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A Modern Day American Indian Story

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I couldn't make up a more gripping story than this. It's a disturbing tale of one people's struggle against ethnic cleansing and cultural exploitation. Not fictional violence played out on the silver screen like one of my movies. Not a comfortable account of a remote holocaust far across the ocean or centuries ago. This tragic saga is real life, here in America. And it is happening now.

My name is Jay Tavare. I am an actor and writer, a storyteller in the modern way. What I am going to tell you is a true story you might not hear any place else.

The year is 2011. The place is the United States of America. The people are the American Indians. Their plight... they are dying from lack of heat, food and even water. They are dying from despair. All of this happens quietly, like a closely guarded government secret.

You probably think I'm exaggerating, and that's understandable. After all, our government gives hundreds of millions of dollars each year to other nations to solve their problems... natural disaster, war, famine, epidemic disease... you name the cause, and we finance it. So how is it possible that our own indigenous people are among the poorest in the world? The answer is simple. It is possible because we are ignorant.

This raises a more intriguing question though: Why and how we've been kept in the dark for so long? And the answer to that is nothing more than standard fare for any successful long term mass extermination effort -- indoctrination, historical revision and elimination of the "enemy".

What our children learn about our nation's early history and our relationship with the American Indians is so loosely based on reality, it's actually more of a fairytale. Conveniently, our history books fail to explain the cost paid in human suffering and lives so the rest of us would prosper.

Five-hundred-sixty-two American Indian nations survive today. I say "nations" instead of "tribes," because that is what the original treaties with the U.S. Government say. But the government has revised its interpretation of those treaties so they can forget that each tribe is a recognized sovereign nation; that their lands are likewise sovereign; and that American Indians should have the same opportunities for prosperity and happiness that you and I have. The result for American Indians is, "recognition" does not include basic human rights.

The first Indian reservations were concentration camps. While conditions on the reservations are somewhat different today, they are not better. Reservation life remains unhealthy and unsafe. The average American Indian man on the reservation lives just 46 years.

My film work has given me an unusual opportunity to learn what our text books do not teach us about American Indian history and culture. I have felt outrage, dismay and finally deep compassion for the plight of my people. But my feelings don't feed hungry stomachs or warm cold bodies. I intend to make a difference by doing something real! I searched hard for a place that I could do this and I found Adopt a Native Elder, a philanthropic organization that is very dear to me.

Adopt a Native Elder was born over 20 years ago when Linda Myers walked onto a Navajo reservation. She asked if anyone would give her a rug to sell. She would, she promised, bring the money back to them. Just imagine how the Navajo elders must have looked at this white girl asking them to trust her. But one elder stepped up and was eventually proven wise. Linda sold the rug, returning all the money to the elder. And through that act of kindness Linda Myers found her counterpart in the Navajo country, Grace Smith Yellow Hammer.

My project at Adopt a Native Elder, Warming Hearts, raises much needed money for fire wood essential to the Navajo elders during the harsh winters.

Today I finish with this urgent news. Soon I will make one of my regular trips to the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. They are dealing with a horrific problem -- teens who are killing themselves in greater numbers than ever before. Suicide is heartbreaking and the problem is huge, but we will find a way to end it.

In my next post I'll talk about these things and more in greater detail. Please share your ideas and comments with me. I look forward reading them.

And stay tuned... This is a continuing story!