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We Are Not Victims: Quechan People, Suicide, and the Redskins

We can solve our own problems without help, or pity, from the poverty pornographers. Let's start with a skate park in California.
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(NOTE: TODAY IS WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY. SUICIDE HAS HAD A DEVASTATING EFFECT ON NATIVE COMMUNITIES. TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE AND LEARNING HOW OUR FAMILIES FEEL ABOUT IT WON’T HURT—IT WILL ONLY HELP. THESE ARE CONVERSATIONS THAT WE DESPERATELY NEED TO HAVE WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES AND OUR FAMILIES. WHEN I SAY "WE NEED TO HAVE," I AM NOT SPEAKING ABSTRACTLY--I MEAN, WE NEED TO SIT DOWN WITH OUR KIDS, OUR SIBLINGS, OUR NEPHEWS AND NIECES AND ASK THEM, HOWEVER AWKWARDLY, WHAT THEY THINK OF SUICIDE, IF THEY'VE EVER CONSIDERED IT, ETC. THESE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS, BUT IT'S MUCH MORE UNCOMFORTABLE TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION AFTER SOME TRAGEDY HAPPENS. LOVE Y’ALL AND LET’S BE POWERFUL AND LISTEN.)

This is a short story about a group of Native people who refused to be victims.

I wrote a story some time ago about “Poverty Porn”—poverty porn is created by people who have a vested interest in pushing the narrative and images that Native people are nothing but victims. Helpless. These clowns pretend that our homelands are these shitty places and that’s all; that they are chosen by God to document and rescue us from them. The Aaron Hueys of the world. The Dan Snyders, who only want to talk about the “more important things” without having any freakin’ clue what those more important things really are. 

RELATED:Don't Believe the Hype: Beyond Poverty Porn, Pain and Drunk Indians

It is called “porn” because it’s excessive. Just like in real porn (or so I hear), yes, those activities actually happen—but it’s exaggerated. Not realistic. In poverty porn, those folks who create those “victim” images try to pretend that dysfunction is the norm with no healthy behaviors to balance it out just like real porn people pretend (or so I hear) that threesomes and little people are the norm. 

Billy Mills speaking at N7 Sports Summit. Photo Credit: Alvina Begay

The point of that story? Native people are not victims. Historically, we couldn’t afford to be victims—blame our environment for being harsh, blame the weather for being cold. It didn’t work. Our ancestors knew that blaming the environment didn’t work, that blaming the weather was stupid. 

Maybe it was the weather’s fault for snowing too damn early. It didn’t matter either way—we still had to feed our families despite the surprise snowstorm. And that prevented our ancestors from ever becoming victims: we still have to feed our families. We still have to survive. 

Motivation. 

Poverty porn and it’s advocates (Huey, Snyder, many more) give the image that when Native people look at the numbers about Native American suicide, they are supposed to get depressed. They are supposed to wonder what they’re supposed to do and throw their hands up in the air—like a victim does—and feel completely powerless to stop it. 

Life happens to them—they cannot control it. 

But in this short story, the Native people—a group of Quechan tribal members—didn’t get depressed. They got organized to understand suicide. They didn’t wonder what they were supposed to do; they developed a plan to prevent suicide. 

Those Quechan tribal members didn’t throw their hands up in the air as if they had no options—no, they put their heads together and decided that they were going to change the situation. No victims. Self-determination. And…they were so self-determinant and STRONG that they didn’t even feel that they had to take any money that was offered to them.

RELATED:"Poverty Porn" Is Manufactured; Stories of Struggle Are Real

OOHHHHH…I didn’t tell you that part of this short story?? See, some condescending and insulting white man named Dan Snyder was willing to help them with their suicide problem IF they were willing to play ball. Lie. Say that the condescending and insulting white man was NOT, in fact, condescending and insulting. Pretend that he likes Native people—some of his best friends are Indian. Pretend that the Redskins name isn’t insulting and pretend that they’re cool with it. 

That’s all that they had to do—play along and that man, Dan Snyder, will give them hush money to prevent suicide within their communities. Just like he did with so many other impoverished Native communities, Dan Snyder came to Kwatsan Media, Inc. (a California incorporated non-profit created by a group of Quechan Tribal Members) and offered them money to build the skate park. (No, not the Quechan Tribe—he came to a group of the Tribal members, because that’s his tactic: divide and conquer. Offer them hush money.) He figured that they were helpless, so of course they would take.

But instead, these Quechan Tribal members were so principled that they said, “We are not going to take this blood money, this hush money. We are going to work to end suicide within our communities AND we are going to do it in a manner consistent with our tribal values: integrity, strength, self-determination. Indian Country will have our back.” 

RELATED:Quechan Skate Park Project Turns Down "Bribe Money" From Redskins

And they did that. These Quechan people refused Dan Snyder’s blood money—that is a matter of fact. Now we need to show that we can do more than simply complain and snipe when Tribes accept that bribe money—we gotta show we will likewise support our people when they show strength.

Self-determination. 

I’m asking ALL of you a favor: Donate SOME amount of money to this skatepark that is dedicated to ending suicides within a Native community. Donate to these strong Natives who had the audacity to refuse Dan Snyder’s blood money. $5... $10... $25... something. Show that we’ll work together. Me? I’m running a race (I hate running) with a crew of Native people and allies to raise money for this. Sponsor me! See ME suffer! 100% of the donations are going directly to the skatepark—no administrative fee, not even any Gatorade. 

100%. I don’t ask for much—I love the support you give me and am thankful for it. Let’s also support our folks.

Let’s work together. We’re not victims. Here’s a way we can help ourselves. PLEASE give at quechanskate.com: $5, $10, whatever…let’s do this. No poverty porn here—these are powerful Native people. 

Billy Mills speaking at N7 Sports Summit. Photo Credit: Alvina Begay

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Dad/Author/Attorney
www.cutbankcreekpress.com
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi