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Beyond right and left, the spiritual center

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The basis of American Indian tribal rights goes beyond the left and right of the political spectrum. The protection of our peoples and communities, the assertion of sovereign jurisdiction over our lands, and the cultural values that uphold our existence as tribal peoples - these are not issues that can ever be carried completely under Republican or Democratic banners.

Of whatever political persuasion, Native opinion leaders might always consider the fundamental Indian bases for protection of lands and social contract with the state and federal governments. The constancy of the government-to-government relationship spans the whole history of tribal America, evident even in the darkest days of termination. This constancy is paramount. Perhaps you lean toward a conservative approach: strong family and self-responsibility, anti-big government yet for a strong military; or perhaps you lean toward a liberal persuasion: strong social services, cooperative international approach, likely also very pro-family. Either way, we believe we can and should always get together on the fundamental issues that support tribal sovereignties within American society.

We encourage all Indian people to exercise their best talents within any or all fields of endeavor, in whatever jurisdiction of their choosing. We encourage American Indian Republicans as well as American Indian Democrats, Indian Independents as well as Indian workers and entrepreneurs. We believe that Indian people must in fact join every issue and we encourage Indian opinions from every angle. Just remember to keep in mind the inherited bases upon which Indian country is retained; we should all agree to defend, within any camp, the rights of tribal nations of the hemisphere to their own cultures and languages, to their own self-determined governments and land-based jurisdictions, to the full opportunity to exercise those rights to establish sustainable and prosperous economies and societies for their peoples.

Everything else we can argue and even negotiate about; but we cannot negotiate our right to exist as distinct peoples and governments of the world, nor ever give up our right to our own viewpoints, based on our particular histories, philosophies and worldviews. This is very important and provides us an interesting and unique vantage point. Thus, we are able to work from the truth of our own tribal histories and philosophies. Thus, beyond the left and the right, we can hold on to the spiritual center in our perspective, the one that often can see from the heart of the land, from a language that understands and best describes the place where we stand.

This is not to pretend that there are "perfect" cultures, or that Native viewpoints are always necessarily correct. There is faulty reasoning in every culture and every people, and in every individual. But this is to say we are committed to looking for the best of Indian country, for all that is being done well.

The superlatives in Native cultures are always worth noting, documenting and teaching. There are excellent values that can provide guides to life and behavior. This is not to say we are nearly at our best in upholding these values, but we are lucky to have them in our tribal knowledge, and this is great food for ongoing improvement. Our cultures assign a spiritual (not necessarily religious) underpinning to all existence, and this is the greatest of foundations for our young people; there is always, too, the commitment to social contract between leaders and their communities; a celebration of life and new children; a deep understanding of the importance of family, tiospaye, band, clan and tribe; a commitment to the essential relations that form the core of identity: the idea of helping the people.

Within a great diversity of perspectives, Native peoples bring a unique point of view to American life and the world. We can provide a unique critique, not always based on point-counterpoint, but just as often based in the circular or multi-dimensional way of arriving at a full view of reality. Beyond the denial of anything positive in those who disagree, this method can seek truth and instruction even in the thoughts and words of an adversary.

Public discourse today in America is quickly erasing all traces of humility and respect. Radio and now television demagogues control the public mindset. The dumbing down of America through vitriolic argumentation began in earnest with Rush Limbaugh's hours-long harangues on national radio. Limbaugh got away with brush painting "liberals" as effeminate, unpatriotic traitors. A nauseous invective befalls now on anyone who disagrees with these "super-patriots."

Indian country should not fall into this kind of discourse, nor lose its ability to tolerate varieties of points of view. At a time in history when greed and distortion of values are the dominant game, Indian country has its own set of values and must continually polish and re-polish them. Indian country, if true to itself, can assist America to achieve a much better sense of itself and of the world.

No doubt, we are in an age of secrecy, on a war-like footing. But beyond terrorist acts, the quality of life in America for the working class is about to get severely squeezed. Fears and paranoia are manipulated easily in a fattened people as class warfare intensifies. We are in a time not of compassionate conservatism but of stern greed, when the most affluent are quite content to take advantage of the moment. The recent tax cut amounts to affirmative action for the wealthiest in America, where the demographics reveal a compelling story indeed. The socially pervasive European fable that eulogizes the pauper who would be prince does not hold a fixation within American Indian tradition. We contend that, culturally, leadership must be valued on how their actions benefit those most in need, on how well they share. Within a community context, would we distribute more of our resources to those Chieftains who need it the least?

Increasingly American Indians and many within American society are questioning whether the connection between money and patronage has taken over American politics. Tax policies that clearly benefit the wealthy are returned in kind. A growing national budget deficit that may well be passed off to our children. A social safety net increasingly in danger. We are in a critical time, when national leaders - corporate and political - mistreat the facts, fudge the numbers and willingly corrupt basic information. This is not good. The challenges to maintain and advance appropriate social values are no less important today in some parts of Indian country where resources are growing and accumulating rapidly. Would American Indians become like the rest of America? In democratic societies, good intelligence, contemplated open-mindedly, needs to form the basis of public policy. Corruption of this type leaves the country and the world with serious doubt; it leaves the people adrift within a value system American Indians should neither recognize nor support.

Indian country, for all its problems and contradictions, is still the soul of America. It contains and sustains primordial human values that can cut through the veils of confusion, and which could yet guide a much-needed reawakening in humanity. A recovering Indian country, growing stronger each generation, might need to contribute, in healing its own peoples, a healing for the heart of America itself.