Donald Trump became the new United States President after swearing his oath to the American people on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. Various religious figures spoke words of blessing. The sun rose and set on an otherwise normal winter day. And all things remain the same for North American Indians as they did from political eras seen before, since 1492.
The words of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech struck me as I listened to them over the Internet live. His words of “America First” were received in a bi-polar response. A number of my social media connections said it was a good speech and left it at that. Others messaged that the countdown to oblivion was on, start the stopwatch, etc.
Most of my Native friends stayed silent. I think a lot of them were working too hard to support their families rather than to spend their valuable time monitoring what to them seems like a foreign government’s business. My own Native heritage, as a descendant of those who lived in Iroquois longhouses when the American colonies first revolted, identifies the presidential office-holder as a town destroyer following George Washington’s actions in 1779 in Seneca territory. Washington lived up to a complex family legacy when he unleashed General Sullivan on a military expedition that would destroy dozens of Iroquois villages. The label of Rahnatakaias (Town Destroyer) stuck.
Some people, both Native and non-Native alike, might shrug at that history. The implication for me is that a strong central government under arms can and will do as it pleases. The decentralized nature of the people of the longhouse’s existence by the end of the American Revolution was ripe for the picking. It should not go unnoticed that Washington, a former land surveyor, had supported land bounties for his soldiers upon their victory. Just like a general in the Roman Empire, Washington took what he needed and let history figure out the accounting – a Town Destroyer.
I guess that short-memory governance hopes that the words and votes allow time to heal all wounds. It is not so in Native communities. There, it is understood the foundation of American freedom is built on seized Native homelands and in most cases the forced relocations of its people. The building was on the backs of black slaves. The rhetoric of spreading democracy is seen ironically by many world governments who are well aware of the ongoing conflict in North Dakota at Standing Rock. They say “America First” in a different way.
The good olde days for Native people harken back first to slavery, then disease, and then to trusteeship, after the treaties were broken when mineral wealth was discovered. How will these injustices be accounted for? When will the overdue payoff be made? At what point does the United States government account for the bad faith that its representatives negotiated in? There is no time to waste, in my opinion.
Native youth is more energized than ever in some communities. Despite the pressures facing them, including slim employment opportunities, addiction, and inherited trauma, their spirits are high in their commitment.
An Eighth Generation will soon be born from the co-habitation of the Oceti Sakowin Camp by water protectors from many tribal nations, passing along life as well as cultural preservation. It is the most valuable reinvestment unto oneself that can be made by people of historically modest means. We are rebuilding our Nations and children are the manifestations of our seeds. Our law is in our seeds.
The fuse has been lit on a change in that status quo. The Native Spring might be one way to describe the opportunity at hand today. To date in a modern understanding since 9/11, there have been no deliberate acts of violence construed as terrorism on behalf of Native land rights. Yes, there have been arrests for protest, but I am referencing the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of those beliefs, as has been seen abroad. The relative calm of the past on this subject should not be projected very far afield. All factors do not remain the same forever.
I am sure that more ebbs and flows in U.S. and Native relations in the years ahead will be seen. Here are some factors to take into consideration.
We need more than elected tribal representatives to speak for us. Those in such positions should act solely as funnels of federal and state aid to the people to whom they serve. These representatives are no more important than the poorest, least educated or unwashed on any Native territory. Never should they believe that what they are doing is anything more than following the expectations of the paymasters who send their communities inadequate amounts of support, often later than it was needed. The common people that I know are more than astute in explaining themselves as well as making their points crystal clear when listened to. It creates a dilemma.
Possibly, the individual strength of Native people, while helping our ancestors survive, works against us in a republic form of government. Unlike ancient Rome which increasingly included the conquered non-Roman populations in its state of affairs, that trend is just not applicable to the United States model.
A hundred years ago, the Grand Council of the Iroquois Confederacy declared war on Imperial Germany because the condoled chiefs at that time understood a threat to their clans. It was done apart from an American declaration of war and was re-affirmed in World War Two as no peace had been negotiated with the Iroquois following Germany’s defeat. Those are acts of unconquered nations. Today, such independent action is often seen as nostalgic, not strategic. Our leaders need to carry our voices beyond the boardroom of the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Gaming Association. We must reach the world with our words, actions, and economic opportunities. We cannot float like a ship in a bottle any longer.
If the United Nations cannot reach beyond their New York-based headquarters leash tether, then it should be done progressively by Native nations worldwide who should come together in global union, chaired and led by Native members in unvarnished solidarity with each other. All for one and one for all really counts there.
Planning for the future should be taught in all schools, Native or otherwise. Due to the neglect of the American educational system to address this critical topic, the problems of tomorrow exceed the scope of the political solutions of today. Despite the short hours available with their students, teachers must be given a mandate to instruct equally between the past and the future. Such mindsets are better able to solve immutable problems like Indian legal title to the continental United States.
I offer my best wishes to Donald Trump as the 45th American President. I forgive him for slurring my fellow St. Regis Mohawk tribal members in the 1990s because they legally sought high-stakes gaming near New York City that came into potential competitive conflict with his Atlantic City casino holdings. Despite being born elsewhere, I came to the Akwesasne Territory in 2005 specifically for the opportunity to work at such a compelling location, which never came to be. You could say that I have given Donald Trump a lot of thought over the years. Inauguration Day 2017 brought those thoughts home indeed.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.