Can Native-American kids have dreams?
RFormer Senator Byron Dorgan’s recent book, “The Girl in the Photograph,” is a 196-page indictment of every European-American that set foot in the United States since Plymouth Rock.
On the basis of his sweeping evidence, we all belong in jail for crimes against Native-Americans, starting with genocide and murder, if not as perpetrators at least as accomplices.
The Europeans came to America as Christians searching for freedom and ended up killing Indians over land within 20 years of their arrival, all to found a holy “city on a hill.”
In U.S. Congress for 30 years, Dorgan served as chair of various committees and subcommittees on Indian affairs. He started the book with a close-up view of the horrors experienced by this little victim in the photo.
The girl in the photograph was 5-year-old Tamara, a Native-American child on the Standing Rock Reservation south of Bismarck who had been turned over to a family of abusers, more than likely for the monthly stipend that came with a foster child.
When social workers showed up, they found 5-year-old Tamara with a broken leg, arm and nose “and some of her hair pulled out by the roots.”
According to Dorgan, “she lay in a dark room for several days before social workers arrived at the home and demanded to see her.”
She ended up with PTSD and seemed to miss 25 years of her life wandering around the Midwest, unable to get a grip on the memories and tragedies she experienced at Standing Rock.
Starting with the death march in the “trail of tears” in the 1830s that killed thousands of Native-Americans under General Andrew Jackson, Dorgan goes through a litany of evil deeds we have perpetrated on these native peoples. We have made them strangers in their own land.
According to Senator Dorgan, Native-Americans are suffering from intergenerational trauma because they have “experienced a bitter life in their own country where their land was stolen and they were virtually imprisoned, massacred, starved and tortured for a couple of centuries that left bitter memories of mistreatment that generations of Indians have inherited.”
Instead of a helping hand, most of us wonder why Native-Americans can’t share our ambition, goals and determination to be successful. Pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Most people who use that line have had parents, patrons or estates to help them pull.
According to Reinhold Niebuhr in Moral Man and Immoral Society, “it has always been the habit of privileged groups to deny the oppressed classes every opportunity for the cultivation of innate capacities and then to accuse them of lacking what they have been denied to acquire. “
In other words, we have done little or nothing to help Native-Americans develop the skills that would liberate them from a life of poverty and drunkenness. It makes one wonder about the number of engineers, doctors, nurses, CEOs, pharmacists, and other professionals that went to their graves on reservations without becoming any of these.
When I was ND Tax Commissioner in the 1960s, we had a Native-American paraplegic, Charles Grumbo, convert our manual operation to computers. He was a gutsy genius who ended up in the Anne Carlsen School in Jamestown where he mastered computers. He proved that Indians have the stuff if given a chance.
A couple of years ago, about fourteen 10-year-old African singers and dancers performing in a church were asked about their career plans. They rattled off all of the prominent professions. As a tear slipped down my cheek, I thought that these poor kids were never going to realize their dreams.
I wonder if Native-American kids trapped in poverty and booze ever dream about getting into a professional career. Right now, it looks hopeless. That is what Senator Dorgan’s book is about.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.