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Sunday, April 30, 2017

We Are Still Alive - A Traditional People in a Contemporary Society

Thank you for inviting me.  I know… I don’t think you’ve probably ever had an Arawak speaker here and probably haven’t ever heard of Arawak speaker.  We, the indigenous people of the Americas, are refugees. We exist despite an unacknowledged, attempted genocide. Most people associate refugees with being forced to leave one’s country, but a refugee, by definition, has lost their land and way of life, often through war or genocide. There is a long history of genocidal programs initiated by the early colonial settlers and, later, by the United States government.

In 1755, the lieutenant governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, issued a proclamation that called for British subjects “to embrace all opportunities of pursuing, [capturing], killing, and destroying all and every Indian.” A bounty was paid by the colonial government for every Penobscot captured and brought to Boston.

- For every Male above the age of 12 years, 50 pounds. For their Scalp, 40 pounds
- For every Female under the age of 12 years, 25 pounds. For every Scalp, 20 pounds. 

Within a year of the proclamation, the Massachusetts assembly voted to raise the ceiling on the bounty to an unprecedented 300 pounds. This Bounty Proclamation was signed by Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips just a short walk from here in the Old State House on State Street.

At the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, John Chivington said, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

We were marched, relocated, and put in reserves like animals, ending up no longer being on the land which provided all our needs… where our stories and songs came from… where our ancestors’ bones lay in the ground.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, boarding schools were established. Our children were immersed in European-American culture. They were given haircuts, forbidden to speak their indigenous languages, and their traditional names were replaced by European-American names to both “civilize” and “Christianize.” 20th century investigations have revealed many documented cases of sexual, physical, and mental abuse in these boarding schools.

In 1892, the U.S. Army officer Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School, said, “…all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” On reservations, children were taken from our homes and forcibly sent to boarding schools until 1978, systematically destroying Native American cultural continuity.

Today in 2017, we are still fighting for sovereignty and treaty rights; hunting and fishing access; clean water and healthcare; and political and legal justice. On some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average. Hollywood films, sports mascots, and many other racist images continue to dehumanize us.

On some reservations, families live on roughly seven gallons of water per day per person, since uranium mining has poisoned the wells and radioactive waste leaves no clean water. 40% of the 173,000 Diné living on the reservation do not have running water.  Today, in the United States.

As First Nations People, we have been made invisible, starting with the first maps that were created showing empty land where none of our languages or nations were identified. Towns were incorporated without any thought to the indigenous inhabits. Each “first” became a colonizer’s first – the first house, the first successful harvest, the first thanksgiving, the first marriage, the first baby – while our “firsts” were ignored and erased.

How does cultural genocide translate into today’s experience? I did not grow up speaking my indigenous language or hearing Native Nations’ music on the radio. I did not see people like me reflected in the literature I read, the television I watched and movies I saw, or even on the walls of my classroom. I did not learn the contributions of Indigenous People to this country, and certainly not the actual history of the United States. I did not have First Nations role-models who resisted and stood up for our culture, only those who helped the white Europeans, like Squanto, Sacagawea, and Pocahontas. There’s nowhere in the world where out story, my story, should even be required to be told, except here.

I’ve raised my children in a world that has not recognized our holidays and observances… In a world with stereotypes that have become the only way we are known and recognized… With peers who have harassed them about their long hair… When my son was in high school, a few boys danced around him singing, “woo woo woo.” They weren’t mimicking something they had seen at a pow wow, they were acting out all they knew from when they were much younger and saw movies, like Peter Pan. The racist images of Hollywood and athletic teams have been their loudest teachers.

Other people tell our story or stereotypes about it. We have no control over our own narrative in our own country. I am not currently fighting for food, or water, or heat, or housing, or healthcare, so I must use the privilege and platforms, the ones that I do have, to temporarily, even if temporary, to stand beside my indigenous sisters and brothers and be an ally to support their access, and all people’s, to these fundamental rights in a country as wealthy as ours.

We are refugees from our original lands. We cannot stay silent about genocide here or anywhere, anymore. Please consider joining an indigenous organization, like the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, to learn more about us. We’re still alive - traditional people in a contemporary society.