Monday, July 6, 2015

Native Americans and a True Life Story

In the early 1940s, Nellie was forcefully taken from her family on the Navajo Reservation by Missionaries and placed in an Indian Boarding School.  Nellie's  ten siblings were also placed in the same boarding school.

The children were told to speak English, were punished for speaking in their native tongue. And taught about Christianity. We must not forget the Christianity!  They were also taught how to read, write, some basic math skills, and  most of all, how to do domestic chores like laundry and housekeeping.  The skills from the Reservation, like pottery, weaving, storytelling, healing, and so on were no longer desirable.

At 18, Nellie married Fred, a Navajo man with a similar background,  and soon after bore a son, my husband Alex.  As a young mother, Nellie got educated to be a practical nurse.  She and her Marine Corps husband lived in San Diego where he was stationed at the time of Alex's birth.  After serving in the Corps for 4 years, Fred and his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Fred worked for the City, and Nellie worked at Indian Hospital.

My husband's upbringing was a series of highs and lows because the relationship between his parents was usually turbulent.  Alex's two sisters were born shortly after they moved to Phoenix. A growing family, tight money and oppression linked with some alcohol and anger made for some unhappy times. Eventually, it got bad enough that the marriage ended, increasing the stress on all members of the family.

Alex spent summers on the Navajo Reservation with his family members who lived there.  From a fairly young age, he learned to walk between the two worlds, not as easy a task as one might think.  In the world of Phoenix, he was discriminated against because he was Navajo, and on the Rez, he was considered "an Urban Indian", and disparaged because he was not "Navajo enough" to be like his cousins.

Predictably, Alex got in some teenage trouble and decided to join the Military at a fairly young age.  That may have saved his life.  Most of his childhood friends are either dead or in prison.  A very disproportionately large number of Native Americans join the Military.  When I asked Alex why he thinks that is his response was "We have nowhere else to go.  We can't go back to Europe, to Canada or to South America. This is where our roots are."

I met Alex when he was 22 years old.  It was the night before he was leaving on a Westpac cruise and Alex would be gone for six months.  We exchanged addresses and began a six month friendship through two or three letters a week.  The rest (as they say) is history.

We try to visit the Reservation every couple of years at least.  Alex went alone this time to meet his family and receive a blessing from the Medicine Man.  The Navajo Reservation is a beautiful place.  Alex's family are always thrilled to receive us as visitors.  All of his "Reservation family" have jobs and seem to be enjoying their lives. None of them are wealthy, but they aren't impoverished either.  It's a different and more spiritual world than the one we live in.  The more I learn about the culture, the more I understand why there is a peace and harmony on the Reservation that is missing from many of our lives.



22a) Department of the Interior (DOI) letter, 2011:
The Department of the Interior has a solemn responsibility to uphold the federal government’s unique government-to-government relationship with federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, as provided for by the Constitution of the United States, U.S. treaties and court decisions, presidential executive orders and federal policies and administrative actions.
We recognize that a legacy of injustice and broken promises shapes the history of the federal government’s relationship with the American Indian and Alaska Native people. We are therefore working to turn the page on the federal government’s pattern of neglect of this community and, instead, build a strategy for empowerment that helps the tribal nations forge futures of their own choosing.
To chart this new path, we are restoring the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and these tribal nations because “self-determination,” “sovereignty,” “self-government,” “empowerment,” and “self-reliance” are not abstract concepts. Rather, they are the tools that will enable tribal nations to shape their collective destiny.
This is why Interior is committed to partnering with American Indian and Alaska Native communities to help them prosper by expanding education and employment opportunities for youth and adults, protecting lives and property by strengthening law enforcement, and building strong, sustainable tribal economies....
SOURCE www.doi.gov | PDF

5 comments:

  1. Alex is a good man. I have much admiration and respect for him. We greatly enjoyed meeting him. Thanks for sharing this story.
    When they gov says they're here to help you...think again! The Monacans (Natives of my homeland) aren't even Federally recognized. In fact, the Pamonkey (Pocahontas' people0 just received Federal recognition though everyone has always known the history.

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  2. mikewjattoomanymorningsJuly 6, 2015 at 6:33 PM

    This is a very moving, personal reminiscence, Linda. Beautifully written. More than that, it helps demonstrate how the white man devastated a highly developed, highly functional culture. Yes, the Dine way of life was radically different from the Western European way of life. No, it wasn't worse and it didn't need fixing. I believe the Navajo, like all tribes, have a right to self-determination, including the right not to assimilate into the dominant culture if that's what they choose.

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  3. How sad that so many rich cultural traditions were diluted or destroyed by the missionaries. The arrogance of people who think they know what's best for others continues to amaze me.

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  4. http://ladyfi.wordpress.comJuly 16, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    A sad story of the way the first inhabitants were mistreated.

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  5. Wow, Linda. Beautifully heartbreaking. I love & respect Alex more than ever!

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