Thoughts on a Native Renaissance

A friend put me onto an excellent review of the movie Wind River, now on Netflix, about life and crime among the Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation.  The movie realistically depicts life on most any Indian reservation today – the poverty, the solitude, the despair.  The murders in the movie were committed by drunken whites, but they could have been Indians or Latinos or whatever.

For over a decade, I taught high school on the Navajo Reservation, where this movie could have been situated just as honestly.  These people live with violence.  The guy in Wind River laid it out in words, to the effect that there is no luck on the rez.  Luck lives in cities.  On the rez, you're strong or you die.  Sometimes you die even if you are strong.  Darwin lives here in ways alien to most Americans.  Social pathology.  Violence.  Crime.  Irresponsibility.  Pain.  Heartache.  Much of this owes to drugs and alcohol.  Much is self-induced.  It's life in a red man's ghetto or a third-world country.

We don't know what it was like before the white man came, but one hopes it was better.  I had the impression that churchgoers do better in life than non-churchgoers.  These latter, with no sense of a Higher Power, of being responsible for what they do, get involved in booze and dope, which often lead to violence.

Anybody can dime-store psychologize, but a few observations seem in order.  The critique of the movie – indeed, the movie itself – noted the solitude of rez life.  The vast spaces and smallish population account for that.  While some don't like solitude, I always felt that it put me nearer the Creator.  Some Indian friends feel the same way, welcoming solitude, even seeking out hobbies and avocations that leave them alone with God to work out whatever's going on in their lives or just to enjoy His presence.  Solitude is spirituality.  It permeates the rez as thoroughly as the omnipresent violence.

A friend advises: "The question isn't 'why do they behave that way?,' but rather 'why wouldn't they?'"  That same friend says irrational core beliefs cause the dysfunction, with core beliefs preceding spirituality.  We disagree on that.  I think the spirituality natural to indigenous people needs regeneration, and when that happens, behavior will align with it.

I don't think whites ever understood that "a tribal way of life" meant something more spiritual than physical.  As a Christian, I applaud spreading the Gospel, but well meaning efforts to do it may have mangled the Indian spirit, leaving them with no path to God that felt right to them.  If nothing else, a different spiritual message inherently criticizes what's already there.  I don't fault Catholicism or Mormonism, both of which have deep roots on the rez; I do fault destroying or forcing underground the old tribal beliefs that gave many a grounding in the mystical and spiritual in a way that was entirely indigenous.

A strongly buttressed tribal hierarchy once kept young men in line, instructed them in adult responsibilities, punished recalcitrants, and passed along belief systems.  A powerful backup to families, this worked in small communities, where everyone knew everyone else.  But as the tribe receded in authority, replaced by unknown officials with few or no ties to the community, the authority structure itself fractured.  The clash of cultural expectations caused problems as fulfilling the demands of one required ignoring the other.  Confusion and resentment resulted.

Wrongs also resulted.  Make no mistake: white civilization has been cruel to Indians, even beastly.  I don't mean by bringing diseases that decimated populations; nobody knew about germs in those days, so as awful as that was, it was inadvertent.  I'm referring to kids literally kidnapped from the yard of their homes and dragged away to live in dorms and attend boarding school, where they were harshly punished for using their native language.  Often their folks had no idea where their kids had been taken.  This kind of thing was still happening in the sixties.

There are much worse stories to tell. Andrew Jackson made his fortune by using the powers of the presidency to force Indians off their lands so he could sell the lands for personal profit.  In the doing, he often had the Indians killed – men, women, and children, a policy of genocide before anyone even knew the word.  There was no excuse for this even in those days.  It was an exercise of malice and greed, rinsed out of the history books so no one need feel guilty about getting a good deal on a farmstead.

I also think many natives were meant to be native but weren't allowed to be.  Real efforts were made to erase their cultures, to "kill the Indian but leave the man," and the people for whom those cultures were adaptive mechanisms had nothing left to fill the spiritual void.  A real case can be made that American Indians suffered as grievously as did blacks during slavery.  Yet the Code Talkers of WWII fame stood up for America when called – and stand up proudly for her today in the military services.

Many Navajos have had success in the larger society.  Much of that is about self-confidence, and self-confidence in important measure is spiritual.  It comes largely from home.  Yet, as elsewhere, too often, Dad isn't at home, and we know that intact families matter.  It's a spiritual thing with a material solution: Dad, physically present at home with his kids and wife.  Strong families turning out strong, confident people.

I believe that America's indigenous peoples have developed the strength and self-awareness to regenerate native belief systems that may be key to restoring tranquility in rez life.  Regeneration isn't about rejecting the white man, or vengeance for past wrongs, but about finding themselves spiritually.  The era when they weren't allowed to be themselves is gone.  The time is ripe for native spiritual renaissance, cognizant of past wrongs but driving forward without resentment or hatred, with confidence and good cheer.

Richard Jack Rail, a frequent contributor to American Thinker, is the author of A Diary of the Trump Era and Life on Earth.  You can reach him via Facebook (Jack Rail) or email (caktusjakk@gmail.com).

A friend put me onto an excellent review of the movie Wind River, now on Netflix, about life and crime among the Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation.  The movie realistically depicts life on most any Indian reservation today – the poverty, the solitude, the despair.  The murders in the movie were committed by drunken whites, but they could have been Indians or Latinos or whatever.

For over a decade, I taught high school on the Navajo Reservation, where this movie could have been situated just as honestly.  These people live with violence.  The guy in Wind River laid it out in words, to the effect that there is no luck on the rez.  Luck lives in cities.  On the rez, you're strong or you die.  Sometimes you die even if you are strong.  Darwin lives here in ways alien to most Americans.  Social pathology.  Violence.  Crime.  Irresponsibility.  Pain.  Heartache.  Much of this owes to drugs and alcohol.  Much is self-induced.  It's life in a red man's ghetto or a third-world country.

We don't know what it was like before the white man came, but one hopes it was better.  I had the impression that churchgoers do better in life than non-churchgoers.  These latter, with no sense of a Higher Power, of being responsible for what they do, get involved in booze and dope, which often lead to violence.

Anybody can dime-store psychologize, but a few observations seem in order.  The critique of the movie – indeed, the movie itself – noted the solitude of rez life.  The vast spaces and smallish population account for that.  While some don't like solitude, I always felt that it put me nearer the Creator.  Some Indian friends feel the same way, welcoming solitude, even seeking out hobbies and avocations that leave them alone with God to work out whatever's going on in their lives or just to enjoy His presence.  Solitude is spirituality.  It permeates the rez as thoroughly as the omnipresent violence.

A friend advises: "The question isn't 'why do they behave that way?,' but rather 'why wouldn't they?'"  That same friend says irrational core beliefs cause the dysfunction, with core beliefs preceding spirituality.  We disagree on that.  I think the spirituality natural to indigenous people needs regeneration, and when that happens, behavior will align with it.

I don't think whites ever understood that "a tribal way of life" meant something more spiritual than physical.  As a Christian, I applaud spreading the Gospel, but well meaning efforts to do it may have mangled the Indian spirit, leaving them with no path to God that felt right to them.  If nothing else, a different spiritual message inherently criticizes what's already there.  I don't fault Catholicism or Mormonism, both of which have deep roots on the rez; I do fault destroying or forcing underground the old tribal beliefs that gave many a grounding in the mystical and spiritual in a way that was entirely indigenous.

A strongly buttressed tribal hierarchy once kept young men in line, instructed them in adult responsibilities, punished recalcitrants, and passed along belief systems.  A powerful backup to families, this worked in small communities, where everyone knew everyone else.  But as the tribe receded in authority, replaced by unknown officials with few or no ties to the community, the authority structure itself fractured.  The clash of cultural expectations caused problems as fulfilling the demands of one required ignoring the other.  Confusion and resentment resulted.

Wrongs also resulted.  Make no mistake: white civilization has been cruel to Indians, even beastly.  I don't mean by bringing diseases that decimated populations; nobody knew about germs in those days, so as awful as that was, it was inadvertent.  I'm referring to kids literally kidnapped from the yard of their homes and dragged away to live in dorms and attend boarding school, where they were harshly punished for using their native language.  Often their folks had no idea where their kids had been taken.  This kind of thing was still happening in the sixties.

There are much worse stories to tell. Andrew Jackson made his fortune by using the powers of the presidency to force Indians off their lands so he could sell the lands for personal profit.  In the doing, he often had the Indians killed – men, women, and children, a policy of genocide before anyone even knew the word.  There was no excuse for this even in those days.  It was an exercise of malice and greed, rinsed out of the history books so no one need feel guilty about getting a good deal on a farmstead.

I also think many natives were meant to be native but weren't allowed to be.  Real efforts were made to erase their cultures, to "kill the Indian but leave the man," and the people for whom those cultures were adaptive mechanisms had nothing left to fill the spiritual void.  A real case can be made that American Indians suffered as grievously as did blacks during slavery.  Yet the Code Talkers of WWII fame stood up for America when called – and stand up proudly for her today in the military services.

Many Navajos have had success in the larger society.  Much of that is about self-confidence, and self-confidence in important measure is spiritual.  It comes largely from home.  Yet, as elsewhere, too often, Dad isn't at home, and we know that intact families matter.  It's a spiritual thing with a material solution: Dad, physically present at home with his kids and wife.  Strong families turning out strong, confident people.

I believe that America's indigenous peoples have developed the strength and self-awareness to regenerate native belief systems that may be key to restoring tranquility in rez life.  Regeneration isn't about rejecting the white man, or vengeance for past wrongs, but about finding themselves spiritually.  The era when they weren't allowed to be themselves is gone.  The time is ripe for native spiritual renaissance, cognizant of past wrongs but driving forward without resentment or hatred, with confidence and good cheer.

Richard Jack Rail, a frequent contributor to American Thinker, is the author of A Diary of the Trump Era and Life on Earth.  You can reach him via Facebook (Jack Rail) or email (caktusjakk@gmail.com).