Hello dear stranger, I hope you are doing well. If you have a few moments of your time, this article is split into 2 sections: the first being about how Native Americans do not receive their fair share of representation and support compared to other social and world issues, and the second being my personal story as to why I have such a strong sense of empathy and compassion for the them. First and foremost, I am aware that the more apropos term is Indigenous People of North America. However I’m going to refer to them as Native Americans in this article for brevity’s sake. Oh and one last thing: humor and sarcasm are employed throughout.
At the time of this writing (October 2018), most peoples’ attention seems to be on social issues in this order: obsessed with Donald Trump 24/7, then African Americans, then Women, the Environment, and then whatever else, maybe animal welfare and mulch. But rarely do I see anyone talking about Native Americans. Not only that, but I am somewhat taken aback by how much support there is for all these other issues and hardly anything for Native Americans. And on top of that, we act as if African Americans and Women have it so bad here in the U.S. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that there is sexism and racism in the U.S. There’s racism all across the world for one thing, and I don’t think sexism here in the U.S. can compare to how women are treated elsewhere like in the Middle East.
But while African Americans and Women may still have issues here in the U.S., there have been plenty of them in TV sitcoms, blockbuster movies, music (including #1 hits), as comedians, talk show hosts, etc. They have had, and continue to have, a lot of success. Madonna, Oprah, Prince, Bill Cosby, Cher, Snoop Dog, Michael Jordan, NFL Players, and do I really need to go on and on? No, I don’t think so. Not to mention the fact that at my various professional 9-5 jobs I have worked with Blacks, Asians, Indians, and have had more female supervisors and managers than male. Do you know how many Native Americans I have worked with? Zilch. Nada. None.
So, where is that same success, representation and support for our Native American brothers and sisters? Huh? Can anyone tell me that? Why is it every day we’re tweeting about how horrible Trump is, how Black Lives Matter, Feminism this, the Environment that, Animal Rights, Mulch Rights, Amazon is horrible, Where is Half-Life 3, etc., etc. yet you rarely see a blip regarding Native Americans.
- Where’s the Native American sitcom? You know the one where we sit back and laugh at those funny Native Americans and their silly antics that are just as funny as the ones told by whites and blacks! Don’t you want to see some funny Native American stereotypes about how poor and drunk they are while living on the reservation!?
- Where are the Native American lead actors in your favorite romance or super hero action film? What, a Native American can’t hold a lead role as Superman or Batman? We can’t have a Native American as a male leading actor with an Asian female in some kind of new interracial romance we’ve never seen before!? What about a Native American horror film where the U.S. Government forces the Native Americans to walk for days across the country! Wait, I think they already did that one. Actually, the more I think about this, maybe it’s a good thing that Native Americans are not in Hollywood since we know Hollywood is evil. Yes, there have been some movies about Native Americans or with a Native American actor, but you and I both know it’s the exception, not the rule.
- Where are the Native American musicians on the radio and on the Billboard charts? Native American music is not popular. I don’t know why. It’s beautiful. It’s more beautiful than the absolute garbage on the radio (except for any heavy metal / rock music). What about Native American rappers or *shudder* pop stars? Okay, rappers might be a stretch. Maybe Native Americans aren’t into rap. Or are they? I don’t know! I have no idea what Native American kids listen to these days, so you’ll have to forgive me.
- Where are the Native American YouTubers? Well, there actually are some, but let’s be real: when you think of YouTubers, more specifically top and trending YouTubers, I’m pretty sure Native Americans are not on that list. Now granted, it might have something to do with the type of content they produce, but it’s not like Native Americans are prominent in all these other areas (TV, film, etc.) except YouTube.
- Where are the Native American politicians? Actually, I believe we have our first female Native American running for Congress. But still, it only took how long? As much as I dislike government, hopefully this is a good thing for the Native American people. I wonder how long until we have our first Native American president? Would that even happen? Would the American public even allow that to be a possibility!?! Ha! Now that is funnier than any Native American sitcom! Oh and by the way: I voted for Hillary. Not because I had faith in her, but just to see the first woman president. And don’t give me any of that “that’s not how you vote!” crap, because voting and politics are a complete joke anyway. In case you forgot, let Bill Hicks remind you.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you. Scroll through YouTube’s trending, your cable TV listing, all the movies that have ever been released since the dawn of humankind, the Billboard charts, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc., etc., and you are just not going to find that much Native American representation. The only place you’ll find them is on the logos of the Braves and Indians baseball teams, and the Washington Redskins NFL team. Maybe you’ll find a film about a Native American girl, and another film here, but that’s about the extent of it. Let’s face it, there’s just not that much representation.
I am sure there are some Native Americans that don’t want anything to do with American entertainment. Maybe the hardcore Native Americans that are very old school. I don’t know. We’d have to ask them. But knowing how poor Native Americans are, I bet there are a couple that would love to have a shot at the American Dream!
Some juicy Native American facts to make you smile! (courtesy of Wikipedia)
- Highest teen suicide rate of all minorities at 18.5 per 100,000, highest rate of teen pregnancy, highest high school drop-out rate at 54%, lowest per capita income, and unemployment rates between 50% and 90%
- The estimated 2.1 million Native Americans are the most impoverished of all ethnic groups
- According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 1% of Native Americans own and operate a business
Doesn’t that just make you all warm and fuzzy? Look, it’s no joking matter. If we’re going to stand up for all these various social issues and groups, then we need to make sure we include Native Americans in our everyday dialogue and conversations, and not just when it’s convenient like Native American month or Thanksgiving.
Why Do I Empathize So Strongly for Native Americans?
Now for the part where I tell my little story about why I care so much about the Native Americans. Most of my stories, whether here in these articles or in some of my YouTube videos, usually start like this: Once upon a time, back in the early 1970’s, I was raised a middle class Roman Catholic white kid in the mostly-white suburbs of Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia. The stories start out that way because for the first 18 years of my life I lived in a bubble. A perfect bubble. A bubble where all adults could do no wrong, no matter whether they were parents, teachers or politicians. Where all I understood was what school, my parents, and the television fed me. There was no internet. I didn’t have a thirst for philosophy or gaining more knowledge yet. My world view was severely limited. And most importantly: I was young and naive.
The world was black and white: teachers, priests, nuns, lawyers and politicians were good, and criminals were some kind of separate species of “bad people” that you locked away forever. And when it comes to the Native Americans, well… they shared Thanksgiving with us. That’s pretty much what we were taught in school back then. There wasn’t anything about the Trail of Tears, genocide, the U.S. Government’s involvement or what life is like today for them.
I had my troubles, like a lot of kids. Yet despite those, and despite going to catholic school which I strongly disliked at a certain point in my youth, life was good. I had a lot of fun and was a typical kid drunk on fantasy, i.e. consuming video games, cartoons, movies, books, arcade games and everything the adults threw at me to keep me buying and addicted in order make their lives better and wealthier while I struggled to figure out what the hell to do with mine.
But then something happened to me. I left home at 18 and a crack began to form in that perfect bubble. A crack that began to reveal the true world around me. Moving to Center City Philadelphia began to open my eyes up to that new world. For the first time, I encountered everyday people who were gay and lesbian. I even once lived not far from a local LGBTQ bookstore called Giovanni’s Room. I saw homeless people for the first time as well and would see them practically every day on my travels around the city, mostly to and from work.
After having left the city and moving back to the ‘burbs, my bubble was fully shattered with the advent of the internet. This was about my early to mid-30’s. At this time I was growing frustrated with what I was seeing in the world in regards to politics, capitalism, the homeless, etc. It was during this time I also found out about Anarchism. The more I delved into Anarchism, the more it made sense and resonated with me. I even visited an A-Space in Philadelphia, and Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia. I even dragged my wife (girlfriend at the time) with me. I was on a personal quest, a crusade if you will, for knowledge and understanding in order to try and make sense of a society that lacked logic and reason. It was during this time I believe, to the best I can remember, that I became interested in the Native Americans.
As I sit here and type this today, I cannot explain why I am so strongly empathetic and equally fascinated with the Native American people, their history and their culture. I come from a family of European immigrants, so it has nothing to do with my being related to them in any way. As much as I empathize for the homeless, the poor, black people, Hispanics, kids with cancer, adults with down syndrome, people living in squalor in third world countries, etc., etc., it does not compare to how strongly I feel about the Native Americans. I’m not romanticizing them either. While many of the images in my mind are of peaceful and beautiful Native American scenes from photographs, paintings or books when I was young, I know for a fact that some Native American tribes were very violent and brutal, like the Comanche. Still, knowing that that does not deter me nor change how I feel.
As I search my thoughts and feelings, I want to be as authentic here as possible. I do have a strong dislike for the U.S. Government. I’ll get into that in another article I plan to write called “Government: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. But what I feel for the Native Americans is not me projecting my anger for the government onto them. It’s not a case of “Look at me! I support the Native Americans! Screw the U.S. Government!”. I have never done anything to physically help or support Native Americans in my life, except buying the occasional piece of jewelry or book from an independent Native American artist during certain local street festivals. Actually I think that only happened twice. I’ve never gone to any protest in my life, ever, especially regarding Native Americans. I’m not much of an activist. I’ve never had that calling. I prefer observing, thinking, analyzing and then writing essays like this.
One thing I do know that draws me to the Native Americans is their almost Anarchistic way of life. Living off the land. No government. No taxes. No rent. No bills. It was an ideal way of life. Well, almost. I’m sure they struggled to survive. Life was hard. But I can honestly tell you that I would have preferred to have been brought up that way, and not know any better, than to have been brought up in today’s world. If I could have it all back, I would trade my comfort and slavery for hardship and freedom. I love to work, but toiling in today’s society is not work, nor the work I would like to be doing.
The First Book I Read About Native Americans
The first attempt I made at trying to understand what happened to the Native Americans beyond what I was taught in Catholic school as a kid, or more accurately what I wasn’t taught, was during that Anarchism-quest phase of mine during my early 30’s. I purchased a book titled In The Spirit of Crazy Horse which I found at Wooden Shoe Books in Philadelphia. A wonderful and accurate account of a particular incident that took place between the Native Americans and the U.S. Government. The book was so infuriating, filled me with such anger, and was so emotionally heavy and depressing to read, that I couldn’t finish it. Not to mention the fact that I know how “that story” turns out. Meaning, there wasn’t much of a need for me to finish the book knowing what happened to the Native Americans in real life. I got all I needed to know out of the first half of that book. And what I learned was that the U.S. Government we are told is so just and fair, was anything but to the Native Americans. I don’t know if that’s specifically when I first began to strongly empathize for the Native Americans. If it wasn’t, it sure was kindling for the fire.
My Native American Style Flute Obsession
As time went on, my wife and I went about our average American days, working various jobs, getting married, buying a house and having a child. My interest in all things Anarchism and Native American ebbed and flowed like any other concern I have about the homeless, the government, etc. It mostly ebbed though, as having a family and a job are pretty big distractions from everything else going on. And when you do have free time after working all day or on the weekends, it’s spent with family. And what little is left after that would be spent on my own selfish interests. But on occasion I would surf the net regarding news about Anarchism and Native Americans. Mostly just to poke my head out the window and see what’s going on and where things currently stand. It was this time that the second thing happened to me regarding my interest in all things Native American. I felt the desire to purchase some Native American Style flutes.
Now, I was a fan of heavy metal music ever since I was a teenager. I never had any exposure to world music or Native American music until my 30’s and the advent of the internet. I was slowly moving away from being an angst-ridden youth, to being a peaceful yet equally angry adult. At this time I was also searching for a creative outlet to satisfy my creative desires. So I purchased 3 Native American Style flutes and played the heck out of them until the novelty wore off. Now they sit on shelves collecting dust mainly because I don’t have a passion to play them, and I’m limited in how I can play them. I was never much of a musical instrument person to begin with, whether piano or guitar. But for whatever reason, I just had to have the flutes in my life at that time.
The Second Book I Read About Native Americans
About another decade passed, and it was around 2017 when I picked up another book about the Native Americans, The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud. This book has a lot more information and history than the other book I read above. However, just like that other book, I could only get halfway through before putting it down due to getting angry, and of course, knowing how the story ends in real life. This book opened my eyes and I learned some new things regarding the various aspects of the Native Americans. For one, I learned how brutal some Native American tribes were to each other. And of course there were the questionable dealings the U.S. Government had with the Native Americans, to put it nicely.
So that pretty much takes us up to the present moment. I haven’t dabbled or researched extensively into Native American history and culture to where I know all kinds of information about them. That’s not who I am really or the point of my interest in them. I’ve gathered enough knowledge from those books, the internet, various documentaries, and occasionally sticking my head out the window. I’ll have my days, weeks and months where I will not have Native Americans on my mind, but that’s no different than any other issue, like the homeless, world poverty, etc. But then I’ll get in a passionate mode where I’m writing an article like this. Well this is the only article I’ve actually ever written, which is another reason I’ve wanted to write this, to finally put all these thoughts of mine and where I stand on “paper”.
It really is a shame and a tragedy what happened to them and what the U.S. Government did to them. If only we could have worked to coexist and live peacefully. Maybe learning to live like they do, instead of trying to assimilate them. Which is how I believe all humans should be living: off the land and in nature.
In closing, I just like to say that I hope things are turning around and trending upwards for our Native American brothers and sisters that were here on this land first. I don’t know how far they have progressed in terms of their poverty levels and jobs. But they are people too and they deserve as much of the good life as us whites, blacks, asians and indians do here in the U.S. who have it far better, and have so many more opportunities at living privileged, comfortable lives.