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Dispel myths in deciding how best to deal with tribes

Published September 20, 2004

By Lee Matchett, Guest columnist

Indians are being manipulated continually.

They are being told from the time they are born that they are inferior, weak-minded, that they can't survive without special and constant cradle-to-grave support from the U.S. Government.

They are kept in this state of incapability by being told lies about how they came to be in this condition - lies no doubt perpetrated by those who wish to take advantage of the resulting conditions - namely, greedy people wanting to gain personal success through Indian money or Indian votes (same thing, ultimately).

When you are told all your life that you and your ancestors have been mistreated, and due to that mistreatment you have very little chance of making anything of yourself, or of successfully competing in the "white man's world," you quite understandably grow up with a chip on your shoulder. You grow up with an overriding distaste for your lot in life. You grow up feeling that because of something that happened in the past, your fate is sealed and the world at large "owes you." That, by anyone's assessment, is a formula for failure - a sort of life-long self-fulfilling prophecy.

I say it's time someone exposed the truth and dispelled these lies. It's time someone laid reality on the table for all to see:

The basic lie all Indians seem to believe goes something like this: "The white man stole all our land."

That creates the predictable emotional response that has defined what being Indian means today. But let's examine this premise: in order for something to be stolen, it has to first be "owned."

Ownership was not a typical Indian tribal concept. Prior to European influence, America was a place where tribes occupied land through armed defense. Defense from whom? Defense from other tribes.

For thousands of years one tribe would forcibly replace another in a desirable area, often with much killing and rape and unthinkable mistreatment of the displaced tribe.

There were hundreds of separate tribes, not one big homogeneous happy group of loving earth people - hundreds of totally separate, often warring tribes. Why isn't that fact ever discussed? Well, because if you acknowledge that fact, then you have to acknowledge that it was not "white man" who stole the land. You have to acknowledge that they were not "stealing," and that it was not "our land." You would have to acknowledge it was simply new tribes (Spanish, English, Portuguese, French and others) doing the same thing that had been done for the thousands of years prior - using force to lay claim to property temporarily occupied by other tribes (Cherokee, Apache, Black Foot, Klamath, Modoc and others).

You see, if we accept the reality of what actually happened, it gets hard to feel it was so unfair.

Without that emotional response to leverage from, people who would wish to keep Indians feeling like a separate mistreated group in order to manipulate them would be out of luck. Indians would feel just like anyone else - just as smart, just as capable and just as deserving of success as everyone else.

Let's face it. All of us have ancestors that sometime in history have been forcibly displaced. We are all the same in that regard, no matter how much Indian blood we have or don't have.

There is nothing here to feel bad about - rather, we need to look at what we have now and make the best of it. I mean, consider the alternative to the European tribes having come to America. Would all the Indian tribes really be better off?

By any measure it would be hard to say yes. There would have been many more years of tribe vs. tribe killing. Life expectation would have remained in the 40-year range. Health care would have been limited to superstition mixed with a few herbs. Starvation would have been a real and constant threat.

The unrealistic romantic image we are fed of ancient Indian life does an extreme disservice to Indian people by making them feel they had something better that was "taken away." Hogwash.

Life, today, regardless of how much Indian DNA you have is immeasurably better. We have freedom. We have good health care. We have rule-of-law protection from people mistreating us or stealing our property. We have education. We have the ability, protected by law, to pursue our dreams and become whatever we want. Believing the old lies is what holds us back, not our ancestors' mistreatment.

Let's resist greed. Let's refuse to allow ourselves to be emotionally manipulated any further, regardless of our ancestry (Indian, black, white, Chinese, whatever). No one needs a handout or special privileges to make it - that only has the opposite effect of its purported intentions: to help people. It hurts people. Examine more carefully the motives of those professing to want to "help." Consider more carefully the premises we have always been taught to believe.

Life is good, and we are capable without help.

The author

Lee Matchett has lived in Southern Oregon all of his life, and is a resident of Klamath Falls in the broadband Internet business.






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