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When someone says Native American, what do you envision? Now that we have Native American representatives poised to be seated in Congress, it’s time to look at the cultures of the people we’ve elected and how they contribute to a better world.
If you think you understand America’s first people, take time to watch the PBS four-part series Native America. The series is beautiful and astounding. Research has gone far beyond what we “mainstream Americans” once thought we knew. Our old history textbooks didn’t share much objective fact. I had heard our democratic system of government and Constitution were based on Iroquois precepts, but I never suspected the actual scope and sophistication of early civilizations. For example, did you know chocolate from Mexico and parrot feathers from Central America were part of ceremonies in Chaco Canyon, NM? And, a Native American city of 30,000 once sprawled outside what would be present day St. Louis, MO, its buildings and pyramids aligned with the stars as are the buildings in Chaco Canyon and in the Mayan and Incan empires? The series will show you those insights are only the beginning.
As the effects of climate change begin to devastate our lands with fires, floods, and gigantic storms, some of us recall the voices of the indigenous peoples warning us to care for our Mother Earth. Recently, members of the Native nations rose up to defend clean water against mercenary pollution—a desperate fight the rest of us are only beginning to comprehend as more and more American cities discover their citizens are drinking and bathing in contaminants that damage health and well-being.
According to Anna V. Smith writing in HIGH COUNTRY NEWS (October 12, 2018), the mission of Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) is “’to change federal Indian policies that threaten or restrict the individual rights of all citizens living on or near Indian reservations.’ The national group, with board members in Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Washington, has declared that treaties regarding land and water rights are no longer valid, advocated for state rights at the expense of tribal sovereignty, and repeatedly sown distrust between non-Natives and tribal governments on issues like taxation, voter fraud and land use. CERA, which calls tribal sovereignty a “myth,” works to undermine forms of self-determination — foundational issues for tribal nations that have borne the brunt of violent U.S. expansion for centuries.”
Meanwhile, hate crimes against Native Americans are on the rise, as though indigenous peoples don’t belong because they aren’t white. Overall hate crimes increased 17% in Trump’s first year in office. Approximately 80% of all Native women experience violence in their lifetimes, but crimes against Native American victims are hugely under-reported and under-investigated. In the 2017 film Wind River, Jeremy Renner pursues clues in the disappearance of a young Native American woman who was raped and froze as she ran, trying to escape. Film reviewer Josephine Livingstone of THE NEW REPUBLIC wrote, “…Wind River is about power… There’s something else going on here, and white masculinity is at its heart.”
The final episode of Native America addresses “resistance, survival, and revival.” In a country that has prided itself on its diversity and open-mindedness, the time has come to listen to the voices of the peoples who were here when we arrived. White immigrants tried to annihilate our indigenous peoples, but they are still here and they still have much to teach us.