Native American issues still salient in today’s society
[Dawn Bartley, a 4th-year student at Ohio State University in social
work, works at the OSU Multicultural Center and the Native American
Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO)]
On an unusually warm and sunny day for mid-November, I stood outside
on campus, stack of surveys in hand.
“How much do you know about Native Americans?”
was the title of my
questionnaire, with nine questions varying between past and present
Arming myself with a wide smile and my best attempt at an
engaging demeanor, I wandered through a crowd of students in search
of answers. Purposefully, I chose a broad variety of students as far
as ethnicity and personality were concerned, chasing down the
quintessential OSU T-shirt and jeans, and pierced and tattooed
students as well.
I could sit here and tell you what the 50 people who filled out the
surveys answered wrong or right, but these answers were not nearly
as striking as the verbal responses I received. Students are, in
many ways, the people in closest contact with the heartbeat of
diversity and knowledge. Yet as I told them the reason for the
survey, to access awareness of American-Indian issues, I was
inundated with a flurry of responses before respondents even glanced
at the questions.
“I don’t know anything.”
“I’m not going to get anything right.”
“I know I should know more, but I don’t.”
What was so compelling was not that everyone I talked to that day
did or did not know the answers to my questions, but that there was
an almost universal admittance of lack of knowledge. In such a
cognitive landscape of scarcity, is it any wonder that
misinformation and misconceptions abound?
“So what?” some might say, “What does awareness of Native American
issues do for me, or for anyone else for that matter?” Much more
than you might think.
Why does it help us to be aware of Native American issues? Two
For the same reasons remembering any other atrocity
that humans inflict upon one another is essential. To sweep the past
under the rug, to minimize or rationalize the depths of human
selfishness and ignorance, does a disservice to all.
You can learn your whole life through teachings and triumph, but it
is from our mistakes that the most important and lasting knowledge
is gained. Our mistakes tear away the veil of false ego and show us
who we really are, enabling us to learn with humility.
Yet, as important as the past is, the present is at hand. Why should
we be aware of America’s indigenous populations?
Because they are
still here. At this very moment, some disservice, some ignorant
action, is being perpetrated on native communities through corrupt
government laws established by an uninformed and unknowing majority.
The wrongs committed against the indigenous people of America do not
end with our history books. They continue even today.
Despite all this, hope remains. We as people in a democratic and
capitalist nation tend to forget that it is actually the citizens
and consumers who hold the power. They need us, our votes and our
money. Withholding either on a large enough scale is a way for
people to have their voices heard. Support only those politicians
that work toward collaborative efforts with tribal communities.
Boycott those companies who wreak havoc on Native lands, and
contribute instead to those that work toward the revitalization of
In this way, we can demand the changing of policies and inequity. On
a small scale, there is always something to do, whether it is
writing a congressman or attending a Native American cultural event.
Every step toward understanding is necessary, the modest as well as
So if you too find yourself saying,
“I know I should know more, but I don’t,”
then don’t let it end there. We can ignore the trepidation of
stepping outside of the familiar and challenge ourselves by
expanding our understanding of culture and social issues. There is
more to being a human being than hiding beneath habit and
convention. It is through broadening our view of the horizon that we
can begin to see truth emerge from fiction, and we begin to live a
more genuine existence.
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