Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cherishing Victimhood

“Well, the cowboys beat the Indians again,” said Rick Doyle, governor of the Passamaquoddy Reservation near Eastport, Maine. He believes Maine voters discriminated against Indians by voting down their second effort to open a casino. “Every time we propose something, we get put down. It feels to me that we continue to be oppressed by the dominant culture.” (Portland Press Herald 11-8-07)

We’ve been hearing it a long time now. Indians are victims. White people took their land and destroyed their way of life. They’re a separate nation within our nation. They receive the benefits of being US citizens as well as maintaining certain other rights the rest of us don’t have like fishing, hunting, educational scholarships and opening casinos. They’re entitled to special treatment.

My wife is half Abenaki. Her mother’s ancestors were Indians from the reservation at St. Francis, Quebec, formerly known as Odonak. My children are one-quarter Abenaki with genealogy records to prove it. One of them learned that she could go to graduate school on scholarship if she could be officially admitted to the “tribe,” so she pursued it. Abenaki tribal headquarters are in Swanton, Vermont near the Canadian border, so she called and wrote to them repeatedly. April, the woman who was chief, was never able to come to the phone and never answered her mail either. After months of this, my daughter and I drove to Swanton with all her paperwork after assurances that the chief would be there on a certain day.

Headquarters were in something resembling an old laundromat. Unused computer stations lined the walls and long tables in the middle. People were playing cards at the tables and smoking so much it was difficult to breathe. Amber stains from years of burning tobacco covered walls and ceiling. The computer stations were piled with papers, dust and other detritus. And, wouldn’t you know it, the head woman wasn’t there. She was out checking an archaeological site at an expanding road project nearby, we were told. We drove out to the site but we couldn’t find her. We spoke to archaeologists from the University of Maine working the site and they were interesting, but they hadn’t seen the head Indian lady either. Back at the headquarters again the chief still among the missing, we were assured that the tribe wanted to do everything right. They had applied to the US Government for official tribal recognition (so they could open a casino I suggested, though they denied it) and they wanted to be very careful. They would examine my daughter’s genealogy records and get back to her, they said, but we knew they wouldn’t. To admit another member would mean a smaller slice of the casino pie for each of them. We knew they would go back to smoking, playing cards and making excuses. My daughter eventually gave up.

The Indians as victims rhetoric is getting old. I’m tired of hearing it and, judging from last week’s vote, the reservoir of white guilt in the rest of Maine is running out too. The day after the vote though, I heard someone read the result and lament their plight, saying: “Well, we took all their land.” I responded that I didn’t know what he might have done, but I didn’t take land from anyone. Whatever happened more than a hundred years ago is history. No white people alive today took land away from Indians. None of their fathers or grandfathers did either. It’s time to move on.

Life is difficult. Of that we can be sure. It’s more difficult for some than others, but nobody really escapes. We’re dealt a hand in life and we have to play it out. Whining about our cards doesn’t get us anywhere. As long as we have equal opportunity to play them out, how we do it is up to each of us as individuals. We have nobody but ourselves to blame for what we do. We should help each other along the way as much as we can, but we must realize that we can’t help people who aren’t willing to do the work necessary to help themselves.

According the November 8th Press Herald article by Josie Huang:
There are plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Passamaquoddy Bay, and strong interest in harnessing tidal waters and the wind for energy production ventures. But the tribe has focused for nearly 15 years on getting a gambling facility, and the latest setback only reinforced nagging suspicions that voters were discriminating against the tribe . . .

Same old - same old. The energy projects sound too much like work. Much easier to let some out-of-state outfit come in and build a casino in the Indians’ name so tribe members can sit back, collect the revenues and whine about what victims they are.


Anonymous said...

Why did your daughter not try to enroll at Odanak? She isn't a Swanton Band, Abenaki - seems foolish to try and enroll in a tribe which is not your own.

Besides, there are hundreds of Abenakis in Western Maine. Why not do the hard work and help get the tribe state and federally recognized? Why would you think it appropriate to freeload off another tribe, one which has fought for years for federal and state recognition?

I left Maine and am going to law school so that I can help do the hard work to get our tribe (I am documented Abenaki, with one of my ancestor's villages traditionally located near you, btw.) Maybe your daughter should look to building the tribe, not merely benefiting from it.

This whole post looks like sour grapes to me. I take issue with the recognized tribes in Maine, particularly when they attempted to place their gaming operation on our land (and I said as much publicly to Barry Dana at the Maine Law School forum back in 2003.) But trashing all Indians for the actions of a few is pretty sad, don't you think?

Tom McLaughlin said...

My daughter called all around New England and was directed to Swanton by various Indian groups.

I didn't agree with her seeking what amounted to Affirmative Action and told her so. She was determined to pursue it anyway. She was a liberal. What could I do? Heck, I use to be one too. I agreed to accompany her to Vermont - out of curiosity and for her company to an fro. I had never been to that part of the state before.

I'm waiting for her to come around to from liberalism and she is. The Swanton experience helped the process.

Unknown said...

"Why not do the hard work and help get the tribe state and federally recognized?"

...maybe because it isn't there? hey what do I know, I lived amongst the Canadian versions out west.