Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone. –Anonymous
Anonymous has come up with another great quote, and I love the photo that someone put with it. Not only is this little flower standing alone, but it’s growing in a place that would seem pretty in hospitable to flowers, in general, growing through a crack in a boardwalk, where it is probably likely to be stepped on. I’m so glad a photographer came along to capture its bravery and perseverance, not to mention sheer dumb luck.
OK, so we’re not flowers, although I would submit that some of us behave as if we were. It’s fine to “bloom where you’re planted,” and all that, but sometimes we really do have to go out of our way to stand up for what we believe. The problem is that it’s hard to do this, and most people seem to want to get by in life without expending any more effort than absolutely necessary. They live strictly within the social consciousness and end up behaving more or less like robots from day-to-day.
Ah, so you think you haven’t behaved like a robot? OK, you’re on. Think about what you did in the last 24 hours. You got home from work, maybe did a little housework, made and ate some dinner, watched a little TV, went online and checked email and Facebook, maybe you read a bit or talked to your kids, then you went to bed. You got up, dressed for work, got your kids out the door for school or daycare, and worked at your job all day. Then you came home again. Maybe you went to the grocery store on the way home. Some of you might have gone out to some social event last evening, or you went to a movie or a sports event. Maybe you had dinner with someone special. All of those activities are pretty normal, and you’ve done them over and over for years. You don’t even have to do much thinking to complete any of these activities. Many of them can be done on automatic pilot. Maybe you got a compliment from your mate or your kids on something you made for dinner. Maybe your boss or one of your co-workers liked something you did at work. Maybe you got a compliment on something you were wearing. Those little social perks will keep you doing more of the same. We tend to do things that other people will like, things that won’t rock the boat. And we end up behaving more or less like robots, which basically answer commands. Our commands come from the social consciousness.
I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to rock the boat all the time, or to make people around us uncomfortable, but I do think we should consider carefully whether our actions, even the smallest of them, actually match what we say we believe. Sometimes this will make us see like a wet blanket to those around us, but I think it’s necessary to examine our behavior once in a while to see how much integrity we are showing between our stated beliefs and our words and actions.
A couple of years ago, I started paying more attention to what Native Americans are saying, writing, thinking and feeling. I began to follow certain people on Facebook, and I signed up for posts from various news organizations that focus on news by, for and about Natives, as well as some information sites that provide information about Native culture and spirituality. It’s been an education, I can tell you. I had no idea that many Native Americans harbored so much anger about things that many non-Natives accept as part of the landscape. Many Americans think of the four presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore as a great work of art, a symbol of patriotic pride. The Natives, as a whole, detest it as a desecration of their sacred land. Americans in general celebrate Independence Day on July 4th with family picnics, parades, and fireworks, while Natives maintain that they are sill not free to live and worship as they wish. and many of them, unsurprisingly, harbor a great deal of anger about this. Most Americans think it’s perfectly OK to dress up on Halloween as “an Indian,” not realizing that many Natives are profoundly disturbed and offended at the misrepresentation and trivialization of their culture. When you check out the statistics about Native Americans, whether or not they live on the reservations, you realize pretty quickly that their lives are made difficult physically, financially, socially, culturally, spiritually, and politically by circumstances imposed on them by the government, the Christian majority, and mainstream society in general. No wonder they are joining movements such as Idle No More, and participating in activism against uranium mining on their lands, the building of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, and the selling of their lands to non-Natives.
Last summer, people went to theaters to see a remake of The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Apparently, not enough people saw it, though, as it was a commercial failure. It generated a great deal of controversy, especially among Native Americans, who wondered aloud why – if Depp really wanted to honor Native culture – he didn’t cast a Native actor in the role of Tonto, and why he chose to wear such an outlandish and historically inaccurate costume. I read quite a number of factual articles and blog posts on the subject written by Natives, and I was often surprised by the depth of their feelings and the sense of hopelessness at being unable to change prevailing mainstream attitudes.
Columbus Day is another holiday that generates quite a bit of anger on the part of Natives, who oppose teaching schoolchildren that Columbus “discovered” America, as it if it didn’t exist before he arrived. They chafe at being called “Indians,” pointing out, rightly, that the term is a misnomer because Columbus thought he had reached India, and that the people he encountered must be Indians, and the name just stuck because the white explorers, who eventually realized their mistake, didn’t deem it important enough to correct the terminology. They wonder why this land is termed “America” when they had a perfectly good name for it already, before Columbus got here. (North American Natives call this continent Turtle Island.) And why, they ask, is there a holiday that honors a European guy who got lost on the way to India, then decided to exploit and enslave the original inhabitants of this place, while plundering the land, but meanwhile, there is no nationally recognized holiday honoring and celebrating Native American cultures?
In the last few months, there has been another hotly debated issue, that of whether to change the names of certain professional sports teams with Native-referenced mascots. Team names such as Indians, Chiefs, Braves, Redskins, and Redmen, to name a few, are offensive to a majority of Natives, but since they are only about 2% of the U.S. population, their thoughts go unheeded, and their pleas go unanswered. Their feelings are met with scorn, and they are told to lighten up and just enjoy the game.
Now Thanksgiving is coming up, and with it, another occasion for discontent among Native Americans, who chafe at the fact that the history of this country is told only from the point of view of the invading Europeans, and never from their point of view as defenders of lands that they kept pristine for millennia, whose lands were forcibly taken from them by invaders who plundered, ravaged and polluted their homelands. Their story, as told in the public schools, is whitewashed and misrepresented, and it more or less keeps them frozen in time in the mainstream view, to the point that many non-Natives are surprised, if they ever stop to think about it at all, that Natives now dress in European clothes, eat processed food, live in wood-frame houses, shop at stores, and watch TV, just like they do. Unlike many mainstream Americans, however, many Natives are unable to find employment a reasonable distance from home, and many of them have to travel 50 miles or more to find a place to vote on election day. They don’t have a choice of hospitals within a reasonable distance, nor do they have access to fresh food on a daily or even weekly basis.
Prevailing government policies and social attitudes keep this situation in place.
One other issue that is very big with Natives is environmental awareness. They see themselves as the caretakers of Mother Earth, and when you stop and think about how well they cared for this land before the Europeans came along, you have to admit that they are pretty good at what they do best. Their culture, with its emphasis on responsible and respectful use of the land, has been corrupted, and their power to protect the land has been taken from them. Why aren’t we listening to them when they tell us in no uncertain terms that Mother Earth is now very sick and needs immediate intervention to heal? Why don’t we believe them when they tell us that our actions with respect to the earth are leading to death and disaster for all of humanity?
But, OK, what does this all have to do with me? I’m a little old white lady. I don’t have any Native American ancestors, and no, I’m not a wanna be. I’m perfectly fine being who I am right now, thank you. But I have looked around and I have studied what is going on, and I can no longer countenance what is happening. If I truly believe that these people, my friends and neighbors, are being unfairly treated by me and others who are like me, if I really believe that my actions and the actions of members of my own race and culture are harming the environment, then I have to stand up and say something, and so I am.
I have written a number of blog entries, here and on my other blog, about various issues related to Native Americans. I have also posted a number of items on my Facebook page. I’ve been told that I focus too much on Native Americans and that I need to lighten up. Well, sorry, folks, but that’s not going to happen. This month is Native American Heritage Month, and I’m going to make an effort to write more educational blog entries, as information comes across my desk. I’m going to make an effort to understand more about what’s going on and more about what those of us who care can do to help the situation. It’s all I can do, at the moment.