In the Past, In the Future (8)

A lot of us said that the reason we took this class is because we did not know almost anything about the Tohono O’odham or the history of Native Americans in general. Throughout the course, we have studied how the US, and Mexico, mistreated the Tohono O’odham by slowly stripping away their sovereignty by leaving them out of treaty negotiations, trying to assimilate them to the dominant culture, and often offering well-intentioned, but misguided help that ended up hurting the Tohono O’odham in the long run. We placed a lot of the blame, rightfully, on the US for not allowing the Tohono O’odham to have enough control over themselves, which resulted in a weakening of the culture.

However, we talked about this issue only with respect to the tribes in the US and did not have the opportunity to compare it to similar situations in other countries. For example, in Australia, where I will be spending part of the summer, there have been similar issues between indigenous peoples and encroaching settlers. Indigenous Australians were also forced to move due to settlers and in general have much higher rates of poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse than the average Australian. Sounds familiar.

While I am staying on a Warlpiri compound outside of Alice Springs, Australia, I will have the opportunity to hear personal perspectives of Warlpiri tribe members and work with them as well. I wonder if their sentiments will echo the ones that we heard from a variety of Tohono O’odham people at the cultural center. Given this widespread issue of struggling indigenous peoples, it seems that if one community could be helped that a similar solution could be applied to other communities around the world. Clearly, helping indigenous communities that have been negatively affected by new settlers is a common enough issue that we should develop a method to help. Not that there will be one, end-all-be-all answer, but when people are suffering in similar conditions for similar reasons it seems like it is time to find a solution.

Or, maybe that is unrealistic because people have been trying for many decades to help their indigenous peoples and who am I to say that we need a solution when I do not have one to offer myself. It makes me wonder what it is that I can do to help. I don’t have money that I can donate to help them or launch a huge campaign to make sure people even know of about the issues so many people in our nation and other nations are facing. Not everyone can take a class trip to Arizona and spend time intimately getting to the Tohono O’odham people and their culture. I suppose I’ll start the traditional, millennial way with social media and hopefully I will come up with more ideas of how to disseminate the knowledge that I have only recently attained myself.

Thanks to Professor Guse and Markowitz as well as everyone who imparted their knowledge on us in Arizona!

Harvey: us
Owl: the Tohono O’odham culture


3 Replies to “In the Past, In the Future (8)”

  1. It would be naive to think that the United States is the only area where indigenous people are facing difficulties like this. It’s really awesome that you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the indigenous people of Australia. That seems like a great opportunity; have fun!

  2. I am part of the group who took the class because I felt like I knew very little about American Indians but also knew how vital a part of American culture they are. It is crazy to think how poorly our educational systems have done at teaching American students about Native Americans and their history in the United States and how they’ve been disadvantaged by misguided and ill-intentioned policies and intervention. Instead, we’re taught essentially that they are dead, instead of teaching the incredible culture that has been preserved in the American Indians around the country.

    It’s awesome that you’re continuing to study this stuff. I’m doing something similar in Alaska this summer, studying indigenous communities and how they interpret the effects of climate change into their culture and stories. It would be great to reconnect after the summer because I would love to hear how Australia goes. Have fun there!

  3. Kathryn, it’s exciting that you will have the opportunity to spend time getting to know the Warlpiri this summer. What a fantastic opportunity.

    You are correct, of course, that while the experience with colonialism has not been exactly the same for every tribe, there have been common patterns of abuse and misguided “help” to which indigenous peoples around the world have been subjected.

    One starting point for thinking about this is the “UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples”

    One interesting thing about that document besides what it actually says, is the history of how different countries with less than perfect records have objected to it and even how their objection in some cases has shifted toward endorsement depending on which political party is in power (e.g. Canada).

    Anyway, no matter what you think of the specific articles in that document, they do certainly speak to that set of common problems and experiences that native peoples have face over the past couple hundred years.

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