Monday, 28 March 2011

a Moment for Wisdom…




I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me…

…and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible…

…except getting off his back.

Leo Tolstoy

Personal Wisdom: 

Whose back are you riding in your personal life?

  • How did you get there?
  • What would it mean for you to get off?

Who is riding on your back?

  • How did they get there?
  • Did you PUT them there?
  • How can you get them to release you and get off of your back?


Societal Wisdom:


As  a society, how do we ride on the backs of others?  Which others?

What would America be like if we were NOT riding on the backs of others?

a Moment with Sharif…


I use this quote from Leo Tolstoy to illustrate what I believe is one of the most shameful acts in American history, something as immoral and disgusting as slavery, the oppression of women, and the confiscation of Native lands.

It was the confiscation of Native oil.  And it happened last year.

A little history lesson:  Over 100 years ago, when oil was discovered on Native American reservations, the American government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), said to the Native peoples, “You don’t know how to manage these things.  We will pump the oil FOR you, and give you the money for it.”  The BIA entered into a TRUST RELATIONSHIP (important legal words) with the tribes.

They then proceeded to pump dry the Indian lands in Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere.  While they were pumping, the Indians lived in abject poverty, in windowless, tar-paper shacks, no health care, not enough food… the richest people in America, but impoverished by their own government.  Many of them had oil wells in their own backyards… they could see, every day, their wealth going elsewhere.

Some of the Native people filed a class-action lawsuit in 1996.  After years of strategic foot-dragging (both Republican and Democratic foot-dragging), the parties agreed to a $3.4 billion dollar settlement.  While that may sound like a lot of money, it is less than 1% of what our Government actually owes.

According to my calculations, the Government owes the Indians more than TWO TRILLION DOLLARS.  This is oil we’re talking about, not water.  And, because of the TRUST relationship, the Government had a responsibility (fiduciary duty, in legal talk) to invest every dime it did not distribute.  If they pumped $10 million dollars in, say, 1905, they had to invest that, and give them the oil money, plus interest.  And, for the next year.  And the next.  Two trillion dollars is actually conservative… (To show how contemptuous the BIA was of Indian rights, they did not even bother keeping any records of the millions of barrels of oil that they pumped.)

Another way to think about it: $3.4 billion is what they got from pumping for one year… what about the other 99 years?  “I sit on a man’s back, choking him, making him carry me…”

(The Native plaintiffs agreed to this paltry, morally indefensible sum for one reason: many of them were sick, some about to die, with no money and mounting legal expenses.  The Government’s strategy of waiting them out worked.)

Important note:  this moral travesty was not part of some “Republican Neo-Con plot”.  The settlement was approved by the Democratic Congress and signed by the Democratic President.  Both Democratic and Republican Administrations share equal responsibility for the strategy of foot-dragging.  This points to something I have been saying for a long time: in this sick society, MONEY TRUMPS EVERY OTHER VALUE.  “I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me…”

What happened to all that oil?  It went to form the backbone of corporations named Gulf, Texaco, Standard Oil (Exxon), Mobil…  To compensate for this travesty, these corporations should be GIVEN to the Native peoples – in part compensation.

America was carried for centuries on “free” labor, in the form of enslaved human beings from Africa.  Modern America was carried for one hundred years on the “free” oil, legally belonging to Native Americans.

“I sit on a man’s back, choking him, making him carry me…”

How to we make amends for this travesty?  Well, the first step would be to acknowledge that the travesty exists and that the travesty continues.  We “ride the backs” of people around the world, of Nature, of our own children… in order to pump up the false “story” of our society.

The second step would be to apologize… to the descendants of slaves, to the Native peoples, to the Earth Herself.

The third step would be to get off our backs!  And pay for the ride we’ve taken…




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All photos by Sharif Abdullah, unless otherwise noted.

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4 Responses to Monday, 28 March 2011

  1. simone says:

    thank you for this additional, important historical information. yes, indeed we have much to pay for, and are … in more ways than one as we are ultimately all interconnected.

    • admin says:

      My friend and fellow Praxien Karen P. has been studying the concepts of “grief” and “debt”. How do we pay our karmic debts, so that we can move into a deeper, richer experience of our lives?

      Perhaps she will weigh in here…


      • Karen says:

        First of all I see this as a “real time” debt. Most of us live as though our time began in the garden of eden…forgetting that primal religion preceded monotheism by a few million years. When most of us are asked about our ancestors….we immediately talk about the “family” that we remember….But our “ancestors” are the ones that go back those few million years and that we mostly have just forgotten that we were ever related to. On this continent most of us have become what would be considered orphans and we’ve been that for many, many, many generations. In our orphan forgetfulness our connection to our indigenous soul has gone underground to a place where it only surfaces when no ones looking…including us. Things that don’t get seen (valued) have a way of disappearing. Remembering this connection is a grief soaked process…and in our culture…we medicate grief instead of value it and feel it. I’m not sure that we CAN truly pay this debt or right this wrong until we clearly see the consequence that creating it has had for all of us. From this place our actions become authentic. It’s our “remembering” and our grief when doing so that begins to orient us towards home and out of our “homelessness”. It’s about the knowing of an alive indigenous soul..not yours, mine or theirs…but OURS.

  2. Kathleen Anderson says:


    I read your piece on the American government stealing Native American oil.

    A number of years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, from out of a sound sleep, I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed with the words “Resist not evil” coming out of my mouth. I have long gotten little epiphanies every so often in exactly this manner. I thought this one was crazy. “What do you mean, ‘resist not evil’. If you don’t fight the buggers, they’ll take over the world.” Yet the words kept reverberating in my mind, “Resist not evil. Resist not evil.” They had a familiar ring somehow. Where had I heard them before? Well, you probably already know where I heard them before – they were the words of Jesus.

    At the time I was dealing with an “evil” landlord in New Jersey. The more I fought him, the more like him I became and the more ways he found to skirt the law. Eventually I got it: fighting evil feeds it. Evil cares not where it’s fuel comes from; it will thrive equally well on righteous indignation as on dark deeds. You cannot win by fighting. You can only win by giving your thought, your power, your energy, and, most especially, your heart, to what it is that you desire. Whatever you fight will grow. Fight injustice and injustice will grow, fight war and war will grow. Fight poverty and poverty will grow.

    Jesus did not fight the injustice experienced under Roman rule in Palestine. He did not fight anything. He taught love and empowerment, joy and the peace that passes understanding. He taught the Kingdom of Heaven. Here and now.

    Love, Joy & Peace,

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