2017-11-30 / Voices

As Native American Heritage Month Comes to an End


Where we come from we never hear about “imperialism,” which is a policy or practice through which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world. What England did in America. We also never hear the word “colonization” which is an act or instance of colonizing. England created a colony(s) here to take control of an area and sent people to live here.

All of these terms refer to what happened to Native Americans in the United States. The challenge now, in our collective experience as native peoples, is to “decolonize” or to free ourselves from “colonial status”. We have not been able to do this. Mainly, because in 2017, we are still using the systems of government put in place by those who colonized us.

A word we hear a lot about is “sovereignty,” that refers to a country or nation’s independent authority and right to govern itself. We also hear a lot about “self-determination,” or the right of a people of a particular place to choose the form of government they will have and the freedom to make that choice.

Until our tribal governments return to the forms of government that our people used prior to the late 1800’s when we were placed on reservations, we will always be subjected to all of the negative terms that have to do with “colonial status.” We will have to suffer the consequences of living in a white-settler world where their systems, according to them, are superior. What that attitude neglects is that idea that in a diverse world, just as in a diverse Christian world, there are many truths.

We, as Lakota people have to live our truths in order to survive. We cannot remain silent about what works for us, because our people are dying. The colonial systems set in place: the schools, the prisons, and even the hospitals in urban areas are killing our people.

Our “particular place where we can choose the form of government” is on the parcels of land called “Indian reservations.” It is in those places, the last strongholds of our identities tied to our homelands; where we, instead of fleeing from our reservations, can establish good schools, alternative justice systems, and better health care.

The awareness that we are “sovereign” must bring with it, a return back to the systems that worked for us. I challenge the current tribal government to appoint someone to research what those systems were. Because our people were the great warriors of the Northern Plains, we have been written about in so many different ways. There is plenty of material on how we used to govern ourselves. Lakota concepts of leadership and decision-making in the past were based on Itancans, symbolic father figures (atepi) of tiospayes where kinship relationships and obligations served as the ordering principles of our Lakota way of life.

I also challenge the tribal colleges to meet this need to help our elected officials and citizens of our reservations inform themselves through relevant coursework. The idea was to educate our people, as many of our grandfathers and grandmothers told us, “to get an education, to help our people.”

What are the ways we can “decolonize” ourselves? The first is to begin to trust our history upon this continent. To understand truly how long we have been here through archeological evidence. To understand the language maps that show our intertribal relationships; where we have many relatives that are in the Siouan Language Family including many of the original Missouri River tribes.

We need first and foremost to return to our own governance systems where our first commitments as a nation are to the most needy: the children and the elders. Then to the needs of then nation itself: food and shelter for all regardless of economic ability. We need to not just repeat words depicting Lakota values but to incorporate them into tribal government policy. That would be the best starting place in living our truths as Lakota people for our own survival.

Delphine Red Shirt:

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