March 04, 2013

"Why can’t Indians just move on?"

In his new book, Anton Treuer does what the title suggests. I thought one answer was particularly interesting--and not obvious to non-Indians:

Book Excerpt: Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask

By Anton TreuerWhy can’t Indians just move on?

Historical trauma is a complicated subject. It’s kind of like this. Someone was hitting the Indian in the head with a hammer for decades, and it did a lot of damage. Now the government is (for the most part) done hitting the Indian in the head with a hammer. But there is still all this damage that takes a very long time to repair. And the government is not interested in repairing the damage—it all happened in the past. So Indians are left to heal themselves. Language and culture loss, many health issues, substance abuse, the educational opportunity gap, lack of economic opportunity, and many other problems in Indian country can be directly attributed to specific government policies. It’s easy to push people into a pit, but it can be very hard for them to climb back out.

Another way to look at it is this. If a husband cheats on his wife but then decides he wants to reconcile the relationship and make it work, he cannot say, “It all happened in the past. Just forget about it.” Making peace has to start with him saying, “Hey, I did you wrong. I am sorry. And it will never happen again.” Then there is a chance that they can reconcile the relationship. That is a fair analogy to what happened with the U.S. government and the Indian. Instead of cheating in a marriage, the U.S. government used genocidal warfare, residential boarding schools, suppression of religious freedom and a host of pernicious policies against Indians. But the government has never even said that it was wrong, much less apologized, much less tried to make things right. And every time the government comes up with a new English-only law, or ignores the 50 percent unemployment rate in some Indian communities, or allows a state like Arizona to ban the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools, or tries to renege on or renegotiate a promised treaty right, Indians see it as another hammer blow to an ancient wound. The historical baggage and the ongoing damage make it very difficult for Indians to move on, discard anger, forgive, or heal. And the fact that most Americans have no understanding of this dynamic makes the struggle all the more frustrating,
Comment:  For more on intergenerational trauma, see Unabomber Shows Effects of Stress and Childhood Stress Causes Adult Problems.


Anonymous said...

This should actually be wicked obvious to any white person who bothers to think about why for more than two seconds. The real question is, after all we've done to them, why would Native Americans ever consider trusting any of us, ever again?

I hate hearing other whites say that blacks, Native Americans or other minority groups should just "get over it." That's what you say when you're 5 and your 5-year-old friend is pitching a fit because you kicked his ass at Candyland even though it was his idea to play. That's not an appropriate response to people who have faced down genocide and slavery.

I always say that the past isn't the fault of any of the white people who are alive today. The future, however, is up to us and if we want better relations between whites and other ethnicities, it has to start with whites, because we were the aggressor group in the past. It's up to us to show Native Americans that those thought patterns and policies are truly a thing of the past. Sadly, what most of us choose to show is that we don't care about them, we don't want to think about things that are uncomfortable, and we'll continue stepping on their rights when it suits us. A good first step would be for whites to think long and hard about why things like Idle No More make them feel so defensive.

Anonymous said...

Why can't whites evolve? After centuries of forcing civility and education on natives, one should ask why after washing Indian kids mouths out with soap for speaking a native tongue that would later help save WWII lives, white Americans elected a president that couldn't even find a stage exit making a fool of America and himself, where in this do Americans find themselves bearers of evolution or what is America's gauge for intelligence and progress?

Is this question coming from a group of traditionally sacred privileged cows that decry tax dollars for education while watching Jersey Shore listening to Cat Scratch Fever.

I forget about being Indian until I am reminded in a restaurant, store, theater, school, courthouse, need I go on? So if you think about it, its white America thats just as absent and incapable of intelligence with anything or anyone that has to do with Indians.

All I am saying is that while Indians were held to impossible standards, torture, rape and outright death to "save the man" in boarding schools, whites still think that skin color versus cramming for tests is all one needs makes one successful in America.

In less than a hundred years, native peoples have evolved from a nomadic and ancient culture into Pulitzer writers, Olympic athletes, artists, entertainers, doctors, lawyers, statesmen, highly decorated soldiers and even an astronaut. All this while maintaining ties to our cultures, so look around today and ask yourself how young whites in America are gonna know anything but privilege and a false sense of superiority? When I was growing up, there was always one white kid that hung around Indians because he too, was poor and cast out from the others. Poverty is America's social glue.

God put Indians in America first because he knew they wouldn't move jobs overseas.

Anonymous said...

With popular current American tumors being the Kardashians, Jersey Shore and Mob Wives, I can hear Sitting Bull and Geronimo asking God, "Is this what you had in mind for America over us"?

Anonymous said...

Plus, coercive sterilizations happened within my parents' lifetimes, and equally coercive Norplant experiments happened within my lifetime. So, yeah.

Anonymous said...

Until moving to north dakota, both myself and my fiance had no problems with any race or religion. We were completely open-minded and friendly to anyone regardless of their heritage, personal beliefs, or past. In the 2 years that we have lived here we have been surrounded by some of the most vile, disgraceful, and disrespectful people I have personally ever met. These people are "native Americans." The things that I have seen and been forced to live with for the last 2 years are unforgettable and I will NEVER respect or trust any native American person for the rest of my life. The way that these people behave is completely unacceptable in a modern society, no responsibility for their own actions, and they let their children (sometimes still in diapers) run around un-supervised sometimes until 4 or 5 in the morning on a school night.

I cannot believe that I even gave these neanderthals the benefit of the doubt. Now, put the shoe on the other foot, this is how the natives probably felt about "white boys" back when "we stole their land." looking at it from this perspective I can understand why they behave slightly better than apes trained to use sign language. My view of the native American culture has been destroyed permanently, and not because I was raised this way, or because one person did something rude. It is because of 2 years of constant stress caused by insanely inappropriate behavior even of the lowest standard.

I gave them countless opportunities to be friendly, or even civilized. I gave money and cigarettes to the black-out drunk natives at 10 o' clock in the morning, I let a few of them sleep on my couch during the winter, only to be stolen from and disrespected at every possible opportunity. Why cant indians just move on? Because they are a beaten, withered, shadow of a people that were once a proud and wise race, only to disgrace their ancestors in multitudes I could never imagine.