The Rez – “Where commodity cheese rules!”

Johnny Cash– Ballad of Ira Hayes

I was browsing Native American forums, blogs and websites, reading about ethnic supremacy.  One NA has a signature mentioning the Navajo Rez, “where commodity cheese rules!”

Don’t get me wrong.  The NAs on those sites weren’t complaining about all the privileges they get that non-Native Americans don’t.

But the accusations and complaints about racism in this government and among non-Natives got me thinking on the subject.

Ethnic supremacy manifests itself in a lot of ways.  Including patronizing, providing special privilege and freebies for no explainable reason.

I had to conclude, after thinking on it a while, they are absolutely right.  I can’t fathom any other explanation than ethnic supremacy for the commodity cheese, health care, tax-free land, and all the rest:

  • Do you (and your government) believe Native Americans are stupid?
  • Do you believe after more than a century of generations being schooled the same as your own children, that Native Americans are more ignorant than non-Native children when they come to the legal age of maturity?
  • Do you believe they are lazy and irresponsible?

I’ll bet you answered no on all counts.


So think about it.

Why are you providing Native Americans free commodities you have to pay for?

Why, exactly, do you believe Native Americans can’t get jobs, same as you do, to pay for their own food?

Why do you provide them roads and schools on the reservations with your tax money, when you have to also pay for the roads and schools in your own communities?

Why, exactly, do you believe Native Americans can’t pay taxes to build schools for their children and roads in their communities with their taxes the same as you do? 

Why do you believe they shouldn’t pay property taxes on their lands, same as you do?

You have to worry, try to find health insurance, pay for dentists, plan and save, give up other things so you can assure when you or your kids get sick there’s a doctor, a hospital.  Braces for their teeth, dentists to drill the cavities.

Why do you believe Native Americans can’t provide for their own health and dental care, same as you do?  Save, sacrifice, plan.  Same as you have to do in your own life?

The reason is obvious enough.

You are an ethnic supremacist. Somewhere inside yourself you believe now, today, Native Americans are more ignorant than you, less intelligent, less responsible, shiftless. 

Almost 150 years after your ancestors finished killing off as many as they could catch and sending the surviving ancestors of the ones living on the Rez today to live on reservations you’re still thinking of them exactly the way your ancestors thought of them.  Still telling them indirectly there’s something primitive inside them keeping them from being able to function in a modern world.  Still telling them they’re victims, even though they were born naked same as you and I were.

You believe they are a bunch of lazy drunks and can’t work, can’t plan, can’t take responsibility for their own lives.

No matter how much you pad it with sensitivity and phony warmth, with sentimentality and fantasies about how sweetly they love the land, with excuses about how badly men who have been dead centuries treated other long-dead men, the bottom line is you believe they can’t make it the same way you do. 

If you didn’t believe they were all those things, you’d scream to high heavenInstead, you wrap yourselves with good feelings about all that’s being done for the NAs.  Give yourselves warm hugs.

And they hate you for it.
Nobody loves an ethnic supremacist.

Old Jules

Afterthought:  Ira Hayes didn’t die drunk in that ditch because of anything white men did to his ancestors.  He didn’t die in that ditch because of anything white men did directly to him during his own lifetime.  Ira Hayes died in that ditch because he didn’t come home from WWII and do what the other men pictured in that flag raising did when they returned.  He died in that ditch because it was what was expected of him.

22 responses to “The Rez – “Where commodity cheese rules!”

  1. So, do you believe Ira filled his role perfectly? Or, do you believe Ira filled the role we assigned him out of our own fear and stupidity and the need for Someone Else to fill that role?

    I have a few mixed feelings about this issue. I see many sides, each offering a perspective worth looking at. When you look at all of human history, nothing happened here that hasn’t happened elsewhere around the world from time immemorial. That doesn’t make it right, it just makes it what it is. I don’t like that we have reservations for groups of people, and from what I’ve seen, for all the freebies they receive, as well as a whole lot of white folks, they still haven’t broken any chains. Chains are often self-imposed.

    I live in an area of casinos, where some tribes are small and their incomes are huge! Over $400,000 a year, per person, at the Mystic Lake tribe, just outside the Twin Cities. I’m not judging that, either. It is what it is. But, for every story of money there’s a few thousand of depression and alcoholism. Like there is everywhere.

    It’s good to look and re-look at these issues. Mainly, I just want to stay out of the way and witness what’s happening, not interject when I don’t have a clue what needs to happen to get us down this river.

    But thanks for stirring things up. I reckon that whatever I see, or read, or hear, it’s what I need to see or read or hear. So, I thank you for filling your role. 🙂

    More coffee.

  2. Right said. Were I to bother pursuing higher degrees in education, I’m sure my thesis would hinge on the question of conflict between civilizations. I’ve grown very unhappy with the one in which I was born. I tend to think the various Native American civilizations aren’t so much gone and forgotten, but fiercely suppressed. I’m hoping some of theirs bounce back and outlive ours.

  3. Momlady: Thanks for the read and for your thoughts.

    Teresa Evangeline: I don’t know exactly what I think about it all, except that there’s something lousy in a situation, something terribly wrong where a system produces an overwhelming majority of deaths by suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses among young males in a synthetic, planned environment such as the US tribal reservations. Where, such as on the Mescalero Rez, not one tribal member is older than 70 the last time I looked.

    I don’t know any answers. There’s nothing all that great about the lives of regular people of all other ethnic groups aside from the fact the choices they make aren’t leading so many of them to suicide and disfranchisement manifested in other ways.

    There’s a beautiful old church you can see from the highway as you travel through the Laguna Rez. Every year a church group of whites from upstate NY goes in and works a couple of weeks to maintain things. I don’t know whether they also help out by playing the slots at the Laguna casino.

    But why do you suppose those New Yorkers think the Laguna can’t maintain their own church?

    EdHurst: Thanks for stopping in and throwing in your two cents. I’m not entirely certain I believe any past civilizations are worth recreating, any more than I’m certain this one’s worth saving. But I’m actually not someone who knows much of anything, anyway. Gracias, J

  4. Jules, I’ve seen that church as I drove by and have driven as close as possible. I don’t believe they allow photos on that rez, and for good reason, or I would love to have a picture of it.

    I agree with your points. Far too many deaths and sad living. My question is: why does the rez allow these NYers in to do that work? Are they, the NY crowd, feeling guilty for the sins of their fathers? Do they feel the folks on the rez need their help? Is someone in the group affiliated with someone on the rez? Awk!!!

    Sorry for so many questions, they’re somewhat rhetorical…

    It’s good to revisit these issues.

    • Teresa Evangeline: I chatted a while once with some members of the NY group while they were there working. Affluent people coming down feeling pious, feeling righteous, feeling good about themselves for collecting money up there and volunteering to spend their time ‘helping’ the people on Laguna. I’m not suggesting one way or another they should, or shouldn’t do it. It’s none of my business. What I am suggesting is that what they are doing is a part of something they’d want no part of if they paused in their warm huggies about themselves and took a peek at what they’re helping perpetuate.

      Somewhere around I have pics of the church. The Laguna aren’t so sensitive about picture-taking as some of the other tribes. I’ll try to find the pics of the church. I’ve found several of the Pueblo, of Locomotive Rock a few miles south of the Dancing Eagle Casino, and The Long Watch, just haven’t found the church. I’ll probably post the pics, but maybe not on this blog entry.

  5. Hey, when did you turn into Ming the Merciless? Bet you’re not much of a big tipper, eh? :o) Real sympathy can only be felt by those who can see themselves in the other guy’s shoes. Real jealousy rises at the same time. Like Joseph and his brothers.

    I guess what we’ve got here is a choice between sympathy and schadenfreude. Both can lead to supporting the free cheese.

    Generally as a group we only give charity to people we feel sorry for. So yeah, we look down on them, and maybe even thank God in our sorrier moments that there’s somebody in the world that even we can still look down on. In that way we sort of depend on the poor to keep us up.

    That certainty that things would be worse – I mean, just look over there! – I maintain that’s worth a round or two of surplus cheese, any day. There was a time when the government paid farmers to bury the stuff, and pour milk down the drain, just to keep the price up. Fed good food to hogs, to keep the price high enough that poor people couldn’t afford to eat it.

    I took the “commodity cheese” quote as a bit of self-inflicted humor from the rez. Something they all grow up with, like frybread and binge drinking. Or like a love of place, and knowing there are no jobs to speak of in that place.

    It’s one thing to despise forced charity, especially when you are the recipient. It is a sort of insult, after all. And a defining moment. But when your babies are hungry, an excessive and self-wounding pride is just one more thing you can’t afford. You take what you can get.

    Well, maybe not, if you are a certain sort of male. Males have a dangerous habit of fantasizing about honor and about spectacular ways to die defending it. Going out in a blaze of glory. Wahoo, and stuff yer cheese.

    Women are wired a little differently. Like my brother’s neighbor said, when she refused to get on the back of her husband’s Harley: “Somebody’s got to raise the kids.”

    My guess is, the honor of women lies mostly in managing to outlive the honor of men. If it weren’t so, many of us wouldn’t be here.

    Bob, musing.

    • Hi Bob: I think if you read the comments before this one they’ll convey my thoughts on the matter without me having to say them again. This post isn’t about commodity cheese and freebies. I couldn’t care less about whether anyone or everyone in the US gets those. But I’m not going to hide inside an illusion pretending it’s about hunger on the Rez. Thanks for the visit and the read. J

  6. One man’s nuance is another man’s hypocrisy.

    You are not saying there is no hunger on the Rez, or that some good isn’t done by the freebies. I get that. It’s a complicated situation.

    The choice they have is between busting out of the Rez and becoming just one atom in a sea of whiteness – or keeping their local identity, which defaults to being that of a defeated people.

    Not an easy choice. Either way you turn against yourself.

    In evolutionary terms, the best and the lucky are always leaving. But what’s gonna keep ’em down on the Rez? It’s not like those places were picked out by their conquerors for abundant resources and opportunity.

    All the time I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave the podunk town I thought I was trapped in. Why, I was meant for finer things! Now I’m back where I started, but it ain’t the same. You can’t go home again.

    We all carry a Rez around in our minds. Maybe that’s why you’re raising chickens.


    • Bob: I’m here living on the pinnacle of a stack of choices I’ve made throughout my life. Others might have influenced those choices, but I’m the one who made them. Same as you, same as Ira Hayes, same as everyone else on the planet. Even Helen Keller had alternatives and options. Home is sitting on that pinnacle of choices bounded today by the confines we imposed on ourselves when we were making choices in the past.

      It’s probably not polite to quote myself on a blog, but I’m going to anyway:

      Executive Privilege

      Human brain Fido
      Inside his chain-link fence
      Joins full-moon sky concert
      With Rufus and Poochie
      Down the block
      On their chains;
      Cock their ears
      And wonder, wonder
      Why the wild coyote calls
      Why the whiff of rotten elk meat
      In the garbage
      Drives them wild.

  7. Gadzooks. That’s powerful. Thought-provoking. Stop it. I just want to look at my laundry on the line and you’re making me think about Indians on the rez and dogs on the chain, and I think they go together and and and… I think I need to go hug Buddy.

  8. Good morning J. I missed the end of the comments. I started to tell you before, I lived on the Crow res in the late 70’s into the early 80’s. It was a real eye-opener for this young ‘white’ boy. It was my first taste of prejudice. My partner was a famous Crow Artist. You can find him on the web, His name was Earl Biss. I learned way more from him and NA life than all my history classes put together.(most of the tribe didn’t recognize that they were immigrants, too)

  9. Hi Teresa Evangeline: Thanks. Best look to that laundry. Gracias, J

    Thanks for the visit Michael Ultra. Yep, a bit of time spent on the rez for the folks who know all about Native Americans would probably be an edifying growth experience. Thanks for coming by. J

  10. I’ve sat with my reply since you first posted Jules, and just now started writing and then deleted it all. Let’s just say it got lengthy and I figured I was writing more of a post than a comment.

    There is simply no easy pat response to what you’re talking about here, and if I were to say why I think Ira Hayes died it would only open an entire can of worms. Some day soon I may open that can, but not right now. Suffice it to say, this post has excellent ideas and should give most of us much to think about. Thank you.

    • Hi Linda: Thank you for the visit and the read. Yeah, it’s a toughie. Feel free to post comments as lengthy as you wish. I’m terrible about doing long ones on blogs of others, and I don’t wish to be guilty of a double standard on the issue, though I’m guilty of them on most other less important issues. Gracias, J

  11. INteresting. You could say the same thing with Native Hawaiians, actually. Lots of sentimentality attached to their issues, AND I agree, it’s still ethnic supremacy. AND they hate us for it.

    Very thought-provoking post.

  12. Hey J: Sorry that comment came through as Anonymous (??) … sometimes I fail to understand all the nuances of wordpress – still … anyhow, ’twas me. Enjoying your work, enjoying visiting!

  13. Ate a lot of commodity cheese as a boy. Nothing else to add to this interesting discussion.

  14. Ummm just maybe we took there country?!?!? But what would I know…

    • Alex: We took such a lot from Mexico, France, Spain it wouldn’t be easy to sort out far enough to help find some measure of truth in your comment. Nor to who’d be the ‘we’ you’re referring to. 21st Century ‘we’ is everyone alive today I’d think. Not easy to get dead people into any sort of ‘we’ corner and insist they behave themselves.

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