Dwain Camp: Native nations and the rise of self-governance

Dwain Camp is an elder of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma.

The unmistakable resurgence of Native nations within the United States this past 40 years is often credited simply to self-governance.

While certainly true as far as it goes, the progression from subjugation and the despair of a disenfranchised people to today’s Native governments, is one of the most exciting and important in recent history. Indigenous people, against all odds, with diligence, intelligence, strength and courage, salvaged the remnants of a sovereignty denied for centuries and thus embarked upon the miraculous renaissance of a historically resilient people.  Self-governance was born of this newly asserted sovereignty.

As a Native man born during the depths of the Great Depression in a Indian Health Service hospital, educated at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school and raised on a federal reservation, I had a birds eye view of pervasive racial inequality. To add another dimension, immediately after leaving boarding school, I traveled, worked, married and had children while living in the world of the dominant society before being swept into the cultural and political maelstrom that was the 70’s.

Thus, having one foot in our ancient culture and tradition and one foot firmly planted in the new millennium, I was there, I witnessed.

Coming of age in a country with rampant racism, when a president was assassinated and other great leaders murdered, the native people of our generation survived a turbulent time that did not include easily won social change.  Legions of nameless Native heroes and heroines died or went to prison during those formative years. Many more went on to work the rest of their days, with pride and dignity, for reborn tribal nations, newly imbued with self-governance.

Just as the struggle for equality is ongoing, so must we always educate the new generations of our true history  Only by teaching the staggering truth of loss of land and freedom and the atrocities we as a people have endured, can future generations fully understand how far we have progressed, the price we have paid and why we occupy the unique position in this country that we do.  Only then can the warriors of tomorrow truly understand, appreciate and then perpetuate, our hard won self-governance.

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