Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What It's like to Be Native American in the New Millennium

The Native American culture has slowly began to disappear from the minds of many Americans today. While we struggle to maintain our heritage in this new era, the more that has happened to contain the idea that we actually still exist.

As I sit and watch television or read the paper, I see less and less about anything dealing with my nationality. It always seems that the only times that Native Americans are even noticed is either in film, during a political rally as we fight for our rights and our land, or at the end of a punchline when a joke is being told. While there has been a lot said about how 'special' we are in the eyes of politicians, businessmen, and celebrities as our stories are told through documentaries and other means, the point still remains that many believe that we are a 'vanishing race'. As I notice these things, I have also began to notice that there is even less understanding today than there was in the 1800's.

There is less that is being explained or examined, and the very facts and realities that come with being Native American are becoming drastically distorted, as our history is told by others who may not know the history as well as we do. While there may be those of Native American lineage that tell the stories and history that have been passed down through the ages, it is treated as a footnote rather than any true knowledge that may come from those who were on the land before Christopher Columbus touched our shores.

In school, we are taught to revere the race and to respect their culture in all things. Whether it be their spirituality, their lifestyle, or even something as small as the way they talk and dress, this is respect that has not been given out of respect, but rather out of fear. If there is fear, it also raises other negative emotions such as doubt, anger, and even indifference as the way they would like history to be told to them is in the fashion that they are accustomed to, and this may be why there is so little tolerance for Native Americans today, for this ideology that we are one specific thing may be clouding the thinking of those that study history or perhaps write books about history.

Being a Native American myself, I have witnessed and understood these things at a very early age. In my own hometown, I was known as the 'guy with the Native American mother' and in reverse, 'the woman with the Indian kids'. While this may seem like an insult to many that are of Native American lineage, the facts still remain that it is a typical view. Native Americans today are still viewed in some ways as the same Indians that we saw in the Wild West pictures of old, where we dressed up in war paint and made funny noises that were supposed to sound like war cries as we approached the wagon trains that carried settlers and shot them down taking their scalps and their women. While the film industry may be taking long strides in dispelling these myths, unfortunately it still does not change the overall view. It's as the old saying goes :'The more something changes, the more it stays the same.'

Now, since we are past the year 2000, the view has not changed but slightly, but only for one simple reason: it is that we are already forgotten or would like to be. The only reason that we are seen to remain is because of the feeling that we are to be pitied and that something is owed to us, if not only for political correctness. Where the reality begins and ends is that the Native Americans are being given a fair shake in the eyes of the politically correct by giving us voice within Congress and we are allowed to perform ceremonies for Washington senators or foreign dignitaries, (and not to mention opening gambling casinos.) While this may allow my culture to be represented, it still does not say that we are still here and still around.

CBS several years ago visited a study that showed where Native Americans were placed within importance within the job market, and not surpisingly, out of four they had placed fourth, meaning that they are always the last that are to be considered. Then, we have to petition to hold special events, such as powwows, which are most of time held on college campuses or at rodeos as nothing more than a 'small cultural event' that is to be included next to larger festivities that seem to take more precedence. Then, we cannot forget the newest ad campaign for the Native American College Fund: 'If I stay on the res'. From what I have seen with these ads, it almost feels like the people that helped make the ad are trying to present an idea that the only place that we would be welcome is on reservations, which were only placed as a matter of what I call 'crowd control' since the 1800's to keep Native Americans under the advisement of the laws and the wishes of the government of that time. So, what truly has changed?
With all of the museums, ceremonies, and other Native American things that have been presented as a sign of good faith to those that are not Native American, the shadow of fear still remains active. At times, it makes me ask myself if there has been nothing done but a smokescreen placed up just in order to remain politically correct so that we will not have to be dealt with in the future. We play the game according to the rules, and yet Native American society still makes us ask for things, such as the bodies of our dead ancestors so that we may rebury them in their appointed places, and with the current legal system, that has already been proven to take at least twenty years or more.

When I see museums on TV that show Native American artifacts, I think to myself what would my ancestors have thought about this? Archaeologists and anthropologists are always looking to understand Native Americans in many ways, and yet they spend less time talking to those that are Native American and instead digging up artifacts and mummies that have been taken from ceremonial grounds in the name of science. It makes me wonder at times why this is not done for any other nationality other than my own.

As I walk through this life, I know that much of society has believed that my heritage is a dying race, and that soon they will no longer have to worry about the protests and court hearings that have occurred in order to maintain my heritage's history. I still feel the stares as I walk down the street, and when people do talk of my heritage and what it means, they often look to 'Dances With Wolves' as a reference and see if it makes any sense to me. I give them the best answers that I can, but I know that movies are no means of understanding what it is to be who I am. Native Americans are not how we dress, how we have church, how we talk and walk, or even how we approach others when we try to forge friendships and new acquaintances. being a Native American is a lot more, and this is where I often see my conflict every day as I walk down my street and watch the eyes as they gaze at me.

Being Native American is not about what we do, it's who we are. It's about how we talk to people, and how we see the corporeal on a different level than most typical religious ideologies. It's about ecology, and how we treat the planet. It's about family, and how we treat our spouses and kids and how we raise them. The sum of these parts: it's about life. Ntive Americans are no different than any other nationality, as all nationalities are unique in their own respect. Now, while many do view us as different, it is only as different as one chooses to make it. While we may have all of the negative aspects like anyone else, such as gambling, alcoholism, and drugs, it doesn't change that we are in truth not all that different.

Being a Native American in this day and age has proven to be harder than the last few centuries, as many people look at me and ask me one question that I know that I can answer, but simply decide it's not worth the time: 'What nationality are you anyway?'

1 comment:

Kathleen meri-lyn said...

I dearly appreciated your each and every word. I have been searching for my American Indian Heritage, my entire life. I have never been discouraged by family members, who tried to steer me away from my beloved ancestors. I now know without doubt, my heart is with the Tuscarora, and Lenni-Lenape tribes from New Jersey. Your words touched this heart, and proud there are those like you, out there. Never ever give up. Kathleen

George Carlin speaking on the topic "Indians"

"Now the Indians...I call them Indians because that's what they are. They're Indians. There's nothing wrong with the word Indian.
First of all, it's important to know that the word Indian does not derive from Columbus mistakenly believing he had reached ' India .' India was not even called by that name in 1492; it was known as Hindustan. More likely, the word Indian comes from Columbus 's description of the people he found here. He was an Italian, and did not speak or write very good Spanish, so in his written accounts he called the Indians, 'Una gente in Dios.' A people in God. In God. In Dios. Indians. It's a perfectly noble and respectable word.
As far as calling them 'Americans' is concerned, do I even have to point out what an insult this is? ----- We steal their hemisphere, kill twenty or so million of them, destroy five hundred separate cultures, herd the survivors onto the worst land we can find, and now we want to name them after ourselves? It's appalling.
Haven't we done enough damage? Do we have to further degrade them by tagging them with the repulsive name of their conquerors? You know, you'd think it would be a fairly simple thing to come over to this continent, commit genocide, eliminate the forests, dam up the rivers, build our malls and massage parlors, sell our blenders and whoopee cushions, poison ourselves with chemicals, and let it go at that.... But no! We have to compound the insult.'...
I'm glad the Indians have gambling casinos now. It makes me happy that dimwitted white people are losing their rent money to the Indians. Maybe the Indians will get lucky and win their country back. Probably wouldn't want it. Look at what we did to it."