Caleen and I were talking last week, lingering at the breakfast table, about childhood, about children knowing things and dealing with things children should never have to know or see or feel. She reminisced about Granny's generation. When they were children, our precious Granny and her brothers and sisters, they would run for hiding when they saw men riding in on horseback. Caleen said in a normal voice, "some people made a living digging for gold. Some made a living hunting Indians." This is the reality Granny grew up in, a little girl who knew already that there were those whose job it was to hunt humans for money. Hunt her people, women, children, men, aunties, grandmas, fathers, mothers.
The normal tone of voice, her face, nothing betrayed how truly grotesque and weird this concept was, that this society had made legitimate careers murdering children and adults -- not at war, -- but just for profit. The reason for the tone and lack of shocked expression, of course, is because Caleen is telling a family story, a lived experienced, something familiar.
She's shaking her head and softly laughing about the kids at the ranch, seeing a car drive up, they still run for the back of the house. She says, "this is your house. You don't have to run. Just greet the people," but they still run.
I had no words to say, just stared dumbly. My mouth probably dropped open. Yes, I'd read in books that there were bounties on Indian people -- two inches of words in a paragraph. But that didn't carry the depth of meaning as Caleen's choice of words -- "made a living hunting us." People making money hunting our Granny. No wonder the kids run for the back of the house. I remember Caleen's sister, my age, talking about running for the hills because she was afraid of being kidnapped and put into boarding school away from her family. She's my age. I was called Jap. I wasn't invited to birthday parties. But mass kidnapping of children . . . that's another level.
On the one hand, how do you grow up under these conditions. On the other hand, after policies so rotten to the core, how can governments ever change to do the right thing. One generation away, California was allowing the hunting of people, paying killers for proof of bounty. Agreed -- One generation away, Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps. Naomi's mother survived Auschwitz. My friend Paulette's mother and father suffered the inhumanities of segregation, and Jim Crow laws, and people were killed for nothing by the KKK and other segregationists. All inhumanities are equally wrong. But for Granny's people, there has been no respite, no reparation, no shift in policy. Yesterday, less than 100 years ago, Granny's people were being hunted, and seen in that context, today Granny's people are unrecognized by their government as Tribal people with the rights promised all Tribal people. They are called Unrecognized Tribes, just as my American born parent's generation was called non Aliens. Winnemem are tribal but no rights to be a tribe or human being. We were citizens with no rights to be a citizen or resident.
California!!!! Something has to be done about the federal stripping of tribal recognition of the California tribes. In light of that breakfast conversation between my Chief and me, the Amerikan genocide of tribal people is so recent they can still smell the blood on their hands. Amerika! Nowadays you are making tribal people extinct by a stroke of a pen -- who is Indian who is not. Ever since this country went to war over Hitler, it could no longer carry on Hitlarian policies blatantly and so easily anymore. So instead of extermination they use "unrecognized tribe." A tribe is a tribe is a tribe. All tribes should be covered by laws having to do with tribes. Tribes have the right to exist.
Yes, I understand that federal recognition comes with money. A federally recognized tribe can write grants for various projects, economic development being one. The Winnemem ask only for their right to exist as Winnemem, the right to sit at the table and advocate for the salmon, the water, the sacred lands, the fulfillment of promises made their tribe by the Federal government for like land for the land they sacrificed for the state of California to build Shasta Lake Dam, the right to carry on their ceremonies and the way of life. They have absolutely no interest in casinos. Granny said the casino way will rot a tribe from the inside out. All they want is justice.
I don't think I'm going to recover from this little talk at breakfast. I saw injustice before, but now, well, it's personal. There are just some things no child should know. There are some things human beings should never do. I can hear my Granny now, "Right is right and wrong is nobody. There's a lot of nobodies in the world!"
I have one more thing to say. I think why I am struck so deeply is that despite this, all of this, Caleen believes in goodness. She still thinks that if we could just plead our case, that courts may listen, that President Obama might learn, that corporations, councils may still do the right thing. At least she works as if that were the case. She does not give in to vengeance, hate, even anger. She does not let her spirit give in to anger and hate -- just like Granny before her -- and sees only the good, hears only the good, speaks only the truth, as the helpers at ceremony prays for each of us when they smoke us off with the root. She does not bring ugliness into her heart, as Granny before her did not. Granny headed for the hills so she might hide and live as a little girl. The present Chief and Granny's descendant who knows about that then looks today at the little Chief who will inherit the responsibilities of Chief and Spiritual Leader and sees her still run for the back of the house. Instead of giving in to bitterness Caleen prays for the whole world, asks help for all the human beings, prays for all the sacred places, for the water. for the salmon. It is her responsibility and that is if preeminent importance . We Winnemem have a spiritually strong good leader as the leaders before her. She follows them step by step and that's why she can carry on.
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