It’s Time to Give Native Americans and Others the Respect They Deserve | Opinion


ON 11/28/22 AT 3:20 PM EST01:09

What Is The History Of Thanksgiving?

In the United States, November marks Native American Heritage Month. With Thanksgiving and traditions of the holiday presenting a false picture of how early settlers treated Native Americans, there is a long way to go in dealing with racism affecting the Indigenous community.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Haaland v. Brackeen, a series of consolidated cases aimed to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The law was created in 1978 to address the high numbers of Native children being separated from their families and gives tribal nations input in child welfare cases involving kids who are members of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized tribe.

Tribal nations argue the lawsuit has the potential to further wipe out Native American tribes and their cultures.

My extended family members understand this kind of marginalization and disrespect for human rights well. Many of them belong to a sect of Islam called the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that has endured years of violence and persecution in many Muslim-majority countries.

For example, in order to attain basic civil rights such as the right to vote in Pakistan, Ahmadis must either renounce their faith or agree to be placed in a separate electoral list, and contrary to their beliefs, accept their status as “non-Muslim.”

For reference, Ahmadis recognize Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in 1889, as the “Promised Messiah,” which is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.

Ironically, when Pakistan was created in 1947, founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who himself was born into a minority Shiite Muslim family and married a Parsi woman, famously said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Like Native Americans in the U.S., Ahmadis have become targets of a moral majority in Pakistan simply because they hold different beliefs.

In Haaland v. Brackeen, religious liberty is as much as stake as the ICWA. America is only now reckoning with the history of boarding schools that separated generations of Native children from their families and prohibited them from speaking Indigenous languages, wearing traditional clothes, and taking part in ancestral practices. A U.S. Department of the Interior report released earlier this year said that half of boarding schools were likely supported by Christian institutions.

Members of the Crow Nation perform
Members of the Crow Nation perform in the Memorial Amphitheater during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. on Nov. 9, 2021.ALEX BRANDON/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The origins of Christian dominance that resulted in disaster and genocide for Indigenous people date back to the Doctrine of Discovery, which spiritually, politically, and legally justified seizing and colonizing land not inhabited by Christians. It originated with 15th century papal bills issued by the Vatican and implemented by monarchies that sanctioned the brutal conquest and colonization of non-Christians who were deemed “enemies of Christ” in Africa and the Americas.

Today, tribal elders continue to dispute with federal courts to preserve sacred Indigenous sites. Native American plaintiffs recently asked the Supreme Court to tell the federal government to repair a sacred site that was bulldozed back in 2008 when a turn lane was added to a highway near Mount Hood, Ore.

To be sure, some are taking proactive steps to counter the gross inequities facing Indigenous communities.

Earlier this month, the first mental and behavioral health crisis line in the U.S. tailored for Indigenous people, run by an all-Native team, went live for Washington state residents. Also in Washington, a current “Land Acknowledgment” exhibit at Gonzaga University provides context to the trendy practice of starting gatherings by reminding audiences they are on stolen lands.

And on Veterans Day this year, the National Native American Veterans Memorial was officially dedicated in Washington, D.C., marking the first-ever tribute at the national level to Native Americans who served in the armed forces.

But more is needed.

If America’s founding fathers were dogmatic about anything, it was the belief that a person’s faith should not be intruded upon by government and that religious doctrine should not be written into governance.

In 1785, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was considering passage of a bill “establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” James Madison presented 15 reasons why government should not become involved in the support of any religion. And in his first term as president, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury, Conn. Baptists stating his firm belief in the separation of church and state.

Native Americans and people from marginalized faiths such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have been fighting for their basic rights to live a peaceful existence for too long. As Albert Einstein wrote in his book Out of My Later Years: “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual toward freedom.”

It’s time for Americans to heed the words of one of the country’s greatest thinkers and let go of deeply held prejudices. American society is steadily becoming more diverse, yet Americans still have far to go in recognizing that no one culture or set of beliefs is superior to others. Now is the time to make the holiday season a time for unity and healing by giving divergent groups and voices the acknowledgment and respect they deserve.

Tanya Jogee is a communications consultant, writer and Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.


Leave a Reply