My Message to Graduates: Be a Victor, Not a Victim


"What is past and cannot be prevented should not be grieved for."

I read that quote on a beautiful card I bought in the gift shop of the Acoma Pueblo’s fine museum in New Mexico.

I encourage you to heed that advice. There will be some who will tell you otherwise. You will be told—indeed, you may have even been taught in some Indian studies programs, that you are forever a victim. That you must grieve over the great injustices imposed on our people and their tribes by alien forces from across the oceans, including foreign governments, foreign churches under the guise of Christianity, and foreign armies.

Some may insinuate, or may tell you directly, that you are not a real Indian if you are not grieving. If you are not in the depths of victimhood, or if you are not perpetually bitter and resentful over those injustices.

You may be expected to forever be embittered by thoughts of the suffering in the Indian boarding school system that was put into place to “civilize” our forebears by killing the Indian in them. But if great grandpa were here today, he would tell you he had left all that behind him when he got home from Indian boarding school and was purified in the sweat lodge. He would continue to speak his native language and practice his spirituality because that boarding school could not take away what he had been given by the Great Mystery.

Some Indian people, some of your own tribesmen will tell you that you cannot remain Indian if you seek advancement or knowledge that they deem to be foreign, Christian, capitalistic, un-Indian, or "the white man’s way." When anyone does this to you, ask that person to furnish you with guidelines on what's acceptable and what is not acceptable for you to remain Indian—all issues, all criteria. If he or she can provide such a list, thank him or her, then crumple it up and burn it. For no one can tell you that you are not an Indian, or not a "real" Indian. That is your birthright, it is in your very soul.

As you enter college, and I hope you all enter some form of post high school learning, go in with the confidence of a warrior, and with a positive attitude. Don't let anyone drag you into a hole of self-pity and victimhood. Don't let anyone put you on a guilt trip, especially faculty, that you are being a typical cookie-cutter Indian if you don't live up to their victimhood expectations.

If you take a course in Indian studies, or if your major is in Indian studies, you will get history courses unlike those that you have seen before, those that gloss over or omit the terrible sacrifices that Indian country has made to the building of this country. But, beware of those history courses and social studies courses that dwell only on the terrible injustices and treatment of Indian people; that ignore the great resilience of our people, and the great achievements of our people. Do not become a prisoner of victimhood; be a victor like the great chiefs and warriors in your tribe and in all tribes.

Read history and learn from history, for it is important to the future. But know that there are many versions of history from different points of view. Let history’s stories be a challenge to you. Just as many of the Jewish people who have read the stories of the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Diaspora, horrors that make up so much of their history, and have answered, "Never again." Let that be your answer.

It is said that the victors write the histories; but whereas that may be true, remember that history is not simply written. It is rewritten, many times, and will continue to be rewritten. It is never finished. You may add to it.

One last word. Nearly sixty years ago, well before your parents were born, I graduated from a Catholic Indian boarding school. It was a joyful day, and some of us wept as we shook hands with colleagues and their parents and families in a final farewell gesture after being together for so long, and enduring so much together. They were difficult times, but we endured, and we survived, and we are proud to have done so.

Like your grandparents and great grandparents, I would be heart sick to know that any of our youth, and any of the wonderful students who are the future of our tribes, our nations, were grieving for my generation. It would be devastating to know that any of our youth, our most precious legacy, had taken his or her own life in expiation for the horrors of the suffering he or she is made to believe was ours in the boarding schools. To be sure, some of our generation have suffered indignities and abuse, but even they would not want you to grieve for them.

Be brave, be confident, seek truth, and be happy.

Always listen to grandma and grandpa, and mom and pop. And always, always, heed mom’s advice: "Wear clean underwear in case you're in a car accident."

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chico2dc's picture
I dont agree with 90% of this guys diatribe..so I'll add my 2 cents... I see those people with "hire me" on thier cap....and are sad cause the job market is really bad. I urge the graduates to be producers....be entrepreneurs, make jobs, dont be satified with just filling a job.
kbearchief's picture
Here we go again. The same old diatribe about Chuck's view of "victimhood". He pontificates on Indian issues, but he himself is so far removed from reservation life he can no longer relate to the grassroots issues issues affecting most Native Americans. I will state again, I respect Mr. Trimble, but I wonder when he will realize we are not victims of our past, we are the survivors. We remember the past, so as not to allow its repetition in the future. We honor our past, we do not kill ourselves because of it. Mr. Trimble should have given a talk about how the students are the new leaders, our young warriors, young men and women alike with equal opportunities to learn, earn, and build a better life for themselves and in doing so will enrich their tribes and reservations. He does say some of this, but his victimhood speach is so misdirected. Chuck just does not get the idea that what most advocates and others believe is that there is an intergenerational cycle of abuse - ingrained from the residential school era - that has created a cycle of victims through, violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse. This is the true nature of what we are dealing with in terms of victimhood, and many Native Americans are dealing with this issue, not the so called "victimhood" that Chuck always describes. In fact, while he steadfastly denies that sexual abuse ever took place at this alma mater, St. Francis, many of his contemporaries speak to the horrors of physical and sexual abuse that took place there. I challenge Chuck to listen and learn, and not be so pig-headed and unable to face the truth about the residential school era. He should thank the creator that he was not a victim of sexual abuse, and not judge or disbelieve those that have the courage to face the truth and expose it for what it was.
wanbli's picture
Don't you think at your age, its time to stop repeating what the white man tells you. You are the most Catholinized (Demonized) Colonialized Boarding School Journalist. Every First Nation on this continent are victims and prisoners and slave of a US sponsor historical and spiritual injustice with in its (unjust order) that still is serving you and your kind of half-breed that is exterminating anything authentic and genuine with Red Nationhood's; thats why you continue to oppress your people with the redoric of the man value system and his ignorance of the rightiousness of God, (Creator Mother) and the continuing denial, dishonesty and and cover up for your BIA and IRA crimes of Genocide against your own family and true genuine authentic Red Sovereign Nationhood's lead by the traditions of a Red Creator. Your becoming your own judge of your days ahead, be careful tread and speak sofly on red sovereign intrinsic lands my Kola! Because the hour has come and your not the judge or finisher of anything or anyone!!!!! Wanbli 2011
thechief's picture
Great article. I tell my kids their are different tribes in the country. Some are winners and others are whiners. Mainstream society likes to lump us together as a generic "native american" term. It doesn't make sense for people to take pity on my children or for them to feel sorry for themselves because of the trail of tears or massacre at wounded knee. Instead I teach them that their ancestors were not victims and they shouldn't let anybody feel sorry them.
wahsontiio's picture
Victims? A hole of self-pity and victimhood? Chuck someone misguided you somewhere along the way. I believe the attitudes of Black Elk, Chief Joseph, Pontiac, Geronimo, Tecumseh, Crazy Horse, Big Foot, Corn Planter, Red Cloud, Chief Seattle and many other great Indigenous leaders was not victimhood but to make the last stand for what was right and good for the people. They fought to keep the traditions of the people and to reject the conformation of their people to the white ways. We have leaders today trying to do the very same thing. I haven't been taught to be a victim but when you hear the stories of survival or witnessed atrocities you need to grieve for the victim - its a natural human need. Who wouldn't grieve for a murdered 6 year old torn from a loving family to meet a horrific death without anyone to protect him from abusive adults. We had an education system but was deemed uncivilized. All aspect of our traditional societies were declared ungodly. What instructions did the Creator give our people? It wasn't the bible. He gave that to another race. I have to honour what was given to my people and practice my "religion" and educate my children the ways it was given. Chuck, why do you write: "They were difficult times, but we endured, and we survived, and we are proud to have done so." if boarding school was a great experience?