We the People,” as stated in the Preamble of the United States Constitution does not include African- Americans and Indigenous people. Both groups have endured an abnormal existence under the constant forces of white supremacy. And it is not going away anytime soon. However, there is nothing to stop us from raising our own awareness of this lopsided situation, and that is a beginning.
James A. Baldwin (1924-1987), a novelist, playwright, and a voice of the American Civil Rights movement, described white privilege with one of his quotes, “When any white man in the world picks up a gun and says, give me liberty or give me death, the entire white world applauds. But when a black man says the exact same thing, word for word, he is judged as a criminal (by whites) and is treated as one.”
The roots of Euro-America’s ideas of racial supremacy, colonialism, and the slave trade, can be clearly traced back 500-plus years to Europe. All three are founded on the notion that Africa’s original inhabitants are inferior, subhuman, and barbaric. The same “ideal” played a major role in the “settling of the wild west.” As 21st century “Indians,” we are still subjected to these biased influences.
Existing historians have determined that, in the wake of the Middle Ages, the 15th century European Renaissance was a time of “rebirth” of classical philosophy, literature, art, and European culture. However, they did not mention the fact that racial intolerance was also born in this time period with of the Vatican’s thousands of Papal Bulls decreed in 1452, 1454, and 1493.
As a result, today’s political right (GOP) basically opposes socialism (basic indigenous philosophy) and democracy (essentially founded on equality). Conservatism generally refers to politics that advocate the preservation of personal wealth and private ownership and nationalism (extreme loyalty) and their violent far right racists and fascists.
This hate-mongering, self-preserving sector of society is now practically free or legal to practice their “ideals.” Here in South Dakota, the “lazy, worthless, drunken Indian” is a perpetual target of their hate. Realistically though, their beliefs and hate are essentially unproven European notions. I believe they know natives are not all those adverse things they repeatedly say of us.
The new South Dakota Republican Governor, Kristi Noem, recently signed a “constitutional gun law” allowing “law abiding citizens” to carry guns openly. As a native, I was always concerned that I would be killed by racist state or city law enforcement personnel. Now I must be wary of racists wearing “MAGA” hats and waving Nazi and confederate battle flags. They are capable of killing just because it is the law.
I can’t help but imagine these “superior race” disciples walking the streets of South Dakota’s municipalities with “six-shooters” strapped to their hips, just like the “old west.” The new gun law will give these crude white supremacists more reason to kill natives. Do the state police and courts support them? Perhaps not, since killing a native would take away from their for-profit prison arrangement.
I’ve always contended that these angry racists are the “backward” ones and the real “savages.” Violence seems to be the only thing they understand. As for me, I come from an ancient civilization that has the courage, intelligence, and tenacity to tolerate this strange behavior.
I have endured their baseless hate at restaurants, motels, and other businesses in Rapid City, Hot Springs, Custer, and others. For example, my family members were served water in unwashed glasses and I had my plate of food thrown onto the table with an empty apology, paid “security deposits” at hotels, found filthy bloody spittle on my Disabled Veteran plates and on my vehicle.
What’s next? Will we have to ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Superintendent for permission to travel off reservation? Back in the early reservation days (1868-1889), the BIA provided an “Indian” police escort for native families traveling to neighboring towns to do their business. I don’t know if the police were there to protect the family or the business owners. Perhaps it was both.
As members of the new “Oglala Sioux Tribe,” the fact that we are losing our language and culture is not a chance occurrence. Fact is we were taught the language, culture, and history of the settler since 1492 while ours was denied us and hidden. Obliterating our way of life was intentional. We were to eventually forget these “primitive” ways we were to think and behave like a white person.
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013), a Nigerian novelist, poet, and professor, was known for his blunt refusal to cooperate with colonialism. With one of his many quotes, he explained, “One of the truest tests of integrity is its refusal to be compromised.” Integrity refers to that quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. The absence of integrity weakens an individual or even a group.
Here on the Pine Ridge, we are in our 9th decade under the crushing tenets of a document which does not promote equality. Instead, it has kept us in poverty and continues to nurture an appalling dependence among its subjects. If anyone disagrees, ask yourself if single-parenthood, obesity, substance abuse, and diabetes are normal? Where are our Lakota history, language, and culture today?
Our ancient way of life has been torn to pieces by colonialism and unresolved traumas, like the military’s indiscriminate slaughter of women and children and the government’s destructive boarding school system. The disturbing effects of these ordeals include depression, self-destructive behavior, suicide, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, and difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions.
As with many situations, this nationalist boarding school system has two sides. There are those who believe the boarding schools should be revived to curb the “undisciplined” behavior of our youth. With respect to the ones that argue this point, I’ve come to realize that this “education” system has had a powerfully adverse effect on generations of people.
Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien (born 1966), American broadcast journalist said, “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”
Lastly, we have to see our grim situation in terms of what caused it. It has not been good as we have too many struggling to retrieve their unique culturally distinct status when our ancestors simply lived it. One of former President Barack Obama’s quotes defines contemporary colonialism, “The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our views of our past.”
(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala; 605-867-2448; matonasula2@ gmail.com)