I received an email from a guy named Lee Carson who wrote, "I hope you die."
Kind of a harsh thing to say about anybody, but when it is directed at you it gets very personal. After writing for more than 30 years the mail I have received over the years has been mostly favorable, but there are always those individuals with contrary or even perverse opinions of my weekly columns. I always say that it comes with the territory. Anytime you are bold enough or foolish enough, depending upon one's views, to place personal opinions on an open forum, you will be judged by its content.
Mr. Carson can rest assured that yes; I will die, as will he, because that is the circle of life and death. The word all of us should post on our refrigerators is "inevitable" because that is the sentence we are all doomed to serve.
An opinion piece is just that; a personal opinion of the writer. I have written articles all the way from Aztec to Zuni over the years. Whenever I made a definite screw-up I have been taken to task by my readers and deservedly so because if I express an opinion and it is not correct, I am guilty of spreading false information, but quite fortunately, that has not happened very often. I have always tried my best to thoroughly research the topic I write about.
There is always that faint hope in the back of my mind that the information I display in my opinion pieces might help to educate and inform. As President John F. Kennedy said in 1960, "American Indians remain probably the least understood and the most misunderstood Americans of us all."
It was this comment that led me to write about the misconceptions and outright falsehoods that remain, even to this day, about Native Americans. Addressing issues like the use of Indians as mascots, correcting misinformation about Indian spirituality and false medicine men and women, have all become fodder for my weekly columns. And I discovered over the years that too many Americans could care less about the lives and the future of Native Americans.
One time I wrote about America's best kept secret: The more than 30 Native American colleges located on Indian reservations across America. One reader responded with, "Is he kidding?" He went on to add that maybe all races in America should have their own colleges.
Several years ago when affirmative action first hit the news I wrote that it worked very well for the white race for more than 200 years while denying minorities access to unions, law schools, and many jobs throughout America that were reserved for whites only. When African Americans sat down at a lunch counter and were refused service were there any laws to prevent this overt act of racism? Laws had to be implemented in order to level the playing field for minorities.
In South Dakota where the total population of Native Americans is about 12 percent, there is not now, nor has there ever been, a Native American appointed to the position of state or federal judge. Thirty five percent of the prison population is Native American. The ignorance of the white judges in this state about Native Americans has contributed greatly to this disproportionate status in our prisons. Why has not any South Dakota governor or U. S. Senator or Congressman made an effort to bring judgeships to Native Americans?
These are just a few of the things I have written about over the years with high hopes of helping to initiate change.
Many years ago I wrote about the movie industry and the changes that were happening to African Americans because of a movie director named Spike Lee. I asked the question, "Where is the Native American Spike Lee? A young Indian man named Chris Eyre read the article and said to himself, "I am going to be the Native American Spike Lee." He went on to direct films like Skins, Smoke Signals and a movie based on the Tony Hillerman novel, Skin Walkers, and although he is now teaching directing, his career as a director of Native American films is just beginning and perhaps a student in his classroom will rise to the top as a movie director.
But to get back to the beginning, I do take Lee Carson's words seriously and I have made preparations for my death. Because there is no longer the possibility to be buried in the traditional Lakota way, on a scaffold high in a tree, I have chosen to be cremated.
If Tunkasila (Grandfather God) is willing, I hope to continue writing this weekly column for many more years before that day arrives and I hope that it will continue to inform, educate and even inspire a new generation of Native Americans.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the founder of The Lakota Times, Indian Country Today, Lakota Journal and Native Sun News. He can be reached at UnitySoDak1@knology.net