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Speaking for ourselves

I have been thinking a lot about the registration process that exists for Native people recognized by the government. Our system now seems to be backlogged with a process that I question. The entire process of registering with the government to claim our Native rights is one with which I am uncomfortable. I wonder why we have to register with an outside governing entity when we have our own tribal government.

The process of federal recognition puts Native peoples in a position where they can be exploited by outside interests who will only help with the process of federal recognition for an interest in the benefits that such recognition brings casinos and gaming. I don’t understand why a tribe of people who have always been recognized historically and who know who we are must seek the approval of a foreign government. Why can’t we self-govern and decide for ourselves how to claim our rights?

We have our elders who know the history of our people, who know who we are and know the directions our ancestors intended for us. This process of federal recognition and registration takes the power of self-governance from us and enables those who should not be representing us to assume a position of “spokesman” for our people. These spokespersons cast our people in a negative light because they speak without knowledge of our history and current status.

Media and others unknowingly give credibility to these people, allowing them to be interviewed and to speak for their tribes. Often it comes to light later that statements made by these people are false, often through ignorance, however, at this point the damage to a tribe’s credibility is done.

What we need to remember is that tribal nations have their own governing bodies, consisting of elected officials, spiritual leaders and elders. This power of speaking for a people should fall naturally to the elders, who have been educated and tempered in our history, traditions and experience.

At this time, there are too many people speaking for the Wampanoags who don’t know our history, who haven’t been steeped in our traditions. Where are the elders for our people? Where are their voices?

– Ellsworth R. Oakley

Former Supreme Sachem of the Wampanoag Nation

Eskasoni, NS, Canada