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Column: Indians teach others how to be American

"A week ago, at the conference of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) meeting at the Morongo Casino Resort, the evening banquet opened with a ceremony that begins most formal Indian gatherings. Several Indian men, often military veterans, march in with flags and place them on the stage. The American flag leads the procession. Last week, the Ute Mountain Ute Indian leader Ernest House carried in the Star-Spangled Banner, and then stood and faced it, as if reunited with a treasured comrade. After the others had left the stage, he gave the flag an intense salute and parted from its company.

Non-Indians familiar with the history of the invasion and conquest of North America might be puzzled or even troubled by this ceremony. No residents of this country have better reasons for anger at the imperial powers of this nation than do Indian people; no American citizens have a better-grounded historical reason to put the American flag at the end of the procession, or to refuse to carry it.

And yet, most native people are loyal and committed patriots. The American flag appears at ceremonies and rituals; stars and stripes are woven into beadwork and incorporated into powwow clothing.

I take my bearings from the reality that these are people with an extraordinary knowledge of both the promise and the tragedy of this nation. "When I was about 30 years old," A. David Lester, director of CERT and a Muscogee Creek Indian, remembers, "the Blackfeet Indian leader Earl Old Person told me, 'One of our responsibilities is to teach our neighbors what it means to be American.'""

Get the Story:
Live Free and Soar (The New York Times 6/29)

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