Obama and the Indians

Last week my eighteen year old son, Nik, completely on his own initiative, took a bus down to Chicago (about 700 miles from here) to participate in Camp Obama, a two day training session for community organizers in the Obama campaign. I don’t think Nik knew exactly what he was getting into, and I don’t think he fit the profile of a potential organizer. But he met some interesting people, received training in organizing skills, and came home energized about Obama in particular and politics in general.

I applaud his initiative, just as I applaud the young people everywhere who overcome their cynicism to enter meaningfully into the political process. Those of us who have been around for awhile know that everything is political, and that every political decision reverberates throughout the fabric of society until it gets at least to your front door and probably into your living room and pocket book, and maybe even into your bedroom. To see young people choosing to be engaged is to know that this strange, imperfect, and wonderfully resilient democracy of ours still has its roots in hope and possibility.

Nik has spent his life, with the exception of the last year, up here in the north country in a town that is sandwiched between three Indian reservations. He’s gone to school with Indian kids, skated with them in skate parks, gone with me to Turtle Mountain and Pine Ridge and Rosebud, and drunk in the issues of Indian politics and contemporary culture. So it was no surprise that he raised the issue of Indian policy when he was at Camp Obama.

There were two surprising developments. The first was that Obama has already met with Indian leaders, showing me that he is a man with a more than ordinary breadth of vision. The second was that some of the young people at Camp Obama said, quite literally, “You know, I have never even thought about Indians once in my life.”

After I picked Nik up in Minneapolis upon his return from Obama camp, we drove north 150 miles to the Adam Beach Scholarship golf tournament at the casino course of the Fond Du Lac Ojibwe reservation deep in the woods of northern Minnesota. There we were in the company of several hundred Indian folks, ranging from national leaders to actors to tribal members who just wanted to play a pleasant round of golf. It was a festive event, filled with the good natured ribbing and bonhomie that characterizes Indian gatherings. No sense of status, no judgment — just good, honest folk having good, honest fun.

What struck me above all else was how familial and egalitarian everything was. A guy in Wal-mart jeans was completely at ease with someone who was ironed and spit shined. Children ran happily among the adults as they would at a family picnic. The laughter was easy; the friendships were good. In fact, the whole event had the feel of an extended family reunion, which, in a way, it was.

Whenever I get in an Indian gathering — and it has happened many times over the years — I am struck by the good-natured, good humored ease with which everything takes place. The embrace is large, and all are included. Where there are petty differences or animosities of long standing, they are simply ignored rather than accentuated through backbiting and criticism.

Nik had a good time. In fact, he was thrilled to meet and be met by celebrities and people of importance. I, too, had a good time. I generally am more comfortable in the company of Native people than non-Native folks because, as I have often noted, you are judged more by the quality of your heart than the length of your resume.

My hope is that some of the ease and grace and familiality of Native reality can be infused into this political campaign by Obama and others. There has been too much mean spiritedness and anger in American politics of late. I have been guilty of it as much as anyone. But when I see ordinary, hopeful people being run roughshod over by people in power, I get angry in a very deep part of me. I don’t want this; I don’t want it for anyone. We have become a nation of winners and losers, and I prefer to think of us as a large family in which we are all responsible for each other.

This is what the Indian world, at its best, offers. It is sad when you hear someone say that they have never thought of Indians even once in their life. Perhaps Obama can change that. Perhaps Nik’s experience can be of some assistance. Perhaps my writings can, too.

In the interim, summer begins to wane and the edges of a few of the leaves on our property are turning to reds and yellows.

Next post I may have some interesting news regarding the movie of Neither Wolf nor Dog, the reissue of To Walk the Red Road, and a project involving the Lakota people of Pine Ridge .

Thank you for checking back periodically, and please subscribe to the blog on the button at the top of the page if you are not already a member. I’ll make sure to send out notifications each time I write something. And, as always, I love to hear back from you. This is a medium that allows an amazing intimacy between author and reader. Though I have to be judicious with my time and communications, I value your presence more than you know.

Keep the faith and do good works.

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