Question: What is the purpose of payIndiansrent.org?
Answer: The main purpose is to begin a new conversation about the Native American moral claim to this continent.
Secondly, the purpose is to raise funds for worthy Native American causes that provide support for improving health and educational outcomes in the Native American community.
Regarding the main purpose, we would like to say that starting a conversation is an important event.
Many important things in life first require a conversation before anything can be done. If you want to build a bridge, you have to have a conversation. If you want to get married, you have to have a conversation. If you want to start a war—or end a war—you have to have a conversation.
Dictators everywhere place limitations on free speech and freedom to congregate because those freedoms would allow conversation to take place—which is step one for things to happen.
If you look at your watch at this very moment, there are probably not fifty non-Native people on this continent that are having a serious conversation about the the Native American moral/legal claim to North America. Our cities, states and rivers have Native American names and testify that the Native Americans were here first and by international law, which endorses the Law of the Land, acknowledge Native American sovereignty.
Still, there are not fifty people that are non-Native that are having a serious conversation about this.
We believe personally that asking people to pay Indians rent every month is the best way to restart that conversation. Paying rent is ingrained in our culture, so ingrained, in fact, that landlords usually don’t even have to remind tenants that rent is due. There is a proverb that is punctuated by profanity and so we won’t spell out the profanity: “Money talks, b——- walks.” Money talks and starts the conversation.
And, for what it’s worth, we hopefully will be able to support some health and educational charities as well.
Question: If traditional Native Americans would never consider selling or renting any part of America, because they see planet Earth as representing or actually constituting a living relative, how can you go ahead with this rent idea?
Answer: There is no question that this idea will be as controversial in parts of the Native American community and non-native community—albeit for very different reasons. It is expected that in both communities, some will support, some will oppose.
The non-native community, typically—if they resist the Native American claim to America—use pretty predictable arguments: “I didn’t steal it,” “It happened a long time ago,” “We paid for it with treaties,” “They didn’t have countries or governments,” “They were nomadic,” “They are not indigenous—they came from Asia,” “They don’t believe in ownership so they’re not entitled to something that they never claimed that they owned”—and so forth.
A likely debate in Indian country may center on whether to accept rent. Because by accepting rent, by default, they automatically accept a definition of Mother Earth that is offensive and very wrong. It is an interesting debate because while this downside is present, the upside is that when someone pays Indians rent, they are acknowledging Native American sovereignty—and the ultimate goal of all Native American people is immediately achieved.
What a double-sided coin this issue is!
The debate will provide an opportunity for Native Americans to present their views to the non-native community in a new venue, hopefully. For many Native Americans, to accept rent for his grandmother would require him to accept it only with a huge disclaimer that questions the validity of charging rent in the first place!
But in the meantime, a new conversation has begun and that is the main goal. We look forward to the non-native community hearing the traditional Native American point of view. A new conversation is a very positive outcome and therein goal of payindiansrent.org.
Question: The land of North America is considered by Native Americans as a Sacred Being who is not for sale or rent. The Lakota call planet Earth “Grandmother.” How can you rent out your Grandmother?
Answer: Mother Earth is a Being, a member of our family—one of our relatives. It is not appropriate to either sell or rent her out. So, when we use the word “rent,” we do not mean that Mother Earth is a commodity that can be sold or rented or leased. We use the word “rent” to suggest to all non-Native people living in the United States and Canada that this is not their land and they are not the landlords.
Non-native people talk about land as a commodity and it is the only way they can think about it. So we said to ourselves, if that’s the only way they can think about it, then in non-Native terms, Native Americans are the landlords because this is their land and we are on their land and therefore need to acknowledge this. The ordinary way that people acknowledge this is by paying rent.
So paying Indians rent is an acknowledgment by men and women that they are on Indian land—and therefore an acknowledgment of Native American sovereignty.
When a non-native—or anyone else—living in “United States” or “Canada” (a Mohawk word, by the way) pays rent to the Native Americans, it is not so much the money and the uses to which that money can be best served that is so important as the acknowledgment that by paying rent one is remembering that this is Indian land. It’s the way American and Canadian citizens think. When an American and a Canadian citizen pays rent, he or she is acknowledging that it is not his or her land but the land belonging to the person that he or she is paying rent to—and that is the point we want to get across.
“Rent” also suggests that the renter is on the land at the pleasure of the landlord and on terms set by the landlord. We need to understand how non-native people think and talk to them in terms they can understand even if they aren’t the terms that Native Americans would prefer. As a Mohawk Chief once stated, “We’re the landlords.”
Native Americans have tried for centuries to get non-native people to give Native Americans their country back. With few and relatively minor exceptions, this has not been done and it does not appear that any such thing would ever happen, if experience is the guide.
Whenever we talk about the Native Americans’ claim to North America, the conversation has two dimensions: the moral dimension and the legal dimension.
Legally, the courts are against Native Americans, who frequently can only resort to a conversation about the moral dimension. But even a moral conversation becomes quickly impossible because when you speak to non-native people about giving the land back, they quickly say that this will never happen—and since this will never happen, there is no point in discussing the moral issue because, after all, they say, it’s a moot point. Why waste our time discussing it since we will never do what you asked.
As a result, the conversation does not continue—not even the moral conversation—and that’s the end of the discussion.
But, by suggesting that there is something that can be done—i.e., paying rent—then the discussion is no longer a moot point. No non-native has ever figured out how to give a country back—any country, even his own—while standing there in his living room at eight o’clock in the evening.
However, every non-native man or woman, while standing in his or her living room at eight o’clock in the evening, knows how to pay rent—and can do so in one minute by writing a check. Even a child can make a rent contribution.
So, while non-native people can’t do everything we ask, we are giving them an opportunity to at least do something—rather than nothing.
In doing this, in making this gesture of paying rent—it begins to reopen the discussion about whose country this is and the Native American claim to North (and South) America.
If you look at your watch now, there are not fifty non-Native people on this continent having a serious discussion of the Native American moral claim to America. Paying rent becomes a conversation piece, a rhetorical device, a conversation-opener, a path to a higher discussion.
Question: Why don’t you simply ask for a donation, if in fact it is a donation? Why do you call it rent?
Answer: A donation has no rhetorical value. It is simply a donation. Paying rent has the rhetorical value of at least raising the question of who the true moral landlord is. It’s meant not only as a financial event but as an educational event.
Question: How do Native American communities feel about paying Indians rent?
Answer: We don’t know. The word will get out to the Native community, step-by-step, and we expect there to be a debate because we expect it is a controversial issue.
One time, Nathan Blindman was asked, “What are you going to say to your neighbors on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when they come to you and ask, “How can you sell Grandmother?” Nathan paused for some time and then said, “The treaties don’t work. Time for Plan B.”
When you’re on someone’s land, there are several choices of actions available to you:
1: You realize you’re trespassing, so you leave.
2: You murder the landlord.
3: You pay the landlord rent or buy the property.
Whenever you’re on someone’s land, of course you can go and hide—but how can the population of The United States of America hide so the Indians don’t know they’re there? 🙂
Question: How was payIndiansrent.org conceived?
Answer: It was conceived by a filmmaker named Marc Halberstadt who will have completed a film that will address Native American land claims.