It is always something special to start a new column in a new year. Many of us just assume that the New Year will be better than the old year. It is that hope eternal that has sustained mankind since the beginning of time.
It is probably that feeling of tossing out the old and bringing in the new that stimulates our mood in this transition. We resolve to change things in our lives that will make us healthier, better persons and optimists. If we are smokers, we vow to quit. If we are more than social drinkers, we vow to stop. But above all, we vow to change the things that held us back and diminished our capabilities.
I try to make it a point every New Year to explode some of the myths and misconceptions that Native Americans have had to live with since that first ship landed on the shores of the Western Hemisphere.
First off, not all Native Americans live on reservations with gaming casinos spouting an endless stream of money. Many reservations out in the west are isolated from the mainstream and their casinos are barely surviving. Their main challenge is to supply the jobs that are so vital and yet so scarce and still keep their doors open.
Native Americans do not get a monthly check from the government unless it is a welfare check, Social Security check, or a retirement check. And it is wrong for so many Americans to think that Indians do not pay taxes. Every paycheck issued to a Native American has all of the usual taxes taken from it. Every time they pull into a gas station, grocery store or department store, they pay a sales tax. If they purchase these items off of the reservation the taxes they pay goes to the community that serves them. Not one penny comes back to the reservation.
There is no free ride for Indians seeking a higher education. Like all Americans, Natives struggle to get the few scholarships available to them. The best kept secret in America are the more than 30 Indian colleges scattered throughout the reservations providing an opportunity for the residents to get a higher degree while still living with their families.
Colleges like Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation and Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation continue to provide educational opportunities for so many that would not have earned a degree without them. A new generation of teachers, nurses, accountants and entrepreneurs are marching through the arches of these Native American owned and controlled colleges.
And finally, the money the federal government provides to the different Indian nations for education, hospitals, homes, law enforcement, court houses, and government is not charity. It is payment for the millions acres of taken by the United States, land written into treaties between sovereign nations. Every time a non-Native walks out of the door of their home, goes to a shopping mall, or just sits on the banks of a shining lake, they must never forget that they are on the land that once belonged to an Indian nation, land that was sometimes purchased, but mostly was taken by force, stolen by phony treaties, or taken by other illegal means. When they see the industries booming that made America great, never forget that a people sacrificed their all in order to make it happen.
Native Americans gave up millions of acres of land so that America could become great and they were given certain guarantees through their treaties with America to have the few and oftentimes meager benefits in exchange. When America provides the funds to make it possible for Native Americans to secure and manage the benefits provided by the treaties, it is not a charity, it is an obligation.
So when I read comments by white people demeaning Native Americans based on ignorance, an ignorance that will not go away but continues to grow, I am appalled and angered. America has never learned to appreciate or understand the Native people or the Native Nations that contributed so much to its success.
So at the beginning of this new decade I hope all Americans make an effort to understand that every nation is judged by how it treats its indigenous people. Native Americans survived the cultural and physical holocaust for more than 500 years and now it is time for America to stand up and honor the treaties it signed with them in order to gain the foothold that made this country one of the best and the greatest.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji) © 2010 Native Sun News