For some time
now, the trend for non-Native Americans to seek out, for various reasons, things Native American - and for Native Americans themselves to delve deeper into their spirituality and history, has grown steadily. Within this trend there are Native Americans, from full-bloods to those unsure of the degree of their Native American ancestry - to "return to the Reservation", "return to their Roots"; "find themselves again"; however, one wishes to put it. While many seem to think that this "trend" basically involves the younger generations, it has been my experience that it actually includes all age groups to one degree or another and while none can be condemned for seeking out the quiet Voice Within that fills them with these varying desires - most are finding out that it is far more simple to contemplate such a homeward bound journey, than it is realizing it in full. I wish I had more information to give to you regarding the following speaker, he writes well and one can feel the purity of his words.
These past few years, it's been a very "in" thing to talk about how you're going back to the reservation when you finish school. Many will go, but few will stay. They'll return to the city in two or three years, disillusioned. It is easy to talk about Indian unity, Indian power, the strength of the land, Indian input, but it's hard to put these ideas to work on a reservation where the main thing people want is something to eat.
The first thing that hits you when you go home - after you realize that you "live" there now, and you're not leaving in a few weeks - is that your college degrees don't give you the prestige on the reservation that you assumed they would. BIA people and some councilmen may be impressed, your own family may be proud, but people couldn't care less. You've been away for a long time and they study you for a while.
Some try to prove themselves one of the people by drinking around a lot, saying see I'm still one of you but the people trying to make up their mind about you wonder because we don't need more drunken Indians on the reservation, we have enough. Some miss their group at school, heads especially try to set up a copy of this little group on the reservation. They find they have to include whites, young VISTAS or public health people, there not being enough heads around the reservation that are past high school age. And the people hear rumors. Some go into a frenzy of activity to prove themselves, they get involved in everything, but still miss the point because they don't really care about the people - they care American style about getting the job done.
Traditionally educated Indians
have had a difficult time working on their own reservations. When you get out of school you know so much and have so many solutions to reservation problems that you want to get things done and methods changed.
But you've been away a long time, some things have already changed. So you start with the problems where they are now, not when you left. You spend a long time finding this out, maybe even talking to council members you joked about for years. You respect them for they know more about the situation than you. And you thought you knew everything.
If you want to get something done you either have to work thru the system or change that system. You talked about tribal government and structure, but when you're there you see that what actually gets done and the way it gets done has little to do with your Tribal Constitution and by-laws. A master's degree has nothing to do with leadership on the reservation, and you want to be a leader. You've forgotten how to work with your own people.
You miss the exciting discussions about what it means to be an Indian, Pan-Tribalism and Unity thru the Indian religion. The people on the reservation accept being Indian and they see no reason to wonder about what that means - they know what it means. They know people from other tribes and have centuries-old prejudices against some tribes, and you discover that the road to Pan-Tribalism is a quiet, soft, steady one, not one filled with a loud, third-world type rhetoric. Religion is not something to talk about lightly on the reservation, some things you do not even talk about in daylight, and you can't just go up to a medicine man and expect him to tell you things because you are sincerely interested in "the Indian religion."
You find yourself being as paternal as the BIA superintendent and maybe more patronizing. It's hard to realize that these people are the ones you've spoken of for so long as "my people." When you finally realize that they don't belong to you, but that you belong to your tribe then you're really on your way back. Then you can find what you spot is in the circle of your tribal world. And just maybe you'll be an Indian again.