Published August 23, 2017
By Aaron A. Payment, Chairperson, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Ignorance is bliss and the justification/excuse:
“some of my best friends are [Black, Indian, Asian, etc.]”
….probably isn’t going to cut it anymore.
As a dark-skinned person and American Indian, I can attest to experiencing racism and discrimination directly. Members of my tribe – the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – experienced it directly through a Civil Rights case in the 1970s that we won. We were denied the most basic sanitation. I attended a segregated elementary school. Today, we operate the same school; it is not segregated and we like it that way.
Things are mostly good today in my home community. There is still some racial bias or prejudice in hiring and a latent under current but it is almost not noticeable. We have Indian preference in employment at my Tribe but this is pursuant to federal law. Nonetheless, we are the largest employer for both tribal and non-tribal alike. We appreciate our non-tribal team members as part of our larger tribal family. In many cases, they are spouses, cousins, aunts, uncles and other relations.
Speaking of family, nearly all of my tribe’s citizens are mixed with other racial ethnic backgrounds. A traditional principle in our beliefs (Anishinabe Biimaadziwin) is that we accept all aspects of ourselves including our mixed-race heritage. I am part White and I love my non-Native relatives equally. We share the same DNA and have the same grandparents after all. How can one be whole while repudiating any aspect of their bloodline or self?
Some have difficulty understanding our tribal citizenry or membership. It is really no different from being a citizen of a city, township, county, state and US where the government exercises jurisdiction and you have inherent, civil, legal and Constitutional rights. The only difference is that American Indians have an additional level as reaffirmed (not bestowed) by the Supreme Court under the supreme law of the land – the US Constitution.
Regarding the current attention to hate groups, this is nothing new to the Indigenous people of this land. There is a huge difference of those groups who push for the full and complete exercise of Constitutional rights and those who wish to exterminate other races as an infestation or blight on society. The formal US Policy toward American Indians in the late 1880s was, “kill the Indian to save the man.” American Indians know a little about racism and genocide.
America’s segregationists’, separatists’, militias’ and hate groups’ repudiation of our United States’ ideals that “All Men [people] are created equal” were treasonous and anti-American. These hate groups have an ugly anti-American and non-Patriot past and legacy. The ideal behind their separatist purpose was the right to own other human beings. History is not on their side.
American Indians are indigenous to this land, and could say, go back to where you came from. Think of the irony. After all, most of Americans who descend from those who immigrated here (A Nation of Immigrants) except the American Indian, were looked down on by their government of origin or came to our great lands for opportunity. But such an attitude to perpetuate the “go back to where you came from” would feed and fester hate and just be – stupid – as again, most of the descendants of the indigenous Americans are mixed.
It is time to have the tough conversations and get to the heart of why any of our fellow Americans feel dis-enfranchised. As an American Indian, I can certainly empathize and identify with that. I believe we will find socioeconomic status, class and lack of economic opportunity will be the primary issue and less so on race, country of origin, creed, gender and religion.
I have faith that we will get there as it is prophesized in our indigenous American beliefs. This is why, those who were cast off or fled from the tyranny of their country of origin, same to America in the first place.
History is on our side. By 2050, the MAJORITY of Americans will be people of color. No amount of “Alt Right” or White Supremacy will change that. Neither will hypocritical immigration policy. I suggest we begin to heal the racial divides before this time.
I am a Star trek fan. Partially because I am a geek, but also because the existence well into the future to look back and realize issues of racism, hunger, disease, and war were all things of the past. In the Star trek cosmos, there is proof American Indians still exist as Commander Chakotay, an American Indians, and is second in command to a …….woman captain.
Live Long and Prosper!
Aaron A. Payment is the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.