Bundy, the Senecas and Fighting for Sovereignty

by Ryan Calhoun

In 1997, New York state declared war on the Seneca Nation reservations located upstate near Tonawanda. The war was over a declared power of the state to impose taxes on goods sold on native reservations. As enforcement, New York saw fit to shut down native businesses, cutting off petroleum and cigarette supplies to the Senecas.

In response to this declaration of war, natives and their supporters blocked traffic onto their land from state troopers and mounted a blockade on Interstate 90 and Route 17. Cops were confronted, tires were burned and thrown into the street, traffic was slowed or halted and the injustice of the actions of New York were highlighted by protesters who waved signs and handed out leaflets to inconvenienced thruway-goers.

This resistance paid off big for the Senecas and the war efforts of New York’s government were at least temporarily halted. The Senecas had won. They had not won through lobbying, through peaceful protest, by appeal to the inherent right of natives to the land, but by facing down the government that made a claim to their land and their wealth and saying no.

Now let us travel to contemporary Nevada and a war of a different sort. This war was declared by the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Land Management. Their adversaries, rancher Cliven Bundy and his family, have been ranchers in this area for over a century, but the federal government believes that it has a right to seize Bundy’s land. The ostensive claims by the feds on Bundy’s land stem from unpaid fines levied against him for using “federal land” and laws protecting an endangered tortoise population

This war came to a head last week as federal agents surrounded the perimeter of Bundy’s ranch. The message was very clear: Pay us, give up your land or face violent conflict. Bundy chose the third option, and a successful internet campaign on his behalf brought hundreds of supporters to the Bundy ranch. Many of these supporters were from “militia groups.” Others were simply average Americans who sympathized with Bundy’s plight. After a days-long standoff, the BLM were fought off the Bundy ranch.

It might seem obviously wrong to compare these two events. After all, as many have rightly pointed out, the land Bundy now defends is in all likelihood the result of historical injustice against Native Americans. What legitimate right does Bundy have to this land beyond a claim to ancestral sovereignty? These ancestors cared nothing at all for the native claim to this ranch. I’m conflicted here. If some band of natives tomorrow were to storm the Bundy property and seize it, I imagine my emotions would be apathetic at best. Such is the nature of many claims to property in America, muddled by the savage treatment of Native Americans and their claim to the lands of this country. While I have not familiarized myself with the particular claims of natives to Bundy’s land, I assume that in some way the original acquisition by the Bundys of this land amounts to little more than theft.

But who enabled this theft? Certainly not the Bundy clan. The culprit in injustices against natives has almost always been the federal and state government itself since its establishment. I do not empathize with the claim of familial rights that Bundy makes here. What I do find myself in solidarity with is any and all opposition to encroachment.

These wars against private individuals are for one reason: Government plunder. Any notion that the federal government cares about the wildlife of the Nevadan desert is preposterous. The menace of Bundy’s cattle to tortoises pales in comparison to the maliciousness towards nature displayed time and again by the US government, which set off multiple atom bombs across the American west in the heyday of nuclear testing. This is about control, not protection of any species.

It is only through blatant opposition to government claims that we can begin to imagine a world in which some manner of justice is restored to Native Americans. The Senecas understood in 1997 that if they did not mount a resistance to the war declared by New York, that they would lose any real sovereign right to their land. Today, Bundy stands for the same principle of opposition. I do not support Bundy because of his property rights claim, but because he sought to truly defend his claim to the land against an ever-expanding federal presence. This wasn’t about states’ rights, property rights or historical injustice. It was about standing up to government power.





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Comments 1 - 6 of 6 Add Comment Page 1 of 1
Nickel's 2bits

Posted: Apr 19 2014, 3:30 AM

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7147 I cannot understand how this became an out-of-control sovereignity and oppression pity-party for poor Bundy.

To me, the equation is quite simple: THE LAND WAS NOT HIS.

When you are grazing your cattle on land that does not belong to you, I don't care if it's a neighbor's land, company land, goverment land, or belongs to the church; if it is not YOUR land, YOU PAY FOR USING IT.

We have a word for people who take what does not belong to them: Theif.
Just asking

Posted: Apr 19 2014, 12:44 PM

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198228 If he is a thief, then why did so many liberty-minded people put themselves in harms way?
Nickel's 2bits

Posted: Apr 19 2014, 1:09 PM

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7147 It's either because they are gullible idiots; or maybe they suppose liberty includes the right to steal.
Anonymous

Posted: Apr 20 2014, 12:48 AM

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208186 The US government created their own right to steal from citizens. Is that the kind of liberty you mean?
Nickel's 2bits

Posted: Apr 20 2014, 12:35 PM

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7147 No, the citizens gave it that right. Go read the preamble to the Constitution.
Nickel's 2bits

Posted: Apr 20 2014, 1:36 PM

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7147 I decided to elaborate on that.

In 1787, the legislatures of the 13 states, who had been duly selected by vote by the citizens of those states, selected delegates for a constitutional convention. These delegates were given the authority by the legislatures to represent the states from which they were sent, and to do whatever was necessary to "fix" the Articles of Confederation, which had created a government that the states saw to be inadequate to do its job.

The delegates wrote the new Constitution after concluding the Articles of Confederation were not fixable.

The citizens and legislatures of the states were, indeed, surprised that the delegates wrote a new Constitution rather than modifying the old Articles. Nevertheless, that Constitution was ratified by all thirteen states' legislatures and went into effect in 1789, having met all ratification requirements.

People represented by legislatures, represented by deligates. It is by this connection that the preamble says, "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

"We the People ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

That Constitution, among other things, did authorize that: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;"

The legislatures of the 13 states, the representatives of the people, did all ratify the Constitution with that authority in its place. We the People...did create taxation.

Perhaps you are an anarchist, determined that no one shall require you to do anything, inluding refrain from theft. The rest of us recognize that, whatever its deficiencies, the authority for taxation was created by we, the People.

Claim the authority is badly used, you might; many of us do as well; but through our representatitives. Bundy has claimed instead that he is not one of the People, is not part of the United States; in fact that the United States does not exist. It seems to me that this is based in nothing but the purest base selfishness; that he should be able to take at will. The land he grazes on is not his, according to any rationale measure; yet he argues he has a right to use it without payment.

One of the many arguments I have heard during this mess is that, we took the land from the aborigines. This is probably true; but if it is, then Bundy owes them for grazing on their land. Do you suppose he will get his checkbook out and pay the aborigines? That is to laugh; it seems clear his intention is to take only, while giving nothing. In that sense, he is NO BETTER than those who supposedly stole the land from the aborigines.

Moreover, he appears a danger to everyone. If I had land there, I would fear that he would take my land, paying me nothing. Should he be considered fit to live in any community?

Yet many have come to protect him. What are we to make of them? That they are gullible, not realizing what he is likely to do to them, in their turn? Are they of like mind, and if so, should they be considered fit to live in a community?

I certainly see nothing here that I want to live near; no community in which I would want to join. I'll take taxation, thank you, because it leaves me certainly with the majority of my money; as opposed to Bundy's world, where I would have to expect that I would lose everything.
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