Supporters outside the courthouse saying #NoDAPL. Native News Online photo by Mark Charles
Published September 15, 2016
Editor’s Note: The following open letter by Renee Nejo was written to Kolette Ostlund, a deputy clerk in Minot, North Dakota, who made a Facebook post during her off time from her position. Ostlund’s Facebook post (embedded below) was her response to the American Indians taking a stand against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. Ostlund was reportedly reprimanded by her employer.
Renee Nejo is a tribal citizen of the Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians, who is a freelance 3-D artist and independent game designer. She granted Native News Online permission to republish her open letter to Ostlund here:
You don’t have all the answers.
It’s okay that you don’t. Even though Native American history has directly affected you and your life simply because it’s American history, you don’t really see how and that’s your privilege. No, I’m not angry at you for that. How could I be? It really wouldn’t be fair of me to blame you for it since it isn’t your fault. I am, however going to hold you accountable for the words you say, and the very real effect they have on very real people. People not lost in the ether of what you think American history is (you’ve done a great job reading those books written by people who look like you, honestly) but people who live among you. They go to work. They buy groceries. They tap away at their keyboards to update their blogs with open letters between software check-ins and strip comic deadlines. We don’t all live on the fringe, and those that do, well…refer to your history book about why that is.
Here’s what you believed was a thoughtful contribution to a nuanced conflict:
Solution: (this wasn’t a solution at all) let them (where you say “them” I say “us” sometimes “we” or “I.” This is where we begin to butt heads) keep their sacred land. Go around their water and burial grounds. It obviously means a lot to them (you should look up what “othering” means) and they should have it (yeah, we should because it’s already ours. It’s not “ours unless you want it and then yours to give back when you feel like it”)… Then…(here’s where you think you get clever) Stop the monthly checks and ALL of the government payouts! (um, wat?) Stop all the subsidies and hand outs. (There are no handouts. It would be fine by me if there were, but there isn’t) Done! Game over (this is not a good use for “game over.” Trust me, I’m a professional). Payouts stop today (nothing to stop here). Everyone gets a fresh start (If this was possible, it’s wildly unethical. Think about what you are suggesting here. Someone steals an entire way of life from someone else leaving “them” completely demolished. We can just wipe it all away and where ever everyone is standing is the new “level” playing field? This makes no sense and only benefits those who did the stealing). The government has paid out enough over the last few hundred years (I hate to be this guy, but actually…). Enough is enough (agreed! look at all these broken treaties)! By stopping all the unnecessary government payouts (Still not a thing), surely there’s enough money to go an extra 500 miles (they could go even further if they wanted)!
You are missing very important facts, and your response reeks of those missing nuances. Again, it’s not your fault you don’t know things.
I’m offering you a quick explanation of what you probably think are “handouts.” Paraphrased of course.
This isn’t a thing the way you think it is. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for grants and contracts. About 45% goes to the BIA’s operation of more than 250 offices, and the other 55% to about 560 federally recognized tribes for services like but not limited to:
job training, schools, colleges, dorms, repairs, land management, law enforcement, tribal courts, roads and bridges, dams, and irrigation systems.
Meaning, for a little more money than it takes run 250 offices, we use to help run our government with. You should also know that the BIA is considered the least efficient of government agencies, so not even all of that money reaches the tribes.
The BIA has helped families with housing, but those families will often make payments back to the BIA. We are hardly living in ivory towers.
The Gub’ment doesn’t mail out basic assistance checks to people just for being Native American. We (or “they” depending on how you like to see it) receive assistance for the same reasons all Americans do. Reasons like V.A. assistance or disability checks, social security for the years of work that came prior, and food commodities similar to food stamps, though not quite. You probably would never touch that food, and honestly, good for you.
Less than half of federally recognized tribes have gaming. Also, simply having it on a tribe doesn’t mean they are rich. Only 73 of those tribes give out per capita payouts. They do create jobs and sometimes can help with quality of life on those lands, but you would be mistaken to think that Native Americans are getting all that s’crilla from the poor white people just because we are Native.
The employment opportunities on reservations are extremely low. If you don’t have a casino on the land, and statistically you won’t if you are Native American, jobs are often several miles off the reservations making transport or opportunity very difficult unless you leave. But hey! As far as you are concerned, it’s the same as your small town in a Dakota suburb, so if you can make it happen, why can’t “they”, amirite?
We pay them. We are Americans.
Now, About the Dakota Access Pipeline
This isn’t a simple story of us and them…well kind of, but again, not the way you think. We, as a people, are not “fighting” the government here. The role the government plays with regards to the DAPL are the huge subsidies it gives to privatized industries…like, say…oil? Now, if you want to get angry about poor spending, that’s really who you should be having the conversation with. Your congressman. His name is Kevin Cramer (R). Write him a letter. Do it. Do it now.
It is however, getting legal as rights are becoming infringed upon. Natives are currently practicing their constitutional right to peacefully protest (yes, peacefully) the construction of a private commercial endeavor. Though this has led to restraining orders and physical altercations from private security, you are confusing businessmen in suits with politicians in suits. I can see where you are confused, they all look the same to me too.
Everyone in the history of recorded history has been directly affected by the actions and decisions of those that came before them. The nature of recorded history is that the winners get to write it. So it’s not totally unreasonable that your view of our existence is skewed. Native Americans and Indigenous people everywhere don’t have that privilege. We don’t write the history we wanted. It’s times like this we have the opportunity to set things on the right course because this will be our children’s history. I know you think it would be lovely if all you had to worry about were the problems of those who look and act like you. Wouldn’t it be great to never have those icky feels whenever we see people of color standing on the other side of the line from those of lighter complexions? I’d ask yourself why you feel that way. Look deeper inside at the kind of person you are, and maybe the kind of person you want to be. Because if this is what thoughtful discourse looks like to you, you are failing miserably.
Nejo is the most American a name can be.
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