Steve Russell: Advice for a younger version of me
"I usually write this column primarily for people who care about tribal government. This one is different. If you are currently an important person by conventional standards, you may want to skip this because I’m speaking to myself at age. … oh, 14 or so, upward.

I know you because I was you, raised on Indian land currently occupied by white people. Raised by extended family rather than a mother and a father and not knowing anybody who finished high school.

Honestly, I had few encounters with white people who flat out did not like Indians. However, being known as who I was meant that I was destined to work with my hands, unless I could be an artist of some kind. The people who assumed that did not mean me any harm, but directing me to classes and activities for which I had no talent was not helpful.

I’ve heard people say they didn’t know they were poor. That’s the case unless somebody tells you, and plenty of people let me know. It did not take me long to figure out that most of the other kids did not have commodities and they lived in houses with light switches on the wall rather than a bulb dangling in the center of the room and several cords running away from that one connection so the wires were often hot to the touch.

There’s never any shortage of adults who want to tell you what to do, right? Do they still show you Indians in the textbooks that were either savage or stupid? I hope not. If so, I hope your folks give you stuff like the book I had about Will Rogers, an Indian who was smart and funny. They tell you your life is over if you can’t finish school, even though school is one teenage horror after another."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: Advice to myself (Indian Country Today 3/27)

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