September 01, 2008

Giago on Trimble's victimhood

Tim Giago:  Moving from victimhood to victorsThirty years ago I wrote a book about the damage Indian boarding schools have done emotionally and spiritually to the Indian people. To one Native American writer this makes me a prisoner bound up in the chains of “victimhood.”

Charles “Wobbie” Trimble wrote that when we (Indians) speak, the white people interject, “Tell us about those awful days in boarding school; tell us how they beat you up.”

I wrote about the Indian mission boarding schools because by putting my pent-up feelings on paper I was able to face my anxieties and put that fear and yes, confusion, behind me. I did not write this book as a victim, but as a victor. I faced my fears and overcame them.

Shortly after my book came out I had a visit from a Catholic nun named Marie Therese Archambault, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She embraced me and said that when she read my book the catharsis was immediate. “I thought I was all alone out there with my closeted feelings of guilt and inadequacy,” she said. She thanked me for helping her to finally understand her anxieties and to assist her in creating new goals for her role in the Catholic Church. Sister Marie Therese passed away a short while ago, but she is just one outstanding example of the hundreds of letters and calls I received for writing a book that brought relief to many, many Indian people that had attended Indian boarding schools.
And:My book gave many Indians, in the Lower 48 and in Alaska, the courage and the determination to bring lawsuits against the Catholic Church and against individual priests for the terrible sexual abuse that raked across this nation in the past 10 years. Quotes were taken directly from my book and used in a court of law. Some of these cases ended in victory for the plaintiffs and some cases, including here in South Dakota, are ongoing.

My younger sister and several of her close friends went to their graves as victims of rape at the hands of a pedophile at a Catholic Indian mission boarding school. She died a drug addict and alcoholic as did several of her friends. Some of these abused women died not only as addicts but as prostitutes. Were they suffering from that malady Trimble calls “victimhood” or were they, indeed, victims?

One has only to read today’s article in the New York Times about the Gila River Reservation in Arizona and about how the theft of their water, water that contributed to their very survival, robbed them of that right and how they turned to government commodities rich in fat and calories that has turned their Nation into one of the largest, per capita, of people suffering from diabetes in America. Are they also suffering from the malady of victimhood or are they victims?

I agree with Mr. Trimble that we have to rethink our position of always being victims and to re-channel our thoughts to something that takes us past this belief. When I started a newspaper, The Lakota Times, a paper I later changed to Indian Country Today, a paper, incidentally that Trimble often writes for, I did it to prove that we (Indians) could build our own media, a media that would lead us away from “victimhood” and into the role of “victors.”
Comment:  Giago's column shows the problem with Trimble's thesis that Indians are acting like victims. As far as I can tell, they're both talking about the same thing. Giago refers to the Indians he's helped as victors, but I'll bet Trimble would call them people acting like victims.

Consider the examples Giago gives. For instance, boarding-school Indians with "closeted feelings of guilt and inadequacy." In other words, people who think and feel like victims. People who haven't followed Trimble's advice to "get over it." If the Jews who lived through the Holocaust can put that out of their minds, Trimble might say, why can't Indians forget about their past.

Indians filing lawsuits against the priests who abused them? Indians dwelling on the past as victims. Did the Jews sue the Nazis who imprisoned and killed them? No, they simply "got over it."

Indians who eat badly because the government stole their water? Indians who aren't taking responsibility for helping themselves. Indians acting like victims who can't do anything but perpetuate their victimhood.

You see what I mean? I don't agree with Trimble, but Giago hasn't begun to address Trimble's argument. In fact, Giago is basically arguing that Indians are victims in some cases and should act as such.

For more on Trimble's claims, see Trimble on Victimhood, Trimble to Indians:  Get Over It, and Looking for a Native Cosby? For more on the subject, see Blaming the Victim.

P.S. Giago framed the argument as choosing whether to be a victor or a victim. That reminds me of a posting I wrote on replacing The Star-Spangled Banner: Victor or Victim:  Our New National Anthem?

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