Don't Shed Tears for Us Poor Indians

Do you ever get tired of hearing about the plight of the American Redskin? Do you ever get tired of hearing about how pitiful it is to be Native American from our own Native writers, the mainstream American press, and international media outlets? I do. I get pretty sick and tired of it. We’re not all the upset, militant, discomforted, disenchanted, downtrodden people that we’re made out to be. Just don’t make us mad at you.

Last weekend I went home to my hometown powwow in Perkins, Oklahoma – Ioway tribal land. This lazy town on the outskirts of nowhere came alive with Native culture, history and tradition. It’s one of our well-kept secrets that doesn’t need to be commercialized, commodified, or glamorized in any sense of the words. It was just us Indians being Indians in our own way. We showed pride in ourselves to ourselves.

It made me feel good for our people – especially our young ones. There was no investigation of an unknown cause of death for one of our tribal people, or someone being abducted. There was no story involving meth causing our tribal members to feel sorrowful. There was no court case involving racism or prejudice that caused our people to march in protest. There was no mention of the Doctrine of Discovery or the Marshall Trilogy.

We came together to celebrate our past, our present, and our future. It’s a great thing to be Native American in this day and age. I state this for the record. I’m tired of all the newcomers to the bandwagon of the “Native movement” and all of those trying to fit in with the “Native cause” trying to convince those of us who have been here all along that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the way we are treated and our very existence. There’s not.

When I saw all those giant Avatar-looking straight dancers and fancy dancers competing at the Ioway powwow the other night I thought to myself, “Where did these guys come from?” It was an amazing sight – they were larger than life. They must have been about seven feet tall with all their regalia. Am I the only one who is witnessing and documenting this phenomenon?

Okay, back to my main point. Try not to shed too many tears for us poor Indians. We’ll be just fine. We know our history. We know exactly what happened – when we were cheated, how we were cheated, why we were cheated and robbed. Guess what? We will live on despite the injustice, and the racism and the prejudice. No one can defeat our way of life that our elders have provided.

My mother, Bette McKosato (who is enrolled Ioway, but is also of Omaha/Winnebago blood), was honored as the Ioway Tribal Elder of the Year on Friday night. The family all turned out for this tribute. In response, Mom said “I think I’ll try to get it again next year” – (which is a joke because those of us who know about these things know that you can only get this honor once in your lifetime, which falls in line exactly with her sense of humor.

There’s so much more to being American Indian than being unhappy about the way things went down in this country’s history. Our ancestors taught us the right way. They taught us about the importance of our tribal, clan and family relationships. They also taught us how to ornery, so sometimes we don’t do the right thing – even though we know it’s wrong.

There have been floods throughout Oklahoma and the surrounding region for the past month. The devastation has made national headlines and many of my relatives were worried that it might disrupt our proceedings over the weekend. It didn’t. The skies were clear and the breeze was nice. The Heavenly Fathers looked over us and blessed us. The drummers/singers, dancers, elders, everyone was enjoying being Indian – even the non-Indians.

I watched the finals of the competition dances from right alongside the MC stand on Sunday night with my 13-year old son. I explained what the purpose of each dance was and why the dancers – the fancy shawl, the jingle, the Southern buckskin, the men’s fancy, straight dance, traditional, etc. – I tried to explain what was going on from what I’ve been told. In my heart I already knew that he could feel what was going on. It was not about oppression or racism. It was a celebration. It was a night to remember.

Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.