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