When I am talking with non-Native audiences, and even when talking with Tribal friends, I sometimes say that I feel like I am body-surfing on a wave of pro-Indian sentiment in the country. I say that a big part of this is based on recognition of non-Native—read mostly white male—failures in dealing with the natural world. We haven’t been so smart about fire, fish, and water, and grope now, trying to play catch up with preemptive burns and reintroduction of beaver and bison.Read Rich’s Post →
This weekend “media tycoon” Byron Allen told a TV audience that he now owned the Weather Channel and intended to bid on the Denver Broncos. While the NFL is in a dispute over the lack of Black coaches in the league, Allen intends to be the first African-American owner of an NFL team. NFL rosters have, of course, long been filled with African-American players. The league is more than 60 % Black, but coaches are few, and owners none.
In another, quieter announcement this week, President Joe Biden nominated Harvard University Native American Program Executive Director Shelly C. Lowe to serve as the 12th chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lowe is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and grew up on an Arizona reservation. The National Endowment for the Humanities is our national institution that celebrates “culture.”Read Rich’s Post →
“Rumble” is a 2017 Canadian documentary film that I’d missed until it hit public television. I watched it twice, taking notes the second time, wanting to get in my mind the names of Rock n’ Roll, jazz, and blues musicians I’d listened to—and many I had not heard or heard of before.
I’d have to slow it down and stop action to get all the names and dates, but I know enough now to know that once again the roles of American Indians in the American story have been hidden or muted, and that there is again the story of resilience. Joy Harjo, our current national poet laureate and a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, says, as the credits roll, that “We’re still here; we’re still alive; we’re still singing.Read Rich’s Post →
It’s complicated—but here are some first thoughts:
In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates made the argument for reparations to the descendants of African-American slaves in The Atlantic Magazine. The country, he said, would never be “whole” until it came to terms with the bad chapters of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial discrimination in our past.Read Rich’s Post →
In my understanding of how things work in Indian country, names of elders who have recently passed are often not said aloud for some time–or only carefully. But I think in this case it is important to use a name, because Mary Schlick was known to many in Northwest Indian country for decades, but she has been largely silent for some time, and her recent death, at 94, at the end of a long and important life, should be noted. Her name will bring a smile to many Indian face, and to soyapu faces as well.
Alvin Josephy said that reservations and the continuing attachment to land they afforded have been instrumental in the survival of American Indian cultures. Reservations were, for the most part, diminished versions of ancient tribal landscapes, but however diminished, they were pieces of those larger lands—particular lands that had sustained particular tribal peoples for millennia.
Policies of removal and assimilation have of course taken many—most—Indians away from ancestral grounds over the last five centuries. There are now more urban Indians than rural Indians, and tribal enrollments are covered in confusion, with each tribe establishing its own enrollment requirements, and individual Indians finding themselves descendants of many tribes and sometimes living on a reservation where they are not, maybe cannot be, enrolled.
There have of course been movements of indigenous tribes through history, brought on by famine, weather, natural catastrophe, intertribal warfare and European colonization. Alvin Josephy began his landmark book on American Indians, The Indian Heritage of America, published in 1968, with maps and charts showing language distribution. Before we knew what DNA was, languages were leaving traces of peoples’ histories and movements, even people without written histories. One can follow these movements through the long lens of language, find the Athabascan languages of the north in the Southwest and Central America, the spread of Algonquin speakers east to west across the middle of North America, with Algonquin speakers even now lodged in small spots along the Pacific Coast.
Yet an Indian friend told me that he has a letter from the Danish paleo-genetic scientists confirming his relationship to “the Ancient One,” the man found years ago along the Columbia River and recently determined to have been there for some 9,000 years. Despite conjecture and maybe hope by some American anthropologists that a later, European connection would be uncovered, it was not. The Ancient One, aka Kennewick Man, is related to present day Indians of the Plateau.
When the greatest world-wide refugee crisis since that following WW 2 is ripping people from ancient roots and throwing them together in places totally removed from places of origin, there is something comforting about the people who were always here. Like ancient trees, mountains and rivers, we can marvel at the perseverance of people that have withstood awesome odds to remain in place.
But what about those who must move, those who have been stormily chased from traditional landscapes by hurricane, volcano, drought and other “natural” disasters, and by the tyranny of governments, the force of armies, and the violence of civil wars?
When their world is in turmoil, people move–and others take them in. Joseph and his remnant band of Nez Perce were taken in on the Colville Reservation in 1885, after the Nez Perce War, after years of exile in Indian Territory. Many descendants still live there.
We as a nation can, like Germany and other European countries, acknowledging the difficulties, but with some memory of the post-WW II chaos and its huge refugee crisis, take in the strangers. Or we can further close our borders and hunker down in historical ignorance.
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