Every indigenous person is on a different level of personal understanding of their culture and it’s practices. We have our own internalized struggles that are focused on decolonizing our lives and weeding out the influence of society upon our own lifestyle. Not only do we have to fight to maintain our traditional values in our own community, but those values that we do protect to are watered down in American society for the sake of our survival. They only want us if we are practicing our culture on their terms, and even then we have problems.
Here’s what I mean by that. It’s hard enough being a minority in America even when you’re trying to live is part of the system. It’s a struggle to be the white man’s Indian. It’s a struggle to get a job and be part of the system as a minority. You can only imagine how difficult it is if we did not water down our practices for the sake of survival in the system.
The sense of discomfort we have is an everyday struggle. Whether we are struggling to fit into the system, or whether we are struggling to survive outside of the system, we live with a level of discomfort that European Americans will never fully experience or understand. At least, that’s what I thought.
I was invited to a music festival buy a friend of mine. The first thing I thought of was a bunch of young white men and women dressing in suede fringe and wearing dyed turkey feather headdresses. I was assured it was not going to be like that. Trusting their word, I decided to go.
To my relief, I did not see anyone wearing anything that was inappropriate. What I would consider the hippie community seem to be very aware of the recent discussions on cultural appropriation. Everyone was very positive and I could not and could not tell if they were genuinely happy, or they we’re just really good at keeping a peaceful demeanor. We’re just really good at keeping a peaceful demeanor. Even when they got into disagreements, they formed sentences that can only be described as the most offensive positive words I have ever heard. You would think in such a positive environment, people would be open to all walks of life. I found that this was not the case and even hippies have limitations on their willingness to accept other people.
My friend who invited me to the festival who just so happens to be Apache was having a discussion with me at the dinner table. We were discussing modern social challenges involving Native American people. Things such as the very real consequences of the genocide and assimilation we still have to struggle with today. We talked about the conditions on the reservation and how it was intentionally engineered to be that way by the American Government to keep us from progress. We talked about our uncomfortable situations having to put on a mask simply to exist in society. Occasionally I would look up at the people around the table who seem like they wanted to chime in on the conversation, but their face is expressed that they felt extremely uncomfortable with the discussion between me and my friend.
One by one people’s discomfort got so bad that they started to leave. Eventually by the end of the conversation we had cleared the entire table. Why is this such a big deal? This could have been the very first time in their lives that they felt on a very basic level, what we what we feel every single day. They felt discomfort but had the privilege of simply getting up from the table and walk away. We don’t get that same privilege. Not a Native American or any other minority in this country has that privilege. We have to live with discomfort day in and day out on top of all the other social challenges we face in this country. Every single day we have to live with the discomfort that they couldn’t even handle experiencing for 10 minutes eating dinner.
If you are a European American I’m hoping that you could read the words in this article and reflect upon them. If you were sitting at the table, what would you have done? If you would not have spoken, would you have at least listened?
I would like everyone reading this article regardless of ethnicity and regardless as to whether or not there the majority or the minority in the country. Step out of your comfort zone every now and then to expand your understanding and worldview. In the same way an individual must step outside of their comfort zone to progress in life, you must also step out of the comfort zone to progress your mind.