Friday, April 4, 2008

Eli Painted Crow’s Spiritual Awakening in Iraq Helps Guide Her to Peace

Eli Painted Crow, a 22-year retired Army veteran, experienced a spiritual rebirth while serving in Iraq in 2004, which paved her current path to peace. “The defining moment for me, when I knew I had to get out of Iraq and the military, was when I fully realized that I was participating in the very same thing that my people had suffered and are still suffering in the United States,” Painted Crow told the Iowa Independent during an interview.

“When I got to know the Iraqi people, I found a lot of commonalities between them and native people,” said Painted Crow, a member of the Yaqui Nation. “Not only were they the same color as me, but we shared similar food dishes, prayers, the drum, sage, councils, and they have the same representation of animals as we do.”

The Iowa Independent had a chance to speak with Painted Crow last Thursday in Iowa City, where she was in town from California to speak as part of the University of Iowa Anti-War Committee’s Peace Week. During the interview, Painted Crow opened up about her experiences in Iraq, genocide, her culture, the power of language and meaning, and her latest peace-activist efforts.

When discussing issues about Iraq and her native community, Painted Crow wanted to make it clear, usually with a “speaking-for-myself” attribution, that her thoughts were her own and should not be attributed to all Native Americans. “It’s been a really hard road to get people to talk about the invasion in Iraq, but the native communities are beginning to open up,” Painted Crow said. “Native peoples are still afraid to talk in a bigger context, for they fear speaking out against the government. This fear has been embedded in us our entire lives, so people are still afraid.”

That said, Painted Crow shared her views on what’s happening in Iraq. “What I saw happening there is an instant replay of what happened to our people here. We are doing the very same thing,” Painted Crow said. “This United States was founded on violence and an invasion. It took away our land and tried really hard to execute genocide against a people that was already here, because they wanted the land. They redid the history books, and despite the truth, they are not changing the history books to illustrate the truth.”

Painted Crow says a lot of her people think she is crazy for speaking out, but she can no longer, with clear conscience, remain silent. “I can choose to speak this under my breath, or I can speak up and hope that people can see that we need to change things on a much deeper level than just saying, ‘Stop the war!’,” Painted Crow said. “The war abroad and the war at home look relatively the same, but you would only know that if you live in a community that sees oppression, racism and violence on a daily basis. Most people, who don’t see this firsthand, are more concerned about the war abroad -- which really isn’t a war but genocide.”

Painted Crow knows that people do not like the word genocide and don’t want to use it to describe the invasion in Iraq. “But if you look up the eight steps of genocide, you will see that we meet every criteria in Iraq,” Painted Crow said. “Nobody wants to use that word, because then we would have to look at our history, how our nation was founded, and that means we would have to have a healing process, a conversation about race and oppression that exists to this day. And who really wants to admit that we have to do this work?”

The U.S. is in denial when it comes to Iraq, Painted Crow says, claiming the nation cannot admit it has a problem, but instead, points its fingers at Pres. George Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. “We are a mirror of what this nation has become. We are a part of it and we are accountable for it. It’s easy to point fingers and say it’s his fault, but we all are accountable and responsible and need to step up for something different.”

Moreover, Painted Crow draws similar parallels to what is happening in Iraq to her peoples’ history. “It is the very same thing in Iraq. We are going over there and it’s not a war, rather, it’s an invasion, and we need to make that distinction clear,” Painted Crow said. “We did not have a conflict with them. They did not bomb us on 9/11.

“When you defend, you’ve done something wrong, and there is a truth that is not coming out. To me the word ‘defend’ is attached to a truth that hasn’t been revealed, so in order not to reveal that truth, we use the word ‘defend,’” Painted Crow argues. “We use the words ‘protect’ and ‘defend’ so interchangeably that people don’t know the difference. For me, defending this country isn’t real because what we are defending is a lie.

“This divide-and-conquer strategy has always and still exists in our country and that’s why we have gangs,” Painted Crow said. “If Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans can kill each other, that is one less thing the government has to deal with. The same holds true in Iraq. If the Shias and Sunnis keep killing each other, that is one less thing the government has to worry about.”

Painted Crow is convinced that her native people are seeing what is going on but are not quick to stand up to the government because they don’t have much to lose. “It’s scarcity thinking,” Pained Crow said. “If you are already oppressed, why do you care about what’s happening over there. It’s not that you don’t care what’s happening in Iraq, but if you have so much oppression in your backyard to begin with, it’s too much.

“If you have only so much, you’re going to fight to keep it, because you are under a scarcity mentality that there is not enough,” Painted Crow said. “Because the government teaches us that, this is where we operate from and we are too afraid to trust that there is an out. As a native person who feels connected to the Earth and the universe, I don’t think that the universe would put us all here and tell us there is not enough.”

Painted Crow also has a theory that there are a number of prophecies starting to stand out for native peoples, so they are standing back and letting them happen. “Things have to happen for change to take place,” she said. “The government has to fall, and we need to hit the bottom so we can rise. And some native people see no need to try and stop it.”

Similar to a number of people from native communities, Painted Crow joined the military for economic reasons. When she enlisted in 1981 at the age of twenty, Painted Crow was a single mother of two boys, living on welfare, had only a GED, had no support from her family and saw the military as her only escape from poverty.

“Although as I got older, I became more patriotic in my service, because I was being recognized by my people, the Yaqui Nation, which is trying to instill the pride of being a warrior that exists in native communities,” Pained Crow said. “We have this understanding of warriors and how warriors in our history have protected our country or our families or our land, however, not so much in the U.S. This has translated into being soldiers, because our native people have equated being a soldier to being a warrior of our native past.”

Having experienced 22 years of the military, Painted Crow says this is not entirely true but admits it is the closest thing her native people have to becoming warriors for the country. “We don’t understand that as warriors of our past, we protected our families, whereas U.S. soldiers are charged with defending our country, which are two different things,” she said. “To me, when you defend, it is because you know you’ve done something wrong and you know you have to protect it. You have to put these walls up. On the other hand, when you are protecting something, you are not out looking for trouble, rather, you’re protecting your families and holding this space for your community to grow.”

While serving in Iraq in 2004 (from April to September), Painted Crow experienced and witnessed a number of discriminatory, racist, and sexist incidents, which she recounts during a talk at the 2006 Veterans for Peace Conference (see video below).

Although Painted Crow experienced a mental and spiritual awakening that told her she needed to shift direction and follow the pathway to peace, it was a physical problem that brought her home from Iraq, six months into her tour. Shortly before she was expected to deploy to Iraq, painted Crow was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful condition in which uterine tissue grows into other parts of the body. Her commanding officer assumed she was making it up, so she was shipped over to Iraq anyhow. A military assessment of her health condition was not enough to prevent her from being shipped to Iraq.

While in Iraq, Painted Crow says she felt excruciating pain related to her endometriosis on a daily basis, and the closest gynecologist was four hours away “I wasn’t about to travel that far, facing IEDs [improvised explosive devices] on the way, just to see the doctor every time I needed help with my condition.” A female first sergeant told her to get a hysterectomy, and she took her first sergeant’s advice and had the operation at a VA hospital while on a 10-day leave.

Meanwhile, her commander in Iraq marked her as AWOL, even though she was recovering from surgery in a military hospital. Painted Crow thinks her commander was out to get her and wanted her back in Iraq. “I think she wanted to keep me under her control because of all the in-your-face racist things she said that I called her out on.”

Thanks to the help of a military friend who was able to pull some strings, Painted Crow was kept from being marked AWOL. However, her stay at the VA hospital was extended to eight weeks after the surgery was not successful and caused her to have a prolapse of the fallopian tube.

Painted Crow never returned to Iraq and retired from the military upon hitting her 22-year mark and received her discharge papers on Nov. 1, 2006. “Ironically, I was discharged on the Day of the Dead,” she said.

However, this did spur her spiritual rebirth in the peace movement. Painted Crow is committed to advocating for peace. “You cannot fight for peace, you have to be it. If you can be at peace, you can connect to people and that is my focus.”

Currently, she is involved with Turtle Women Rising, “an organization of women committed to making a difference in the world by bringing the heartbeat of the drum in response to our Mother’s cry,” her web site states. The group is in the process of organizing a Heartbeat for Peace in Washington, D.C. Oct. 10-12.

“The drum gathering will be led by women, but we need men to hold space for us to be the protectors, and we need children there to understand the power of the drum,” she said. “If we speak drum, we might come to an understanding without having a difference. No peace, anti-war signs, and don’t come representing an organization. Just bring yourself and your drum -- the heartbeat.”

Painted Crow is also involved with Services Women’s Action Network (SWAN), a leading voice of military women and veterans. Her focus with SWAN is to help women in the military and inform women who are considering joining what they will be dealing with, if and when they sign up. “The military system is not designed to help women, so it’s important they get the fact from someone who is not trying to enlist them,” she said.

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"


Tom said...

see video: See Body of War, Hear Body of War
Help Phil Donahue promote this important movie, directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, send this video link to others to make people aware of Tomas Young's story.

Anonymous said...

Why Indians would want to fight for this rotten government is beyond me. Why fight for Custer?