|Tagged in: Untagged||Aug 23, 2010|
|Posted by: greggpaisley|
(From the 8-25-10 Glacier Reporter)
To the Editor
I like the debates that swirl around these pages and the reservation: A lively, constructive balance of half-full versus half-empty, never-say-die versus always-say-die, cheerleading versus the crab barrel, big picture versus personal agenda, vision versus myopia.
So let’s take the debate to the ultimate question: Do you want the Blackfeet to survive as a tribe? We owe it to our ancestors to survive, but that is a sacred duty, not a right or a certainty. We may well fail at our duty, as have countless tribes and societies before us. And if we fail, it will be our own fault.
For the Blackfeet to survive as a tribe, we all have to think on two parallel tracks. The first track concerns the well being of the Blackfeet inside our own world, and the watchwords are Pride, Prosperity, and Progress. The second track concerns our place in Indian Country and in America, and the watchword is Purpose.
The second track is the key to our survival because no tribe exists, or can exist, in a vacuum. There are 564 tribes in America and every one of them fights amongst themselves and fights with other tribes. But it is the fact that there are so many tribes that gives all tribes the best chance for survival. That’s because in the end our fate is in the hands of Congress and the court of public opinion. When the time comes that either one wants to see completed the termination of tribes, after so many false starts in the last 150 years, they will not come after one or two tribes, they will come after all of us at once. It might for starters be a flank attack such as elimination of IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) or it might be a frontal assault such as another Termination Act.
So there is a temporary strength in numbers, but in the end it is Purpose that matters. In other words, in the eyes of most Americans, what purpose do tribes serve in America today? If the answer in is “no purpose” then all tribes are near the end of the trail. But if the answer is "a great and important purpose” then we can outlive the United States.
Over the last 200 years, the Creator allowed us to be driven to the brink of extinction, but also gave us everything we need to save ourselves and fight our way back to greatness. As a people, we teeter at the cliff’s edge of the highest buffalo jump, knowing that an ill wind –political or social— will send us plummeting, adding our bones to those long forgotten. The Blackfeet then become a memory and our children cease to be Indian. An unthinkable and ignoble end to a 10,000 year legacy, but a very real possibility nonetheless.
Today the vast majority of the 564 tribes are too small or fragile to stand up to ill winds. So it is up to the bigger, stronger tribes like the Blackfeet to show the way, to ensure survival for Indian Country by demonstrating that we do serve a purpose in modern day America, that we are worth saving, that we are an asset not a liability, that we contribute something to larger society that is valuable, important, and irreplaceable, that we embody, protect, and preserve something most Americans don’t want to lose.
Forget about treaties protecting us in the long run: As tribes, we will survive only if most Americans want us to survive.
Americans must see our purpose, and therein lies the problem because tribes fall into three groups: 1) Tribes too small or weak to have an impact on public perception, e.g. the several hundred tribes that most people have never heard of.
2) Tribes that loom large in the public minds, but for the wrong reasons –for reasons the public dislikes– such as tribes with enormous casinos. In the public’s mind, many of these tribes are more about profiteering than being Indian, look no different than any soulless opportunistic corporation, and have questionable connections to any real Indian heritage. The Pequots, for example, are the poster child for what the public dislikes about gaming tribes. Frankly I believe tribes like the Pequots stir up powerful ill winds that threaten to blow us all into the abyss.
3) Tribes like the Blackfeet that loom large in the public mind for the right reasons, the right purpose –big, old, traditional tribes that still embody what Americans value most about Indian culture and heritage. Tribes that have kept the flame alive for thousands of years despite every attempt by outsiders to extinguish it. There is no better example of what fascinates, inspires, and touches the spirit and ideals of Americans than the Blackfeet. We are one of only six tribes still on their ancestral lands and perhaps the oldest living culture in America. We are the one tribe whose incomparably vast wealth of traditions, beliefs, and knowledge of the spirit and natural world trace a vivid unbroken line back through the distant mists of time to the place where we began.
My point is this: As we rapidly drive forward social and economic progress on numerous fronts at home, the time has come for us to look at the role the Blackfeet must play in Indian Country and in America as a leader –perhaps the leader– in changing and building public perceptions, in demonstrating the positive purpose of Indian tribes in the modern world.
Otherwise, all the efforts and the successes of the BTBC and our 16,500 members to make a better life for all of us will not be enough to save the thing we all value most: our continued existence and unique place in larger society as an Indian tribe.