Everywhere you go in the Native community, you find people who post or say how proud they are to be native. I have long taken issue with this, although the thought behind it makes sense – to promote Native culture among the various tribal memberships. This is certainly something badly in need of repair, as Native culture is something that has seemed to be under attack for generations. So, what exactly is it you’re proud of?
Is it an easy question to answer? My guess for many would be to point at the struggles and proud accomplishments of our ancestors. As even traditional mainstream history books show, that is truly admirable and worthy of our praise. But think of them, as they fade off into the sunset, the shadows of their legacy loom large as they look to us to further and continue their legacy. Have we done that? Certainly they have reason to be proud of their work, but do we? We cannot base our pride on the accomplishments of others, instead we must seek to achieve even greater things while standing on the shoulders of those who came before. Their efforts enable us to do more, and go farther than they ever dreamed.
I would like to tell you a story about my own history. On the non-native side of my family, my great-great grandfather Frederick came to America from England and worked for the sixteen to one mine company in California. Through hard work and dedication he moved into a management position, and used the money he saved to begin the Horrell & Son Heating and Air company with my great-grandfather Cliff, which thrived for decades. My grandfather, Cliff Jr studies to become a dentist and operated under his own practice until retirement. My own father, Cliff III has owned and operated a house painting company since the early 80’s. With the suffix of IV, I still carry the name of these men who built businesses and provided services to the public and livelihoods to their many employees. Is this something to be proud of? I think so, but of them, not myself.
If anything, the success of your ancestors places upon you an even greater responsibility to live up to, not less. How many of you know of spoiled rotten members of large well connected and rich families who mistakenly believe their last names should somehow command respect in their respective communities? Your name, your history, entitles you to nothing. You must make a name for yourself, using your family connections to do even more, and solidify your own place in the community. Understand the principles which led to your family success – and follow them to the betterment of those around you. Eschew the entitlement mentality, and standing in the long dark shadows of your fathers you must humble yourself in service to those who rely on you. You, we, all of us, have a greater responsibility than ever before. Pride? Proverbs [16:18] reminds us that pride goeth before destruction. When you have accomplished something, have pride in your work and what you have helped others to do, not in yourself. If you truly deserve it, others will heap the praise and you won’t need to do it yourself. My chosen career is in Hotel management, and although I could easily survive without a job thanks to my tribe’s per capita, I am the hardest working man in my hotel. I’m the guy who does the jobs no one else is willing to. I set the example, because I care about the property, the guests, and the owners who have given this responsibility to me. And I did it before I became a manager – that’s how I fell into management in the first place.
If you imagine Native American pride is available to you as a birthright, you begin to develop the idea that it is an entitlement, something freely given and one which you do not have to work for. For many of us, this means we don’t work for it although we are more than capable. You must look beyond the boundaries of your own family and even your own tribe. Natives all across this nation struggle to eek out anything even resembling a comfortable lifestyle. Do we not have an obligation to help them? Are they not our brothers and sisters – our family as well? Today you, whoever you are, have an unprecedented opportunity to further our cause and way of life like never before.
Be fun. No one wants to follow a sourpuss.
Be unique. After all, you’re the only you out there. Let your personality shine through, and encourage others to work harder and to express themselves in their work as well.
Be second. Kind of the entire theme of this article, You don’t matter nearly as much as the people you are serving. When you put yourself second, you’ll find that others have put you first.
Be urgent. Life goes quickly, and we only have a short window in which to accomplish the thing’s we’re here to do. So do it with a sense of urgency!
Give, don’t take. Find a way to serve your community for the better – whether that is through public service, building a business, or serving the public as the top employee in your company. Care about your work. Through service you will inspire others to do the same. The next time someone asks you why you’re proud to be a native, I know you’ll have a lot to tell them, and none of it will be thanks to your heritage. It will be earned, and that is something you can truly be proud of.
Cliff is a registered member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and hosts a Tribal Podcast with his brother Brandon available online at http://www.nativetalk.net/news. They talk about native issues in the news and anything of interest to Native Americans! Join us in listening each week and write in with your opinions anytime.