Poverty Point becomes 1001st UNESCO World Heritage Site

Poverty Point National Monument, an early pre-Columbian indigenous earthworks near the Mississippi River in far northern Louisiana, has just been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s the first place in Louisiana — and only the 22nd in the United States — to earn World Heritage Site status. There are 1,001 World Heritage sites around the globe.

“Welcome to the cradle of Louisiana civilization,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose office nurtured the eight-year Poverty Point application process. “It all started here 3,400 years ago.

It wasn’t the first such site but is famous for its massive scale, and it likely inspired other subsequent earthworks projects by other native societies in what is now the American South.

The Poverty Point complex comprises five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges and a central plaza. It was created and used for residential and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter fisher-gatherers between 3,700 and 3,100 B.C.

Its population’s achievement in earthen construction in North America wasn’t surpassed for at least 2,000 years.

It’s particularly impressive because it was built and enhanced over six centuries by a non-agrarian society — unlike Stonehenge or the Pyramids at Giza — which means they had to keep returning to the site to work on it for hundreds of years, no matter how the local food supply was doing.

The site is, unfortunately, currently at serious risk of erosion damage.

(You can get more info on the Poverty Point peoples at Wikipedia.)

A wide view of the Poverty Point site. (Credit: US Government via Wikimedia.)

A wide view of the Poverty Point site. (Credit: US Government via Wikimedia.)

“…the several States and with the Indian Tribes…”

The title above is a quotation from one the few passages of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 making any references whatsoever to the multitude of indigenous nations on the North American continent at the time. That sort of vague afterthought attitude probably encapsulates well the attitude of most of the Founding Fathers and Constitutional Framers, despite the hundreds of distinct native communities in just the northeast woodlands and southeast woodlands regions alone (i.e. the original U.S.).

The early national leaders and writers of those key documents were generally coastal elites without much direct contact with the American Indian nations that had already been cleared by war, disease, and expulsion from those areas. The backcountry mountain settlers, who had helped precipitate much of the events that spiraled into Revolution by repeatedly trying to cross the Appalachian Mountain “line in the sand” drawn by the British Crown, were neither represented in the circles that established the country nor under their authority most of the time. They generally just wandered off to attack indigenous communities when they felt like it — and then waited either for retroactive approval by the coast or substantial military reinforcements from the coast, if things got out of control. Even the rare treaties made in good faith by colonial and U.S. coastal governments were generally violated by factions who had not been involved in the negotiation process or did not consider themselves subject to those powers anyway. But the U.S. government rarely ever gave more than a slap on the wrist to the offenders.

In general, the country and its predecessor colonies had a very inconsistent and not systematically planned relationship with the American Indian nations — apart from the consistency of overall negativity and genocidal behaviors, and in particular of pushing them westward and into generally ever-smaller areas. That last pattern is tracked in the Lower 48, from the 1783 Treaty of Paris to 1892 and then 2010, in the eHistory video below:

This of course does not really get into the situations in Alaska or in Hawaii. It’s also really important to remember that the semi-systematic thoughtlessness toward and theft from Indian Country by the U.S. government is not some 18th century relic, but continues to present, as we discussed in a recent episode of the radio show.

A more rapid animated gif version of the video is below:
Read more

June 22, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 89


Topics: Washington NFL trademark, U.S. oil royalties for American Indians, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and US/Iran in Iraq. People: Bill and Nate.

Discussion Points:

– Continued U.S. oppression of American Indians
– Will Iraqi Kurdistan declare independence with Turkey’s support?
– Should the US and Iran work together in Iraq?

Part 1 – Washington NFL trademark & American Indian policies:
Part 1 – Washington NFL – AFD 89
Part 2 – Turkey/Kurdistan:
Part 2 – Kurdistan – AFD 89
Part 3 – Iran in the Iraq Crisis:
Part 3 – Iraq – AFD 89

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

– Nate’s AFD Essay: “Washingskins”
– Greg’s AFD Essay: What took so long? Washington NFL team loses trademark for racial slur.
– DOI: Interior Considers Procedures to Reestablish a Government-to-Government Relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community
– DOI: Interior Announces Improved Valuation Method for Oil Produced on American Indian Lands

Segment 2

– AFD: Iraqi Kurdish PM calls for Sunni autonomy; Will Kurds leave Iraq?

Segment 3

– WSJ: Secret U.S. Plan to Aid Iraq Fizzled Amid Mutual Distrust
– AFD: Iran Supreme Leader not keen on working with US on ISIS


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.


Greg had a great post the other day on the controversy surrounding the Washington football team’s long-standing “nickname” — Redskins. I’ve spent more time than is healthy reading internet comment sections on this issue, so I consider myself an expert on the arguments against changing the name. Most are as vacuous as they are willfully ignorant.

“But what about the Fighting Irish? Or the Vikings? Or the Celtics? We would have to change them too.”

This one is my favorite. As if there’s no difference between mascots named for the predominant ethnic group in the area and a racial nickname for the sports team in a capital that once carried out an active policy of ethnic cleansing against that racial group. As someone with Norwegian, Irish, and Native American ancestry, I am particularly amused by these comparisons. No Minnesotans of Swedish origin are up in arms about being compared to their Viking ancestors. Sure, they did a fair share of pillaging, but Vikings had democratic assemblies and were among the most advanced seafaring civilizations of their era. Boston Celtics? The history of the basketball team cannot be told without contextualizing it within Boston’s identity as an Irish city (for better and for worse). Fighting Irish is a similar situation. It was coined by a member of Notre Dame’s own football team and embraced by the Irish Catholic student body, unless there’s a massive uprising against it we’re not hearing about.

“But Indians support the name!”

Then they’ll point to some ten year old poll and talk about how there are Redskin team names on Native American reservation. Oh, ok. No problem then. I guess the fact that some Natives don’t care negates those that do. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works. Just like if your black friend lets you say slurs, you’re free to yell them around other black people and then name your business a racial slur. No problems there.

“Uhhg it’s the LIBERALS trying to PC everything up.”

Ah, the old P.C. canard. I prefer to think of this issue less as enforcing “politically correct” terminology and more making sure none of our sport teams are named something blatantly racist. When the Redskins were founded by vile racist George Preston Marshall, the term Oriental was in vogue to refer to Asian people. Does that mean we should name a team the Orientals? What about the Coloreds? That word and a few others were pretty popular around that time to refer to black people. Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is a Jewish person. I wonder if he would appreciate a team named the Hebes (or worse) with a hooknosed Jew clasping a bag of gold. I know for sure the Washington Darkeys wouldn’t fly today, but this is essentially what we are talking about: an antique word, a relic from an era where pasty scientists obsessively studied the differences between the “races” and learned men established white dominion over the language.

“Don’t be weak and choose to be offended.”

This is perhaps the stupidest. First of all, you don’t really choose to take offense. But second of all, I don’t think Natives are “offended,” so much as sick of the bullshit. I know a decent amount of Natives, most of whom grew up on/close to a reservation. I once asked a friend of mine about the name Redskins and he replied,  “It’s not that it’s offensive — it’s just really dumb.” He went on to describe numerous different ways a team could honor Native Americans without going right to skin color. This guy has also paler skin than I do, but grew up in Oklahoma in a Native family. Just demonstrates the name is inaccurate in addition to stupid.

“It’s not racist! The Redskins are named after their Indian former coach”

This ones complicated and involves draft dodging. The Redskins were founded in Boston and originally shared a field with the Boston Braves baseball team. When they moved to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, the name was changed to Redskins. Marshall was quoted at the time saying the name change was to avoid confusion with the other Native-referencing team, NOT because a coach was Native. It is also not at all clear the coach Marshall referenced, Willie “Lone Star” Deitz, was actually a Native American. Deitz was put on trial and briefly imprisoned for draft dodging WWI by claiming he was a Native American. The jury could not conclude he knowingly lied about his heritage, but a number of discrepancies in the Deitz family’s testimony, as well as his interactions with his supposed sister and her Sioux tribesmen, suggest otherwise. So not only is this origin story not true, the supposed Indian coach likely wasn’t a Native.

“There are bigger issues we should be concerned about”

The history of the United States is a road paved with Native American bones. Since coming to this continent, Europeans have cleansed Natives from their lands, reneged on treaties, massacred Native women and children, conducted biological warfare against them. Many Native Americans live today in extreme poverty, while rape and sexual violence are epidemics on reservations. These are obviously much more pressing issues than a stupid team name. But the name Redskins remains a window into an epoch (one not yet entirely over) where racism was blissfully casual and the Washington football marching band wore headdresses and played “Dixie” before the anthem. Perhaps it is a fitting name for Washington D.C.’s team after all.

American Indian law under siege by anti-Sharia movement

Remember that Oklahoma ballot proposition we covered after the election, which “thwarted” the “creeping” Islamic Sharia law in the state? Well, we knew it was ignorant and damaging before, but it appears it didn’t just take out the ten commandments as collateral damage, but was so broad and vague that it may have taken out Indian tribal law too, which is a serious problem in Oklahoma. Joan McCarter:

This law obviously makes Oklahoma feel like hostile territory for Muslim Americans. It also makes it potentially hostile territory for the very first nations to populate the land that is now Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has the second largest population of Native Americans in the U.S and law experts like Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton point out that language in the law banning courts from looking at “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” could pose a problem if applied to tribal legal cases, as the tribes are considered sovereign nations. In fact, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released an official memo on October 20 explaining how the “lack of specific tribal law language” could “damage the sovereignty of all Oklahoma tribes” and “starkly reminds [the Commission] that some Oklahoma lawmakers forgot that our nation and state were built on the principles, blood, and back of other nations and cultures, namely, ou[r] tribes”

A perfect example of the consequences of voting out of fear. […] A federal judge has granted a temporary order blocking the ban from taking effect. A hearing on the amendment will be held on November 22.

Oops. Good thing that “activist” judge thwarted the thwarting of Sharia, though.

It would be fascinating if this gets litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court, since the whole controversy over the use of “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” stems from a couple Supreme Court rulings by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in which he referenced (but did not rule on the basis of) international laws and norms for comparison. In the intervening years since the controversy erupted, he has shifted dramatically back toward the right, under the divided and partisan Roberts court, and would probably be unlikely to rule against the proposition, although he could surprise.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.