Living on a reservation isn’t easy. Some are large. As large as a small state. Others are small. In some ways, the smaller ones are more likely to be better off. The people who live there can leave the reservation every day to go to a job and return home at night. On the larger reservations, this isn’t as likely. Most of the jobs on the reservations are in teaching or law enforcement.
Even after over 100 years, the land is not usually good for producing food. Families often live in over crowded situations, with limited water, food, or electricity. These leads many young people to leave the reservations in the search of a better life. Though, they often don’t find it. What they do find, is they don’t fit in off reservation life either.
I tried to portray the starkness of reservation life in Crosswinds. However, this was doubly difficult. First, Terra, the main character, finds the starkness and silence refreshing and peaceful. However, her primary opponent, Vasa, does not. She is working to make everyone leave the reservation. The reservation is shattered. Families are split. They simply don’t know how to connect the life available to them on the reservation, with the life off the reservation.
Perhaps, this is because I value that way of life. However, one friend, who has lived on a reservation, said it did not portray it well at all. She thought I didn’t make it desperate enough. And another friend who did live on a reservation a few decades ago, felt it was almost too desperate.
Living Conditions. Native American Aid. A Program of Partnership With Native Americans. http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagename=naa_livingconditions Access Date: August 31, 2016.
The legal status of Native Americans is so complex, entire encyclopedia sets could be written about it. This article will mention a few specific facts. Native Americans, who have lived here over 10,000 years only became citizens of the Untied States in 1924. Their right to vote came even later. In some states, it was as late as 1962. Long after women and other minorities.
Native Americans living on a reservation are subject to the reservation’s local laws. The reservations function in many ways much as a state, and only federal laws can override the reservation laws. This applies to the 567 federally recognized tribes. It does not apply to those who belong to tribes the government does not recognize. Many reservations have tribal governments, including courts, police, and jails to deal with most crime that occurs on the reservations, and by tribal members.
Federal recognition of a tribe is not a quick process. There are three routes to recognition: Congress, court, and an administrative process. Many smaller tribes were not federally recognized, or have merged with other tribes and did not have the ability to be recognized in the past. Perhaps in the future, some smaller tribes may return to the tribal roles.
In my writing, I did not cover federal recognition. I did however, cover Terra’s village receiving funding and support from the governing village on the reservation. Many of the villagers are afraid to stand up to the governing village, where many of their family reside. They are afraid they will lose everything they have. And that isn’t much.
U S Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.bia.gov/FAQs/. Date Accessed: September 3, 2016.
Tribes Listed by Area. National Congress of American Indians. http://www.ncai.org/tribal-directory. Date Accessed: September 3, 2016.
Bureau of Indian Affairs. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Sociology 220 Lecture.
http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~oliver/soc220/Lectures220/AmerInds/AmerInd%20FAQs%20from%20BIA.htm. Date Accessed: September 3, 2016.
Along with lost languages came lost family connections. Many children who attended boarding schools left their tribes to try to live in cities. As they did, they gave up their cultural identity. Many children were born never knowing their tribal history, clans within the tribe, or even that they had a Native American background.
This children, adults, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents today, often search in vain for their ancestors. They feel something is missing. Even those who live on the reservations feel it there. Many generations are missing. Or blended with other cultures.
As the story of Ishi, the Yahi tribal member demonstrates, that loss can never bring back those who are gone, nor whom their descendants should have been. Their future, and ours, are intertwined. Connecting the past with future is a complicated generational long process.
In Crosswinds, Terra is pushed to make decisions to bring a future to the tiny village that lives in the past. Grandfather Honaw, who renounces the present in his own village, pushes Terra to save the smaller villages that she has worked with to become a full member of the tribe.
A Lost Indian Tribe but the Spirit Lives On. Indians.org
http://www.indians.org/articles/yahi-tribe.html . Date Accessed: September 2, 2016.
As Europeans expanded across the Americas, Native Americans began to succumb to diseases that they were not immune to. This led to a loss of many smaller tribes and languages.
The effects didn’t end after the diseases passed through the populations. The overwhelming effects of the government’s integration efforts: Indian Removal Act, shared reservations, and boarding schools worked to create a multi-generational loss of culture and language. Young people didn’t get to learn, or speak int heir native languages. This has led to many languages being forgotten. Or, only a few surviving members speaking the language in private.
The loss of a language may now sound like a big deal. Except, some concepts can only be explained in their original language. The loss of language leads to the loss of original religions, as they all become meshed into one. They lose traditions, name meanings, and much more of their identity.
Although the loss of language is not central in any of my novels, Crosswinds does mention it a little when discussing other cultures. It could perhaps have been worked in more. She could have interrupted a conversation in native speak. Except, this group was from so many cultures, that it was easier to speak English among themselves, rather than a combination of a dozen other languages that may, or may not have been grammatically meshable.
University of Utah Shifts Focus to Tribal Languages, Some Fear World Indigenous Languages Will Be Left Behind. ICTMN Staff. Indian Country Today Media Network. 10/3/12. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/10/03/university-utah-shifts-focus-tribal-languages-some-fear-world-indigenous-languages-will Date Accessed: September 2, 2016.
The Indian Removal Act was only part of the government’s interference in Native American life. As it showed signs of not having the solution they wanted, in the 1860’s the government instituted a policy of pulling children from the reservations and sending them to boarding school, against their will, and the will of their parents and tribes.
The goal of these schools was to take the Native out of the Native American and make them identical in values – family, religion, and work ethic – as European Americans. This was the time when prosecution of Native American religious practices began to be implemented. This wrong was only righted in 1978. And not fully finalized until 1994.
During this 118 year program, millions of children lost their identity in programs designed to deny them their heritage, names, culture, values, religion, connection to family, and loss of birth language. Many never returned home. Others returned home, and could not communicate with family members. Languages died. Customs were forgotten as the elders died without a successor. Blending of cultures became more common.
This is in part what has happened in the village Terra finds in Crosswinds. Children are still being sent away. Families broken. Only this time, it is a villager who wants the village broken because she doesn’t feel she has a place. She truly wants the best for her son. Only, he doesn’t want it.
History and Culture Boarding Schools. American Indian Relief Council.
http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagename=airc_hist_boardingschools Date Accessed: September 2, 2016.
Indian Religious Freedom Act. American Indian Relief Council. http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagename=airc_hist_indianreligiousfreedomact Date Accessed: September 2, 2016.
(1790 – 1866)
John Ross was born at the beginning of the most tumultuous times in written Cherokee history. During his early years, leaders realized the dangerous situation they were in. Sequoyah created the written Cherokee alphabet. With this, and the creation of the government acknowledgement of the Cherokee Nation, there had been hope the Cherokee could retain their independence and their homes. John Ross became the leader of the Cherokee Nation for most of his life, and endured the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the beginning of Reconstruction.
However, it wasn’t a simple matter of a chief leading his fellow tribesmen and women. The Cherokee are a matrilineal tribe, therefore, John Ross was accepted as a member even though he was only 1/8 th Cherokee. His father, his mother’s father, and his grandmother’s father were all Scottish. If his mother had been Scottish, he would not have been accepted as a member unless he married into the tribe.
This led to problems. Due to his mixed background, and English education, he did not have as strong of a command of the Cherokee language or culture as many did at the time. Some members of the tribe did not feel he made a good representative for them. Although, the government saw him as white, and were more accepting of him than they would have been of a full blooded Native American.
His story resonates in so many ways. His attempts to save the Cherokee as a nation were admirable. Even if he didn’t always know all the answers. He might not have been as close to the Cherokee culture as their preferred chiefs. He was a chief the government would listen to. Today, millions of Americans have as much Cherokee, or other Native blood, and many do not even know it. Their cultural ties were denied to them, during decades when it was considered shameful. Now, they want to reach out and find their background. Unlike John Ross, they didn’t grow up next door to their culture. They often don’t even know where to search. And the tribes don’t want people who have not grown up in the culture to come in and try to change them. With good reason.
Works Cited: John Ross (Cherokee Chief). Cherokee Registry.
http://cherokeeregistry.com/john_ross.pdf . Access Date: August 31, 2016
Native Americans had a much different attitude about life than modern Americans. They focused on their family and their health. They lived in nature, with nature, as a part of mature. Not apart from nature. They focused daily life around natural events. They prepared from winter in summer, and prepared for summer in winter. The passing of herds, or growing of plants occupied their plans. Everything in life had a spiritual, and personal meaning.
Each tribe had their own religious customs. Those customs permeated life, through cooking rituals, birth and death rituals, planting or hunting rituals, even in the design of clothing, tools, and interactions among tribal members and with other tribes.
Often, moving, building a home, or other projects involved the whole tribe, or a large percentage of people. People of all ages spent their time together. Working, playing, planting, building, and just relaxing. Those were the times they valued. As much as they valued alone time.
These are aspects of life that forgotten today. With everything compartmentalized. People only seeing a few people of their own age each day. No direct communication with family or friends. No planting, building, or just living each day.
Often, those raised on reservations cannot function in a world where they have to remove themselves from life in order to make a living. It requires a different mindset. They lived with nature’s clock, not an electronic device on the wall. Their idea of a productive member of society, was a person who lived in society and shared with others of all ages and abilities. All were respected. They need to be part of their families each day. An active participant in their daily life. Not outside, looking in.
Terra always felt outside, looking in. She had been happy doing so, in hundreds of cultures across the world. She thought Arizona would be no different. Until Keama encouraged her to mingle into the world and help her friends. A gentle nudge and another, and soon, she had found her place. Only, she had to keep it. With her new children by her side.
Native American Life. Indians.org http://www.indians.org/articles/native-american-life.html. Date Accessed: September 3, 2016.