Eagle's Heart by Wayne Edenshaw

Loving Native People Better, Vol. 1: Pop Quizzes and Friends (and Family) Like These

Gyasi Ross

POP QUIZ:  Think of a list of 5 people whom you do not like or who irritate you.  Ethnically, are most of those people on that list 1) Native American, 2) White, 3) Black, 4) Hispanic or 5) Asian? 

ANSWER: Most the people on your list are Native, huh?

It’s not your fault—we’re conditioned.  See, let me explain.  But first, let me clarify a few things. 

Who made this map?

“Tribe” is a new, anthropological word to describe groups of Native people.  It’s not Indigenous to most of our languages; neither is “Nation.”   Those words and concepts are not ours.  Typically, because Native groups were smaller villages—small settlements—the literal translation of the group name was “band” or camp.” 

Still, despite the historical inaccuracies, both ideas have some value to Native people.  Both terms imply a group of people, in a discreet area, who have common interests and take care of each other.  It implies an extended family that historically stayed together for survival reasons.  Those extended families created hunting societies and medicine societies and warrior societies—basically agencies of the Tribe in modern day white-speak—that had no choice but to work together for the survival of the group. 

We were hunter/gatherers; if we did not work together for even one season, the group would likely die.  Serious consequences. 

Observing many modern-day Tribal organizations, I think this quick history lesson begs a question: What happens when the people of a particular Tribe or Nation cease to live in a discreet area (a topic for another day), or more importantly, stop having common interests and taking care of each other?  What do you call a group of Native people who no longer associate with each other and whose only common interest is in the success of the gaming enterprise or other economic development interest?  Is that still a “Tribe” or “Nation?”

When groups of Native people—legally bound together as tribes, but with no other meaningful connection—ostensibly hate each other, do they really deserve to be called a “tribe” or “nation?” 

Maybe.  But maybe not.  Still, at least in theory tribes and nations are supposed to be about the collective good.

Opportunity missed.

In recent times, there have been very public stories about factions of a particular tribe essentially going to war with other factions within that same tribe.  I’ve anecdotally noticed that the vitriol in tribal campaigns has gotten more personal and nastier progressively every campaign season—yet, those same politicians play nice when in front of non-Native cameras or non-Native elected officials.  We’re all profoundly aware of real or imagined examples of retaliation and retribution within tribal organizations that carries on inter-family feuds that go back generations.  As discussed last week, we see examples of amazing Native projects—like the Shoni Schimmel documentary—that do not happen because of lack of support from Native organizations until after they hit it big.  Yet, those same Native organizations will pay for washed-up athletes and politicians who are not even supportive of the Tribe.  Also recently, we see examples of Tribes deciding that tribal members are no longer qualified to be tribal members and thus essentially fire them from being tribal members.

With friends (and family) like these, who needs enemies…?

How, exactly, are we supposed to teach our observant Native children to love Native people (and therefore love themselves) when they constantly see Native people attacking Native people (and broadcasting those attacks in newspapers and websites)?  How are those same beautiful Native children supposed to learn to carry on a sense of community when people within our communities seem much more likely to treasure outsiders’ opinions than those from within our own communities? Why does it seem so much easier to tear down, destroy and dislike someone who looks like us than someone who is of a different ethnicity?

They see their leaders constantly putting blankets around white peoples’ shoulders and honoring them when they visit our homelands yet, after those white people leave, blasting the Native people who live here every day.  No wonder Native people commit violence against other Native people in disgustingly high numbers—we teach our children, from a young age, to love every other race except our own.  No wonder Native women are victims of domestic violence—very often from Native men—at a disgustingly disproportionate rate.  No wonder our youth commit suicide at grossly disproportionate rates—they learn the following lessons everyday: 1) “It’s ok to hurt Native people.” 2) “Native people are not as valuable as non-Natives.” 


We’ve gotta change that.  We gotta work on that conditioning, learn AND teach to love Native people unabashedly. 

Go after this guy.

FYI, loving Native people does not mean that we agree with other Native people all the time.  Nor does it mean that we pretend to agree with other Native people all the time.  We should disagree with each other—debate is good.  But loving Native people does mean that we treat our people, Native (and also non-Native, but especially Native) with a level of respect that indicates that “I love you because you are me, and we need to survive together.”  That is, if we take Native tribalism and/or nationhood seriously, we will treat our people like, well, our people.  If not, we’re not just playing Indian for personal gain and are not truly committed to tribalism and/or nationhood.  It’s about the collective good, not the individual—that’s what tribes are.

Loving Native people better simply means that we don’t look for reasons to tear other Native people down.  Tear someone else down—go after Karl Rove or JR Ewing or Bane or someone truly bad, not just some Native schmuck that you don’t agree with. 

We need to love our own people better.  We can disagree with each other without assassinating each other’s characters.  If we don’t learn this soon, our beautiful children will replicate the dysfunctional ways that they observe and our own people will (continue to be) our worst enemies. 


Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation Enrolled/Suquamish Nation Immersed
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi




"Eagle's Heart," seen at the top of this page, is a print by Wayne Edenshaw, Haida. To purchase or see more of Edenshaw's work, visit

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aiahnichih  ohoyo's picture
aiahnichih ohoyo
Submitted by aiahnichih ohoyo on hit the nail on the head with this one...i just hope folks who read it are paying attention and caring...

Nishnab's picture
Submitted by Nishnab on
So important! We don't need to be at each other's throats when there are more pressing issues to deal with.

El's picture
Submitted by El on
Bold, I could tell this were your editorial in the first third. I think you identified the ways in which the healing can work within us as well as into our social consciousness. Thanks for saying the things that many of us are thinking.

Kaylen James's picture
Kaylen James
Submitted by Kaylen James on
"I love you because you are me.." This is a very powerful and bold article, Gyasi. - Kaylen James

Sean Kicummah Teuton's picture
Sean Kicummah Teuton
Submitted by Sean Kicummah Teuton on
What important words. I'd like to hear more of this from Ross and Indian Country Today. Share the Love. It's about Peoplehood. Wado--SKT

Kate Gabriele's picture
Kate Gabriele
Submitted by Kate Gabriele on
This applies to all people in the world. Time to remember who you are as a person. Thank you for the article.

Paula Blaisdell, @ e mail's picture
Paula Blaisdell...
Submitted by Paula Blaisdell... on
Perhaps it would be helpful if Native people were educated in the condition of internalized racism. Very simply put it is the condition of an oppressed people who only feel safe acting out their pain upon those most like himself because to act out against the true perpetrator is too dangerous. Of course, it is not simple because the condition is multigenerational and as we know, every generation has it's own circumstances of hurts piled upon the previous generations' unhealed pain. These hurts must be healed to be free of the current generation and multigenerational impact. Is it any wonder some of us act as if we don't like each other, turn to alcohol or drugs, and have a high suicide rate? What we do not heal we pass on to the next generation. It's complex for several reasons not to mention its non-verbal characteristics. At any time I can feel the pain of my ancestors and not understand how, why, or exactly what is this pain. Without the information I don't know if it is my grandma's generation's boarding school experiences, great grandpa's loss of a home and freedom, great great grandma's sudden loss of most relatives due to an epidemic or the murders, lies, thefts inflicted by the invaders/colonizers, my mother's feeling of being less than because her beauty was not recognized as beauty because it was not blond and blue-eyed or she was just generally talked down to, blamed, and shamed by the dominant society. We need to heal from the hurts. Another thing that makes it difficult is this denial where people won't admit they are hurt or need healing, and have learned to see it as weakness rather than humanness.

BearClaw's picture
Submitted by BearClaw on
Karl Rove truly evil? Comments like that show that you are the shallow schmuck in this little tale.

twinkletoes253's picture
Submitted by twinkletoes253 on
My name is kiah, and i was browsing the internet looking for any information i can find on the "tribe/nation" Muscogge Creek. After reading just this one post, i felt so connected to what you are saying by remembering my own childhood. I have to say i am VERY confused with what is "really" being said here; but I cant forget the feeling of being, i guess you could say not so important, to NOT just everyday peopl such as teachers and co-workers, BUT; my own family as well! I would love to go into this more and really get a better understanding of why this subject was kept so secret as I grew up.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Exactamundo! The message is real. I love smiling and saying hello to some random fellow Native in my city where ever I roam. At the grocery store, on the sidewalks of downtown Phoenix, at the malls...anywhere! and to be honest, the reaction is always a smile back with a little bit of surprise. However, it makes perfect sense to say hello and share a smile with someone who can relate more to me than any other person with a different race, why wouldn't I greet them? Recognizing each other and acknowledging one another no matter where we are should be practiced more, you're right. Our children need to see the good in us as their parents, also to recognize that we're not afraid to collaborate with our own. Good read. I appreciate the positive message in this article. Thanks.

Ken Bear Chief~Wus'Natha's picture
Ken Bear Chief~...
Submitted by Ken Bear Chief~... on
I am responding to this because I felt what Paula Blaisdell said in her comment is so on point. We need to admit this all across NDN country. We need to begin a healing process from within and revitalize who we are as NDN Tribes, Bands, Nations. We need to once again become who we WERE, and not what we have BECOME! I see it. We are no longer nuclear tribal families like we were, even as a kid growing up in the 1950s, our families came together and worked, hunted fished, gathered berries, whatever we did to help one another survive...the Indian way of supporting and sharing. Gradually that faded, and we all grew apart. In essence our band, our family group, has nearly ceased to exist. And I say this as an example of what is being put forth here, we have to restore our tribal connections, heal our families, ourselves." Wus'Natha~Bear Chief

trying to be nice's picture
trying to be nice
Submitted by trying to be nice on
What if a relative beat you up all the time when you were growing up, slept with your girlfriend when you got older, stole money from you and ripped you off in many other ways, also they turned their back upon their own kids and yours too? I wouldn't want that person as a friend, sure they are still relatives but I don't want to have to vouch for them or keep their secrets.

william's picture
Submitted by william on
It depends who is in your group. If I hang out with mostly ...say the white community then those who PO me would be white if it were black then it would be black etc...

Emmana's picture
Submitted by Emmana on
Actually, I could not think of anyone to dislike. Hope I did not disappoint you. LOL.

Ann 'desert' Phoenix's picture
Ann 'desert' Phoenix
Submitted by Ann 'desert' Phoenix on
All that needs to be said is " From fear comes much destruction". Native bands have unfortunately had fear placed in their hearts for centuries. The time is ..... to forever let go of that fear. "future history" will not let happen to you what "past history" did. Be the warriors(of peace) you all are.....let go of that fear now and live as you are and always were meant to...... in loving peace amongst yourselves and outsiders and/or non-tribal/band!

Terye's picture
Submitted by Terye on
Loved the points you made about loving others translating to respect for others and yourself. Very inspirational, and not just for native folks.

Gladys Hobbs's picture
Gladys Hobbs
Submitted by Gladys Hobbs on
This article is very appropriately for all times, but especially, when there is so much dissent amongst tribal members. Thank you very much

Gladys Hobbs's picture
Gladys Hobbs
Submitted by Gladys Hobbs on
This article is very appropriately for all times, but especially, when there is so much dissent amongst tribal members. Thank you very much

E's picture
Submitted by E on
The problem is today we only want to be a community in the time of harvest but not when it is time to sow and do the hard work. The community only works when everyone buys into it. We are no longer "us." That ideal is long gone.

Har's picture
Submitted by Har on
Yes, this is the area in our lives that we must deal with. I see it all the time on the reservation we live on. People being jealous of each other because this one has a bigger and better everything. We were all not born with silver spoons in our mouths, but if we were, we should help out the least fortunate. Instead it's flaunted, which creates anger and hatred. Or another one is my child can't play with yours because they are too good for them. We as our children's teachers need to look back into our own pasts and remember a fateful moment that it was us in those shoes. I pray that we all respect and love each other, change our ways and remember who we are really hurting, it's not the white people, it's ourselves. Remember soon your grandchildren, your own children, or maybe yourself will be faced with the anger that you have created.

Gramma's picture
Submitted by Gramma on
My sentiments exactly, I absolutely L O V E IT!!! This article should be sent out to every tribal community in the country. It says it all and has sooooo much meaning and truth that I just want to cry.

Bill W.'s picture
Bill W.
Submitted by Bill W. on
It doesn't seem that teaching anyone to hate a particular group or person simply because they belong to another group is healthy for anyone. Hate is like an acid- it destroys that which contains it as well as that upon which it is poured.

Lena 's picture
Submitted by Lena on
Even if we disagree its always a good idea to be respectful because those young people are looking, listening and learning. Even my hardcore brother is always respectful to me, we have that understanding though we disagree on alot of things. I remember my brothers and I would talk to our aunt even though she and my mother didn't get along. It was taught that it wasn't our business when adults disagree and neither one would try to interfer with our relationship with the other. Yes because by clan my aunt was my little mother, relations were sacred. I just told my husband that I he has become as wise as my father just the other day and I would hope it was a proud moment for him. We have to validate each other as people. Good and bad are of equal force and we always have a choice as to how we will react in any given situation. Its not just talking to your young people its also how you behave and how you live. Young people need heros in their own families. I try to be an example to the young people in my family, its my job as the aunt. My father was my first hero than it was my aunts...they are all gone now so I try to show my young family members what our older family members taught me. I try to show them that they come from good people by being a good person. Every opportunity I get with them I talk about our family because I want them to see how proud I'am. Its good to talk about the adversities we have overcome so they see the strength we have. I have a lot of stories (passed down) to pull from so I share what I have learned. Course I come from people who were verbal historians so I rely on that. I hope my young people will remember at least 1 story. These are just some ways I try to make a difference with my young relatives. Thanks for letting me share

Off -White in Ohio's picture
Off -White in Ohio
Submitted by Off -White in Ohio on
Mr. Ross, I hear you, and you are right: I am you, you are me. Please make room in your heart for all friends, no matter what the color. Love comes in white too sometimes.