I support SJR1, Joint Resolution on Museum Recognizing Atrocities Against American Indians.
History is multi-perspective. Growing up on the Navajo Indian reservation in Northern Arizona I was taught in school that the Navajo people were hunters, gatherers and farmers, not warriors. This perspective never sat well with me. I saw differently. I felt differently.
Then I read Raymond Friday Locke’s “Book of the Navajo,” the definitive historical account of the Navajo people. I learned that the Navajos were indeed great warriors, often referred to by the Hopis as the “Skull Crushers.”
What I saw and felt was affirmed.
I am proud of my Navajo heritage. It gives me strength to know I come from a warrior society. I wake up each day with the courage to face new challenges. A warrior-spirit motivates me. It propels me forward on my journey to success. I have earned a bachelor’s degree, soon an MPA degree, and have been accepted into law school. But there is a dark side to this tale, a blemish on my great and proud heritage.
In Locke’s “Book of the Navajo,” an account is also given of the U.S. invasion of the southwest. After the Navajo were rounded up and relocated to their present day reservation, Navajo children were taken from their homes and forced to attend boarding schools to be assimilated into American culture. Navajo children were punished for speaking Navajo. They were taught to forget their cultural traditions.
Locke gives a detailed account of a Navajo man who complained to local U.S. government officials about his daughter who had just returned home for the summer from boarding school. “She walks around with her head down and won’t look another person in the eye as if she is ashamed of who she is,” the man says. “A Navajo can look any man in the eye, what have you done to her?”
Lost and fallen, a cycle of dependency now pervades Navajo culture. Like a disease, it destroys individuals and families. My mother’s grandfather, my great grandfather, was an alcoholic. My mother’s father, my grandfather, was an alcoholic. My mother’s brother, my uncle, ran afoul with the law and left a young family to fend for themselves. Today, I recently left the Utah Valley ICU where my cousin, my uncle’s son, raised without a father, lay in critical condition after an aerosol can he was huffing exploded in his face.
SJR1 is an important resolution that asks Congress to support, establish or construct a national museum recognizing atrocities against American Indians.
While I don’t believe that constructing a National Museum detailing American Indian history will fix the tough issues that indigenous communities face, I do believe it is time that America recognizes and faces this dark part of its history. That history should be told from the right perspective. It is the right way to promote inter-generational healing. If Native American youth can learn to embrace their “true” heritage, the cycle of dependency can be broken.
As Sheldon Spotted-Elk, who addressed the Senate floor before the passage of SJR1 said, “It is also important that we remember those days, so we can do all we can to prevent such things from happening again.”