Dear Editor, Valley Morning Star
Ha’shi? Danzho. Warm greetings.
I am the daughter of hereditary Chiefly families of the Ndé, and the Hada’didla Ndé, related to the Cúelcahén Ndé, Nakaiyé Ndé and Suma Ndé through my maternal and paternal lineage. I am a direct lineal descendent of Lipan Apache Chiefly peoples, and the Chiefly peoples of the Moctezuma family with Crown Land Grant Titles made between Indigenous peoples and Spain. In American, this would be translated as: I am Lipan Apache, Jumano Apache, Tlaxcalteca, and Nahua, and Indigenous to the Traditional Territory of Konitsąąįį gokíyaa (Big Water Lipan Country).
Recently my mother mailed me a copy of the article entitled, “Ranches of Significance,” (Rio Living, Section D, January 22, 2012), because she wished to share the published list of the rancherías, ranchos, and comunidades which are relevant to our families’ long place-based and land-based history in the Texas-northeast Mexico region.
At first glance, I was hoping to be encouraged on the author’s emphasis on local heritage life ways of the Original Peoples, which are the underlying roots of South Texas cultures. The European immigrant and settler societies borrowed fundamental concepts and knowledge systems from Indigenous peoples of the entire South Texas-North-eastern Mexico region.
After beginning to read this article, unfortunately, I encountered a firm barrier which deeply impacted my reading of this article.
I am troubled by the continuation of a particular discursive pattern, one which has for too long saturated the settler society’s racist imaginary of Indigenous peoples of our homelands. I want to share my views of the negative characterizations of ‘Native Americans’ perpetuated in Mr. Rozeff’s article, and to comment with an Indigenous perspective about why I think it is cruel, harmful and wrong for this kind of bias to be published in popular, mainstream Texas media.
I want to take this opportunity to provide critical feedback about the misinformation published in this article, and help the Editors gauge the diverse and critical consciousness of your readership. I also hope that this letter to the Editor will provide you a moment to re-think how race functions when minimally researched information is being provided to your readers as ‘facts’ and the harmful and indoctrinating role that public media plays in perpetuating racism against Native Americans-Indigenous peoples. I hope that my review comments will be used to educate your readers, and provide insights to your staff members.
An important misconception which circulates among the settler society in Texas, specifically South Texas, is that “Indians”, “Natives”, and “Native Americans” are ‘vanished’, ‘disappeared’, and in the ‘past.’ Nothing is further than the truth in South Texas, where indigenous peoples are a majority-minoritized population. Read ‘minoritized’ as colonized and subjugated. According to the National Congress of American Indians latest findings, Texas is #10, among all 50 U.S. States, for the highest number of Native Americans today, and growing every day. Over 250,000 persons of Native American heritage were counted in the 2010 Census data. (See “Census releases data on American Indian population,” at http://news.yahoo.com/census-releases-data-american-indian-population-205256402.html.) However, when Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Nahua, and numerous other Native American groups are figured, this would substantially increase Texas’ Native American population. However, state practices which lump all Native American people together in Texas as “Mexican”, “Hispanic” or “Latinos” works to mask the underlying reality.
This information is relevant to my critique, because it ensures that the readers of your paper get an 21st century, Indigenous perspective and critical view of an entrenched racial bias that continues to be circulated among settler societies and the media they control, thus furthering ideological objectives geared to hard-wire problematic views about “Native Americans” among the masses.
In his second paragraph, when he opened his article with large generalizations about Spain’s colonization of the (current-day) Lower Rio Grande and (current-day) northeastern Mexico, Mr Rozeff states: “Aggressive Native Americans were no longer a major problem to the primitive settlers.” This is a problematic in several ways. Today, it is considered an act of violence to use adjectives and qualifiers, grafted from 19th century texts and discourses, i.e. “aggressive”, next to “Native Americans.” This qualifier has been mass-produced and mass-circulated across many diverse mediums (films, pamphlets, comic books, postcards, advertisement, novels, news clippings, hate literature, etc.), and specifically attached to social and legal processes constructed to systematically destroy Native Americans in Texas.
This discourse immediately instructs readers to adopt, uncritically, the anti-Indigenous racism, biases, ideas, and belief systems that are bound up in that qualifier, instructing readers to think about Indigenous peoples in narrowly conceived ways. It teaches the point of view of settlers, empires, nations, and developers who often used cultural, social, legal, and military force to remove, relocate, enslave, traffic, and subjugate Native American-Indigenous peoples into forced labour in institutions developed specifically to control the Indigenous land owners’ behaviours.
It is important to provide the Indigenous counter-history, perspective and up-to-date facts about the realities, not the Texas Cultural Myths.
In the sentence, referring again to Native Americans, Rozeff alludes that Indigenous peoples “were no longer a problem.” In a sweeping generalization, Rozeff glazes over the literal and violent reality of complex processes whereby Indigenous diplomacy, broken agreements, deceptions, and extreme resistances against dispossession and roaming killing gangs led to numerous violent confrontations where Indigenous peoples were violently subjugated against our will and consent.
The underlying reality, what Rozeff is so easily dismissing, is genocidal methods which were deployed by resource-hungry settler groups, individuals, and powerful elites who based their wealth on dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ traditional territory. Rozeff’s statements disguise genocide as an acceptable history and treatment of Native American Sovereigns, i.e. the Proprietary Title Holders, also known as Aboriginal Title holders in international law. Aboriginal Title is still a contentious issue, i.e. unresolved and ongoing, between the current-day lineal, hereditary descendants of aforementioned Aboriginal peoples who live all across each and every county in South Texas: the Ndé, anthropologically known as ‘Lipan Apaches.’
Furthermore, in the very same sentence , Rozeff refers to “the primitive settlers.” Thanks to the excellent development of critical and peer-reviewed investigations of South Texas’ Indigenous history and ongoing present, we know now that the majority of peoples receiving land grants from Spain (who Rozeff is so quick to racialize as “primitives” and so easily dislocates from indigenous place through use of “settlers”) were Indigenous peoples. Hereditary descendants of Chiefly Tlaxcalteca and Nahua peoples entered into Sovereign agreements, treaties, and ‘Grants” with the Spanish Sovereigns. The founding Indigenous Land Grant peoples comprised a highly complex society of Indigenous peoples who gained ‘rights’ to lands through a variety of legal measures. Three of these strategies for gaining land grant titles were through military service, conversion to Catholicism, and agricultural/ranching promises to work the lands granted. There is extensive literature about the Lipan Apache wars against the Tlaxcalteca and Nahua settlement in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, as well as South Texas—key battlegrounds of Lipan Apache homeland defense. Thus, a great majority of the so-called, alleged “primitives” and “settlers” with Crown Title grants, were in fact Tlaxcalteca, Nahua, Otomi, Purepecha, and diverse indigenous peoples who made and who their direct descendants have made immense contributions to South Texas society today.
It is considered highly problematic in the United States and in international law to describe Indigenous peoples, and any group deemed as a ‘racial minority’ within a State as “primitive.” The discourse of the “primitive” has long been used through settler colonial regimes and societies to enact violence and to perpetuate ideologies of hate, oppression, marginalization, exploitation, and normalized poverty. South Texas is analyzed through this lens by numerous researchers globally.
It is unacceptable to allow this pernicious form of racism and oppression to be allowed to be published and disseminated broadly in mass media communication in South Texas, Texas, the U.S. and in the bi-national region. I think there more work could be done to examine how the values and misinformed perceptions of history as perpetuated by the colonizing groups’ descendants are deemed ‘fact’ and ‘scientific’, and automatically qualify to be ‘waived’ for any verification of fact or truth.
This form of unverified ‘authenticity’ is one of the many ways in which non-Indigenous peoples carry out some of the tools of domination they carry around in their ‘knapsack’ of privilege. Without critical examination of the underlying structures which enable dehumanizing and racist writing, it is allowed to be ‘out-ed’ as ‘history’. This pattern and this article demands that I protest this form of Native American bashing, and this be disrupted.
Entrenched and normalized racism, discrimination, and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples in the Texas-Mexico border region is allowed to go without critical review, and without disruption causes deep and irreparable harm against Indigenous peoples in the Valley and South Texas who are forced to endure the banal ignorance of those who continue to minimize our massive contributions to world knowledge, world history, and hemispheric systems upon which everyone depends for daily sustenance. Our peoples, our cultures, our values, and our ongoing existences are not ‘folklore’, nor ‘myth’; we are not frozen in ‘ancient pasts’; we are not your grotesque spectacle and backdrops for settler society’s degrading notions of ‘cultural’ and ‘multicultural’ tourism, consumption and continuing theft and appropriation of our heritage—a complete knowledge system—not a ‘fiesta’.
The Native American-Indigenous peoples of South Texas and North-eastern Mexico are not ‘primitive’ fixtures and backdrops of the settler society’s privileged ‘heroic pioneer’ stories. The ‘pioneer’ legacy is an reality of violent disenfranchisement, colonization, and subjugation of the Aboriginal Title owners. When you gaze upon the massive impoverished communities along the border wall, remember, you are looking into the ongoing effects of the ‘pioneers’ racialized debasement of Native Americans ability to exercise our self-determination in the 21st century.
Indigenous peoples of diverse heritage lineages are the majority population in the past and in the present of South Texas. However, settlers must still be educated by Indigenous peoples to use critical lenses to ‘see’ us without racist lenses and racist stories handed to you by the official histories of colonizing Texas Creation Myths. The majority of the so-called ‘Mexican’, ‘Mexican-American’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latinos’—as the settler society insists on naming us—are the Indigenous peoples who comprise the backbone of the LRG Valley and South Texas majority population. Indigenous peoples are still living in our original homelands, our land base at the fringes of economic, health, education, and political participation in controlling our destinies. This is the flip side of the legacy of settler pioneer society. Today, we are struggling to revitalize our cultures, values, spirituality, governance practices, community practices, and extended family institutions and Indigenous Knowledge Systems—regardless of the settler ideologies of imposed race.
Mr. Rozeff’s article put race at the center of the public mind-eye, and set the theme for this response to counter-narrate Rozeff’s “aggressive Native Americans” and “primitive settlers.” There are numerous other errors published in this article that deserve close and sustained public scrutiny and sustained criticism by all critical readers. The public of Texas and the Texas-Mexico transborder and transnational region deserves better, and deserves an open and respectful space to share community-based knowledge of local peoples’ Indigenous histories—and ongoing presence and present, which is a dynamic and exciting terrain of issues! However, when we as Indigenous peoples must continue to have to educate the settler society, by engaging this kind of ‘conquering history’—and refuse to be further marginalized, shut-down, silenced, shamed, and forced to swallow this kind of rhetoric –it only promotes a climate of fear, intimidation, and anger against the colonizers. My intention is to open up a space where deep learning, critical thinking, dialogue and a paradigm shift will occur.
It is my hope that my critique opens a community-wide dialogue about ongoing forms and modes of racism perpetrated against Native American peoples of the Americas in Texas. In our Ndé and Nahua languages, we have no real word for border or wall. We have to force our language to make new words to adapt to the ongoing violent dispossession waged against Indigenous peoples of the Lower Rio Grande and South Texas. We had to force our Indigenous mother tongues to create new words for ‘border’ and ‘wall.’
The Ndé are in a process of self-determination, land reclamation, cultural revitalization, and self-governance. It is likely that within our lifetimes, Texas will finally be held accountable in international law for a history of genocide committed against Indigenous peoples. It is likely in our lifetimes that Texas and the U.S. will be pressured to formally, officially and politically recognize the Aboriginal Title of Ndé peoples.
History written by, with, for, and alongside Indigenous Peoples is an innovative site for building a different world view and framework that will provide a more secure, stable and prosperous society, economy, and multi-plural society with Indigenous peoples engaged in self-determination.
Conquering history, written without Indigenous Peoples, and without an examination of colonization, dispossession, erasure, and structural violence, will only continue to sculpt and inscribe very painful and contentious divides between Indigenous peoples of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, South Texas, the transborder region ... and the colonizing settler society.
Ahe’he’e, Gracias, Thank you.
Margo Tamez, Ph.D.
Member, Lipan Apache Band of Texas
Co-Founder, Lipan Apache Women Defense, El Calaboz Ranchería
Co-Founder, Emilio Institute for Indigenous Human Rights, El Calaboz Ranchería