Nobody mentioned Columbus at hate dialogue
It was a community dialogue on hate and hate crimes in society, held precisely on Oct. 12, 2001, 509th anniversary of the fateful landing of the tragic sailor that brought 'discovery' to the Americas, but nobody mentioned Columbus.
You would have thought someone would, as the event was organized by a Native people, the Oneida Nation in Central New York. But the evil-invoking tragedies of Sept. 11 weigh too heavily upon us still. There is enough contemporary hate to go around.
As in so many places, a dialogue on controversial community relations, expectedly conflictive before the attack on America, turned instead to the deeper side of life, as educators, church leaders, Native chiefs and elders, municipal managers and legislative officials struggled with some intensity to seek the common humanity we might be able to share.
In just one morning, the group of nearly 300 people seemed to coalesce into one of those emergent community dialogue networks that are springing up around the country. Given the emotional times, when politics and civil rights are folding freely into a war mentality, and scapegoating, including profiling of minorities is a true danger, we need clear communications more than ever. The mix of religious sentiment, education and the sharing of grief and hope is not a prescription among television pundits ? drunk on drama more than ever these days? but it seems more true to heart.
The local conflict, as everywhere, is much manipulated by misinformation of some local politicians who are given to blaming Indian peoples for any and all ailments. Around these New York counties many now are given to knee-jerk opposition to any Indian rights expression, no matter how legal or, as is the case with the Indian land claims in New York, how resolutely they are backed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Thus, the local politicians did not show up at the Hate Crimes Conference. But while these politicians are working on a time-warped idea of 'popular support' for an ideological fight that is completely anti-Indian, a much larger public, hundreds of thousands, frequent Indian nations' and privately owned Indian enterprises more than ever. It is also true that thousands of non-Indian people find employment with tribal employers throughout the state.
The preferred response to American Indian economic success appears to be to rile up non-Indian people. Some local orators on the subject are getting notable for their harsh and unyielding rhetoric. While the courts and the federal bureaucracies have generally held to the law, and just a little understanding could make for effective collaborations, the local pols would rather feed a gripe to activate the dormant energies of their electorate.
However, all too often the anti-Indian voices they are listening to are on the fringes, violent-minded, some outright racists, and many others certainly bigoted in their tunnel-vision. Newspapers across the state don't flinch from publishing letters equating Indian sovereignty to 'terrorism.'
In New York state and elsewhere throughout Indian country, local politicians increasingly blame their nearby Indian nations for every ill their counties and towns are suffering, regardless of the growing mounds of objective evidence to the contrary.
But the challenge for all is to roll up sleeves and work on mutually beneficial projects. This is still the only positive path to these superficially contentious issues and it was obvious to everyone present at the conference on hate crimes.
At the present moment, when we have all witnessed effects of hatred and extremism, the opportunity is great for win-win solutions. Only in unity can strength, security and prosperity prevail.