoped to hear from most, elected tribal political leaders, only one individual wrote me - telling me that he was a veteran and he would not hold discussions in his community on this topic because it did not support the troops. He said that being a warrior (which constituted serving in military) was the ultimate achievement for Indigenous men and women and this letter did not respect that. He also so told me that since I was not a veteran I had no right to talk about this topic, which created a flurry of emails between us. In the end, I told him that I was not interested in changing his worldviews, but merely hoped that tribal leaders would read the letter and hold formal meetings with their constituents to hear what they had to say about the participation of their tribal members in the Iraq war, given all that I discussed in my letter. Again, he told me he would not do that and we ended our string of email conversations.

A shortened version of this open letter was published in one magazine and two tribal newspapers (see: Indian Country Today (

The final text is a BROWN PAPER (short version) expressing the need for Indigenous communities to take a formal position on their participation in the U.S.-led war and occupation of Iraq (support or condemn). The paper points to several problems with this war, including that it is illegal and unjust, has caused intense suffering for the Iraq people, has made the world more unsafe and Iraqis want the U.S. out of their country, and that it has very little support. It briefly proposes solutions such as the importance of debating Indigenous participation in this war and calls for tribes to create and implement tribal just war principles and war powers within their individual tribal constitutions. The longer version BROWN PAPER (is available upon request) discusses each of these topics in more detail, including the role of tribal citizens in community debates and the creation of just war principles and the steps that can be taken to gain a critical perspective of this and future wars. (For longer version write to me at

Indigenous Professors Against the U.S.-led War and Occupation of Iraq

We Oppose the continuing U.S.-led War Against Iraq:
A Statement from Native University and Tribal College Professors

We the undersigned Native professors, from many different tribal nations, educational institutions, and academic disciplines, unequivocally oppose the continuing U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. As Indigenous academics, we believe that one of our major responsibilities is to contribute to the intellectual conscience of our tribal nations, and the world community, by providing honest and intelligent assessments of what is truthful and just, and what is not.

We find no plausible moral or political justifications for this U.S.-led war and join millions of people of conscience worldwide who stand with courage in opposition to this illegal, unprovoked, and inhumane attack upon a sovereign nation. There are many reasons for our position:

• We oppose this war because U.S. policies such as “pre-emptive strike,” are unjust, threaten stability and security throughout the world, and have set a dangerous global precedent. For instance, on April 11, 2003, India’s Defense Minister George Fernandes stated that Pakistan, a major adversary, was a prime candidate for a pre-emptive strike and that India had a much better case than the United States had in Iraq. India and Pakistan are two nations with nuclear capability, which if used, could affect the well being of our entire planet.

• We oppose this war because large numbers of innocent Iraqi people are being killed, maimed, and severely traumatized and many more will die and suffer long after the war has ended. This war has destroyed hospitals, major water, communication, and electric power systems critical to the health of the people.

• We oppose this war because Iraqi people have suffered long enough. Since the Gulf War of 1991, U.S.-led attacks and sanctions against Iraq have been directly responsible for the death of one-half million Iraqi toddlers and approximately 1.5 million older children and adults who have died from starvation, lack of medicine, trauma, and drinking contaminated water.

• We oppose this war because, although the United States’ military claims that it has overthrown Saddam Hussein’s regime, its actions have now thrust Iraq into chaos. Anarchy and mayhem are widespread causing more death and destruction. Critical humanitarian efforts have been obstructed by the instability and additional violence.

• We oppose this war because the Bush Administration has carried out a massive campaign of deception and disinformation to mislead the public into supporting this illegal act of war. Mainstream media institutions have assisted this campaign of disinformation through uncritical coverage and the exclusion of diverse and dissenting views.

• We oppose this war because the Bush Administration did not use civilized diplomacy when the world community counseled more peaceful solutions. Instead, it resorted to threats, intimidation, bribery, and brutality.

• We oppose this war because the U.S. uses weapons of mass destruction, including missiles containing depleted uranium, which will have immediate and long-lasting, devastating effects on the health of the Iraqi people, humanitarian aid workers, and American soldiers.

• We oppose this war because of its numerous contradictions: its claim to being fought by a "coalition" of countries, when the war itself is an American-led invasion conducted in violation of the UN charter; its stated purpose to depose a dictator, when Saddam Hussein was supplied with weapons by the U.S. when it served American interests; and its overall inconsistency, since the U.S. has supported and participated in overthrowing democratically elected governments in various countries and currently supports many repressive regimes, dictators, and countries with known arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.

Furthermore, we find many parallels between the current U.S.-led war on Iraq and past actions of the United States against Tribal peoples in America:

• We, too, remember being the objects of "pre-emptive strikes." For instance, in 1811 William Henry Harrison marched an army of 1,000 troops to Prophetstown, Indiana to start a war with Tecumseh in order to prevent his unification of the tribes and burned Prophetstown to the ground.

• We, too, remember the slaughter of our civilians in the name of "Homeland Security," for instance, the massacres of Horse Shoe Bend, Washita, Mystic River, Bad Axe, the Trail of Tears, Bear River, Marias, Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee;

• We, too, remember the American use of genocidal polices promoting the mass slaughter of bison herds designed to starve Plains nations into submission and the use of biological warfare in the form of smallpox-infected blankets to create terror and widespread death in our communities;

• We, too, know what it is like to have the United States exercise "trusteeship" over our lands and governing bodies in the aftermath of military aggression. We have lost many millions of acres of land and countless natural resources and even today are compelled to take judicial action against the United States government because of its theft and mismanagement of billions of dollars of our trust funds.

• We, too, remember being the objects of dehumanizing, racist stereotypes created to instill in the American public an automatic fear or sense of superiority over of our peoples, and we continue to live with such stereotypes.

We believe that the United States has engaged in an illegal and brutal war against innocent Iraqi
Peoples. Iraq has done nothing to the United States and this is a war of choice not necessity. It is an unprovoked attack that is causing untold suffering. Many throughout the world, and here at home, continue to strongly condemn the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Feelings of mistrust, hatred, and fear of the United States continue to rise as the U.S. has claimed the right to “preemptively strike” at anyone who is suspected of being a threat to American security or interests. Moreover there are strong concerns about the possibility of U.S. pre-emptive aggressions toward Syria, Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

As the children of Indigenous Peoples who survived, and continue to face, the oppressive policies of the United States, we have much to teach this nation about the horrors of war, racism, hatred, and inhumanity. We are courageous peoples who have provided proportionally more military service to this nation than any other group. We are also are peaceful peoples whose ancestors created some of the most sophisticated and effective forms of peace-making and peace-keeping the world has ever known. We have much to teach this nation and the world about peace, acceptance of differences, and justice.

As people of conscience, and people who have been on the receiving end of American imperialism, we call for the end of the U.S.-led aggression and occupation of Iraq, along with immediate humanitarian and rebuilding efforts. We ask our tribal nations to join us in condemning and resisting all future unjust, illegal wars and aggressions and instead use the wisdom of our tribal traditions to promote policies of peace and diplomacy throughout the world.

Dr. Michael Yellow Bird (Sahnish-Hidatsa), Arizona State University
Dr. Angela Cavender Wilson (Dakota), Arizona State University
Dr. Cornel Pewewardy (Commanche-Kiowa) University of Kansas
Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa (Dakota), Southwest State - Veteran
Professor David Anthony Tyeeme Clark (Cherokee), University of Kansas
Dr. Scott Richard Lyons (Leech Lake Ojibwe), Syracuse University
Dr. Carol Miller, University of Minnesota
Professor Pam Creasy, University of Washington
Dr. James Riding In (Pawnee), Arizona State University – Veteran
Dr. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Dr. Kate Shanley, University of Montana
Professor Priscilla Settee, University of Saskatchewan
Professor James Treat (Creek), University of Oklahoma
Professor LeAnne Howe, (Choctaw), Hollins University
Dr. Susan Miller (Seminole), Arizona State University
Professor Jeanette Bushell (Pembina Chippewa), University of Washington
Dr. Judith Vergun, Oregon State University
Dr. Michelene E. Pesantubee, University of Colorado
Dr. Jeff Corntassel, University of Victoria
Dr. Myla Vincenti Carpio (Jicarilla Apache Nation), Arizona State University
Professor Mishuana Goeman (Seneca) Stanford University
Professor Michael Horn (Cherokee), California State University, Fullerton
Dr. Joseph P. Gone (Gros Ventre), University of Michigan
Dr. Anne Calhoon (Cherokee), University of New Mexico
Professor Michael Two Horses (Sicangu Lakota), University of Arizona
Professor Corrine Mount Pleasant-Jette, Concordia University
Professor Carol Minugh, Evergreen College
Professor G. Leis (Tahltan Nation), University of Victoria
Dr. Jennifer Nez Denetdal, University of New Mexico
Dr. Jeanette Haynes Writer (Cherokee), New Mexico State University
Dr. Raymond Pierotti (Comanche), University of Kansas
Dr. David Kekanlike Sing (Native Hawaiian), University of Hawaii at Hilo
Professor Nelrene Yellow Bird (Sahnish-Hidatsa), Minot State University
Professor Alyce Spotted Bear (Mandan), Cornell University
Professor Narciscol Aleman (Mexica), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Professor Kim Roppolo, Baylor University
Dr. Franci Taylor (Choctaw) Montana State University
Professor Randy Lund, Saskatchewan Indian Federated College
Professor Andrea Smith, University of Michigan
Dr. Selene Phillips (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe), Purdue University
Dr. Inez Hernandez-Avila, University of California-Davis
Dr. Cynthia L. Marshall (Seneca), Community College of Beaver County
Dr. Anne Waters (Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee), SUNY, Binghamton
Dr. Ronald G. Lewis (Cherokee), Eastern Michigan University
Dr. Malea Powell, Michigan State University
Dr. Joyous Bethel, University of Southern Mississippi
Dr. Apanaki Buckley, Heritage College
Dr. Joely De La Torre (Luiseno), San Francisco State University

This statement was written in April 2003 by Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Arizona State University. It was published in the newspaper Indian Country Today. Special thanks to Dr. Scott Richard Lyons for his comments and suggestions.

Why are Indigenous Soldiers in Iraq?

Why Are Indigenous (American Indian) Soldiers Serving in Iraq?
Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Ph.D.

June 26, 2006

Open Letter to all Indigenous Peoples:

As the United States prepares for its annual Independence Day celebrations, I strongly urge all of our nations to hold critical and independent discussions on why we are committing our young people to serve the U.S. military in its occupation of Iraq.

The recent reporting (including revelations of a cover-up) of the murders, executions, and massacres of innocent Iraqi citizens by United States troops prompts me to ask, "Why are Indigenous (American Indian) soldiers serving in Iraq?" I wonder why our tribal communities have not had critical debates on the immorality of this war, on the lies of the present Bush Administration that got us into this war, and on the spiritual, economic, social, and psychological costs that both our people and the Iraqi people will pay for this war. It is clear from the history of many of our tribes that our people understood the grave costs of war and so took this act very seriously. Before engaging in war, many of our tribes initiated peace councils and sent emissaries to negotiate goodwill and friendship with the "enemy" in order to avoid war. As sovereign Indigenous nations, we did not do this before or during the invasion of Iraq. We instead let the United States make the decision for us as to whether we should or should not enter into this war. I wonder when was the last time that the United States asked our people for our opinion about war and its costs.

Our history tells us that because war was so destructive on many different levels, many of our tribal nations—before committing to war against another tribe—consulted our elders, peacemakers, women, youth, philosophers, intellectuals, spiritual leaders, children, warriors, and veterans to weigh the costs of war. This is something that many of our nations have not done for some time. Many of us have “outsourced-our-thinking” to the United States with respect to when and why we should or should not go to war. We are sovereign nations with very intelligent and moral people who do not need to rely on this country to interpret for us the meaning and the costs that war will bring to our communities. Most of us already know the answer to this. And we know that we should decide for ourselves, after careful, deliberate, and intelligent discussions, whether we must commit our people and resources to the wars of the United States.

Along with the U.S. invasion of the lands of our respective nations, the last two major conflicts of the United States, Vietnam and now Iraq, were based on lies created by the U.S. government. Their track record makes it even more imperative that we rely upon our own thinking, experiences, and morality when we enter into discussions on why our tribal nations should compel our people to go to war. The Vietnam lie was very expensive and horrific; it was responsible for the deaths of 58,191 American soldiers and 153,303 wounded. One million Vietnamese combatants and four million civilians were killed for this American lie. The missing in this war includes approximately 2,300 American soldiers and 200,000 Vietnamese. In Iraq, over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since 2003. After so many lies told to our people by the United States, do we trust this nation to be honest with us? Do we trust it to care about life as much as we do?

If we are to have discussions about this war, topics must include:

§ Our belief that all people and beings are related to us so what does it mean to make war on our relatives;

§ The fact that we value all life so, therefore, war truly must be a last resort;

§ The fact that we value Mother Earth as a living being and the fact that the United States military is contaminating the lands, waters, trees, plants and people in Iraq through the use of biowarfare, landmines, and depleted uranium which will kill innocent people and will poison much of their territory for many years;

§ The fact that we believe in the great circle of life (e.g., what goes around comes around and what we are doing to the Iraqi people is what the U.S. did to our ancestors);

§ What are the effects that all of the killing, maiming, poisoning, and torturing will have upon our people, especially on the psychic and cosmological levels;

§ How the U.S. has treated us in the past and the present, and how it has conscripted our minds and hearts so that we are participating in their same oppressive behavior of another group/race of humans;

§ What other nations has the United States overthrown for its own interests? How many innocent non-U.S. peoples have been killed by this country’s covert operations, and who is it planning to attack in the future? Why?

§ Who benefits most from war and who are the biggest losers?

§ Finally, there are many other reasons that we can discuss and analyze.

It seems that we cannot rely on corporate media or the U.S. government to tell us the truth or to give us the facts about why we should go to war or who we should consider our enemy. John Stockwell, the highest-ranking CIA official to leave the agency and go public with information about CIA-sponsored activities, once said that the U.S. neither does “bloody, gory operations” in Europe nor does it spend its time attacking these countries. Rather it performs such operations in countries that are filled with people of color who do not have the military strength and resources to protect themselves from U.S. invasions. I am convinced that Stockwell is suggesting that the U.S. government has a clear racist war ideology and readily employs it against people or races that are not white. So, we must use all the available evidence to independently decide for ourselves if and when we should go to war and who is our enemy. An enemy should not be invented because of the color of its skin or religious beliefs.

I believe that it is time for us to demand that our tribal governments call for critical and independent discussions, and we need to tell the United States to immediately call for withdrawal of its military forces from Iraq. Most importantly—and independently of their decision or indecision—we must immediately pull our people out of this quagmire. Countries such as Japan, Honduras, Tonga, Nicaragua, Spain, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Portugal, and Moldova already have pulled out their troops and many other nations are planning to reduce their troop commitment in the near future. So why are we still in Iraq fighting the U.S.’s illegal war? It also is time for our tribal leaders and communities to impose a moratorium upon any further enlistments of our young men and women into the U.S. military. The United States has abused our trust and has coerced us to fight its illegal, immoral wars long enough.

Many things about this war trouble me to the very core. One of the most disturbing questions is why does it seem that of all the countries that have been, or continue to be, in this war, it is only U.S. soldiers who are committing the murders of, and atrocities against, innocent Iraqi citizens (the unarmed, the disabled, the defenseless elders, the women, and the children)? Is it because the U.S. is serving in larger numbers? Is it because the U.S. is serving in more hazardous situations? Is it because the U.S. is more trigger happy? Is it because of poor oversight and supervision by the upper ranks of the military? Is it because U.S. troops are a more violent group and enjoy killing more than do other soldiers? Is it because the architects of this war, including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, care more about profit than "just war" principles? Is it all of the above?

As I write this, two national guardsmen are being investigated for killing an innocent Iraqi man earlier this year; seven Marines and one Navy corpsman were charged with the shooting death of an Iraqi man, whom they had kidnapped from his home, forced into a hole, and shot to death—they then left a stolen AK-47 near his body to make it look like he was firing at them; three soldiers and one non-commissioned officer were charged with killing (in May 2006) three unarmed Iraqis who were in military custody. And many more Iraqi people have been abused and tortured to death in U.S. custody (especially in the military prisons). Many of these atrocities have been covered up or are “under investigation.”

The story currently receiving the most press is the November 2005 massacre of the twenty-four innocent civilians (including women and children) in Haditha by U.S. Marines. This mass killing is being compared to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. A “Washington Post” article reported that "Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident […] said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. ‘I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: “I am a friend. I am good,”’ Fahmi said. ‘But they killed him, and his wife and daughters.’ The girls killed inside Khafif's house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1” (Saturday, May 17, 2006).

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who maintains close ties with senior Marine officers despite his opposition to the war stated, "Marines overreacted . . . and killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha already has called for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq and has called the war "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion" (Larry Downing, Reuters, Nov 18, 2005).

There are many reasons why we must immediately get our people out of this war:

War is not a moral act. The occupation, torture, mutilation, killing, and murder of innocent Iraqi people are acts of immorality. Our people should not be complicit in atrocities.

The invasion of Iraq was based on lies. Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction by the Bush administration; it did not. Iraq was accused of having ties with Osama Bin Laden; it did not. Our people should not be complicit in lies.

The war against Iraq does not meet the standards of a "Just War" that evolved among "civilized" societies. Our people have enough struggles and battles, and should not be complicit in unjust global activities on behalf of the United States.

The war on Iraq was for "regime change" which is not legal under international law, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Our people should not be complicit in lawlessness.

After two decades of wars, invasions, and sanctions, Iraq did not have the military power to pose a clear and present danger to the U.S. before or after being invaded in 2003. Our people should not be complicit in oppressing and occupying a nation that never attacked us.

Many people in the U.S. and throughout the world oppose this war. Our nations should exercise their right to voice their opposition to U.S. military operations, conflicts, wars, and occupations.

The U.S. soldiers who have murdered Iraqi civilians must now stand trial. Several of them could receive the death penalty. Will more death and life sentences follow or will the deaths of innocent Iraqis be ignored or covered up? Do we want our men and women involved in situations that might conclude in such trials or cover ups? Our people should mentor their young into just and moral activities that benefit their nations, while encouraging conflict-resolution when possible.

This war is creating new "terrorism" and retribution that will be directed at the U.S. for its invasion of Iraq and its torturing and killing of innocent people. Our people should not contribute to U.S. creation of hatred.

There is no end in sight for a U.S. military exit out of Iraq. Many sources report that the U.S. is establishing permanent military bases in Iraq which would keep troops in Iraq for many years. Our people should not contribute to the expansion and maintenance of U.S. militarization, colonization, and occupation.

Invading Iraq is extremely financially costly and takes resources away from many badly needed priorities at home. At present, it costs nearly one billion dollars a week to wage this “War on Terrorism.” Our people should not be complicit in U.S. activities that waste money.

Billions of dollars have been authorized by the U.S. congress to be used for occupation and reconstruction. There is evidence that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been lost through waste, abuse, and fraudulent billing. In a June 8, 2006, article published in “The Baltimore Chronicle,” Dave Lindorff reported that twenty-one billion dollars "has gone missing without a trace in Iraq." Who is responsible for this? I am reminded that our people are fighting for, in part, accountability of billions of lost dollars in the Eloise Pepion Cobell, et al. v. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior lawsuit in the United States. Our people should never be complicit in U.S. theft, fraud, and dishonesty.

The U.S. is supposed to be rebuilding Afghanistan but it is not; rather, it is targeting most of its focus and resources on Iraq. Our people should not contribute to unilateral U.S. policy and doctrines.

Despite billions of U.S. dollars spent in Iraq after its invasion, very little promised rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure has been accomplished. Our people—who are familiar with broken promises and treaties—should never be complicit in the lies of the United States.

The rebuilding of Iraq is not happening. Many U.S. firms that went to Iraq to perform reconstruction services have been accused of "bilking" funds intended for reconstruction. In an April 16, 2006 news story, the “Boston Globe” reported that "American contractors swindled hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi funds." For instance, in March 2006, a Rhode Island-based company called, The Custer Battles, was found "liable for $3 million in fraudulent billings in Iraq." Stories such as this are outrageous and numerous. Many of these companies had/have ties to the current Bush administration, especially Dick Cheney, the current Vice President of the United States. Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. Halliburton has made hundreds of millions of dollars from this war and occupation. Our people should not be complicit in helping the rich, like Cheney, get richer.

We must no longer allow our nations to remain in the fog of war, participating in the U.S. continued colonization and destruction of the world. What this country has done—and continues to do—to the Iraqi people is unconscionable and must stop. The U.S.-led war in Iraq is wrong, immoral, illegal, unjust, a lie; it is about profiteering for a very small, corrupt, elite sector of the U.S. population. Our people, many of whom occupy some of the lowest levels of decision-making in the U.S. military, are considered expendable and are being used for cannon fodder so that the rich, especially in the United States, can become richer.

We must realize that many of the people in the highest levels of the United States government suffer from an addiction to war, power, and colonization. Many, but not all, Indigenous Peoples have become co-dependent in this addiction as demonstrated by not holding public meetings and councils that question the U.S. invasion, and by allowing our people to participate in this unjust, illegal war that is creating suffering for untold numbers of innocent Iraqi people. In the Fall of 2004, the academic journal Wicazo Sa Review published a paper I wrote entitled “Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of American Colonialism.” In that article, I stated that "it took me some years to understand that colonialism is a sickness, an addiction to greed, power, and exploitation....Colonialism has taught many Indigenous Peoples to be silent, passive, compliant victims who participate in, excuse, enable, or ignore the colonizer's addictive behaviors. Left unchecked, colonialism has continued to flourish, devastate, and suppress Indigenous Peoples, keeping them in a the perpetual role of 'the Indian,' causing many to say, do and think things they never would if their minds and hearts were free from American colonial rule." Today this addictive behavior or the drug of choice of this country is its illegal, dishonest, and brutal invasion of Iraq. I urgently ask each and every Indigenous Person to quit enabling the addictive behavior of the U.S.

In this same article, I also wrote that there are "antidotes to colonialism that Indigenous Peoples can and must employ: courage, intelligent resistance, development of a counterconsciousness and discourse, and a fierce critical interrogation of American colonial ideology." It is incumbent upon our peoples to employ these antidotes in order to condemn and get our people out of this war. We must commit all of our intellectual and truth-seeking energies to this objective and not let any one, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, hijack our need for such critical and independent discussions. A key democratic principle of our peoples was our willingness to allow our people dissent from popular opinion so that we might consider all of our options. We must not let accusations that our "honor and courage as warriors is on the line" prevent us from deciding to leave Iraq—and the U.S. military. After generations of service in the U.S. military—and its numerous wars—our people have repeatedly proven that we are brave and courageous beyond compare. However, our ability to think morally, critically, and independently about our participation in this war is another matter that we now must undertake ever so seriously.

Maybe, just maybe, if we act using our traditional Indigenous forms of morality that value truth, intelligence, honesty, life, and dignity—and refuse to be a enabler to the U.S. addiction to greed, war, power, and colonization—we can help it overcome its unhealthy, destructive obsession for war, conquest, and killing of others. And, as it recovers from this addiction, maybe we also can help it overcome its two greatest phobias: dikephobia (the fear of justice) and hypegiaphobia (the fear of responsibility). I pray that that you will take this open letter (or a statement of your own) to your tribal leaders and communities and immediately begin the important critical and independent discussions that will promote and act upon the well-being of all of our people.

Truth, Justice, Peace

Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Ph.D.
Founder and Director, Center for
Indigenous Peoples' Critical and Intuitive Thinking
Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies
Indigenous Nations Studies Program
1410 Jayhawk Blvd, Room 105
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045


on the importance of Indigenous Peoples debating their participation in the Iraq war


Overwhelming numbers of people and governments around the world and in the United States regard the Iraq war as a mistake and unjust. However, it is not clear where American Indian peoples stand since most have not organized formal community-wide discussions to assess the legitimacy of this war and its consequences for their communities, the Iraqi people, and Mother Earth. It is not clear where tribes stand regarding the participation of Indigenous soldiers in the U.S. military occupation and war against Iraq. It is not clear whether tribal communities do or do not support the “surge” of another 30,000 troops into Iraq or a U.S. war against Iran. Furthermore, it is has become exceedingly clear that this war violates several important American Indian values and beliefs that are necessary to the survival of Native Peoples: honesty, competent leadership, the sacredness of all life, relatedness to all peoples and beings, respect for Mother Earth, the Great Circle of Life, and war as a last resort.

1. The U.S.-led war against Iraq is illegal and unjust

Native American soldiers serving in Iraq are engaged in one of the most unpopular, illegal, mismanaged, and unjust wars in the history of the U.S. The Bush administration launched the war for “regime change” (removing Saddam Hussein) which is not legal under international law, Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. The Bush administration launched the war by falsely claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Osama bin Laden. The war was never endorsed by the United Nations Council and most nations wanted the UN inspections for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to continue until there was evidence that they did or did not exist. However, the United States invaded Iraq before inspections were completed. Before the U.S.-led invasion, UN weapons inspectors agreed that 90-95 percent of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity had been eliminated by 1998 and what remained were only bits and pieces of that program which constituted no threat to the United States.

2. The Iraq war has caused intense suffering and death for innocent Iraqis

Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi people have been killed, maimed, and tortured during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2004, as many as 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war. In October of 2006, The Lancet medical journal reported that the death toll among Iraqis had climbed to an estimated 655,000. In June 2006 alone the UN reported that over 3,000 Iraq civilians were violently killed. The organization Iraq Body Count reported that “(March 2006 – March 2007) has been by far the worst year for violence against civilians in Iraq since the invasion.” For instance, “mortar attacks that kill civilians have quadrupled in the last year (from 73 to 289)” while “fatal suicide bombs, car bombs, and roadside bombing attacks have doubled (from 712 to 1476).”A national 2007 ABC News poll taken in Iraq indicates that seven in 10 people report multiple signs of traumatic stress, more than half of Iraqis, 53 percent, have a close friend or relative who’s been hurt or killed in the current violence and eighty-six percent worry about a loved one being hurt; two-thirds worry deeply. In November 2005, 63 percent of Iraqis felt very safe in their neighborhoods. Today just 26 percent say they feel safe. In Baghdad eighty-four percent feel unsafe.

3. Invading Iraq has made the world more unsafe and Iraqis want the U.S. out their country

In a report entitled, “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” published in April 2006, 16 different American intelligence agencies concluded that the U.S. invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq has worsened the threat of global terrorism. A 2007 ABC News poll revealed that very few Iraqis believe that the U.S. and Iraqi security forces can change the terrible situation in Iraq and many feel that if the Americans left that things would improve. The poll found that 78 percent of Iraqis now oppose the presence of U.S. forces on their soil and 51 percent now say it is “acceptable” to attack U.S. and coalition forces. In early 2004 only 17 percent felt this way. Nearly 60 percent of Iraqis say that they believe that the U.S. controls things in Iraq. In a rejection of the Bush administration’s belief that a “surge” of U.S. troops will stabilize Iraq, less than 3 in 10 Iraqi’s feel that sending more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar will improve security. Almost everyone in Anbar believes it will make security worse. Despite the billions of U.S. taxpayer monies sent to Iraq for post war rebuilding, 67 percent of Iraqis say that postwar reconstruction efforts have been ineffective or nonexistent.

4. The Iraq war has very little support

National U.S. polls indicate that the Iraq war is now more unpopular than the Vietnam War. Nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population now believes that it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq and an even larger number disapprove of the way that President Bush is handling the war. In an ABC/Washinton Post poll taken after Bush addressed the nation on Iraq on Jan. 10, 2007, Americans by 65-34 percent opposed his plan for a surge of 20,000 troops. A CBS/New York Times poll taken during February 23-27, 2007 showed that 74 percent of the respondents thought that U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq were going somewhat badly or very badly. In his most recent major policy shift to try to stabilize Iraq, Bush has proposed sending almost 30,000 more troops to Iraq. However, nearly 60 percent of the American public want Congress to block his plans, while 70 percent say he doesn’t have clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq; almost four in 10 Republicans agree.

5. Beginning Solutions

Indigenous communities are sovereign nations with all the powers of self-government. Tribal sovereignty resides in the tribal membership and predates that of the United States. The use of War Powers represents the ultimate act of sovereignty. Article I, Sec 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Clause, authorizes the U.S. Congress exclusive authority to declare war. The sovereignty of tribal nations enables tribes to create their own War Powers within their tribal constitutions.

Debates can help tribal communities to formally discuss and act on their support or disapproval of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Debates must be held to create awareness and clarity on the war and how it supports or contradicts the cultural beliefs and values of the nation. All citizens must be represented in the discussions to give an accurate picture of the views and opinions of the nation. Tribal elders, spiritual leaders, youth, women, veterans, educators, activists, and peacemakers, must strongly encourage these debates. Time is of the essence since the U.S. could soon launch a war against Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea, which would further entangle Indigenous soldiers and communities in another war.
Debates can also assist Indigenous communities to create Just War principles that can be used to determine: (1) How to prevent war, (2) When the use of force is appropriate, (3) How can war be waged in an honorable and humane manner, (4) How and when war can be ended, (5) What can be done to keep peace, and (6) How to honorably reconcile with the “enemy.” The power and of tribal self-governance has existed “from time immemorial” and enables Indigenous communities to (a) formally discuss the costs and realities of war and, and (b) to create and use principles of peacemaking and just war. It’s time to use these powers.

This (short version) BROWN PAPER was prepared by Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Critical and Intuitive Thinking and Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies, University of Kansas. Comments can be sent to Dr. Yellow Bird at: 1410 Jayhawk Blvd, room 105, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 66045 (phone 785.864.2661, Fax: 785.864.0370, E-mail: A more detailed version of this BROWN PAPER is available upon request. Lawrence, KS, June 10, 2007.