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.

He conceded, “ok, yeah, there are some non-Natives who involved themselves in Native affairs because they simply wanted to help.” Those rare benevolent non-Natives don’t want special attention—they just want to be a part of improving Indian Country’s infrastructure through small incremental steps.


But, according to Chad, there are also seems to be SO MANY non-Natives who want to do all the work for Native Americans. These are the non-Natives who do not believe that Natives can improve our own lives internally. Instead these non-Natives want to be comic book Superheroes to us poor Native Americans. They see themselves as Spirit and want to come rescue us, GI Joe-style, from the evils of Cobra Commander, fires, our alcoholism, and woes of the reservation life. They want us to reply to their heroic deed with “Now we know,” so that they can say “And knowing is half the battle.”

They want to save us because, apparently we cannot save ourselves.

I asked Chad, “Can we really be surprised that there are these people who want to “save” us? Think about this, bro: there’s a certain historical pattern that shows white folks ALWAYS tend to think that they know what’s best for us Natives. There have always been non-Natives who wanted to “save” us. These folks are the direct descendants of Capt. Richard Pratt—yknow, ‘kill the Indian, save the man.”

He replied, “Yeah, my grandmother always said that the white folks who messed us up the most were trying to help us. The people who stole our grandparents and great-grandparents’ children to bring them to boarding schools were trying to “rescue” Indians. The politicians who incentivized Natives to leave reservations so that they could find non-existent jobs were trying to save Indians from ourselves. I guess, yeah, white folks always wanted to be in our business. Dang, these FEW crazy non-Natives who love to speak for us Natives STILL think that they know what’s best for us, ennit?”

And he’s right, of course; this pattern of non-Natives wanting to be Superhero in Indian Country for helpless Natives isn’t just relegated to ancient history.

For example, in our integrated society we now always have non-Natives who work for our respective tribes. Good for them—God bless those non-Native folks for finding gainful employment in this tough economic time! And oftentimes these non-Natives are wonderful workers and truly have our peoples’ interests at heart! Many of them also provide important skills and trades until our tribal members gain more education and training—self-sufficiency. And these non-Natives help create self-sufficiency and play their role. These folks are not trying to be Superheroes. They are just doing their jobs. That’s a good thing.


…there are always a few—and you know who those few are—who try to become more than just “good employees” within our tribes. Those special few try to become members of our tribes, spokespeople for our tribes, the very superheroes to our tribes!! In fact, they want to singlehandedly save our people—“Behold, it’s Great White Father Man!!!” They want to save us from ourselves by making all of our decisions for us and talking for us and generally not wanting us to be sentient, capable adults.

Everybody knows those people.

I guess I can see why those non-Natives would want to do that. It’s a weird desire (in my humble opinion), but I guess I could see how someone could get off on it—“saving people.” Heck, I watched “The Incredibles,” where Mr. Incredible snuck outside to be a hero because he missed the rush. It must feel good to say that you “saved someone.” Being a hero must be fun and that’s why all these non-Natives want to save us, I guess.

But Mr. Incredible was a cartoon. Superheroes do not exist. Heck, I have nice pecs, but I can’t save anybody. I also don’t think that the majority of Natives want to be saved. “Self-determination” and “sovereignty” means “we can do this ourselves.” And we WILL do it ourselves—and continue to make up amazing amounts of political, educational and financial ground like we have in the past twenty years—if folks just leave us alone long enough to adjust to and counteract 500 years of rapid and destructive change.

Natives do not need a Superhero to save us from our perils. In fact, I submit that a real hero doesn’t want to save anyone. A real hero wants to eliminate the circumstances that necessitate “saving.”

Therefore, the father who lies his gun around and then dramatically snatches his son before he pulls the trigger is not a hero. Instead, the father who keeps his son from dangerous things in the first place and teaches him the consequences of playing with destructive things is more heroic.

My goal, then, is to be a small part of the process that shows my people that we have the capability to rescue ourselves. We have all the tools, capabilities and potential within our own communities. We are empowered to do it ourselves.

And empowered people do not need a superhero.

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 1:07 am  Comments (22)  

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  1. A real hero wants to eliminate the circumstances that necessitate “saving.” (I love that) I wish more Native people would start thinking this same way. We all could make such a difference in our communities, if we all did one little thing. I get tired of hearing white people say how bad they feel for the way natives have been treated and how they act like they can make up for it in some way.

  2. I’ve seen/experienced it first hand,”the Political Superhero” who wants to save all of “Indian Country”, yet…has no idea of (or for that matter) never even been to a reservation. They all seem to have the answers on how to empower and educate the “Indian”,yet, I feel they are the truly the ones who need some educating on the matters they feel they are “so empowered” to preach. Are they really trying to “save”, or; is it that they see an opportunity like our good ol’ friend Jack Abramhoff? The more they try to “save” the more I see them failing; hence, “WE ARE CAPABLE OF SAVING OURSELVES”

  3. What makes ya think they wanna save anybody? Not everyone is out to save the world…maybe they just like the work and the environment and the way they are treated by co-workers! And not all tribes are “full-blooded”. Some tribal leaders are half or less. Plus, don’t they have agreements, with casino employment that is, to employ so many “non-natives” within the community? There are a few things you are not considering.

  4. These Saviors (good guys) are following their religion, which teaches them to SAVE us (aborigines) from ourselves. The Christians think their god ordered them to ‘destroy the village in order to save it.’ Aborigines are capable; just look at the wonders of this nation and the rest of the hemisphere.

  5. LMAO – I was just talking to a few council members the other day about how you need to watch and listen to the comments of the non-natives working for the tribe in high positions. They act like they need to save you (Tribe) and only they can do it.
    One of those moments of “I’m just saying”.

  6. I’m with you, to a degree. Sometimes white people (because that’s who we’re talking about, right?) will listen to another white person when they won’t listen to an Indian. So a white person that can really advocate for Indians is a useful person to have around. He (and it’s usually a “he” in politics) is able to access people and corridors of power that we are STILL not allowed in. Think of them more of a guide, paving the way for us to get to where we need to go. (The irony of a white guide for Indians is too good!).

  7. Hey folks,

    Thanks for the comments. Great thoughts, and I’ll respond more later–I just wanted to point out that underneath the blog entry, in the section entitled “Possibly Related Posts”, one of the possibly related posts is “3 Men Arrested for Cannibalism.”

    I don’t know why I think that’s hilarious. But I do.


    Thanks again.

    • I guess they ate the fourth one..LOL.


  9. White People only try to save us because they can, we allow it with open-arms, I work for my tribe and you know what my own people would rather be saved by Whitey then to help themselves. Thats why so many of our super talented Blackfeet people leave our Nation, cause their expertise is unwanted. It has a lot to do with Lateral Opperession. All the time our tribe shells out big bucks to the white guys with out accountability, and pass over the more qualified Blackfeet person. I only hire my own Im kinda predujice that way and proud of it!!! (My own is the more qualified Native)

  10. I am more willing to selectivly accept a helping hand from a “white” man than the words of some of California’s gaming tribal leaders who take every opportunity to verbally support non-federally recognized tribes right to self reliance and a govt. relationship, then stab you us the back with their “white” lawyer lobbiest in the name of good business.

  11. I believe in working together as a team. I think that sometimes we need non-Natives input because they have a different cultural understanding. As long as there isn’t some hidden agenda. Not all Natives are prejudice (me). I work with non-natives everyday. It’s really about mentality and outlook. I have however encountered the non-native who wants to run everything recently. This person wanted to run everything and would not give up power. This person wrote all the grants and had complete control of the operation (a non profit). Now that we have taken financial control away from this individual, we still have a problem. This individual even interrupted a cultural event because it wasn’t planned. How could a non-native account for if the Natives want to have an impromptu cultural event (prayer, song, etc.) It was really really ugly. I still do not know how to approach this in a positive manner. So… how do we handle these individuals without compromising our integrity?

  12. Wow, what a concept, we can do for ourselves. I agree we Indians are just as smart and savvy as anyone. Unfortunately too many Indians (natives) want to sit back and have a job or money land in their lap because of who they know and not what they know. We Natives are our own worst enemy sometimes. I’ve had this topic planned for my radio show this weekend, 2/13/10, Red Town Radio, to talk about the difference between “do gooders” and those that do good. I have mixed feelings on the subject, but there have been some good Non-Natives who have helped us so we can’t paint everyone with the same brush. Mvto, B

  13. I’m not sure how much we can get done for ourselves, especially if we want to receive the same quality of life that our white neighbors have. For instance, what is the state of our Indian reservation athletic facilities? Off the reservation, every little town in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota has a nice baseball/softball complex. It usually includes green grass, fencing, lights, dugouts, concession stands, bases, and chalk lines. Keep this in mind and then compare these commonplace facilities with those found on most Indian reservations. Am I wrong to think that Indians solving problems for ourselves hasn’t yet resulted in the provision of quality athletic facilities? So what explains the disparity here? Is it us or them? Getting back to the point of the column, I wish Senator McCain and Michelle Obama, along with our DC savvy tribal leaders would get some legislation passed that would provide Indian reservations with the kind of quality athletic/wellness facilities found on the average state university. The point is that we apparently cannot do this on our own…

    • Athletic facilities? Wow. Most schools are funded by tax dollars. Most reservations do not have access to those tax dollars, not to mention if we did have taxes how small our populations actually are compared to most school districts?! You do the math.

      There are reservations that have these things, mostly the ones that have very lucrative casinos. The only conclusion that can be formed from you not knowing this is that you haven’t been in too many Native communities.

      You should see the one on the Onondaga Territory. It’s gigantic and is actually has a giant Hiawatha belt across the roof. It also turns out the best lacrosse players in the state. Check out the Syracuse University roster. The Onondaga people do not have a casino either… so it must be baffling how they must have built that by themselves!

      • To Skaruianewah: Thanks for helping me to refine the point I’m trying to make: Without tax dollars that are available to most small towns and state universities in the USA, Indian country has had a difficult time building quality athletic facilities. A few tribes have accomplished this without lucrative casinos (as Skaruianewah points out)but most do not have the financial success to provide quality athletic facilities. I’m talking about facilities comparable to those you find at state universities. Yet we know that Indians need intervention here according to numerous health and wellness indicators. I’m bringing this example up because it is one thing to say that we can do for ourselves, but if we want to do for ourselves to accomplish something tangible like a fine workout facility to help keep our communities healthy, well we need lots of help from Congress, also our NCAI leadership, as well as our local community. Maybe we can collaborate with Michelle Obama and her child obesity prevention campaign to get legislation to fund the construction of quality athletic facilities on Indian reservations?
        Sure, there are those reservation families that somehow manage to nurture wellness in spite of poor nutritional and recreational resources. But lots of others need support and motivation to get into physical fitness routines that are healthy.

  14. We went from white people being up in Indian Affairs to health facilities. Reminds me of when I questioned a boyfriend about why he was jealous, he started talking about a movie called The Ringer. When I asked him, where’s the correlation between that movie and his jealousy, he said, “There is none I just don’t want to talk about me being jealous!”

    What really urks me is the tribal person who thinks that white people know everything. I have worked with non-Indians most of my career and for the most part I felt my knowledge and skills were more appreciated than with my own tribe.

    Then at the same time I ran into the white male, who was intimidated by me a female of color, who they considered a subordinate just because of my race. I saw the vicious, aggressiveness of the white “dog eat dog” world. (Funny that you should have a picture of “McCain” at the top of your blog.)

    I experienced racial predjudice mainly from the white men. One example, A co-worker of mine, not supervisor, just a co-worker of mine asked me to read a letter he had written and said ‘feel free to make changes’. Without any intimidation I did make changes, alot of changes. When I returned my version of the letter to the white co-worker he BLEW up in my face and demanded to know why I felt his hard copy was inadequate.(My words.) This white male co-worker took the two letters to several other co-workers(all white) asking them for their opinion, which letter is better? The other people not knowing who authored the second letter all chose mine. This made him angrier. When my friends found out what he did several of them approached him and basically told him what he did to me was unfair, and that in all honesty my letter was better written, one of them even told him if you can’t handle being corrected then don’t ask her or anyone to review any more of your letters. I talked to my Uncle about this situation and he said, “In the army its what we Indian guys call “that white boy poop”(except he didn’t say poop), what that means is that this guy expected his white buddies to side with him, regardless, and they didn’t.” Then my uncle said, “Don’t worry about it, this white guy will probably leave you alone now.” And he did.

    This “white people up in Indian Affairs” is just what my uncle said. We had a tribal supervisor who hired a white woman and treated her like she knew everything. This woman immediately befriended our supervisor, going to lunch with her, etc., she HID and/or used this friendship for her protection. This white womans employment didn’t last long though. What do you expect when you say to tribal members, “Besides, it is a proven scientific fact that we’re superior to you people.” This was one of her “nicer” comments. For the most part I couldn’t see why our supervisor thought so much of this “hillbilly”, that was how I saw her…hhhmmm.

    Anyway we don’t need health facilities to stay healthy. Like our tribe we have a free fitness center and only a few people use it.

  15. I am my own hero. I need no one to save me. I know that there is two worlds that we live in. The white man and the Native. I live both well. When I need me as a man to be healed I go to my own Culture and Traditions.Native meds are the best; because they worked for our ancestors then they are good for me. I hardly ever get sick in my life. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I let the Whiteman ways be the Whitemans ways. When I am Native I am Native.period. may your ancestors be with you no matter where you come from in this world.

  16. I guess that if we’re going to have to grapple with white people intruding into our affairs and doing work we ought to be doing ourselves, and worse, they’re getting paid more and listened to more, well, we can remind ourselves that the era of white paternalism was supposed to have ended sometime back in the 1930s, when the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted by Congress. We theoretically overcame the intrusive authority of white people during the era of Self-Determination, sometime in the 1970s. We figured out that our affairs are better managed by ourselves, even if we make mistakes at least we can own them and learn from our mistakes. Our present era is (according to federal Indian law scholars like Robert Williams) an era of “Nation Building.” I would offer that doing for ourselves in the Nation Building era means that we are taking care of ourselves: Our health, nutrition, and physical conditioning are good places to start building our own body politic. To help us accomplish this I’m picturing health facilities with indoor running tracks, the up-to-date exercise machines, wet and dry saunas, exercise pools, regulation size basketball courts that convert into arena space, nutritional cafes, locker rooms with showers, exercise classrooms, mini to medium size theater presentation rooms, also many of the exercise spaces would be equipped with big screen video/tv screens and digital sound equipment. These places would employ lots of people. They could have fully equipped kitchens and dining facilities capable of feeding large gatherings of people. We would also bring together our skilled workers to construct these places and staff them. Much of the above description applies to the facilities in most state universities, many YMCAs, as well as the numerous urban exercise clubs such as Bally, Golds Gym, and Washington Sports Clubs.

    When young or old people in the city are looking for something to do that is healthy they go to these places and work out. They come to understand that there are some things that no one else can do for you but they can sure make it easier by providing a community facility that is attractive and functional for exercise.

    • Tony. Great idea and useful information. I think that we can accomplish all of those goals while strengthening our sustainability as well as our sovereignty. We don’t need pools and tracks, saunas or anything else like that to do it either.

      We’ve got the lakes, the woods, the deserts, the mountains. We’ve got everything we need and it comes from the Earth.

      Pounding Black Ash to make baskets, netting trout and salmon, canoeing to gather wild rice, tapping trees to get sap… the list goes on and on where exercise is concerned.

      If we embrace our natural lifestyle we would be much healthier. For example, this study by the NIH NIDDK is all the proof needed.

      And for examples of communities who have already embraced this model check this out.

      An elder told me years ago that we are sick because our bodies are out of sync with the Earth. I place a lot of value on that knowledge because it has brought us this far, and it will bring us into the future. It is already beginning.

      It is good to talk about things and to see what other people come up with. It’s healthy.

      Hope everyone has a good day!


  17. Alot of Native American people are going urban, for different reasons. The health facilities, Tony mentioned might work for some people there. When I needed a place to run, in the city, I would go to the University stadium. Running around in circles was boring and took some getting used too. (The fitness center was crowded and I didn’t want to swim in a pool with all those white people…) While running, I often envisioned my reservation, running up the 2 mile hill side and once getting to the top standing there and looking around for miles on both sides of this hill. I called it a hill most people call it a mountain. I would recall other places like a place we call river road, 4 miles by the river, most of this in solitude. Occasionally I would pass another person, but mostly it was just me, the trail, the river, or the hill, very relaxing. Weather was never a factor.

    Upon completing my studies, graduating, I came home and they were still there.

    Your choice of words supposed and theoretically are good words with reference to the IRA and era of Self-Determination. Surprisingly alot of Native American people don’t even know about the IRA, and Self-Determination. They don’t teach you these things in the white public schools on the reservation.

    I love being Native American, no matter where I work, or where I live. My ancestors taught me a thing or two about survival.

  18. There is a health/fitness center near to where I live that many of the young white urban professionals belong. What is unusual about it is that it has two primary target populations; the first are the aforementioned yuppies, the second target is that it also serves as a facility for physician-prescribed exercise or physical therapy. I was thinking that our proposed reservation-based facilities could also serve this function too as many of our people need doctor-prescribed exercise or physical therapy. Many of our people are obese almost to the point of no return, that is, unless we get special interventions and therapies. We have others who are elderly who need water-based aerobic exercise and other therapies that are easy on the joints. Not all of us can run up mountain trails, some of us need treadmills first to get ourselves prepared. Really I’d prefer that we find our therapy in traditional camp settings. Every summer we could retreat to our traditional immersion language and culture camps. But many of our young reservation people are also very urbanized. The workout gyms of the urban scene have evolved in the cities to help keep young people healthy, I think we could adapt this to serve our entire reservation community. Thanks

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