Where are You Coming From?

Some people may have asked, "Where in the world are you coming from Rick?"  Well, that is not always an easy question to answer.  I have had a lot of influences on my life. My parents, friends, teachers, and the Air Force have all had an affect on me. But when it comes to my attitudes towards the place of Indian people in this society, there was one man who really made a difference in my point of view.

Many years ago, I read a speech that was given by Chief Dan George of the Salish Nation. Most of you will remember him for the movies Little Big Man and The Outlaw Josey Wales. You see, Dan George was much more than an actor. He was a thinker, a great orator, and a leader. He saw the greatness of Indian people and the wonderful future in store for us. This particular speech, given in 1967 during the Canadian Centennial, forever changed my outlook.

"How long have I known you, oh Canada? Two hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your one hundred years, oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout  the land.

For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said come, come and eat of my abundance. I have known you in the freedom of your winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.

But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man's strange customs which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breath.

When I fought to protect my land, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed this way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I stripped of my authority.

My nation was ignored in your history books -- they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your  plays and motion pictures, when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk -- very, very drunk. And I forgot.

Oh Canada, how can I celebrate this Centenary, this one hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what's past and gone.

Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.

Oh God! Like the Thunderbird of old, I shall rise again out of the sea. I shall grab the instruments of the white man's success -- his education, his skills, and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society. Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass.

I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being rules by the knowledge and freedom of our great land. So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations."

What vision the man had.  In the first five paragraphs, he shows Indian people lamenting and recounting the past. Certainly Indian people have much to either be angry or sad about. The past dealings of Canada and the United States with Indian people has much shame. Unfortunately though, too many people try to live in the past or try to reclaim a past that is forever gone.

In paragraph six there is a great transition.  He asks the question -- should we hold on to our sorrow and anger? His answer is no. When he says that we should forget what is past and gone, I don't believe he is saying that we should forget what happened or forget our cultures. I take this to mean:  Remember the history, but dwell on it or use it as an excuse -- NEVER!

Paragraph seven is extremely profound.  See how he says that Indian people should regain some things of the past, notably: courage and strength. But then he says let us accept the new culture. Well, what could he mean here? How can you regain the past and yet accept the white culture?  I have always taken this to mean what has become a basic tenet of my life -- keep one foot in the Red World and one in the White. Find that place where you are an Indian person, yet you are also part of modern society.

Paragraph eight and nine show the future and means for Indian people to regain their greatness.

These are not merely good words.  This is essential for the survival and revival of Indian people. Already we are seeing the assertiveness of Indian people. Indians moving into business, becoming politicians, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators, authors, yet fully retaining their heritage. To me, these are the new Indian heroes.

I wish for future when Indian people are self-supporting, when Nations take care of their own, when individuals provide for their families with no outside help, when tribal governments can tell the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take a flying leap because they are no longer needed.  This future is attainable, if we have "the courage of the olden chiefs"  to take it.


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