A Lakota in Europe Considers the American Dream and State of the World

By Tokata Iron Eyes

Date: 04/26/2024

Over the last month, I’ve traveled to many different places across Europe, an opportunity I’m incredibly honored to have had. As I was preparing, I realized in conversation with friends and activists of different ilks that most Americans don’t even apply to get a passport, even if they’ve enough spare cash to begin the arduous process. As many are economically disenfranchised, societally oppressed, or both, the odds of this journey happening for Native people from the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations are definitely even lower than that.


That's me outside the Monastiraki metro station near the ruins of the Acropolis!

There is this carefully crafted mythos instilled into every citizen of the U.S. — this so-called "American Dream," a litany of false promises which I believe work to prevent so many of those who reside within America from seeing beyond its propaganda, providing for such an atmosphere that to begin to ever address the notion of leaving physical national borders is still an insurmountable task to a massive portion of its population.

It’s not that Americans don’t want to travel, though. It’s just that we’ve been told so often that this state is the best state on Earth that even the average oppressed, working-class person has integrated that mantra to the extent that they’ll sing its praises, with gratitude for their so-called freedom. Meanwhile, the truth is that most of us living and working here don’t have the time or money to do even that much comfortably, much less pick up and explore the world around us.

This “American Dream,” rooted as it is in the mythic concept of nationalist exceptionalism, is not, in fact, isolated to America. Every state attempts to glorify its “benevolence,” romanticizing itself and its origins to try to reassure its neglected citizens that they are being protected and cared for. In my experience driving through the vast Eastern European countryside, roaming through nations which, in the very recent past, were communist and are all very old and rather experienced in terms of revolution and war, there exist the same prides and fears instilled within the American populace.

It’s taught to you from the time you’re born, this notion that you have been given your identity by the state, and only this state has the right to freedom and safety. Therefore, if needed, you should even be willing to pay with your life to uphold those rights. That’s already an oxymoronic sentiment. In the case of America, it has always been very clear that, from its inception, every industry and institution that belongs to it was complicit in the genocide of Native People. One can easily argue that the U.S.’s very existence as a capitalist and military superpower is, in fact, reliant on creating more genocide.


I visited the Neue Wache — Germany's central memorial to victims of war and fascist tyranny.

So I left to spend time in the Netherlands, Germany, Czechia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece. One thing I now know for sure is that every state relies on keeping its oppressed constituents ignorant of the similarities in their lived realities in order to maintain control. If we buy into them by investing our time and labor, this gives them additional power and makes them more money.

The great American author Mark Twain believed the following: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.“ I believe the same, and further I believe that in order to organize and mobilize globally we must make it a priority to find each other actually, to meet one another and learn about one another across the world in order to effect change in real and lasting ways.

I went first to Athens, Greece, where I met a friend named Orpheus. He is Greek, Jewish, and Romani, and he’s lived most of his life in Crete. Orpheus speaks many languages and was incredibly helpful during the journey. In Sofia, Bulgaria — after an 18 to 20-hour drive — my friends and I arrived, parked, and began taking pictures outside of a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. Two big swaths of people had gathered, some spilling out of buses. Civilians witnessed priests of the orthodoxy there to protest because, due to corruption within the clergy, the head of the Church and three others had been expelled from their positions for acting in favor of Russian geopolitical interests.


Priest protest!

As this Bulgarian priest protest/rally was happening, I’m sorry to report that my friends and I experienced pretty immediate aggression and profiling. I, personally, was laughed at and told I looked like a prostitute, and my bandmate dealt with blatant transphobia. One of these priests, who happened to be quite forward and fluent enough in English to harass us, told my trans friend that they were being disrespectful by being there, that their “behavior” was both hostile and aggressive. Even during some of our more pleasant interactions with folks, Orpheus was almost routinely asked if he was a g*psy even before he was asked his name.

We decided to move on toward Berlin. After having driven for a day or more straight, we fell asleep almost immediately after arrival. We awoke to several news headlines reporting that the Berlin police had used brutality during a direct action, exerting extreme aggressiveness and violence toward those participating in a sit-in for Palestine at a train station. We all know this behavior is not uncommon among American police, but it was a bit shocking to me to see this coming from the police of a nation which so recently had to reckon with its own genocidal past. In Germany, it seemed particularly egregious for the authorities to demean and attack people taking part in efforts to stop another genocide.

To me, especially given even more recent news, it seems as though representatives of the German state have landed on the idea that if you’re pro-Palestinian, you are somehow inherently anti-semitic. But that idea is nonsense, and it’s plainly illogical and dangerous. Palestinians are semitic people, and the “state” of Israel — and particularly the current regime — is separate from and does not represent all Jewish people. Germany joining in on (and funding) Zionist violence may track on some level with a desire to make amends to Jews; but I’d suggest there’s an irony when you build museums and fund art exhibits to acknowledge and condemn the very behavior Israel is now exhibiting — and which Germany says it has overcome.


The Reichtag.

Speaking of symbols of fallen dictatorships, we also visited the Berlin Wall and the powerful Neue Wache, a memorial to victims of war and fascist tyranny. There's no way to properly express the impact visiting these sites had on me and my travel companions.

After all of that, we decided it was time to enjoy some leisure. I went clubbing for the first time! I can sometimes be an anxious person but was incredibly encouraged by the overtly queer scene and had a wonderful time. Coming from North and South Dakota, Berlin is like a different planet. Sadly, the one prominent overlap that stood out to me was the presence of naziism. But another was the presence of forward-thinking acceptance.

On the long journey back to Greece, we visited Prague, Budapest, and Transylvania. Athens greeted us with warmth and friendship! We met a couple, Ilias and Alexandra, who run a cafe/bar together in the anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia. Greece has a lengthy history of anarchism, and there was a resurgence of the ideology among the people in the wake of the huge recession in 2007. Ilias and Alexandra put a sticker I had given them of Leonard Peltier on their bar. After I told them he was a Native political prisoner and some of his story, they ended up hosting my band at their cafe for one of our first shows.


With a nightclub owner the night we met.

Exarchia has acted as a haven for many, and to be able to play my music somewhere with such a history of resistance was deeply meaningful. I felt deep solidarity to all those fighting against systemic othering. The oppressive parallels we all live with are, at least, something we have in common. In the end, I was grateful to meet kindred spirits and I am thankful for my safe travels. And I’m glad to be able to share these experiences with you!

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