"In this new social and political era, we will be challenged to solve the problems that plague our tribal communities, moving up from victims to victors; the one thing we must do is shed the chains of victimhood.
In the early 1970s, when I first took office as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, there was much Indian legislation before Congress. In my testimony, I almost always led off with a litany of woes describing Indian country: the highest infant mortality; the lowest life expectancy; the highest unemployment; the lowest per capita income, and on and on. I did this to point out the devastation resulting from misguided and malicious Indian policy over many years. But I did it mostly to elicit pity or guilt, and to justify our requests for more appropriations, new programs and policy changes.
Eventually it got to me that I was almost bragging about it, like one might brag about the Pine Ridge reservation encompassing the poorest county in the U.S. So I dropped that pathetic preamble.
And today, 30 years later, it sometimes seems we treasure our victimhood. Through guilt and public embarrassment, we reason, pressure is kept on our federal trustee to do more for our people. In that sense, victimhood is working for us. But we must ask ourselves: what is victimhood doing to us?
Victimhood is a prison from which we must free ourselves if we mean for our children to go forward into a better future. The generally pathetic conditions in reservation communities cannot be simply shed or denied. Those conditions are real, and it's going to take a persistent effort and a long time to remedy them. We must understand that our problems cannot be solved by anyone but ourselves, our tribal communities and leaders. And we must begin now. There is not much more time, and resources will dwindle when we are seen as hopeless."
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Charles Trimble: Let go the chains of victimhood
(Indian Country Today 8/15)