In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, we invited Sandra Polacheck, a Cherokee woman living in Connecticut, to be a guest blogger and share her views on being a Native American and some of the social justice issues facing First Nations Peoples today.
I have been asked many times over the years by nonnative people, "What percent Native American are you?" My answer is that I am a whole human being and I cannot exist any other way. Can half of a human being survive? Can a quarter of a human being survive? I have never thought to define myself in pieces. To ask a person to cut themselves into pieces of ethnicity is asking them to be less than human. I don't think that people who ask this question are being mean. I think racism or prejudice is unconscious and part of the human condition that we strive to overcome.
In my experience, most First Nations Peoples are concerned with issues that effect our ability to live in Right Relationship with each other and our earth. There is deep concern for the care and purity of drinkable water within Native communities. The water table has been rapidly and steadily declining on the North American Continent within the past few years. There are many examples of this. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and anthropologist Wade Davis explored the impact that the practice of damming rivers to create reservoirs have had on the water table in North America combined with draught and freshwater shortages in the movie, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, in 2008. The Diné or Navajo people who live in the Southwest have limited access to fresh water sources and must walk a long way to reach the closest artesian well where they can draw water for the day. There is nothing in the U. S. Constitution that states that access to freshwater is a basic right for all human beings. Most people who live in Connecticut or the North Eastern United States do not practice good water conservation. This is because there has been an abundance of fresh water in this area; however, with the pollution of the environment the water we drink is not always the healthiest choice and may not always be so readily available.
In my experience, First Nations Peoples are also concerned with the American Justice System. I have often heard Elders say that Native People lived for ten thousand years without jails. Helping individuals, especially young people to heal and return in good relationship with the community is more important than their punishment. Restorative Justice is the practice of bringing offenders, victims and the people who support both together to work out their problems in order to restore balance and harmony. The relationship between the individual and the whole is restored for the benefit of all. This is a deep concern for all of us. If we lose our youth to gang life and anger, we lose our future.
Many First Nations Peoples I have known are trying to restore their languages, cultural stories, songs, and traditions. The Hopi People began teaching their kindergarten students Hopi language in addition to English as part of their curriculum in an attempt to restore their Native language. Grandmother Snow Song, a Cherokee Elder who lives in this area, is translating her poetry into T'salagi (Cherokee) language. She uses her poems as the words for songs, which are passed on to the community. It is important to hold on to original languages because no language has a direct word for word translation into English or any other language. People think in language and original ideas are expressed by their thinking language. Imagine how many wonderful problem solving ideas could be lost to the human family if the language to think the idea is lost? This is why people should remember and honor their original language in addition to learning a new one. There are many other social justice issues I could discuss, but my heritage does not make me an expert in Social Justice issues that impact Native Culture. There were over 500 Indigenous Nations in North America at one time and they are as unique and diverse as any country or nation would be. To lump all of those nations and peoples into one category: Native Americans is in itself a social injustice.
Sandra Polacheck is a third-year Peace Keeper, studying under Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, the 27th generation lineage holder of the ancestral Ywahoo lineage in the T'salagi/Cherokee tradition. Venerable Dhyani is the Chief of the Green Mountain Ani Yunwiwa, Eastern Band of Cherokee. She has been a land trust member of the T'salagi Peace Village in Vermont for 6 years and an Elder caregiver during the annual Gathering of Elders for 3 years. She has had the honor of serving and caring for Native Elders as well as learning from their wisdom over the course of many years. In her professional career, Ms. Polacheck is a Reading Specialist at Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, CT.