To free the land, you must first free your mind...

This is a conceptual platform for the expression of ideas and issues initiating discussion and action. The communiqué's are my perceptions, opinions and vision about contemporary issues/causes, people I admire & respect, and my goals for the future. My main focus is on the Chahta People by sharing our past to plan for the future today!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First Nations sovereignty, is it time?

In 2007, the United nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. The only members not supporting the Declaration was New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. Since last year, New Zealand (April 19, 2010) and Australia (April 3, 2009) adopted this resolution, leaving only the US and Canada. In April 20, 2010, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan E. Rice said that the US would review the Declaration. On June 25th, 2010, I learned that the State Department was accepting written statements, the deqdline is July 15. The link is here:

From my point of view, I saw that a door was open to where we could present the issue as we have fought for it for so many years. This was a moment to speak the truth as I come to know it, and there is so much reality that is shared and supported by non-Natives in a time where unprecedented crisis's and challenges is pending before us.

As Native people we were bestowed the responsibility of caring for the Earth, but we've been dispossessed through machinations of deceit and force. In those centuries following first contact, we have been conditioned to become the anti-thesis of what we once represented. We remember, but it has became difficult to live in accordance with what we know.

Some people may believe that the US will never agree to the points I raised in my statement below, but when you consider the reasons why the US and Canada are the only ones who have not adopted this Declaration then it is understandable, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't address it. I see no reason to let them off easy, and cheat ourselves in the process. It is way past time to stop asking the government to do what it is supposed to be doing. We need to tell them.

The US was never our government, it accumulated the forces and the weapons of war that exiled many people from their homelands. And even today the mindset that a conquered people is supposed to remain conquered is indicative of racial superiority. We need to stop asking, start telling and start doing. Self-empowerment is going to come from within.

I've had a lot of thoughts and time over the years to think and observe what others have done. I've also seen what our own obstacles have been in our progress, more often than not, it is our racism, sexism and especially our tribalism's. In order to move forward and beyond, we need to overcome those things and develop some unifying principles across many lines. We've all became isolated in our work/causes that it appears we are having little effect.

I am really interested in feedback, and it doesn't have to be on this blog site, you can contact me through email or my number. Thanks!

Statement of Ben Carnes, Choctaw Nation,
on the United States of America's review of the
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

July 13,2010


As an Indigenous man and organizer/activist for Native rights for the past 30 years, I've carried and developed many thoughts as to the relationship this government, called America, has had with the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we still call ours. In order for you to fully understand my perceptions, you must know that I am not an American Indian, Native American, nor am I an American. I am a citizen of the Chahta (Choctaw) Nation, but first and foremost, I am a human being.

I say this because I know the centuries of dishonor that have been shown to us through your failure to uphold treaties, the doctrines that have been used against us in your courts of law and acts of Congress that have only served to dispossess us of our lands, culture/traditions, and sovereignty.

We have endured and survived centuries of attempts to assimilate us into a Diaspora of conflicting values and principles. We've been wrongly labeled as Americans through treaties and the 1924 American Indian Citizenship Act, despite our inalienable right to define who we are. Your government has replaced our traditional forms of government with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and other related acts. We are only left with an unrecognizable shell of our former selves. This is not acceptable.

When Obama went on the campaign trail, we heard many promises, and what we thought was an enlightened understanding, would finally open the doors to a long awaited sense of fairness and justice. Since the day he walked into the White House, we have seen just the opposite of those false promises. We've been promised a bigger piece of the "American Pie" before, however, as Winona Laduke has explained, “We don't want a bigger piece of the pie, we want a different pie.” This concept is what government has refused to acknowledge.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted nearly three years ago, and it is not surprising to the First Nations, the Indigenous Peoples, that Canada and the United States have failed to support it. We are well aware of the legal ramifications this will have on these governments to wield control and power over our lands and resources. We feel it is time that we are truly treated as equal Nations to Nation, as Obama has promised.

With over 560 First Nations in the political boundaries of what is known as the United States, my following suggestions will only be the tip of the mountain in the manner the US can honorably begin dealing with the First Nations in the spirit of this Declaration.

Actions for Implementation

The following points are based on a real resolution of the wrongs perpetuated against the Indigenous caretakers of this land, and any reconciliation effort must include equal participation of the traditional leaders: Chiefs, Headsmen, Clan Mothers and spiritual leaders, etc. (not the IRA tribal councils & Chiefs)

1. The reliance upon the Doctrines of Discovery, Manifest Destiny and other instruments justifying the European immigrants claiming of the lands must be repudiated and/or held invalid. This includes numerous laws and acts of Congress, but not limited to the1871 Indian Appropriations Act and the
1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Claims Commission, including other laws/acts that have worked to the detriment of the Indigenous Peoples.

2. Recognition of the sovereignty of the First Nations, as you afford to the sovereignty of France, England or any other country. This would begin to address the issues of holding our lands, resources and funds in trust. This recognition would entail recognizing and honoring treaties made with the First Nations, and the right to exercise and enforce the authority over the jurisdiction of our lands and territories. This would imply the termination of the trust status to manage our affairs and the need to eliminate the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and establish a First Nations Embassy.

3. The colonized nations of Hawai'i, Puerto Rico and others must be liberated and restored to their proper authority and jurisdiction, just as the First Nations here will expect. Once our nationhood is established, we can finally have a voice and vote within the United Nations.
This is the only honorable thing to do for all the Indigenous nations under occupation by the US Government so they may begin determining their own future and adding their voice to world affairs.

4. Convening a constitutional convention with representatives from the First Nations, and a request from traditional leaders of the Iroquois Confederacy to guide us through the process to establish a means of co-existing with each other. This is only appropriate because it was their Great Law that the US Constitution was based upon. However, it fell short in its construction.


As you can understand, this is by no means an exhaustive discourse on past wrongs. It represents what the US Government can do to uphold the spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a sincere step in reconciliation with actions. Indigenous nations do not need hollow or empty apologies as we have been patronized with in the past.

These points should be a starting point for including the Firsts Nations in the governance and direction that this country should take in world affairs. I realize that if the US acknowledges the wrongs and illusionary attempts to right wrongs in the past, they would be even in worse debt than the 13 trillion plus now.

For example, the Indian Claims Commission only awarded monetary compensation for stolen lands, however the only remedy for stolen lands is the return of stolen lands. The Government has attempted to settle out of court in the Cobell mismanagement of trust case, this amounts to nothing more than a cover up by the government. There must be an accounting and investigation into where the money went, and who authorized its misuse followed by prosecution where possible.

There is also the case of Leonard Peltier, I demand that his freedom be the first offering to demonstrate the US Government’s sincerity in dealing with us. I can understand the President may have a brief from the Justice Department detailing the case as being fair and just. However, there have been legal scholars from the world over who have examined the case and found that his trial was unfair and unjust. He has been widely recognized as a humanitarian, and I would ask that the President to call for a public debate on his case. We know the truth will bring about his freedom and expose lies and criminal acts by the government.

The State Department became involved in 1984 because of international outrage that he was being denied the right to practice his spiritual beliefs. At that time, Leonard Peltier undertook a spiritual fast as the only form left to him with two other men. I'm sure you can find records of that in your files.

I believe that the US has reached a critical juncture in history with the state of the economy, the Gulf Disaster and two ongoing wars, possibly a third, that it cannot afford to dismiss the points raised in this statement. Just as when the first wave of immigrants came from Europe, they needed us to survive here, now the US needs us to help survive the dangerous circumstances that are apparent today.

We know about survival, we have survived so much in the form of assimilation, racism, and genocide. We've been marginalized outside of mainstream America, unless we put on beads and feathers and dance for the tourists. As the first environmentalists, we were dismissed as superstitious heathens. When we spoke about living in balance with the land, we were called uncivilized. Then you pointed your bayonets and cannons at our children and told us we had to move to far away lands. Yes, we understand survival, and even when you outlawed our culture and spiritual practices over a hundred years ago, those ways survived your laws and missionaries, and we still continue to come together.

We are now in 2010, 518 years after Columbus brought his mentality of greed to this hemisphere, and we have survived so much. I believe it is time that, as the First Nations, your government works with us to build a confederacy of First Nations and descendants of immigrants that will fix the mess this country is in. You will never be able to do it without us, through the form of government you practice now.

I would be more than happy to come and present additional testimony at a later date, along with assisting in developing a framework to help bring the points into reality. We are looking for substance in the implementation of the Declaration, we don't need crumbs from your leftovers, nor do we want to be further patronized. If your government truly wants to serve the people, and thereby save itself, then you need us, the Indigenous Peoples of this land.


Ben Carnes


Monday, May 3, 2010

Wounded Knee: a legacy of pain (and pride)

Beginning on Friday night, the Internet came alive with word that the Army was sending three Blackhawk helicopters to the site of a mass grave. Alex White Plume had heard that they were coming to hear the people's story about what happened on December 29, 1890. There was one problem; the people were not told they were coming!

White Plume, utilizing social networks and emails via the Internet, word got out and outrage spread among the Lakota People of Pine Ridge Reservation and the neighboring Rosebud Reservation, and then across the country. When word began to circulate that Army helicopters were going to land at Wounded Knee, one person on Facebook wrote "Oh, hell no!" The call was gather warriors to prevent from allowing the helicopters from landing on or near the site of hallowed ground.

Many people began calling tribal council representatives and families who were unaware of the Army arriving in helicopters. Soon rumors began to fly that it was an arrogant show of force to an invasion.

An emergency blog radio show was set up to broadcast live coverage to report what was going on.  Until some of the invited guests could come on, the host, Wanbli Tate (pronounced: Ta-tay) provided some background on Wounded Knee and why the U.S. Army arriving in this manner offended the people. About 40 minutes into this broadcast Autumn Two Bulls, grandaughter of tribal President Two Bulls, came on and reported that many people had gathered. She said they had put up a white flag just as Big Foots band of Mineconjou's had done on that tragic day.

In talking with the Elders, Autumn says that there is a lot of pain associated with Wounded Knee. "Our people are standing up today to say that this wrong. Why don't the military walk in, why do they have to land in their choppers on our sacred site? A lot of the people are upset that Theresa Two Bulls did not let our people know what was going on."

Another young mother present said, "I feel like they are trying to intimidate me... I feel insulted, how dare they? How dare they do this to our ancestors buried here?  You know if they are going to come and do this, and they want a healing process, why don't they come humbly? We have an airport here. Why can't they park at the airport and drive in... . How come they can’t come in like humble human beings on their feet and walk up that hill?

As Debra White Plume began to speak on the show, in a startled voice she said, "There they are! There's three of them! They're coming! They're coming! Oh my god!" She handed the phone to White Plume who said, "

"There's a lot of people from the local community that didn't know this was going to happen. So they are standing on the hilltop and they don't want those helicopters to land at the killing fields of Wounded Knee. This is a place where the 7th Cavalry came and opted to take revenge on what happen to Custer at the Little Big Horn, so we have bad feeling with them. If they just would have landed someplace else and drove in, I think it would have been accepted... .It kind of scary for us because nobody knew that they were coming. We support the story being told because we think people need to hear it from our side, but the idea of the 7th Cavalry coming in gunships is too overwhelming for us to bear." As the helicopters begin to land, White Plume said, "I'm going to hang up cause I'm going to drive out there to try to stop them. I'm going to hang up now."

Through the afternoon it appeared many people began to anxiously wait to hear what happen. The first reports came that one helicopter touched down briefly, and when the other two attempted to land, women and children ran underneath the helicopters to prevent them from landing. With that, all three helicopters left. Late Saturday night, the first video appeared on youtube from the day. Still, some people were claiming this was staged or a hoax, in spite of statements by people who were there. On Sunday, KOTA was the first mainstream media to break the story after White Plume and is family placed the video of the day on Youtube.

And in the comment section on the KOTA site was a post by an anonymous person claiming to have been on one of the helicopter who said:

I was on one of the helicopters.  We did not mean to disrespect anyone or anything.  We had pre-arranged with the people at the museum and Theresa Two Bulls to land at that particular site.  We were there to learn about the massacre and why it happened and educate our soldiers about how a lack of leadership and values can lead to such a horrible thing.  Again, we did not mean any disrespect to the people or land.  We were told that everyone was informed why we were coming and that it would be ok.  Once we noticed people were not happy about us being there we decided to respectfully leave.  Our apologies to anyone who felt we disrespected them or the land, that was not our intent.  We feel it is necessary to educate the soldiers of today about the mistakes of the past so that they do not ever happen again!      Today, 11:29:27 AM MDT

This morning, Theresa Two Bulls held a press conference and admitted it was a lack of communication and accepted responsibility on KILI radio. Leonard Little Fingeer, Wounded Knee survivor descendant commended those who kept the helicopters from landing. A video of her statement appeared on youtube at:

More information has become available today. Debra White Plume provides a written account of what happened on Saturday at along with more information, including a resolution that was to be presented to the tribal council today.

Many of the issues surrounding Wounded Knee in 1890 and again in the Siege of 1973 has embedded the name in the public's consciousness through books and movies. One action was the awarding of the Medals of Honor to the men in 1890. This has long been a point of contention and sadness to the descendants of the survivors. The commander who was to come to Wounded Knee on Saturday told Two Bulls there was a failure in leadership that led to the mass killing and brutality that followed.

A petition has been online for nearly two years to reach 10,000 signatures to ask the Senate Armed Forces Committee to rescind the medals. As of this writing, only 4927 signatures have been added. The petition can be found at

I am putting this blog up to help people find all the information to find out for themselves what happen on May 3, 2010. It is past what could have been done, but what the people there will do in the future. It has always been said that when you point fingers, there are three pointing back at you. We can only learn from our mistakes and do our best to not repeat them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Free Will - the power to change the world!

 As human beings, we are predisposed to making mistakes in our lives, I've made my share as each of you have. The watermark upon our character is what have we done to learn and rise above our errors? We are shaped by our life experiences, but we bear the responsibility to choose the type of person we want to be. We can make efforts to eliminate our racism and negative bias's, but there is little we can do to eliminate it in other people than to share information. Those individuals will have to make up their own minds.

In 1982, while serving a 12 year sentence for burglary (second conviction) I had been transferred to McAlester for my participation in a "barricade riot", we had taken over the dormitory of the East Cell-house at the Granite, Oklahoma prison, and I was sentenced to 90 days on "The Rock". This 50 man unit was a prison within a prison, divided from the main prison by a wall that enclosed us. While I was there, I began a self-study of law and prison policies. I discovered that as Native prisoners we still had rights, and that there have was a federal court ruling that ordered Oklahoma prison officials to allow group meeting for cultural, spiritual or religious activities. It also ordered that we be allowed to possess, beads, fans, drum and feathers, along with other items consistent with the practice of Native American religion, or spirituality.

In learning about the policies, I found that the officials in charge of "The Rock" were in non-compliance with their own rules. I learned how to file administrative complaints and began filing. I learned that in using the "system", I was documenting a pattern of policy violations and that if any retaliation was taken against me, I could show from the record what led to it. I hadn't anticipated that my actions would literally have me kicked out of a high security disciplinary unit. About a week before the completion of my 90 days, I learned that the captain of "The Rock" told the classification committee to get me out of there because he was tired of doing paperwork! For every administrative complaint I filed, it was sent to him from the Warden's office to address. Apparently, he didn't like being caught not doing his job, and I saw the success in my actions.

After I was placed in general population, I was sitting in the yard when I made a conscious decision to reclaim my freedom. Did I try a prison break? Technically - no, I've been accused of it on more than one occasion, but what I did was make a choice that I would no longer be manipulated or threatened into silence. I broke down the walls that had kept me captive in a society that demands conformity. I gave life to my words, and backed them up by my actions. There are no chains, cells or force that can contain this power, unless we choose to allow it.

I began advocating for the rights of Native prisoners, and for the most part the officials ignored our cultural and spiritual concerns. Some of the Indian prisoners felt that I was doing nothing but making it harder on the rest of us, and that I should drop it and just do my time.I knew that my words and actions would have negative consequences, such as disciplinary actions, denial of parole and severely piss off prison officials. Out of the seven and a half years I was imprisoned, I spent about four years behind the "Walls" and the rest of the time I was shuffled from one prison or another. Most of the wardens didn't want me at their prison.

In December, 1985, there was a major prison takeover, which the media described as a riot. I was there and it was a takeover in protest of the deteriorating conditions of confinement. During the course of this takeover, some guards were severely injured, taken hostage and some destruction. Within weeks, the state legislature convened a special session to determine the causes of the riot, as they persisted in calling it. They ignored that the facility that was doubled beyond capacity, that the food was in shortage, at times inedible, or the lack of meaning jobs or activities for prisoners to occupy their time with. Instead, they blamed this incident on long hair and headbands. They reasoned it caused a rebellious nature in prisoners, so their solution was to ban the wearing of long hair and headbands.

It may be surprising to some people that a few case workers, and guards, told me about the intended policies to force us to cut our hair. One prison employee secretly provided me with the "Draft - Oklahoma State Penitentiary Plan of Action", which included that detail among many other planned policy changes turning the OSP into a lockdown facility, based upon the standards established at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, IL., after a serious incident there in Oct. 1983. These employees felt that they had been placed at risk by the warden and his inaction leading up to the takeover, and it was wrong to blame it on long hair, especially when they understood it was important for Native people to wear their hair long, and I was the "Indian jailhouse lawyer".

In Feb. 1986, I secured a restraining order against prison officials from forcibly beating us up and cutting our hair, if we refused to comply with policy. I had already exhausted the administrative complaint procedures, and prepared an application of injunctive relief. The policy had not been made official yet, and when a friend who was also an attorney went to see the judge about my petition, it was either coincidence of destiny that the judge was in his office watching the news when the warden held a press conference. In his statement to the media he announced that all prisoners would have to cut their hair or it would be done by force - no exceptions. This occurred on a Friday evening, and when the judge saw this he told my attorney that he would be issuing a restraining order first thing Monday morning. I heard about this through the grapevine on Friday night, so when I went to my job in the prison law library, my supervisor told me that I needed to go to the barber shop and get a haircut. I told him that just because it was policy didn't make it right and that I needed a little bit of time to type up an affidavit to as to why I was refusing to cut my hair. He tried to convince me that it didn't mean anything and I might as well cut it. My supervisor, was Choctaw, but was not raised with traditional values or principles. I explained to him prior court decisions dealing with the right of wearing long hair. He held a blank look until I advised him that I was expecting a restraining order from Judge Layden, "How do you know that?" he asked. I said call him and find out.

Instead, he called the Classification Supervisor, and then told me that he would be coming down to speak with me. I kept getting told that throughout the day, but he never came. On Tuesday morning, I received a delegation of prison officials consisting of the deputy warden of programs, the security major, classification supervisor and the officer in charge of prison mail.  Policy, mandates that legal mail is not to be opened except in the presence of the prisoner it is addressed to. They opened it to inspect it for "contraband", and handed it to me. I quickly read it and the held it out to them. They asked me what was I going to do now. I said I was going to file a motion to certify us as a class action so they couldn't cut any Indian prisoners hair. By that evening, my case was the news of the day all over the state.

I'd like to say we won the case, but the judge ruled against us in 1987, he did so because the prison officials implemented a process to exempt prisoners from this policy for religious reasons. The prison officials may not have even done that, but during the course of this litigation, someone discovered a letter written from the director of the corrections department which stated that the Native American religion was in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brotherhood regarding my concern of not being permitted to form a Native cultural group. This did not sit well with the Native people everywhere, and the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission became involved in my case.

The human rights commission later presented me with a human rights award in 1987 for my actions in defending the rights of Native prisoners. I believe that the corrections department had been notified about this and it led to my being transferred out of maximum security and then later being paroled after serving seven and a half years on a twelve year sentence for burglary and knowingly concealing stolen property. Most prisoners with good behavior can be paroled after about three years on a similar sentence, but I had turned down parole hearings, choosing to remain in prison to continue fighting this case.

Nuchi Nashoba, Chahta actress, accepted my award from thegovernor of Oklahoma with my mother in attendance.
After receiving this award, a prison warden told me that in today's society, I would never be successful with long hair. It is a subjective opinion and I guess it has its place, but who has the right to determine for me what is success? After being paroled, I was asked to speak at numerous events on prisoners rights, I was invited to testify before congressional committee's, and I've worked with many human rights organizations. I've traveled to the United Nations in Austria and to the country of Columbia as a human rights delegate. I've served many times as a national spokesperson for Leonard Peltier, a political prisoner in the United States, and have organized numerous events and demonstrations.

When I went to prison, I blamed the government for our problems, but today through my experiences and the realizations it has brought forth, I know when I point fingers, I have fingers from my own hand pointing back at me. If we see a problem, what are WE going to do about it. As I sat in my concrete tomb of "The Rock" studying law, I saw that complaining to others to resolve the problems we were confronted with wasn't doing any good. I needed to address it in the most constructive way I could. And when I made the choice to change my life, that is when things happened.

Please understand that there are consequences to our actions and that we must be prepared to deal with it. Freedom isn't free and we will pay a price, don't wait until you have nothing left to lose to make a stand or we will spend a lot of time fighting to regain what we have left now. Through our actions we will create our destiny, so we must be aware of who we are and where we want to go. There is power in one person who can free their mind to begin freeing the land and the people, it only takes one to start moving forward against a mountain of injustice.

(Copyright © 2010 by Ben Carnes. All Rights Reserved.)