|Written by Nick Metcalf,
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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
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
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
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.
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?
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 die.
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 from.
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.