Sunday, November 23, 2008
National American Indian Heritage Month
In an editorial this past week, our local weekly paper, The Cape May Star and Wave asked how many of us were aware that November is designated National American Indian Heritage Month. I don't think that number would be very large. The front page carried a story by Jennifer Koff about the Cape May Elementary School honoring Native Americans, citing significant contributions made by the First Americans to "the establishment and growth of the United States".
She goes on to say that in 1915, through the efforts of Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, the endorsement of 24 state governments for a day to honor American Indians was presented to the White House. Nothing much was done about it on a national scale. It was not until 1990 that the month of November was named. In each succeeding year the proclamation has been renewed. But, have you ever heard of it? I haven't. There seems to be no particular interest nor promotion of the idea.
This is really not surprising. Our Native Americans, of whom we should be so proud, have long suffered disgraceful treatment by our government. From the very beginning, with the arrival of Europeans on our shores, the lot of these people has been a shameful part of our history. It still is. Yes, I know about the casinos that have made a select few rich. But the majority of Native Americans, particularly those who have chosen to do so, or who by unfortunate accident of birth, still live on Reservations do not enjoy the basic freedoms and protection of the law that all the rest of us in this country enjoy.
I recently watched a PBS program concerning this. People living on Reservations are deprived of basic human rights and the same protection of the law that we take for granted. It all goes back to the Major Crimes Act of 1885. Yes, that is 1885, and still in force today. It is a strangely convoluted system of "justice" in which tribal police are only permitted to handle relatively minor cases. Anything major, like rape, murder, etc., must go to the F.B.I. and a Federal Prosecutor. And guess what - the investigations are usually shoddy, and the Federal Prosecutor declines to prosecute 65% of cases sent to him. In far too many cases, the Tribal Prosecutors are not even given the courtesy of being informed if and when these cases are declined. Obviously, I am not very well informed in these matters. I am quoting the program, which received most of its information from the Denver Post, who has tried, and I believe still is trying to ferret out the facts and make some kind of sense of it. They stated that no less than 70% of cases of sexual abuse of children have been ignored and the child predators involved remain living in the community, free to do as they please.
"Based on where they live, an entire class of people do not get the same justice the rest of us receive."
Something to think about during this National American Indian Heritage Month, and especially during our Thanksgiving celebration.
Back on February 2nd of this year, I published The Native American Ten Commandments. I think it may be appropriate to republish them with this post.
I found this picture some time ago in Webshots. I know that there are other versions of the commandments. I happen to prefer this one. I doubt that we can ever know which version may be the "original" one, or if there is a single original.
The Earth is our Mother,
care for her
Honor all your relations
Open your heart and soul to the
All life is sacred; treat all
beings with respect
Take from the Earth what is
needed and nothing more
Do what needs to be done for
the good of all
Give constant thanks to the
Great Spirit for each new day
Speak the truth, but only of
the good in others
Follow the rhythms of nature;
rise and retire with the sun
Enjoy life's journey but
leave no tracks
If only we could follow these precepts every day. I guess I'm a dreamer. But, imagine....