Upcoming politics, trials and unifying DNA

By Paul DeMain
News From Indian Country Editor

I often tell the story of how I met one of my distant cousins at a 1994 UNITY Coalition of Journalists conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Here I was traveling to CNN headquarters for an interview on several different programs about the momentous 1st meeting of journalists from the National Association of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Journalists Association. I was president of the UNITY, and had the luck of signing the incorporation documents for the organization. My name will always be there to be blamed or praised for what human beings do with the opportunity.

I thought the organization was ahead of the curve on how we (the world) would do business in the future, and we were not far off. The culture of business, and now of politics, is reflective of the “browning” of this country. You either change the culture of business and politics to adjust to the growing economic and political power of the so-called minorities, or communities of color and ethnicity, or you end up out of business.

The UNITY 2008 conference in Chicago is a testimony to that changing culture. With thousands of journalists of color meeting under the stress of industry job layoffs and cutbacks, the atmosphere was still one of new opportunities and challenges. We were also graced with the presence of presidential candidate Barack Obama while McCain blew the whole thing off. The new business and political paradigm applies and the wind of change is in the air for both. I will get back to this in a moment.

Back to my original opening, and my distant cousin. He is now living in Atlanta, Georgia, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and his story is one simular to many in this growing realization that worldly and ethnic borders are growing smaller. It is a small world out there.

Greg Morrison is somewhat from Barbados, his family moving many years ago from that island to the U.S. He brought his mixed ethnicity with him, his African, Native and Scottish roots but culturally, and ethnically he affiliates with the Black community, same as Barack Obama, even though both have European DNA running in their blood, that is often discounted in the formation of judgements of them.

While on the way to CNN in Atlanta, Morrison introduced himself, and I thought it prudent to point out that I myself was related to the Morrison Clan from the Island of Lewis in Scotland, an ancestry that finds its roots in two brothers, a cousin and nephew that arrived in the Great Lakes region during the height of the fur-trade era of the late 1700s and next century.

I began to recite my family tree back through Ojibwe country to Sorel, Quebec, to Scotland, and before long, it was Greg Morrison who was reciting my family history. It seems like one of my distant great-grandfathers who was a shipmate on the steamship Manistee worked the summers on the Great Lakes and the winters in Barbados and had a wife in both ports, as they say.

He went down on the steamship Manistee in a ferocious spring storm in 1883 on Lake Superior, and his family in Barbados never heard another word from him or anyone else. They did not remember what tribe he was affiliated with, but kept the story of his Scottish roots alive which allowed me and Greg to re-reconnect 111 years later. It was there in Atlanta that I ended the mystery of both his Native ancestry and his final demise.

I would meet up with Greg again at the 2008 UNITY conference when we ran across each other at an Obama UNITY appearance at the McCormick center. The candidate was fresh back from his trip in the middle east, and Germany, where some 200,000 people gathered to hear his voice of hope.

I have no qualms supporting the candidate that I feel will bring the most to the table for the Indigenous people of North American, and for that matter, for people of color or non-color throughout the world. My support of Obama goes way beyond the aspects of race, though I have to admit, that unlike my more narrow-minded friends that edge towards the issue of “trust” because of how Black he is, it is the other half of his DNA that I am more suspicious of.


Our male Caucasian leaders have run this country for over 200 years. At least we ought to share in the opportunity to have a person of our choice mess the process up. A majority gave the nod to George W. Bush and he has a done fine job of pretty much messing up everything he has touched.

I think it is time for something new, for some hope, for some inspiration. I think we can count on Obama to do the right things for the Native community with the knowledge that any politician is just that – they are bound by the need to make political decisions for the whole of the country. But I think he will get it right.

Unfortunately, he will also be judged by what I call the “narrow minded” ones in our community – by the color of his skin, by race and those terms that have been used for the last two hundred years to keep us in our place. How ironic. And as one prominent Republican Indian from Wisconsin, and who once led one of the states largest tribes, “I don’t trust those N----rs,” is a statement of how stuck our own communities are in the paradigm of judgment by race, color, and impressions by observation rather than substance.

Our next president will provide the fodder for the realization that even some young man or woman from the Rez, could some day be our president.

The 200,000 people who constituted the biggest gathering to see a presidential candidate outside the United States ever, who flocked to see Obama in Germany, did not do it because they thought he is a loser. They did it because they would like to see the United States rejoin the nations of hope and justice that see a better future by talking, rather than the flexing of military muscles to accomplish what we can’t get at the table, talking with our neighbors.

The world looks at this country with hope that it might just do the right thing for a change.

Hoping for Hope and Justice

Speaking about hope and justice, it has always been hard for me to get off the subject of justice for victims of the American Indian Movement that were murdered in the 1970s because of revolutionary fever and paranoia. Two of the thirteen victims Native investigative journalists have identified include Black civil rights worker and Martin Luther King disciple Perry Ray Robinson Jr., and Micmac mother Annie Mae Pictou Aquash.

As the federal government prepares for the trial of John Boy Patton Graham on October 6 in Rapid City, South Dakota, I note a few things. Only one other man, Arlo Looking Cloud has been convicted and is now serving a life sentence to being Party to 1st Degree Murder.

While Dennis Banks basks in the sun of his latest Longest Walk in Honor of Mother Earth and All Living Things, I often wonder if he ever thinks of the former mistress he allegedly conspired to have executed as a traitor and possible FBI pig – while some Native and non-Native media hold him up as some kind of “hero” in our community.

The trial of John Boy Graham, and other AIM leaders and affiliates like Clyde Bellecourt, Russell, Bill, and Ted Means, Lorelie DeCora, Madonna Gilbert Thunderhawk, Attorney Bruce Ellison, Troy Lynn Irving and her auntie Theda Nelson Clark that may still be indicted, can’t happen fast enough for vetting of information and transparency.

Even Leonard Peltier, the last ranking AIM security enforcer not to have a verifiable location on December 9-13, 1975 has to be concerned about what may become public, beyond his already waning claims of innocence.

But justice will not be served when just the gang of three, Arlo, John Boy and Theda Clark, those who moved against Aquash are behind bars. Justice will only be served when those in AIM leadership/security roles are brought to justice for the manipulation and orders they gave others to do their dirty work, and are forced to concede their roles. Only then will justice be served, and even then it is a hollow replacement for the Robinson, Aquash and other families watching others enjoy the freedom of major movie roles, or nice long walks.


See Index of Related Stories on Aquash Murder case