April 30, 2014
This speech was presented on April 30, 2014 at the Homeland Security Congress (Crystal City Hilton, Arlington VA) by “Bana Slowhorse” of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (actually Gitz Crazyboy), just after the Department of Energy speech. It was followed by a “traditional” Indian circle dance.
I just want to say good morning and thank you for your time. I am Bana Slowhorse. I am the Director of Industrial Development for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I am a member of the Wannabe Nation, and hereditary chief of the Longback Clan.
Joining me here is my nephew, Four Feathers. For each of his feathers, he has one job, a job that’s sacred in our community. He is a fire chief. A war chief. A water chief. And you know, Wannabes can do almost anything, so he actually also is a midwife; he helps the young mothers, the ladies, with childbirth. This is Four Feathers.
Before we can go any further, I would like to honor the peoples of this land. I wonder if anybody here knows, before the European Americans came over, who was here first? Not just American Indians. [Four Feathers (Tito Ybarra): “Wahoo.”] No, I don’t want to hear about Chief Wahoo either.
Who was here first on this land we’re standing on, actually, was the Piscataways. So we are going to open this up with a drum song and an honor song, to the Piscataways, and for all of us as well. Four Feathers, take it away.
[“Four Feathers” sings]
Thank you, Four Feathers.
We are gathered here today in celebration. Today marks a new chapter in America’s history. We are here to honor this new partnership between our two great nations, our peoples.
This plan you have just heard will open up new doors, possibilities, the betterment of both our peoples—and it’s based on wind, water, and sun. For the first time, I can honestly say that we Indians have a voice; for the first time, we will truly own the energy that comes from our land. And that’s change. That’s progress.
But first, I must address the elephant that’s in the room.
There’s a long sordid history between the European-Americans and the indigenous peoples. It hasn’t always been a beneficial relationship—at least not to us. First, we were subject to genocide. Ever since, we were viewed as the people in the way—first of American expansion, then of fossil-fuel production.
When we weren’t that, we were looked at as mascots. We find our faces as logos and team names. Hollywood romanticizes us as people lost in a forgotten time.
Back in those days when America was being founded, or re-founded I guess, and people were expanding from right to left, from the East Coast to the West Coast, diseases were introduced, some of them purposefully to wipe us out, and some by accident.
Now, we have the disease of fossil fuels, and it’s bringing on new waves of sicknesses that you can see all across Turtle Island: cancer clusters, epidemic breathing problems, etc. But this time it’s not just we who are sick: it’s the land itself that’s ravaged, polluted, diseased. I have travelled all over this continent to see my relations—all the way up north in Canada, all across America, even to my cousin relations in the Deep South—and I’ve seen this everywhere.
And the disease of fossil fuels doesn’t only affect Indians, of course. In fact, it affects every single person on earth—because of climate change. And we know that more storms are coming, and that we’re all in the same boat now. Everything is changing, whether we choose to believe it or not.
Our people used to live off the land, and eat its plants, its animals, its fish. They knew how to manage the land, and they were healthy. Today, would you eat any of the fish that came out of that lake over there?
Biologists call certain species, certain frogs for example, “indicator species.” They’re like the canaries in the coal mine—and today, they are all sick. But there’s a new indicator species, and that’s us. We are sick, and we are at risk. The entire world is heading into a disaster, and we can all see the telltale signs and storms.
Our ancestors in the past would see a storm on the horizon. The elders would tell us young fellas, they’d say “Nitigit”: it’s time to get ready. “Nitigit”: there’s work to be done. And in our teepees we would have to stack—I’m not kidding, we had big teepees back then—we would have to stack wood this high, he would have to stack furs and food this high, and our fires would have to be this high to be seen all around, when that storm was coming.
And it wasn’t just for our families, because we would often take in the people to the left or the right of us. Some maybe couldn’t work or were elderly, and we would take them into our homes. So today I tell all of you: the storm is coming, it’s called climate change. And I tell each and every one of you: “Nitigit.” It’s time to get ready.
And I’m excited that we at the Bureau of Indian Affairs can now build, together with the Departments of Energy and Defense, this new dawn, these new steps to a better future.
What is it that we are leaving for our kids and grandkids, our nephews and nieces, our protégés that are looking up to us in our fields? How will they replace us, and what are we leaving for them? What is that one great gift you want to give them?
Sir, you: what’s the great gift you want to give your protégé and your kids? [Man answers: “A brighter future.”] And sir, you over there? [Man answers: “A better life.”] Ma’am, you? [Woman answers: “A better life than I’ve had.”]
I too think about the legacy that I want to leave the young generation. I think about my boy back home, Julius, and I think about one thing especially that I’d like to leave him, and that’s this. (Steps off stage and pours a glass of water from a pitcher.) Clean, drinkable, water. It’s the same for all of us, no matter where we are. Like all our other natural resources, we’re rapidly running out of it, all over this planet.
There’s no doubt at all we can do this. Up there in the Alberta Tar Sands, where I have some relatives, they said the same things about that that they’re saying about a renewable energy future. They said it costs too much money, it’s too much of a gamble, it can’t work. But then a company called Sunoco went up and started extracting that oil, and they proved everyone wrong. And they destroyed that land, and turned boreal forest into a toxic desert.
With some encouragement, with some stimulus, with some incentives, all those companies will soon be making wind and solar facilities. And thanks to this program, we will own that energy.
And how long will this energy and this true independence last? The answer comes from our ancestors who signed the treaties with the European settlers—but this time it’s for real. I’ll echo their words: as the sun shines [Ybarra bangs drum], the river flows [Ybarra bangs drum], the grass grows [Ybarra bangs drum], and the wind blows [Ybarra bangs drum], we will have energy, we will have these jobs.
One last thing. It’s obvious that America would never have been settled at all, without the help and guidance of indigenous peoples of this land. And so I ask all of you here to join us as we venture on into this new chapter, this pivotal point in America’s history, as we walk together. It’s indeed time for a second Thanksgiving. And I just want to say: thank you.
I would also like to thank the Department of Energy for all the work that’s gone into this plan, to changing this paradigm. So I’d like to acknowledge that with a gift. I actually went out and killed a dear, and I tanned the hide myself. My wife decided where we would give the meat, to whom we would distribute it, to whom in the community. And then she took the hide that I had treated and made this beautiful gift, which I would like to give to Benedict here. [“Benedict” comes up on stage and “Bana” fits the jacket on him.] When I shot this deer, I thought how it would look when we stood together. I’m hoping it fits.
We are all the Department of Energy.
[Circle dance follows.]