Opinion: Tribe heads in wrong direction with disenrollment

'The topic was "Indians of the Midwest" and the professor was knowledgeable and conveyed serious respect for Native culture, but something kept gnawing at me as she talked.

There are two types of Indian stereotypes, she said -- the negative (the ignorant savage, the abductor of white women, etc.) and the romantic (woo-woo, New Agey, let's play Indian, "go 'Skins!") -- and left it at that, implying, OK, if you are non-Native, the best attitude to strike is a certain respectful distance, neither denigrating the culture nor seizing hold of it like an idiot. If you want more, attend lectures and look at the artifacts on display behind glass cases, but DO NOT TOUCH.

This was all academic and sensible, the voice of the expert, an anthropologist, and given the history of the last 500 years -- given colonialism, land grabs and boarding schools, given the genocide perpetrated by Western governments on every continent during and beyond the Age of Exploration -- understandable, but only up to a point. Beyond that point, it's just more cultural arrogance, a denial of the relevance of indigenous consciousness in the present moment.

The question I finally blurted out was: What's beyond the stereotypes? What about the actual interaction between cultures? She shrugged. It happened in the 18th century, at least sporadically, she said, before American independence and the new nation's systematic conquest of the continent."

Get the Story:
Robert Koehler: The spiritual jackpot (The Chicago Tribune 12/14)

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