What did we do so wrong that they would want to wipe us out? Strip us of our land, force us onto reservations, take our language and clothing, make our children go into boarding schools and punish them for crying for their mothers. We cared for this land and now look at it. Look at us; we are dying. We were a people of millions and now some tribes have a few left, if any. Some have died out all together. We are losing our languages, many of our lives have succumbed to alcohol, our children don’t know our traditions. We never took gold, we have no interest in oil, we only cared for the land and that is all we know. We ask ourselves everyday, what did we do so wrong?
James Shot With Two Arrows, Medicine Man
With just 1% of the American population, Native Americans are often forgotten about and struggle to have their voices heard. The clash between the European colonization and the Native Americans all began with the land: the European concept of individual land ownership and property rights brought much conflict to the Indigenous way of life in North America. Tribal people today suffer a sort of forced segregation at the very bottom of American society on every indicator; from the 88% unemployment rate to the world’s second lowest life expectancy, Indian reservations stand as third world islands in the biggest economy on Earth. Issues such as drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, poverty, crime and the highest suicide rates in the country are just some of the residual scars left on today’s generations. Combating stereotypes every day and seeing cultural traditions, practices and languages slowly vanish by various attempts of assimilation is quite devastating, yet things are beginning to change. The connection with the land, language revitalization and the passing down of traditions and customs are some of the tools being used for empowerment and advancement. The project features Native Americans from different tribes, all of them strongly connected with their culture and actively keeping it alive: teachers, ethno-botanists, doctors, tribal officers, artists, veterans, activists. They often mention they “live in two worlds”, trying to find a balance between traditional ways and 21st century lifestyle.
According to various Native American teachings, “the red road” is the path of respect, spirituality, humbleness: the path of the “right things”.
This is not a time, nor day in age for someone to grow up and not know who they are; to live with a loss of identity. Once you know your culture, your language and your traditions, no one can take that away from you. They tried to kill us, they tried to change us, but we are still fighting, we’re still here.
Danielle Finn, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe