The purpose of this post is to illuminate the contributions of Native Americans—present and past—to the art form we love: Jazz. This is an important subject that has not been given adequate attention in the published jazz histories we are most familiar with. Yet, as the sources below make evident, these contributions have been authoritatively documented. Inclusiveness is an important measure of the vitality and resilience of any art form, most especially jazz. Acknowledging the contributions of Native Americans to this art form is long overdue.
There still exists a largely invisible story of America—how African and Native peoples came together across space and time to create shared histories, communities, and ways of life. Through centuries of struggle, slavery, and dispossession, then by self-determination and freedom, African American and Native American peoples have become, more often than publicly recognized, indivisible.
—Gabrielle Tayac (Piscataway), IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas
I challenge the expectation that Native American cultures are static and exist authentically only in their past histories…This is not to say that a connection to and respect for the past are not important; it is, however, to recognize that a connection to the past must serve the needs of Native American musicians and their communities in the present moment as they work toward a shared future.
—John-Carlos Perea, Intertribal Native American Music in the United States: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, pg. 2.
I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.
—Goyathlay (“Geronimo”) (Apache)
Wherever artistic expression flourishes freely, there are no enclosures and no barriers to the artist’s vision.
The following lists of current and deceased artists of Native American ancestry are based on the sources listed below and will likely expand as new information comes to light:
- Cassity, Sharel (Cherokee) – video
- Davoy, Napua (Cherokee/Choctaw/Hawaiian/Chinese) – video video
- Keefe, Julia (Nez Perce) – video
- Lake, Meschiya (Haida) – video
- Littlefield, Ed (Tlingit) – audio
- Mantilla, Ray (Taino) – audio
- Mixashawn (Lee Rozie) (Mahican/Mohawk/Cherokee) – based in CT – video interview
- Parker, Ashlin (Cherokee)
- Parker, William (Diné) – audio
- Perea, John-Carlos (Mescalero Apache/Irish/German/Chicano) – Creation Story – Prayer – Improvising Home
- Pura Fé (Taino/Tuscarora, Deer Clan) – video – interview
- Rozie, Rick (Mahican/Mohawk/Cherokee) – based in CT – audio
- Smith, Keely (Cherokee) – video
- Starr, Kay (Iroquois/Irish) – Columbia Records’ highest-paid artist in the 1950s – audio
- Terrason, Jackie (Métis) – video
- Turré, Steve (Aztec) – video
- Bailey, Mildred (Coeur d’Alene/Irish) (1903-1951) – first female big band vocalist – “Rockin’ Chair” (1937)
- Blanton, Jimmy (Cherokee) (1918-1942) – audio
- Breau, Lenny (Cree/Métis) (1941-1984) – video
- Cheatham, Adolphus “Doc” (Cherokee/Choctaw) (1905-1997) – video
- Cherry, Don (Choctaw) (1936-1995) – video
- Eleazer, “Tiny” Joe (Mashantucket Pequot) (1934-2011) – based in CT – video
- Escovedo, Coke (Chicano) (1941-1986) – video
- Evans, Herschel (1909-1939) – audio
- Hampton, Lionel (Cherokee) (1908-2002) – video
- Horne, Lena (Haudenosaunee) (1917-2010) – video
- Moore, Russell “Big Chief” (Akimel O’odham) (1912-1983) – audio bio
- Ory, Edward “Kid” (Cherokee) (1886-1973) – video
- Parker, Charlie (Choctaw/Cherokee) (1920-1955) – audio – Charlie Parker Story
- Pepper, Jim (Kaw/Creek) (1941-1992) – composed and recorded “Witchi Tai To“
- Pettiford, Oscar (Cherokee/Choctaw) (1922-1960) – audio
- Pullen, Don (1941-1995) – video – Sacred Common Ground (last work)
- Teagarden, Jack (Cherokee) (1905-1964) – video
- Whiteface, Frederick (Lakota) (1922-2002)
- Wiley, Lee (Cherokee) (1908-1975) – audio
“Grammy Awards Axe Native American Category” (Vincent Schilling, Indian Country Today, April 25, 2011)
Johnson, Janis. “Performing Indianness and Excellence: Nez Perce Jazz Bands of the Twentieth Century.” In American Indian Performing Arts: Critical Directions, edited by Hanay Geiogamah and Jaye T. Darby. Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2010.
Elaine Keillor, Tim Archambault, John M. H. Kelly. Encyclopedia of Native American Music of North America. 2013.
O’Connell, Cathleen. Sousa on the Rez: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum. DVD. Lincoln, NE: Visionmaker Media, 2012.
Perea, John-Carlos. Intertribal Native American Music in the United States: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
-“The Unexpectedness of Jim Pepper.” MUSICultures 39 (1, Special Issue: Indigenous Modernities): 70-82, 2012.
Stiegler, Morgan. The African Experience on American Shores: Influence of Native American Contact on the Development of Jazz, 2009. (Masters thesis, online)
Troutman, John W. 2009. Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
Welburn, Ron. “Native Americans in Jazz, Blues, and Popular Music.” In indiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas, edited by Gabrielle Tayac. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of the American Indian, 2009. http://youtu.be/Id_iMjRJUJ0 (2:59:18 – video on exhibition)
Wright-McLeod, Brian. The Encyclopedia of Native Music: More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet, 2005.
I am indebted to John-Carlos Perea (musician, educator and scholar) for suggesting most of the resources listed above and for his guidance and encouragement throughout.
These resources are intended to situate Native American jazz in a larger historical and spiritual context—revealing extraordinary endurance and resilience—and resistance—in the face of relentless, merciless, lethal and asymmetric hegemonic forces:
But the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.
—Chief Luther Standing Bear (Ota Kte) (Lakota). Land of the Spotted Eagle. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1978, pg. 197.
History suggests that if mankind is to survive, the next five hundred years must be rooted in the pre-Columbian ethic of the Native American…The continuation of the past, the conqueror’s exploitation of the earth, can mean only one thing. No one, Indian or non-Indian, will survive.
—Rennard Strickland (Osage/Cherokee), Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon School of Law
The Great Binding Law (Statement of Manitoba Elders) (November 28, 2015)
Until the most recent blink of human time, Indian tribes exercised territorial sovereignty over nearly all of the land on this continent—two billion acres. Nature was abundant and, for the most part, in a state of remarkable balance. Most tribes affirmatively managed resources to maintain a sustainable existence…Native peoples’ understanding of their traditional role as stewards of the land—a gift from the Creator—was that the Earth should be protected in perpetuity for the sake of future generations.
The occupation of indigenous America reduced tribal lands to four per-cent of aboriginal territory, and tribal jurisdiction receded along with the retreating boundaries. Authority over Nature’s Trust—the land and resources on this continent—accordingly became vested in a new set of trustees: federal and state governments. These new sovereigns had little or no experience managing natural resources. The premise of their management philosophy has been exploitation rather than conservation, and they accordingly opened Native territorial lands to consumption by private interests. A philosophy more diametrically opposed to Native peoples’ stewardship can hardly be imagined.
—Wood, Mary C. and Welcker, Zach, “Tribes as Trustees Again (Part I): The Emerging Tribal Role in the Conservation Trust Movement” (2008). Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol. 32, 2008, pgs. 373-374.
…indigenous peoples in New England lived rich and complex lives before the English and other Europeans arrived. By the time Europeans stumbled on to the eastern seaboard of North America—the Norse around 1,000 and then other Europeans in the late fifteenth century—New England Indians had been forging their own histories and destinies for tens of thousands of years. The Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuc, Pocumtuck, Pequot, Mohegan, Schaghticoke, Paugussett, Niantic, Narragansett, and other indigenous peoples shared closely related Algonquian languages and northeastern woodlands cultures, and their village-based geographies were defined by both alliances cemented through strategic marriage and occasional enmity. Their sociopolitical systems were village-based chieftainships that operated in diplomatic relations with one another. Rather than exerting coercive power, Indian leaders—called sachems in New England—led by persuasion and displays of generosity.
—O’Brien, Jean M. (White Earth Ojibwe). Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, pg. 2-3.
American Indian women had a much better quality of life than their colonial and early federalist white counterparts. They could participate in political meetings and hold political office…Anglo-American women in the United States could not vote before passage of the 36th Amendment in 1920…An indigenous woman could also pursue “careers” such as medical practitioner, trader, and merchant…She owned property and could inherit. In fact, all of a family’s material goods, except for the husband’s clothing and hunting and fishing equipment, belonged to the wife. The indigenous woman also had complete control of her children, who belonged to their mother’s lineage and clan. In neighboring Anglo-American communities, the husband owned and controlled everything in the house, including his wife and children…
Indigenous women were highly regarded as important contributing members to the economic, sociopolitical, and spiritual well-being of their tribal societies. They were always welcomed into a community.
—Lavin, Lucianne. Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013, pgs. 359-360. Preview excerpt in context. Review.
I believe scarcely any thing, short of a Chinese wall, or a line of troops, will restrain Land jobbers, and the encroachment of settlers upon the Indian territory.
—Letter from President George Washington to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, July 1, 1796
In the 1790s, no question was more pressing for the new national government than that of deciding the future status of Indians. In the main, the policy issue could be reduced to this fact: Indians possessed the land, and whites wanted the land. In addressing this dilemma, the early architects of federal Indian policy never doubted that the vast wilderness stretching to the west would one day fall into white hands. It was not simply a matter of greed. On the contrary, the very survival of the republic demanded that Indians be dispossessed of the land. According to prevailing Lockean theory, only a society built upon the broad foundation of private property could guarantee public morality, political independence, and social stability. It followed that the fate of the republic was inextricably linked to an almost endless supply of cheap or free land; and if the nation possessed anything, it possessed an inexhaustible supply of land. Or rather, Indians possessed it. For early policymakers, then, a major priority was the creation of a mechanism and rationale for divesting Indians of their real estate. The matter was an especially delicate one, for although the divestiture of Indian land was essential to the extension of American ideals, that divestiture must also be justified by those same ideals. The problem was a difficult one.
—Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995, pg. 5.
Buffalo were dark rich clouds moving upon the rolling hills and plains of America. And then the flashing steel came upon bone and flesh.
The blood poured into the plains, steaming like breath on winter mornings; the breath rose into the clouds and became the rain and replenishment.
—Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo) from “From Sand Creek: rising in this heart which is our America. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1981, pgs. 10 and 66. Author’s Note: This work is not to be used by anyone else for any purpose without the author’s permission.
Adrian Jawort, “Genocide by Other Means: U.S. Army Slaughtered Buffalo in Plains Indian Wars,” Indian Country Today, September 24, 2017.
State and federal policies, in combination with vigilante violence, played major roles in the near annihilation of California Indians during the first twenty-seven years of US rule. From 1846 to 1873, colonization policies, abductions, diseases, homicides, executions, battles, massacres, institutionalized neglect on federal reservations, and the willful destruction of indigenous villages and their food stores seem to have reduced California Indian numbers by at least 80 percent, from perhaps 150,000 to some 30,000. In less then three decades newcomers—with the support of both the state and federal governments—nearly exterminated California’s Indians (see Table C.1).
… that thousands endured and maintained their traditions is a testament to their tenacious defiance and intelligent survival strategies against overwhelming odds.
…The California Indian catastrophe fits the two-part legal definition set forth in the UN Genocide Convention. First, serious perpetrators demonstrated, in word and deed, their “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such.” Second, at different times a variety of perpetrators committed examples of all five acts of genocide listed in the convention.”Killing members of the group” occurred in more than 370 massacres, as well as in hundreds of smaller killings, individual homicides, and executions. Primary and secondary sources indicate that from 1846 to 1873 individuals, vigilantes, California state militiamen, and US soldiers killed at least 9,492 to 16,094 California Indians, and probably many more. Because primary sources for many incidents did not report a specific number killed on every occasion—instead using vague terms like”several,” ”many,” “a multitude,” or “the whole village”—and because some killings either produced several different death toll estimates or went unreported, we will never know the total number of California Indians killed between 1846 and 1873. By way of contrast, sources indicate that California Indians killed fewer than 1,500 non-Indians during this period.
Other acts of genocide proliferated too. Many rapes and beatings occurred, and these meet the Convention’s definition of “causing serious bodily harm” to victims on the basis of their group identity and with the intent to destroy the group. The sustained military and civilian policy of demolishing California Indian villages and their food stores while driving Indians into inhospitable desert mountain regions amounted to “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Some Office of Indian Affairs employees administering federal Indian reservations in California—which Cook called “concentration camps”—committed the same genocidal crime. Further, because malnutrition and exposure predictably lowered fertility while increasing the number of miscarriages and stillbirths, some state and federal decision makers also appear guilty of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” Finally, the state of California, slave raiders, and federal officials were all involved in “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Three thousand to 4,000 or more California Indian children suffered such forced transfers between 1852 and 1867 alone. By breaking up families and communities, forced removals also constituted “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” In effect, the state legalized abduction and enslavement of Indian minors; slavers exploited indenture laws; federal officials prevented US Army intervention to protect the victims; and in some cases slavers followed in the wake of army campaigns to capture Indian minors for enforced servitude. Sufficient evidence exists to designate the California Indian catastrophe a case of genocide, according to the UN definition.
… Many state and federal government officials, as well as US Army and Office of Indian Affairs personnel, were well aware of what was happening to California Indians between 1846 and 1873. As we have seen, Indian Office officials, US army officers, California militiamen, and other government officials frequently reported massacres and other genocidal acts. Even if officials did not read these government reports, California newspapers reported in detail on the mass murder of California Indians as it happened, frequently invoking terms like extermination, a nineteenth-century equivalent of the word genocide. Moreover, army officers, journalists, Indian Office employees, and concerned citizens frequently warned of the need either to change California Indian policy to protect California Indians or see the state’s Indian population physically exterminated. Others simply urged the latter course. Still, the responsible state and federal officials took few actions to protect California Indians. Far more incriminating than this passivity were the active roles that state and federal officials played in physically destroying California Indians. Beyond the explicit statements of two men who served as state governors, state and federal policymakers tended to express genocidal intent more in deeds than in words.
Elected California officials were the primary architects of annihilation. Legislators created a legal environment in which California Indians had almost no rights, thus granting those who attacked them virtual impunity. Moreover, two governors threatened annihilation, and both governors and elected officials cooperated in building a killing machine. California governors called out or authorized no fewer than twenty-four state militia expeditions against Indians between 1850 and 1861, which killed 1,342 to 1,876 or more California Indian people. State legislators also passed three bills—in 1851, 1852, and 1857—that raised up to $1.51 million to fund these operations, usually ex post facto. By demonstrating that the state would not punish Indian killers, but instead reward them, state militia expeditions inspired an even greater number of vigilante killings. Finally, in 1863, after the US Army supplanted the state militia as the primary state-sponsored Indian-killing force, California legislators passed a bill allowing the state to raise an additional $600,000 to encourage more men to enlist as California Volunteers. Thus, some California officials seem to have been guilty of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide. Yet, despite their leading role, Californians did not act alone.
The US Army played a crucial part in the California genocide, first creating the exclusionary legal system, then setting genocidal precedents, helping to build a killing machine, directly participating in killing, and finally taking control of it. Martial rule over California, between 1846 and 1850, created the legal foundations on which California state legislators built their anti-Indian laws. Martial law policies dehumanized California Indians, segregated them, limited their geographic movement, made it easier for non-Indians to distinguish which Indians they could kidnap or kill without offending authorities, and, finally, made Indians working for non-Indians captive laborers while potentially criminalizing those tens of thousands who were still free. Next, the army’s 1850 Clear Lake campaign set important precedents for mass murder and its acceptance by the army, press, judiciary, United States Senate, and California public. The army’s delivery of thousands of weapons and accoutrements, as well as untold quantities of ammunition, then helped to arm Indian-hunting state militia expeditions. Even more important, professionally trained, heavily armed soldiers had the power to stop vigilantes and militiamen from killing Indians—as demonstrated in multiple instances—but they rarely did so. Instead, they often participated. In the late 1850s, soldiers began to reassume the mantle of perpetrators, and during the Civil War the army supplanted militia men as the primary state-sponsored Indian killers. US Army generals deployed California Volunteers, often commanded by regular, professional officers, to kill and massacre hundreds of California Indians in some of the largest and longest-lasting campaigns against them. In total, US Army soldiers killed at least 1,688 to 3,741 California Indians between 1846 and 1873, making the army more lethal than the state militias. Ultimately, some members of the US Army were guilty of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.
If state legislators were the main architects of genocide, federal officials helped to lay the groundwork, became the final arbiters of the design, and ultimately paid for most of its official execution. US senators played a pivotal role in making victims of California Indians. In 1852, they repudiated the eighteen treaties signed between federal treaty commissioners and California Indians, thus dispossessing Indians of their remaining land and their negotiating role, while dramatically increasing their vulnerability by denying them land rights and federal protection. Federal officials then repeatedly abdicated responsibility for California Indian affairs. They failed to adequately feed and care for California Indians on federal reservations. Moreover, rather than deploy substantial numbers of regular soldiers to protect the Indians and serve as a buffer between colonists and Indians, they allowed state militiamen to hunt and kill California Indians. Congress could have reined in state militia activities or simply withheld funding for militias. Instead, it passed two major funding bills—in 1854 and 1860—allocating up to $1,324,259.65 to reimburse California for past militia expeditions, retrospectively endorsing them, financially supporting them, and thus fueling additional genocidal operations. By 1863, the federal government had given California more than $1 million for its militia campaigns. Congress never explicitly called for California Indians’ extermination, but it emphatically approved genocide ex post facto by paying California for the killings carried out by its militia. Of course, by 1863, the US army had taken over as the primary state-sponsored killer, and Congress controlled that institution’s budget. Indeed, federal legislators paid for some or all of many lethal campaigns against California Indians. These ranged from Fremont’s murderous 1846 operations to Lyon’s genocidal 1850 rampage and from the state’s deadly 1850-1861 militia expeditions to army killing campaigns before, during, and after the Civil War. Congress stopped paying for large-scale anti-California Indian operations only when, in 1883, it finished paying over $477,000 for the 1872-1873 war against the Modocs. Thus, some federal officials were guilty of genocidal crimes, as defined by the US genocide convention.
—Madley, Benjamin. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016, pgs. 346-354. Preview this book.
The boarding school, whether on or off the reservation, was the institutional manifestation of the government’s determination to completely restructure the Indians’ minds and personalities…From the policymakers’ point of view, the civilization process required a twofold assault on children’s identity. On the one hand, the school needed to strip away all outward signs of the children’s identification with tribal life, that is to say, their savage ways. On the other, the children needed to be instructed in the ideas, values, and behaviors of white civilization. These processes—the tearing down of the old selves and the building of new ones—could, of course, be carried out simultaneously…Through a combination of cajolery, threats, bribery, fraud, persuasion, and force, Indian children were annually swept from their camps and deposited in institutions hundreds of miles from their homes, whereupon teachers, farmers, matrons, seamstresses, industrial teachers, and disciplinarians undertook the arduous work of civilization…Indian students were anything but passive recipients of the curriculum of civilization. When choosing the path of resistance, they bolted the institution, torched buildings, and engaged in a multitude of schemes to undermine the school program. Even the response of accommodation was frequently little more than a conscious and strategic adaptation to the hard rock of historical circumstance, a pragmatic recognition that one’s Indianness would increasingly have to be defended and negotiated in the face of relentless hegemonic forces…For tribal elders who had witnessed the catastrophic developments of the nineteenth century—the bloody warfare, the near-extinction of the bison, the scourge of disease and starvation, the shrinking of the tribal land base, the indignities of reservation life, the invasion of missionaries and white settlers—there seemed no end to the cruelties perpetrated by whites. And after all this, the schools. After all this, the white man had concluded that the only way to save Indians was to destroy them, that the last great Indian war should be waged against children. They were coming for the children.
—Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928.. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995, pgs. 97, 100, 307, 336-337.
Whiskey was only one way and guns another; it was a scheme that did it: scare them, make them dependent and hopeless, sell them anything, tell them it’s for their own good.
—Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo) from “From Sand Creek: rising in this heart which is our America. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1981, pg. 48. Author’s Note: This work is not to be used by anyone else for any purpose without the author’s permission.
For much of the 20th century, the boarding schools remained the bulwark of the government’s assimilation campaign. Whereas earlier mission schools, with their overriding aim of Christianization by whatever means possible, often taught in the Native language, prohibitions against speaking indigenous languages in federal boarding schools were strictly enforced. As Leibowitz notes, ‘[t]he language issue, which had received little prior attention, now was mentioned in almost every [federal] report concerned with Indian education’ (Leibowitz, 1974: 17). ‘The Indian Child…must be compelled to adopt the English language’, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price wrote in 1881, precipitating a boarding school rule of ‘No Indian Talk’ (Spaack, 2002: 24). ‘There is not an Indian pupil…who is permitted to study any other language than our own’, Commissioner of Indian Affairs John D.C. Atkins asserted in 1887, articulating a ‘one nation-one language’ policy that would remain in effect for more than six decades…
The purpose of these policies is clear, Leibowitz writes: to separate Native children from their families and prepare them in such a way that they would never return to [their] people…Language became a critical element in this policy [and] English language instruction and abandonment of the native language became complementary means to the end’ (Leibowitz, 1974: 17).
An appalling plentitude of accounts described children being beaten, placed in solitary confinement, having their mouths ‘washed’ with yellow bar or lye soap, and being forced to stand for hours holding stacks of books over their heads as punishment for speaking the mother tongue (Archuleta et al, 2000; Ellis, 1996; McCarty, 2002b; Spaak, 2002)…
The English-only curriculum fitted hand-in-glove with manual training intended to produce docile, low-wage laborers. Indian school textbooks in the 1950s, for example, featured titles such as Shoe Repairing Dictionary (Rhodes, 1953), Please Fill the Tank (Benton & Kinsland, 1953), Be a Good Waitress (Payne, Wallace & Shorten, 1953) and I Am a Good Citizen (Williamson, 1954), with instructions to teachers that ‘all pupils should understand the contents of this book’ and that each page ‘should be studied thoroughly and slowly’ (Clark, cited in Williamson, 1954: ii; see Figures 3.1 and 3.2).
—McCarty, Teresa L. Language Planning and Policy in Native America: History, Theory, Praxis. Multilingual Matters, 2012, pg. 51-52.
In the White Man’s Image (a 1992 production of the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium and Nebraska Educational Television Network) – on the boarding school experience and its consequences
City of Seattle resolution relating to the various harms and ongoing historical and inter-generational traumas impacting American Indian, First Nations, and Alaskan Natives for the forcible removal of Indian children and subsequent abuse and neglect resulting from the United States’ American Indian Boarding School Policy during the 19th & 20th Centuries
Truth and Reconciliation in the United States of America: A Call for the U.S. to Reconcile with the American Indigenous Community over the Mistreatment of Indian Children in Boarding Schools
-Lakota People’s Law Project, December 2015
The health and well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children is critical to the strength and future stability of tribes and Indian families. Yet, AI/AN children are exposed to multiple forms of violence at rates higher than any other race in the United States, resulting in increased rates of altered neurological development, poor physical and mental health, poor school performance, substance abuse, and overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system. Violence, including intentional injuries, homicide, and suicide, accounts for 75 percent of deaths of AI/AN youth ages twelve to twenty. These serious adversities often lead to toxic stress reactions and chronic and severe trauma.
Every single day, a majority of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children are exposed to violence within the walls of their own homes. This exposure not only contradicts traditional understandings that children are to be protected and viewed as sacred, but it leaves hundreds of children traumatized and struggling to cope over the course of their lifetime. Despite leadership from tribal governments, parents and families, domestic violence in the homes of AI/AN children and physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of children is more common than in the general population. Unfortunately, the response of child-serving systems often re-traumatizes the child.
Problems with children exposed to violence in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities are severe across the United States—but they are systemically worse in Alaska…Alaska Tribes are best positioned to effectively address these problems so long as the current barriers are removed and Alaska Tribes are empowered to protect Alaska Native children.
Compounding these high rates of violence is historical trauma: a cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the life span and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma. AI/AN people have, for more than five hundred years, endured physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide from European and American colonialist policy. This is a direct attack on the cultural fabric of a people and an assault on the essence of a community that has a lasting impact on an individual’s psyche, spiritual/emotional core, and well-being…
To understand AI/AN children’s exposure to violence within the context of historical trauma, it is essential to understand the disparate treatment of AI/AN families and communities by federal and state governments, and the lingering effects that government policies and practices have on the AI/AN population, including:
* the removal and confinement of tribes to reservations from historic lands,
* the boarding school experience,
* the relocation of AI/AN peoples to major cities,
* specific attempts to assimilate AI/AN children, and
* the erosion of sovereignty that led to the diminishment of criminal jurisdiction.
The mass trauma experienced by Native people has been referred to as a “soul wound” that began with the colonization of the Americas; continued throughout the aftermath of the doctrines of discovery and manifest destiny; and culminated in the shattered social fabric and homelands of Indigenous populations in the Americas.
—Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive (Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence, (U.S. Department of Justice, November 2014)
Reclaiming our language is one means of repairing the broken circle of cultural loss and pain. To be able to understand and speak our language means to see the world as our families did for centuries. This is but one path which keeps us connected to our people, the earth, and the philosophies and truths given to us by the Creator.
—jessie ‘little doe’ baird, Project Founder, The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project
Longitudinal data from TDB [The Navajo School at the Meadow Between the Rocks] continue to show that the benefits to language revitalization have not come at the cost of children’s English language learning or academic achievement. To the contrary, Navajo immersion students consistently outperform their peers in English-only classrooms on local and standardized assessments of English reading, writing and mathematics, while also developing strong Navajo oral language and literacy skills (Johnson & Legatz, 2006)…In 2008, Native students at PdH [Puente de Hózhó Trilingual Magnet School] surpassed their Native American peers in English-only programs by 14% and 21% in grades 3 and 4, respectively (see tables 5.2 and 5.3). While 2008 math scores were lower in 2009, fifth-grade native students outperformed their English only peers in mathematics by 12%. In math, sixth-grade Native students outperformed their English-only peers by 17%, and PdH students outperformed their English-only peers across all grade levels in writing…
As the research literature and the language and culture reclamation projects examined here testify, the evidence is clear that strong, additive, academically rigorous Native language and culture programs produce beneficial academic and revitalization outcomes…strong Native language and culture programs also enhance student motivation, self-esteem and ethnic pride, as evidenced in improved school attendance and college-going rates, lower attrition and positive teacher-student in school-community relations. Finally, strong programs offer unique and varied opportunities to involve parents and elders in their children’s schooling—a factor universally associated with academic success.
Applied to the project of language reclamation, continuance, as we understand it, is not so much about bringing a language “back” as bringing it “forward” into the vital, ever changing, everyday of people’s lives (Hornberger & King, 1996). The data reported here strongly indicate that this needs to be a whole-community effort that acknowledges the dysjuncts as well as the bonds across and within generations, the sources of the dysjuncts within oppressive culture histories, and the ‘present reality’ and ‘continuing lives’ of all community members—including, especially, youth and young adults.
—McCarty, Teresa L. Language Planning and Policy in Native America: History, Theory, Praxis. Multilingual Matters, 2012, pg. 143; 149; 200; 178-179.
For nearly 300 years white Americans, in our zeal to carve out a nation made to order, have dealt with the Indians on the erroneous, yet tragic, assumption that the Indians were a dying race—to be liquidated. We took away their best lands; broke treaties, promises; tossed them the most nearly worthless scraps of a continent that had once been wholly theirs. But we did not liquidate their spirit. The vital spark which kept them alive was hardy…
We, therefore, define our Indian policy somewhat as follows: So productively to use the moneys appropriated by the Congress for Indians as to enable them, on good, adequate lands of their own, to earn decent livelihoods and lead self-respecting, organized lives in harmony with their own aims and ideals, as an integral part of American life. Under such a policy, the ideal end result will be the ultimate disappearance of any need for government aid or supervision. This will not happen tomorrow; perhaps not in our lifetime; but with the revitalization of Indian hope due to the actions and attitudes of this government during the last few years, that aim is a probability, and a real one…
So intimately is all of Indian life tied up with the land and its utilization that to think of Indians is to think of land. The two are inseparable. Upon the land and its intelligent use depends the main future of the American Indian.
The Indian feels toward his land, not a mere ownership sense but a devotion and veneration befitting what is not only a home but a refuge. At least nine out of ten Indians remain on or near the land. When times are good, a certain number drift away to town or city to work for wages. When times become bad, home to the reservation the Indian comes, and to the comparative security which he knows is waiting for him. The Indian still has much to learn in adjusting himself to the strains of competition amid an acquisitive society; but he long ago learned how to contend with the stresses of nature. Not only does the Indian’s major source of livelihood derive from the land but his social and political organizations are rooted in the soil.
A major aim, then, of the Indian Service is to help the Indians to keep and consolidate what lands they now have and to provide more and better lands upon which they may effectively carry on their lives. Just as important is the task of helping the Indian make such use of his land as will conserve the land, insure Indian self-support, and safeguard or build up the Indian’s social life.
In 1887, the General Allotment Act was passed, providing that after a certain trust period, fee simple title to parcels of land should be given to individual Indians. Individual proprietorship meant loss—a paradox in view of the Indian’s love for the land, yet an inevitable result, when it is understood that the Indian by tradition was not concerned with possession, did not worry about titles or recordings, but regarded the land as a fisherman might regard the sea, as a gift of nature, to be loved and feared, to be fought and revered, and to be drawn on by all as an inexhaustible source of life and strength.
The Indian let the ownership of his allotted lands slip from him. The job of taking the Indian’s lands away, begun by the white man through military expeditions and treaty commissions, was completed by cash purchase—always of course, of the best lands which the Indian had left. In 1887, the Indian had remaining 130 million acres. In 1933, the Indian had left only 49 million acres, much of it waste and desert.
Since 1933, the Indian Service has made a concerted effort—an effort which is as yet but a mere beginning—to help the Indian to build back his landholdings to a point where they will provide an adequate basis for a self-sustaining economy, a self-satisfying social organization.
—John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs (appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933) in Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1938 (Washington, D.C. 1938), 209-211.
Thousands of poor women and women of color, including Puerto Ricans, Blacks, and Chicanos, were sterilized in the 1970s, often without full knowledge of the surgical procedure performed on them or its physical and psychological ramifications. Native American women represented a unique class of victims among the larger population that faced sterilization and abuses of reproductive rights. These women were especially accessible victims due to several unique cultural and societal realities setting them apart from other minorities. Tribal dependence on the federal government through the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) robbed them of their children and jeopardized their future as sovereign nations…
The GAO [General Accounting Office] study…found that between 1973 and 1976 IHS facilities sterilized 3,406 Native American women…Since the records of only four of the twelve IHS hospitals were examined over a forty-six-month period, and only 100,000 Native American women of childbearing age remained, the ramifications of these operations were staggering. After studying the report, Senator Abourezk commented that given the fact of the small population of Native Americans, 3,406 Indian sterilizations would be comparable to 452,000 non-Indian women. He noted that the study itself revealed some significant weaknesses in the report. For example, only four of the twelve IHS service areas were examined, and during those three years of investigation, not one woman was ever interviewed to find out whether or not she received adequate counseling and education beforehand or had even consented to the procedure…In addition, the GAO study discovered that thirty-six females who were either under the age of twenty or were judged mentally incompetent had undergone sterilization procedures. This was in direct violation of moratoriums that HEW had sent to all IHS directors…
Because of inadequate healthcare, the quality of life on most Indian reservations suffered. Infant mortality was three times the national average and the tuberculosis rate was eight times the national average. The life expectancy for a Native American in 1977 was forty-seven years compared to 70.8 years for the general population. For every seven babies born, one Indian woman was sterilized. With a total Native American population of approximately 800,000 as of 1976, sterilization within many tribes could have a devastating impact on a particular tribe’s survival. [Dr. Constance Redbird] Pinkerton-Uri made the observation that “there are about only 100,000 women of childbearing age left total. A 200 million population could support voluntary sterilization and survive, but for Native Americans it cannot be a preferred method of birth control. Where other minorities might have a gene pool in Africa or Asia, Native Americans do not; when we are gone, that’s it.”…
Many physicians, government administrators, and health corporation planners felt that sterilization provided an inexpensive and permanent method of controlling population, reducing poverty, and ensuring who could reproduce. The reality was that many doctors failed to explain to women the surgical procedure, its risks, and its permanency. They also often neglected to obtain appropriate informed consent…
One of the most common violations of Native American women’s right to informed consent was the lack of an interpreter to explain in their own language about the surgical procedure. Frequently, physicians also refrained from explaining its irreversibility or offering optional means of birth control. In many cases, doctors worked in conjunction with a social worker, threatening to withdraw patient’ welfare benefits or take their children from them unless they underwent sterilization…
Women interviewed later verified that public and private welfare agencies threatened to cut off their benefits if they bore additional children or to remove the children they already had from their homes. One of the most typical situations in which welfare agents and surgeons would try to convince a mother to agree to sterilization was during labor when she was vulnerable and often medicated. Some women avoided having their babies at IHS facilities for this reason, but unfortunately the majority of women were unaware of the coercion they were often subjected to. The threat of losing one’s children to social welfare agencies if the mother did not agree to sterilization, however, proved the most persuasive and coercive technique.
Their population—already devastated by disease, inadequate healthcare and education, wars, removal, cultural genocide through assimilation, broken treaties, and now sterilization—placed a high priority on children as their one hope of survival. Native Americans had and still have a deep sense of family and the importance of extended families.
—“Native American Women and Coerced Sterilization: On the Trail of Tears in the 1970s,” by Sally J. Torpy, published in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2000). For more articles like this, go to: http://uclajournals.org/loi/aicr
Through the mid-20th century the BIA operated a program to relocate American Indians from their reservations to large urban centers in an attempt to assimilate them and terminate the federal relationship with the tribes. As a result of this program, and broader demographic trends in the United States, roughly three-quarters of American Indians now live in urban areas away from their home reservations.
—Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. Assistant Secretary Washburn Announces Final Rule on Secretarial Elections for Federally Recognized Tribes—Also Protects Urban Indian Voting Rights
I must add that since my arrival in this country, I have received several letters from organizations and individuals from the first American nation, the American Indians…All these letters which I have received described the conditions of the American Indians here, and I can assure you that they have left me very disturbed.
—Nelson Mandela, excerpt from a speech given at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 30, 1990
…this institution [The Bureau of Indian Affairs] must first look back and reflect on what it has wrought and, by doing so, come to know that this is no occasion for celebration; rather it is time for reflection and contemplation, a time for sorrowful truths to be spoken, a time for contrition.
We must first reconcile ourselves to the fact that the works of this agency have at various times profoundly harmed the communities it was meant to serve. From the very beginning, the Office of Indian Affairs was an instrument by which the United States enforced its ambition against the Indian nations and Indian people who stood in its path. And so, the first mission of this institution was to execute the removal of the southeastern tribal nations. By threat, deceit, and force, these great tribal nations were made to march 1,000 miles to the west, leaving thousands of their old, their young and their infirm in hasty graves along the Trail of Tears.
As the nation looked to the West for more land, this agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the western tribes. War necessarily begets tragedy; the war for the West was no exception. Yet in these more enlightened times, it must be acknowledged that the deliberate spread of disease, the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of the poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of women and children made for tragedy on a scale so ghastly that it cannot be dismissed as merely the inevitable consequence of the clash of competing ways of life. This agency and the good people in it failed in the mission to prevent the devastation. And so great nations of patriot warriors fell. We will never push aside the memory of unnecessary and violent death at places such as Sand Creek, the banks of the Washita River, and Wounded Knee.
Nor did the consequences of war have to include the futile and destructive efforts to annihilate Indian cultures. After the devastation of tribal economies and the deliberate creation of tribal dependence on the services provided by this agency, this agency set out to destroy all things Indian.
This agency forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Even in this era of self-determination, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs is at long last serving as an advocate for Indian people in an atmosphere of mutual respect, the legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence that plague Indian country. Many of our people live lives of unrelenting tragedy as Indian families suffer the ruin of lives by alcoholism, suicides made of shame and despair, and violent death at the hands of one another. So many of the maladies suffered today in Indian country result from the failures of this agency. Poverty, ignorance, and disease have been the product of this agency’s work.
And so today I stand before you as the leader of an institution that in the past has committed acts so terrible that they infect, diminish, and destroy the lives of Indian people decades later, generations later. These things occurred despite the efforts of many good people with good hearts who sought to prevent them. These wrongs must be acknowledged if the healing is to begin…
Let us begin by expressing our profound sorrow for what this agency has done in the past. Just like you, when we think of these misdeeds and their tragic consequences, our hearts break and our grief is as pure and complete as yours. We desperately wish that we could change this history, but of course we cannot. On behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I extend this formal apology to Indian people for the historical conduct of this agency.
And while the BIA employees of today did not commit these wrongs, we acknowledge that the institution we serve did. We accept this inheritance, this legacy of racism and inhumanity. And by accepting this legacy, we accept also the moral responsibility of putting things right.
We therefore begin this important work anew, and make a new commitment to the people and communities that we serve, a commitment born of the dedication we share with you to the cause of renewed hope and prosperity for Indian country. Never again will this agency stand silent when hate and violence are committed against Indians. Never again will we allow policy to proceed from the assumption that Indians possess less human genius than the other races. Never again will we be complicit in the theft of Indian property. Never again will we appoint false leaders who serve purposes other than those of the tribes. Never again will we allow unflattering and stereotypical images of Indian people to deface the halls of government or lead the American people to shallow and ignorant beliefs about Indians. Never again will we attack your religions, your languages, your rituals, or any of your tribal ways. Never again will we seize your children, nor teach them to be ashamed of who they are. Never again.
We cannot yet ask your forgiveness, not while the burdens of this agency’s history weigh so heavily on tribal communities. What we do ask is that, together, we allow the healing to begin: As you return to your homes, and as you talk with your people, please tell them that time of dying is at its end. Tell your children that the time of shame and fear is over. Tell your young men and women to replace their anger with hope and love for their people. Together, we must wipe the tears of seven generations. Together, we must allow our broken hearts to mend. Together, we will face a challenging world with confidence and trust. Together, let us resolve that when our future leaders gather to discuss the history of this institution, it will be time to celebrate the rebirth of joy, freedom, and progress for the Indian Nations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was born in 1824 in a time of war on Indian people. May it live in the year 2000 and beyond as an instrument of their prosperity.
—Remarks of Kevin Gover (Pawnee), Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior at the Ceremony Acknowledging the 175th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, September 8, 2000. Video Text
Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.
In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.
—Pope Francis. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home. May 24, 2015, paragraphs 145-146.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
…the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
—The Declaration of Independence. This jarring juxtaposition was cited by Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) in “‘Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness’ Was Not Intended for Native Americans” (Indian Country Today, July 4, 2015).
Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Penguin Group, 1964, p. 120.
…the history of the United States and tribal nations is filled with broken promises.
—President Barack Obama, “On My Upcoming Trip to Indian Country”. (Indian Country Today, June 5, 2014).
I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.
—Pope Francis. Address given at the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, Bolivia, July 9, 2015 (emphasis added).
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow —
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
—Langston Hughes, “The Negro Mother”
The lion’s story will never be known as long as the hunter is the one to tell it.
—West African proverb
APOLOGY TO NATIVE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED STATES
SEC. 8113. (a) ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND APOLOGY.-The United States, acting through Congress-
(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;
(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and
(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
(b) DISCLAIMER.-Nothing in this section-
(1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
(2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.
—United States Congress. Apology to Native Peoples of the United States – signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2009 (scroll to page 45). See also: United States Senate Joint Resolution 14 – a more detailed apology introduced to the U.S. Senate on April 30, 2009 – but never passed; and the Hawaii Apology Act (Public Law 103-150, 103rd Congress, Nov. 23, 1993)
Today, indigenous peoples in the United States face multiple disadvantages, which are related to the long history of wrongs and misguided policies that have been inflicted upon them. Nonetheless, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians have survived as peoples, striving to develop with their distinct identities intact, and to maintain and transmit to future generations their material and cultural heritage. While doing so, they add a cultural depth and grounding that, even while often going unnoticed by the majority society, is an important part of the country’s collective heritage. Further, the knowledge that they retain about the country’s landscapes and the natural resources on them, along with their ethic of stewardship of the land, are invaluable assets to the country, even if not fully appreciated.
—United Nations Special Rapporteur. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples: The situation of indigenous peoples in the United States of America (August 30, 2012), pg. 6.
Native youth have a special role as citizens of tribal nations in defining the future of this country, and also in leading Native cultures, traditions, and governments into the next century. However, they experience significant institutional and intergenerational challenges in reaching their potential. Native children are far more likely than their non-Native peers to grow up in poverty, to suffer from severe health problems, and to face obstacles to educational opportunity. These conditions are systemic and severe, and must be addressed through increased resources and strategic action.
The United States has a unique nation-to-nation relationship with and owes a trust responsibility to Indian tribes. The federal government’s trust relationship with Indian tribes (which is based on treaties, agreements, statutes, court decisions, and executive orders) charges the United States with moral obligations of the highest responsibility. Yet, despite the United States’ historic and sacred trust responsibility to Indian tribes, there is a history of deeply troubling and destructive federal policies and actions that have hurt Native communities, exacerbated severe inequality, and accelerated the loss of tribal cultural traditions. The repudiated federal policies regarding the education of Indian children are among those with a devastating and continuing effect on Native peoples.
Past efforts to meet trust obligations often have led to problematic results, even when intentions were good. Education was at the center of many harmful policies because of its nexus with social and cultural knowledge. Education was—and remains—a critical vehicle for impacting the lives of Native youth for better or worse. Beginning in the early 1970s, the federal government resumed support of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, recognizing the significant gaps in opportunities and life outcomes created in the previous two centuries. In education, recognizing that tribes must be part of the solution in Indian country meant that federal policy shifted to align itself more closely with tribal goals.
Unfortunately, in addition to the other negative effects of decades of debilitating poverty on Native youth, educational progress was and continues to be hindered by poor physical infrastructure in the schools serving Native youth. Today, federal and state partners are making improvements in a number of areas, including education, but absent a significant increase in financial and political investment, the path forward is uncertain. Despite advances in tribal self- determination, the opportunity gaps remain startling:
* More than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty
* The American Indian/Alaskan Native high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial/ethnic demographic group across all schools. And the most recent Department of Education data indicate that the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools fare even worse, with a graduation rate of 53 percent, compared to a national average of 80 percent.
* Suicide is the second leading cause of death—2.5 times the national rate—for Native youth in the 15 to 24 year old age group.
Without many urgently needed investments and reforms targeting Native youth in education and other high impact areas, Native youth face even greater challenges in the future. The impact of these challenges is significant; 39 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population is under 24 years old—compared to 33 percent of the total population. Across the United States, tribes and their communities are making meaningful and often transformative differences in the lives of their children. By bolstering the interest and involvement of Native youth in tribal cultures and traditions, Native communities have learned how to reach struggling youth. But the challenges faced by Native youth require broader support. Federal, state, local, and tribal governments, as well as private and nonprofit sector institutions, all have roles in assuring that all young people have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed.
—2014 Native Youth Report (Executive Office of the President, December 2014), pg. 4-6.
Folks in Indian Country didn’t just wake up one day with addiction problems. Poverty and violence didn’t just randomly happen to this community. These issues are the result of a long history of systematic discrimination and abuse.
Let me offer just a few examples from our past, starting with how, back in 1830, we passed a law removing Native Americans from their homes and forcibly re-locating them to barren lands out west. The Trail of Tears was part of this process. Then we began separating children from their families and sending them to boarding schools designed to strip them of all traces of their culture, language and history. And then our government started issuing what were known as “Civilization Regulations” – regulations that outlawed Indian religions, ceremonies and practices – so we literally made their culture illegal.
And these are just a few examples. I could continue on like this for hours.
So given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian Country are facing today. And we should never forget that we played a role in this. Make no mistake about it — we own this.
And we can’t just invest a million here and a million there, or come up with some five year or ten-year plan and think we’re going to make a real impact. This is truly about nation-building, and it will require fresh thinking and a massive infusion of resources over generations. That’s right, not just years, but generations.
But remember, we are talking about a small group of young people, so while the investment needs to be deep, this challenge is not overwhelming, especially given everything we have to work with. I mean, given what these folks have endured, the fact that their culture has survived at all is nothing short of a miracle.
And like many of you, I have witnessed the power of that culture. I saw it at the Pow Wow that my husband and I attended during our visit to Standing Rock. And with each stomping foot – with each song, each dance – I could feel the heartbeat that is still pounding away in Indian Country. And I could feel it in the energy and ambition of those young people who are so hungry for any chance to learn, any chance to broaden their horizons.
— Prepared Remarks of First Lady Michelle Obama for White House Convening on Creating Opportunity for Native Youth, Washington, DC, April 8, 2015 (emphasis added).
Manning, Sarah Sunshine, “ Dear Native Youth: You Are The Prayers of Ancestors” (Indian Country Today, August 21, 2015).
Manning, Sarah Sunshine, “ Could Art, Creativity Stave Indian Youth Suicide Epidemic?” (Indian Country Today, April 8, 2015).
The Center for Native American Youth – Champions for Change
Champions of Change: Native American Youth Leaders (The White House) See also: video
We R Native Ambassadors – Native youth helping to spread positive vibes and create positive change in their communities
This I believe has always been the true and real vision of Indigenous People of the Americas: to love, respect, and be responsible to ourselves and others, and to behold with passion and awe the wonders and bounty and beauty of creation and the world around us.
Native American writers must have an individual and communally unified commitment to their art and its relationship to their indigenous culture and people, especially with regard to social, cultural, political-economic health and to progressive development…In this, there is something more than survival and saving ourselves: it is continuance. The United States will not be able to survive unless it comes to truly know and accept its indigenous reality, and this is its continuance. Through our poetry, prose, and other written works that evoke love, respect, and responsibility, Native Americans may be able to help the United States of America to go beyond survival.
—Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo) from “Woven Stone. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 1992, pg. 32. Author’s Note: This work is not to be used by anyone else for any purpose without the author’s permission.
is not without
— Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo), “Mutant and Wise” from Out There Somewhere. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2002, pg. 143. Author’s Note: This work is not to be used by anyone else for any purpose without the author’s permission.
It’s almost inexplicable that Black Elk would say the dream ended; we
know why now, and we know it did not and will not end.
shall have a name
and it will not be vengeful
but wealthy with love
And it will rise
in this heart
which is our America.
There is a revolution going on; it is very spiritual and its manifestation
is economic, political, and social. Look to the horizon and listen.
—Ortiz, Simon J. (Acoma Pueblo) from “From Sand Creek: rising in this heart which is our America. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1981, pgs. 40, 95, 54. Author’s Note: This work is not to be used by anyone else for any purpose without the author’s permission.
2014 Native Youth Report (Executive Office of the President, December 2014) – a call to action on the unique challenges facing Native Youth. See also: Generation Indigenous: Increasing Support and Opportunity for Native Youth (Executive Office of the President, November 2015)
2017 State of Indian Nations (Brian Cladoosby, President, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), February 13, 2017, Washington, DC)
2017 State of Native Youth Report: Our Identities As Civic Power (Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, November 2017)
APA Resolution Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations (American Psychological Association)
Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995. Review.
American Indian Youth Literature Award (American Indian Library Association)
American Indians in Children’s Literature (Debbie Reese)
Apess, William (Pequot). Eulogy On King Philip (January 1836).
Bosman, Julie, “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Struggles With Suicides Among Its Young,” The New York Times, May 1, 2015.
The Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner, New Mexico
A Brief History of the Trail of Tears (Cherokee Nation)
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007. Originally published 1970.
Casas, Bartolomé de las. The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies.
Dakota 38 (concerning the largest mass execution in U.S. history, ordered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 – video: 1:18:10) See also: “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862”
Den Ouden, Amy E. Beyond Conquest: Native Peoples and the Struggle for History in New England. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Den Ouden, Amy E. and Jean M. O’Brien, eds. Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, June 2013.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.
Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive (Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence, (U.S. Department of Justice, November 2014)
Fast Facts on Native American Youth and Indian Country (Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute)
Faith Communities respond to the “Doctrine of Discovery”
Federal and State Recognized Tribes (National Conference of State Legislatures)
Fryberg, Stephanie A., Markus, Hazel Rose, Oyserman, Daphna, Stone, Joseph M., “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots,” Basic and Applied Psychology, 30:208-218, 2008.
George, Chief Dan. (Geswanouth Slahoot). “Lament for Confederation,” reprinted in Vancouver Courier, July 1, 2014.
Gover, Kevin (Pawnee). Presentation to the 67th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians. (video – 35:33) (November 2010, Albuquerque, NM)
Gover, Kevin (Pawnee). (Re)Making History: The Real Story Is Bigger and Better. (video – 14:54) (TEDxJacksonville, December 2015)
Guidelines for Strengthening Indigenous Languages (Assembly of Alaska Native Educators, Anchorage, Alaska, February 6, 2001)
Hawaii Apology Act (Public Law 103-150, 103rd Congress, Nov. 23, 1993)
Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities (Executive Order 13592, The White House, December 2, 2011)
Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (National Indian Child Welfare Association)
Indian Country Today (“Serving The Nations | Celebrating The People”) – an excellent source of current news
Indigenous Enslavement and Incarceration in North American History (Gilder Lehrman Center’s 15th Annual International Conference, November 15-16, 2013, Yale University, New Haven, CT)
The Institute For American Indian Studies (Washington, CT)
Jawort, Adrian,“Genocide by Other Means: U.S. Army Slaughtered Buffalo in Plains Indian Wars,” Indian Country Today, September 24, 2017.
Jennings, Julianne (Nottoway), “Deer Island: A History of Human Tragedy Remembered”, Indian Country Today, August 23, 2013.
Jennings, Julianne (Nottoway), ” New England’s Second Colonial Armed Conflict: King Philip’s War Remembered”, Indian Country Today, December 28, 2012.
Joe, Rita. “I Lost My Talk.” (poem) Comment: A hopeful sign is that Native musicians everywhere have achieved a high degree of fluency and expressiveness in music, the universal language.
Landry, Alyssa, “Native History: It’s Memorial Day—In 1637, the Pequot Massacre Happened,”Indian Country Today, May 26, 2014. See also: Battle of Mistick Fort: Site Identification and Documentation Plan-Public Technical Report (Dr. Kevin McBride, Douglas Currie, David Naumec, Ashley Bissonnette, Noah Fellman, Laurie Pasteryak, Jacqueline Veninger)
LaPointe, Ernie. Sitting Bull: his life and legacy. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2009. A deeply moving and humbling account of the life of Tatanka Iyotake (“Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), leader of the Lakota nation, as told by his great grandson based on oral tradition. See also Ernie LaPointe’s presentation in 2012.
Lawrence, Jane, “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women,” American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), pp. 400-419. See also The Little-Known History of the Forced Sterilization of Native American Women.
LeMay, Konnie, “A Brief History of American Indian Military Service“Indian Country Today, May 28, 2012.
Madley, Benjamin. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016. This book is “the first comprehensive, year-by-year history of the California Indian genocide under US rule.” The book describes one of the most lethal massacres in U.S. history – whose victims were memorialized in this historical plaque. Visit Mr. Madley’s presentation of this material here.
Madley, Benjamin, “It’s time to acknowledge the genocide of California’s Indians,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2016.
Marshall III, Joseph M. (Lakota). The journey of Crazy Horse: a Lakota history. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. An inspiring and heart-rending account, based on the oral tradition, of the life of Tasunke Witko (“His Crazy Horse”) whose life and untimely death embodied the credo of the Lakota warrior, “I do this so that the people may live.”
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center (Mashantucket, CT)
McCarty, Teresa L. Language Planning and Policy in Native America: History, Theory, Praxis. Multilingual Matters, 2012.
Memorandum of Agreement between the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education On Native Languages (November 2012)
National Congress of American Indians
National Congress of American Indians. Tribal Nations and the United States (January 15, 2015)
National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution)
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 101-601-Nov. 16, 1990)
Native American Indian Agreements and Treaties
Native American Languages Act (Public Law 101-477 – October 30, 1990)
Native American Nations (websites of recognized and unrecognized tribes)
Newell, Margaret Ellen. Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015.
O’Brien, Jean M. (White Earth Ojibwe), Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
On the 120th Anniversary of Wounded Knee (National Museum of the American Indian Blog, December 29, 2010)
Our Mother Tongues explores language revitalization projects across the country.
Report of the Eleventh Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, May 7 – 18, 2012). Special Theme: “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”.
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (National Park Service, Colorado)
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site – The Life of Captain Silas S. Soule (who refused orders to fire at the Sand Creek Massacre and later gave explicit and chilling testimony about what happened)
Sand Creek Massacre – Apology from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper – video – text
Save Oak Flat Act (H.R.2811 – 114th Congress (2015-2016) (Introduced 6/17/2015) See also: “Naelyn Pike: 14 year-old Apache warrior advocates to save Oak Flat” (video)
Sing Our Rivers Red (SORR) – bringing awareness to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women
The State of the Native Nations: Conditions Under U.S. Policies of Self-Determination (The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Oxford University Press, 2007).
Symposium on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (William Mitchell College of Law, October 26, 2012)
Toensing, Gale Courey, “BIA Reforms Finally Announced: Anti-Indian Forces Show Their Knives,” Indian Country Today, July 8, 2015.
Torpy, Sally J., Native American Women and Coerced Sterilization: On the Trail of Tears in the 1970s,” American Indian and Culture and Research Journal 24:2 (2000) 1-22.
Treuer, David (Ojibwe). Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life. New York: Grove Press, 2012.
Tribal Directory (National Congress of American Indians)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada—Final Report
United Nations. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (January 12, 1951)
United Nations. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (September 13, 2007)
United Nations. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples: The situation of indigenous peoples in the United States of America (August 30, 2012)
United States Congress. Apology to Native Peoples of the United States (signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2009) (scroll to page 45)
United States Department of Justice. Attorney General Guidelines Stating Principles for Working With Federally Recognized Indian Tribes (Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 239 / Friday, December 12, 2014 / Notices)
United States Senate Joint Resolution 14 (more detailed apology introduced to the U.S. Senate on April 30, 2009 – but never passed)
Viola, Herman J. (Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution) Warriors in Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism. Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2008. See also: “Our Warrior Spirit: Native Americans in the U.S. Military” (video) (A panel on the history of military service by Native Americans since the American Revolution, featuring American Indians who served in the armed forces during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq – held at the National Museum of the American Indian on December 2, 2011)
Vries, David Peterson de. Voyages from Holland to America, A.D. 1632 to 1644. New York: 1853. At pages 169-171, the author recounts the horrific massacre of 80 Lenape Indians – men, women and children – by the Dutch in Manhattan and along the Hudson River in New Jersey in early 1643.
The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (Mashpee, MA)
We Were So Far Away: The Inuit Experiences of Residential Schools (The Legacy of Hope Foundation)
White Hawk, Sandy (Sicangu Lakota). “Once You Were Children.” (poem). The author is Executive Director of the First Nations Repatriation Institute and serves on the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission that issued its final report, Beyond the Mandate: Continuing the Conversation in 2015
This site will evolve as the music evolves.