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INDIAN RIGHTS

Ever since the Makah decided to go "fishing" there has been an increase in the expression of prejudice against Indians. I know the "fish" is a whale and a mammal not a fish. But you want us to do it the "old" way, and that is how they were thought of by our ancestors. And by your ancestors as well.

Have you really thought about the whaling? I mean to really think, not to react. If so I am sure you would not want the whale killed in the old way. In our fathers' time it could take as long as three weeks for the whale to die, all the time he is fighting and dragging at least one canoe loaded with people. Is that what you really want? To watch the whale suffer for maybe 3 weeks? I think yes, then you can raise even a bigger hue and cry about them catching a whale.

The most common complaint I hear on the streets is about the "Damn Indians have all the rights". Sure we do.

We have the right to vote. Gee, we were "given" that in 1954, long after all other people in the United States were allowed to vote and after we had fought and been killed in wars about which we were not allowed a voice. I am not saying we would not have fought, all I am saying is that we had no choice.

We have the right to be called citizen. We were "given" this right in 1954 at the same time we were given the right to vote. Prior to that time we were considered Wards of the Government of the United States. This meant that at any time the government or its' agents could step in and take over our affairs, both personal and tribal.

We have the right to be murdered at twice the national average. No, we aren't killing each other. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Indian is being killed by whites. You can find a copy of the New York Times article at my website, but for your convenience here is the address. Incidentally, the murder rate for Indians killing Indians is the lowest of any ethnic group.

We have the right to live on a reservation. We were "given" this right by your government, it was land that your ancestors decided was worthless, so they gave it to us. Often you changed your mind and we were "given" new lands. And always with the provisio that when we became "extinct" the land would revert back to you.

We have the right to a government check. We were "given" this right by treaty. I receive two per-capita checks per year. My check for the first 6 months of this year, 1999, was $200.00 (two hundred) U.S. Gosh, I'm rich. Yeah, right. The money for the per-capita checks is from Indian enterprise; money we, as a tribe, have earned. Any endeavor we wish to undertake to earn money for our tribe must be approved of by your govenment. Even then we cannot distribute it when we feel it should be. Before any per-capita checks can be issued from the money we earn we must ask the United States government for permission to share our earnings amoung tribal members. Aren't we lucky?

We have the right to an entire branch of government devoted to our "care". We were "given" this right by your ancestors who felt that we were not capable of handling our own affairs. A branch of government that prior to 1934 was devoted to the eradication of the Indian culture, language and religion. An interesting side note is that your ancestors saw fit to include a provision in the treaty with my tribe stating that if we were able to earn money as a tribe that the first obligation was to pay the salary of the Superintendent of the reservation. A person appointed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Again, we are so lucky.

We have the right of birth to death health care. We were "given" this right by treaty. However, (isn't there always one of those?) we must live on the reservation to take advantage of this right. Can't have healthy Indians living off the reservation, why they might even prosper.

We were "given" the right to free education. (Gee, I thought all American citizens had this right.) Another treaty "gift". However, since we are poor ignorant savages, little better than children, all we are capable of is being trained to do only the simplest of chores. The schools teach our young ladies to cook and our young men to be mechanics. Not nurses, but nurses aides. Not jet mechanics but automobile mechanics.

We have the right to be different. We were "given" this right by accident of birth. But that does not include the right to keep our language and religion...by your choice.

We have the right to be insulted and looked down upon. To be called a wide varitey of names. To be the "bad" guys in the movies and on televison. To be thought of as less than human. We were "given" that right by people who did not perceive us as humans.

We have the right to have our symbols and totems used by you as trinkets and ornaments. We were "given" this right by YOU. You hang dreamcatchers on your rear view mirror where they are useless, unless you fall asleep while you are driving. You use our totem poles as ornamtation and do not care that they are our family's or tribal history. You use our names for your mascots at schools and by sporting teams.

We have the right to our burial grounds. This is a right "given" us by treaty. Unless your people decide that we are needed for archeological studies. Or your young want to have some "fun" tipping over the grave stones.

Perhaps I have the wrong attitude, maybe you are just being kind in "giving" me all these rights. But you will never convince me that I should be greatful for being looked upon as less than human. For being mocked and scorned by your media. For being taunted and tormented by my fellow classmates in school. For being "honored" to have schools, sport teams, and mascots named after me. For being alive in spite of you not because of you.

©:Arlene Weber.
May 26, 1999

P.S. I wonder how much hue and cry would ensue if the slaughter of Cattle were to be televised and given the coverage the Makah received? After all they too are mammals. Most likely none or very little for that is your meat of choice. AW


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