No Reservations Are Safe Seemingly

Despair may have been part of the baggage they carried on that long, terrible trip forced march from their homelands to the desolate places called “reservations.” Undoubtedly, that despair was inherited by a young generation who had not known their proud heritage, their language and their culture as it once had existed. All around them, they saw only the ravages of hopelessness, opportunism, alcoholism and early death. Escape seemed and may still seem impossible. The old saying, “You can take someone out of the country, but you can never take the country out of them” may have a cruel twist to it in their case.

We call them Indians because Columbus in his ignorance thought he had found the new route to the golden riches of the New World. They aren’t Indians. They are Native Americans and we have failed them miserably as they are still under the rule of The Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian Affairs? Should we even have a bureau for them unless it does something more than restrict what they can do? Don’t we owe these wonderful people more than they have been given and shouldn’t they be more than sports team symbols? What have we failed to learn from them and what scourge have we imposed on the entire nations that are held within the desolate lands where they live in poverty?

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is only one of many but it may hold a key to some of the inherent ills that our government has nourished. Should you not be conversant with the horrendous history of American actions toward the native peoples, read about The Trail of Tears. Native peoples were forced off their millions of acres of lands in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida, land they had occupied for many generations. The forced march from their homelands would lead them to an inhospitable relocation and a bitterness that was only natural.

The trip of 1,200 miles, on foot and with many in chains, would result in 3,500 of the 15,000 Creeks and 5,000 Cherokee dying along the way while the remainder of the group struggled. Their lands would be quickly snatched up as a lucrative means of growing cash crops.

Native peoples were treated like unwanted immigrants in their own land and dismissed as something akin to inferior or feeble-minded beings. A culture that revered the earth and its spirits had, over the centuries, developed healing arts as well as religious rituals. Even these were restricted until recently when the BIA revised its rules to allow for gathering of specific plants or foliage by native peoples for their cultural needs. Imagine having someone tell you that you couldn’t practice your religion because they held control over the herbs used in the ceremonies.

A foreign country has been created within the United States which controls this country’s borders, its behaviors and its citizens. The youth within this country are governed by new regulations from the BIA whereby “the (existing) model will be updated to provide better federal guidance to tribes in an effort to insure proper respect for the rights and responsibilities of Indian juveniles arrested for alcohol or drug-related offenses and those of their parents, guardians or custodians.”

Seems the native people still require guidance even though the BIA admits that “Tribes know best what will work in their communities…” How do “tribes know best” if they require guidance from an outside governmental body that is managed by persons not from that tribal culture? Just curious to me.

Who knows best here? And what do they know “best” about? How will the new Model Indian Juvenile Code work and what impact will it have — especially when they’re still referring to the tribe as “Indian” and not Native Americans? The bias is so inculcated into the minds of those writing the new regulations that they don’t even see how offensive this can be to Native Americans.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 103 young members between the ages of 12–24 tried to kill themselves between this past December to March. Too many succeeded in their attempt and one of them was a 12-year-old girl. What would make a promising, bright young girl believe that death was better than life on this spit of land?

Consider high unemployment, alcoholism, hunger, poverty and the violence that attends these factors and what do you have? It’s not exactly a trip to Disneyland each day you get up in a dingy trailer you share with a large, downtrodden extended family. When they leave the reservation on any kind of trip, what do they hear? The New York Times article quoted one man who said his granddaughter heard herself being referred to as “filthy Indians.” Wonder where that woman grew up and what she heard as a child that led her to utter this offensive comment.

Need mental health help on this reservation? You can, of course, get it if one of the six professionals can see you as they struggle to attend to 40,000 inhabitants living there. The deaths of the nine who succeeding in ending their lives and the reason for their desperation can never be pinpointed by a note, a phone call or any other communication.

Oh, let’s not forget that communication on the reservation may not be up to even 20th century standards. Some kids have never used a computer, who can afford Internet service (even if it were offered) and phones can be a luxury. I knew a student teacher who found a reservation library with no books, a “science” lab with no equipment save for a broken glass beaker and kids who refused to believe there was such a thing as an ocean to the west of where they lived. Strangled puppies hung from trees and broken bottles littered the ground. The young teacher was hit by harsh reality even before he set foot in a classroom there.

The United States if roiling with marches against racism, yet here’s a group that has no marchers with signs calling for fair treatment. Shouldn’t we want fairness for all? Doesn’t everyone’s life matter, no matter their color or ethnicity?

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