Thursday, July 22, 2010

None More Invisible -- Native Americans

Before the Iroquois' recent catapault into local news, I'm not even sure it made it to the national realm, when is the last time I heard anything about any Native American in this land?

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man surely captured the experience of African-Americans in his day and in new forms today. But there is simply no competition in invisibility when it comes to the Native populations. It is astounding. Not once in my graduate or undergraduate studies, my teaching of graduate and post-graduate trainees have I encountered a Native American, or one identifying her/him self that way. Where are Native American students? The next to last time I heard something on the news about Native Americans it had to do with them taking revenue from New York State because they sell tax-free cigarettes on their reservations. We do have ads about Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos but the Native American association is not particularly, if at all, visibible. And how informative would that be, if it appeared?

The recent news story involving the Iroquois lacross team centered on the use of their tribal documents as their passports. Though they are apparently granted American citizenship by virtue of being born in the U.S. they and the land they occupy are considered sovereign. Lacrosse is a game that originated with Native Americans and the Iroquois lacross team was set to go to England to participate in an international competition. However, England would not accept their Iroquois passports, even though the U.S. issued a special waiver that recognized them as valid for travel. The Iroquois are quoted as saying it is a matter of identity, and they did not go. They would not barter with it.

Who knows when we'll hear again about them or any other Native group living in NY State or any state for that matter.
Sure, we have the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, but these are mere holdovers of relegating a group of people to team mascots. No honor.

How many Native American creative writers do I know? One, Sherman Alexie.

How many Native Americans do I know, period? Two, a Hopi/Havasupai colleague in the mental health profession, also one of the 13 indigenous Grandmothers, and a good friend who is Native and African-American. Though I have Native blood running down from three generations back I don't identify as Native. I do feel a connection though, to the suffering, to the collaboration on survival in our histories, to the beauty of their understanding and reverence for Mother Earth and to the artistic craftsman/womanship they continue to pass down through the winters of the generations.

Keeping Native Americans invisible means that we do not have to face the way the trauma of genocide has decimated so many, the way that many reservations are populated with high numbers of suicidal teenagers, drunken men, victims of sexual abuse, and diabetics. Keeping Native Americans invisible means that our Nation does not have to face its own shame. But denial and amnesia will not make it go away from the soul of this country. We need to remember and to see the legacy that lives and dies among us.

If we remain silent, we collude in the invisibility. So, let's ask where the Native American students are in unviersities, diversity programs, theories of psychology and family functioning. Let's ask about Native Americans in mental health, morbidity, life span, college graduation statistics. Let's learn about the Native American tribes that live in our state and invite them to speak to us of their lives, their concerns. Let's ask our government about its current policies in regard to Native Americans, how it is meeting its accountability. Let's stop using the term 'caught red-handed' to refer to discovering someone in the act of malfesance. Let's talk about the history and present of oppression. Let's change.