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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just a "drunk injun" issue...

You're not likely to have seen this show; we miss a lot by having several thousand channels and none of them international. But if you're curious about an interesting case of a native man in Canada (it's a neighbor country), and the sentence he got of "spiritual work" after he let his children die--while on an alcohol bender--start looking: RightGirl's Blog, and the original story.

I'm sending you to RightGirl for two reasons. First, she seems to have sounded off rather loudly on this, and second, she's how I learned about it. She even got into an interesting fight on Canadian TV (Yes, they even have TV) with a talking head over her use of the terms "drunken injun" and "sweatlodge justice."

Check it out; it's a fun fight.

But it's problematic. Deeply so.

First, Wendy Sullivan, AKA RightGirl, and Micheal Coren, AKA the talking head, are fighting over the same side. He thinks its terrible, but she shouldn't be allowed to use words like "injun," and she thinks it's terrible and that she should be allowed to use any words in the lexicon. They're the perfect picture of the right and left of modern Western politics. The right is mad about intellectual language (and with it intellect, though they have plenty) and the left is mad over the intelligent use of language (which is what got them beat up from 1994-2009, and what got them the election in 2008).

Both sides are wrong.

What's really at stake here? The story is simple. A native man got drunk and "lost" his daughters in a snowstorm. They died. He was sentenced by a judge, but his tribe wanted to use a sentencing circle to sentence him apart from the criminal system. Sullivan and Coren both think it's abominable that tribal justice might rule over the judicial system, but Coren thinks we should say that without making fun of a system our forefathers helped ruin.

Heaven forbid we should have satire and learn to laugh at our problems--or learn to fix them.

My first issue with the argument is that it was entertaining mindlessness under the guise of debate. I don't mind entertaining mindlessness; I watch plenty of it. But it pisses me off when we pretend it's anything but mindless.

Sullivan, rightly, says that any person who wishes to be part of the system, must live by the laws and justice of that system. What she's not saying is what lies under that. The "Indian affairs" systems at work in the US and Canada are not viable. They are a form of oppression in the guise of emancipation. "Do whatever you like on the Res. But the Res is where we get to keep you infantile in our minds and social order."

Whereas the rest of our society is based on the mutual agreement that laws rule, and that all citizens, to hold that title, must live under that rule. We pretend that "the nations" have autonomy on the tiny, shrinking, tracts of land we "gave" them, but once we've marginalized them to those tracts, we get frustrated when they don't want to live under our rule.

Hell, I wouldn't either.

The reservation system is flawed and damaged and damaging, and it's time we faced it--as adults. That is what Sullivan should have been saying.

As for Coren, he's pissed that Sullivan went for the punchline instead of the argument. But he is stuck in the same TV, soundbite, three seconds to say it, format she's in, and he seems to not know what it is that's really pissing him off.

Let me help: Coren is peeved that the system we set up to make up for our forebears' mistakes has instead broken things further, and he doesn't know how to suggest we fix it, because he's afraid to say it's broken. So, because of misguided and misplaced guilt, Coren is afraid that we'd only break it more if we tried to fix it.

But what about the negligent-drunken-murderous-"injun"-father?

By now, you've read the story. Pauchay's tribe wants to sentence him to do "spiritual work" for three years, rather than jail for three years. Sullivan is angered because to her this is not punishment.

But is she sure?

I'm intrigued that a person speaking for the political right would find "spiritual work" not to be punishment. My father, a rabbi, likes to say that the truest hell of the atheist is to find his soul returned to G-d. Seems to me, the truest punishment for what Pauchay did, is to force him to soberly face the heinous nature of his own act. "Spiritual Work," one might say, would be the toughest sentence in this equation.

Three years in a cell block with felons who make an art of denial of their crimes, who will teach this man new and more interesting ways to waste his life, who are more likely to cause him physical damage and harden his mind against his own guilt than to help him see and feel it in full, will leave him an ex-con, not a better man.

Time to face yet another truth; our justice system is just as broken as our system for natives (or aboriginals, as I believe every other culture in the world calls them). Instead of dealing with the problems caused by criminals in our society, we lock them away and hope that years of socializing with each other will not make them recidivists. Might as well kill them all to begin with, since we're sentencing them to life without parole from felony. And sentencing ourselves to a more criminal and violent, recidivist filled, society. Maybe we could learn a thing or two and reconsider the Bentham Panopticon model of "justice."

Let me make this simple: Western "justice" and the "reservation" systems both suck! It's time to stop fearing fault and start finding solutions. It's time to leave off the childish blame game and start earning all our places at the adults' table. We are all (and I do mean all) complicit.

Done.

Now let's do some spiritual work and find a solution.