“They sit in a circle, ‘the better to see and hear each other,’ the leader had informed them, engaging in nervous chatter while waiting for all to arrive. They talk about the weather, inquire about each other’s family and the prospects for a prosperous year. Glancing around, they try to determine who and how many, are still missing. They know the discussion will be intense and the fear and anger likely to make tempers short. But the problem will not go away on its own accord and it is their duty to come up with a plan.
“At last the final member enters and takes his place within the circle. The chatter ceases and the leader begins. His voice is strong but calm and it is clear he is in control. He implores the group to remain respectful as they discuss the issue; to keep their emotions under control so it doesn’t cloud their judgment. ‘When the talking is done, we must act as one for we are all brothers,’ he tells them. Then he presents the problem to be discussed, though no introduction is needed.
“One after another they make their points, some offering solutions, others sharing their experiences, and a few making their predictions for the future. ‘They won’t stop coming and soon they will take all that is ours,’ one laments.
‘We must drive them out,’ another sneers. ‘Round them up and force them back across the water.’
‘Why bother?’ another asks. ‘They’ll just come back like the disease infested rats they are.’
‘Ridiculous’ another shouts. ‘We must learn to live together. Our land is big enough for all to share. We can learn much from each other.’
‘We should speak to their leaders, seek peaceful solutions; war is no good for any of us.’
‘There can be no peace,’ another says. ‘They are not a peaceful race. They are filthy creatures that bring disease and strange beliefs. They would rather fight than talk. They kill for sport and don’t respect us or our values.’
“When the passion of the topic takes control and the voices grow too loud or angry, the leader restores order. ‘Your feelings are strong as are your proposed solutions.’ He pauses to look around at the faces of each in the group. ‘We must be united in our action. You have given me the power to decide what we will do, but I return that power to you. We will vote,’ he pauses again, this time holding his hand out in caution, ‘and what the majority decides, ALL will obey.’”
George Arrowwood looks up from his notes and out at the audience.
“This meeting took place in the 1760’s,” he tells them. “What was said has been passed from generation to generation as part of our verbal history, much as I am doing here today.” He looks over the audience, gauging attention. “Their decision is recorded in the white man’s history and is called a treaty. Now this treaty, along with other treaties agreed to by the English and later the Americans, were ALL broken. Not by OUR people,” he says pointing at his chest, “but by theirs.”
He steps away from the lectern and moves toward the front of the stage.
“Whenever it has suited their interest to do so, they simply broke the treaty. Their word,” he pauses to look over the audience, “means nothing. Not to them and certainly after all these broken promises, not to us.”
He stands in the center front of the stage and lifts his arms.
“So why am I telling you this? Why recount stories of ancient grievances and well-known statistics about broken promises? Am I trying to engage you in self-pity? Am I trying to anger you so that I can incite violence or perhaps solicit money from you for some soon to be revealed cause?”
Jumping from the stage to the floor, every eye in the audience follows his movement.
“No,” he answers quietly. He walks slowly back in forth in front of the first row like a panther pacing inside a cage, anxious to be released. He stops and looks up toward the people in the back row of the uppermost balcony. “I tell you this because today,” he clenches his fist toward the ceiling as his voice swells, “because today we were given a unique opportunity. Today,” he pauses a smile spreading across his face, “the white man has opened the door to us to right the wrongs.”
The sound of murmuring and people shifting in their seats swells but his voice thunders louder, “Today we begin a journey which, if successful, will restore our land, our dignity and our rightful place as leaders of this nation!”
* * *
Mary sat in the back of the limousine and reflected on the whirlwind that had been the past few weeks. Due to the tour, she was garnering much attention; most positive but some hideously negative. She had received job offers, invitations to celebrity events, and marriage proposals as well as hate mail, angry confrontations and death threats. Each day her image was more frequently appearing in newspapers, magazines and on the internet. She’d found it necessary to ditch her cell phone in favor of a secure satellite phone George Arrowwood, founding partner of the law firm she worked for, had provided and was using a pseudonym to check into hotels.
“We should arrive in five minutes Ms. Blackrock,” the limo driver announced through an intercom.
When she’d first gone on tour, that announcement would have triggered anxiety, but no more. She’d learned a lot in three weeks and experienced the highs and lows of live interviews. Her coaching had taught her how to handle the trick question, the adversarial approach and the flattery technique. Her demeanor was usually calm and professional though once when a shock jock exclaimed, “You must be menstruating,” she replied, “I’m not, but apparently you’ve forgotten YOUR medication.” That comment had been a sensation and had ended up on numerous entertainment news shows. Now she savored the last few minutes of calm before the storm.
She located the intercom button near her seat and pressed it.
“Thank you, Winston.”
She tried to imagine what her life would be like once this was over. Gone would be the frenzied pace, the media attention and ego boost that comes with being in the public eye. Her daily commute would not be via limousine and she would not be staying in five-star hotels or eating chef prepared meals daily. No more rubbing elbows with the pop culture and media elite. Instead, she would return to the simpler life as a junior associate at Arrowwood, Rainwater & Elk. Perhaps.
But what if the impossible happened and they actually won the case? How would her life change? Would she have a significant role in the new order?
It had been three days since her cell phone buzzed with a text message from George. Glancing at it, she quickly read the message. The trial is over. Now it’s in the hands of the judges.
The limo slowed as they approached the security gate and her thoughts turned to the interview. She was scheduled for an hour that would ultimately produce between 10-15 minutes of airtime—primetime airtime with Lesley Stahl.
She smiled at the thought of meeting, talking to and being interviewed by one of her idols. Could it get any better? Maybe if it was Oprah. But Lesley Stahl was big-time.
The limo made its way through the underground garage stopping in front of a small group of people. Rachel, the person PR firm Baker and Roach had put in charge of this tour, was waiting in front. Next to her stood a smart-looking thirty-something woman in a designer suit with a CBS lapel pin and behind them were three younger people, probably interns or assistants.
Winston opened her door and gave her his widest smile as he offered his hand in assisting her out. She smiled as she exited the limo and stepped forward, offering Rachel her hand in greeting.
“I hope all is well this morning,” Rachel said as she shook hands with Mary.
“Absolutely,” Mary replied.
“Great. Mary, I’d like you to meet Cassandra Williams. Cassandra will make sure that your pre and post interview needs are met.”
Cassandra stepped forward, offered her perfectly manicured hand and a smile and said, “Wonderful to meet you Mary, now if you would follow me.”
As they rode up in the elevator, Cassandra explained the schedule and the rules for the interview. Lesley was, of course, in charge of the interview and ultimately CBS would decide the footage to be used. “If at any time you need a break, simply request one. Remember though that until you hear ‘Cut,’ the cameras will still be rolling.”
She would be going to make-up first, then to the ‘green room’ waiting area.
“There’s bottled spring water and fresh fruit. Let me know if you require anything else,” Cassandra said.
Rachel went over possible questions and answers as Mary underwent ‘make-up.’ Mary’s responses were quick, articulate and poignant.
“You’re all set,” the makeup artist said cheerfully.
“I agree,” Rachel said as she gently squeezed Mary’s shoulder.
She was only in the ‘green room’ a minute when Cassandra appeared. She’d barely had enough time to read the cards on the two flower arrangements, one from George and the other from her parents. “Okay, it’s time,” Cassandra said and led Mary down a hall and into a studio where two leather chairs faced each other on a royal blue carpet surrounded by lights and cameras.
Immediately after final preparations for light and sound, Lesley appeared. Wow, this is really happening. Mary stood and offered her hand to the approaching Walters.
“Ms. Blackrock, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Mary answered, “and please call me Mary.”
“Excellent,” Lesley answered as they took their seats. “Do you mind if we go over some of the background?”
“Five minutes,” the set manager called.
The questions were innocuous and Mary realized, designed to put her at ease. She wouldn’t call her state of being, nervous, but rather heightened. She felt—electric. This would be the most important moment in her life to date and she was going to make the most of it.
“One minute,” the set manager called.
“You look wonderful,” Lesley said smiling at her.
“Thank you,” Mary answered as she adjusted her silver cross necklace. It was all Rachel, she thought, considering her burgundy suit with white blouse. She rearranged her sitting position and smoothed her skirt with one hand.
“Ten seconds—five, four, three,” the voice countdown now replaced by hand signals. Lesley launched into her welcoming remarks, impeccably professional as always. I hope I’m as confident and professional as she.
“Mary Blackrock, your firm, Arrowwood, Rainwater & Elk, is currently involved in litigation that has the potential to change the immigration system of the United States. Would you please provide a summary of The Confederation of Indigenous American People vs the United States?”
“Absolutely,” Mary answered. “The case involves the plaintiff's contention that as the indigenous people of the this land, and a sovereign nation within this nation as recognized by federal law, we should have sole rights over immigration law.”
“So, you are saying that this is about the right to determine who can and cannot legally enter the country?”
“Yes,” Mary answered before adding “grandfathered back to 1564.”
“Grandfathered back to 1564, why then?”
“We feel that our rights precede that date, however we chose 1564 as it was the year prior to the Europeans establishing a permanent settlement on this continent.”
“You are referring to Saint Augustine being settled by the Spanish in 1565?”
“I see. And if you are successful in gaining legal recognition of this right, what do you hope to accomplish?”
“We hope to regain our historical right to control our destiny and the path of this great land.”
“Do you realistically think that this nation’s courts will overturn centuries of precedent by finding in your favor?”
Mary hesitated. “The law favors our cause and morally we are justified, however our historical interaction with the European settlers and the governments that represent them have proven that law and morality are irrelevant when it comes to dealing with our people.”
So, you don’t feel you will win this legal battle?”
“We are realistic as to our challenge. We are also prepared in the event that we do win and we recognize those challenges as well.”
“Let’s talk about those challenges. If the Federal District Court in Cincinnati rules in favor of the Confederation of Indigenous People, how will immigration law change?”
Mary’s voice was strong and velvety. “We expect that whatever the outcome in District Court, ultimately this case will be decided before the Supreme Court. That said, if the Confederation ultimately wins, then control over the borders and the immigration laws would immediately revert to the indigenous people.”
“And the Indigenous People would be responsible for dealing with the problem of illegal immigration.” Lesley noted.
“Yes, only on a much grander scale.”
“How so?” Lesley asked, her eyebrows rising.
“Everyone not descended from the Indigenous People would be considered an ‘Illegal,’” Mary answered evenly.
“If I understand you correctly, in addition to people who have entered this country
illegally during their lifetime, you would consider the vast majority of current residents—the
legal citizens born in this country and those who have immigrated legally, to be ‘Illegals?’”
“Our contention is that all non-indigenous people either came here illegally or are descendents of illegal immigrants. In keeping consistent with recent immigration laws, those born in this country to illegal immigrants are to be considered illegals themselves.”
“Your earlier statement of the illegal immigration problem being on a grander scale was certainly not hyperbole,” Lesley stated. “Is your plan the mass deportation of non-indigenous people?”
“Not at all,” Mary said shaking her head. “We would love it if everyone stayed but we are realistic and know that not everyone will complete the path to citizenship, so we do expect a number of deportations.”
“Any idea what that number would be? Perhaps you have a projected percentage of those who will ultimately be deported?”
Mary’s long black hair shone in the lights as she shook her head. “We really don’t have an educated guess and to project random numbers would be irresponsible. As our history proves, we are not an irresponsible people.”
“If your legal battle is successful, I will be declared an illegal immigrant,” Lesley stated. “What is my path to citizenship?”
“Again, for the sake of consistency with recent immigration law we would follow many of the same rules that currently exist. First, you would need to learn our language.”
“Your native tongue?” Lesley gasped.
“That is correct,” Mary said, managing to keep a smile from appearing though her eyes sparkled at Lesley’s reaction.
“Which one, I mean, you’re a confederation so by definition you are many groups of indigenous people. Will I be required to learn ALL of your languages?”
“Not at all,” Mary assured her, the smile now appearing. “You will only need to learn one language and you will be able to decide if that language is to be of the indigenous people in the area you were born or the area you currently reside. We are a fair people.”
“And how long will I have to learn the new language?”
“We understand that change is difficult, particularly for adults and we have developed a timeline and standard that reflects our generous nature. The path to citizenship requires that the language be learned within five years and only to the level of a young adult. It is our equivalent to your six grade level,” Mary stated. “We would also make our curriculum available to the Department of Education to assist with the education of children, though we are confident they will learn at an accelerated rate.”
“Assuming I learn the language in sufficient time, and by no means is that assured,” Lesley said smiling, “what else will the path of citizenship entail?”
“Currently immigration law requires successfully passing a 100 question test on the subject of United States government and history. We would keep that test, however we would add an additional test on the subject of Native American history and culture. Also, the oath of citizenship will include a pledge of nonviolence against fellow citizens and visitors to this country.”
“That’s very interesting,” Lesley said leaning slightly forward in her chair. “My research indicates that violence against Native American women on reservations is very high. Is there anything in your planned immigration law changes that would address that?”
“As direct descendants of indigenous people, all ‘Native Americans’ would be granted citizenship without having to embark on the path. However, we would make violent offenses by adults punishable by loss of citizenship regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or any other factor.”
“I see. You don’t consider that maybe a bit extreme?”
“As a people who have been negatively affected by violence throughout our history, both from internal and external forces, we know that there is no place for violence within a culture.”
“If you had to use one word to sum up what you believe is the key to successful implementation of your changes, what would it be?”
“Coexist,” Mary answered without hesitation.
Lesley placed her hand to her ear, her ring sparkling in the set lights. She nodded once before her eyes settled on Mary.
“The decision is in.”
TOM GUMBERT lives near Cincinnati, OH with his wife Andrea (Andy) in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad. Tom has been writing for over a decade with an eclectic taste in what he reads and writes. He spends a of lot time daydreaming.
His work has appeared in online and/or print publications in the U.S., U.K. Canada and Australia, including Black Heart Magazine, Rathalla Review, L’Éphémère Review, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, Shout Out UK, A Long Story Short, Yellow Chair Review, and Lit Art Magazine. He has flash fiction forthcoming in Five2One Magazine, and co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published by All Things That Matter Press in March 2014. He is currently working on his novel.