Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
The Appalling State Of Our Indian Reservations
Dec 22 2006 1:57PM
Yesterday I had occasion to spend about 15 hours visiting people on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota, and I've got to say that I was pretty shocked by what I saw.
I've spent a lot of time on North Dakota's Indian reservations. I've worked there, visited businesses and restaurants and driven throughout them. I've even been up to a lot of people's houses to deliver things or obtain information, so I've been aware of the poor conditions on the reservations for some time, but never before yesterday have I had the opportunity to have such an intimate look at life on the reservation. I was not impressed with what I saw.
The first thing I noticed was that while I was going around neighborhoods and knocking on doors was that nearly everyone seemed to be at home. Just about every knock received an answer. In a non-reservation community when I go through residential neighborhoods during the day it's hard to find people at home. Everyone is out and busy. Why isn't it like this on the reservation? Probably because in most of North Dakota the unemployment rate is around 3%, while on the Indian reservations it's about 65%.
Which is a sad commentary in and of itself, but rampant unemployment aside the simple reality of the conditions these people are living in is even more amazing. I saw kids playing outside, on a day when the temperature was just below freezing, in shorts and bare feet (though they were wearing parkas). I met people living in homes with broken out windows and nothing but a piece of plywood or some plastic stretched over them to keep out the cold. I saw homes with dozens of abandoned vehicles around them, and took in smells emitting from some of the doors that were opened to me that brought tears to my eyes. Inside the homes I saw mountains of unwashed dishes, mounds of unwashed clothes, overflowing trash cans, walls literally dripping with nicotine from the constant smoking and throughout it all children playing in the reek.
And the people living in these homes were as disappointing as the homes themselves. I met people who were drunk (or high or something) at noon, even as their children played in the road and on the twisted, sharp metal of abandoned cars. I saw a visibly pregnant mother smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. I met a woman who was 29 years old and already a grandmother (to no fewer than three grandchildren) thanks to both her and her daughter's young pregnancies. I met men and women, fathers and mothers, who had spent more of their lives in prison then out of prison. I met entire families whose only source of income seemed to be from stealing or selling drugs plus whatever they got from the government in terms of assistance.
I have heard tales from the notorious slums in places like Los Angeles and New York, but I'm not sure those slums can beat North Dakota's Indian reservations in terms of pure filth and abhorrent living conditions.
So how is this happening in North Dakota? A state that is thriving economically right now? A state where the unemployment rate is so low that employers are practically screaming for workers? I know why it's happening, but not a lot of people are going to want to hear it.
It's happening because of the total failure of the idea embraced by some that the government exists to take care of us. The government has been taking care of North Dakota's Indians, but it's harming them more than it's helping.
Posted by sally on Jan 5 2007 10:52PM — Amazing! What you are describing about ND Reservations is the exception rather than the rule. Yes, no doubt there are those situations such as you describe. However, most do not live in squalor, filth, and substance abuse. Your comments are so generalized that it is no wonder that prejudice thrives! The view you describe is a fish bowl. Have you visited the schools? Where teachers and students work hard and take pride in accomplishments well earned. Have you visited the community college? Where the facility is clean, beautiful and well maintained? Have you visited ALL homes on the reservations? Where home owners/renters take pride in the cleanliness of their homes and themselves? Have you visited the reservation clinic and hospitals? Where there are programs for diabetes, smoking cessation, pre-natal care, and a clean and healthy environment where Native Amercian people can obtain health care? Have you visited Social Services, Law Enforcement, and other agencies serving the reservations? It is not possible to take a snap shot and expect readers to draw a TRUE panoramic view of reservation life. Yes, Native American people have the poverty and abuse of other societies. And, yes, Native American people should EXPECT the US Government to honor those treaties made in exchange for the land taken. Living in a fish bowl does not afford Native American peoples the opportunities of the vast land base the majority population utilizes. I happen to LIVE on a North Dakota Indian Reservation. I am proud of my heritage. I am proud of the successes and accomplishments of my people. I am saddened by material poverty, spiritual poverty, and abuses. As I am proud and/or saddened by the same in all people. Please take a broader view of North Dakota's Reservation life! And, when you see poverty and despair, please contact the North Dakota delegates and share your observations about the poverty here on ND Reservations. God Bless you.
Posted by Gitchi Manitou Equay on Jan 6 2007 12:49PM — Lest we blame the victim for the crime, it is important to remember that it was not Native American peoples who asked to be put on reservations. It was not Native American peoples who invented the welfare system. In it's infinite wisdom, the US Government had to cover the stench of its annilihation policies. Kill the buffalo, starve the Indian. If starving were not enough, it came down to kill the Indian as well. Who is the US Government? You and I and every man and woman in the good ol' US of A. So, if you are not part of the solution, must be you are part of the problem.
What you perceive as laziness and government dependence is generational grief for loss of life and a way of life. And the attitude "just get over it it's history" doesn't wash. How can you judge and have such a strong opinion of a people you've spent and entire 15 HOURS observing? Empathy.....walk a mile in our moccasins. Gitchi Manitou Equay
A correspondent responds
Describing a friend who agreed that the government is hurting rather than helping Indians:
He felt that in any welfare society, where people are not responsible at the very least for their own welfare and at best, the welfare of others, people will die inside.
I think there is some truth to that, but of course it goes much further than that. I think it is a ploy of the gov't to keep economic viability off the reservations in order to force Indians off the rez and assimilate and continue to lose land. If you ask mainstream people why they think Indians are poor, they will blame the victim. If you ask banks in SD to invest in the reservations, they almost always do not. Cecilia Fire Thunder had it right in my mind. She borrowed 38 million dollars from the Potawatomi for economic development. Many tribal leaders were angry at her because it would be difficult to pay back. Her answer was, Who do you want to owe money? The BIA, the Feds or another tribe who almost certainly will not make us give up our land. I think the whole situation of healing from colonization will take a long time to completely resolve, however, the answers must always come from the tribes, not from outsiders who see as that author did, without any depth of understanding the cause, effect, and ultimate future result.
The conditions may be as bad on North Dakota's reservations as this author says. I haven't been there, but I suspect he's emphasizing the negative side and ignoring the positive side.
In any case, North and South Dakota's reservations are the poorest ones in the country. They're unrepresentative of the whole. Try visiting the Pequots and Mohegans in Connecticut or the Agua Calientes, San Manuels, Pechangas, and Morongos in California if you want to see successful reservations.
They all operate under the federal government's reservation system, so what's the difference? Obviously, the latter tribes have a source of jobs: gaming. If a casino or another big business opened near North Dakota's reservations, they too would prosper.
In short, you can't draw any conclusions about the reservation system from the worst cases. That would be like saying America's capitalist system doesn't work because poverty persists in urban and rural areas. Clearly it does work when the conditions are right. So do Indian reservations.
The author's final paragraph is an example of Indians as Welfare Recipients. It's stereotypical.
Dorreen Yellow Bird
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2007
In my travels around the country, the one place I always return to is White Shield, N.D., my homeland. It is a placed reserved for the Sahnish (Arikara) people after millions of acres around us were usurped by the federal government. We have a special connection to this land not only because of historic ownership, but also because it's the final resting place of our ancestors.
I say this about reservations and homelands in response to the controversy about blogger Rob Port of Minot and his essay, "The Appalling State of North Dakota Indian Reservations" ("Blogger banned," Page 1A, May 16).
Stop blogging, Rob Port, until you have some facts.
The 15 hours Port spent on the Turtle Mountain reservation gave him a lopsided view of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Port gathered a whole group of people into one bundle, tied a dirty, lazy knot around them and tossed them into the national spotlight.
First (and as I'm sure Port will appreciate), the Turtle Mountain band does have problems, and many of its members agree. But here is what Port failed to see on the reservation.
In about the 1960s, American Indian people and especially those from Turtle Mountain began coming to universities. The door was opened, and they were encouraged to walk through.
They were pioneers. Some of them include Dr. Lionel Demontigny, the tribe's first medical doctor and Dr. David Delorme, its first Ph.D. Today, the list of medical doctors includes Laurie Gourneau, Lisa Erdrich, Rodney and Richard Larson, Janice Wallette, Paula Bercier, Vernon Azure, Penny Wilkie and Adrienne Lavendure. Others in the medical field include Darrell Crissler, optometrist, and Danny Gooden, Allen Belgarde and Cheryl Crissler, pharmacists.
Among the tribe's Ph.D. holders are Tammy Jollie-Trottier, Leigh Jeanotte, Viola LaFontaine, Gerald "Carty" Monette, Loretta Delong, Shelly Peltier, Ramona Klein, Denise Lajimodierre, Angie Azure-LaRocque, W. Larry Belgarde, Duane Schindler, Jim Davis, Bill Gourneau, Heid Erdrich, Virginia Allery, Paul Dauphinais, Donna Brown, Lavonne Fox, Betsy Laverdure, Jeff Hamley, Joan LaFrance, Dwight Gourneau and Carol Davis.
Tribal members who are lawyers include Jerilyn DeCoteau, Roxanne LaVallie, Richard Monette, Jeff Davis, Bernice Delorme, Eugene Delorme, Monique Vondall and Jan Morley. Louise Erdrich and Duane Champaigne are nationally known writers; there also are six engineers and one architect.
There are more than 400 people working on the reservation who have bachelors degrees and about 200 with masters degrees, according to a survey taken by the Turtle Mountain Community College.
Are tribal members able to handle money and business? Turtle Mountain has one of the few tribally owned major grocery stores as well as LaDot's convenience store and some hotels and businesses. Then there is James Laducer, a tribal member whose Laducer & Associates Inc., of Mandan, N.D., employs 275 people, making it one of the biggest privately owned American Indian businesses in the country.
In other words, when the floodgates open for the Chippewa people, they jumped into the roaring water and swam upstream, bringing many of their people along with them.
Those a few of the success stories at Turtle Mountain. These names were assembled to suggest the growth of the Turtle Mountain people in the last 40 years. This growth that is staggering when you think of the historic roadblocks that tribal members worked around and the current bigotry they face.
Members return to the reservation, as one professional said, because they feel safe from racism there and can practice their culture without worrying what someone might say about them.
So, Indian people should be grateful for being given such opportunities, Port might suggest. But remember: No one has given Indian people anything. We paid — with our lives, the lives of tens of millions who were killed by diseases brought over by Europeans and bilked out of a whole country. The U.S. government supposedly compensated us, but did so with inferior housing, health services and so on.
By the way, Port forgot to mention the farm payments mailed from Washington to local farmers (most of them non-Indian), as well as the educational grants that are given to college students — non-Indian and Indian college students alike.
Yet, it wasn't so much the loss of land as it was the loss of our children, who were taken and put in faraway boarding schools to be turned into white people. Whites took the tribes' soul, language and culture.
Put the moccasin on the other foot, Rob Port. Wouldn't that make you a little cranky, too?
Unfortunately, the issue that Port and the pundits now have latched onto is the banishment, which has about as much teeth as a 99-year-old grandfather. It's more of a symbolic move now. For hundreds of years, banishment was the system that worked for Indian people. There were no long court hearings where the richest person could get the best lawyer and the best deal. Instead, it was an agreement — a consensus of the people and the wise elders who ruled.
The tribe is violating his right to free speech and free press, Port claims. But really, now. For someone with no voice, he is whining pretty loud. The Herald, the Turtle Mountain Star, the Minot Daily News and the tribal newspaper, the Turtle Mountain Times, are among the many newspapers publishing his copy. He has had lots of Internet and talk-radio attention, too.
With his blog on "Pause" and while consulting some resources about history, Port should sit down and think about his backhanded bigotry. That way, next time he could paint a more realistic portrait and not just draw a cartoon.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Chippewa responds to North Dakota editorial
Andy Laverdure responds to the North Dakota editorial, "Opportunity for Dialogue Squandered." The editorial followed the Turtle Mountain Chippewa banning Rob Port from tribal land.
Open letter to Tony Bender, president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association
By Andy Laverdure, Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribal member
Your most recent article decrying the banishment action taken by the Turtle Mountain Tribe against Rob Port is off mark. You state that the action "did more to discredit the tribal council than it did to discredit Port." How so?
You misconstrue the intent of the banishment action. If you actually lived on the reservation and witnessed or experienced the hurt and harm caused not only to the tribe itself, but to tribal residents (Indian and non-Indian), you would realize that the banishment action was necessary and appropriate. The action primarily served to bring the issue to the forefront and to spotlight the tribe's disgust at the insult.
The banishment action does not restrict Rob Port's free speech in any way whatsoever. Can you tell me how this is possible? Rob still has his blog site. He still works with Steve Cates and the Dakota Beacon. He still apparently and appallingly has the ears of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
In your article, Mr. Bender, you state "a real opportunity to educate and refute any misconception is being squandered" and that tribal membership should "use this opportunity to tell this story from the perspective of the tribe." You let me know where the story can be told, who should tell the story, and how it should be told.
If the tribe didn't take drastic measure, do you even think anyone in your news world would be showing any interest? Most North Dakota newspapers have always shown distaste for Indian issues. Selected news is usually negative, except for positive input from individuals like Dorreen Yellow Bird at the Grand Forks Herald.
There have been many occasions where tribal people have tried to tell their story, but no one would listen. Who makes the decisions in the state relative to what is newsworthy? Not tribal members, that's for sure.
It may come as a surprise to you, but the US Constitution applies only sporadically to Indian tribes. Tribes have their own laws and have every right to apply those laws as they see fit. In this case, the Turtle Mountain Tribe saw fit to banish Rob Port for the terror he caused to the tribe and the tribe's membership. The article and the ensuing battle that occurred in the sayanythingblog site caused a great deal of consternation and emotional harm to tribal membership. The harm cannot be adequately described, but it was great. No one seems to care about that aspect of this story; after all, those negatively affected are only a bunch of Indians. As I asked before, and will continue to ask, where is the outrage about the article from the non-tribal voices in our state? The article brought shame onto the whole state, not only Indian Reservations.
Indians as welfare recipients
The "outdated" reservation system
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