FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Fracking and the Metaphysics of Indian-Hating

Photograph Source: Joshua Doubek – CC BY-SA 3.0

John Sayles is an award-winning filmmaker known for his directorial style and the topics of his films. He is also an excellent writer of fiction. My first encounter with any of his work was the short story “I-80 Nebraska,” published in The Atlantic in 1975. A year or two later, his second novel Union Dues came out. I was more or less hooked. Within fifteen years, Sayles had released another novel, a collection of short stories and directed six movies, including The Return of the Secaucus 7, Matewan, and Eight Men Out. His most recent film debuted in 2013 and his latest novel, titled Yellow Earth, was just published.

Like much of his other work, Yellow Earth is about the United States of America. It is about hope and money, deceit, grift and outright theft. It is also about prairie dogs, love, misguided and true; and lust. Lust for wealth, lust for flesh both young and otherwise, and lust for power. Naturally, if this novel is about all this, it is also about destruction-of personal relationships, of families and of the earth itself.

The bulk of the tale’s action takes place in a town in the Dakotas. It begins when energy extraction companies send in their scouts to determine the potential wealth, they might be able to squeeze from the rocks below the surface of a nearby Indian reservation. Once it is determined that the profits will be great–fleeting perhaps, but great–the hustle begins in earnest. In a scenario played over and over again throughout US history, a conman, thief and killer who is also a businessman begins to lie and cheat his way into the hearts and minds of the indigenous people whose signatures he must obtain in order to get his reward.

He succeeds with most of them, beguiling them with the things their new found money can buy and cynically dismissing their concerns while drawing up favorable contracts he intends to ignore. In the process, he impregnates a teenage Lakota girl, disregards environmental and safety laws, kills an employee who challenges him, and eventually lies his way to an unintended fate. This particular character is ultimately more than just one man. He is a representative of and a metaphor for the industry built around the extraction of fossil fuels from the earth. Destructive, egocentric and motivated by greed, there is no human community or ecological marvel that will stand in the industry’s way.

The history of stealing indigenous lands and resources is the history of the United States. In the nation’s earlier days, this theft involved military conflict and settler warfare. Any treaties made were often the result of one of those or the other. Then the banks and corporations involved turned to the courts. Since they were courts made up of men who thought (and looked) just like the men in the executive boardrooms, the court system provided an easier and less bloody way to the same goal—the theft of indigenous land. In recent years, the phenomenon seems to have increased in frequency, but it has never really gone away. Before fracking was realized as a means to make money, an ongoing uranium mining project near the Four Corners region of the US Southwest was bringing sickness along with jobs to the Dine and Hopi nations. This project was the focus of several years of protest and lawsuits, yet the business of business rolled on, leaving death and despair in its wake. Once again, this is the history of the United States. John Sayles has created a tale of people and place bewitched and bedeviled by money and power, ultimately convinced to join in the destruction of their lands and their lives. Not only is his story believable, it could easily be a work of non-fiction, so accurately does he portray the possibilities of an energy extraction project on the lives of men and women in the US heartland.

Back in 1980, Richard Drinnon wrote an unforgettable and vivid history of the United States titled Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building. In the book, Drinnon destroyed the popular myth of heroic frontiersmen and brave US soldiers winning the west. In its place, he told the truth: the mass murder of Native Americans, the theft of their land and the rape of their women. Informing the descriptions of military and settler massacres was Drinnon’s discussion of the religious, sociological and philosophical underpinnings of this history most US citizens consider their own. Groundbreaking for its time, Drinnon’s text was one of a number of revisionist histories of the United States beginning to appear that stripped bare the narrative of American exceptionalism then accepted as truth. Unfortunately, this new narrative has been subjected to censorship by the powers that rule this nation. Yet it continues to exist, battling for equal time in the classrooms and media of the United States. In Yellow Earth, John Sayles gives his readers a modern-day fiction that provides a glimpse into the twenty-first century version of what Drinnon called the metaphysics of Indian-hating.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
Wade Sikorski
Oil or Food? Notes From a Farmer Who Doesn’t Think Pipelines are Worth It
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of Vengeance
Hilary Moore – James Tracy
No Fascist USA! Lessons From a History of Anti-Klan Organizing
Linn Washington Jr.
Ridiculing MLK’s Historic Garden State ‘Firsts’
L. Michael Hager
Evaluating the Democratic Candidates: the Importance of Integrity
Jim Goodman
Bloomberg Won’t, as They Say, Play Well in Peoria, But Then Neither Should Trump
Olivia Alperstein
We Need to Treat Nuclear War Like the Emergency It Is
Jesse Jackson
Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin
Wendell Griffen
Grace and Gullibility
Nicky Reid
Hillary, Donald & Bernie: Three Who Would Make a Catastrophe
David Yearsley
Dresden 75
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail