An Elder, A Young Man, and a Conversation on Native American Issues Past, Present, and Future (Part 2)

The conclusion of an interview of my grandmother and myself, on a variety of Native American issues.  The beginning of the interview is here.

6.)       What do you think the policy of the US government towards the Native Americans should be?

Mrs W:  I’m an elder. At different times, I’ve thought different things. But at this late date in life, here’s my view.When the treaties were written, Indians believed the government would do what it promised. Yet they broke every treaty ever made. When Indians try to hold the government to those treaties, the government finds ways to excuse themselves from honoring them.We’d like to have the government look at us like American citizens, to deal with us fairly. Native Americans love this land. Not just the reservations, but the United States as a whole. That is why Indians are so quick to volunteer for US military service. They want to defend this land, which belonged to their ancestors long before it belonged to the United States.

The US makes a show of denouncing other nations for their lack of human rights. They should point their finger at their own hearts, and practice what they preach with the Indians first. Indians have a different set of laws that we live by. Reservations are under tribal law, state law, and federal law. We’re the only place in the US under triple jurisdiction. Originally, the state law was not to apply to reservations. Yet the state law exerts more power all the time. This should not be so.With Native Americans, no policy was ever lived up to. Any policy written today will end like the policies written in the treaties, which were never honored. A policy is not the answer. The US government should be fair to us, legally, in human rights, and land rights. A change of attitude, a change of mindset, is needed, rather than a change of policy. Because until America changes its attitude toward Indians, changes its thinking about Native Americans, all Indian policies will be ineffective and one sided.Tom:  Honor the treaties their very own congress ratified, live up to their own ideal of liberty and justice for all. The US owes Native Americans vast sums of money it never paid. Release these funds to the tribes, with interest. The US agreed in its congressionally ratified treaties to always provide medical and educational services to Native Americans, along with other benefits, in compensation for the enormous quantities of land they received. I’d like to see the US government start doing this competently, rather than the underfunded, understaffed, mismanaged, incompetent way those services are provided presently.

7.)       Do you think the policy of self-determination chosen by the US government and starting from the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act is the right one to follow?

Mrs W:  Since time began, in dealing with the government, the government always made the law. We had no input in it. They made the law, we were supposed to practice it. They never ask us what we need, or what would work for us. They decide what is best from afar, and that is supposed to be followed.

How could we possibly be self determining, if we never had any say in what was best for us? They never sat down with us, and formed a policy together. They always decided alone what was better for us. We were never once consulted. Self determination sounds good on paper. Yet it doesn’t play out in reality. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Act meant nothing to us. It was a policy handed down from above with no Indian input.

Tom:  No. Simply put, the US government has never formulated a policy with the best interests of Indians at heart. Even something that sounds positive, like self determination, and education assistance, typically has hidden agendas. The US government has never been for Indian self determination. Any time Indians make steps toward self determination, the US government tries to hamstring the effort. The US government has a vested interest in keeping Indians dependent on itself, because the US government plunders the resources of Indians under the excuse that the Indians couldn’t manage the resources by themselves. Education on reservations is as much of a joke as it has ever been. A reservation school is typically years behind an average American school on all subjects.

To fix the reservations, changes deeper than the mere passing of a new policy, a restructuring more expansive than routine legislation can accomplish, needs to happen.8.)       During the pre-election campaign in 2008 Barack Obama expressed his intentions to help the Native American tribes. Do you think Native Americans received more support from the US government since Obama’s victory in the elections?Mrs W:  We all watched Obama. He promised things to a lot of people in the country. He was sincere in his promises, yet it all didn’t work out like he said. Many of Obama’s promises were shipwrecked on the US recession. There just isn’t money for these programs to help all the people he promised to help. I think Obama was sincere when he was a candidate, but no one predicted the severity of the recession.

Now I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen with many programs in the US, including Native American programs. We were happy with Obama, with his healthcare bill, and his education funding. Most Native Americans are democrats. We don’t blame Obama, it’s just the times, the bad state of the American economy as a whole.

Tom:  Like most political promises, Obama’s intentions to help the Native Americans were greatly exaggerated. But yes, since Obama was elected, more money has been granted toward Native American Higher Education and Native American Road Maintenance.  It is something, though not much.

9.)     Have you ever visited Indian reservations? If yes, could you describe your staying there? Was there anything which interested or surprised you?

Mrs W:  Being a Native of a reservation, the first thing I would say about the reservation is that its home. Like anyplace you live, there is an upside and a downside. Yet we choose to live here. We take the good with the bad.

I think living on a reservation you have to be a hearty person. There are problems. Most of us were born here, and most of us expect to be buried here, on our homeland, when we die. Some things could be better. But you make the best of life as it is. You do what you have to do, because it’s where you live, where your home is, where your people are.

I like to go other places. I like to see other cultures. If I had money when I was young, I’d have gone all over the world. I’m interested in other people, and how they live. Yet I never had that chance, never had that kind of money. So most of my life I went to books, I read about other countries, I found that fascinating.

In defense of my tribe, my family, my home, I always thought Indians were an amazing people. Because in spite of everything done to us, we persevered, and we’re still here. A people have to have a strong spirit to make it through everything that happened to the Indians since the Mayflower.

Tom:  I was born on an Indian reservation and live on one currently. The Pine Ridge reservation is a beautiful, but hard, land. People here are poor, yet resilient. We have assimilated to modern society in some ways, and kept our ancestral traditions alive in many others. In a sense, we’re like any other people of the modern world, driving cars, entertained by whatever is on television, eating fast food, attending college, listening to popular music. In another sense, we are alien to the modern world, plodding slow when everything moves so fast, traditional when everyone else seems to be shirking their traditions.

10.)     If you have some information on problematic issues concerning Native Americans, please tell us and express your personal view on the problem.

Mrs W:  Indians have many of the same problems as broader society. How to pay bills, how to survive, is always a concern. In the low economy of the reservation, people have a harder time meeting their needs than elsewhere.

Tribal government also has the same problems of broader US government, much corruption, no one looking out for the people.

Healthwise, diabetes is an epidemic on the reservation. We have more of this disease than anyone else. A good percentage of our people have it. People we know, people in our families, or ourselves.

A big question a lot of us face is: if you have a health problem, is it going to be taken care of financially? Because IHS always claims they don’t have enough money to treat people’s health problems. We worry, if a family member gets sick, will they be able to get help?

Tom:  I would say the number one problem Native Americans face is a lack of awareness. People simply don’t know about us.  And what they do know tends to be informed by racism.


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