Our children are our most precious resource. As Lakota people we regularly offer prayers for our children and coming generations to have a better life; thousands of years ago, our Lakota ancestors believed the same about us. Back then, we were the unborn they prayed for to have a good life.
Many of us have experienced some form of stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination or racism as Lakota people. I do believe these are all learned behaviors. Our parents or other primary childhood caregivers are the first teachers we have as human beings. These teachers mold us into who we are today.
I grew up in a two parent home. One parent tended to be a racist while the other parent was more tolerant. So, I learned to be both racist and tolerant, if that makes any sense. I didn’t realize I was racist until I began looking at how I behaved. I have since tried very hard to be more tolerant.
It is not easy to be tolerant today, especially when you are a Lakota living in the red state of South Dakota. It is much easier to be racist because there are so many people living here who behave that way.
Furthermore, I see a lot of prejudice and discrimination directed at our young Lakota people. These feelings sometimes come from our own people! Our young adults are harshly judged by older folks. We often do not give our youngsters the benefit of the doubt or we do not trust them or we bestow negative labels upon them. Sometimes we will do all of these things unconsciously and other times we do it deliberately. Many adults are afraid of our Lakota teenagers and the young people know it! And then we wonder why our young people are the way they are.
There are many stories in the media about the growing incidents of gangs and violence on the Rez. Some stories are complete with graphic pictures depicting horrifying or otherwise negative scenarios. Stories and photographs such as these only serve to increase the racism, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination our young Lakota people are now suffering. Those of us who live here are very much aware of the fact that not all of our young people aspire to be violent gangster types.
I cannot sugar coat the fact that we do have serious problems on the Rez. But I will not write here a long, depressing list of ills our people are subject to. Those of us who have made the choice to remain on the Rez so our children can grow up in their own homelands are already keenly aware of the challenges we all face in our daily struggle to survive. Still, some of us are able to recognize all of the good things which happen every day on the Rez. Many of these bright spots in Rez life which we still enjoy as Lakota people are the direct result of the prayers of our ancestors. Ceremony is powerful, don’t you think?
Also, some of you living on the Rosebud Rez might not think of Mission as a racist town while others would strongly agree with me about the prejudice and discrimination displayed there on a daily basis. After living our entire lives on the Rez we sometimes get used to being treated a certain way by businesses or individuals. Racism can be very subtle; when we tolerate it long enough it sometimes becomes invisible.
I believe much of the racism still present on the Rez stems from the subconscious guilt of many non-Indian people. Their minds are still affected by how their ancestors treated our ancestors. However, I’m sure the racist non-Indian thieves who still live on the Rez would disagree with me. Still, guilt can be transformed into either covert or overt racism, in my opinion. People who deny being racist are usually the ones with the problem!
As Lakota people, many of us have our own stories about what we have experienced when we shop or do other business within our own homelands or in the border towns surrounding our Rez. But what about the prejudice, racism and discrimination we experience from our own Lakota people? For example, the “us against them” mentality is what continues to fuel the ongoing conflict between “half-breeds versus full bloods.”
To me, it’s an obvious form of self-hatred when we must judge one another over some random “certified degree of Indian blood” number generated and recorded in the tribal enrollment office. We perpetuate a conquer and divide mentality when we disdain our own people because they have more or less Lakota blood than we have. We remain right where our real enemy wants us: at each other’s throats over petty enrollment fractions.
It always reminds me of the metaphor we are all familiar with. Put a bunch of crabs in a bucket together and watch how they all keep one another at the bottom. As soon as one makes it near the top to step out of the box, so to speak, he or she is pulled back down by the others. We are stuck, pushing each other around at the bottom of a bucket.
Despite all of this, I still have high hopes for our Lakota people. I pray for the mentality of our people to evolve during my lifetime. I want our Lakota parents and grandparents to model good behavior, including racial tolerance, to their children and grandchildren.
Racism is a learned behavior and I believe it is time to teach our children a better way. I think it would be a miracle if our grandchildren could grow up and live on our Rez without a clue about what the “crabs in a bucket” mentality means. We have many brilliant, respectful and sober young people on the Rez. It is my hope that we will support them in their endeavors to create a better life for themselves and the unborn generations.