Genocide is the systemic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of an entire national, racial, religious, or ethnic group. How do you think you would fare if an entire government with all of its war power and resources was aimed at a target…and the target was you?
Children were legally being removed from households and were shipped away to horrific boarding schools to be domesticated and learn the ways of the majority culture. To this day it has continued to wreak havoc upon the family unit. More than 50% of families on Reservations are non-nuclear and feature single or absentee parents. But guess what? The single parents do the best they can under third-world conditions and if needed, grandparents step up and help out the best that they can. As a result of their genocide, they place a huge value on the family unit to this day.
How about the disparity of health between kids and adults on the reservations as opposed to people off of the reservations? Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, unintentional accidents, addiction, and criminality are multiples above other populations. But guess what? They aren’t paralyzed or don't run away from the problem. There are health initiatives on the Fort Peck Reservation that are available nowhere else. Having a full-time Chiropractor in the school system via HPDP was a first. The Chiropractor did lots of work with nutrition, fitness initiatives, etc. A solar-powered Geodescent greenhouse dome was installed in Poplar. It is used to grow nutritious veggies and plants without pesticides, GMOs, or growth hormones. There have been lots of initiatives for medical care, telemedical care, and telepsychiatry care. The Fort Peck Reservation has health partnerships with major universities like Harvard and Yale, etc.
How about the almost near extinction of the Native language? Part of the genocide’s mission was to strip and rip away the language, customs, and values of Native populations. At Indian Boarding Schools it was forbidden to speak Native language, to dress Native, etc. The punishment was severe. But guess what? By using a Navaho dialect, Natives were able to communicate with each other in code without the enforcers knowing what they were saying. This was how the famous code talkers of WW2 fame saved countless lives: the Germans couldn’t decipher the code. Many reservations are actively preserving their language on recordings and video so they are not lost. They encourage the youth to dance and chant the Native way at celebrations and events.
The genocide observed in this country was admired and copied by a famous dictator called Hitler. He specifically noted in his book, Mien Kempf, that he admired the US for its solution to the Indian (indigenous) problem and contributed to his infamous ‘final solution.’ But guess what? There is a spirituality and celebration of life in Natives that is also present in other cultures (other indigenous cultures, Jewish, etc.) that have felt the wrath of genocide. At their funerals, some of the most haunting, far-reaching words are spoken. How can they be so friendly and helpful after what was done to them?
As difficult as life is on the reservation, the residents on Fort Peck are some of the most generous, kind, gracious people you will ever meet. Their acts of generosity are unparalleled. They give what little they have if they know it’s going toward giving a helping hand to others. They still feel connected to brothers and sisters on and off the reservation, even if those off of the reservation don’t feel that way towards them. That’s the lesson in resiliency that we all need to learn.
For many of us, this pandemic is our first go around with something of this magnitude. Natives have already gone through challenges much worse than this for centuries. They have much wisdom to share with us if we choose to listen. They have been through this and are still here. We have much to learn from them.