In less than two decades, it will be 400 years since my people and other tribes in the Northeast came in contact with the "Europeans."
Despite wars, disease, forced internment, hundreds of thousands of acres of lost land and attempts to eradicate our culture and traditions, we are still here.
Sadly, this is something we need to prove to the people with whom we shared our land. Worse yet, it's to a government bureaucracy that hasn't had the facilities to cope with this assignment for decades.
Many of us from the Nipmuc Nation have been involved in our recognition process for 30 to 40 years. Our petition process through BAR (Branch of Acknowledgement and Research) began in 1980. My father and mother have both died during this period, as have countless others. I've also become a great-grandfather and one of my many missions now is to see that our ongoing generations can benefit from the status we should have had for years.
Throughout this ordeal, we have made many friends who have consistently helped our cause: Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry, Reps. McGovern, Neal, Olver and our entire Massachusetts delegation; our Beacon Hill State senators and representatives; leadership from both parties; the last four governors and municipal and local officials. There probably has never been a petition before the BIA that has had such uniform support from its home state.
This has made it easier to withstand the hurt attempted on us by a vocal few. None of these people ? as is usually the case ? have cared to meet us, to know what we've gone through, to learn of our dreams and the role they can play to improve not only our lives, but also their lives.
I have a message for my great-grandchildren and for the generations ahead. Just as those before me overcame all they did to get us to this day, my generation will overcome biased and poorly researched media, ambitious and over-reaching politicians, nearly all from beyond our border, and, yes, the few bigots who still remain among us.
I have a message for our President and the new administration. You have the most noble of opportunities in Native America. It is assumed by many that you are the enemy. Therefore, the progress you make to advance the self-respect and self-sufficiency among the indigenous people of our country will serve you greatly for years to come. We have fought proudly and died for our country in every single war. We have rallied behind you, with American and Native American spirit, against terrorism from beyond.
Mr. President, an earlier occupant of your office once said. "Tear down this wall!"
It happened. And decades of cold-war hatred and mistrust have since dissolved, replaced by new economic initiatives and a coming together of civilizations.
What a great parallel. What better time then now to create a similar environment here in our country?
Native America and America can and should work together to help each other. You could certainly begin, Mr. President, with those of us who have spent 20 years or more in the political process ? to have our government recognize us for whom we have always been ? by improving the process. The BIA is supposed to exist to help Native America improve its plight, not throw unfair and endless hurdles at it.
You could then put some real spirit and money behind solving what has become a national blight on our country, the billions of dollars of trust funds due both tribes and individual Native American citizens!
You have fearlessly tackled a great challenge around the world, Mr. President. Solve a similar huge challenge here at home. Tear down "our wall" Mr. President, and bring our two Americas closer together to benefit this country as one. In doing so, you will provide enormous positive impact for generations to come.
Once again, in closing, to my great-grandchildren: Our Nipmuc Nation will overcome whatever it has to overcome for recognition. You will have the opportunity for both self-respect and self-sufficiency. Treat this expanded freedom with respect and recognize the sacrifices of those before you that enabled this to happen.
And, to all: May we take advantage, in this millennium, of all we have learned from our ancestors. The gifts of the future are wrapped in the lessons of the past.
Nunontweantam weemattinneunk kah weetompas wunnegenash ? I wish all brothers and sisters good things.
Walter Vickers is Chief Natachaman of the Nipmuc Nation (Hassanamisco band) headquartered in Sutton, Mass. His Nation received a preliminary positive finding for federal recognition at the end of the Clinton Administration, but the decision was suspended and then reversed by the Bush Administration. The Nation has submitted new documentation toward a July deadline.
Indian Country Today invites other tribal and community leaders, American Indian professionals, scholars, students, business leaders and culture bearing people, to send us their message to the Seventh Generation. These letters will be published occasionally over the next several years as part of Indian Country Today's Millennium Series, a documentary process at the beginning of the 21st century.