Friday, December 14, 2012

Idle No More Across Turtle Island

I was a teen when I first realized that racism is not a thing of the past. I can't blame my young self for this naivety. After all, I only ever heard about it in history class.

I was also raised with only a rudimentary history class teaching of what it means to be Native American. I knew the pretty turquoise jewelry, the drums we made in the first grade, and the elder who came into the school library in full regalia and fed us pine nuts. I, like most Americans, had no idea what happens on a reservation or even that our country's Natives still suffer at the hands of our invasive government. I was given an idealized view full of pretty historical photographs and ignorance.

I learned, of course, about the Trail of Tears. I learned about the small pox. I learned Columbus was an American hero. I learned that Natives today are completely cared for by the government and that they have been given good land and can live out their lives naturally if they please. In short, I learned falsities about the past and the present. My education on this topic was shoddy at best, full of complete lies at worst.

For the year that I've known Trisha and become acquainted with the members of her tribe I've begun a new education. I am completely humbled by the lack of knowledge I have on this topic of American reservations and the wonderful people who have inhabited this land for so long.

I have been frustrated by my own lack of knowledge. Frustrated that our government has put us into a position to be so naive, so unaware of the damage we have caused and the way it has ricocheted through generations of Natives. It is time we are honest with ourselves and embrace the truth. These are wrongs that can not possibly be completely righted, but the lives lost and those still here can be honored and respected. We have a duty to change our actions now. To be humble enough to put our tails between our legs and admit that we have hurt these people. To let go of our pride and recognize our faults.

This tribal member lives on a reservation in South Dakota. He is a perfect example of what the people in reservations across Turtle Island are suffering.

In Canada this week there have been protests and rallies. The headlines have been reading "The Natives are Restless" which, although a cute headline, completely undermines and demeans the fight itself. The fight that people who believe in equality are fighting everywhere.

There are plenty of articles about these protests so I don't need to write another. This one from Huffington Post does a good job of describing the situation. Essentially, the treaties made to protect the Natives and the land are being ignored. The few rights they have been awarded are being threatened. This is all part of an even bigger problem. The treaties are being ignored because the people themselves are being ignored. Their way of life has been destroyed, ridiculed and mocked. They have been disrespected beyond anything I can fathom and it has shattered much of their community and had a lasting effect on the
 people. It is a tragedy and it needs to be talked about.

I don't feel it is my place to speak for the Natives or to even attempt to express what they feel, but I can speak on what I feel as an outsider who has been so lovingly embraced by the members of one tribe. These are a wonderful people. They are strong and they have a spirituality I can only hope to one day experience. I respect them, admire them, and have completely fallen in love with their community. I am forever grateful for their acceptance of me.

The Native population was severely depleted by the actions of white settlers. They have been forced into a position of minority on their own land. There has been a growing interest in Natives spurred on by Disney movies and artwork but it is idealized, it is not sincere. It is an interest in a romanticized view of who a Native is. It needs to be more. We need to be interested in the harsh reality of the situation these people have been put in.

The education we have been given on this topic has been insufficient but with today's technology there is no longer an excuse. If you are not educated on the rights of others today it is by choice alone. The information is there, it is at our fingertips and we can access it with greater ease than ever before. We have no reason to deny the truth now. We have no excuse to be blind to reality.

As a descendant of those who have only lived here for a few hundred years I stand with Chief Theresa Spence. I stand for the Red Nations and all of the ancestors who have been here for thousands of years. It is time we recognize the importance of these wonderful people and allow them to live strong on their land.

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