First things first: I began this class knowing close to nothing on American Indian affairs–contemporary or otherwise–outside a handful of movies and some grossly inadequate public school history classes.
In reality, the classes served no other purpose than to gloss over a few hundred years of American governmental history–with little or no mention of the false premises by which the goverment secured millions of acres of native lands; the countless treaties broken therein; or the decimation of the Indian population due to white disease or outright murder. But, as I said, teachers had to fulfill their state-mandated lesson plans. (Also, Hollywood never provides any sort of authority on, well, anything so it should it come as no real surprise that Last of the Mohicans only propogates Cooper’s mis-nomer and the Native American as noble savage stereotype; if one scrap of redeemable anything can be salvaged then let it be said that Val Kilmer in Thunderheart at least made me aware of Indian sovereignty. )
But I digress.
Like others in the class, I took a leap of faith out into something new because I wanted to replace some admitted ignorance about Native Americans. (This happens when you grow up in a homogenous, white town.) Alyssa summed up quite neatly the thoroughness of Larry, Skott and Doug’s presentations so I will take a different angle.
The January 30th session represents to me the first time TLAM transformed from a set of amorphous, lofty goals into a real class. (It was, for the record, 4 hours long!)
January 30th was particularly powerful on two levels: first, Larry, Doug and Skott were all extremely knowledgable on treaties (dating from 18th to 20th century) and the state-of-affairs of what certain tribes around the country face today (Skott on the Utes and Arapajo, and Doug with the Oneida); second, on a purely emotional level, I felt the presentations even more powerful because they were in-person (not from a page), and each was articulate and engaging on their respective topic to the extent that it encouraged ME to want to engage on a subject I had heretofore felt too intimidated to talk about. (On a general level, I would like to believe these speakers are giving us some tools we can use–vocabulary and confidence–for the hands-on visits.)
In terms of how I see this class developing, I think Larry, Doug and Skott (and subsequent speakers) represent an essential part of the learning process of this class– we in TLAM must understand how the tribes in Wisconsin got to this point in their history–relocations, removal acts, termination, boarding school, allotment–if we are to be of any help to those in Red Cliff. Let me put it this way: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions; we may all have the best of intentions in mind, but we may do more harm than good in rushing up to Red Cliff without having a more informed grasp of what is going on.
Misc.: Doug brought up some provocative points, I thought, on how Indians are percieved as all being wealthy, due to the influx of $ in the last 20 years from gaming. Doug was quick to point out that while one might see some Cadillacs on the Oneida reservation, the generalization that all Indians are wealthy now is far from the truth. Actually, American Indians still rank at the bottom of most poverty categories. (And, even in Wisconsin, we know the existence of a casino does NOT necessarily guarantee wealth for a tribe or band, as is the case for some of the Ojibwe bands up north.)
The incorrect generalized-assumption of wealth and prosperity of Indians is interesting as a stand-alone concept, too. In the context that Indians are supposed to be a down-trodden, poverty-ridden people and culture, it is interesting to conceive of Indians as being monetarily “successful” or “doing well for themselves”. This raises the rhetorical question: What’s wrong with a successful Native American? I got the sense from Doug that this notion of perpetually being down-trodden needs to be challenged in order for a more positive picture to emerge.
According to my notes, we then segued into how $ on the Oneida reservation has not solved everything, as they face just as much political scandal and misappropriation of funds as regular government agencies. The existence of familial politics also makes it extremely difficult to implement long-term projects.