Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

November was what? Our month? Really? Who knew?

I was asked to speak on the importance of National Native American Heritage Month. Uh...? We had a month? Did I miss the "Dances with Wolves" marathon or "Pocahontas" running continuously on one of the half dozen Disney channels? Nope, never happened. No one bothered. No one really took notice.

On November 1st, President Obama even made a public "Proclamation". Look! it's on the White House website and everything. So how did we miss it? The fact is that every November since 1994 has been proclaimed by US Presidents as such. 
But like with most things Native, we continue to be invisible. Of course, we only seem to be invisible when there is something positive to say. Blaming Senecas for the City of Niagara Falls' financial woes is always news worthy. I even had someone from one of the mainstream media outlets suggest that it was too bad we didn't put out local press releases on the subject. I responded by saying I thought the President of the United States issuing a statement would have been enough.

Now I don't want to suggest that everyone was oblivious to "our" month. Certainly, some took the opportunity to bring speakers to a variety of events and I believe those that had an opportunity to learn some of our history are better for it. But getting back to the original request...

It is hard to make much of a case for the importance of such a thing if barely anyone even knew. But like many of the things I write and speak about, this too can create opportunities. We need to be honest about our histories; shared and distinct. We also need both Native and non-native people understand how we got to today; for better and for worse. There needs to be an acknowledgement that our people are not just suffering from "historical trauma" but from policies that continue today.

Assimilation is not a period of American history. It is a policy that begins with Christian missionaries and continues with ATF and BIA agents today. The President's proclamation even included a National commitment to ensure "equal opportunity to pursue the American dream". This too is assimilation. Our lives were pretty good before the American Holocaust, before 6 centuries of genocide ranging from the slavery to gold of Christopher Columbus to the small pox blankets of Lord Geoffrey Amherst and George Washington's security in the "terror with which the chastisement they (Senecas) receive will inspire them". Does it come across as ungrateful to not want to embrace this fairy tale that is the "American Dream"? If so, too bad. Keep it. Keep it with your George Washington and his cherry tree, the Christian Discovery Doctrine, Manifest Destiny and White Man's Burden. All lies! Let's tell the truth.

November should be an opportunity to shine a little more light on who were are. I know most would rather talk about who we were, but we are still here. And no matter how much time goes by, how many overtures, apologies and proclamations are made, there is still no basis in any one's law to suggest that we no longer have claim to our lands, our distinction and our autonomy.

The truth is that we gave the world more than a "dream". We showed a world without dictators or monarchs, a world without standing armies and prisons and a world where liberty was a reality not just a concept. What became of that "dream", our reality, has been a systematic dismantling of a way of life that 18th century philosophers only "dreamed" about.

Perhaps next year when President Obama issues his proclamation, he'll offer more than the opportunity to dream about being rich Americans and he will begin to understand that our dreams are not "American". And perhaps the media, academia and civic leaders will notice. 

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