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Yav Pa Irahiv: Happy New Year

Yav Pa Irihiv-Happy New Year in the Karuk language. Our new year is at the dark of the moon in September to coincide with our Pikyavish or World Renewal ceremonies. Our Tribe, like many, has a lunar calendar with 13 months. Jewish people have a 13-month calendar as well. This is convenient since Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, is on the dark of the moon in September so I can look at any calendar and know exactly when Pikyavish is.

The New Year comes to Natives with many challenges. It is sad that we are still fighting the same fights. Mascots, headdresses and long hair—oh my. Are we making progress? I hope so.

I ended last school year working on a case to allow American Indian students to wear feathers as they graduated. The school actually asked one of the students to be a class speaker and they wanted it in his language that he is studying. But they would not allow him to wear the feathers he earned. Fortunately due to potential media pressure, legal issues and the phone calls and emails of you all (if you took the time to do it as requested by the family through me), the students wore their feathers.

This school year opened with the news that a kindergartener in Texas was denied access to his classroom because his hair was long. Things never change. I wear my hair long because a baseball coach once told me, when my hair came all the way down too the top of my ears, "I ain’t coaching no wild savages, cut yer hair.” Well he just cemented a loss of profit to my barber.

We must still fight the social problems and diseases that plague our communities confronted by poverty and a loss of connection to our Tribal cultures. We need to reconnect with the traditions, rituals and language that make us who we are. We need to pass all of this on to our children.

Preserving our language is probably the single most important issue facing Native people. I often paraphrase someone who I cannot remember, “If you don’t speak your language your no longer Indian your are a descendant of Indians.” That is a harsh slap to the face. Maybe Shan Davis a Karuk Language teacher who has passed on said it more gently, “Language is a beautiful thing. When a people loses its language, then it loses almost everything.”

We must keep alert to the efforts to reduce Tribal Sovereignty. Cases like baby Veronica remind us that we have to be diligent in protecting Native rights. We must hold the US Government responsible for upholding the Treaty, Trust and moral responsibilities to all Native Nations.

We mourn the passing of each elder, knowing that we have lost a piece of our history, our language, ourselves. But we can rejoice at the birth of another baby. They are our future leaders. We need to raise them to be strong, politically aware and involved, and culturally and linguistically grounded.

We must keep working to stimulate economies on reservations and Native communities that face massive unemployment, low educational achievement levels and little personal growth opportunities, and we must hold the United States government to their treaty, trust and moral obligations to American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians. Billions of dollars are going overseas or economic aid, we need to look at the problems in our own country first. But none of that is new, seems like we have been battling those problems for over 500 years.

We as Native peoples also have a responsibility. Our tribal councils need to financially support education and language programs and not just give the lip service. Tribes need to stop disenrolling members for reasons of greed. We need to get the help we need to quit drinking and using drugs.

Our future lies in two directions, forwards and backwards. Forward to embrace technology, education and the development that will assist our people. We also need to look backwards to renew our connection to our cultures, our ancestors, our language, our sacred geography, our traditions and rituals so that the world will once again make sense.

Yav Pa Irahiv, make it a better world.

Andre Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California, and hopes for the third San Francisco Giants World Series championship this season.