Traditional and post-traditional Natives each have a pet dead horse they keep beating, and it’s a different horse, and it is hard to say which horse is the more dead of the two, or which horse gets the worse beating.
The traditionalists sit down at the poker table of life and bet heavily only on hands based upon aspirational rhetoric or romanticized hyperbole. The problem with that is both Natives and whites see these activists as the true Indians, the real leaders in Indian Country, and they throw good money after their impractical ideas, never realizing the poker hand is all aces and eights, and in the long-term, at best a bandaid on the deep, systemic wounds that plague Indian Country.
The post-traditionalists have a pat hand but no poker face, and so every time they are ready to bet heavily the whole table knows it and folds, so all they ever get is the ante. All their knowledge, skill and principle fail to reach those in positions of power and influence, whether Native or white, but especially white, because white people tend not to even realize these educated professionals are Native (since they condescendingly assume real Indians are incapable of that level of accomplishment and need special rules that sugarcoat their limited capacity to compete in the world at large).
But there is a third group I should mention, a group people generally do not think exists, let alone identify them or hold them accountable. Time and again you meet Natives who get their high profile, high paying job basically by default, they aren’t just the best qualified Native candidate—they are too often the only qualified Native candidate applying.
You meet them expecting to be impressed by their intelligence and articulation, but instead discover they are a vacuous windbag, not nearly smart enough to be a genuine intellectual, but just smart enough to know how to game the system, to become tribal president, or school superintendent, run their own business, just smart enough to benefit from internalizing the values and behaviors of their white masters—and just dumb enough to resent genuinely smart people and activate against them.
All of these dysfunctional factors agitate a maelstrom of ineffectiveness that keeps Indian Country a disheartening caricature of itself, where serious minded people ready and able to create a better world for Native people, are continually marginalized and mischaracterized by unprincipled gatekeepers, who like the way things are messed up, because they have learned over generations how to make that mess work for them, while the people at large swallow their self-serving narrative, because it must be true, they read it in some paper or saw a video online.
But a truth deeper than all of the above, is that in Indian Country, people are quick to believe the lies of a known liar, and bring the fester pot to a full boil by spreading malicious gossip about a decent person genuinely working hard to make our lives better.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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