mstainsby at SPAMtao.ca
Sun May 28 15:21:37 MDT 2000
COMRADE GRANDPA BEAR, PRESENTE!
By Barb Neth
The Buffalo branch of Workers World Party has lost a
respected and beloved comrade in struggle: Bill "Grandpa
Bear" Swanson. Grandpa Bear, a militant Native warrior,
died May 8 from cancer. He was 59 years old.
Grandpa Bear was a member of the Cayuga Nation, one of the
nations that comprise the Haudenosaunee Six Nation
Confederacy. His understanding of the need for solidarity
among all oppressed peoples made him a respected and
powerful force in the struggle here.
In the early 1990s Grandpa Bear was a member, and then
executive director, of the New York Chapter of the American
Indian Movement. He fought for sovereignty for Native
peoples, and was especially active in the struggle to free
Native warrior Leonard Peltier. He later joined with AIM's
Confederation of Autonomous Chapters.
In 1997 he organized Native participation in the seventh
U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan over the Peace Bridge in
Buffalo. The caravan of school buses and cars carried
school and medical supplies for Cuba, challenging the U.S
Grandpa Bear said at that time, "The people of Cuba are
our brothers and sisters. We must all join together as one
and put aside our differences to fight this and all
struggles. It is the only way to be successful. That is why
the government wants us divided. Long live Cuba!"
In the same year, the Cattaraugus Senecas shut down the
New York State Thruway where it passed through their land.
Gov. George Pataki ordered New York State Troopers
stationed there to enforce an embargo on oil and cigarette
deliveries to Seneca businesses. The state demanded a tax
on sales on the reservation.
Grandpa Bear rallied supporters to demand that the
troopers be removed from Native land. He argued that it was
the right of the Senecas to determine whether or not to
sell tobacco and gasoline, without the interference and
occupation of New York State.
Despite having 2,000 state police surround the Cattaraugus
Indian Reservation, Pataki was forced to retreat due to
overwhelming broad public support for the Native nation and
widespread outcry against the governor's actions.
HE UNDERSTOOD THE POWER OF SOLIDARITY
In the late 1990s, Grandpa Bear founded the North American
Native Warriors Association. The group organized and led
bridge crossings that halted traffic at every international
bridge between Western New York and Canada.
The crossings protested the failure of the Canadian
government to honor the 1794 Jay Treaty. That treaty states
that Native people can freely cross back and forth across
the bridge without paying duty or taxes on their goods.
The bridge crossings also demanded the release of all
political prisoners, including Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-
Jamal and the Puerto Rican 16.
Grandpa Bear reached out to communities of all oppressed
peoples and their supporters to take part in the bridge
crossings. He was able to mobilize increasing numbers of
participants from the African American community, peace
movement, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
He also drew participation from activists against the
death penalty, anti-police brutality struggles and most
recently student organizing against the World Trade
Organization and the World Bank.
Grandpa Bear also showed his solidarity with these and
many other struggles through his presence and support at
many picket lines and demonstrations.
He took part in picketing a large downtown office
building, demanding that union janitors be hired back after
they were displaced by a non-union workforce.
Grandpa Bear spoke at protests and rallies against the
U.S. wars waged against the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, and
South America. He pointed out the similarities between the
U.S. pillage of natural resources of Native people here and
the imperialist exploitation of oil in the Middle East. He
said these struggles were connected as one.
During this same period of time, Grandpa Bear helped
organize a successful campaign to explode the "Maid of the
Mist" myth marketed by the Niagara Falls tourism industry--
a myth that perpetuated racist stereotypes of Native
He also organized protests against renaming Buffalo
streets in honor of Christopher Columbus--a symbol of 500
years of Native oppression.
Last spring, Grandpa Bear and Native women supporters
joined pro-choice forces in Buffalo following the
assassination of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Dr. Slepian was a
highly respected and loved obstetrician/gynecologist who
provided a full range of health services, including
Grandpa Bear helped defend women's health clinics against
the right-wing onslaught that threatened to close them. A
poster prominently displayed on his van read "North
American Warriors support women's rights."
The very first time he spoke to a Workers World Party
public forum, Grandpa Bear declared, "I'll struggle against
the forces of oppression until the last breath of my body
He lived up to his word.
His spirit and legacy will continue to live on in those
who knew him and are in the forefront for the struggle for
justice. The Buffalo branch of Workers World Party says,
Comrade Grandpa Bear, presente!
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