Letter to the Settler Community During Hard Times

A chilly, windy, soggy few days. Birds are flocking the feeder.
We participate in a few European-American dominated discussion groups, all of which have now moved online. In each I find that whenever I try to bring Native issues and experience into the conversation I am met with literal silence. Inevitably the conversation is immediately shifted to something else. It appears impossible to place the actions of the present government, and the fears of many group members who identify as liberal, within a historical context. Following our last meeting with a group,  I wrote the following letter to that group. I have made minor changes so that the ext makes sense in this context.

Thank you, Everyone, for last night’s thoughtful, civil conversation. Certainly we live in challenging times.
In many places it is now customary to acknowledge the Indigenous communities who are the caretakers of the land on which a meeting or gathering is held. I want to take a moment to notice that we are all uninvited guests on the traditional, non-seeded lands of the Wampanoag Confederacy, a group of tribes who’s very existence is currently under attack by the federal government.
May I share some thoughts from last evening? I understand your desire to find a viable candidate for president, and I agree that many governors appear to be better candidates that either of the current front runners.  While some governors of both parties have certainly acted with great thought and courage in the present crisis, they have not uniformly done so in regards to the way the virus has impacted Indigenous people. Not only are Native people disproportionately becoming ill, but some states and provinces have withdrawn crucial medical staff from Indigenous jurisdictions. Additionally, Federal support, which is pledged via treaty, has not been forthcoming. At the same time, state and Federal governments have used the crisis to launch renewed attacks on tribal lands, and sovereignty.
As a person who carries both Native and settle culture and genes, I am often bewildered by the shock many express at our county’s current state of affairs. My father used to say that even though he was a lifetime military man, he wanted me never to trust the government, and to be aware that minimal acknowledgement can turn in an instant into genocidal intent. It turns out he was correct.
When we fail to put the events that impact European America into a broad historical context, we inadvertently support the genocidal structures that are the root of law in this country. It is not just us who identify as Native who are impacted, but all people of color. (Right now things are particularly difficult for Asian Americans, especially those of Japanese ancestry.) It is easy, is it not, to become so worried about our privileged that we forget those who do not share it. It is easy to forget that the country is built on slavery, genocide, and the theft of other’s lands and cultures.
There is a pan-Tribal prophesy that says that until the country addresses its genocidal history with Natives, African-Americans, and Hispanic peoples, things will continue to worsen. Perhaps we can now begin to build a vision of a country that owns the suffering on which it is built and is committed to remembering and setting right that which has happened.
Thank you for allowing me to share.
Sadly, while there was an active discussion, no acknowledgement was made of my comments.

9 thoughts on “Letter to the Settler Community During Hard Times

  1. Great letter, Michael. I have been thinking a lot of native peoples of North and South America a lot during this crisis, but from another perspective. They were attacked by illnesses that they knew nothing about and were killing vast numbers of their peoples. I can’t imagine their fear and pain. I am dumbfounded by what you are saying. I am daily amazed by the courage and goodwill of people reaching out to help others, and I am equally amazed by those who are profiteering by the pandemic and are doing hurtful things to others.

    1. Hi Pat,
      Yes, it is a complex experience! I have taken to checking my Twitter account so I can stay up to date with what actual doctors and epidemiologists are saying. I also hear directly from people in the most impacted communities. And there are wonderful stories of people making a real impact. Of course, I have to limit my time on Twitter as most of it is dreadful…..

  2. Your letter is important and wise. We need to be reminded constantly of the danger of listening only to a single story. How can we hope to learn and be open if we refuse to hear anything but our own tales? We need to learn from each other in order for compassion to arise, compassion that will inform our actions and make us wise. I am tired of seeing the same story in the news – the story of the stock market, the economy, the election, the two parties, the spread of virus. The story of humanity and Nature is a broader history, and we need to pay attention to it or we will never glean the lessons we need.

    1. Oh, so true! One of my colleagues insists that the problem is one of human intelligence, that most people simply can’t think complexly. I’m reading “Over Story” which has captured my heart! Such a splendid book about the deep wisdom of the natural world. It is a soothing antidote to human ego.

  3. What you write is so sad and revolting! But I’m not really surprised.
    The people in power only care about us before the election. Then we become ‘negligible quantity’. We are no longer individuals, we become a whole that no longer interests anyone.
    In France, we do not have ‘Natives’, but the authorities lie, make stupid comments and full of contempt. I don’t think I will ever give my attention to these people again. When they think, it is to ‘inflate’ their ego or their wallet.
    I hope you can make your so right voice heard.

    1. Thank you, Colette! I do not think the US has a monopoly on bad behavior. I am disappointed that my mental health oriented professional organizations are so blatantly racist. I doubt I will be able to make my voice heard, even though I have been trying for a long time. Mostly I am just enraged. By the way, I am also tuning out the politicians. I trust none of them.
      Be well and safe in this difficult time.

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