The challenge with Donald Trump is that he understands all too well what made America “great.” And this has presented a problem for the Republican Party and now, with his nomination, will cause a problem for the entire country. America's “greatness” is based on explicit, systemic, and dehumanizing racism.
Most people thanked me. Several people shook my hand in appreciation. And one person even gave me a hug.
Like most Americans I spent last weekend trying to process the events of the previous week. A week which saw the tragedies of #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasPolice. Throughout the country there were #BlackLivesMatter protests, prayer gatherings, candlelight vigils and healing events between police departments and the communities they serve. Most gatherings were peaceful, although a few became violent. And everywhere emotions ran high.
But as a Native man, I wasn't sure where to go...
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."
Most Americans, and probably a good number of global citizens, can quote the above section of the Declaration of Independence. But I doubt many can recall much of what comes after that or the historical context from which it was written.
On Friday April 29, in response to a CNN interview question regarding the expected political and personal attacks from Donald Trump in a general election, Hillary Clinton stated that she has experience dealing with men who go "off the reservation..."
"Off the reservation" is a term deeply rooted in the implicit racial bias of the United States of America. Reservations are federal lands where Native peoples were herded before and after the "Indian Removal Act" passed by the United States Congress in 1830. Reservations are where our people were moved to during forced relocation like the "Trail of Tears" (Cherokee) and the "Long Walk" (Navajo). Reservations are not owned by Native people or tribes. Instead, they are lands held in trust for us by the United States Federal Government because we only have the right of occupancy to the land, whereas White Europeans have the right of Discovery and, therefore, the true title to the land.
In the summer of 2003 I moved with my family back to Dineteh, the land of my father's ancestors- located in the Southwest United States between Mount Blanca, Mount Taylor, San Francisco Peaks and Mount Hesperus. Today this land is better known as the Navajo Reservation.
I was born in this area, in a hospital located in a mission compound alongside an Indian Boarding school. When you pass through the tunnel leading to the campus of this mission to the Navajo and Zuni people you are greeted by a large sign which reads "...Now the LORD has given us room. We shall flourish in the land. Gen. 26:22"
In 1896, the first missionaries from their denomination's "Board of Heathen Missions" arrived on the outskirts of a budding railroad town, known as Gallup, which was located in the territory of New Mexico. The United States of America was nearing the end of an unprecedented period of westward expansion. Through military force, the building of railroads, and the signing and breaking of Indian treaties, the United States was near completing its self-proclaimed "manifest destiny" of ruling this continent from "sea to shining sea."
On Monday, September 1, during a trip to Alaska, President Obama announced that the highest peak in North America would be officially restored to the Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali which means “the tall one.” This is the name the Athabascan people have used for the mountain for centuries. In 1896, a prospector emerged from exploring the mountains of central Alaska and received news that William McKinley had been nominated as a candidate for President of the United States. In a show of support, the prospector declared the tallest peak of the Alaska Range as “Mt. McKinley”—and the name stuck.
Picture a chair, an empty chair. There are dozens, even hundreds, of them sitting on the stage behind the podium. At the microphone is a Native American elder. Hurting, trembling, shaking, but standing. Full of resolve. Sharing a story of the horrors of the abuse, neglect and trauma, experienced as a young child at an Indian boarding school. In front of this elder are hundreds, even thousands, of people. Native Americans, with their heads bowed in grief, sorrow, even panic, as their own memories of similar stories are triggered. African Americans, sitting silently, staring at the ground, as they recall stories of the trauma their ancestors endured as slaves, the free labor force of an emerging nations. Americans of European descent, sitting uncomfortably, even squirming. Their eyes are wide open and their hearts are pounding as they hear stories of a history they had spent a lifetime denying existed.
The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence.
The irony almost made me laugh.
When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something. I then stood up and pointed out that 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the Declaration of Independence refers to Natives as "merciless Indian savages."
The irony was that the restaurant was filled with Native American customers and employees. And there in plain sight, a poster hanging on the wall was literally calling all of us "savages."
A few months ago I proposed an ideas for holding a series of "Truth Commision" type conferences throughout the nation beginning with the first one in Washington DC. If you would like to sign up for our email list for the latest news and information on this proposal, please sign up here.
July 5, 2015:
The Doctrine of Discovery: Renovation Church, Buffalo NY
November 14, 2014:
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark.
Columbus Day Chapel at Northwestern College - The Doctrine of Discovery
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark
Blog posts about Navajo Culture and Language
A Laughing Party - The first time a Navajo baby laughs, the family throws a party. The person who made the baby laugh provides the food.
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