Another Island

Island Life


We have just had another shock, another mass shooting- what appears to be another race-base shooting. On a different planet- our Island planet, I was looking at the other Island newspaper tonight and saw the cartoon on the editorial pages. It referenced the preponderance of good news coming out these days and had the reader holding the paper open ask his partner if they had any old newspapers around so he could see some bad news that would elevate his anger level. While I mostly enjoy Steffon’s work, I would here evoke ye olde saw- be careful what you ask for.

For starters, I would warn against the perception that because we have gone through a change of governance (I might have said leadership but what we left behind showed no trace of that attribute) that we are now free and clear of past troubles. Just for starters in example land, I would point to the widely held belief that the dawning of the Obama administration proclaimed far and wide that we as a people had indeed transcended racial inequality and injustice and were ready to move ahead to a Star Trekian future where race and gender coexisted in the operations on the bridge and at the helm of state and we were ready to move ahead as a fully aware and compassionate American populace. Instead, what we got was a fiery wake up call from the dispassionate and racially perverse guidance of the grand, orange turd wizard. In at least one way, we should be glad that this abomination of American culture and government came to pass, since it showed us in no uncertain terms that hate, racism and the urge for social and economic equality in this country were quite alive and well and just below the surface of the fantasy land that eight years of a Black president allowed us to stride through.

There were other indicators that we had not had the country wide epiphany that we believed we had as we moved through the Obama years. There was of course the prison at Guantanamo, that had proved to be just one of the many stains on the American image left to us by the Cheney-Bush gang. As I recall, one of the promises Mr. O had voiced to us was that we would extricate ourselves from that international debacle and release prisoners who were being held for no real reason other than they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. That didn’t happen. As I understand it as well, our bombing of foreign sites through remote controlled aircraft increased dramatically under Obama as well. If anything says violation of international human rights it is the mechanical death from above that our drone programs brings to citizens of  other countries, just because our “intelligence”, no matter how flawed, says we should target them, as well as just because can.

There was stuff coming in from the other side that should have, and indeed did give one pause in many cases in wonderment as to their intent and motivation. There were the many references to the monkey in the White House from both domestic and foreign sources. There were the numerous suggestions from the right that for some reason Obama was some sort of closet Hitler, which at best made no sense at all except to those that for some reason saw it as a valid accusation. And then, of course, there were the open and overtly racially tinted statements from Mitch McConnell and others in Republican “leadership” who all stated insistently that they were there to obstruct and subvert Obama’s “liberal” agenda. If one has any doubts about that agenda from the right, one need look no further than the Merrick Garland debacle and McConnell’s derailment and what some would call unconstitutional denial of his nomination and consideration for a place on the Supreme Court.

Somewhere in the facebooks today I read a quotable quote from someone, I think it might have been Ann Landers about something along the lines of it being impossible to clean out an attic if one is able to read. This of course refers to the curious thing that happens to someone with even a minor sense of curiosity, and that is that once you start pulling out old papers and magazines, it is inevitable that one will become mired in perusing the past. I believe I have mentioned here before that that has happened to me on more than one occasion when going through microfiche records of old Island newspapers at the library. One pulls the micro-photocopied cards of a certain range of dates where one hopes to find old information or leads to where that might be, and soon you find yourself reading about community events and happenings and then your time is up, whether you have found what you were looking for or not. What you did find though is that many of the problems then are still problems now. People take the time to write in and complain about “people going over town to shop and not supporting Island businesses” or a litany a of complaints directed at ferry scheduling or boats leaving half empty with people still stranded on the dock, and the whole thing goes around and around without resolution or satisfaction, even to this here and now.

Most recently, on a slightly different tangent, I had an experience at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on West Marginal Way in Seattle. I was there to record a short piece they were doing to celebrate Spring and to honor Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Sealth. On some level, right away, that should perhaps set off some alarms for some. The loudest one might be, what is a white guy doing there recording Indian stuff. I have wrestled with this issue for some time now with other projects. Some may recall my befuddlement over how to deal with Native American affairs in my stalled project about Horace Greeley. If you have been along for this whole ride, you will recall that I had an epiphany of sorts a few years back whilst following the route of the 1859 overland journey that Greeley made between New York and San Francisco, and that was that here was this white guy- me-  attempting to trace a cross country journey west by a white guy who owned the largest circulation newspaper at the time and who was known mostly for the statement that was attributed to, but not originated from him saying: “Go West young man, and grow up with the country.”

The problem with that was the problem with the whole westward expansion, and that was it completely ignored the indigenous population and set forth the precedent of ignoring who was already here, and vilifying their existence in order to justify their eradication. This is kind of the long way around to why I was at the Duwamish Longhouse, but it kind of explains my caution and reticence at being there. As it was, I got there and was waiting for things to begin and was, in the mean time, wandering through their exhibits, and between that and talking with the drummer and singer I was recording, I learned about a part of Seattle history I had not heard about. I knew that an Indian on Seattle’s streets was generally looked upon with disdain- we had that cop shoot and kill an Indian woodcarver not long ago with little or no consequences. But what I did not know was that back in the day- late 1800’s-early 1900’s- Indians were not allowed to be on the streets in anything but Euro-American clothing- no native regalia. Back then, their homes were slowly eradicated from Seattle’s waterfront until their longhouses were finally burned to the ground, and what was left of the Duwamish people were banished to what was then known as Ballast Island. It was a mound of dirt and rock ballast that was dumped there by ships coming to Seattle to haul away wood products for markets elsewhere. And so the Duwamish were left in canvas tents on a pile of barren dirt and rocks at the mouth of the Duwamish River. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this encampment soon became a tourist attraction, where boatloads of paying customers would come to gawk at the last vestiges of a Northwest tribe.

If you want to look back at past issues, there is plenty to get angry about, but the thing that should make one angrier than anything from the past is that we have not done anything to correct many of the injustices of the past, and so we continue to relive them. We can salve our consciences by reciting the litany of how we honor the people whose lands we have stolen with a wink and a nod, and therefore  we satisfy ourselves that recognition is all we need to have done to have solved the many layers of problems that the Great Taking wrought upon the former occupants of these lands. This is a huge issue, along with many other huge issues, that will not be solved just by noting who once lived here and getting on to the otherwise happy festivities to come, while the illusion of solution by recognition drifts past in the wake of time and slowly sinks somewhere off the port stern.