Speak Your Piece: Fixing Ourselves
The bottom line is that Indians need to fix ourselves on our own terms. They are the only terms anybody knows.
Today I awoke to find that another white journalist has figured out that the United States was built on the death of its indigenous peoples and the theft of their lands.
He is sorry.
He cries and he wants to help the Indians.
He has beautiful poignant photos of many folks on Pine Ridge.
He, of course, chose to photograph the poorest, the intoxicated, the gang members and (God help me if I see another Hollywood picture of an angry, young Lakota guy looking attractive on horseback I may gag while ripping my hair out) many Indians on horses. How they love, love to put us, especially Plains Indians, on horses.
This young white journalist, Aaron Huey, comes cloaked in the righteous DIY nation of social media. But he still comes like all the others.
He comes with the assumption that he and other white folks have the tools that we want to help ourselves. He shows white America the plight of the American Indian and asks them to join him in helping us.
I really want to tell Mr. Huey that American Indians have had just about all the help that we can stand from white America.
A few years ago, I did a story about the class action lawsuit that a native community had brought against a South Dakota school district. A local white lady told me, “Well, you know, they are a conquered people.”
I thought about that for a very long time. (You know you get pissed off when the rest of world sees you as conquered.) Okay, so maybe we’re conquered but that doesn’t’ mean we think the conquerors are the ones with all the answers
I am bitter and disgusted.
Maybe I should be encouraged by the nobility of the human spirit that wants to right a wrong. Huey is putting together a billboard project with the help of artists Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena. They want to put posters based on Huey’s images on U.S. buildings, buses and other public spaces.
On his website, Huey says, “ Your involvement will help raise the visibility of these images by taking them straight to the public—to the sides of busses, subway tunnels, and billboards. I want people to think about prisoner of war camps in America on their commute to work. I want the message to be so loud that it cannot be ignored.”
And of course, they need money to do this. By purchasing a Shepard Fairey print for $150.00, you can allay your conscience and appear very cool and edgy to your friends.
Did I mention that I’m bitter and disgusted?
Maybe the tenor of this new wave of white guilt and recognition of our “plight” will motivate people to at least seek a basic understanding of the history and current status of American Indians.
I have to admit that Huey is a good shooter and the posters look pretty cool.
The bottom line, though, is that Indians need to fix ourselves on our own terms.
They are the only terms anybody knows.
Mary Annette Pember is a writer and photographer living in Ohio. She is a regular Yonder contributor.