by Guest Contributor Gyasi Ross
Like any ethnic identity discourse, the “Native” conversation is complicated and convoluted. Yet, in the twin pursuit(s) of political correctness and genuine good intentions, most people make good-faith efforts to trudge through the discourse in a respectful manner.
We do the best that we can.
Unfortunately, the singular exception to those good-faith efforts is for the Native people of this continent. When Native people are the topic of discussion, we don’t “do the best we can.” Instead, non-Native people assume that they inherently know about Native people, without listening to the Native voices themselves.
Since the beginning of Native/non-Native interactions, non-Natives have had a racist, dehumanizing and insulting pattern of propping up—irrespective of Native people’s wishes—completely inadequate, improper and many times, illegal leadership to speak on Native people’s behalf. The historical record shows that the leadership that non-Natives (typically the United States government, but also representatives from Dutch, French, British and Spanish invaders as well) typically employed to speak on behalf of their individual Nations were individuals that were not appointed by their Nation. Instead, the invaders/colonizing forces identified and empowered individuals to speak simply because they said what the non-Natives wanted to say, typically in direct opposition to what the majority of Native people actually wanted. Native people protested, but to little avail, as those colonizers needed a justification to achieve their goals—usually the taking of millions of acres of land and resources from Native people—and their propped-up leaders helped accomplish that task. Those “Native leaders” told the narrative that the colonizers wanted to hear, without any approval or consensus from the people that they supposedly represented.
Non-Natives appointed shills, frauds, and hucksters that had zero credibility amongst Native people.
It actually made sense—the European colonizers’ interests was in direct opposition to Native people’s interests; we were their “enemies.” Therefore, in a perceived zero-sum game, enemies do horrible things to accomplish their goals.
Non-Native people’s pattern of propping-up false leaders continues today. Unfortunately, it’s not only the “enemy” that does it anymore.
Indeed, because of a shameful lack of knowledge about Native people, liberals, progressives, racial commentators and educated folk—precisely the people one might reasonably expect to actually do some research to understand Native people better—sometimes do exactly the same thing, as displayed at the recent W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Second Annual America Healing Conference.
And that’s actually kinda worse than when the enemy does it. Continue reading