In January and then April of 200 two of the finest people it has ever been my pleasure to know died at the early ages of 58, 62, a time in one’s life much too early to leave.
- Dr. Bernard Q. Nietschmann, a Miskito and defender of the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Creole peoples of the Nicaraguan and Honduran east coast during the war with Nicaragua in the 1980s.
- President Joseph B. DeLaCruz, a Quinault and perhaps the greatest American Indian leader of the twentieth century in the United States who saw the need to emphasize tribalism over individualism as a defense for Indian peoples against American predatory capitalism and the isolation of individualism.
Each is my friend and each in his own way throughout his life served Fourth World nations as a peaceful warrior. In the months between February and July peaceful warriors of the Fourth World died as they had lived: speaking, writing, organizing, traveling and thinking powerful thoughts eloquently advocating the right of Fourth World peoples to be honored and respected on a par with all human beings.
Like Chief George Manuel (Shuswap), Kathleen Bishop (Snohomish), Bruno Gabriel (Miskito), Hugo Spatifora, Sam Cagey (Lummi), Lucy Covington (Colville) and numerous other heroes and heroines of the Fourth World struggle, Barney Nietschmann and Joe DeLaCruz gave far more than they ever received. They made Fourth World history and changed the world through the power of their will.
My friend Barney
Esophageal cancer took the life of Barney Nietschmann at the vigorous age of 58 years. He carefully prepared his family and friends for months before his death visiting with them, remembering old battles and planning for new battles to promote the rights of Fourth World peoples like the Miskito, Sumo and Rama of Honduras and Nicaragua; the Kekchi of Belize, the Papuans of West Papua, the Chakma of Bangladesh, Shoshone in the US, and many other peoples in the world with whom he was so familiar.
Barney wanted to know and understand the world intensely, to his very bones. He never wanted simply to read about an experience or idea; he wanted to actually live the experience, the idea. It was this drive to intimately know about the people and lands of what is now known as Yapti Tasbia (Miskito country) that took Barney in 1969 to that wonderful country. Stimulated by the writings of Ephraim George Squier who in the 19 th century wrote more than a hundred publications about Nicaragua and Central America as well as Peru and the United States Barney set about retracing Squier’s travels along the Miskito coast. Carrying a copy of Squier’s book Waikna: Adventures on the Mosquito Shore Barney inexorably, as if drawn by an unknown power, traveled to the Miskito coast and became a Miskito man.
After ten years learning about life as a Miskito and in the meantime taking appointments as a professor of Geography at the University of Michigan and then at the University of California-Berkeley this “gonzo-geographer” became the “scribe to the outside world” for the Miskito, Sumo and Rama nations as they took up arms in defense of wan tasbia. The Nicaraguans had had their civil conflict that replaced one dictator (Samosa) with a council of dictators led by Daniel Ortega and they invaded the lands, villages and waters of the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Creol peoples of the East Coast. With his note pad in hand, his ever-ready camera and his keen wit and literary brilliance Barney Nietschmann became the lonely voice to the world describing the violent invasion of Indian peoples by the Nicaraguan government. While the electronic and printed press dutifully repeated the propaganda of the United States claiming the communists were invading Central America and the Nicaraguans claiming the imperialist US government was attempting to squelch a legitimate “people’s revolution’ virtually know one reported, the facts of the Indian vs. Nicaragua war that began in 1980—no one except Mr. Barney as he was known by the people of Yapti Tasba.
Barney’s friend and partner Angelina Pont had served as the Secretary to the MISURASATA organization that provided political and military defenses for the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Creol peoples during the ten-year Indian-Nicaragua War. She and Barney married during the war. From his first marriage, Barney had a son Barney Nietschmann, Jr. who is now Manager of the Lafayette Retreat Center for the Diocese of Oakland. Angelina had two boys from her previous marriage Kabu and Carlos—two brilliant and courageous young men. Tangni, a beautiful and talented girl was born to them both.
He was a Founding Board of Directors member of the Center for World Indigenous Studies and the coordinator of the Fourth World Atlas Project. He worked with the Center and through the Center with vigor and dedication expanding the horizons of Fourth World activist scholarship in international forums and in many countries of Fourth World peoples around the world. The Center established the Bernard Q. Nietschmann Chair for Fourth World Geography to which Dr. Richard A. Griggs (a student of Barney’s at the University of California – Berkeley) was appointed in June 2000.
Mr. Barney learned by doing and by teaching, and he had an exquisite mind that appreciated and understood complexity as well as subtlety. He always strove to make things clearer for everyone to understand, and so he would create stories for his listeners. They listened with undivided attention.
My friend “Joe D”
Joseph B. DeLaCruz was as proud of his Quinault heritage as he was of his Filipino tribal heritage representing two strands of his family. Joe never sought leadership in Indian Country or in his own nation; the people sought his leadership for themselves. “I’ll just go fishing,” he would say before every election when asked what will happen if the people chose not to elect him President of the Quinault Nation. The family elders selected Joe to serve as the Quinault Nation’s spokesman and moral leader because he was articulate, knowledgeable, courageous, steadfast and he always placed the people’s needs and the future of generations to come ahead of his personal or any narrow demand. Joe was always careful to consult with family elders in the Nation before a momentous decision. He wanted their thinking, their experienced views and their support. They gave him all after long and careful deliberation.
Joe traveled literally millions of miles in his twenty-eight years as Quinault President presenting Quinault policy, advocating Quinault interests and promoting solutions to Quinault problems and concerns. Many hundreds of thousands of those air, land, river and sea traveled miles were done on behalf of all American Indians when he served two consecutive terms each (the limit) as president of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the National Congress of American Indians. He served on countless local, regional and country-wide organizational boards, engaged in politics with the Democratic Party, and coached softball teams for Quinault kids. He served as the North American Representative to the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and was frequently called upon by Chief George Manuel to take the leadership role in international meetings and conferences.
Joe DeLaCruz saw greater benefit to come from building alliances between Indian nations and any one of the organizations, businesses or governments that might be in opposition to Indian interests. He always said “it is better to have your enemy close by where you can watch what they do instead of out of sight where you can’t see if they do you real damage.” This approach to politics served Joe, the Quinault Nation and indigenous peoples throughout the world very well. State’s governments, corporations and private organization opposed to tribal sovereignty or some other claimed right by indigenous peoples often compromised with Joe, thus allowing indigenous peoples to gain a new advantage when they could have lost. Many people in the Fourth World would from time to time assert that Joe’s methods were to quick to give away absolute rights, and they would sometimes charge him with being a conservative. What these people never truly understood was that Joe’s approach would eventually win the day even if the effort would require many years. Joe figured he could wear down the opposition, and in the mean time build capacity in the Fourth World to assume greater power. “Strengthen Tribal Government” was Joe’s mantra. He saw the need to build the institutions of each tribe so they could effectively defend against outside challenges. He was among the first in the early 1960s to assert “tribal sovereignty.” He not only stated the words, he caused his own nation to act out the powers of their sovereignty. He advocated “self-determination” for Indian peoples and later for all Fourth World peoples. Not only did he give substance to the idea, he showed how self-determination works through the actions of his own government and in his collaboration with other Indian governments to promote the formal establishment of government-to-government relations with the United States and with neighboring states. He promoted and acted on the development of self-government compacts with the United States (his government along with the Jamestown S’Klallam, Lummi and Hoopa) being the first to reopen treaty negotiations with the United States in 1988.
Joe was given many awards throughout his life, but he said he never cherished one more than the Chief George Manuel Leadership Award presented to him in January 2000, just three months before his passing. Joe held the Joe Tallakson Chair for Public Policy at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, the first to so be honored.
Joe DeLaCruz was a leader who was willing to take risks first for himself and satisfied that the road would be relatively safe he would lead others down new paths never before traveled by indigenous people. He was unrelenting to the moment of his death from a heart attack. He was getting on a flight to attend a meeting-representing his people—representing us all.
It took me a long time to mourn the loss of these two Fourth World giants. Such determination and commitment in the Fourth World to the well being of others is not uncommon, but the power and capacity to rise above one’s own people and reach across cultures while being embraced as a leader is uncommon. Barney and Joe were both regarded as leaders by many peoples in other cultures. There’s was a duty to lead and make it safe for others to follow.