How do I as a civilian even begin to talk about this? It’s a heavy thing and a lot to wrap my head around… the meaning of National POW/MIA Recognition Day for Native Americans.
A few days ago, I was walking in the rain with my dog on a cold morning on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. I couldn’t help but complain and think, “This is miserable.” Then, I got to thinking about Native Americans fighting in wars from the American Revolution to Afghanistan and Iraq. In my head, I pictured things like the smoke and heat of Little Big Horn and ambushes in the humid jungles of Viet Nam. On the ground, I could see the dead and dying. But, what about those men and women who seemingly turned to ghosts on the battlefield? Their families left to wonder about the fate of a relative who became a prisoner of war or went missing in action. These are truly miserable things.
Yet, while thinking about these military members now listed as POW/MIA, another thought persisted. While Native Americans may make up a small fraction of the near 2000 service members still unaccounted for from the Viet Nam War, the true number of American Indian POWs is significantly higher.
It only takes one Google search to see what I mean. For example, if you Google “Native American Prisoners of War,” you will see multiple links leading to the same place: the 2010 TED Talk by Aaron Huey about his experience of photographing poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
In his opening dialogue, Huey refers to Pine Ridge as “Prisoner of War Camp Number 334.” I’ve heard others use this expression before, but I’ve never quite been able to figure out where it originated. Despite how the name may have come about, one thing is clear: history has designated many Indian reservations as POW camps, whether officially or not.
One thing from Huey’s talk struck me as staggeringly powerful, and moreover, staggeringly sad:
“The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, ‘My God, what are these people doing to themselves? They’re killing each other. They’re killing themselves while we watch them die.’ This is how we came to own these United States. This is the legacy of manifest destiny. Prisoners are still born into prisoner-of-war camps long after the guards are gone.”
Today, on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, I ask that you remember all U.S. military personnel – especially those declared as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. And, as you remember them, I ask that you remember Native Americans too. Remember all the losses and sacrifices they made at the hands of the U.S. to become the nation we know today.
Posted in Humanitarian Tagged Afghanistan, American Indian, Iraq, Little Big Horn, National Relief Charities, Native American, Native American military, Native American POW, Native American soldiers, Pine Ride Indian Reservation, POW/MIA Day, Rosebud Reservation
Lately, there has been much focus on sovereignty, a huge issue for tribes. And this is important in that it can perhaps bring to light the unique relationships that exist between the United States and the Indian nations.
This starts with the need to understand just what “sovereignty” is and how that meaning is interpreted, for sovereignty is a complex juggernaut of legal and ethical issues involving Native American tribes and state governments, as well as the federal government. Consider this:
- For many tribes, sovereignty means the ability to manage their own affairs and exist as nations that are recognized as having control over their own destinies. It means to live unencumbered by the yoke of an outside power determining and re-determining their fate. Unfortunately, this has been the nature of the relationship between Native American tribes and the United States since the very earliest treaties.
- For the federal government, U.S. tribal sovereignty means that Native American tribes are “domestic dependent nations” that exist within the boundaries of the U.S. and that they are wards of the U.S., even though they may operate and manage some internal tribal affairs. From the U.S. viewpoint, tribes do not exist as truly sovereign and independent nations.
Because of this disconnect about what tribal sovereignty means, there are those non-Natives that feel Native Americans are “super citizens” or have special rights that they themselves do not have. This could not be further from the truth. Historically, Native Americans have had to fight tooth and nail for recognition and to compel the United States to live up to its treaty obligations.
A disconnect also exists in the way various tribes may conduct business. Throughout history, some tribes have been selected to act “as sovereign government entities similar to states within our federal system.” Yet, other tribes have not been given this opportunity. So, the levels of experience tribes have in independently managing their affairs varies greatly due to extreme economic and social injustices placed upon these tribes by the U.S.
There are, however, both positives and negatives to the issue of tribal sovereignty:
- Positives: To allow tribes to live and exist as truly sovereign nations is to give them back dominion they had before the arrival of Europeans. It allows them to manage and control their own destinies and to operate without incursions into their legal and business affairs by the States.
- Negatives: After centuries of conflict and relocation and removal and assimilation, many Native American tribes no longer have rights to the natural resources in their original homelands. Just how does a tribal nation that has become dependent on federal assistance now become self-sufficient and self-determining in the truest sense of the word? Not just internally for select tribal affairs, but in all aspects of tribal management.
1st woman Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee, http://bit.ly/JoyceDuggan
Given these realities, how do we move forward, define and enact sovereignty for all Native American tribes? That is a very complex and open-ended question. Perhaps we need to start by agreeing on what “sovereignty” means. Then move forward from that definition to define what it means for the tribes and for the U.S. Yet, even the definition of “sovereignty” is a complex quandary. As a former chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee stated:
“Many people still have a hard time today understanding sovereignty. What does this sovereignty of Indian nations mean? I have a hard time with it too because we’re not sovereign in this nation. If we were sovereign in this nation we would not have to depend on federal government dollars. We would not have to go to the state for gaming approvals. We would be able to live independently in our own nation, which is what we were doing in 1838 at the time of the removal.”
Thus, we need to educate tribal members as well as non-Natives about what sovereignty truly means. An ongoing discussion of tribal sovereignty can perhaps define, through new legal precedents, the way that the federal government and the states can interact with tribes… can perhaps project a clearer understanding of why sovereignty is important, and how it does not encroach on the rights of other Americans but rather complements the very ideal on which the U.S. was founded – independence.
In my recent blog post on Black Elk, a holy man and healer of the Oglala Sioux, I mentioned how the early reservations were before the Indian Reorganization Act… no food, inferior shelter, meager provisions and uncaring superintendents. In today’s topic, I explain the changes brought about by the Indian Reorganization Act and how they furthered tribal lands and economies and labor.
A policy set in motion by John Collier, then newly appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 28, 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (the Reorganization) addressed the failures caused by the Dawes Severalty Act.
The Dawes Act of 1887 (Dawes) was a misguided attempt to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream white culture in the United States. It broke up the reservations, allotted lands to individual tribal members, and sent children to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their Native languages. As you can imagine, Dawes had disastrous results for Native American populations everywhere and actually furthered the already desperate situation faced by many tribes at the time.
The Reorganization attempted to reverse these devastating effects and, at the same time, give Native Americans a chance at a “New Deal” that ran parallel to many other programs Roosevelt was creating for all Americans, programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
The Meriam Report that came out in 1928 outlined in great detail the extreme failure of Dawes… how since 1887 the Native-owned tribal land base had decreased from 137 million to only 47 million acres… how poverty and hunger issues had actually increased… how the loss of culture due to the boarding schools had accelerated too. John Collier and President Franklin Roosevelt both found this report to be a strong argument for immediate and much-needed reform in the area of Indian Affairs.
From 1934 until 1945 when John Collier left his position, the Bureau of Indian Affairs moved forward with many of these reforms and through the different sections of the Indian Reorganization Act promoted a more positive approach to the issues facing the tribes. To be succinct, the Reorganization:
- Ended the allotment of tribal lands and extended the trust period for existing allotments
- Recognized tribal governments and encouraged tribes to adopt constitutions
- Prohibited lands from being taken away from tribes without their consent (something Dawes DID NOT do)
- Gave the tribes the power to manage their assets, which consisted mainly of land at the time
John Collier truly cared that conditions were horrible for most Native Americans and he wanted something better for them. To this end, John Collier championed the Indian Reorganization Act as essential to the survival and existence of Native Americans as a people. He saw that no effort was being made to give Native Americans a chance to improve their own situation. And he believed that giving them the power to govern themselves locally and to manage their resources and assets would further the self-sufficiency that he felt Native Americans (and all people) needed to maintain economic, physical, and spiritual well-being. An example was the Collier-led creation called the ECW (Emergency Conservation Work), a Native American counterpart to the Civilian Conservation Corps. By the time it ended in 1943, the ECW trained and employed over 85,000 Native Americans to utilize land and resources and work on their tribal homelands.
There exist, I feel, both successes and shortcomings in the Indian Reorganization Act. It was a much-needed improvement in the approach the United States had with tribes before and after the Reorganization was established, but it was by no means perfect. Before, Dawes was awful and made life so much worse for Native Americans, but after the Reorganization, the U.S. regressed to its policy of termination and relocation. So, although not perfect in its scope or enactment, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was a good beginning.
Posted in Humanitarian Tagged American Indian, Black Elk, boarding school, Dawes Act, Indian Affairs, Indian Reorganization Act, Meriam Report, National Relief Charities, Native American, Oglala Sioux, self-sufficiency
A certain excitement comes with the start of a new school year. Like many students as summer begins to wind down, I started feeling the all too familiar back-to-school blues. The uncertainty of taking on a new role as a teacher for my second year at St. Francis Indian School was getting to me… still is. But, after a week of staff in-service filled with engaging presentation from the likes of Dr. Craig Howe, I am looking forward to all the good that will come from when I greet my students for the first time today.
Not only is today the start of the 2014-2015 school year for many in Indian country but a year that is promising positive change for tribal schools. Last month, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) announced $2.5 million of funding for Sovereignty in Indian Education grants (SIE grants). The SIE grants are available to any federally recognized tribe and its respective tribal education department.
Ultimately, SIE grants will give greater agency to tribes on reservations with BIE-funded schools. This greater control for tribes goes beyond overseeing the day-to-day operations of BIE-funded schools and promises to impact tribal education curriculum for years to come.
In fact, if the SIE grants accomplish what they are set out to accomplish, the entire future of federally recognized tribes stands to change for the better. In the SIE press release, this quote from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, sums up that feeling:
“We believe strongly that American Indian children deserve an academically rigorous, culturally appropriate education. Beyond providing the skills to succeed economically, honoring tribal cultures and languages is vital to the longevity of tribal traditions, identity and self-confidence.”
As a result, the SIE grants could empower federally recognized tribes to not only begin or continue teaching their language, culture, and traditions in the classroom but to weave indigenous knowledge into other subjects through culturally responsive education. Both the individual student and the collective stand to benefit.
Today, Native Americans walk in two worlds. They must balance who they are as Native Americans with the influence and impact of the dominant culture in the United States. Through the SIE grants and culturally responsive education, Native Americans can take charge of their education and future as independent nations. The issue of education in Indian country is an issue of sovereignty, after all. If Native Americans lose their indigenous knowledge and rights, they will no longer exist as Native Americans. They will simply become “Americans.”
In an effort to spread a better understanding of Native Americans and why a name change is appropriate for the Washington Redskins, the Change the Mascot campaign in association with the National Congress of American Indians broadcasted the powerful “Proud to Be” video to televisions across the country during the recent NBA Finals.
With the Washington Redskins’ kick-off of their first pre-season game just days away, things may appear to be business as usual. Yet, Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, has received continued political pressure to change the team’s mascot and change the name.
In June 2014, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office found the name Redskins disparaging of Native Americans and cancelled the team’s trademark. The ruling stems from a 2006 case brought against the NFL by five Native American representatives of four different tribes.
In spite of the federal decision to cancel the Redskins trademark, a genuine name change will only come about by a unified effort from all people. An ESPN SportsNation poll found that among 206,534 voters only 36% favored a name change for the Washington team.
Change the Mascot is asking all people to be a part of this movement for change. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are Native American. Racism affects us all. Check out “What are you #ProudToBe” and the Twitter stream #NotYourMascot to see current opinions and to get involved.
Through the appeal of the trademark cancellation and the recently launched public relations site, Redskins Facts, it is clear Dan Snyder is as reluctant as ever to change the name. Conversely, it is unclear what the trademark ruling will ultimately mean for the Washington team. ESPN reports the following:
Yet, there is hope. Outside of the political arena, we as a nation are far from agreed on a name change and this controversy is far from over for the Washington Redskins. Considering all of this, the 2014-2015 football season should be an interesting one.
“Life is a good adventure…” Mr. Ortiz
In an unspecified place and time a young woman frantically runs. Her internal monologue, the first line in the “Tiger Eyes” film of 2012 speaks out, “I wonder what it’s like to be dead…”
Cut to morning on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Somewhere in town the young woman and her mother, donned in black, hurriedly finishing dressing. For the young woman, Davey Wexler (Willa Holland), this is the day of her father’s funeral as well as an uncertain new beginning.
Shortly after the funeral, Davey and her family relocate to Los Alamos, New Mexico to stay with her aunt and uncle. Despite the answers waiting for Davey in the mountain landscapes, the aunt and uncle challenge the loving freedom she knew when her father was alive. Still, they can’t stop a wounded heart in need of healing.
On a bike ride one afternoon, Davey wonders out to the edge of the wilderness. After a short fall down a rocky cliff face, in a mixture of physical and emotional pain, Davey desperately cries out for her father. A local climber, Martin “Wolf” Ortiz (Tatanka Means),wanders out of the wilderness to Davey’s aid.
Wolf and his father, the terminally ill Mr. Ortiz (Russell Means), are Native American descendants of the ancient cave dwellers that once flourished in the region. Until his illness, the father and son would climb the ancient cliff faces discovering their connection to the past, each other and the earth.
Book cover pub. at http://bit.ly/JudyBlume-TigerEyes
As Davey builds relationships with Mr. Ortiz and Wolf, she develops her own relationship and connection to all things. Through them, she begins to understand that time isn’t linear… that past, present and future all touch one another… and that Wolf appearing when she is missing her father the most is no coincidence. As the medicine man in this film expresses, no one person is alone. Although our lives on this earth are impermanent, we live on through our connection to the universe. Our ancestors make themselves known through other people and the world around us.
Perhaps the greatest strength in life comes not from the holding on, but the letting go. Despite the unstoppable force of loss in our lives, through our pain we desperately hold on to what we once knew. For Davey Wexler in the film adaptation of the 1981 novel “Tiger Eyes” by Judy Blume, learning to let go after loss is the greatest lesson – and we see through Davey, Wolf, and Mr. Ortiz that letting go doesn’t mean losing our connection to anyone.
*** Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed my series on films made by Native Americans about Native Americans and using Native actors. This is my last entry in the series. But, if there is another film you’d like me to write about, please post a comment to let me know.
Black Elk teaching with rosary (Indian Sentinel, pub at http://bit.ly/BlackElk_Rosary)
Black Elk was revered as a holy man and healer of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. Born in 1863 in Wyoming near the Powder River Basin, he grew up in the traditional Lakota ways and was a second cousin to Crazy Horse. The family of Black Elk followed Crazy Horse around the western plains, as the wars between the United States and the Sioux engulfed many tribes. Black Elk was witness to many historic battles throughout the West, such as the Fetterman Battle and the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Custer and his men were defeated.
Experiencing so much of the struggle and hardship among his people as the United States worked to annihilate the Native Americans from the West, Black Elk relied on his visionary nature and his ability to see what was true and right in order to help his people. Upon using his senses as a holy man to see where his people were headed when conditions became more and more hopeless. Black Elk stated, “And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”
Black Elk understood that all of us as humans must come to the understanding that we are the same, and there is no reason that we should not be at peace with one another in order to flourish – in order for all things on this earth to flourish.
After the Little Bighorn, Black Elk fled to Canada but then returned to Wounded Knee. He experienced much of the ugly realities of early reservation life, such as no food, inferior shelter, meager provisions and uncaring superintendents. This was how the reservations were before the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Black Elk was also dismayed at the disorder and lack of harmony that existed in the world during his lifetime. He experienced the atrocities that the U.S. committed against his people simply because they were Native American. Recalling with great distress his memory of the Wounded Knee Massacre, Black Elk said,
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heapen and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A peoples dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. . . .the nations hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”
We are fortunate enough to know about many of the traditional Lakota ways through the book titled “Black Elk Speaks.” In this, Black Elk tells of his life and the vast sweep of life on the Plains for the Oglala Lakota in the latter part of the 1800s, when the Sioux Wars were ending and the U.S. was working in earnest to destroy the traditional ways of life for Native Americans.
Lakota values relevant and essential to us all
In summary, Black Elk spoke to the extensive hope that an entire population had for the way of life they had known for centuries. Their way of life was vital to the way they approached the world, gave them balance and gave meaning to almost everything on the earth… the earth as a center, themselves as a center, that center that exists in all of us.
As a Native American myself, I feel that heartbeat when I hear the drums at powwow… that innate sense of my circle and who I am. And, I see who I am and who I was – that intangible connection to my ancestors through the tangible traditions that are alive today.
I think that is why Black Elk’s life and teachings through his words are so very important – because they give insight to the world around us, that center. This helps me to walk in two worlds, the world of my Native relatives and the world of my non-Native relatives. And really, Black Elk’s life speaks to Lakota values that we can all find relevant, essential actually: Generosity, Kinship, Fortitude and Wisdom. Each of these runs much deeper than their simple definition. Each is essential to finding that peace and balance and a life unlimited that Black Elk yearned for his people, and for all people.
*** Footnote to readers: I hope you’ve enjoyed all six of my topics on Native American Chiefs & Leaders. This is my last entry in the series. However, if there is a particular leader you would like me to write about, please post a comment to let me know.
After burning nearly 15,000 acres in the Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Reservation, the Assayii Lake wildfire is “over.” This land on the NM-AZ border and 60 miles northeast of Window Rock is the home and livelihood of the people who live there. Navajo Nation officials called this “one of the worst wildfires in known history on their land” affecting traditional grazing lands and threatening generational homes.
Pub. by KOB.com at http://bitl.y/AssayiiLakeFire
As of June 18, the Assayii Lake fire was 0% contained and winds were gusting 50 mph. On the Navajo Reservation:
- 50 residences were threatened and two tribal communities were being evacuated: Sheep Springs and Naschitti, NM
- 4 Navajo Nation structures were destroyed
- Newcomb, Tohatchi and Crystal Lake communities were also being affected
- The American Red Cross and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) were cooperating on the incident, and nearly 700 personnel were working to bring the fire under control.
- Command Posts were being set up at the Newcomb and Shiprock Chapter Houses, the Newcomb Middle School, and the Tohatchi High School for displaced and affected persons
As a first responder for the reservations, NRC was working through numerous Program Partners and community leaders, who were in turn working with evacuees and displaced families as well as volunteers and firefighters. A semi and two box trucks departed National Relief Charities in Phoenix on June 19 to deliver products for those in need. These shipments went to the Navajo Nation at their central location in Fort Defiance, AZ (near Window Rock). We also transported supplies and provisions to the Crystal Chapter as well as the Gallup Humane Society.
These supplies included about $400,000 worth of basic necessities requested by our Program Partners such as boxes of non-perishable food; water and beverages; emergency blankets; toilet paper and paper towels; personal hygiene products such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and lotions; cleaning supplies; face masks; and surgical gloves. We wish to acknowledge our partners here:
- Rose Whitehair, Navajo Nation Dept. of Emergency Management
- David Randolph, Newcomb Chapter President
- Jacey McCurtain, President of the Crystal Chapter
- John Brooks at Tohatchi High School and Lucinda Barney at the Tohatchi Chapter
- Tony Watchman at Ft. Defiance Chapter
- Terry Begay at Shiprock Chapter
As of June 30, 2014, the Assayii Lake fire was 100% contained and the BIA was ensuring that all the embers were “dead out” and posing no risk to life, land or livestock. We are grateful for this, but we also have to acknowledge that in some ways the fire is ongoing. As with any wildfire or disaster, public attention seems to wane once the immediate threat has passed – but the aftermath and the work of recovery continue for weeks and sometimes months. And so our hearts go out to these communities, their leaders, and our partners who work so tirelessly to care for the people.
Posted in Humanitarian, NRC Programs Tagged American Indian, American Red Cross, Assayii Lake fire, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Crystal, emergency management, Emergency Relief, Naschitti, National Relief Charities, Native American, Navajo Nation, Newcomb, Sheep Springs, Tohatchi, Window Rock
Chris Bryant, Chairman of the National Powwow Committee, says this gathering is not about something from the past, that American Indian culture is very alive today and people can see this at National Powwow. We certainly did. There were various dances and specials in the arena; outdoor and indoor areas with traders selling jewelry, silver, blankets and other crafts; a tipi village; activities for the children; and more.
AIEF scholarship recipient graduating from college (Navajo)
I personally attended the powwow all four days and, along with our team in the AIEF booth, shared many visits with Natives and non-Natives alike. Although people were there to enjoy the dancers, shop for jewelry and crafts with the vendors, and generally experience American Indian culture, some of the visitors also had more on their minds. What struck me the most was the genuine care of people toward American Indians and their appreciation for the work of our AIEF program. Here are just a few examples:
- One advocate who has donated both time and money to assist the Navajo said that he really appreciates it when organizations like [AIEF] get out there to really help people.
- One couple was cognizant of a very real need for assistance on the reservations but was unaware of NRC or our AIEF program. I learned they had been looking for an organization that does what it says it will do, i.e., use a donation for education or other services as intended by a donor. Happily, I could assure them that more than 70% of donations go toward our programs each year (compared to the industry standard of 65%) and that 95% of Native students receiving AIEF scholarships complete the college year (compared to a national average of 21%).
- Equally important, an Apache woman said she wished there had been a program around like AIEF when she was going to school. Working with our AIEF program, mentoring our scholarship students, and knowing that we shaped our AIEF services around Native American culture, challenges and norms, I took this to be both insightful and a message of hope to indigenous students throughout the U.S.
I appreciate the committee putting on the National Powwow every three years and NRC being a premier sponsor of the gathering this year. And I really enjoyed meeting all of you who visited our booth and shared your hearts with us. Thank you for your mindfulness and care.
A blog about Native American culture, American Indian tribes, and humanitarian concerns for the most underserved people in the U.S.