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A Young Bear Editotial

Ray A. Young Bear
from The Des Moines Register (1998)

In 1856, through my great-great grandfather's initiative to establish a tribal homeland, the state Legislature granted his request to purchase central Iowa property. The beneficiaries of this monumental transaction are the Meskwaki or People of the Red Earth. This sagacious move by a Sacred Chief or Okima should solidify our survival into the next century. In effect, a cultural sanctuary was procured whereby the proper intrageneration transference of language, customs, history, and spirituality would occur unfettered. To a degree, my grandfather's intent has been realized.

In 1881, the founder passed away. Around this time, according to my late grandmother, education manifested itself indirectly through the murder of a young tribal female. An archivist corroborates that a government field agent "saw a chance to make for himself a good record in the Indian service." The agent proposed to the father of the suspect that if he assumed leadership to bring "improvement," a report of the murder would not be made "to the Indian Office." The father had no choice but to comply.

The real chief’s heirs were thus bypassed.

In short, a coverup was fostered by an outsider to quash the conservative Sacred Chief element and the isolationist objectives it espoused. By this route, our assimilation was expedited.

Regardless of its inception, the funnel by which the ABC broth of the Outside World was poured into our collective psyches found its mark.

Ironically. much of who I am today is attributable to the past. Before bestowing the ultimate credit to my grandfather, I sometimes lean to an odd question: To whom do I give thanks, the victimized female or the devious agent who ushered in the pedagogical waters?

It is now spring 1998. The traditional chief of the Meskwaki Nation in absentia is my uncle, Wi ti ma. One hundred and forty-one years have passed since our homeland was founded. Much of that time has been under dire conditions. Only recently, through the advent of gaming, has there been a marked change upon our lives. In subtle increments, we have begun to experience lifestyle advantage. New cars cruise the main thoroughfare. With my family, I still wake in disbelief inside a new two-story house that is ours. Ten years ago, I pounded a manual typewriter inside a mobile home. Today, I voice-type notes; I also check my e-mail and use the Internet until my eyes shrivel from profuse amounts of information. By evening, I haggle with my 6-year-old son over the satellite-aided television or the computer with its remarkable interactive capability.

In quiet moments, I often gaze at Rocky, hoping no one has tampered with his trust fund. He will need it for a future family and law school. I also worry about the systematic investment of his assets into the stock market. No caps are in place, no reader-friendly reports.

And then my thoughts escalate to the entire tribe. Many here, naively, view the gaming enterprise as a panacea. Absent is economic diversification. Several self-sustaining industries should be in place. Preferably in technology.

But that isn't the case.

While new businesses sprout around us, like new grass, we have yet to master the art of investing. Like our children's funds, somebody must do it for us, but detailed portfolio summaries and account holdings seem elusive. By design? When a privileged few have access to tribal finances at their modern fingertips, the likelihood of trouble is great.

Accountability, I ask the Tribal Council, where is it?

Left unattended, indolence may not have a reply.

But there is plenty of disagreement among ourselves -- and now possibly with the Outside World we have successfully tapped into. As such, our gaming enterprise has made the media abuzz.

On occasion I join the foray, opining on these inevitable changes. As expected, I am not alone: From small-town gossip over coffee and haircuts, we are touted as being wealthy. But $1,780 a month does not constitute prosperity. If anything, it means more bills -- and taxes. And from Capitol Hill, and elsewhere, there are politicians hell-bent on undermining our sovereignty. On varying levels, there is a plethora of misinformation.

Since most politicians do not represent tribes in their districts, the re-emergence of anti-Indian legislation is bizarre. Besides being a disease called forgetfulness, it is a mask symbolizing frontier mentality. These people forget our ancestors' blood commingles with the very shadows they cast upon the cherry-blossom-covered Earth.

While the gambling debate surfaces nationwide, the economic euphoria at home is often stifled by unparalleled in-fighting. As prophesied, cascading amounts of money have divided family members. Suspicion is present. Uncles, aunts, and cousins are no longer relatives. They are council members with foibles and impertinent agendas. They may be remiss in their fiduciary duties, but they savor muscle-flexing.

To quote defense attorney Gerry Spence's views, "power" for them is useless because they leave the paperwork to others who are equally detached. These once-relatives are lonely individuals whose elective terms hinge on critical factors: Their performance, if they're managing tribal/casino affairs minus council consent, and the almighty recall petition.

To ponder these amazing and tragic scenarios never fails to leave me aghast. There's no question that we've survived. Certainly the acquisition of real estate provided a place of residence. Oftentimes scholars view our history as a tenacious and nearly immiscible edifice. Our legacy and contributions to central Iowa will continue, provided there's no interference.

Given all that, the main question that looms before us is, how long can we keep balance atop the existential surfboard? The massive ocean of eventuality is filled with whirlpools.

If a single long-ago field agent hastened our journey through the twisted martyrdom of a tribal member, what's to prevent anyone from slighting us out of sheer jealousy? More so today, when we’re presumably a lucrative enterprise. Will we ever be left alone? Isn't it enough our ancestral lands are gone, that we are but a semblance of our former selves?

Just when we are about to partake of the American pie, our fellow brethren emboldened by misinformation gather en masse above our doorstep.

We have become an unlikely target.

Clearly, the real test ahead deals primarily with how we view and treat ourselves. Yet we must also understand how we are perceived by the Outside World.

From The Des Moines Register (1998)

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