On last week’s show, we discussed growing up as a white native. Many of us have grown up all our lives as members of a tribe, but remain completely disconnected from their native cultures. Some of (like me) appear white, and others such as Dartmouth graduate Robert Bennett outwardly appear red, and are just white on the inside (like an apple, a term some mean-spirited natives are want to poke fun with).
Today we return to the wonderful article, written by Bennett himself, <— (click to download and read the article) as we discuss how those of us who live separated from our tribes and our native cultures can catch a piece of it and get a little bit of that back. This is the direct link to download today’s audio file as you listen to us talk about this important and relevant topic! Download today’s audio file here.
Although I have included much of this topic in written form here in this post – the audio file is quite different in form and tone. It is well worth your time both to listen to our show in audio form (also a much more fun and entertaining) and also to read this article as well.
For those who appear Indian and live in the white culture, friends and acceptance come easy. However, that does not stop stereotypes and misconceptions, because no matter how you actually thought or acted, an Indian is still what people saw. Mr. Bennett had to deal with people believing he could walk silently through the forest and shoot a bow & arrow. Once when visiting a friends home, his friend had to go somewhere with his mother. Instead of allowing him to stay alone in the home (as the friend suggested), the mother was uncomfortable and asked him to leave for no other reason than his race & darker skin tone. These and other incidents forced him to confront his heritage in a way he might not have otherwise have done. He realized that he did not have the knowledge he needed to defend himself or his people against these distorted beliefs. For the first time, he realized he needed more knowlege.
In high school he was chosen as one of the commencement speakers, and afterwords was given a ceremonial Eagle feather from a local Lakota couple. This again frightened him because he had no idea what was happening, and although he understood it held great significance, he was ashamed he lacked so much knowledge. He began to question his life as an Indian, and in trying to find his identity in many ways became even more lost.
He enrolled in a Lakota language course, which he thought would make his Grandmother proud, but she was just disappointed. She wanted him to learn the ways of the Whites, and to be as successful as possible. But after the doctors found cancer, she began to open up more. He discovered she often went to native healing ceremonies, which shocked him. He hadn’t known she was so traditional and connected to her native culture. He asked her how the Lakotas described “life”, and she told him the Lakota word for it. in English it means “I have come this far”. Those were the most profound words he had ever heard her speak, and gave him insight into how the Lakota view their world. He began to wish he had grown up more Indian rather than white. He was angry, but after she dies he realized why she hadn’t taught him. Because it was something he had to learn for himself, and teach others who did not understand.
As he became closer to his Indian heritage, he realized that Dartmouth and his education in the white world merely licenced him as an educated Indian in the world of the whites. His success and ease of connection in that white world was a huge help in allowing him to be the bridge between that world and the other natives who needed help breaking out of the poverty and troubles that so many face today.
I firmly agree with Mr Bennett’s views. This world is not likely to be changing back to the old ways anytime soon, and the best chance of success is the ability to integrate, assimilate, and succeed in a world very different than the one that we all knew before the Europeans arrived. Get over it. If you do not know or understand the modern United States culture, you will fail economically and socially on a spectacular level. That however does not mean you are forced to leave your ways behind. We face a very unique situation which forces us to understand a foreign culture, as we maintain our ancient beliefs and way of life at the same time. Learning the white ways makes us stronger in their world. Strength is what buys us the ability to take more of that world back for ourselves and our children. Economic strength means we can dedicate more land to use as we wish and fight back against those who seek to desecrate these places which we view as holy ground. So let us fight the battle on their terms. Educate yourselves. Understand what it is to live in the white world. But take care not to lose your identity in it.
Remember the ultimate mission here: we want to regain as much of what we lost as possible. Whatever we need to do to advance that agenda is a good thing. Doing well does not make you less of a Native. When you take drugs or become an alcoholic, you justify the stereotypes and beliefs that people have about us. When you succeed in the white world, you become a threat to those in power, who fear us becoming the ones in power. We threaten them when we become educated, when we voice our opinions, when we live next to them and when we excel in sports. These are the tools they use to hold us down. We cannot allow ourselves to be held down any longer. We must take those tools that they use for ourselves, and with that we can fight on a leveled battlefield and actually stand a chance of winning. Let there be no doubt that we will win. And we will do it on our terms, without sacrificing the old ways that we hold so dear. Learn about your past. Learn about what you lost. Connect with your community and the world around you, and let that give you more strength. These are advantages the white man does not have. They live in a world where the individual is respected above all else, but we have the strength of our tribal communities. We cannot lose that edge.
Cliff and Brandon are registered members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and host a Tribal Podcast with his brother Brandon with a variety of episodes available online. They talk about native issues in the news and anything of interest to Native Americans! Join us for a new episode each week.
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