On the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2013, we will recognize Native Americans at the Omak schools. The official day is Friday, but school will be let out for that day. I have been participating in these activities for several years.
I start by asking the students what is Native American Day besides not having to go to school? Well, it is to recognize Indians. In the U.S. there are 562 tribes. Of course, you live on or near to one of the biggest reservations in our state, the Colville Indian Reservation.
How did this all start? Well, in 1968 California Gov. Ronald Reagan established the Fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day. Many states have followed suit but changed the name to Native American Day. This is a little confusing because anyone born in the U.S. is a Native American. And that has contributed to American Indians becoming invisible. Try to find the Indian in Bev Doolittle’s drawing.
In 1925 Zane Gray wrote a book called the Vanishing American which is about American Indians disappearing. Well, we are still here but maybe a better description would be the invisible American.
A few years ago I was on a business trip for the tribe to Washington, D.C. As I was going through the airport concourse I noticed an athletic young man playing a video game. He was really involved. Later, for some reason, I was bumped up to first class, which was very unusual because the tribe doesn’t travel first class.
Just before we took off, the man in the concourse took a seat next to me. I introduced myself as a member of the Colville tribe. He needed no introduction because I recognized him as Mark Rypien, the All-American quarterback from Washington State University who had just received the Most Valuable Player award at the Super Bowl playing for the Washington Redskins. He said he was going to Washington, D.C., to sign a contract which I later heard was for $9 million.
I took the opportunity to ask him not to let them change the team name from Redskins. It was an honor to have that name to recognize that Indians still existed. Otherwise we are ignored. The same applies to the Atlanta Braves baseball team. Stanford University changed their name from Indians to Cardinals. Part of the Vanishing American Movement.
This was very unfortunate because Coach Pop Warner brought the name “Indians” to Stanford from the Carlisle Indian school where Olympic champion Jim Thorpe played football.
Even the Nespelem School on my Colville Reservation changed from Savages to something else. When I went there we were proud to be called Savages, including those who weren’t Indian. We didn’t win many games but we usually won the Good Sportsmanship Award at basketball tournaments, proving we really weren’t savages.
We might be invisible but we are in the background. And it is a very important background. We are the backbone of the country.
First, let’s recognize that Indians were not limited to just the U.S. We populated all of North and South America and the islands in between.
We not only discovered the Americas before Columbus, we are America. But we are invisible.
Very few people realize the U.S. Constitution is based at least partly on the Indian democracy. There was no democracy in the rest of the world before Columbus accidently landed on an island in the Caribbean.
Very few know the origin of medicines that are commonly used today. For example:
Indians gave sailors in Montreal Vitamin C (bark of evergreen tree) to cure them of the scurvy. Europeans didn’t recognize the significance until 200 years later.
The Incas in South America cured Malaria with quinine (Peruvian bark) in 1620. It was killing about 2 million people a year worldwide. A Nobel prize was awarded to a European for the discovery of quinine in 1902 with no mention of the Incas. There are other medicines such as iodine (from seaweed) and aspirin (from poplar or willow trees) which were used by Indians before the rest of the world.
Many of today’s foods and flavors came from the Americas. To mention a few: Popcorn, peanuts, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, clams, 47 types of berries, maple syrup, fish and chips, and fried bread. Could we get along without french fries, corn chips, nachos, tortilla chips, jerky and dried meat?
Many people were concerned with the event to happen on Dec. 21, 2012. Actually the Mayans (from the Yucatan in Mexico) say it is happening now and has been since 2007 and will continue at least until 2015.
The Hopi Indians predicted 200 years ago that the world could be destroyed if we collectively took the wrong path. If our technology continues to lead us down a materialistic path the world could end.
But many of us do not believe that we will go down that path. A Mayan elder said, “The world will change for the better if we think with our heart rather than our head.” Indians try to speak from the heart to be truthful and accurate. If enough people do this a new world will emerge just like a butterfly from a cocoon.
When we become spiritually aware we will be totally in control of our destiny.
Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks) He can be reached via email at email@example.com. His books are available at the Hastings & Omak book stores and Amazon.