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FROM ONE WHITE PERSON TO ANOTHER
~ Nita Pomeroy
Your words are many, but they may be condensed
into three main points. First, you repeatedly say you
“totally understand”, but I think you have understood
neither myself nor the Native People. I certainly
don’t feel you understood my words at all. One of
the things you failed to understand is that it is not
enough for us as Whites to say “I am sorry” and expect that to “fix” or resolve anything. It doesn’t, and it won’t – in fact the time is far past for any more “sorries.” In Christian terms, as Paul says, we must not only say “I am sorry” (and mean it), but we must bring forth the fruits of repentance.
What would be the fruits of repentance here in America? Well, the minimum, it seems to me, would be full restitution for all that has been stolen from them. How can we fairly determine the value in today’s dollars for all that has been taken – for all the gold, silver, platinum, copper, coal, oil, timber, plains, buffalo, bear, deer, eagles, passenger pigeons, pure water – in streams, lakes, rivers, oceans and in the underground aquifers (which have been polluted and/or depleted)… -- and that is just a brief list!
How can we figure compensation for all the human life we have taken—whether by bullet, rope, club, disease or starvation or any of the many ways we have taken life? Disease, you ask. How can we be held accountable for that? In today’s terminology it could be wrongful death, or manslaughter, or other such terms. It could be considered biological warfare or a terrorist act.
What about compensation for the destruction of Native families through the forced attendance in boarding school of generations of children, and all the problems resulting from that? We are all aghast and up in arms at the sexual abuse hidden by the Catholic Church, but whose eye has even blinked at the abuse suffered by Native children in the Government AND Non-Government Boarding Schools? And we are talking of much more than just sexual abuse, but emotional and physical abuse as well as starvation and forced labor. I am sorry, but “sorry” doesn’t even begin to be sufficient. And I have just hit a few of the main points.
A second important issue is that of listening. In the 70’s we were beginning to understand grief and how we mourn. From that we have come to understand how important the idea of mourning is and that it is not limited to situations revolving around death. We have finally come to understand that surviving any traumatic event needs to be mourned, that we experience traumatic loss in many different ways. We have also gained a wonderful and much needed understanding of how we need to mourn – the process we need to go through in order to achieve positive resolution of our loss. We need to go through four steps – if we skip one, we cannot ever get past the experience and are doomed to grieve and mourn in a tortured and never-ending manner.
How do we help others grieve? We listen. Then we listen some more. And then we listen even more. They will know when they are done speaking – it is not up to us to decide when they are done. I expect there is going to be a lot of anger – there are five centuries, that is 500 years, or 6,000 months, or over 180,000 days of suffering to be talked through. Bill Miller says it well: "All we need is to be allowed to speak, to mourn, to express anger…” But there is another aspect he assures – the People need to be heard – really heard! No putting them on “uh-huh” mode, but actively and respectfully and completely heard. No offering reasons and excuses or anything else that denies or minimizes what Native People have experienced.
Bill Miller makes a powerful observation about the result of listening to the People speak and mourn and express anger. He says “…that [this] could lead to a deeply powerful spiritual change in the U.S. and the world. It could be a statement about the peacemaking that comes with courage." Isn’t that a worthy and desirable goal? I believe it is, and I believe it is absolutely necessary – for all of us.
The third point I want to address is your comments about hatred, racism and prejudice. I find it interesting that you imply that it is only a few whites who have expressed hatred toward the Native population, and then go on to point out that this has happened all over the globe – another group of people come in and do things to hurt the indigenous people. Uh, yeah, that IS the point, isn’t it? And the color of the people who have been doing this all over the globe? White… On a worldwide scale, Whites have oppressed, subjugated, stolen from, dispossessed, disinherited, and exterminated native populations. We have driven many Peoples, if not to extinction, then nearly so.
There has been much talk about how Nazi Germany managed to gain such an ascendancy over the German people. One of the explanations has been that good people said nothing when the atrocities began and remained silent through the entire campaign of terror promulgated by the Nazis. A powerful observation of that time has been the way evil prevails is when good men remain silent. In Christian terms, it falls under the heading of sins committed by inaction and I quote from the Catholic mass: “I have sinned … in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do (emphasis mine).” Also, as I have said elsewhere, even if we did not personally commit the atrocities against the Native people, we do benefit from them.
All this compels me to further ask, why shouldn’t Native People fear, distrust and even hate us? What is there in our history that is redeeming? What is there in our current practices, behaviors and attitudes that shows we are repentant? Most Whites seem to think that American Indians should just “get over” what happened in the past and move forward.
But, you see, it is not all in the past and we only need one statistic to show how bad it is. Still. According to the CDC data from 1999 to 2015, Native Americans were killed by law enforcement at a greater per capita rate than any other group, including Blacks/African Americans.
Bill Miller, Mohican, observes: “I don't want anyone to carry around this guilt. All we need is to be allowed to speak, to mourn, to express anger, then be allowed to forgive our oppressors. That could lead to a deeply powerful spiritual change in the U.S. and the world. It could be a statement about the peacemaking that comes with courage.”