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Indian country of America

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Sometimes the "blogs" bring in good information. These online personal journals provide increasing numbers of people with news and discussion on how to perceive and influence their countries and their world. Choosing blogs is like picking fruit in a market: Some are juicy and some are rotten.

One good fruit, "Rhino's" (rhino@kifaru.com) - opinionated and greatly informational - provided this nugget:

"On Monday, March 24, Christian Broadcasting Network's news program CBN reporter Paul Strand, traveling with the Army's Third Infantry Division in Iraq, stated in a dialog with Pat Robertson:

"Everywhere we've gone we have seen artillery ahead of us and then artillery behind and we're getting reports that there's fighting in all of the cities that we've already been through. So I guess if this were the Old West I'd say there are Injuns ahead of us, Injuns behind us, and Injuns on both sides too, so we really don't want to give the enemy any hints about where we are."

Rhino's blog properly titled the piece, "Racist Quote of the Week." Certainly it is offensive. "Injun" is a pretty antiquated and always demeaning way to refer to tribal peoples of North America. Perhaps it is racist as well. But the sense of the quote - how it fixes the historical position of the people Strand refers to as "Injuns" is worth pondering. "Injuns" were (are) the ones belonging to the place being invaded, killed. They were (are) to be defeated, overcome. Native American Vietnam veterans will often recall the use of the term, "Indian country," by American troops when referring to "enemy" territory during that difficult war that saw so many young people die in a far away land.

Arguably, Strand's idea of American Indians is shared by a large piece of the American public. There is even a basis of truth in this way of viewing history. Indian nations were in fact invaded - though not ultimately conquered. They received onto their ancestral lands new populations, many of whom endorsed and carried out tactics of annihilation. The Indians were the enemy of the settlers, but they also, amazingly, survived the settlers, became neighbors to the settlers. As outright annihilation failed as a "final solution," tactics of dispossession followed. The Native tribes sustained huge losses of assets as new states entered the American Union. Often those new state governments assisted the imposed taking of Native lands by new settlers - by right of military might, by right of new and emerging, though always contested, law. Nevertheless, the tribes have survived.

Many would argue that it is from within the fabric of American life that Native nations have survived. Even from a stand of strong sovereign identity, even as they retain jurisdictional rights, many would argue, American Indian nations are part and parcel of the United States. The tribes in their status as original nations - by constitutional definition, by treaties and sovereign relationships, by the accommodations of trust responsibility - have sustained a government-to-government position with the states and with the federal government. Tribes have standing that predates the United States. Even after invasion, even after forced acculturation - by dint of survival and perseverance in the reality of being peoples with distinct histories, languages, cultures and territories - Indian tribal peoples have continued to self-govern. They do so as sovereigns, though, to be clear: for the vast majority of tribal peoples this is done realistically with a full sense of common participation and responsibility in the affairs of the American union. Indian country exists in America. It is not always pitted against America; although it knows the disruptive impacts and many pains - as well as the positives - of living within the American nation state.

Thus it is reprehensible for CBN reporter Strand, or for anyone, to refer to any real or imagined enemy of America as the "Injuns." Indian people - a disproportionate number - are among the service men and women serving in all the branches of the U.S. military and in the Iraq campaign. Like all Americans, Indians hold conflicting opinions and many questions about the War against Iraq. Was this war really necessary? Will this war move us closer to a less violent world or will it just add fuel to the fire of an even worse state of terror? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, with a war on and soldiers from many of our home communities in the battlefield, our main prayer is for all commanders and soldiers to make good decisions. We pray for all our relatives to come home safe. We pray for the leaders to think with their hearts as well as their minds.

These days, it is compelling upon us to remember Private First Class Lori Piestewa. She is the Hopi servicewoman missing in action in the Iraq conflict. A member of the 507th Maintenance Co., Pfc. Piestewa, 23, was deployed last month with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. According to reports, the young Hopi soldier's unit was ambushed March 23 near An Nasiriyah in southwestern Iraq. Piestewa has been missing in action since.

Our prayers, our heartfelt sentiment and respect go out to the family of Pfc. Piestewa, to the Hopi Nation and to the many other tribal nations and families who have loved ones serving in the area of conflict. We hope for you and your relatives a safe return to your homes and communities.