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Shortman – ‘Breaking the culture of silence’ -Yellow Bird article welcomed

I would like to begin by thanking Michael Yellow Bird for his courage in publishing his article regarding America Indians’ lack of moral questioning on our role in America’s wars. This is the result of the culture of silence that is predominant in Native America.

We are afraid to speak out due to our failure to recognize silence as being one of the symptoms of colonization and oppression. Since our forced settlements onto reservation lands and the adoption of a Western model of governance, we have failed to recognize that we have adopted the behaviors and attitudes of our oppressors.

In the current war in the Middle East, Israel invaded Lebanon at the encouragement of the United States. It was believed that this would be a fast and easy operation to crush Hezbollah, which is deemed to be a terrorist movement. Hezbollah proved everyone wrong. Our similarities with Hamas and Hezbollah are more than skin color. We have both been forced into situations that are not conducive to our well-being, be it starvation (i.e. withholding funds to the Palestinian Authority), the duly elected branch of government (democracy) and the forced adoption of a foreign governmental model. This similar to the past practices of the United States in its historical dealings with Indian nations. They withheld rations, encouraged tribal nations to adopt a foreign government (IRA) and forced placement on lands that are unable to support a large mass of people. These types of environments will continue to breed hostility within future generations of people occupied by an oppressive government.

In a recent article printed in the Great Falls Tribune, a reporter interviewed an Israeli paratrooper who described his face-to-face combat with Hezbollah warriors. He stated that Hezbollah was determined and that many Israelis were killed and wounded. In fact, they were chased back south. I believe that the warriors of both sides deserved to be awarded their respective honors, similar to American Indians and our eagle feathers. Face-to-face combat is the warrior way. The families of both sides will be in mourning for a long time. My family and ancestors have mourned for at least a year and many times longer. This particular article interested me because my great-great-grandfather was shot off of his horse near the U.S./Canada border in hostile engagements with the enemy. My ancestors went back at night to find his body, only to find that it was gone. As a combat veteran I know that many Middle Eastern warriors and their families are unaccounted for.

For the past month I have been to our local pow wows and have made an effort to observe the grand entries. I have never seen so many eagle feathers adorned by both local and visiting dancers, both male and female. My initial reaction is that our tribal nations have produced many warriors or enemy killers. I questioned my aunt, an elder, how youthful dancers of both genders have earned the right to adorn themselves with precious eagle feathers? An argument will be made that they have earned them in one way or another. That is for each individual tribal nation to determine.

There have always historically been wars and there always will be. For purely economic reasons, the enemies of the potential colonizers have always been people of color who prefer to maintain their lifestyle and lands. It should be noted that forced democracy is not for everybody. Our announcers continually say that our warriors are protecting our land and traditional way of life. They fail to realize that historically in most tribal nations, we were socialists and not capitalists. In most tribal nations of the greater northern Plains, the only capitalists are those with money – which are few in number. The socialists are the majority of the poor people who share with each other. What traditional lifestyle are our young warriors protecting? To me, it is Haliburton and the millions that have been embezzled, not excluding other contractors of whom are unable to account for those tens of million of dollars that have been displaced.

The continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costly to Native America. We continue to exist on the meager remains of an illegal war while the rich get richer and the poor more poor. Many Native schools are in need of replacement or repair, the health care costs have increased with funds based on past year’s needs, and the budget for Native America has been decreased. Yet, we obviously continue to support the tenets of the Bush administration. There appears to be something wrong here. Many young people go to war because of their desire to earn eagle feathers. Oral tradition remains strong in many communities. Others go because of a lack of economic opportunities on America Indian lands. We should remind ourselves that every defeated nation has been financially rebuilt with the exception of Native nations in spite of our participation in the illegal wars of the past 40 years.

Clearly, Yellow Bird will be an individual of controversy and attack from individuals who are colonized and support the war in the Middle East. To me, he has allowed an avenue for individuals who were afraid to speak out to express our feelings. His research of this topic provides an admirable, albeit personal, perspective. His forthcoming should allow for tribal leaders to address these issues. More importantly, I believe that his critical essay allows for tribal members at large to develop a discourse to explore. But as tribal nations, we must become more involved in the international political arena and use this opportunity as a springboard to support our brothers and sisters in war-torn areas in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

<i>Phillip Shortman is a Vietnam veteran and Legion of Valor member from Hays, Mont.