Indian country for the young


A young Native person today, grounded in community, culture and membership, can find sufficient support to master a skill or profession and achieve a life of success. It was not always so but yet it can be so today. Not that achievement is easy today (it never has been easy), but it is becoming a reality in many parts of the country that Indian tribal economies are growing at a rapid pace and can support and encourage young Indian people to excel in higher training and higher education and go into useful careers. This is the promise of the present tribal economic revolution, to open space for young Indian professionals to start and excel in careers useful to Indian country.

Not long ago, during a meeting with a group of American Indian teenagers, we were asked to define Indian country. Beyond the strictly legal definition of the term and the context of trust responsibility, thinking instead of state and federal recognition of tribal nations and their reservations and territories, the young people wondered how they fit in. "We are so few and our politics are so divided," one complained.

We asked them to consider this much. They are part of a new generation of Native young people - in their case, Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga and Oneida - that by recent experience and ancient history can feel themselves situated within a much wider circle of tribes and tribal peoples (American Indian nations) communities, enterprises and programs, all of whom share layers of culture, relations and history and which are these days getting closer and closer in their mutual recognition of goals and objectives.

Native strategic leadership circles build beyond one's particular community to concentric circles of extension. Beyond the first circle of family, clan and specific nation, all Native communities and cultures share a pathway back to other tribes, confederations of tribes and neighborly relations, that can and does form the basis of an extended Indian world. Thus the associations of Native governments, the many engaged law offices, the various financial and management partners, the huge growth of tribal enterprises, the outreach of the Native media, the dispersed and broad range of NGO or non-profit projects that work in Native communities, the international networks and associations, the many schools and culture centers and clinics and other health and healing institutions. This is quite a world.

In higher education, there are dozens of tribal colleges and university Native programs ready to assist an ambitious Native student. There is no perfection in any of this, and many still find it too hard to get there, but the proverbial hand is indeed extended, and increasing numbers of Native young people are taking this challenge seriously. They take it seriously as individuals and as the challenge of their professional and productive lives, and they also carry commitments to serve the betterment of their own communities - a phenomenon of high caliber among Native college students.

Perhaps it is not so much a question of "us and them," as it is a question of strengthening the many layers that are needed to make up a people, a confederation of peoples, of communities, of discourse and discussion among extended relatives, which constitute the myriad interwoven realities of Indian country.

We partnered with Cornell University a couple of years ago on a publishing project called, "American Indian Millennium," which gathered Native voices on personal and spiritual life trajectories. One voice and chapter belonged to medical student Michael Arredondo. Recently it was requested as a reprint for a college textbook. As a Shawnee member, Arredondo echoed the consciousness expressed by all of the young Native people we met during the Millennium process - he saw his professional track of personal and professional development very much as a way of helping his own tribe and other Native peoples. Arredondo shared his own story of a poor boy whose perseverance has been the key in achieving educational and professional goals.

Arredondo's message to "those that are yet to come, not to be self-serving. To pick that most difficult path to come back and help your own, and serve your own. To be proud of who you are. Be proud of being an Indian and where you come from ?"

Hope for Indian country in our opinion is spelled out in the faces of the young Native people who are at this moment striving to achieve their educational and career goals. This is a generation that would carry our communities beyond the factional fights of families and leaders and to the consciousness of the overall strategy of legal and physical defense of the tribal rights. The Native world will be secured by the young people of the tribes, learning of and from the world and coming back to help the bases be completely strong again. Tribes are challenged always to incorporate and train their young to productive careers and positions of creative endeavor on behalf of their home communities, the regional Indian realities and the national and international extensions of Indian country and hemisphere of the Native Americas.

To young Native people, we say: remember your roots always and always remember too that you are part of a larger and larger world. Millions and millions of indigenous peoples of the Americas are relatives. Tupac Amaru, Peruvian Indian leader of the 18th century, as Spanish soldiers set to "quarter" him by tying powerful horses to each of his limbs, shouted, "Kill me, I will return as millions."

Executive editor Tim Johnson encouraged Indian leaders recently to "engage in a thinking about Indian country predicated on the idea that American Indians, our families, peoples and nations, hold things in common, principles of community and tribal ways, along with many jurisdictional matters to defend. These are concerns that deserve the clearest of thinking ? The widest reporting and deepest debate are exactly the recipe to establishing the kind of 'solutions-oriented' discussions that make achievement possible."

In this season of renewal, it's our message to the young people of Indian country.