Educating is Key to Reclaiming Indian ‘Image and Identity’
By Gale Courey Toensing
Mr. Andrew J. Lee, Seneca, is a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, an executive at Aetna Inc., Hartford, Connecticut, a young Global leader of the World Economic Forum and sits on several boards serving Indian country. As “a mixed race Native,” Lee said, it took him years to understand that his background and heritage were assets that allowed him to move comfortably through multiple worlds. He talked of a conversation he’d had with a man who made a horribly racist and genocidal comment about South America indigenous people. “I said nothing and walked away. But later I went out of my way to spend time with him,” Lee said. “We talked about Wall Street, history and the arts and I never brought up that repulsive comment. Over time I introduced him to Indian sovereignty. Ultimately, he became an unlikely ally. For me this experience underscored the need to build bridges of understanding across communities, cultures and sectors. Most importantly, it taught me that I can make a difference.”
Lee offered three ideas about Indian image and identity. First, he asserted that the ability to reclaim Indians’ image and identity is inextricably tied to the continued support for and exercise of self-determination. “Astonishing success is possible when Indian nations put themselves in the driver’s seat for decision making on everything from social service provision to natural resource management,” he said. Second, he said that Indian country should showcase the growing number of success stories. He cited the Winnebago Tribe, “which turned around its economy plagued by 60 percent unemployment, “ by developing diversified enterprises; the Tohono O’odham Nation, which built a skilled nursing facility that is now a national model; and the Pueblo of Zuni, who built the first ever Indian operated eagle sanctuary.
Below: "Lynn Valbuena, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, testified November 29 at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing titled 'Reclaiming Our Image and Identity for the Next Seven Generations.'"