I've been a homebody as of late. I've been homeschooling my daughter, a joyous experience for me, and I hope one she will appreciate in years to come. One particular challenge we've had of course, has been her history lessons. I have been simply unable to follow the curriculum of late. Christopher Columbus, Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and Father Serra who founded several missions in what is now San Diego and Los Angeles have all been served up in their typical white washed, half true, skip the truth fashion. Needless to say we've deviated a bit from the core curriculum and I've had to fire off a few emails to our homeroom "teacher". All of this started me thinking again....
The last few weeks the Olympics have been on, and as an avid sports fan I take a keen interest, especially in the team sports. I believe nothing signifies the true spirit of competition like the Olympics. Watching an Ojibwe tribal member score several goals against Russia was quite a treat, and I suppose that is also just as responsible for this writing.
It's an old adage that as Indian people we live and walk in two worlds. We strive to hang on to stories, tradition, language, spirituality, and culture, all while working to educate and advance ourselves in this modern world. This presents us with not only challenges but conflicts on a daily basis. Our societies are so different, our values so disparate, we are constantly having to weigh our rationalizations. We draw and redraw lines as to where our compromises begin and end. It is a never ending struggle to have one foot in this modern world while not forgetting who we are.
Thinking about education and sport, we rolodex through the ideals that call on each of us to imagine the highest ideals of what this country is supposed to stand for. We automatically consider the hallowed American tenets of freedom, justice, and equality. In fact these things are endemic to our tribal roots. One would think America's most ardent citizen supporters would be American Indian, and in fact we have served and sacrificed in greater numbers, per capita, than any other ethnic group. It is the greatest of ironies that American Indians serve so valiantly in the US Armed Forces.
All the while, we also know our heroes have always killed cowboys, as the saying goes. George Washington, the father of our country, is known to have attacked, burned, and destroyed so many villages his name in the Oneida language means The Destroyer. At his command no less than 50 villages were burned and untold numbers of women and children were taken as slaves, their final whereabouts lost to history. The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and ordered the largest mass execution in American history, 38 Sioux who had dared to riot for food when their corrupt Indian agents did not provide promised rations. The previous number included a teenage boy. We read in the Constitution, a document many consider divinely inspired, and find a reference to us as "merciless Indian savages". L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, wrote an opinion editorial calling for the "complete extirpation of this miserable race. He meant all American Indians. And we look at the twenty dollar bill to see the face of the racist criminal Andrew Jackson, the father of the illegal Indian Removal Act. Old Hickory, he killed a lot of my people with his hatred.
When we talk about having a foot in each world, I guess sometimes we Indians have to do a lot of leaning. So much for the past. perhaps it is truly prologue. And yet current events in Indian Country can be a fairly dim read. The plans for the XL pipeline have it routed it primarily across Indian Country in both Canada and the United States. This can't be by accident. There's been no formal acknowledgment of the 600-800 Native women who have gone missing over the last several years with no interest by the law enforcement community in either country. So I often ask myself Do I love my country? Yes, and no. It's hard to say yes without caveats. It's hard to say no too. I guess that's because it's so damn hard to nail down what exactly America is. Is it really freedom, liberty, justice? Maybe for some, but not for Indian people. In fact, it never has been.
For an American Indian to live in modern America involves great portions of love and hate. We certainly want to love this country, after all it is our country more than anyone else's. Did the country we love, the country we want to love, ever really exist? Not since we met the white man it hasn't. So we live in a state of eternal hope for its return. We remain in so many ways, prisoners of conscience. We remain prisoners because our cultures vividly explain to us what freedom and justice really are, and that differs greatly from the America we've always known. But we daily put that other foot down and we dream of the day America will be fully realized and become the country of our dreams.....the country we can love without reservations, if you forgive the pun. Our country.