January 20, 2009

Obama to dissolve tribes?

Another bad line in Obama's Inaugural Address was his slur against tribes. Here's the passage in question:

Barack Obama’s Inaugural AddressWe are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
Comment:  Obama's attacks against tribes echoes 500-plus years of Euro-Americans denigrating the indigenous "other." We have nations; "they" have tribes. We are civilized; "they" are savage.

That tribes are bad is a tenet of conservative "thought." And yet these same conservatives love countries, states, cities, communities, neighborhoods, and families. Every group based on physical or cultural ties is good except tribes, which are bad.

What exactly is America except a huge tribe of people? We have a set of values and beliefs. We engage in group-think ("God bless America," "kill the terrorists"). We think we're superior to others. These supposedly are the traits of the "tribal" mentality.

What happened during the Revolutionary War? The Civil War? The civil rights movement? One tribe of Euro-Americans fought tooth-and-nail against another. Whether the tribe was right or wrong, it stayed true to its beliefs.

Like a country or state, a tribe is simply a way of organizing and governing people. There's basically no difference, which is why many Indian "tribes" have re-identified themselves as Indian nations. As with freedom fighters and "terrorists," one person's tribe is another person's nation.

When Obama or another president says we should eliminate nations and states as well as tribes, then I'll be impressed. Until then, he's pandering to conservatives and insulting indigenous people. Whether he realizes it or not.

P.S. For another diatribe on the evils of tribes, see America the Primitive Tribe. Note that it applies exactly to George W. Bush's America, especially after 9/11. Obama should worry about ridding mainstream America of its tribalism before he lectures the rest of the world on the subject.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am quite sure he was using the word "tribe" as a synonym for "division." Maybe it wasn't the best phrasing, but you are really stretching here. I, as a Native American, was not offended, nor did I jump to the conclusions you did. But then again, I LISTENED to the entire speech; I didn't stop listening when I heard something I didn't like and rant about it. Stop looking for racism in the people rising above it and proving it is unnecessary.

thelady said...

I agree with anonymous, it was pretty obvious that "tribe" was used to describe divisions such as race or religion that people fight against each other over.

dmarks said...

Anonymous said pretty much what I am thinking on this one, too.

Perhaps Rob is concerned that some people with an axe to grind against Natives will take this to mean that Obama wants to eliminate the Native tribes/nations. But I find this interpretation to be rather unlikely too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with others who have posted -- that you are taking the word "tribe" too literally and that he meant the term in the broader context of "divisions." Don't read too much into it.

Anonymous said...

"One tribe of Euro-Americans fought tooth-and-nail against another."

Wow more ignorance from Robby; what a shocker. For a self proclaimed expert on Indians you don't seem to be aware of the fact that Indians - there was even a Indian confederate general - fought in the war.

Anonymous said...

Also folks what we have here is a classic case of someone looking for a chance to be offended.

Anonymous said...

Tribe is short for "Tribunal".

There is no such thing as an American "Tribe".

Rob said...

Re "For a self proclaimed expert on Indians you don't seem to be aware of the fact that Indians--there was even a Indian confederate general--fought in the war": The Civil War was primarily fought between two groups of Euro-Americans. If you don't know that, you have no business opening your mouth about anything.

Yes, Indians, blacks, Latinos, and others fought in the war. But they didn't instigate it or determine its course.

And yes, I know about Stand Watie, bright boy. Now tell me something I don't know.

Rob said...

I didn't stop listening and start ranting when Obama used the word "tribe," Anonymous #1. I listened to the whole speech, thought about it the rest of the day, and then started ranting. <g>

If I were looking for things to criticize, I could've picked on a hundred words and phrases in Obama's speech. Instead, I picked on two. Both have received criticism from others, so it wasn't just me.

You don't think non-Indians are still fighting with Indians over their tribal status, TheLady? Apparently you didn't read Indians Need "Big Daddy" to Survive?

This is one of dozens of diatribes I've read about Indian tribes violating America's founding principles by claiming sovereignty and other "special rights." If you think this is only a "foreign" problem, I assure you it's happening here too.

For more on why "tribe" was ill-chosen, see Means on the Inaugural Address.

Rob said...

Re "Wow more ignorance from Robby": The preferred spelling is "Robbie" (from my childhood nickname). Try to get it right. <g>

Re "For a self proclaimed expert on Indians": I don't think I've proclaimed myself an expert on anything. Maybe on Native stereotypes or Natives in comic books, but that's about it.

Incidentally, my policy is to delete or replace comments that are offensive or insulting to me or others. So watch how you phrase your ad hominem attacks, Anonymous Who's Too Cowardly to Sign His Name.

Anonymous said...

"Re "For a self proclaimed expert on Indians you don't seem to be aware of the fact that Indians--there was even a Indian confederate general--fought in the war": The Civil War was primarily fought between two groups of Euro-Americans. If you don't know that, you have no business opening your mouth about anything.

Yes, Indians, blacks, Latinos, and others fought in the war. But they didn't instigate it or determine its course."

True but your original post you only mentioned Euro-Americans fighting in the war.

"So watch how you phrase your ad hominem attacks, Anonymous Who's Too Cowardly to Sign His Name."

Hahahaha! So it's a ballsy act to use your real name online? Oh man that's priceless.

Anonymous said...

Oh and I'd say Obama's use of the word tribe is more of an attack on Nationalism and people who have an identity outside of banal modern monoculture, which includes but is obviously not limited to Natives.

kalisetsi said...

While I don't exactly agree with Rob's take on this...I AM glad to see that he addressed the issue. As a very pro-Obama Native who was excited to watch the inauguration, I found the speech to be somewhat disappointing at best (overall), and bordering on mildly off-putting (in parts). The "dissolving lines of tribe" line I found insensitive, and could easily have been avoided by a simple reword such as "forging alliances across lines of tribe," or "overcoming lines of tribe", "celebrating lines of tribe," etc. Although I do agree in the context it was intended to mean something else, I also felt it was a poor choice of words, insensitive to Natives, particularly in light of past U.S. policy which very much HAS tried to dissolve lines of tribe. Also, to agree with one of the anonymous comments, I see diversity as a positive for the U.S., and a big "melting pot" of mush as less than desirable. Further, in the context of his speech, which had the potential to be this hugely unifying moment, I feel that Obama dropped the ball as far as speaking to all "Americans." He spoke of "our ancestors that tamed the west" or something to that effect, and while I concede that may resonate for many Americans, that is NOT true for all of us. I think so highly of Obama that I very much EXPECTED him to follow that with a brief sentence, even a WORD of acknowledgment for the Native experience as a flipside to that. We are also U.S. citizens, our stories and histories also valid and important in talking about how the U.S. was built, and who "Americans" are today. If he had said that all Americans came to the U.S. to seek a better future, and overlooked the fact that many people were brought here against their will....a whole lot of people might feel that he wasn't speaking directly to them. Before anyone is so quick to dismiss my criticisms- I absolutely listened to Obama's speech; eagerly! And I was NOT looking for places to pick it apart. But his speech to me represented a missed opportunity. His words didn't resonate with me, because I felt slightly excluded from the "we" he was addressing. Frankly, I'm surprised that more Native people didn't share that reaction....but in any event, I remain hopeful about Obama's presidency.

Rob said...

There's no such thing as an American "tribe"? Actually, the United States officially recognizes some 560 tribes of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Few countries have more tribes than the US does.

My original posting mentioned only Euro-Americans because the Civil War was primarily fought between two groups of Euro-Americans. In other words, it was a generalization, Anonymous--a concept you may want to learn about.

I discussed Obama's remarks about the West in Settling the West in the Inaugural Address, Kalisetsi.

For more on dissolving the "lines of tribe," see Natives Criticize Obama's Speech and Dumbest Discourse Since "Niggardly"?