I love my nation and its history. Of late I’m in a pattern of learning that has caused me to view our history in a different way. Our 240 years of democracy is a small drop in the barrel of time, compared to the thousands of years this land has been home to its indigenous peoples.
Perspective is everything. Recently, I viewed a video where a Tribal young man explained that Abraham Lincoln was an emancipator of one group of citizens, but he began a policy of enslavement for Native Americans. I had not placed history in that context.
It is important to realize that as the nation was engaged in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Tribal people were being herded on to reservations or slaughtered. Sequestering these people was not enough, as forced assimilation broke families apart and removed children from their natural sources of support, strength and culture.
We are a nation that values freedom and bravery. Native Americans have shown great bravery throughout our history together, with a determined interest in freedom.
It surprises me that a melting pot nation that pays lip service to the strength of diversity, but take every opportunity to illustrate differences and drive people apart.
I’m proud of my nation and would defend it unto death. However, I believe there are some lessons from the past that can help us work better together moving forward.
It is not lost on me that I spent part of the day in Malin, where the waters of Tule Lake once lapped at the shoreline. The land was trod by Native Americans for thousands of years before the first white scouts made contact. Many interactions were tenuous, but our society didn’t take note of how to work well with others.
Throughout the decades there would be immigrants from Ireland and what is now the Czech Republic come to the area and tame the desert, making it produce crops. Each new group was met with discrimination and derision.
What surprises me is that in most instances we’ve moved beyond the fear of other cultures, but there is still anxiety associated with the Native peoples.
I can’t fix the past, but I can offer to be an ally. I respect the history of the aboriginal people of my nation, and I’m sorry that even today most Native youth are asked to walk in two separate worlds — one of their culture and the other the dominant culture.
I hope it won’t take another 240 years to learn how to allow people to walk their own path, alongside others, without forcing them to conform. Isn’t that the most essential form of freedom?