Sunday, December 5, 2021

Chief Raoni Metuktire


Chief Raoni Metuktire is the chief of the Kayapo people who populate a region of the Amazon forest.    It is this vast region in South America that represents a highly important resource that plays a central role in the stability of the global climate especially with the added threat of climate change that is a direct result of human activity.

The Amazon forest has been threatened for decades due to the unabated incursion of commercial development that has had a devastating impact on the the region – threatening the delicate ecological balance that sustains this natural system.  As a result, the livelihood, safety and security of the indigenous peoples that populate this region have been under continued assault.

Chief Raoni has been involved in the preservation of the remaining rain forest that is home to his people for decades and has repeatedly risked his own safety in the pursuit of this illusive goal.  Although there is no official record of his birth, it has been assumed that he was born around 1932 in a village called Krajmopyjakare, otherwise known as Kapot.  This village resides in the midst of he region referred to as the Mato Grosso in Brazil (see map below).


 The Kayapo are a nomadic people; as a child he lived in many locations.  At the age of 15, Raoni participated in the rites of initiation as a warrior and wore a labret – an ornamental disk in their lower lip that was gradually replaced by larger disks an ultimately reached the current size after four months.

In 1954, Raoni met the Villas Broas brothers – Orlando, Claudio and Leonardi were Brazilian activists that drew attention to the plight of the indigenous people of Brazil and ultimately succeeded in getting the upper Xingu legally protected.  He stayed with them for a year, learned Portuguese and was greatly influenced by them.

It was in 1973 that Chief Raoni began a friendship with noted French film maker, Jean Pierre Dutilleux, that ultimately led to the release of a documentary film entitled Raoni that was presented at the 1977 Cannes festival.  This gave the Chief Raoni and the plight of his people worldwide exposure.

He used this exposure as an opportunity to expose the threat the deforestation posed on the rain forest ecosystem and the plight this posed to the indigenous populations of this region.

In 1989, Chief Raoni, enlisted the help of Sting, a popular British rock band to broadcast his message.  It was the first time he ever traveled beyond his homeland of Brazil.  The resulting impact of all these events aroused enough global support that a vast tropical reservation was create in 1993 that encompassed the Mato Grosso and Para states in Brazil.  In addition, Chief Raoni won the support of such notable individuals as French President, Mitterrand and the former French President Chirac, The king of Spain, Juan Carlos and Pope John Paul II.

Chief Raoni Metuktire remains a charismatic and influential leader in support of the indigenous peoples of the rain forest and an outspoken proponent of a sustainable planet.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Why Moving Towards the Light is More Important than Ever

 This country, founded on a belief in human equality, the power of democracy and the rule of law, is in serious crisis and moving inexorably towards the darkness. After only 232 years since the birth of the Democratic Republic in 1789, the democratic system as outlined in the Constitution has been seriously threatened especially following an attempted coup by its former President on Jan 6 of the year 2021. The near successful attempt to undermine the peaceful transition of power by a mentally unbalanced demagogue and blatant white supremacist is troublesome in its own right.

However, it seems that a major political party not only has essentially refused to condemn this overt attempt to subvert the very basis of a democratically-aligned government but has made it clear through both rhetoric and actions its determination to undermine the electoral process. Through its unrelenting attacks on the truth; and through its violent and corrosive language in which the members of the opposing party – that clearly holds the majority – are labeled as the enemy, it has become quite evident that the democratic process is held in contempt.

These are indeed dark times when the forces of bigotry and repression, of ignorance and violence, of hatred and fear are encouraged and seen as values to be lauded. These are indeed dark times when white supremacy is regarded as a political philosophy to be embraced and emulated. These are indeed dark times when truth is supplanted with outrageous falsehoods and intellect and science are held suspect.

This nation has failed to come to terms with the violent reality of its past. Part of this violent heritage was the near genocide of the native peoples of North America for the primary purpose of uprooting them from their land and their way of life so as to make room for white settlers who wished to forcefully occupy all available land and exploit its vast and untapped resources. There has been and continues to be a refusal to acknowledge the great injustice of the enslavement of the peoples of Africa captured and forcefully exported from their land and their people so as to exploit their labor .and deprive them of their inherent humanity. This incomplete accounting does not include the totality of violent aggression directed at immigrant populations over the life of the nation.

A significant aspect of this past is the many wars of aggression fought around the world so as to impose and protect economic and political hegemony especially in regard to poorer nations. More often than not these conflicts left millions of needless and avoidable deaths and unimaginable destruction.

This unabashed history of intolerance, hatred and violence has left innumerable injuries that fester within the body politic and have seriously impacted the collective psyche of the American people. As a result, fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and suspicion have festered within the population making it susceptible to the vitriol and toxic polemics that reverberate throughout the culture. This has given rise to a crazed environment where hundreds of millions of guns and weaponry are now in the hands of the general public. A consideration of the inevitable outcome of this mass possession of instruments of death is difficult to contemplate.

We are a people in crisis. A route out of this path into the darkness is to turn towards the light. This shift in direction involves a number of key transformations. A first priority must be a return to the truth and the concomitant rejection of the lie in all its manifestations. Secondly, the reality that science has clearly demonstrated that needs to be fully embraced is the fact that all peoples of the world regardless of the color of their skin, place of origin, sexual orientation, gender, etc. are members of the same species – Homo sapiens – all worthy of the same rights and privileges and entitled to the same treatment under the law. A necessary corollary of this truth is the fact that race is an artificial construct that has no reality outside this mistaken perception. A true ascendence to this reality would deny bigotry, prejudice and feelings of racial superiority any standing.

One of the key components of such a shift in attitudes and general mindset is the necessity of discarding delusional thinking that has led to the acceptance of crazed philosophies and expectations that have no true relationship with reality. Freeing ourselves of the burden of this thinking would allow the nation to begin to confront real issues such as climate change, that in the absence of remedial action may eventually engulf us.

Finally and most importantly, we need to discard the blinders that have kept us trapped in a world of our own creation where we have come to believe that we as individuals are the center of existence and therefore fail to recognize and appreciate the wondrous diversity that surrounds us. We are, after all, a part of the fabric of existence; all of humanity and nature deserves to be heard, nurtured, supported and appreciated. This, to me, is the essence of love.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Time of Deep Sadness – The American Political System 2021

 As a people, we should be deeply troubled about what has transpired over the recent past.  The change that has apparently overtaken the American political system began with the election of America’s first Black President, Barrack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.  For on that day, the underlying malaise that has haunted this country since its inception as a supposed Democratic Republic finally broke through the surface and shattered the veneer that has dominated the domestic landscape.  Once the imposing barrier that had existed to forestall real social progress imploded, a significant portion of the white population found that the new reality encompassing a ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse nation was regarded as entirely unacceptable.

 The malaise I am referring to is that of the profoundly delusional belief in the supremacy of the white race.  This belief together with the corollaries that it embraces is particularly absurd in the twenty-first century where the modern understanding of molecular biology and genetics has clearly established that race is a completely manufactured concept having no basis in reality, for all individual human beings regardless of their place of origin, color of their skin, cultural identity, system of beliefs are all members of the same species with no essential differences between them.  

Our history as a nation has much to atone for in regard to the malevolent and evil behavior directed at Native American peoples that led to their near-genocide and the unconscionable stealing of their birth rite and homeland.  This appropriated land and natural resources were takings that the colonists and their descendants enormously benefited from.  This belief in the supremacy of the white race was also used to rationalize the institution of slavery that deprived the freedom, dignity,and welfare of people of color forcefully removed from their homelands for the sole purpose of enhancing the economic status of the slave owners and all those who indirectly benefited from this forced arrangement.  To this day, Native Americans and African -Americans are still paying a horrific price for the color of their skin – a wholly accidental difference that is insignificant from the perspective of the inherent biology of the species.

The reality of the bigotry and prejudice that is the essential consequences of this belief in white supremacy – this lie of monstrous proportions – has so distorted the mentality and intelligence of those who hold it as a fundamental truth that it has elevated sheer stupidity and staggering ignorance to a such a place preeminence within our culture that an entire major political party has come to embrace it.  This is the price we are collectively paying for not condemning such preposterous lies. 

The reality of what actually transpired on January 6 is a clear indicator of how far we have come to our own self-immolation.  Any impartial observer to the horrendous events that transpired on that day could not come to any conclusion other than that the perpetrators involved held the system of laws and beliefs that are absolutely essential within the framework of a democratic republic in complete contempt.  To conclude otherwise is to make a mockery of democracy itself. 

Democracy cannot be sustained if truth and reason are held suspect.  Democracy requires an informed, educated, and intelligent population.  Without this bulwark, the enormous problems that confront the nation cannot be delineated, analyzed and successfully addressed.  Without an informed, educated, and diverse electorate, we will effectively jeopardize our future and may well experience a kind of dystopia that has usually been addressed in fictional literature and the medium of film. 

If the violent mob that attacked the nation’s capital - encouraged by a significant portion of the Republican Party - actually succeeded in the installation of a deranged, intellectually challenged and horrendously incompetent leader like Trump in defiance of democratic principles we would be witnessing a significant acceleration of this apparently inexorable process of decline.

One might argue that this line of argument I am presenting is extreme and somewhat exaggerated.  However, please remember that we now live in a country that has justified the universal acquisition of firearms of all varieties including assault weapons.  Within this environment, this country has come to tolerate a level of violence that most civilized societies would find entirely unacceptable. 

Given these realities, what would be the consequences for a country with an abysmal public health system, a failing infrastructure, a catastrophic and extreme climate, a large population of poor and homeless when all of these issues are ignored or mismanaged by an extremist, autocratic, undemocratic, and corrupt government?  What would be the status of the ordinary citizen among a thoroughly armed and disaffected population?  Are we prepared to accept such a bleak and unforgiving environment for ourselves and future generations?

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Plight of the Native American Peoples of the US

It is a disturbing and unavoidable reality that the westward expansion of the United States during the early stage of its development as a nation was accomplished at the expense of the native populations that occupied these coveted lands.  These native peoples were conveniently viewed as less than human and treated accordingly, resulting in their near genocide.  As a result, they were violently displaced from the land they held as sacred for the sake of the unimpeded and ineluctable occupation by white settlers.

To this day, no substantive apologies have ever been offered and no attempt at restitution made to help ameliorate the suffering that has been imposed on these native peoples and their descendants.  The following is a description of the tragedy imposed upon Chief Joseph and his people - the Nez Perce.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce


was known to his people as "Thunder Traveling to the Loftier Mountain Heights."

The Nez Perce occupied an area of Oregon referred to as the Wallowa valley in Eastern Oregon. These people were first exposed to white settlers during the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804 – 1806). They were treated with kindness, consideration, and compassion. On this first encounter they were impressed by the technological advances and capabilities these strangers. To some members of the Nez Perce people, they were regarded as superior being whom they wanted to emulate. This embrace of these newcomers, however, would prove to be ofrelatively short duration.

It was not longer after this initial encounter, that the NEZ Perce was visited by Christian missionaries. An exposure to the ways of the white man as exemplified by the lifestyle of these missionaries led many Nez Perce to convert to Christianity.

Joseph’s father, Tuekakas, as chief of the Nez Perce was a convert and as a consequence, Joseph was exposed at an early age to the ways of these foreigners.

Although the homeland of the Nez Perce was remote and hard to reach served as a significant barrier to encroachment by white settlers, this protection was disrupted by two significant events in the early history of the U.S. republic. One was the California Gold Rush of 1848 and the other was Homestead Act of 1862 that granted up to 160 acres of land to those who would establish residence and make the land productive. This act resulted in the settlement of about 1.6 million on land mostly West of the Mississippi.

Although many individuals migrated to California In search of gold, few became rich. When the dream of becoming rich weathered, many were attracted to the West as a place to settle. As a result, these miners began to encroach upon the land of the Nez Perce.

In addition, the push to settle in the vast lands of the West promoted by the Federal government through the enactment of the Homestead Act was thwarted by the presence of Native American populations that were already resident. In the fact of this reality, the government attempted to come to some kind of peaceful arrangement with these populations through the instrument of treaties. However, there was no real incentive to honor the provisions of these treaties, since the newly formed American nation possessed a superiority in numbers and military capability. The historic record is replete with examples of the abrogation of these treaty arrangements.

When Joseph became chief following the death of his father, he naively believed that the U.S. was sincere in its efforts to find peaceful arrangements and would be true to treaty obligations. It is important to understand that the Nez Perce had a strong body of spiritual beliefs in which the land and all that resided upon it were considered a sacred and sustaining aspect of existence and could not be owned, purchased, or exploited. In this light, the attitudes and politics of the white settlers and the US government were inexplicable.

The turning point came In 1877 as a result of the conference held between many of the indigenous tribal leaders and General Howard representing the US government. The meeting was held at Fort Lapwai. It was Howard’s intention to use this opportunity to issue an ultimatum to those Native American leaders invited that they must leave their land and move to designated reservations. They could do this freely or be forced to migrate. The outcome of this conference demonstrated once and for all the unwillingness of the US government to honor its treaty obligations when it was not in its interest to do so. The ultimate conclusion was that Howard issued his ultimatum that the Nez Perce must either move out of their homeland to a reservation defined by the US government within thirty days or be forcefully driven out. When Chief Joseph attempted to suggest that this abbreviated timeline was impossible to adhere to, his entreaties were ignored.

Rather than accept this ultimatum, Chief Joseph fled with his people – there goal was to travel to Canada and remove themselves entirely from jurisdiction of the US government. This represented a 1400-mile trek (see map below) while constantly being pursued by the US army. This was a brave yet futile effort that resulted in the death of many hundreds of his people. He ultimately surrendered in 1877.


Following the final defeat of the Nez Perce at the hands of the US army, Chief Joseph gave a very poignant and unforgettable speech on October 5, 1877, upon his surrender to General Howard who had been pursuing him and his people for many months in their vain attempt to flee to freedom in Canada. His speech is shown below.

"I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, 'Yes' or 'No.' He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

It is a testament to his timeless courage and unshakeable conviction that there is a town in Oregon (Joseph, Oregon) near Wallowa Lake named after him and the Nez Perce Memorial National Park was created in the same region that is also the site where he is buried. Of course, whether or not the descendants of the Nez Perce will ever be justly compensated for the grave injustice perpetrated against their people is an open question.

The story of this remarkable human being is an extraordinary one.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Judgment and Forgiveness


It is easy to arrive at a summary judgment in regard to an individual, familiar, or not, family member or stranger. It is facile, indeed, for any of us to believe that we have the categorical right to judge another human being on whatever evidence seems to be at hand whether directly experienced or purely anecdotal. It is far too tempting to reach a harsh and immobile conclusion in regard to another individual’s perceived character based upon the assumption that one has a complete understanding of what is right and what is wrong.

In truth, is anyone ever truly able to make a judgment without fully comprehending how reality is perceived through the eyes and mind of the individual being examined through such a myopic lens? Good and evil are terms used far too often with a false and misleading sense of certainty. Far too often, the pronouncement of evil is applied from the standpoint that the one(s) making this determination is decidedly good.

There are no absolutes in the context of human behavior. It is not possible to comprehend another human without seeing through the same eyes, co-existing within the same mind and understanding the cumulative impact of life experiences upon his or her view of the world. Those who are abused in childhood are more than likely to become abusers as adults. Mental Illness has many and myriad manifestations, and those who suffer from severe chemical imbalances within their brains, often exhibit erratic, irrational, and sometimes dangerous behavior. An historic example of this reality was that of Adolph Hitler who was ultimately determined to be a schizophrenic psychopath.

The best we can do and still remain true to the vagaries and vicissitudes of human nature is to judge the behavior and not the person. This is not to suggest that dangerous behavior that does harm to others can be ignored by the society at large; this is not to propose that the person guilty of crimes against his fellow humans is not to be held accountable for his or her actions. We cannot however, with any confidence, determine the inner-workings of another mind and come to any unambiguous assessment of that individual.

Paradoxically, we do have the capacity to condemn a behavior yet forgive the individual responsible for that behavior. Forgiveness is a recognition of the innate frailties of being human. Forgiveness can open the mind and heart, shattering the constraints that judgment imposes. Forgiveness can provide a gateway to the liberation of the spirit, for it lightens the burdens imposed by judgment and loss. Under certain circumstances, forgiveness seems impossible, yet it often becomes a necessary feature of acceptance and growth. Without forgiveness, reality becomes distorted and superimposed by a bleak world of black and white, devoid of color. Without forgiveness, the human world is destined to follow the trajectory that is an unavoidable consequence of violence and retribution. The path of forgiveness and reconciliation that South Africa took following the fall of apartheid under the guiding influence of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu is an excellent example of the power of these actions in forging a more peaceful future.