The Native American community in the United States makes up a mere 3% of the population, yet they have perhaps been one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped groups in the nation. While Blackface has been frowned upon for at least 40 years now, sports mascots and symbology intended to “honor” Native Americans are still considered acceptable by far too many people. Many attempts have been made to erase Native American culture, and their history has been whitewashed.
However, these negative trends have been reversing. As we head into a new year, let’s look at three areas where Native Americans and their stories are headed in a more positive direction.
Rudy J. Ortega, Jr. is the Tribal President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. Rudy steers the continuing efforts of the Tribe’s missions of protecting the rights of Fernandeño Tataviam as Native American people and plays a supportive role with the Tribe’s non-profit, Pukúu Cultural Community Services (Pukúu) to provide community programs to Native Americans living in the Los Angeles County.
Hear Rudy speak about…
1. The First Peoples of northern Los Angeles County: the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians? (Tribal history)
2. Navigating our status as a State recognized tribe in one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas that are our homelands? (Tribal visibility, sovereignty, governance)
3. The challenge of federal recognition. How long has our Tribe been fighting for it and what does the process look like?
The giant earthquake over our African American history at Trump’s Tulsa rally was followed by a tiny spotlight on Native Americans who protested against Trump’s July 4th appearance at Mount Rushmore. The monument is on sacred Sioux Nation land, but National Guard troops fired pepper spray and arrested indigenous protesters.
Before anyone calls Sioux protestors left-wing radicals, marxists, and anarchists, understand that the National Park Service banned fireworks at Mount Rushmore because they caused wildfires and groundwater pollution on Sioux Nation land.
That whole morning and night before were one long prayer for assistance. I woke at four, and sat in the living room of my friends’ river-side house, speaking aloud to the darkness, undamming the river, flooding inside.
Then I got ready, and drove to Red Clay State Park.
For years, my feet have taken me to Red Clay State Park, near Cleveland, Tennessee. This land was once the last seat of Cherokee government, and also the place where, in 1838, the Cherokee people learned that the Treaty had again been broken, their remaining land would be taken, and they would be forcibly “removed” to Oklahoma and parts unknown. Thousands and thousands of people died.
When regional Native Americans convene in Chattanooga’s First Tennessee Pavilion, you’ll find me there, too. This year, the gathering seemed larger and more energetic than ever. I come to admire the colorful dress, hear the drum circle, and watch the dancing. The booths full of Native American arts and crafts are irresistible and my drawers are full of jewelry purchased there. I also come for the honor guard, a promenade of Native American veterans, police, firemen, and war mothers.
There is much beauty to celebrate in Native American art, but that it’s a struggle to create given the devastating historical events surrounding Native Americans. The Cherokee Nation had a culture that thrived for almost 1,000 years in the Southeastern United States: in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and parts of Kentucky and Alabama. Life of the traditional Cherokee changed drastically with European expansion and cession of Cherokee lands to the colonies in exchange for trade goods. Migration from the original Cherokee Nation began in the early 1800s as Cherokees wary of white encroachment moved west and settled in other areas of the country’s vast frontier. Their eventual removal by force prompts the question of whether there is any Cherokee cultural presence remaining in the Southeast.
This tale takes you into the heart of the Native American so you can feel as he does about the natural world. The Native American has followed closely the lives of the forest animals, especially the wolves who travel in packs, live in community with other wolves, and have great respect toward the older wolves. It is said that wolves are the eyes and the ears of the forest and in this story, the wolf is the hero and man is the intruder. My storytelling shares the Native American respect for our environment and appreciation for these woodland creatures who are unable to speak for themselves.
Beginning in colonial America, the myth of the drunken Indian persisted throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The current, more “enlightened,” explanation for the high incidence of alcoholism among Native Americans, concludes that since they were exposed to alcohol for only the past few hundred years, they were genetically unprepared and, therefore, have little genetic “immunity.” American Native people, therefore, have little tolerance for alcohol, become intoxicated on small amounts, and, consequently, experience high rates of alcoholism. This belief, like many others concerning Native American culture, adds to the stereotype of genetic inferiority that continues to influence white American thinking.