Dances With Ghosts

Dances With Ghosts

As the House of Representatives voted to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich decried the back-door methods and contemplated the impact on the indigenous Gwich’in people.


This essay originally appeared in and is reprinted with permission.

Early in the morning on Monday, December 19, the United States House of Representatives will vote on the Defense Authorization bill, which contains a provision to permit the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

I have taken three opportunities on the floor of the House early today to alert the American people of this back-door approach to passing a very controversial bill, which is desecration of the basic human rights of the Gwich’in people. When will America get off the treadmill of sacrificing native rights to greed, territorial ambitions and fear? We will soon observe a grim anniversary that testifies to our persistent moral dilemma when it comes to those who were here first.

One hundred and fifteen years ago, on December 29, 1890, the US Seventh Calvary, under the control of Col. James Forsyth, directed artillery fire against Lakota men, women and children. One hundred and fifty Native Americans were killed in what became known as the Massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. US government troops were drawn to the land of the Lakotas to enforce a ban on Ghost Dance Religion, a native mysticism that taught nonviolence and included chanting prayers and dancing through which one could achieve the ecstasy of harmony with the paradise of the natural world.

The dance was forbidden out of fear that excitation of religious passions would turn to Indian violence against the US government. The history of the United States’s relationship with our native peoples has been one shame-ridden chapter after another of expropriation, humiliation and deception, theft of lands, theft of natural resources, destruction of sacred sites and massacres. The United States’s relationship with our native peoples has been an endless cycle of exploitation and contrition, massacres and apologies.

Who in the future United States will apologize to the descendants of today’s Gwich’in tribe, whose humble, natural way of life, religion and culture are threatened with extinction by the plan to drill oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? The Gwich’in tribe has lived on its ancestral lands for 20,000 years in harmony with the natural world. The drilling for oil in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, called by the Gwich’in “the Sacred Place Where All Life Begins,” will disrupt caribou calving grounds, leading to the long-term decline not only of the herd but of the tribe that depends upon it for survival.

This will not only violate internationally recognized human rights of the Gwich’in; it will also make a mockery of our founding principles of belief in the inalienable right of each person to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Members of Congress will come to the floor today and say we need to drill to protect our economy, to defend our country, to keep our way of life.

I intend to point to the reciprocal nature of our moral decisions. Christian teaching tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves. We learn from other spiritual insights that what we do unto others we actually do to ourselves. We cannot in the consciousness of true American spirit return to a history of slavery, a history where women had no rights or a history where native peoples are objectified and deprived of their humanity, their culture, their religion, their health, their lives. We must make our stand now not only as to who the Gwich’in are but, in a world where all are interdependent and interconnected, who we are and what we will become based on our decisions today.

When we perpetrate acts of violence, such as drilling in ANWR, we are damaging ourselves as humans. It destroys the land, it destroys the herd, it destroys the Gwitch’in. It destroys us all. Another part of the true America will die. We must not only search for alternative energy. We must search for an alternative way to live. We must escape this cycle of destruction. We must reconcile with nature. We must find a path to peace, with our native brothers and sisters and with ourselves.

One hundred and fifteen years ago, the Ghost Dancers were killed. Yet we still meet their ghosts. They are dancing upon the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy