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Loretta Sanchez War Cry

Mary Ann Andreas: A knowledge gap on Native issues

Mary Ann Andreas

There has been a flurry of news reports about an unfortunate gesture by a U.S. Senate candidate in California who caricatured an Indian war cry. Apologies are already being made and the dust will soon settle.

But this incident brings to mind two things: First, the truth is she is hardly alone. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently compared American Indians to the "bad guys" in "a 50s western." I once heard a U.S. senator introduce tribal guests as "my Indians." The New Yorker magazine just published a so-called humor piece using the word "squaw" — a profoundly insulting racial slur.

Second, what's really important here is not a casual remark or the need to be politically correct. That's far too superficial. Everybody has said something in the moment that upon later reflection they wished they could take back. That's only human.

The stereotypes and slurs that sometimes echo through the rough and tumble of contemporary American culture simply reveal the reality that candidates, like most people, rarely have a genuine understanding of tribal governments and Native issues.

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby points out "this is an opportunity to educate," and he's right.

American Indian tribes make up a vast and complicated universe that has grown even more complex in the past quarter century. There are 566 federally recognized Indian nations — variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages — in 34 states. They are ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse entities.

Those differences are important because the time when many tribes' geographic isolation kept them out of sight and mind is long gone. The last 50 years has especially seen dramatic growth of tribal governments and their ability to provide services to their communities. Their communications and interactions with local, state and federal government agencies have expanded accordingly.

The total American Indian/Alaska Native landmass — 100 million acres — would right now make Indian Country the fourth largest state in the United States. The tribal governments comprising this network don't just deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They work regularly with the departments of Justice, Defense, Health & Human Services, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing & Urban Development and Homeland Security.

They work daily with city councils, state legislatures and Congress. Tribes have become active participants in the democratic process and are an integral part of the political fabric of the United States.

The bottom line? Anyone who seeks or holds public office in the United States today needs to be more informed about this country's first Americans — their history, policies and issues. Focusing on political correctness is a disconnect. It's a smaller, more interconnected world that we share. The future we share depends on forging a real and lasting understanding.

Mary Ann Andreas is the tribal council vice chair of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and first vice chair of the Native American Caucus for the California Democratic Party. Email her at Rezbiz2001@aol.com.

Original Source: The Desert Sun

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