When a farmer has to do a job over that he has devoted a lot of time doing the first time, he usually says: “This is like going back over plowed ground.” I feel that way sometimes when I write this column.
I have been writing this column for 20 years come October. It is just now reaching many more people than it did at the beginning. So I suppose it is only natural that many of the things I wrote about in the past have not been read by many people.
I just finished doing a radio talk show for a station in Madison, Wis., and the key question, the one that appeared to be uppermost in the minds of many callers, was: “Why can’t American Indians forget being American Indians and join the mainstream of society like everybody else?”
This reminds me of those who believe that American Indians, as a general rule, are on welfare. I often point out that many American Indian tribes signed treaties on a government-to-government relationship with the United States.
Clearly written within most of these treaties was a deal for an exchange of land for certain rights. American Indian nations gave up millions of acres of land for perpetual funds to educate their children, for health care and other rights, and for the right to run their own governments.
This is known as a treaty right, not a welfare right. Perhaps the government officials of the time believed they had worked a really clever deal to get so much land for what often turned out to be “empty promises,” but the tribal leaders of that time took the United States at its word.
To the tribal leaders the treaties were a solemn vow from one government to another.
There is no other ethnic minority that was here on this continent to greet the people of Europe except the Indigenous people.
There is no other ethnic minority living on lands with clearly defined borders and boundaries, nor one that has signed treaties with the United State of America as governments with equal political status.
There is no other ethnic minority living upon lands where the state governments have no jurisdiction.
There is no other ethnic minority with its own police force, judiciary or independently elected leaders. And above all, there is no other ethnic minority on this continent that was the object of human, ethnic and cultural genocide as was the American Indian. I point these thing out because the major question directed at me on the talk show addressed why American Indians do not simply forget who they are, what they are, and become “like everybody else.”
When England, Germany, Belgium and France colonized countries in Africa, did they expect that the indigenous people would become “just like themselves?” The American Indian people fought and laid down their lives in defense of their lands and their way of life. We signed treaties with the United States, but we never relinquished our basic freedom as sovereign nations.
I think it is high time for the American people to respect the inherent sovereign rights of the American Indian people and not try to make us over in their own image.
The American Indian gave up more to the United States than any other people. Why not respect our remaining right of sovereignty and the right to retain our language, spirituality, culture and traditions?
Would America take even this from us in the name of “making us over in their image?”
I’ve written it before, and I will probably write it again, but the American Indian is not a European, Asian or African American.
We are Lakota, Navajo, Hopi, Tohono O’Ohadam, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Ojibwe, Cree and on and on. We were sovereign people long before the first settlers landed at Plymouth Rock.
We may drive a car, live in a house or use a telephone just as the former subjects of the European colonizers in Africa now do. But they, like us, did not become French, German, Belgium or British simply because they were colonized by those nations.
To this day they are still Africans of their own nations, just as the American Indian is still a citizen of his or her own nation.
To me, it is really not hard to understand.
Because the American Indian wishes to retain his sovereignty does not mean he does not like America nor does it mean he wishes to become an enemy of America.
It simply means he wants to be left alone to live his life as a member of a sovereign nation within a nation.
We have already given up a continent.
Please let us retain our independence and sovereignty.
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