Please see below for a story in The Hill about our efforts to rescind the Congressional Medal of Honor from the 20 soldiers who perpetrated the massacre at Wounded Knee. Â
We were honored to be joined at the event by a true hero, Marcella LeBeau, a 99 year old nurse who was on the D-Day landing craft (see attached picture and this Indianz.com story.)
Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women will be Key Topic, and Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council and Global Indigenous Council sign on as additional co-hosts.
Four Directions Co-Executive Director O.J. Semans said the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women must be addressed by the candidates appearing at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City on August 19 - 20, 2019.
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) has also joined as co-host. The RMTLC represents tribes in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The Global Indigenous Council (GIC) was formed by a Resolution of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmanâ€™s Association (GPTCA). In addition to GPTCA and RMTLC, co-hosts include the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, Coalition of Large Tribes, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, United South and Eastern Tribes, and Seeding Sovereignty.
Four Directions, Inc. | August 2, 2019
Motorists in parts of Wyoming might soon start noticing billboards meant to draw attention to missing and murdered Indigenous people across the country and state.
A group of organizations has partnered to spread awareness of the country's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls by drawing attention to the problem with two billboards in Wyoming as state and tribal leaders start to discuss ways to solve it.
"The silenced now have a voice," Lynnette Grey Bull, founder of advocacy organization Not Our Native Daughters and senior vice president of the Global Indigenous Council, said in a news release. "As indigenous women, we are invisible no more."
By Chris Aadland | Aug 6, 2019 | Casper Star Tribune
Gov. Mark Gordon made an impromptu announcement Friday on the University of Wyoming campus that he'll convene a task force to address ways to combat the high rates of murdered and missing American Indian women in Wyoming.
Gordon's surprise commitment came at the tail end of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls March, organized by the UW student group Keepers of the Fire, which aims to foster American Indian students' cultures on campus.
The event was organized to raise awareness of the high rates of homicide and disappearances faced by American Indian women, including on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation.
Many Fremont County residents drove down to Laramie to participate in the march, including councilwomen of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho business councils.
By DANIEL BENDTSEN | Apr 26, 2019 | Laramie Boomerang
read more >
A national campaign to raise awareness and build momentum for meaningful federal legislation to impact the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) tragedy arrives in Arizona on April 25. Backed by members of the US Congress, including Arizona Congressmen Ruben Gallego and Raul M. Grijalva, the first MMIW billboard will appear in Representative Gallego's district in Phoenix, near the iconic Heard Museum.
"We need to work in partnership with the communities that have been struck by these tragedies in order to find real-world, tangible solutions to this crisis and end this cycle of violence," said Rep. Gallego of the MMIW epidemic. As Chair of the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, Rep. Gallego recently held the first Congressional hearing on MMIW.
BY NATIVE NEWS ONLINE STAFF / 24 APR 2019
read more >
Three senators are hoping to combat what they see as an overlooked epidemic: missing, murdered and trafficked women.
Maya Salam - The New York Times April 12, 2019
In the absence of action from the Montana Legislature, a Billings-based group representing Native American tribes in the state is requesting the governor convene a task force to find solutions to the alarming rate of missing and murdered Native Americans in the West.
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which also represents several tribes in Wyoming and Idaho, sent a letter Monday to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, asking for an executive action in the wake of a state legislative panel tabling a measure central to a package of bills intended to address the issue.
The bill, dubbed "Hanna's Act" in memory of a Northern Cheyenne woman murdered near Lame Deer in 2013, was defeated by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5-5 vote. It would have created specialist within the state Department of Justice dedicated to pursuing cases of missing people. A proposed $100,000 in funding for the act had been previously stripped from the measure.
Sam Wilson - Mar 27, 2019
Don't fool yourself: A new, amended version of Hanna's Act, excellent legislation authored by Rep. Rae Peppers, was destroyed by the Montana Senate Monday.
The only question is how much lawmakers are fooling themselves by the new, revised version.
Originally, the bill, titled "Hanna's Act" after a murdered Northern Cheyenne woman, would have funded an additional position through the Montana Department of Justice for a coordinator to input information about missing indigenous women and children. This problem has grown to alarming levels as crime statistics show that Native American women are exploited and murdered at a much higher rate than virtually any other group. Because of cultural barriers and jurisdictional issues on reservations, many cases go unsolved or are not responded to in a timely manner.
This measure would have created a position specifically to focus on the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women. Secondly, having a full-time person dedicated to the issue, brings a level of urgency and scrutiny to the problem.
THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record. April 3, 2019
Native American groups press Congress to rescind Wounded Knee medals By Reid Wilson - 06/25/19 06:00 AM EDT
Native American groups are asking Congress to rescind 20 Medals of Honor bestowed on American troops who massacred hundreds of women and children at Wounded Knee Creek more than a century ago. Reps. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) on Tuesday will introduce legislation that would formally take back the medals awarded to members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry division after the 1890 massacre, in which as many as 300 unarmed Native Americans were killed. An estimated 200 of those killed were women and children.
"This isn't an Indian issue. This is an American issue," said Oliver Semans, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe who heads the Native American voting rights group Four Directions.
The group has asked President Trump to rescind the medals on his own. It has also asked 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to pledge to do so if they are elected. Several Native American groups, including tribal associations that cover territory in Iowa, will host a candidates forum in August in Sioux City.
Heck, the bill's lead sponsor, said rescinding the awards would do more to honor those who have earned them for legitimate reasons. Only 23 service members have earned the Medal of Honor during the global war on terror, which has lasted for 18 years - just three more than the number of recipients from Wounded Knee, which may have lasted a matter of minutes. "The Native Americans were outnumbered and outgunned. The U.S. soldiers had what constituted automatic weapons of the day, four of them as a matter of fact," Heck told The Hill. "I think this would go a long way in helping there to be healing."
Heck said the co-sponsors would begin promoting the bill after it is introduced. One potential avenue is to include it in the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan bill does not yet have a Senate sponsor.
"The Medal of Honor is our highest and most prestigious military decoration, reserved for service members who perform acts of tremendous valor. By allowing twenty individuals to retain Medals of Honor for the massacre at Wounded Knee, we dishonor every deserving Medal of Honor recipient," Cook said in an emailed statement.
The massacre at Wounded Knee took place Dec. 29, 1890, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Troops opened fire on a band of unarmed Lakota, led by Spotted Elk, chief of the Miniconjou Lakota. The troops were so badly placed that at least 25 were killed by friendly fire, according to contemporary accounts.
In an account to the commander in chief of the U.S. Army, Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles said he had "never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee."
Miles described seeing powder burns on the dead, including infants, indicating they had been shot at close range.
But President Benjamin Harrison, preparing to run for reelection in 1892, saw a political opportunity. The wars against Native American tribes were popular with the voting public, and Harrison later bestowed the Medal of Honor on 20 of the division's soldiers.
"The Sioux tribes are naturally warlike and turbulent, and their warriors were excited by their medicine men and chiefs, who preached the coming of an Indian messiah who was to give them power to destroy their enemies," Harrison wrote to Congress a year after the massacre. Harrison lost reelection to Grover Cleveland, though he carried South Dakota's four electoral votes.
There is precedent for rescinding Medals of Honor. In 1916, Congress established a board of five retired generals - chaired by Miles - to review previously awarded medals. The next year, the board took back 911 medals, including those given to Buffalo Bill Cody and Mary Walker, the only woman to have received the award. Both Cody and Walker later got their medals back.
"The real question is: Why hasn't it been done before? If ever there were an example of an overdue action, this is it," Heck said. Semans said none of the Democratic presidential candidates had responded to his group's request yet, and he does not believe Trump - who even invoked the massacre at Wounded Knee as he criticized Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) - will act to take back the medals. But he plans to push White House hopefuls to attend the forum focusing on Native American issues in Sioux City.
"If the candidates want to ignore us, we should ignore them," Semans said. "They've always taken the Native vote for granted. It shouldn't be. We can no longer be ignored."
Republicans managed to beat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. But down the ballot, they paid a price for trying to block her Native American base from voting.
By Matthew Chapman / AlterNet
We know as you do that every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children. Therefore we reach out to you today on a matter that demands justice, courage and ultimately honor. You have many times visited our council in the shadow of the "Backbone of the World" as we spoke these very words and how to make a better life for our children. You as former military man know these words. You know they served not only as your military code of conduct but also a code of conduct for how one should walk in this world.
September 25, 2017
The sovereignty and spiritual rights of Tribal Nations in Montana and Wyoming are threatened by the proposed delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections by the US Fish and Wildlife Services. Ten of the twenty-six Tribal Nations the federal government recognizes as having an ancestral connection to Yellowstone are located in Montana and Wyoming, but to date they have not been consulted in this process.
WHEN: Saturday, September 16
WHERE: Gardiner, Montana
Noon - Ceremonial ride through Gardiner to Arch Park
1 pm â€“ Tribal Leaders presentations in Arch Park followed by ride through Roosevelt
Arch to present official request from Tribal Leaders to the National Park Service
By William Ernest Henley
August 25, 2016
And GREAT GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER to Tom Rodgers
1832 George Catlin
Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796
Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872
oil on canvas 29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
"Few other lobbyists or advocates can match his zeal in representing his clients."
"[Tom Rogers'] perseverance and strong work ethic - available nearly 24/7 - allows him to not just participate, but walk with us in this journey to correct the injustice that was done to our Nation. ...Tom has validated our focus on restoration and fortified the Tribe's ethical stance in pursuit of fairness and justice."
Tom Rodgers, a member of the Blackfoot tribe and an alumnus of the University of Denver College of Law, recently established the Tom C. Rodgers Ethics in Government Scholarship, which will benefit a Native American law student at his alma mater. Rodgers is president and CEO of Carlyle Consulting and is a leading lobbyist on tribal matters in Washington DC. Through this full-ride scholarship, which includes a guaranteed internship with his company, Carlyle Consulting in DC, Rodgers hopes to encourage students with unique perspectives to participate in public policy debate and advocacy. Rodgers' desire to serve as a role model for Native American youth is particularly strong, as the past year has seen an alarming outbreak of suicide among youth living on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, just fifty miles from Rodgers' boyhood home.
University of Denver Sturm College of Law
HELENA - Secretary of State Linda McCulloch announced Tuesday that 13 early voting offices have now been established on Montana's American Indian reservations for the June 7 primary election.
They will be in nine counties and will serve six tribal nations, and will be providing early voting and late registration on select days in the month leading up to the primary, McCulloch, the state's chief elections officer, said, adding the creating of these satellite offices follows a directive she issued in October.
Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune, May 17, 2016
We have a longstanding belief on the Tribune editorial board that government should make it easier, not more difficult, for people to vote for public office.
That's why we favor efforts by Native American activists to make it more convenient to vote on Montana's Indian reservations, some of which are far-flung and far away from county seats. Northern Cheyenne Indians in southwest Montana face a one-way, 70-mile drive to Forsyth, the county seat in Rosebud County, to register to vote on Election Day.
Editorial Board, Great Falls Tribune, October 24, 2015
A 120-mile round trip separates voters in Lame Deer from voting early and registering late, and Lame Deer is among the closest places on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to Forsyth, the seat of Rosebud County.
But the asphalt on Montana Highway 39 is just one way to measure the distance.
"This journey has geographical and historical distances," said Tom Rodgers, a tribal issues activist, member of the Blackfeet Nation and Jack Abramoff whistleblower.
As South Carolina debates Confederate symbols, Rodgers thinks of symbols in Montana that also tell a story.
Kristen Inbody, Great Falls Tribune, August 14, 2015
Dear Mr. President:
The right to vote is the bedrock guarantee of this great nation. For far too long, our American
Indian and Alaska Native communities have faced significant obstacles that have prevented these communities from enjoying equal access to polling places and equal opportunities to cast a ballot. In addition to suffering from a long history of discrimination, the distance many American Indian and Alaska Native citizens must travel to reach a polling place presents a substantial and ongoing barrier to full voter participation. Following formal consultations with Indian Tribes, the Department of Justice believes that there is a pressing need for federal legislation to ensure equal access to voting by Native American voters. We are pleased to transmit to Congress the enclosed legislative proposal, which would ensure that American Indian and Alaska Natives have access to at least one polling place in their communities to cast their ballots and ensure their voices are heard - a basic right that most other citizens already take for granted.
May 21, 2015
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Holder said the goal is to require state and local election officials to place at least one polling site in a location chosen by tribal governments in parts of the nation that include tribal lands. Barriers to voting, he said, include English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places.
Billings Gazette, Billings Gazette, JUNE 10, 2014
The only way to register to vote for reservation residents is to make a 157-mile round trip to nearest county seat - a trip most can't afford. But one man is fighting to change this in federal court
Mark Wandering Medicine has sacrificed more than most for his country. He served six years in the US marines, fought through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam war and almost lost a leg when his scouting unit was ambushed near the North Vietnamese border in 1972.
"Native Americans make up just 1.7% of the US population, but it's strategic," says Tom Rodgers, a Blackfeet Indian from northern Montana who works as a Washington lobbyist for many tribes, rich and poor, and has raised most of the money for the lawsuit. "This is spiritual, and this is fate. It is poetry."
by Andrew Gumbel. The Guardian, Monday 7 October 2013
high-profile lawsuit on the voting rights of Native Americans could help determine control of the Senate in the next Congress.
A group of 16 Native Americans, nine of whom are military veterans, is waging a protracted legal battle against Montana's Democratic secretary of State and county administrators, arguing for improved access to voter registration sites.
This group, which is providing strategic and financial support to the plaintiffs, includes Four Directions, a nationally known voting rights organization, and Tom Rodgers, the Native American lobbyist who blew the whistle on former lobbyist Jack Abramoff for charging Native American tribes exorbitant fees on lobbying.
By Jordy Yager, THE HILL, Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Arguments are scheduled in a lawsuit over tribal members' ability to vote.
HELENA, Mont. - Arguments are scheduled this month in a federal lawsuit over whether state and county election officials did enough to give tribal members on reservations the ability to vote in the 2012 national election.
The 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals denied a request by defendants led by Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction in late February.
By John S. Adams, USA Today, March 18, 2013
He was instrumental in shining the light on one of Washington's biggest scandals. He made Jack Abramoff a household name. But few know who he is.
Tom Rodgers preferred to operate strategically behind the scenes as he played a leading role in taking down the most notorious lobbyist on K Street. But now, in an interview with The Hill, he has decided to go public with his story.
By Susan Crabtree, The Hill, January 26, 2010
Dear Tribal Leaders and Friends of the Indian Community,
We write today to ask for your financial assistance to achieve equal access for our Tribal members to the ballot box for the 2016 federal and state general election in Nevada.
Jack Abramoff served his time and is working off his restitution. He has even taken on the cause of government reform. But will he ever be done paying for his crimes?
By Marisa M. Kashino - Marisa M. Kashino, The Washingtonian
A high-profile lawsuit on the voting rights of Native Americans could help determine control of the Senate in the next Congress.
By Jordy Yager - 07/16/13 05:00 AM ET. THE HILL.
June 13, 2012
When most of us want to remember to do something, we put a Post-it note on our computer or refrigerator. Tom Rodgers's Post-it is a 25-foot-high tipi with pine lodge poles he planned to erect in his backyard near Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Building in mid-August.
August 29, 2012
by George Eliot
If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went -
Then you may count that day well spent.
But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay -
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face -
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost -
Then count that day as worse than lost.
July 30, 2012
You will be receiving a card any day now, but I wanted to tell you separately just how profoundly your visit affected the students in Miami's Inside Washington Program Wednesday, and how astonished they were to know that you came to speak to them even though you lost your brother-in-law only hours earlier.
To a person, they were deeply moved by your stories and by the challenges you laid out for them - to follow their passion, be true to themselves, to cherish relationships above all, and to live with integrity. The were still mulling over what you said days later. One of the students told me Friday your comments actually helped her decide she didn't really want to go to law school, it was just one of those things she thought she was supposed to do. What she really wants, she said, is to work for a non-profit that makes a difference in people's lives - so she's switching gears and planning to do that and probably earn a master's degree instead. That is just one example of how much they took in what you shared with them. Others' responses have not been as dramatic, but they've been talking a lot about how they're reevaluating their plans in terms of your suggestions.
So ... thank you. In yet another way, in yet another setting, you made a difference in people's lives.
Cheryl Gibbs, Faculty Leader
Miami University's Inside Washington Program
February 4, 2012
from Terry "TJ: Snow, Chairman
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council
March 8, 2012
An Abramoff whistle-blower has created a law school scholarship for Native students
February 8, 2012
"The Week from Indian Country"
Tom Rodgers, a member of the Blackfoot tribe and an alumnus of the University of Denver College of Law, recently established the Tom C. Rodgers Ethics in Government Scholarship, which will benefit a Native American law student at his alma mater.
Reasons for suicide amplified for Native Americans
Read article by LORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff
Read the Billings Gazette Article, Sunday, February 20, 2011
Death and Night
By Tom Rodgers
April 2, 2011
...you and your crew may still reach home
Suffering all the way, if you only have the power
To curb their wild desire and curb your own -The Odyssey
Like a W.H. Auden World War II-era poem we live in an age of anxiety, of negation and emptiness. His poem is as prescient now as it was then, for when injustices and ethical issues are not addressed early they lead to even more anxiety, more fear, more misjudgments and more injustice. We are now confronted again with the headlines of Faustian children-whether it be about Michael Scanlon (TPMMuckraker: "Abramoff's Partner Doesn't Want to Cough Up Ill-Gotten Millions") or Tony Rudy awaiting his May 3 sentencing in United States District Court. As the Financial Times columnist Harry Eyres so sadly wrote about the "Lords of Finance" ("Why We're All Fausts Now") we need to remember that Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles (the devil) for worldly glory and happiness. The question becomes who is the descendant of Faust and who is the descendant of Mephistopheles? Both Abramoff men "wanted"-be it knowledge, money, power, love (or sex). Faust wanted knowledge initially, then he wanted only power and as power is money, he wanted only money. Scanlon also wanted his Helen of Troy but that discussion would entail a complete examination of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
At what point did their shadow become midnight and hell swallow them up? Was it when Scanlon sought to ensure that his invoices would be paid by proposing that the insurance death benefits of the Tigua tribal elders be transferred to him? Was it when Rudy sought to pull his wife into Abramoff's corrupt embrace by bargaining her "charitable work" to him? But to focus solely upon these two destructive day traders of human essence is to ignore the larger lesson they provide.
We all have elements of the shadow. We in this beautiful capital city of Washington are to some degree restless pursuers of material goods, all in danger of selling our souls for money, for disconnected sex, for vacuous careerism. The question is how does it end for Scanlon, Rudy and ultimately us. Is it like Hector Abad Gomez, the murdered Colombian professor, who stated that the political, mental and physical violence of our world is borne out of inequality and a "wanting." A simple hollowed out "empty wanting" where reality is anything but a nobility of spirit and courage. Is it two cities each occupying the same ground who continually plot against each other? Is it the absence of an eye toward that which is immortal and the eternal, one's reputation? Is this only a hellish place inhabited by hot gases where the ultimate Mesphisto seeks to mock his adversaries by Dancing With the Stars but in doing so confuses fame with infamy, unable to discover in himself the seeds of his own destruct?
F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby was the seminal work of our time, was both wrong and right in two of his most famous lines. One from an unfinished novel (The Last Tycoon) is that "there are no second acts in American lives," which has clearly been disproved in contemporary Washington, D.C. The other is the eternal line inscribed on his shared tombstone with his wife Zelda in Rockville, Maryland: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." If all comes to dust why not hasten the end like Abramoff, Scanlon and Rudy with the reckless exploitation of other people's dreams.
Where was their humanity? Where was our humanity? Where was their compassion? Where was our compassion? Oh yes, I remember now. I forgot the constant admonition "Tom, why do you care? They are not your clients. This is American capitalism. Everybody does it." But I knew then and it has been reaffirmed in the decade of my involvement in this issue that as the French writer Jacque Barzun noted there needs to be a recognition of faith in a social duty that recognizes the immense debt each of us owes to so many others, both dead and living. This debt can only be discharged by living for them and protecting them. Fittingly his essay "Towards a Fateful Serenity" is ultimately about serene faith--the faith that inspires social duty is the honor of being a man, of being a man of honor."
I recently viewed the beautiful film Of Gods and Men and what so moved me was that these monks were totally free. They were free from want, free from ego, free from that which can destroy one's self, but serene faith was their brother. I cannot forget the sins of Abramoff, Scanlon and Rudy. But, like the eight monks of Tibhirine I can commit to healing the wounds. In the end I will place my faith in Walt Whitman's poetic sisters that "incessantly softly wash again, and ever again this soil'd world".... ultimately healing the soul as night heals the body.
Tom Rodgers is a Blackfeet and advocate/lobbyist for Indian country. He was the main whistle-blower in the Jack Abramoff scandal, has received academic ethics awards for his efforts, the Tom C. Rodgers O-tee-paym-soo-wuk Ethics in Government Scholarship by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law was named in his honor, and he appeared in the Sundance Film Festival documentary release Casino Jack and the United States of Money.
By Thomas Rodgers
I have often wondered when I think about my relationship with my father whether the philosopher Kierkegaard’s statement: “Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards” was most poignantly about a father and a son.
I am the son of a Blackfoot Native American woman and a once removed Irish immigrant man who together escaped from the extreme poverty of the Blackfoot Indian reservation of north- western Montana to the windswept wheat fields of eastern Montana. This landscape generates an emotional stoicism born of sheer adversity and gives deep meaning to the statement “if you tell me where you are from I can tell you who you are.”
I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to come to grips with my father’s intimate thoughts on life and like the Joseph Conrad character in “Lord Jim” I came to perceive “... how incomprehensible, wavering and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun. It is as if loneliness were a hard and absolute condition of existence.”
My father began to work when he was nine years old and it is this same “gift” that he bestowed on me at age nine, when I went to work in his gas station on Highway 2 in Glasgow, Montana. It is this brutality of honesty that I explore daily. My refuge became books and poetry.
Only one passion mattered in my father’s life and that is work. It is this passion that led my father to be successful at something he might have never intended -- “heartbreaking.”
Heartbreaking is my father’s life and work. The heart of his wife and five children. My father was opaque to himself, to his tremendous need for love and, ultimately, to his inability to give love. Shakespeare described such a man: “They that have the power to hurt and will do none.” The power to hurt were fists, words that could be forgiven but not forgotten and a decade of silence.
What is more heartbreaking is that my father is afraid of heartbreak, another gift bestowed upon his children. Day by day now the layers of physical strength and youth are stripped away from my father and he grows ever more vulnerable as he combs his grey hair. After eight years of not talking to my father, I had a moving conversation with him as he told the story of how in his youth he provided food in the winter to a Blackfoot elder named Green Grass Bull.
I thought as I listened to my father ask me what I liked to do and what type of food I liked to eat whether his acknowledgement of the need for love and introspection will come too late. This sin committed but never expunged and always in open view to his children.
My father brought me into this world of extraordinary beauty and dreadful cruelty and injustice. But the true irony of my life was his unintended gift to me, a more holistic message: to build a life that has integrity and goes beyond the moment, and where one experiences the full range of heartbreak.
People ask me whether my father is a good man or a bad man. All I know is he is my father.
Tom Rodgers is the president of Carlyle Consulting of Alexandria, Virginia. A Blackfoot tribal member, he advocates on behalf of Native American tribal governments and their people.
By David Treuer/Washington Post
April 6, 2008
LEECH LAKE, Minn. - I am not supposed to be alive. Native Americans were supposed to die off, as endangered species do, a century ago. And so it is with great discomfort that I am forced, in many ways, to live and write as a ghost in this haunted American house.
But perhaps I am not dead after all, despite the coldest wishes of a republic that has wished it so for centuries before I was born. We stubbornly continue to exist. There were just over 200,000 Native Americans alive at the turn of the 20th century; as of the last census, we number more than 2 million. If you discount immigration, we are probably the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. But even as our populations are growing, something else, I fear, is dying: our cultures.
Among my fellow Indians, this is not a popular thing to say. Most of us immediately sneer at warnings of cultural death, calling the very idea further proof that “The Man” is still trying to kill us -- this time with attitudes and arguments rather than discrimination and guns. Any Indian caught worrying that we might indeed vanish can expect to be grouped with the self-haters. While many things go into making a culture -- kinship, history, religion, place -- the disappearance of our languages suggests that our cultures, in total, may not be here for much longer.
For now, many Native American languages still exist, but most of them just barely, with only a handful of surviving speakers, all of them old. (On Jan. 21, Marie Smith Jones, the last living fluent speaker of Eyak, one of about 20 remaining Native Alaskan languages, died at the age of 89.) Linguists estimate that when Europeans first came to this continent, more than 300 Native American languages were spoken in North America. Today, there are only about 100. Within a century, if nothing is done, only a handful will remain, including my language, Ojibwe.
Another heartening exception is the Blackfoot language. The tribe dropped to a population of just over 1,000 in 1900, but they have grown again, and their language is on the upswing -- largely because of the efforts of the Piegan Institute, based on the Blackfoot reservation in northwest Montana, with a mission of promoting the tribe’s language. Once moribund ceremonies are on the verge of flourishing again. But for many tribes -- who struggle to retain the remnants of their land, life ways, sovereignty and physical and mental health -- what is left can’t really be called culture, at least not in the word’s true sense.
Cultures change, of course. Sometimes they change slowly, in response to warming temperatures or new migration patterns. At other times, cultural changes are swift -- the result of colonialism or famine or migration or war. But at some point (and no one is too anxious to identify it exactly), a culture ceases to be a culture and becomes an ethnicity -- that is, it changes from a life system that develops its own terms into one that borrows, almost completely, someone else’s.
My favorite example of this difference was the question posed to an Ojibwe man by the Indian agent whose job it was to put him down on the treaty rolls. “Who are you?” the Ojibwe was asked, through an interpreter. “Oshkinawe nindaw eta,” he replied, puzzled (“Only a young man”). The Indian agent noted this, and the Ojibwe man’s family still bears his Anglicized response, Skinaway. The man had no thoughts, really, about himself as an Indian or as an individual. The question - - who are you? -- didn’t even make much sense to him because the terms of identity didn’t make any sense to him; they were not his terms. Nowadays, unlike Skinaway, many of us have come to rely on ways of describing ourselves that aren’t ours to begin with.
In the United States, we Natives now have sets of beliefs that we articulate to ourselves, mostly in English, about what being Indian means. We are from such and such a place; this and that happened to our ancestors; we eat such and such. Unlike the young man who was asked who he was, we think nowadays in English, and we forge our identities with those thoughts. (I am Indian because my parents are, because I live in a certain place, because I eat fry bread, because I go to powwows.)
Without our own languages, however, the markers we use to define ourselves can become arbitrary. One need only change the nouns to see the difference. Instead of “fry bread,” insert “corned beef,” and instead of harking back to smallpox-infested blankets, say “potato famine” -- and you arrive at a completely different ethnicity. American Indians are fast becoming ethnic Americans like the Irish and the Italians and the Scandinavians, to name a few.
The timing is strange: We find our cultures most imperiled just as some (though certainly not most) Indian communities are experiencing a kind of economic rebirth from casino money. Not only do we have some wealth -- the Seminoles of Florida own the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, and the Mashantucket Pequots own and operate probably the largest casino in the world -- we also have the basis of some political clout. In Great Plains states with dwindling populations such as North and South Dakota, Indians (who are not fleeing to the cities like rural non-Indians) have become a huge voting bloc that can sometimes determine the outcomes of state Senate and House races. Because Indians vote Democratic at a rate of about 90 percent, the power of Indian tribes is unsettling to many Republicans. In 2006, Republican Doug Lindgren ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives on what can only be called an “antitreaty” platform that called into question the validity of northern Minnesota’s Red Lake Indian Reservation and its treaty rights. Lindgren hoped to use deepseated anti-Indian sentiment to consolidate his base. He lost. But our growing wealth and power has in no way guaranteed our survival.
Curiously, it is in the field of “story” that the most ringing claims are made for the continued health and vibrancy of American Indian cultures and lives. But it’s not clear why so many Indian critics and novelists suggest that stories, even great ones, in English by writers whose only language is English are somehow “Indian stories” that store the kernels of culture -- not unlike those fabulous caves in the Southwest where explorers found seeds thousands of years old that grew when planted. One Indian critic recently rather self-servingly suggested that “English is an Indian language.” He’s wrong. English is not a Native American language; for most of us, it is our only language -- through no fault of our own, owing to a federal policy aimed at wiping out Native American languages. Cultural eradication is a process, and it was precisely through the attempt to stamp out Native American languages that the U.S. government tried to stamp out Native American cultures. To claim that English is a Native language is to continue that process.
More often than not, English was forced on us, not chosen by us. Naturally, one can (and millions do) construct a cultural identity out of whatever is at hand, and no Indian should feel bad (though many of us do) about speaking English. But I don’t kid myself that my writing refl ects my culture -- or can save it. My novels are exercises in art, not cultural revitalization or anthropology. And if novels published by large publishing conglomerates, marketed to a general readership that doesn’t know the first thing about our lives, written in English by university-educated writers who by and large live far away from their tribal communities, don’t speak their tribal languages and probably earn two or three times as much as the rest of their people are our best defense against the threat of cultural death, we are in worse shape than I thought.
Perhaps we protect and even beatify stories because we have no real presence in film or popular music, because we have no stand-up comics with their own TV shows, because not one of us is a host on “The View,” because there is no Indian Oprah and no Indian Denzel and no Indian on “Lost.” Stories are all we’ve got. So when an Indian holds a copy of N. Scott Momaday’s groundbreaking novel “House Made of Dawn,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, or Louise Erdrich’s widely popular “Love Medicine,” they hold it gingerly, as though carrying the ashes of a recently deceased grandparent.
Our cultures and our languages -- as unique, identifi able and particular entities -- are linked to our sovereignty. If we allow our own wishful thinking and complacency to fi nish what George Armstrong Custer began, we will lose what we’ve managed to retain: our languages, land, laws, institutions, ceremonies and, fi nally, ourselves. And to claim that Indian cultures can continue without Indian languages only hastens our end, even if it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Cultural death matters because if the culture dies, we will have lost the chance not only to live on our own terms (something for which our ancestors fought long and hard) but also to live in our own terms. That Native American cultures are imperiled is not just important to Indians. It is important to everyone, or should be. Because when we lose cultures, we lose American plurality -- the productive and lovely discomfort that true difference brings.
David Treuer is Ojibwe from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota and a translator of Ojibwe texts. His most recent novel is “The Translation of Dr. Apelles: A Love Story.
Raised $31,000 dollars for Christmas gifts for children of less fortunate tribes from the Great Plains Tribes of Montana as part of the 2006 Annual Tribal Christmas Drive
Last year, NIGA and Member Tribes raised approximately $200,000 through a Christmas toy/ clothing/food drive for Indian children in need on Indian reservations in North and South Dakota, Montana, and the Navajo Nation.
For example, through our Christmas drive last year children in court-ordered foster care on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation received at least one article of clothing that they needed and a Christmas toy that they wanted. Without assistance, they would have had very little Christmas cheer because of their difficult family circumstances.
Raised over $200K in charitable contributions for a Native American Tribal Government who was a victim of hurricane Rita.
Charitable contributions to Alcohol Abuse Avoidance and Alcohol Treatment programs in Washington, D.C.: MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and Clean and Sober Streets
- Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association
July 21, 2006
"This has been an awesome internship. I really don’t think I could have done anything better. It’s so cool because some of legislation affecting Natives, this committee has jurisdiction over, so I get to see first hand all the different processes that our committee goes through. Right now my boss Richard is starting to write legislation for some different things in education, permanent funding for bison co-op, and some other stuff.
I talked to some other Natives who are out here with different programs like WINS and UDALL, and not to brag but this internship is way better. They have to do reports on issues going on right now such as health care, suicide, meth, and language immersion... (and) I have first hand to all this stuff. Almost in one way or another, these topics fall within the committee. So I feel fortunate to have this experience. All the people I talk to are really impressed with my internship and they all want to know how in the heck I got it."
- Diana Ramos, Barona Band of Mission Indians
August 16, 2004
“Tom, I wanted to extend to you my sincerest “thanks” for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. My time in Washington D.C. with the great people of the Finance Committee was truly the best experience and most fun six weeks of my life. It was awesome! Without you, this would never have happened.
Since my departure from D.C., I haven't gone a single day without thinking about the exciting times I had there with the Democratic Finance Staff (“The Dream Team”) and my intern buds. I miss it, and them, so much! I never would have thought that I would have as much fun as I did, and I owe it all to you. I’ll never forget you, Tom, or your endless generosity! Thanks a bunch!
Frontline, September 2002
A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met, and they jumped. I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers, but I keep coming back to his hand in her hand, nestled in each other with such extraordinary, ordinary, naked love. It's the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It's everything we're capable of against horror and loss and tragedy.
It's what makes me believe that we're not fools to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them, like seeds that open only under great fire, to believe that who we are persists past what we were, to believe, against evil evidenced hourly, that love is why we are here.
To me, that image is an inescapable provocation. This gesture, this holding of hands in the midst of that horror, it embodies what September 11 was all about. The image confronts us with the need to make a judgement, a choice. Does it show the ultimate hopelessness of human attempts to survive the power of hatred and of death? Or is it an affirmation of a greatness within our humanity itself that somehow shines in the midst of that darkness and contains the hint of a possibility, a power greater than death itself? Which of the two? It's a choice? It's the choice of September 11th.
-Monsigner Loranzo Albacete, Catholic Priest
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