Older American Indians suffered with policies of extermination,
assimilation and allotment of their lands, which effectively gave 95
percent of those lands to "settlers." Modern Indians suffer from policies
such as academic "joint appointments," where they are made to do twice as
much work as their non-jointly appointed colleagues by being expected to be
"members" of a mainstream department as well as be "competent" in American
To be fair, it is true that Indians have other problems, such as a
reluctance to put on suits, nodding their heads in agreement too much, or
being satisfied with putting on cultural dog and pony shows for their
academic lifework. Others associated with "ethnic studies" in this area are
better at that, and at attaching themselves to esoteric debates such as
atheism and intelligent design; and while I would persistently defend the
right of suits to debate whatever they want, it is also of concern to the
American Indian community that it be made clear they not only subscribe to
the idea of a creator, but that they generally prefer to live their
religion rather than debate it.
One unfortunate result is perpetuation of the "vanishing Indian"
stereotype, which is a very real thing, even in this day and age. For
example, there was recently a cadre of very "competent" Indians in local
American Indian studies who are now long gone. And that's too bad, because
when you add up the social, environmental and energy disasters now
seemingly falling from the sky, I can think of nobody more qualified to
help than the disappeared Indians.
American Indians believe that everything has a positive and a negative, a
good and a bad, a light and a dark - including our individual selves. In
order to know the way things are, the very first step is to simply
acknowledge that which is. In the tribal world, it is that which becomes
known by stories that serves as the first line of defense against the
disasters that will inevitably happen, individually and collectively, large
and small: even to administrators and "yes men" (and women).
On this view, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath can be seen as the
horrific natural disaster that it is. It can also be seen, however, as an
agent of change exposing levels of arrogance, elitism and incompetence,
with regard to which many Americans have heretofore been in denial'.
Add Sept. 11, 2001 to Hurricane Katrina, and I am reminded of Art Bell's
alternative broadcasting program of a few years ago entitled "The Hopi
Elders," wherein three Hopi predicted with alarming accuracy the events of
the seven or so years that have passed since the broadcast was aired, and
during which they also predicted that things would get worse, culminating
in a cycle of negativity that would reach its zenith around 2012.
At the same time there is much good and much about which to be hopeful in
the world that surrounds us, which we know to be consistent with the binary
structure of the universe if we have heard the right stories. If we have
heard these stories, we know good is primarily composed of values of
family, community and positive self-identity. By the same stories, we know
that evil is not some entity with horns and a tail, but consists of the
separation and division of family, community and positive self-identity.
On the national level, it would appear that America, via the story telling
of CNN, may have finally discovered the binary nature of the universe
through the illumination of heart-wrenching scenes of family, community,
and positive self-identity being subjected to forces of separation and
And could it be possible that some day soon, we on the local level will
realize the forces of antigovernment, anti-poor and anti-education are the
same forces of separation and division we have now seen on television
(probably the only source we can believe, due to the fact we have also
probably been brainwashed by it)?
While it would not be appropriate to equate too strongly the suffering of
those in Louisiana with those American Indian Studies faculty who have
given their academic lives recently, or of students paying more for less
education or of their parents paying more for less gasoline, it will not
hurt to point out that if there is to be a solution it might well start by
working toward reducing the separation and division that exists in
universities, in parishes, and in all other sectors of this country. In the