September 16, 2010

Halbritter:  Indians must speak up

Ray Halbritter, official representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, wonders why more Indians haven't denounced Mayor Bloomberg for his anti-Indian comments:

New York tribes are outraged--why aren’t you?

By Ray HalbritterMore disheartening, though, is that the mayor’s comments apparently didn’t even seem to stir Indian country outside the Empire State, either. For all the work American Indians have done in educating themselves and the outside world about who they really are--for all the protests over Indian stereotypes in film and television and offensive sports team names and mascots--politicians still feel free to invoke the shameful era of colonization and “conquest” whenever they covet something the Indians have. Leaders who would never dare to condone violence against our African American, Hispanic or Jewish neighbors feel comfortable using each other to use deadly force against American Indians without the slightest fear of sparking any serious public outrage.

Why is that? Is it because tribal nations are too scattered to band together effectively? Are we too wrapped up in our own concerns to pay attention to, or expend our energy on, events that happen outside our immediate communities? Or have we become so accustomed to this kind of denigration that it no longer has the power to rouse our ire? Whatever the reason, I am deeply concerned that the apathy is a reflection on our own views of ourselves, which may be even more dangerous to us than anything an outsider can say.

Indian people in this country are blessed with a great diversity of language, culture, heritage and tradition. Though we share many similarities, each of us has our own rich tapestry of history and ancestry, and each of us has our own pressing issues to deal with. But there is grave danger in focusing only on our own immediate concerns. Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous explanation for German intellectuals’ inaction during the Third Reich can be readily adapted to make the same point here: “First they came for the Seneca. But I was not Seneca, so I did not speak up. Then they came for the Choctaw. But I was not Choctaw, so I did not speak up. Then they came for the Lakota. But I was not Lakota, so I did not speak up. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.”

We cannot afford to remain silent. Whether the offensive language or imagery comes from Hollywood or college and major league sports teams or politicians half a continent away, every Indian person has a stake in squashing stereotypes that demean and dehumanize all Native people. If the governor of Minnesota or the mayor of Los Angeles or a sheriff in Arizona makes racist, inflammatory remarks about Native Americans, Indian people across the country should and must let their outrage be heard.
Comment:  To reiterate:Every Indian person has a stake in squashing stereotypes that demean and dehumanize all Native people.I agree with Halbritter...but what issues has he addressed recently other than taxation and sovereignty in New York state? A search of ICT's archives suggests this is only his fifth editorial since 2003. Controversies such as Bloomberg's comments arise every week in Indian country, so why isn't Halbritter writing a weekly column to denounce them?

I can guess why more Indians haven't denounced Bloomberg's comments. Although he chose his words poorly and they were offensive, they weren't the worst offense imaginable. One, it was a single line that he didn't repeat. Two, it was clear what he meant to most people. Three, his message was implicit rather than explicit. He didn't literally call for people to shoot each other.

Since I monitor Natives in the news, I'd say this story got a decent amount of press, including mentions in the mainstream media. It could've gotten more, but it also could've gotten less. One could argue that it got about the right amount.

Bloomberg or other issues?

I always prefer more coverage of Native issues, but the question is which ones. Here are some issues I blogged about in the three days before Blooomberg's comments:

Headdresses okay if they're "controversial"?
Teachers protest True Diary censorship
Sexual abuse = Native custom?!
ZinfandEllsbury wine
"A savage people" in 1996 encyclopedia

Which of these has Halbritter spoken out on? Answer: None that I know of. Which ones are less important than Bloomberg's comments? Answer: The last two, probably, but not the first three. In my opinion, of course.

So why isn't Halbritter leading the charge against hipster headdresses, True Diary censorship, and Indians who abuse their children based on false cultural claims? Because he doesn't think they're as important as Bloomberg's comments? As Halbritter himself wrote, "There is grave danger in focusing only on our own immediate concerns."

Halbritter should make sure he practices what he preaches. If he doesn't have the time, he or Indian Country Today can hire me to help squash stereotypes. I may be doing more in that field than he and his newspaper combined.

For more on the subject, see New York Wants to Terminate Senecas and Paterson Criticizes Bloomberg's Remarks.

1 comment:

Andrew Light said...

You can buy an Indian card anywhere in the US whether you are black, white or any other race. These scams are being committed by Indians and non-Indians for personal gain and so-called federally recognized Indians are helping set them up. There are city, county and state representatives and people in the federal agencies who are fully aware of this and just turn a blind eye.