My education about the First People began in 1970, during my first year in the U.S. A new kid arrived a few weeks after school started, and other than a slightly darker complexion, he looked like everyone else, at least to me. You have to remember that I was the only non-Western European-looking kid in my grade at the time, and to my still-adjusting Asian eyes, everyone was pale white and blond.
Alex was very gregarious and befriended me right away. Early in our friendship, I learned that he was Lakota, and the reason he focused on me was that he hoped a non-white kid would be more accepting of him. He was being raised by his grandmother, but when she had to be hospitalized, he was removed from a foster home in my town, which was more than 200 miles from his home in another state.
Needless to say, Alex was not well accepted and had to endure enormous racism from students and teachers alike. He only stayed a few months, and one day he was just no longer there. I learned later that he was moved to Milwaukee to live with a distant aunt, whom he had never met.
Alex hated the labels "Indian" and "Native American" but wanted to be called "Lakota," the self-given name of his people. Of course, 50 years ago, in rural Wisconsin, with grandchildren of German immigrant lead miners, it did not go over well. Even though he was only 13 years old, he eloquently articulated the resultant pain and suffering of his people from the illegal migration of Western Europeans. He got very angry in the Social Science class at the textbook's depiction of the First Peoples. He was no fan of Halloween when several students came to school in costumes that included headdresses, feathers, and tomahawks. But he especially hated Thanksgiving.
As a nation, the U.S. is facing a reckoning. As the prevalence of systemic racial injustice awakens the national consciousness, we are no longer celebrating Columbus. But we see incredible pushback from those who have benefitted from the status quo. They are claiming that someone is taking what belongs to them. Have we heard this before?
We have the morally bankrupt and incompetent NOT-supreme court flaunting their hypocrisy and giving unwanted opinions on matters they know nothing about. They are trying to recreate U. S. hegemony of the 1950s, mistakenly believing that the world envied and pined for the corrupt U.S. system. We know that this will end eventually, but it will take time, and when it disappears, it will leave a trail of pain and suffering, not only in the U.S. but around the globe. They will leave a trail of tears.
We are finally rectifying the 500 years of Columbus's mistake by not celebrating his arrogance and cruelty, but we have not started to address the pain and suffering of the people of more than 800 nations that were on this land. We have put them in outdoor prisons – we call them reservations, but all in barren unlivable land – with hopes of them dying and disappearing, but even the most debased evil concocted by morally bankrupt and corrupt minds have been overcome by the enduring human spirit. They are still here with us.
As we remember the Indigenous people next Monday, may we remember their suffering but also their dignity, humanity, and resilience.