An Election Story to Remember; Told by Civil Rights Activist, Author Hunter Bear

GUEST BLOG: Note by Hunter Bear   (March 17 2014)

Prof John Salter (Hunter Bear) harassed at a Jackson, Miss. lunch counteer

And with a big, all-around clear plastic 
ballot box as well.

When we lived in Chicago, [where a hundred tribes or so are represented], I was active as a Native person and volunteer in Native programs on the Northside. Among other things, I was Chair of the all-Indian Native American Community Organizational Training Center and a member of the 15 person Indian coordinating committee for the Great Lakes Indian Resource Development Program of Americans for Indian Opportunity: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Our family was very active, too, socially and politically, in the American Indian Center which was going through a period of incredible and nationally known factionalism — right to the brink and then everyone would pull back just in time and catch their breath. [Much of this, btw, had been caused by the Anthro department at University of Chicago.] 
I was always intrigued by observing how outwardly venomous combatants could be in our Indian Center disagreements and then [and regardless, too, of tribal background or blood degree or income levels] greet one another as long-lost friends indeed when surrounded by the harsh and alien realities in downtown Chicago. A much older Native mentor of mine, the late Bill Redcloud [Chippewa] and another older colleague, herself

a founder of the Center, and an enduring close friend to this moment, Susan K. Power [Standing Rock Sioux], both commented once that “The Whites, when disagreeing, so often try to completely destroy each other. We Indians usually stop long before that.” Both Bill and Susan certainly recognized that there are exceptions to this — but were talking about the general rule. 

We had all just come from a wedding where the offspring of one Indian Center factional leader married the offspring of another — I was best man — with a traditional religious leader blending his Native beliefs with a few Christian ones to perform the ceremony. A piano was played by a very leading factionalist who, at that point, had become enamored of fundamentalist Christianity and was a minister in the Moody Bible Institute
context. Everyone was together.

When the high factionalism of the Chicago Indian Center finally wound up as an election dispute in an Anglo court, a weary judge eventually ordered that each side select one Indian person — just one — who each side trusted and who was a full member of the Indian Center — and that person would set up and carry out a new election. Each side turned and selected me. [I confess to having had some trepidation on that one — but never displayed it, of course!] I constructed a long, high ballot box which was essentially clear plastic  so everyone could see the ballot go down and stay there.

When election time came, March 17 1973, I ordered every Anglo newsperson off Center property and I stayed by the Box from 8 am to 8 pm — leaving only twice for the restroom and, then, leaving observers from all sides watching each other like the eagles they were. Each factional side fed me well. Some people came several hundred miles to vote. It was a wild and woolly election — Indians who were quite low-income and some doing relatively well economically — all clashing and then all gossiping congenially together.

The election, btw, was so honest our side lost. The Center pulled together — as Indians always do — and lived through all sorts of vicissitudes to survive to the present moment.

St. Francis Abenaki / St. Regis Mohawk
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
Check out our massive social justice  The site is dedicated to our
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SHOOTING LUPUS —  Driving this oft-lethal deadly
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page — with a great deal of practical material:
See my  new expanded/updated “Organizer’s Book,”
JACKSON MISSISSIPPI — with a new 10,000 word
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And this book is also an activist’s how-to manual:  
The Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]: