Thursday, November 24, 2005

Celebrate Thanksgiving: Give Native Americans Something to be Thankful For

  1. Personal: Start your Christmas shopping at a Native American gift shop. If you have funds for more than just shopping, make a donation to a Native tribe. Many have housing or job-building projects that could use more funding.
  2. Group: Purchase land adjacent to a reservation and donate it to the Native tribe.
  3. Government: Work with elected officials to create a program whereby new state parks or national parks are created and put under the guardianship of the Native Nations.
Note: Some members of the Native Nations are a bit tired of the "guardian of nature" schtick, but many embrace it as their rightful heritage. It ought to at least be a choice.

When the Europeans first came to this country, the Native Americans welcomed them. I do not know what they expected, but this was surely not it. And typically what follows next is hand-wringing, but not constructive. The main non-rallying cry has been, "What can we do now?" But "what can we do now?" is only a call for inaction if there is no answer. If we can rightly be ashamed of our forefathers' blindness, we can also rightly be proud of their accomplishments -- but none of that is actually helpful.

The answer is not for people of non-indigenous descent to go back to Europe (Asia, Africa). Things have gotten a bit more complicated over the centuries. The Karankawa tribe who used to live on the land where I now sit -- they are entirely extinct. My children, on the other hand, are 1/8 blood Cherokee, though they have never applied for tribal papers from the Cherokee Nation.

The answer is not to spend all our time wringing our hands over the wrongs of the past. Neither is the answer to sweep the wrongs of the past under the rug. Do we share the blame for the wrongs committed by our ancestors? I'd say the answer is: We only share in the guilt if we see the injustice and take no action. The injustice is not only a past event but a continuing reality, and when we take no action we share that guilt.

But is there any action to be taken? If we cannot give the land back, and we cannot go back to Europe, what remains? I would go back to the original observation that the Native Americans welcomed us; they did not begin by thinking we should go back to Europe or that we should have nowhere to live in their land. But they did seem to think they would be treated with justice and treated as friends, and they did seem to think they would have a better lot than we have since given them. (Some have noted that the Native Americans were not actually any more peaceful than Europeans, just less well-armed. That's probably true enough, but amounts to hinting that might makes right, which is not an ideal that I'd choose to support.)

I'd respectfully submit that our Thanskgiving Celebrations are best if we also give the Native Americans something to be thankful for. Help them have the same prosperity we enjoy in their lands. That, I think, is more what they had in mind when they welcomed us.

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