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A Matter of Perspective - The Overton Window, Reservation Life and a Chain of Sorrow

Crossposted from Native American Netroots and Daily Kos.

Cross Posted at Native American Netroots

An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.

I'm not a Native American. I did not grow up on a Reservation. For the longest time, I had only been dimly aware of the extent and level to which Native Americans have been exploited, abused, repressed & discriminated against.

Even now, my awareness likely only begins to scratch the surface, and yet what I've learned over the past few years has brought anger, grief & frustration as my awareness of both past and present bureaucratic b.s. and institutionalized standards of cultural genocide has grown.

Recently, NPR put out a 3 part series called Native Survivors of Foster Care Return Home. (You can watch all three which are linked in the title.) Not too long ago, Metro Times posted a story called Chain of Sorrow that also speaks of the impact and legacy of Indian Boarding Schools.

It's a legacy of pain and sorrow that our nation should be ashamed of.

While reading the latter piece, a paragraph jumped out at me which can be read more than one way. The first way it occurred to me is likely due to my less-informed perspective - but, because of that, it may also be a reflection of a more wide-spread misunderstanding.

Here's the paragraph, with the emphasis on the phrase that stuck out for me:

"It wasn't just the boarding schools that brought this about. From the time Columbus landed in the New World, the assault on Indians, their culture and their religious ways has been relentless. Their sacred lands taken, the people murdered, the women raped and, at times, subjected to forced sterilizations, the deprivation of reservation life, the scourge of alcohol — all these had combined to cause his people to lose so much."

When I first read the paragraph, it didn't sit right - I couldn't understand what was meant by "the deprivation of reservation life" - it first processed in my mind as "children removed from the rez would be deprived of the quality of life on the rez"...which, in the article, was cited as being the reason ~why~ some parents let their children be taken in first place. So, my initial reaction/interpretation was - I hope - incorrect. It wasn't that a child was being deprived of life among their people on the reservation - it was the fact that conditions on the reservation itself were usually harsh and oppressive, becoming yet another aspect of the type of harm done to Native Americans as part of an ongoing (if not always externally recognized) way to continue the same cultural genocide that had begun so many years before.

In either interpretation, however, the paragraph itself was both damning and dismal.

What dismayed me and prompted me to write this article was the thought that immediately followed: what if my first reading of the phrase was the intended interpretation?

That would be pretty sad - for it would present an unchallenged view of the reservation as false equivalent of a way to preserve cultures and traditions.

Sure, there is some of that in reservation life - but, for peoples who were forcibly relocated to unwanted expanses of real estate and who previously harbored little concept of "personal property" the way the settlers conceived of it - how much of their cultural heritage was already compromised? And how much was destroyed in the process of "re-settling" them, or in the subsequent efforts to get them to conform & integrate?

It may be the only current place where the traditions are able to be upheld, but if the belief that it's "good" (versus a way to avoid total cultural extinction) is prevalent, then efforts to improve any relations or conditions are doomed...if not to failure, then to any sort of substantial reform without an awful lot of effort.

Efforts to undo (and prevent further) the whitewashing of our national history with regard to the treatment of Native Americans already have a tough row to hoe. If perspectives - and the associated Overton Window that helps frame them - are still predominantly akin to what my first reading of that paragraph came away with, then there's a very long way to go before beneficial change (for Native Americans, in their perspective) can occur.

A parting thought, also from the Metro Times piece:

"The realization of just how much was stolen from these people begins to set in. It wasn't just their land, or even their way of life. What was taken was their sense of self, leaving them spiritually wounded.

And it was done, in no small part, by taking their children."

Help spread the word & increase awareness: share the links to the Metro Times & NPR pieces. And share a link to Native American Netroots, too: there, people can find a great deal of information - both historical and current - about cultures, customs and ongoing issues.

Thank you.

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