American Indian women have long been honored with the name “life giver” for their gift of motherhood to the tribes. In addition, most Native American women were masters at making beautiful blankets, baskets, pottery and jewelry. They gathered materials to build homes for their families and understood the curative properties of wild plants to heal the sick. American Indian men knew women were the source of life and acknowledged that their wisdom and strength was essential for group survival. Thus in modern times, we are no different from our European counterparts going to great lengths and personal expense to make sure our children have the best clothes, schools, lessons, coaches, and more.
We begin economizing the moment our are born in order to save money and set it aside for the best of college educations. We surrender our own personal wants, preferences and even needs so that they will have everything necessary for a successful future. In fact, most of us would literally give our own lives for our children because no sacrifice is too great; surrendering all for the sake of something or someone. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. Sacrificing our preferences should never compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often requires us to make adjustments in order to accommodate generationally and systematically.
Sacrifice is a way of teaching the next generation to think unselfishly and possibly recognize common ground in terms of deference and preference. Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction, or politely giving in to another, or courteous respect whereas, preference is based on feeling and tradition.
The idea that women, Native or otherwise, have to make those choices every moment of every day while men don’t have those same commitments or time constraints. Mostly, men don’t end up splitting their mental lives between the two worlds of home life and work life. They can close the door on each to go to the other. Women, on the other hand, have to juggle both together and make decisions for children, family members, close friends, (and themselves) that effect the outcomes for everyone.
Recently, I had to make the decision (preference) to leave my job and forget about pursuing my doctorate studies to save my seventeen year old daughter, who suffers from drug induced psychosis. How the effects of her drug and alcohol addiction (failing school, cutting, paranoia, attempting suicide), on the emotional life of the mother, grandmother, and aunt can drag down even the strongest of women, and bring about surprising decisions for the woman as well as the child who is struggling with addictive behaviors. Yet, there are opportunities that arise from spending time in the emotional world of the addictive child: learning what brought about the addictions or acting-out behaviors and working through those to the closer bond between mother and child.
As I sit here listening to my 6-year-old daughter read, I wonder what the future holds for her and the next generation of Navajo children. Childhood obesity and diabetes continue to plague the Navajo Nation and American Indian communities across the United States. These negative trends among Navajo youth raise important questions for tribal communities. How will our Navajo Nation government and we, as Navajo people, work together to combat these negative trends?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Defeating diabetes and obesity will not be easy. It will take commitment, creativity, and reliance on our traditional values to solve these problems. More importantly, these issues require all of us to take a stand as we work to reclaim control of our diets, health, wellness and community well-being. But we need a partner in the Navajo Nation government.
The passing of the Healthy Diné Nation Act by the Navajo Nation Council was a big step forward. The battle to prevent our kids from developing Type 2 diabetes cannot be won without the support of our Tribal Leaders. This legislation has a very simple, two part approach: first, increase access to and affordability of fresh and healthy foods sold on the reservation by removing the five percent Navajo sales tax on fresh fruits, vegetables, and water sold on the reservation and, second, implement a small two percent additional sales tax on “junk food” sold on the reservation, with revenues generated from the tax going back into Navajo communities for health and wellness programs. The two parts work together for the good of the people.
I am inspired by the grass roots movement among the Navajo people that led to this important legislation, and the Navajo Council Members who stood up to be a part of this movement. I stand with them today.
But a week after the Healthy Diné Nation Act passed, I was disappointed and discouraged to learn that this important legislation was vetoed. The veto sends a dangerous message that the futures of our children are for sale to outside corporate interests that have no concern for the health of the Navajo people. If we fail to maintain our sovereign identity, our children will be left to pay the consequences. This issue isn’t only about a tax but also about how the citizens of the Navajo Nation want to shape the future for their children.
I realize that new Navajo tax laws will not be the sole solution to an epidemic that results in the rate of diabetes being 2.3 times higher within the Navajo Nation than elsewhere in the U.S. or that 50% of American Indian children are projected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime based on current childhood obesity rates. But the Healthy Diné Nation Act represents an idea that brings together the resources and leadership of Navajo government and combines them with the best interests of the Navajo people. The reality facing our communities is that if government and family leaders continue to ignore the childhood obesity and diabetes issue it will ensure that some of our children will not outlive their parents.
He looks like he could be 60, but Baron is probably about 75 years old. No one knows exactly when he was born and neither does he. “We need you again for our drum group, we need to practice for the powwow,” said Baron.
The Aleut of King Cove, Alaska want safe, reliable access to medical care – something nearly all other Americans already have and often take for granted.
Debbie Dogskin froze to death in Fort Yates, North Dakota on February 4 while housesitting a trailer for a friend.
Living in the Dakotas isn’t for everyone, primarily because of the weather. In the summer, it gets hot and sticky. Thunderheads appear on the horizon, hail stones rain down, and tornadoes materialize from on high to rage across the prairie.
Shouldn't we Diné older folks be saddened that our precious youth and grandchildren are now driven to “protest” regarding our collective need to honor and protect our sacred land, air, water, plants, animals, and, therefore, ourselves?
For too many Indigenous women, love comes at a horrific price.
The recent death of Debbie Dogskin, found unresponsive inside her own frozen home on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, hit hard across Indian Country. Many of us face similar circumstances or have relatives who do.
I'm in no mood to write today.
The federal government’s callous treatment of Jeremy Meawasige, an Aboriginal teenager from the Pictou Landing reserve is nothing less than shameful. This youth is living with cerebral palsy, autism, spinal curvature, and a debilitating accumulation of spinal fluid in the brain.
Like so many other times, I stopped at a gas station just outside the boundary of the Navajo Nation. As I start to pump gas in my SUV for my trip back to Albuquerque, a young Diné woman approaches me and asks if she might catch a ride to Gallup, a bordertown about 15 minutes away.
Cheap shots have been taken at the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—on the ground that most of the Congress that voted for it never read it. The shot is true. What makes it cheap is ignorance.
Editor’s Note: The following is an edited version of an academic presentation at the World Diabetes Congress last week.