From the Editor's Desk: The meaning of Native Pride

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The meaning of Native Pride

By Alfred Walking Bull

With the close of the powwow season,

sightings of the embroidered fashion bearing “Native Pride” will

be few and far between until next season. It gives one pause to

contemplate those two words and delve into their meaning, beyond that

of a fairly profitable model for Native clothiers and entrepreneurs

around the country.

Growing up and having worked for my

home tribe in South Dakota, the concept of Native pride has always

been more abstract. For those who wear the gear, it’s indicative of

a shared culture, history and legacy of our ancestors; whether that’s

honoring the battles and wars they fought or the current culture that

developed from those roots. However, with poverty, unemployment,

alcoholism, health, domestic and sexual violence statistics being

what they are, it’s difficult to find deep meaning in what it is to

be proud of being Native.

Native pride is more than what’s

emblazoned on a T-shirt, jacket or baseball cap. It must be an

attitude and outlook on one’s individual and tribal life and

circumstances that incorporates the truth of our existence as well as

the optimism and discipline to make a better future manifest.

As of Oct. 1, the United States

federal government is closed for business with all non-essential

personnel and services suspended until Republicans and Democrats in

Congress can reach a workable agreement on the country’s budget. As

Natives, whether one identifies with the president’s party, the Tea

Party or – like myself – some – where in between, we have known

what the rest of the country is waking up to just now: government

does not always act in the best interests of the disenfranchised.

As of this printing, federally-funded

Head Start programs, Indian Health Services and Bureau of Indian

Affairs offices around Indian Country are taking a hit. These

agencies, programs and services provide much-needed basic needs for

Native communities in rural areas, their children and elders. For

those of us who grew up on the reservation, sadly, we know what it is

to do without.

But with every generation comes a

renewed sense of optimism. Every victory, an opportunity to build

upon. During my time in Minnesota, I’ve undergone a culture shock.

In South Dakota, we are raised to understand that every level of

government must be met with skepticism and outright distrust. We are

raised to think that anything new is dangerous and leads to

disappointment. But in this state, less than three hours away from

South Dakota, an entirely different world exists between tribal

nations and the state and federal governments.

It’s a constant source of interest

for me personally and professionally. During a recent trip to Leech

Lake, Mille Lacs, Red Lake and White Earth, the ethic of the

Anishinaabe people isn’t as fatalistic as my Lakota relatives. There

is a sense of accomplishment and prosperity. Whether there’s

consistency to that observation, time and interaction with my

Anishinaabe relatives will mete out.

On asking why there seemed to be a

difference in attitude and sense of purpose, I was told that economic

opportunity was paired with good relationships with non-tribal

people, organizations, governments and companies. The Anishinaabe

understand, reclaim and practice their culture while at the same

time, have respect for their non-tribal neighbors enough to meet them

halfway on most things.

So here, Native pride is more than a

marketing ploy to sell overpriced clothes. Native pride means under –

standing and respecting one’s culture demonstrably by sharing it

without anger or resentment. It also means supporting and uplifting

one another in new endeavors, policies and pro – grams. While I’m

sure this took more years than most people in my generation have been

alive, it’s a fascinating model for my Lakota relatives to explore

during this period when our budgets are being slashed, burned and

halted.