Sovereignty is one of those concepts
that seems to allude some of us. It’s this lofty goal and
expectation for our tribes, yet it impacts us individually,
communally and socially. My immediate impression is when we rely on
the government to provide financial resources to sustain our own
tribal government then how are truly sovereign are we? How can we
achieve sovereignty and be economically sustainable?
Economic development is essential to
making a sovereign government. Yet rural tribal communities have been
unable to establish a tax base and resources to sustain itself. The
money that is allocated to tribal governments is not enough to cover
the basic needs of its tribal citizens.
Poverty is difficult. Being poor is a
luxury that none of us can afford. Many reservations continue to have
80 percent unemployed, with the largest employer usually being the
tribe or a church organization. Essentially, we are reliant on hand
outs from the government and ‘good’ church going people to
sustain ourselves. This is ludicrous.
Self-governance is an ideal. We elect
our government leaders every four years and it changes. There is no
investment in the long-term vision of the tribe. Newly elected
officials take a few years to understand the inner workings of
government then begin to make change. Suddenly, they have to figure
out how to get re-elected to fully realize their promises and
campaigning begins again. No matter how many free turkeys, gifts for
kids or money for propane that is given there is a time in those
leaders lifespan that they must demonstrate true leadership.
Freedom is a state of mind. When some
of our own people are trapped in their own trauma and sedating
themselves with alcohol or drugs, then how are we free? When
generations of our children witness this type of behavior, they
become who they are surrounded by. A generational pattern is
inherited and given without any forethought.
We are trapped by our own limited
thinking. If we do not see our place amongst the nation then how can
we truly be sovereign? What economic force are we to reckon with?
What do we offer the country we reside within? How does our way of
life contribute to nation-to-nation alliance? When are we needed or necessary? Why are we needed?
Traditionalist vs. non-traditional is
an argument that tears our community apart. Traditionalist continue to believe in the old way of life.
There is a nostalgia of holding onto those traditions and an attempt
to bring them forward into our
contemporary lives. Traditionalist are oftentimes the gatekeepers of culture, a culture that defines us as a
people. They are the keepers of the language, of our stories, of our
rituals and of our traditions. If they are unwilling to establish
themselves as contemporary people living in a fast paced world and
not allowing culture to adapt to its contemporary life then I’m
afraid it will not survive. What is kept in the dark will eventually
I’d like to propose a radical idea. I
look to our indigenous cousins, the Hawaiians, who have utilized
their culture as a source of strength and a source of economic
development. There are organizations that people will pay to go to a
‘real’ Indian reservation. It is here that reservations can begin
to establish an economic base: placate to tourists, identify cultural
teachings that are able to be shared, demonstrate a teaching or two
to tourists, share our food and share a moment of our way of life.
But, create an opportunity to educate them about the contemporary
realities of Native America.
We are a people at a cross roads. We
have been building up to this for a few generations. Our children are contemporary American children
yearning for an identity. They will seek out the identity that they see in mainstream media. If we do not
provide them with a foundation of who they are then they will disappear into the ether. They will
leave our sovereign nations searching for their place in the world.
Nation building is difficult. Nation
rebuilding is equally as hard. We must come together to create a common vision for our sovereign
nations. We must agree on the manner in which we build it. We must
agree in the long-range vision and not get caught up in the fighting
amongst each other. We must elect acculturated leadership who can
help us move our tribal communities into the contemporary world that
we exist in and we must develop our own economic base to operate
We are a proud people. We continue to
be proud. It is my hope that our pride will not get in the way to building a sovereign nation. A nation
that is self-sustaining, a nation that is recognized for the cultural
force that it was destined to be. I know all of this is possible. It
has been foreseen in many of our visions: a time when our people
would inhabit the land again, when we wouldn’t know hunger and when
our children would be proud. Our Seventh generation of children are
here, let’s give them the tools they need to bring us home.