It’s often easy to rest on our laurels and feel we’re above bigotry or prejudice. After all, I never did that. I never owned slaves; some of my ancestors were Irish, so no doubt they faced bigotry, too, etc.
A couple of things over the New Year’s holiday brought me up short, however.
First, I watched “The Dust Bowl” on PBS. It’s quite something to watch, and it brought home how unwelcome those “Okies” and others from the Dust Bowl states were when they tried to start over in California. They were turned away at the border for flimsy reasons; no temporary accommodations were accorded them. Sad to see how many people turned their backs on these people who only wanted a way to live and provide for their families.
An uncle and aunt of mine migrated to California during that time. They left their baby’s grave behind, and not much else. I never heard much about it, but when I was older, we visited them in California, and they’d done very well. They owned several apartment buildings, and when Uncle Otto died, he even left some money to his siblings. But I’m sure they had to overcome the “Okie” mentality when they first arrived from dust-ravaged Dakota.
Then I read “Dammed Indians revisited,” the One Book South Dakota selection for 2012. It tells the story of the huge dams built along the Missouri River, and what it did to the Native American population and their land holdings. It’s pretty stark.
Basically the Pick-Sloan Plan mapped out the big dams to be built along the way, but never took into consideration what that did to the Indians who called that land home.
My folks and I drove to Oregon and California to visit relatives when I was a teen. I vividly recall seeing all the white, dead trees out in the middle of water, and asking about it. Dad said it was because of the Oahe Dam being built.
At that time, I never questioned. Implications of a government’s actions don’t carry much weight for a teenager.
But the “Dammed Indians” book did. In a nutshell, the whole Missouri River plan was carried out without giving much of any thought to what upheaval it would do to the Native Americans who lived along the river.
I’ve always been sympathetic to Native Americans. I student taught at Flandreau Indian School and grew to love my students.
Some years later, we adopted a part- Chippewa baby. I’ve witnessed over the years the subtle or outright reaction by some to a person who is (or looks) Native American.
I’ve always hated it, and I know my hackles rise when anyone makes a comment (ignorant or otherwise) about Indians or the Indian culture.
I believe what upset me most in both instances (Okies and the Missouri project) was the “I’m better than” attitude that shines forth.
Native Americans were here to meet my English ancestors when they stepped off the boat. They were long gone from the East Coast when my Irish and German relatives landed…and to be sure, those ancestors brought little prosperity with them. They were hoping to find success here.
The Okies (which term was used for everyone who migrated away from the Dust Bowl) weren’t ne’er-do-wells. They were hard workers who had to face Nature’s fury. I’m willing to bet the Californians who sought to keep them out had no better pedigrees.
Stepping off my soapbox, I was impressed with what I read and saw. And I feel all of us need to consider who we look down upon/take advantage of/consider less than. Scratch the surface…we all bleed the same.
I don’t believe God puts a “favored” sticker on any one of us.
Conscious (conscience) raising?