John Andrist: #NoDAPL Protests Not Part of Native American Legacy


Protestors work to extinguish a fire blocking North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The pipeline demonstrations are a reminder to me of how we continue to “use” Native Americans and their culture for our own ends.

It’s the way we salve our guilt for the way they were treated during America’s westward expansion.

We pay a lot of lip service to the needs of Native Americans without ever evaluating how little we have done to improve their lives.

Must we live forever with this pretense?

Eighty percent of American Indians don’t live on reservations. They have joined 21st century reality, becoming part of the larger community where the rest of us live.

The reservation system for the most part houses the poorest, the disadvantaged. Too many of them live on the cusp of dysfunction. Reservations are the nearest equivalent to the notorious black townships of South Africa.

Sanctioned slums. But worse than South Africa, we keep providing carrots to keep them there instead of incentives to draw them into an integrated life.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]The protesters and pretenders are not a part of the rich legacy Native Americans  have given us.[/mks_pullquote]

Their own leaders use them, fringe protesters are using them, politicians use them, you and I use them under the pretense that a viable sovereignty is still possible, and that we can find a way for us to feel good if we keep trying to abate all the bad things done to (and for) them.

We conservatives have many obvious faults. The Achilles heel for liberals is an inability to understand some “good” things simply can’t happen. It’s not a perfect world.

In our hearts we all know there will never be a wall built on the Mexican border. We know higher education cannot be free; all we can do is change the way we pay for it, and who must pay for it.

We also know the reservation system is a failed system, perpetuated to keep our native cousins out of our hair.

Will we do this forever? There are few blue bloods anywhere. When  we really love and care for others we open our doors and welcome them into our homes, our, churches, our lives, our communities.

We don’t encourage them to live apart from us in isolation under the fantasy that they can have an island of sovereignty in the middle of the rest of us.

No, not even in our middle, but for the most part on the distant fringes — the least desirable places.

It simply hasn’t worked and doesn’t work anywhere.

When Catholics and protestants tried to make separation work in Northern Ireland it was war. The Palestinians and Israelis haven’t been able to do it.

For a thousand years the Sunnis and Shiites have been in a war of separatism.

We weren’t meant to live in separation. Would you live in the government housing we have built in our reservation communities?

We can’t fix every wound. Just as we all must someday die, so do a lot of good institutions, intentions, and ideas.

As much as I might wish I could find the graves of my fifth and sixth generation forbears, and honor the lives they have lived, I can’t.

Things erode and decay, just as we ourselves.

The best I can do to honor forbears is try pay it forward on the things they taught and gave me. Living in reality is not to denigrate tombstones and sacred rocks. Reality is understanding what is. It’s where we all must live.

America became great not because we created islands of separation, but because out of many we became one. I’m happy to welcome Native Americans to take over my neighborhood, but reluctant to move to their slums.

Treaties or not, the reservations represent and perpetuate a failed system. Worse than that, they represent a perpetual legacy of disservice to Native Americans.

A final thought

Most Native Americans I know are among the most peaceful, long suffering people in our world.

They have no recent history of rebellion. They don’t block highways, trespass, destroy equipment, spray paint machinery and our capitol building.

They care about their own; they care about others.

The protesters and pretenders are not a part of the rich legacy Native Americans  have given us.