Living Stories: Amerindian and Race

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”

― Ben Okri

The hope of this new blog series entitled Living Stories is to create a space for diverse narratives to be heard, shared, and reflected upon with the hopes of opening up human hearts to the human other in all her queerness. The contributors to this blog series come from diverse walks of life and in sharing their stories they confess to its power to inspire, transform and provoke change in the lives of the human other. Through reading each person’s story, I pray that your hearts be transformed and I pray that your transformation may lead you to act reflectively, compassionately, justly, generously, humbly and peacefully on behalf of the human other.

Grace and Peace

– Rev. Jay How


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Introduction

For many non-white Americans, racism in North America is a reality that is continually experienced by colored bodies. Whether it is in the supermarket, the classroom, in the mall, on the street, on a mission or in the workplace one need not look far to come to the conclusion that North America has a race problem. However, for many white Americans racism does not exist – or if it does exist it only exists at an individual level. In denying Americas’ racist problems, white Americans do more than deny the reality of our continual experiences as colored people but they make us into liars and inventors of false narratives while they play the role of the victim. In light of all that has been said, I leave you with our colored stories from the margins. These are our stories!

– Rev. Jay How


 

I’m Cherokee. I’m also white. I’m equal parts both, though according to my Certificate Degree of Indian Blood I’m 31/64 Cherokee – yeah, the U.S. government registers American Indians. What does that mean? It means I’m well-tanned. It also means sports logos like the Washington Redsk*ns make it difficult for me to convince people that I am not just that white guy pretending to have Indian blood because I don’t have dark skin, a huge nose, or wear feathers. It also means that when Elizabeth Warren claims to have been Cherokee – when she pretty clearly wasn’t – it’s offensive, but to be honest most white people I know also claim to be related to a Cherokee princess – oh you haven’t heard of our royal bloodlines? It also means it’s even more offensive when Donald Trump calls Warren ‘Pocahontas , a real life person who was imprisoned, raped, likely forced into marriage, and taken to Europe to be paraded around as a New World “savage” where she would die in her early 20’s – you know, just like the movie.

Basically, being equal measures red and white is complicated, it’s nuanced. Relatives on my mother’s side of the family are southerners from Texas – a state infamous for its treatment of Natives and likely slave-owners pre-Civil War. My father’s side of the family lived in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and grew up poor with an alcoholic dad. I love both sides of my family, but one set of ancestors caused the suffering of the other and that suffering doesn’t stop when both generations are dead, it keeps on into today. That’s institutional racism. Institutional racism can be subtle and it can be jarring. For a lot of Natives, it’s jarring. Around half of Natives live on reservations, plots of land nobody wanted, far away from cities or valuable resources, and often Natives can’t sell, lease, or purchase land without the approval of the US government. Native Americans are shot by police at higher rates than any other people group in America, we’re incarcerated at high rates, we have significantly higher suicide rates than the rest of the country, we have staggering unemployment rates, our education lags behind the rest of the country and our healthcare situation is a mess.

But I grew up removed from all of that. My dad was a missionary to reservations in California when I was young and I often traveled to the reservations with him. I saw Natives living in third world conditions and at night I would go back to our house in the suburbs. I’ve seen people treat my father differently because the color of his skin, but I’ve never had a teacher or police officer watch me suspiciously. I’ve had to hear about the history and greatness of America, knowing all the horrors that this country is built upon, but no one gives me looks or treats me with ‘kid gloves.’ I’ve had people tell me, ‘Yeah, but you’re not really Native American like your dad,’ and I’ve also had people ask me if I dress up in feathers and perform rain dances. My life is not difficult and I don’t face overwhelming obstacles or stigmas, but I inherited the depression of a people decimated by policies of racial hatred.

My last name is Shade. That’s an English word, but it’s not a typical Anglo name. Cherokees didn’t have last names, but after the Dawes Act was passed in the early 20th century, Cherokees (and other tribes) were required to take on an English last name in exchange for land. It’s a good metaphor for me now. Some people say, ‘Hey, cool last name,’ and most others don’t notice it, but I am always aware of its history.

It’s from this lens that I see the world and the issues dealing with race. North America has a race problem. Its existence was founded upon racism – colonizing Native land – and its economic subsistence relied on it – slavery. There are things we can do better and listening is the first step, but until the conversation shifts away from “Is racism still a thing?” we’re going to be stuck debating whether black lives matter – they do – while everyone collectively ignores people like me who whisper “Native lives matter.” White America needs to understand racism is still a reality today and it isn’t a handful of Trump supporters in the backwoods, it’s the system itself. Our country was founded upon white supremacy and that legal legacy is still in place today. Surely, it is important to condemn individual racism, but that doesn’t change the fact that reservations exist in legal black holes where sexual assault committed by non-Natives against Native women often goes unpunished. Nor does white Americas’ embrace of multicultural values enable tribal governments and Native individuals to have control of their own land and resources. But hey, if we can get a few sports teams to #ChangeTheMascot, let’s call it a win.

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Matthew Shade has a B.A. in English Literature and Public Relations while he is currently working on his Masters’ degree in Economics.

 

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4 Replies to “Living Stories: Amerindian and Race”

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