In the past few hours, I have been presented with a question concerning the validity of what constitutes participation in "Indian Country" issues, what issues are more important or more valid than other issues and how these issues should be addressed or presented to others. After thinking it over for a while, one common thread began to emerge from my analysis: communication.
Today in Indian Country, we have many different and pressing issues that need the attention of the state and federal governments and the participation of our Indian brothers and sisters. These issues include:
- Enrollment moritoriums-Tribes not allowing any eligible members in even though their Constitution does not allow for enrollment freezes;
- Enrollment terminations-Tribes terminating the memberships of large portions of their people for capital gains from their gaming operations;
- Continuing poverty of Natives-Tribal memberships living in poverty in stark contrast to the gaming Indians who are living in excessive luxury;
- Civil Rights Issues-violations of the civil rights of Native Americans by their own Tribes,
- State level organization-a general lack of organization that can lead to a statewide movement on behalf of the Native American issues,
- Health Care-Native Americans are still listed as having the worst access to adequate care;
- Hear/See/Speak No Justice-the completely deaf ear being given these issues by the government and the media;
- The Roar of the Crowds-the constant background roar of native vs native as petty squabbles and small issues continue to break apart alliances that are desperately needed to unify the greater population for the good of everyone.
Each of these issues has merit for immediate action by any number of federal, state and Native groups. Each of these issues can generate volumes of information about what is going on with that particular issue and anyone who is working on them can quickly become overwhelmed or discouraged by the seemingly endless beauracratic maze associated with them, which is compounded by the perception that their efforts to bring these issues forward are not appreciated or desired.
So, how does someone place a numerical value on the issues in Indian Country? Well, as you may have surmised, it all depends on who you ask. I have given alot of my attention to the enrollment terminations because I view the corrective legislation for these activities to be the answer to other issues such as moritoriums, health care access improvements, unification of the splintered Tribes and so on. Others believe that all issues need to be equally represented. In the end, its up to the person who is putting in the time to record what is happening to decide what is the most important issue and what method of notifying which player in this vast game makes the most sense to them.
I have witnessed many misunderstandings occur on all of these issues when the political views of one person makes someone else upset. I was scolded and threatened several times by the Tribal Council of the Picayune Rancheria for speaking out on the side of the Native American's who have been terminated or who are stuck in limbo because of a moritorium. I have also been scolded by friends and associates who say I haven't done enough and that I am unreliable because of an incident that started off as a misunderstanding and then expanded into a full blown breakdown of communications with harsh and confused feelings emerging on both sides of the story.
Here's what I think that the real bottom line is. If we are going to be able to become a political force that can counter-balance the megabucks of gaming Tribes, we are going to have to decide that sticking together is more important than keeping up appearances of such. We have to understand that there are going to be times when we will piss each other off with such severity that we want to quit the struggle or banish others from it. If this is what we allow to happen, our cause is already lost. Aren't we fighting for the very person we just kicked to the curb? If that's the case, what the heck is he doing over on the curb?
With each of the various issues facing Indian Country today being as large and complex as they are, it isn't all that easy for many people to be experts in every one of them. It's difficult just to find someone who knows alot about any single one of them for that matter. When these folks are discovered, their knowledge and their volunteer efforts need to be cultivated so they keep up the good work.
A state level committee needs to be set up that has the clout to unify all the splintered groups and families throughout the state. Here in Fresno County a group of talented individuals meets regularly to discuss all of the items presented here today:
Laura Wass-a long time American Indian Activist and now the Director of the Many Lightning Cultural Center. Laura has spent over a decade fighting for the rights of Native Americans in largely thankless roles and has paid for this fight with her own money, her time and her emotional investment. Her efforts have helped pave the way for future dialogues that will help down the road.
Mary Chapman-a former Enrollment Committee member from PRCI that I had the honor of serving with as the PRCI geared up to being their terminations. She courageously took the road against the terminations, which resulted in many personal attacks on her.
Kathy Lewis-Kathy is qualified for membership at Table Mountain Casino, but thanks in large part to my cousin Leann Walker Grant, no one is being admitted to Table Mountain. Kathy has led many lonely protests outside of the Table Mountain Casino to bring attention to the plight of her people, and she continues to make that fight even today.
Other participants include Cathy Corey of the Chukchansi and other low key participants. Why do they fight this fight for people that seemingly don't appreciate their efforts? What about the other pockets of resistance fighters around the state that go unrecognized for similar efforts? Its their belief in the fact that Indians need to be with their people that keeps them going. Has their fight been easy? In many cases, they have been victims of the people they were helping, they have found themselves being opposed by the very people they are trying to help and all of their efforts are largely unreported by anyone in the media.
It would seem that Indian Country is big enough and complex enough that we need alot more players in the field to help bring these issues forward. It would seem that everyone in Indian Country should be extended an invitation to join the table and bring their talents into the fray, even if its only for a short period of time. Every piece of information we can gather is one more we know about and one more we can use to create the accurate picture of what's happening here. Does it matter if the volunteer is always available? If it does, we won't get many volunteers!
If you are reading this today and you frequent an Indian Casino, think about what your money is going to support:
1. Huge cash payoffs to local, state and federal politicians and to both political parties that keep them from standing up against the civil rights violations and other issues in Indian Country;
2. Huge marketing machines of the gaming Tribes that use their fortunes to downplay the human tragedy created by these fortunes, and their use of them as public donations to somehow make them look like wealthy, peaceful benefactors rather than malevolent, evil peole who cut out their own blood for more personal wealth.
Please boycott your local Casino's, especially TABLE MOUNTAIN RANCHERIA, CHUKCHANSI GOLD CASINO AND THE PALACE IN LEMOORE. They don't deserve your business. Your business supports their terrorism campaign against their own people. HELP US TO BRING JUSTICE TO INDIAN COUNTRY!
If you have time to volunteer to help organize and participate in protests, letter campaigns or other activities, its time to step up. Your people need you now worse than ever! Contact one of the folks listed above if you are in the Central Valley and tell them what you can offer. They will appreciate your contact.
And, if you do volunteer, stay focused on the goal. Its very easy to lose sight of the prize if you let yourself get caught up in meaningless political posturing and infighting. If that did happen, don't let it keep you on the sidelines. You are just as important as anyone else in these instances, and the fate of our people may ultimately depend on your abilty to stick it out when things seem impossible from your seat. I wish you luck!