Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised
Thursday, September 03 2015
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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nickmetcalf-web.jpgSovereignty 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 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.  
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. 

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