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American Indian generosity in a time of danger

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For all of our contentions with the governmental and other entities that make up the American system, at the moment of crisis, overwhelmingly, the response from the Native people and leadership of North America was positive and forthcoming.

We are proud of our Indian leaders for their ability to empathize, for giving voice to the heartfelt sympathy of our peoples for the victims of the tragedy and, most importantly, for standing up to be counted.

There is no doubt that as the United States moves toward war against the terrorist networks that produced such carnage on our own Turtle Island, American Indians will serve the military in disproportionately high numbers. However different activists and thinkers may feel about that impetus, it is nevertheless a reality that enjoys long history and deep tradition.

The defense of American soil is uppermost in the minds of all leadership. It cannot be otherwise. While it is true that tribal enterprises are not likely targets for terrorism, nevertheless American Indian people are spread throughout American society and occupy posts and jobs at all levels of industry and government and reside in all major U.S. cities.

Rightfully and honorably, we retain our tribal bases. We maintain a watchdog attitude toward tribal sovereignty and self-government. We continue to sustain the idea and reality that our peoples are first and foremost citizens of our own tribal nations, by history, by blood and by desire, but we are also now part and parcel of American life.

We share the bounties of American society ? sometimes meagerly, sometimes generously ? and we have always been among the first to volunteer to defend it. In that breath, it is impossible not to honor the many Native men and women who have served, suffered injury and died for such ideals. We remain always the original caretakers of this great land.

This is not a call to blind Americanism ? not for Indians, not for anybody. For better rather than worse, the United States of America is a democracy, imperfect yet perfectible, and it behooves all peoples within its borders to study and scrutinize all leadership decisions before accepting them.

Undeniably, American Indians have suffered enormously from the creation of the United States. The brutality, religious fervor and great terror of the conquest wars against our ancestors; the disdain and great injustices of colonialism; the pain of racism and paternalism: these are realities, past and present, that cannot ever be forgotten. Whenever necessary, they must be fought against, overcome and vanquished.

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American Indian nations have many hard issues yet to resolve with America. But we are not now in physical conflict, our traditions are life-enhancing and, at this moment of great injury to all, our leadership and peoples across the broad spectrum of North America, have responded in ways that are honorable, humane and proper.

We cannot forget that a core of Indian thinking, particularly its philosophy of confederated unity, embodied in many of our traditions including the Haudenosaune Great Law of Peace, informed the range of discussion and impacted philosophies available to America's founding fathers.

For better or worse, we are in this one together. A larger, more ominous strike at New York or Washington with weapons of mass destruction would have killed thousands upon thousands of our people. The majority of American Indians live in urban centers.

Throughout Indian country, from Navajo country in the Southwest to the Penobscot of the Northeast, a steady stream of offers of assistance, of condolence, of unmitigated support has been forthcoming.

This was immediate (within 5 minutes, the Mashantucket Pequot ferry on the Hudson River scrambled from commuter service to rescue mode), substantial and is ongoing. As Indian Country Today columnist Suzan Harjo commented last week, millions of dollars as well as medical supplies and other goods and services have been donated by Indian country. Dozens of American Indian ironworkers, medical staff, rescue workers and other individuals have joined the grim task of clearing rubble and recovering the perished at ground zero in New York.

We congratulate the big-heartedness of Indian country. Its sense of indignation is honorable and its instinctual turn to generosity belies the criticism of would-be adversaries that greed drives our values and that our sovereignty somehow diminishes America. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We congratulate also our own editorial staff. Again, within minutes, our editors and reporters were on the story. Vacations were canceled and long days and nights worked. Their efforts made a big difference. As their reports and statements from dozens of tribal leaders were immediately posted to our Web site (, crucial information became available across the world.

At times of emergency, and particularly one of such magnitude, access to information is of huge importance. As the weeks have progressed, debate within our Web pages has ranged. We don't agree with all positions expressed, but in true American Indian ? and American ?tradition, we would defend the right of every free person to express their self-determined opinion.

As the future unfolds day by day, uncertainty and apprehension become facts of life. Unity of purpose and the human capacity to care become increasingly crucial. Perseverance, always our strong point, will see us through. We are all related.