My Friend Chad: Victims and Victory, and those Visitors Who Want Indians to Stay Virtually the Same PART 1

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

The Statue Of Liberty.
And Native Americans.

My dude, Nish Chad, brought up an interesting theory to me. Bringing up interesting thoughts to me is not unusual, mind you, since Chad’s somewhat of a conspiracy theorist.

Follow this: Every since Contact, we Natives have never done too good of a job regulating the non-Natives within our communities. That is, the facts show that we allow everyone into our communities and willingly invite outsiders into our reindeer games—even when the folks who want to play our reindeer games have been ostracized from every single other part of society. Europe doesn’t want you anymore? No problem. The military doesn’t want you anymore? We’ll take you. White folks don’t want you anymore? We’ll take you. Listed as a sexual offender? We’ll still take you.

I mean, think about: it’s rarely the exemplary or successful non-Native folks who find refuge amongst us. Every once in a GREAT while, we get a non-Native who has it together–the ocassional white millionaire or Doctor who leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city to come live with us–but that’s rare. Instead, it’s usually the odd, rejected, smelly, sex offender and/or really really hippie non-Native folks who we accept to come live within our communities. They figure, “I flunked out of “mainstream society”—perhaps these egalitarian Native people will accept me.”

And unfortunately most of the time we do.

Sometimes we even allow these oddball non-Natives to have a greater voice than our own people—greater than the very Natives who live amongst our own people, live and work for Native people. Those non-Natives want to be important to the Native community—they want to save the Native community—so badly that they assign themselves a greater voice than the very citizens of that community.

But I digress. Anway—back to Chad.

See, my dude Nish Chad—amazing business man and hustler supreme—emailed me one day to talk about historic trauma amongst Natives. He pointed out that the majority of the people who like to exercise the “intergenerational trauma” card for Native people are not Natives but, instead, white folks who want to be accepted in Native communities. Think about it: you rarely hear Native people excuse the few young Native knuckleheads by saying that it’s “intergenerational trauma.” Native parents know that some Native kids are simply knuckleheads, just like some white kids, black kids, Hispanic and Asian kids (but very few Asians) are knuckleheads.

Yet, according to Chad, white school administrators, academics and bloggers do not like to admit that some Native kids just simply mess up. So they present an all-encompassing excuse for Native kids—intergenerational trauma. He said that when he talks to elderly Natives—or even most of us Natives who grew up within our own communities—those Natives want accountability, responsibility and an end to all the excuses. They want Native kids to excel like they know that Native kids can excel if no one is making excuses for them or lowering expectations for them. Further, these older Natives know that as long as these non-Natives keep making excuses for Native kids before the Native kids even get a chance to compete, the Native kids are going to believe the excuses. They’re going to feel that, “Yeah, I guess I do have trauma and shouldn’t be getting these good grades. I guess I should be angrier.”

These non-Natives love to tell us Natives what to do. They attempt to tell us what we should or should not expect from our own children. They attempt to tell us what should or should not offend us. Because, apparently, we’re not smart enough to know ourselves. Crazily, sometimes we even listen to those non-Native folks who tell us that we should lower our standards for our children and we should find a convenient excuse to expect them not to do well in today’s society.

When I thought more about Chad’s pseudo-conspiracy theory I had to admit—it wasn’t even really a theory. In fact, I’ve seen this “white-folks-excusing-bad-behavior-within-Native-youth-who-ultimately-end-up-in-prison” phenomenon up close. I’ve also seen the destruction that it does within our communities. Perhaps not coincidentally, I’ve also seen many non-Native social workers and tribal police and lawyers and other professional gain employment within our communities—job opportunities that spring up as a direct result of the destruction that arises within our communities.

Hmmmmmmm….Instant work for a lot of non-Natives and job security as a result of excusing behavior?? Not a bad gig at all.

I see it myself, by the way. In my experience, Natives appreciate my perspective that we Natives are 100% in control of our destiny and that we should never feel sorry for ourselves. Old Natives LOVE it when I say that our kids are accountable for their actions. Those elders understand that blaming others for their pain doesn’t accomplish anything. Young Natives love it when they feel that others aren’t making decisions for them. But I also get hate emails from a bunch of white educators who say that I’m blaming the victim, or that I’m being callous and mean. They do not appreciate the fact that MY personal definition of sovereignty begins and ends with Natives—and simply does not include non-Natives. They do not understand why I do not pander to an outdated “victim” image in the media, drunk and defeated. In my calculus, those “helpless” and “victim” images are outdated and untrue.

We are not victims. We are victors. We are still here–we’ve won just by surviving the Holocaust of the previous 500 years. And now, we must move beyond merely surviving to thriving. But those non-Natives who were welcomed into our communities attempt to tell us that we ARE helpless–that we need to stay stuck on “survival.”

Me? Like my buddy Chad, I feel that NO non-Natives should be able to question us—Natives—about something strictly intra-Native, like our what we expect of our children. Sovereignty is 100% about making our own destiny–for better or for worse. Hey—for what it’s worth (not a ton to me, but some folks need the validation of some old white folks), the Supreme Court said as much in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez.

So does intergenerational trauma exist? Of course. It’s been proven. But it exists for many, many people–not just Natives. And just like the rest of those other “many, many people” who suffer intergenerational trauma, we Natives need to figure out a way to get out from under that shadow, otherwise subsequent generations will suffer and struggle with exactly the same issues as we do, because we were too busy playing victim. I guess the other point is that non-Natives who seek to excuse Native behavior use intergenerational trauma as an excuse for everything–bad grades, sexual deviancy, B.O., erectile dysfunction. If you’re Native and you don’t file your taxes on time, according to these people, intergenerational trauma is the reason.

The reason why? Who knows: maybe white guilt? Or maybe, as shown above, to keep a job?

Still, I wonder about Chad’s larger point—why do these non-Natives always want to butt into our internal family business? Whether it’s the “shamanic,” eccentric hippie lady who feels the need to tell everyone about her distant Native heritage or the Preacher who wants to save all the Indians from brimstone, there are always outsiders who want to put their two cents into our internal business. Heck, I NEVER saw any Natives on “The Brady Bunch” telling Mike and Carol how to raise their kids.

Maybe that’s just a cultural difference? Or perhaps those non-Natives have an interest in making sure that Natives continue to feel like victims?


Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 2:07 am  Comments (22)  

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  1. Interesting, Gyasi, and I’m glad you’re brave enough to bring this up this way, so how can I do less than comment even though I might be accused of being an eccentric hippie lady, even shamanic? Ask a Blackfeet why. Ask GG Kipp.

    I was the Methodist minister for the Blackfeet parish one year and became vividly aware of how those Iowa do-gooder kids yearn to come to the rez and work on some tribal old lady’s house. What you may not know is that they go back to their home church and raise beaucoup bucks for the Methodists, which these days is mostly mixed-blood tribal. They’re good publicity. And while they’re here, they do notice that people aren’t living in tipis anymore. Sometimes they stay friends over the years.

    When I came to teach in 1961, the town was run by whites. As soon as Indian preference for BIA and IHS came in, things changed. Few whites now. They stick out. Last summer I got to the Church of the Little Flower too early for Curley Bear Wagner’s funeral (he was one of my students) and I sat on the front steps of the church for a while, visiting with some street people. We were remembering people we knew and stuff that happened. No one fussed about anything. We were just people together. But we did talk about some of these issues.

    Maybe I’m out of the loop these days. It seems to me that the white alcoholic who hides on the rez is not so common. And now that I’ve had a little experience in the white towns just off the rez, I see the same dynamics as on. “Officer Krumpke” stuff — you remember West Side Story? So much of this theory-stuff comes out of the black urban ghetto. Why not? The kids pick it up: it’s vivid, energetic, and it DOES bring white liberals to a screeching halt. Only these days the principal might possibly be your auntie. Eeeks.

    It seems to me there are a lot of double binds going on and double binds sap energy. On the one hand, if any big shot comes around, the local politicians will hurry to kiss his feet and give him gifts. “Now why doesn’t Tom Cruise do something nice for me?” one of them asked me. “I gave him a really good beaded vest.” Well, um . . . you heard of Scientology? that big tent at Indian Days?

    There’s a man, dead now, who wrote a prize-winning book about Blackfeet. He was a child molester. Only the family of the kids is anxious to discredit that book because locals are just as romantic as the whites.

    I agree there are a few mangy white people and, more than that, some strong hispanic accents around town. Some of those last are excellent family people and hard workers. Some of them like the rez because they don’t stick out here. You have any ideas why they want to go unnoticed?

    Are you gonna be the one to tell John and Carol Murray that they weren’t traumatized by the Baker Massacre? I’m not.

    But don’t back off. There’s a lot to be said.

    Prairie Mary

    • Thanks for the comment. I always appreciate your viewpoint and you always raise good points. I’m not knocking the white Iowa kids who come out–I think that’s beautiful anytime somebody chooses service. I love it. I’m saying “shouldn’t we be doing this ourselves?” Is that really intergenerational trauma, that creates a situation where we watch our grandparents’ home deteriorate and the ONLY reminder we have that PERHAPS we should do something about it is when someone from outside comes to fix it?

      They may have their reasons and agenda for doing these good works–the Iowans–but at least they’re doing it. We’re simply not, Mary. Does that make sense?

      I love your history, by the way. I cannot wait to just talk.

      Never back off, Mary. Promise.


      • Oh yeah, Mary–just for one specifical point:

        I don’t see it as “turning on” liberals–I think liberals are necessary and do a lot of good. In fact, I identify as a bleeding heart, and am thankful for those Iowan kids (as I mentioned) and anybody else who has a mind to be of assistance to those less-fortunate (from the old lady crossing the street to the starving kids in Haiti). Philanthropy and service are NEVER bad.

        My point, instead, is about “excuses”–don’t make the excuse FOR US. That’s a disservice.

  2. Didn’t you criticize Indians for blaming their problems on intergenerational trauma in your previous column? Now you’re saying Indians don’t blame their problems on intergenerational trauma? That was a fast turnaround, but I’m glad to see you changed your mind.

  3. Hail to Prairie Mary!! We are more alike then we are different. And, why aren’t you out there on the Rez teaching values and making contributions and being role model for the youth? Maybe instead of self promotion u should and poetry u should be more “hands on”.

    • Hi SM,

      I’m seventy. I’m retired. I taught on the rez for ten years and got fired once. (White superintendent. I figured out he was taking kickbacks.) Not counting teaching at the Blackfeet Community College. Not counting parents who came up and threatened to punch me out.

      I’m self-publishing Blackfeet history that’s hard to find or too expensive and making it available for free at I write a daily blog which is sometimes about local doin’s. When I was living in Portland, I sent back a steady stream of NA books for the library. Etc.

      That’s about where my boundary is. I’m sovereign within that boundary. You don’t tell me what to do. It’s voluntary.

      Now tell us what YOU do!

      Prairie Mary

  4. The intergenerational trauma isn’t always used as an excuse on some reservations I don’t think everyone has heard that term.

    But what I have seen are white people coming here getting paid and not trying to do their best for the tribe they work for. Their performances are marginal. Especially in the public school systems. Some teachers here both native and non-native attach a stigmatism to students if the student doesn’t come from the so called “right” family. Nothing is mentioned of intergenerational-trauma. “Oh yeah that one’s family drinks alot, they’re not good people, they fight alot, they’re always going to jail. He or she will never amount to anything…” Talk about group self hatred.

    Some principals have been in certain areas for over 20 years and these white education administrators don’t care about the Native Students. Native American schools have some of the highest drop out rates in certain states. There are parents who are afraid to defend their child because these teachers come to the reservations with their 4 year degrees and talk down to tribal members. Most of the time the parents are drops-out too, or barely got through high school.I don’t flaunt my degrees and this has happened to me as well…White teacher: Do you know what a pantry is? A pantry is… ME: I KNOW what a pantry is.

    I have never heard anyone here use that phrase “intergenerational-trauma” is an excuse for the way they are. Instead they say Boarding School is the reason why we are this way or that way…Hmpf, boarding school.

    I can’t even relate to what my ancestors went through… Living off the land etc. When I was growing up,(born 1957) the only white people I saw were BIA or IHS or School district employees, Church staff, educated people most likely, who lived in government housing, nice yards, with grass… It wasn’t until I became an adult that I moved off and saw that not all white people lived that way. Like in the movie 8 Mile they called them trailer trash…I too, have seen whites come to the reservations and Indian owned agencies because they were rejects from their own.

    Yeah we have white kids coming here too, building and painting school bus stop sheds for the students, only to be vandalized by the local native kids. Most of the times the MONEY is provided for them by their churches to do this work.

    Where I work we provide alot of services for our tribal members, only to have the so called “gangs” destroy buildings,vehicles, bust windows, paint graffitti on play ground areas declaring it their territory. Our tribal members have no respect and whose fault is that? These kids weren’t born in 1492.

    Lazy parenting. The schools provide meals, for some parents free day care. What more do we want? Some tribes used have their daily routine with the youth. They made them run. We don’t do that anymore. The complaints: Its too hard I don’t want to that. The parents don’t want to push them… What am I talking about my own parents didn’t even run… I disciplined myself to get up and run.

    My brothers and sisters were always blaming our parents for this and that, even after they passed. We can’t continue to blame this or that for making choices that will affect our lives. Then you hear about these people who immigrated here from other countries with nothing in their pockets.

    • I never heard of intergenerational trauma theory until I got to the university. It wasn’t something that was ever discussed in my school or home and none of my “juvenile delinquent” buddies ever used it as an excuse for their crimes, most of which were committed against other indians.

      I wrote to Mr Trimble about this topic before and though I agree that we need to pull ourselves up, I have a hard time accepting “intergenerational trauma” theorists as being one of our main barriers to progress.

  5. Two words come to mind….yes big anglo words
    1. Inter-dependence: (my definition) The learned dependence on government hand-outs.
    2. Re-Traditionalization (dito again) What it mean to be native before colonization.

    I think that today we are seeing the after effects on all children losing sight of what it means to respect ones self, others, community and the earth. We have government regulations telling us how to raise and discipline our children. We are still buying into an educational system that hasn’t fit the majority of school aged kids ever. So, why do we question the hopelessness of our children. Just look around and see what the norm is for living situations in our native communities; homelessness, addiction, poverty, lack of educational and career opportunities. We need to remember the days of our ancestors, back when you would get shunned or worse yet; ostracized from our communities. We were accountable for all things we did and what that impact would be on others. We need to advocate for wellness in our communities. Inter-generational trauma is a learning tool to teach us how we got here, coupled with tools for hope for the future

  6. cont.
    we can address these issues together. Why can’t we all just get along? LOL

  7. I often think of Woody Allen telling his therapist that his brother thinks he’s a chicken. (The bro, not Woody.)

    The therapist says, “Well, bring him in. I’ll see what I can do.”

    “Oh, no,” says Woody. “We need the eggs.”

    Prairie Mary

  8. How about some of us white folks come to native communities because we fall in love with a native and just want love and acceptance – just like the rest of the world. Love – no ulterior motives, no theories, only prompting by the Spirit and trying to follow that. There’s so much judgment and complication of such simple heart- felt good pure motives. How we all get along, love and understand one another is hard work. Please don’t exclude me because I’m white (so you can be a sovereign nation). Please don’t judge me. Please don’t worry about a comment I make about the kids – just like I would for any kid I see. Why is there judgment and exclusion ? I don’t get it ! I know ‘some’ of the history. I still don’t get it ! When I meet you and you meet me and you decide to hate me or exclude me or judge me cuz I’m white – I don’t get it.

  9. I am still having a problem with this “blanket assumption” that all Native American people have had some white person say to them, “You are like this because of intergenerational-trauma.” I am sitting here trying to recall if I ever heard this said where I live and I can’t remember that being said.

    My parents went to boarding school but their experience wasn’t a traumatic experience like some claim to have had. So I can’t buy this concept of “intergenerational-trauma” covers it all. What I do understand is that my parents died from alcohol and they didn’t need too. They could have stopped but they didn’t. The dysfunctional lifestyle that accompanies that “disease” included physical, verbal, mental abuse could have been stopped but they didn’t stop it. Where they picked up this habit was when they moved, while on that relocation program. Then, from what I could tell, they just lost control. As a result my brothers and sisters learned that when things go bad, you drink! Like my mother used to say as an EXCUSE, “I’m drinking because of this…””I had a bad day at work that’s why I am drinking…” Talk about denial and justification right?

    If this defines intergenerational-trauma, then this started one generation ago, not centuries ago.

    We had a white person come on to our reservation with this attitude that we needed to be educated, according to her standards. She made the rounds and went out of her way to get to know who she thought was “who”. She got on the radio with her slow talking way and played all kinds of corny music, she was aggressive and even had a talk show. What she didn’t know was that not everyone appreciated her. Tribal Members began asking,”who is she to do this?””Why is she trying to tell us how to live?” Some tribal members unfortunately fell for this person, then guess what? Her friends, the so called “who’s who” of the tribe, had this woman run off the reservation. Is this where I would say something like, “Talk about biting the hand that feeds you…”

  10. Well, I teach at an urban charter school with a 95-98% Native American population. It’s not the non-Natives making excuses for these so called “knuckle heads”, it’s the parents and the native staff, teachers, and administrators. Often times, the parents are quick to put blame on the teachers for their child’s deficiency when the reality is that parents do not know how to discipline and provide structure for their kids. The students whose parents who are actively involved in their education are by far the most successful across socio-economic status and this includes rural vs. urban residence. We are collecting data that supports this claim. I think we are a unique school in that our population of students are both urban and rural. Some get bused in daily from neighboring reservation areas. We also have a 95-98% population of Native students that include 50 different tribal affiliations. I don’t believe non-Natives are the issue per se. In regards to historical trauma…well, yeah in a sense. What is the issue is parenting or lack of parenting amongst Native families. Because of historical trauma, the Native family structure was completed altered and in a sense destroyed or fragmented. Abuse and neglect are prevalent in Native communities. Instead of us as Native people using historical trauma as an excuse for lack of parenting skills and knowledge. We should use as to help understand the root of our problems and work to fix it. We need to be solution-based and not problem-based. Stop blaming other people for our mistakes and work on fixing ourselves, our families, and our communities. Stop blaming the White People. You all have a choice and no one can make you do anything. So you have a choice to be a better parent, role model, and community member.

    • @ Jennifer. Well said! I do the best I can to be there for my children, encouraging them and just being there for them, being a good role model. My children are excelling in school and the teachers having nothing but praise for them. I work hard at being the best parent I can be. I think some of ‘us’ have become lazy and have decided to depend on the teacher to be the parent.

      • I think the term being used is intergenerational-trauma not historical-trauma.

        I worked in an urban setting doing parenting classes for Native American people and have children myself. People learn to parent from who ever parented them. Some changed their parenting style from dictator to being more liberal but not always. What I saw were tribal people from the reservation who had MEAN white teachers and as a result they became very defensive over their children. And then again as I mentioned before some of it was just lazy parenting. There were some parents who wanted me to give them referrals so their kids could have “medicine” to calm them down, even after an evaluation. The child was just being a child exploring. Then there were some fathers who didn’t want to take part in parenting their children, “that’s a womans job.” I had parents blame the school for their child/ren misbehavior and bad manner’s or disrespect. This is where I would draw the line and let the parent know that it is their responsibility to teach their children to behave, manners, to be respectful, discipline not the school’s or the teacher, and other things.

        Unfortunately what I saw was that both on and off the reservation NDN parents were not active in PAC meetings. Out of 300 students only 3 parents might show up to a meeting.

  11. Many of our tribal elected offidials are elected because they are “one of us”. They are elected under a campaighn that “I will do whatever I can to .. …”. Local tribal politics and local concerns keep our Indian nations back like the white man wants. I urge you to keep your voice on these key issue up and when you don’t I will be worried.

    Dennis G. Chappabity

  12. […] Chad asked me why I thought non-Natives liked to be in Native Americans’ affairs. […]

  13. […] My Friend Chad: Victims and Victory Part 2 Nish Chad asked me why I thought non-Natives liked to be all up in Native Americans’ affairs. […]

  14. Thanks for speaking up. As is said in my family, “I wipe my own @$$,” rather than cry around begging people for help. While being the first to navigate a educational and political system in my family and away from my family and community, coddling by others has not helped me. I get seriously offended by people who coddle me. I also get really annoyed by people who say that we have circular thoughts, etc. I do scientific research just as well as my classmates and have had to learn the same curriculum. Nothing is different about my brain. What has been different is how people treated me. However, I figured out how to get past the stupidity in order to keep moving forward in pursuing my passions and doing what I know is right.

  15. Ugh!

  16. i’m 100% “native american” and i say we are going to be extinct, so lets just act like were extinct ! it’s not like white-people and black-people and any other people in america give a shit if were still standing or not. shit, even across the globe we seem to be forgotten. most places people think were a myth. so i’m telling you with a bottle of beer in my hand “this is why i drink”. we well never get respect so why give it. I HATE GOD FOR ALLOWING GENOCIDE ON MY ANCESTORS. imagine all the more relative we would have had ? THIS IS WHY I DRINK !!

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