There have been several recent deaths on my reservation, and others, of young people in their teens and 20s. The tragedy at Tulalip got me thinking about solutions or, at least, attempts at solutions. I didn’t want to state the question negatively but rather positively. What can we do? What can be done about suicides, homicides, rapes, assaults, gangs, drug trafficking, abuse, neglect, bulling stealing, domestic violence, physical abuse and mental abuse, to name a few?
I think that the "focus" should be on the community and what the community teaches its children "by example” and by instruction. Every reservation has its bad stuff which is very, very visible. But we also have an undercurrent of good that runs under the surface. It needs to run on top. The answer to improving our communities is in our community. Community is not just a place. It can be a people. It has so many connotations in the context of Tribalism. It means belonging and taking ones place in the Tribe and helping others learn their place in the Tribe. Outward manifestations are great but internal manifestations (values by which we conduct ourselves) is the true core.
What is it about the way we are raising our children? (We, meaning tribes in this context, and not just Indian parents.) that he/she would turn to violence against others and themselves to settle an issue, an argument or a slight? Why does the choice of intimidation and violence seem to be the first choice and not the last choice?
For sure we know the “bad” that our children see, hear and learn on the reservation, but what aren’t WE teaching them about the good?
It is easy to throw our hands up and say, it’s this age of technology where we seem instantaneously en masse to know what is happening while it happens and allows people to react without any forethought. What can we do to counter-balance all that information on bad things with something good. Is there any good in our communities? Of course there is, but we are not exposing our children to it. I don’t mean just parents and grandparents, I mean “as a community”. What do we teach them about themselves in the context of their native culture, native religion, native language and native standards for the treatment of others? Why do they, in their path of adulthood, choose to pick up the negative things? How do we provide a counter-balance to drinking, drugging, domestic violence, rape, neglect, abuse of children, sexual assault of children, beatings, weapons violence, demeaning behavior to the opposite sex and against people who are “different.” Why is it ok in our communities to bully someone because they are “different”?
I think “community” curriculum can be developed to teach kids and adults for that matter, functional life skills and values they may have missed, for whatever reason. Such things as respect for other. Self-respect, character, compassion, citizenship and social responsibility, social skills, appropriate behavior/response, standards of behavior, standing up against wrongdoing, work ethic and inclusion rather than exclusion. If parents won't teach it or can’t set a good example because they had no example, the Community, including the schools, has to do it.
It's never too late to change lives, especially our own. It is us the Indian community, that is sick and not just our kids or drugging and drinking adults who don't parent. Did they have good examples to follow? The biggest message that sticks in the minds of Indian Children is that they are not of worth and their culture is not of worth because, if they were, someone would have taken the time to show them who they are in the context of their Indian existence. That is done though culture and language and native spirituality. We have much diversity of culture and language in the context of our individual tribes, but we also have core “values” that are pretty much the same across the board. We can’t complain that our kids look elsewhere for values if we don’t teach them our positive values.
Harold Monteau is a Chippewa Cree Attorney, Indian Country Economic Development Consultant and Tribal Nationhood Advocate living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.