Standing with Native Americans

11/12/2016, 12:31 a.m.
When my brothers were younger, a common playtime activity was the game of “Cowboys and Indians.” Fueled by the Hollywood ...
Dr. E. Faye Williams

E Faye Williams

When my brothers were younger, a common playtime activity was the game of “Cowboys and Indians.” Fueled by the Hollywood theatrical Western genre, it was played in fields and playgrounds all across the nation. No one wanted to be the Indian and suffer the routine fate of dying under brutal circumstance.

Even then, we recognized the disadvantages inherent with being a Native American. Sadly, the nation has not made a collective effort to remedy the wrongs inflicted upon Native American tribes. The pathway of U.S. history is littered with the remnants of deceptive or broken treaties that have robbed Native Americans of any residual rights to their once occupied lands. Now our Native American brothers and sisters stand in the crosshairs of corporate America, which threatens the Standing Rock Reservation water supply. We all recognize water as the source of life.

President Obama continues to do everything within his power to right the wrongs that existed long before he became president. He has said he believes there are options to get around the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project site and the administration is considering ways to re-route the oil pipeline, but there are those who believe re-routing is not the answer. After many marches, rallies and activism, the Keystone XL Pipeline was halted and that is what they would like to see happen at Standing Rock. Native Americans are rightly concerned that the current routing of the pipeline would cut too close to tribal lands in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

People of all races and nationalities have gone to Standing Rock in support of our brothers and sisters in the area. Different tribes have come together over this issue, and their doing so should be a lesson to African-Americans about uniting for a common cause even when all of our concerns do not match. African-Americans should do all we can to support this issue because it was our Native American brothers and sisters who often came to the rescue of our ancestors whose lives were endangered because of enslavement.

As we look to a future with a new president, we must form coalitions with others to achieve our many community needs. Just as we elevate our own rights, we must be willing to elevate the rights of others. Without actually being at Standing Rock, there are several things we can do to help.

Through the tragedy of Flint, Mich., we have experienced and understand the negative impact of water pollution and eco-racism. We can support a remedy by letting the president know how serious we consider this issue to be. You can call or email the White House at (202) 456-1111 or www.whitehouse.gov to express your opinion, including making a request to send federal marshals to protect the demonstrators at Standing Rock. You can donate to the legal fund for the protesters through the tribal website at http://standingrock.org. There also is a need for clothing and other goods for which delivery can be coordinated through that website.

Most of us were never taught in school how Indian and African slavery became intertwined, and how the abolition of one became linked to the other. Indians challenged slavery first. They ultimately did so more successfully than did Africans, with lasting implications for the abolitionist movement in New England. For a thorough understanding of this issue, read “Brethren by Nature” by Dr. Margaret Ellen Newell, a professor at Ohio State University.

Indians and Africans have a shared history of suffering. We have every reason to find common ground today on issues like Standing Rock, and stand together to find a positive resolution as our Native American brothers and sisters work to protect their sacred land.

The writer is national president and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women.