In this time and age, you hear indigenous people saying, “This time is a good time to be a Native”.
What does ‘Native’ mean, and what does the statement mean?
‘Native’ is a term used by Native Americans when they refer to themselves as indigenous peoples of the Americas. But since I’m not going to talk about Native Americans only, I interchangeably use the term ‘indigenous peoples’ as this term has a broader scope, geographically and politically speaking.
In my understanding, the statement “this time is a good time to be a Native” implies that compared to a time in the past, this time is a good time for indigenous peoples to show-up as they are. They are now freer to wear their Native identities, even as they find themselves living in a predominantly non-indigenous setting where upheld standards and values are maybe different, and may even be detrimental to their very existence. This time is a better time for Natives because compared to a time in the past, they no longer have to deal with much of the burden their ancestors have had to deal with during the times of colonization, occupation, and enforced acculturation and assimilation.
I could, of course, be wrong. For many indigenous peoples around the world, this time could still be as difficult as in the past. Indigenous peoples the world over have undergone different hardships and levels of resiliency, but one thing they still suffer from in this post-colonial era is their marginalization. Their grievances are real. And this is why they are categorized to belong to the Fourth World*.
Living closely and harmoniously with nature is one thing indigenous peoples are known for. To this day, they occupy natural and mineral resource rich territories which are the continuing source of conflict and clashes between them and governments that are backed by capitalist companies that are seeking to explore and exploit these remaining protected areas.
What would happen if the remaining natural environment is poisoned and destroyed by mining and logging? Where will the indigenous inhabitants build their self-sustaining communities. Where will they plant their food and where will they bury their dead? Removing a person from the natural environment he or she is best suited to thrive in is fatal; it is like depriving fish of water. As the most knowledgeable people of their ecosystem, and as longtime stewards of nature, when indigenous peoples continue to be incapacitated, reduced, or even wiped out off the Planet, the natural world, and the Native peoples’ centuries-old knowledge of the natural world, will likely perish with them.
Real great minds, advanced technology, and nature can co-exist as they complement one another, but shortsightedness and greed are something else.
The topic about indigenous people is close to my heart. For one thing, I am indigenous. For another thing, I feel a bigger purpose for being indigenous.
For being indigenous, I was able to make it to the top university in my country through its educational affirmative action program for indigenous students. Then as an indigenous student, I was hand-picked and fully sponsored to participate in various educational programs and extra-curricular activities. Other students (non-indigenous) either had to pay their costs or had to demonstrate exceptional academic excellence in order to get strong recommendations from university mentors. Scholarship providers and foreign universities favored me not because I was the smartest-ass among the other applicants vying for exactly the same grants. In fact, some of my peers graduated with honors while I did not. Yet I had been “a chosen one”, I presumed, it was because I’m indigenous while the others are not. At that time, my indegeneity was the only observable difference between me and them.
This is why I feel deeply for the cause of indigenous peoples.
While I am very grateful for all the privileges that came my way, and thankful to all the people I had the opportunity to interact with, I don’t feel indebted to the governments and business companies that unconditionally and generously paid me to study any course I was interested in, in the international private universities that I chose to study in. While they paid for my foreign travels, while they wined and dined me and showed me the world, I did not forget the reason why I was having those beautiful experiences.
The reason is because I am indigenous. Being indigenous gave me the edge to be a representative of something different.
My scholarship providers, or rather, their human representatives, had their own reasons for choosing me. I could only guess some of their possible reasons. Perhaps they thought of me and my ’cause’ (no matter how vague it was at that time) as exotically appealing? Or they felt I was someone to be pitied for coming from a marginalized society in whose lands their roaring machines were busily hauling gold, silver, copper and iron from? Or they genuinely sympathized with me, awed by my idealism, and moved by my seemingly strong sense of purpose? Or, it could also simply be that they were intrigued and amused by my youthful brazenness and audacity.
So for me, what does it mean to be a Native?
While I sympathize with the many Native People who are bitter about the horrendous events done in the past and frustrated by ongoing imprudent exploitation of remaining Native lands, while I’m fully aware of the past and present grievances of ‘my people’, I believe that amidst all these hardships, to forgive and to show compassion is an inherent Native trait – at least, as long as I can remember, forgiveness and compassion are primary indigenous values my elders always reminded me of.
Meanwhile, many spiritual practitioners and spiritual gurus teach that there is nothing wrong with the Planet as nature knows how to regenerate, restore, balance and heal herself. They are right. And that’s why we are here. We are an integral part of this Nature who is self-healing, restoring, and regenerating herself. Those of us who feel strongly called to do something for the environment are spawned by Nature herself to tell stories of caring, of healing, of balance, of compassion, of restoration and harmonious co-existence.
Now is really a good time for Native Peoples around the world to come out and share their stories, may it be a sad or a happy story, may it be to teach or to simply amuse and entertain – for the benefit of all humanity – Natives and Non-Natives alike.
This time is called the Age of Communication for a reason.
Happy EARTH DAY everyone!
* The First Worlds are the rich countries. The Second Worlds, arguably, are the socialist countries. The Third Worlds are the poor countries. And the Fourth Worlds, where the indigenous peoples belong to, are the poorest or most disadvantaged of all.
While it is wonderful that you had those education opportunities offered to you, it would have been much more meaningful if you had qualified like other students. I really don’t think that giving indigenous people preference because of their cultural/racial background is much more than paying “lip service” to a problem rather than addressing the problem. It is politically much easier to be seen to be doing something, even though it simply detracts from bigger issues.
I believe all marginalized people, based on race/creed/colour/sexual orientation etc. should be treated equal. Giving preference to one group or another is not an example of equality, but rather simple political posturing.
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Yes, I was certainly qualified like other students. I passed the stringent Uni entrance exam but in addition to that, indigenous students like me were provided a special psycho-social, financial, and language support to be able to make it in the Uni. Apparently the University made a study and have known that many indigenous students who are qualified do not enroll in the University or they may enroll but would drop out after a semester or two, and that’s why the affirmative action program was initiated to help indigenous students cope with city and college life. My college campus in particular had been, in the past, criticized for having less than 1% indigenous enrollees while it is being hosted in indigenous land. I guess this is the reason why college mentors, as much as possible, made an effort to choose indigenous students to represent the college in educational exchanges.
And a reason why I did not graduate cum laude was because I lacked a .5 or .25 in my GPA. It had been difficult to balance academics while being a working student, and while fully engaged in on and off-campus voluntary community work. But little did I know then that this is what scholarship grantors actually want. If they have to choose between nerds who have almost perfect grades and those who have less than perfect grades but balanced with extra-curricular activities, they’d choose the latter.
I tend to emphasize my indigeneity because of this feeling I have that I have to justify my strong bias towards the marginalized, while at the same time, not wanting to appear one-sided. So it’s a kind of a small dilemma within me how to bring “opposing forces” together towards peace and genuine concern for each other.
And yes, I fully understand what you mean by political posturing and paying lip service by using elements from the marginalized for expediency purposes. I guess this happens often in our hypocritical society. It is not proper and it does nothing good for the marginalized.