Justice for Native Americans rests in restoring relationship with the land, not reparations

06/15/2014 9:39 PM

06/15/2014 10:02 PM

Here’s a telling tidbit. Since 1960, more Americans claim to be Native American on the U.S. Census than can possibly be true.

People claim indigenous blood when it’s more family lore than biological fact. Native people are seen as spiritual entities, somehow more divine. It’s one reason imagery of the noble Indian is rampant, but understanding of contemporary tribal issues is lagging.

Daniel R. Wildcat, a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation and a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, addresses one such topic in an opinion piece on the Washington Post’s website. He discusses reparations for Native Americans, long a tumultuous topic in regard to African-Americans. He addresses it not only in the context of the past, but with a mindset of how environmental abuses, including climate change, could be viewed.

Wildcat details the depth of damage done to native people by the taking of their land and the relationships involved for them — air, water, plant and animal life, along with identity and religion.

He lays out the inadequacy of applying money as a salve to a wound that is far greater than land as a piece of real estate. He cites court cases, where native people have sued corporations for harm to the environment. Wildcat notes that reparations have never been a prominent part of civil rights conversations for native people. What they lost, he says, is “irreplaceable.”

“Reparations are ill-suited to address the harm and damage experienced by people who understand themselves, in a very practical and moral sense, as members of communities that include nonhuman life. For many Native Americans, our land (including the air, water, and biological life on which we depend) is a natural relative, not a natural resource. And our justice traditions require the restoration of our land relationship, not monetary reparations.”

Wildcat is asserting that true justice would mean rectifying the relationship with the land and all that it means to native people. Instead, we tend to simplify native people while ignoring the massive poverty and alcoholism on reservations, along with the deep wounds Wildcat addresses. Not every tribe is operating a profitable casino. Not every Native American nation is even recognized officially by the U.S. government.

It’s as if America prefers professing romanticized idolatry in place of understanding — much less acting on — a more nuanced view of justice.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/msanchezcolumn.

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