Most Americans don’t realize that Indian kids were stripped from their homes (unconstitutionally by the way) and sent away to boarding schools to learn the ways and customs of the white man. While at school, abuse was rampant. They were not allowed to speak their language, or do anything that even resembled their culture and were forced to cut their hair and wear white man clothes including shoes. Infractions of these rules resulted in horrific punishment.
Genocide is a term meaning the systematic extermination of a nation, tribe, or ethnic group. It can include outright murder, imprisonment, torture, or taking away of inalienable rights, but it also includes outlawing customs, rituals and traditions. It leaves Indians with a lack of identity, a lack of self and a profound feeling of homelessness. Many feel ‘ashamed’ of their Indianess. The physical assault on Native Americans is deplorable enough, but the psychological, emotional and apathy shown by Caucasian society has driven the message home for well over 500 years…they are not wanted, recognized or valued in their Native land.
Feeling sorry for the situation that Native Americans find themselves in will not help. For over a decade, LHNC has been rolling up their collective sleeves and getting to work on the solutions, not more well meaning but horribly misguided band aids.
Kenny Smoker, Health Programs Specialist of the Fort Peck Tribe, talks about finding strength through traditional values, culture and the red path. Calling upon the same wisdom that nurtured thousands of years of their ancestors will restore the natural order. All programs that Kenny creates include ‘getting back to traditional values’ while living in the modern world.
Adopting these values, traditions and customs has proven to be extremely beneficial with a society faced with extreme hopelessness. Many well meaning organizations attempt to ‘fix’ the drug and alcohol problems with enforcement, jail, fines, punishment, etc. This has proven to be of limited value. When the loss of identity has been addressed and focused on, the results show steady improvement where there was none before.
Every program brought to the reservation by LHNC has this theme to it. Elders are asked to participate in our events. At the last Fun Day, a group of ‘commando’ landscapers ventured onto the reservation in 95 degree heat to help out elders who had yard work and pickup to accomplish. In the band “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” 2 students practiced for months and joined the band in 4 concerts, including a concert at the jail. Being of service to others in need is starting to spread on the Fort Peck Reservation. In last week’s blog, you read about 5 work release prisoners who helped put on Fun Day for the kids.
Helping kids on the reservation discover their ‘hidden’ abilities and talents is an honor and a pleasure for LHNC. A little help when it’s needed goes a long way.