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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 9/28/07:

It's time for Indians to look to better future, not grim past, Yellowtail says

By GAIL SCHONTZLER Chronicle Staff Writer

It's time for American Indians to stop being victims of a horrific past and start being self-sufficient individuals and entrepreneurs, determined to build a brighter future, Bill Yellowtail told a Bozeman audience Thursday night.

"We Indians have to stop identifying ourselves by our tragedies and start identifying ourselves by our hopes, expectations and successes," he said.

Yellowtail received standing applause from a crowd of about 200 at the Museum of the Rockies, where he gave the 2007 Phyllis Berger Memorial Lecture.

Yellowtail, 59, holds Montana State University's Katz Endowed Chair in Native American studies. Originally from Wyola, the son of a Crow father and Irish mother, he has been a regional Environmental Protection Agency director in the Clinton administration, a Montana state senator, and in 1996 an unsuccessful candidate for Congress.

It is time, Yellowtail said, to return to traditional Indian values of self-sufficiency and of the powerful individual, and time to end 200 years of waiting for the great white father, the church, the U.S. government or even tribal governments to come to the rescue.

* He recounted the ills plaguing Indian country high rates of poverty, infant mortality, teen suicide, obesity and diabetes, and epidemic substance abuse. Of the 33 schools that failed No Child Left Behind tests last year, every one serves principally native students.

The poorest county in the nation is on a South Dakota reservation, and the poorest three counties in Montana all have Indian reservations. Unemployment for all of Montana is 2.8 percent, but in Indian country it soars to 50, 60 or 70 percent.

Yellowtail said it's time to be blunt, not politically correct, and to face difficult truths. Native people have the choice to stick with bleakness and despondency, he said, "or say 'Enough!'"

Some blame history genocide, bigotry, injustice, the white man, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he said.

But, he argued, "Victimhood is even more destructive."

In addition to seeking college training to become teachers and lawyers, native people need to study economics and entrepreneurship, he said.

Yellowtail cited the example of David Anderson, a Chippewa-Choctaw tribal member who founded the successful Famous Dave's BBQ national restaurant chain and later became an assistant secretary of the Interior.

People on the Crow reservation are also showing spirit and ambition and starting their own businesses, he said, and it makes them feel proud.

Some think that individual enterprise is contrary to tribal values of kinship and community, or that it means greed, but it actually means being resourceful, Yellowtail said.

It's imperative that Indian people give themselves permission to pursue education and excellence, to pursue a livelihood outside the reservation community, and yet be welcomed back later, he said.

Yellowtail applauded native schools that have students start each day by shouting out their values: "Integrity! Respect! Justice! Stewardship! Spirituality! Excellence! No excuses! Step up!"

Asked by an audience member about the guilt and shame that white people feel over the historic mistreatment of Indians, Yellowtail said such feelings only promote a sense of victimhood.

"As regrettable as that history might have been," he said, "now it's time to move forward."

Rob's comment
This is another classic case of blaming the victim for the problem.

Does Yellowtail seriously think that people around the world are poor because they're "sticking with bleakness and despondency"? If he has any evidence of this, he hasn't presented it.

Instead, he's presented a false choice between "victimhood" and self-sufficiency. In reality, it's commonplace to blame others for your problems but not to let that blame paralyze you. E.g., "My parents were mean to me but I showed them by graduating from college and getting a good job." There's no reason people can't acknowledge a problem but make progress despite that problem.

Nevertheless, Yellowtail is kidding himself if he thinks every Indian has the ability to be an entrepreneur. I'd guess maybe 5% of the population at most has the business smarts and risk-taking personality needed. The rest don't have that option.

Instead they have a family to take care of...or health problems...or a location lacking in jobs. Or all three. What's the entrepreneurial solution when you're a single mother with three children? Or with a sick grandparent who can't walk? What if you had to drop out of college and the nearest school is 50 miles away? Similarly, what if the nearest job--as a minimum-wage burger flipper--is also 50 miles away?

How does being self-sufficient and an entrepreneur solve these problems? Answer: It doesn't.

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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