The banner of this blog post , the picture of the tipis with the U.S. Capitol in the background, was taken at this year’s Million Man March. The Million Man March was first held 20 years ago to protest the negative stereotypes of black males in the media (to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male”). It was the brain-child of Louis Farakhan and included most major civil rights organization of the time. The event has grown in scope over the years and as a Native, I was happy to be there to support the principles of freedom and justice inherent to the event because I know how important those principles are to everyone.
In 2015, Native Americans showed up in impressive numbers to support the event and the cause. Louis Farakhan, its founder, often cited the terrible treatment of Native Americans in his speeches. Martin Luther King, coming from a very different perspective, also cited the poor treatment and genocide of Native Americans in his work. When president Obama won, I was proud that someone with his background could rise up and achieve such a great thing. When the confederate flag was taken down from the South Carolina state capitol, I cheered. When Trump defames Latino immigrants, I wince.
But, I also watch TV. I see civil rights advocates inaccurately stating statistics to persuade. Unlike civil rights icons of the past, this new group conveniently ignores those worse off from them to score political points, and, in the process, degrading the very principles they are seeking to leverage: justice. Why do civil rights issues divide up into racial and ethnic groups rather than principled discussion of inequity? While Natives vigorously support many causes, I have to wonder where others are, civil rights groups in particular, when it comes to supporting the principles they have fought so hard for as they apply to all people, not just members of a particular group. It is natural to take care of your own (a just us mentality), it is justice to transcend and stand up for the principles that effect all people.
This goes beyond the news…even beyond the annual PBS story on Native issues with the flute music in the background. It goes beyond the sight of fans of various backgrounds pouring into stadiums to cheer on a team that continues to profit from the unethical and racist tactics their owner deploys; a team whose founder was renowned for publicly resisting adding ANY African-American players on the team in an effort to gain favor with anti-African American audiences in the South. It goes beyond minimizing racial justice as political correctness. Why is it that we don’t work together to root out and ameliorate injustice for all people, not just our own?
Did you know that, percentage-wise, Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by Law Enforcement (http://www.cjcj.org/news/8113)? You wouldn’t know that from TV. Natives have the highest suicide and infant mortality rates. Even higher incarceration rates. You didn’t know that, did you? The list could go on. We have many challenges. But, I don’t see any Native Leaders on CNN. And, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t need to. The point is bigger than one group, although part of me follows that “just us” mentality, because I am protective of my culture and background, like any person would be. Yet, if you listen to the news, you wouldn’t know that Natives are in a worse position by almost all measures of social justice than any other ethnic or racial group in the US. (as an aside, you DO learn that when you hear about the US traveling abroad). However, when others cherry-pick the statistics to push an agenda that excludes rising all boats, I have to wonder. Is it OK when bad happens to one group and not another? Shouldn’t we advocate beyond voting blocs toward justice for all, Just Us or Justice?
These are important issues. Justice is not group specific. It is not a quest for votes, money, or attention. It is a set of principles for which we should all strive, and fight to achieve. Together. Native Americans don’t have the money, political pull, or media access that other groups have. We are not a large enough demographic to cater to. We contribute with our feet, mouths, and our hearts. We are principled, loyal, and have a long-standing tradition of working with other groups to do the right thing, often to our own detriment (e.g., feeding starving pilgrims!— just playing, but really). What I would like for you to consider is rising above group politics and working to solve poverty and suffering wherever it exists; to end racist police tactics, violence against women, the mistreatment of children, hunger, wherever they exist. We can accomplish great things together. Let’s remember that just us, is all of us. And that realization leads to true justice.