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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Colonizer

The lesson (is) to realize the value of an alternative perspective. And that is why we are here. That is why the Creator allowed some of us to remain, in spite of all the attempts to destroy us.
- Tall Oak (Everett Weeden), Absentee Pequot/Narragansett, 500 Nations documentary

Not all tribes are alike, mind you, but many share beliefs and bloody conflicts. America is clearly in denial about its conquest of Turtle Island. It’s easier not to know.

But long ago the colonizer used bad medicine to hasten treaties, to subdue warriors, to ensure internal conflict within tribes. Alcohol, the bad medicine, killed many prisoners, men, women, even children, on and off the reservation.

To add insult to injury, high-sugar, high-fat commodities and processed foods are boxed and delivered by truckloads to each reservation, compliments of the American government. This treaty diet causes obesity, bad skin, bad health and slow starvation.

For more than 100 years, Indian Country has been dealing with weakened immune systems, sugar diabetes, amputations and heart disease. Genes do remain a factor as an adult. Without medical records, every lost child-adoptee is like a time bomb. If we don’t know our medical history, we are at greater risk.

Tribal leaders do struggle to make things right or better, but it’s not easy in this “conquered” Third World, fighting for the scraps we call food, sovereignty and dignity.

After an avalanche of alcohol, then an ever-increasing supply of new (sometimes) illegal drugs, reservations are facing new epidemics: fetal-alcohol syndrome, high suicide rates, drug addictions, crack cocaine, arrests, high prison populations and more than their fair share of domestic violence.

This “image” tarnishes reservations when typically these stories and photographs fill American newspapers.

Despite all this, there is hope. Each child brings renewed hope.

I make no claim to be an expert on any culture but I have lived on and near reservations most of my adult life. I cover Indian Country as a journalist. I’m part of a world community, a part of this tribalism, no matter where I live.

Being a Native person means everything to me but my birthfather Earl did not live in ancestral territory or on the Cherokee reservations in Oklahoma or the Carolinas. He was assimilated into American culture, lived in Pana and Chicago, Illinois, and died an alcoholic.

In any tribal culture, my relatives would need to invite adoptees to ceremonies, to teach and offer friendship. I have not lived on the Cherokee reservation. To live there, I’d need to be invited by my relatives. I sent one Cherokee newspaper a letter looking for my relatives but no one wrote me or emailed.

It felt funny knowing that many people claim some Cherokee ancestry. I needed to be certain so I asked my father when we first met. He and my aunts are proud of our ancestors and explained after Cherokee removals, people scattered all over the Midwest and south, when my paternal great-grandmother Mary Francis Morris got married and moved from Missouri to Illinois.
Mary and her daughter Lona Dell Harlow lived our culture. Until relatives assimilate me back into my culture, I remain Tsalgi, Cherokee.  It doesn’t take an ID card for me to be Indian.

It’s just as important to understand what these removals and adoptions accomplished in America and Canada as it is to see where Indians stand today.

Some American Indians say if we keep our languages strong and return to our ceremonies, our tribal nations and people will grow strong again. Reservations did change dramatically after treaties, when Indians were forced to buy food or rely heavily on Indian agents for rations and treaty commodities. For those living on their rez, they too have experienced upset and turmoil in ever-changing traditions, living in their two worlds.

Oppression creates new victims every day.

In contrast to the biblical book of Genesis, in which God creates man in his own image and gives him dominion over all other creatures, the Native American legends reflect the view that human beings are no more important than any other thing, whether alive or inanimate. In the eye of the Creator, they believe, man and woman, plant and animal, water and stone, are all equal, and they share the earth as partners — even as family. Recurring themes include the idea of Mother Earth as life host, the relationship of reciprocity that exists between human beings and animals, and the Indians' dependence on animals as teachers. The plots are often complex, take numerous twists and turns, and commonly include humor. But any comic elements never detract from the story's sacred purpose. 
-The Spirit World, Time-Life Books

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