Briggs: Answer Obama’s call to hope

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Before Christmas, a 6-year-old friend came into our lives.

He insists that I call him Skywalker. And I do, imagining how the futuristic name fits the America that he will inherit, a future likely so different from the one we now inhabit.

I tell him about the 44th President of the United States, who will take the oath of office on Jan. 20. And I talk about the two young girls, 7-year-old Sasha and 11-year-old Malia, who will soon take up residence in the most famous house in the land.

I don’t even try to explain the hope inspired across America by the election of a president who is African American.

I only tell him that the return of young children to the White House is a sign of hope for our country. In Native America, we have a hope, or an ideal, that everything we do must be done in consideration for the next seven generations. I say “ideal” because even we, the originators of this objective, don’t always live up to it.

Yet for the broader America, which does not share this tradition, the presence of children is sometimes the sole sign of hope for our future.

In Native America, we have a hope, or an ideal, that everything we do must be done in consideration for the next seven generations.


In 2001, the year Sasha was born, Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, joined in meetings of Harvard University’s Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America.

The Saguaro Seminar would publish that year “Better Together,” a report about how the civic fabric of America was badly frayed. It found that people were not – and maybe weren’t even up until the 2008 presidential election – voting, or participating in local government, social clubs or public events anymore. The report stated, “Social capital is built through hundreds of little and big actions we take every day.” It recommended that people take part in community events, hold open houses and volunteer – very much the script the Obama campaign would use to build its vast, populous base.

Three years later, I was invited to an afternoon gathering at a friend’s house in Portland where Robert D. Putnam, director of Saguaro Seminar, pronounced that Barack Obama would be a serious candidate for president in 2008. It was the first time I heard his name that would inspire such a sense of hopefulness.

Profound, personal hope in a president is not something I’ve experienced before. And I am not alone as a middle-aged person, born a year after the last Baby Boomer and three years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I was a toddler when Robert Kennedy’s campaign stirred hope across America. His stops in Pine Ridge, Fort Hall and Window Rock are legend among my slightly older friends. I was in my mother’s arms at his appearance with Cesar Chavez in the San Joaquin Valley where we lived. Chavez was ending a hunger strike, and his hands bled to the touch. Bobby Kennedy would be dead in days.

The first president I remember is Richard Nixon. My first memories I have of Nixon were his televised impeachment hearings, because they pre-empted my morning cartoons. I was in kindergarten like Skywalker is now.

My first memories I have of Nixon were his televised impeachment hearings, because they pre-empted my morning cartoons.



I can only imagine – as I affix a magnet of our new first family at child-eye level on our refrigerator – what it could mean to Skywalker to have the first U.S. president he remembers be an emblem of international hope.

Hope is what I feel bubbling up across America, but especially in Native America because that’s where I live.

The only comparison I can remember for this feeling was the 2004 opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. That day, 20,000 of us marched along the National Mall, not for a building, but because we felt we were contributing to something that gave us hope.

And that’s what the majority of Americans feel now, not only because Barack Obama is the first black president, but because he is the first president in a long time to speak to us about taking responsibility for the change the country needs.

How did I forget? How did we as a nation forget to feed the people on our doorsteps, to visit the sick?


It is accountability as a society that we have lacked, especially in the last eight years when the primary message from the White House was “Go shopping.” From personal credit card debt to the mortgage crisis, from Enron to the unconditional bailout, our national bankruptcy isn’t only financial.

As new First Lady Michelle Obama reminded supporters in an e-mail this week, through volunteerism we can “renew America one community at a time.”

How did I forget? How did we as a nation forget to feed the people on our doorsteps, to visit the sick?

As a school child, I would bring home milk cartons made into banks, and we would put quarters, dimes and pennies into them to help people who didn’t have enough. It’s only now that I marvel, we always had enough.

If I were to try to explain what Obama’s call to hope signals to a child – or even to adults who never in their lifetimes expected to feel this child-like hope — I might say, we are going to save a little more, give a little more and pray.

Kara Briggs, Yakama and Snohomish, is a columnist for Indian Country Today. She also runs Red Hummingbird Media Corp. E-mail her at briggskm@gmail.com.