Neither Fish Nor Fowl: The Quest for U.S.-Tribal Harmony

Back around 2003, I proposed my philosophy thesis for a BA in philosophy. I ended up writing about colonialism and decolonization. For my readings, I emailed a professor working in Native American Studies. We emailed back and forth for a long time. I felt a little out of place as a white person studying these things. The Native Studies professor told me I was neither fish nor fowl.

I wrote a crappy, little book a year or so ago on Native American issues. In that book, I noted that there have been pillars of hope and justice in Euroamerican history–people who wanted what’s right and just for Native Americans.

Although, as I note in the book, those people were vocal, they didn’t prevail. The result, as we now know, has been centuries of genocide, cultural genocide, poverty, poor health outcomes, and more, for indigenous people.

Like my predecessors, I may not win. But I have a 20-year history of fighting for indigenous people. I may be neither fish nor fowl, but I believe that we can achieve harmony in U.S.-tribal relations.

But it’s going to take us–non-Native, U.S. citizens–to help get us there. And we are going to have to give some. For example, it may be good to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for indigenous people. That way, the truth can be known, healing can take place and we can come to reconcile with one another.

In my daily life, I interact with Native Americans. We have more in common than we have differences. Our shared humanity is what brings us together. And, for my part, my sense of justice begins with love. Native Americans have the highest rate of intermarriage. That means most Native people have non-Native family members. If we can love one another on a personal level, why can’t we bring about justice and harmony at the government level?

For 20 years, I have worked for Native justice when possible. I may be white, but I’ll take the side of history that’s right over the side I’m allegedly supposed to be on.

Explaining CV Gaps

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that academia is still suited for the middle class, healthy, able-bodied, childless person. In an effort to make things somewhat more hospitable, I suggest we do away with being skeptical of those with “CV gaps.”

Ten years ago, at the tail-end of my MA, I fell ill. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took these past 10 years–and trying a dozen different medications–for me to finally, recently, be in remission.

I’m not the only one who has an illness, a death in the family, child caring years, etc., to deal with. Once, I overheard a hiring committee treat with suspicion a candidate who, in an effort to explain the CV gap, explained they had a bout with Bipolar Disorder. I don’t know if this candidate got hired or not, but this person shouldn’t have had to explain such a thing, which brings bias in hiring to the table.

Recently, I looked into PhD programs. While Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings are nice and everything, I think what matters is other things: The warmth of a department. The lack of sexism in a department. The ability to see me as a person and not someone who is “unstable” and “crazy.” Those are environments that will help me produce the best work.

I was told over 10 years ago that, if I wanted to do a PhD, I should do it right after my MA.

Well, that couldn’t happen.

I will be going to my doctor to get an O.K. on further education soon. If she says I’m able to go, I should be seen as a fresh student, not a “stale” one. And I shouldn’t have to explain any so-called gaps to anyone.

Life is hard enough. Why make it even harder?

Explaining My Psychotic Self

Anyone familiar with me knows that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 10 years ago while finishing my MA degree.

It’s been a tough journey. I went from middle class to extreme poverty, tried a dozen medications, went to therapy, lost friends, mentors, acquaintances, and professional contacts.

I will soon be one year symptom free. This past year I have grown in wisdom and health. I hope my remission lasts. Being psychotic is no fun for anyone.

While I’m in remission, I decided to take the time to reflect upon the times when I am psychotic. I have explained previously that when I am psychotic, I truly am legally insane.

I have done a lot of things while psychotic. I have thought I was married or engaged to someone I don’t know, thought I had jobs I didn’t have, and generally been afraid for my life.

My wise and knowing counselor told me to tell everyone that those things are not me. They are my illness.

Right now, I am on a medication that restores me to health. While schizophrenia may be a fascinating illness for people to look into, the experience of it is heartbreaking. People think I am “unstable,” dangerous and should have my rights taken away from me.

I have been basically told these things–even by philosophers, who ought to know better.

Psychosis sneaks up on me. It makes me believe things that are not true. It makes me paranoid. Even I feel unsure about how long I will be in remission.

If you’re worldview does not take into account the humanity of people like me, you have a crappy worldview. When I am healthy, I’m totally fine. My goal is to stay fine. I don’t want to lose contacts, friendships or esteem in people’s eyes. Anyway, those things–the social isolation–makes my illness worse.

I need people to see what I have finally recognized: Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. It’s not anything I can help (aside from continuing to take my medications, which have a chance of failing). I need you to see that when I have done strange things, it’s not me. It’s my illness. Because, at the end of the day, I’m just a girl in the world who has dreams, loves, hopes and ambitions.

Want to Treat Native Americans Right for Once? Then it’s Warren or Bernie in 2020.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the truly atrocious way the United States has treated Native Americans.

But there’s some things you may not know. For example, most tribal people are dual citizens. They are citizens of the United States and citizens of their tribal nation.

This isn’t lip service, either. Tribal nations are truly nations unto themselves; although, to the United States, they are “domestic dependent nations.”

This means that issues are different for Native Americans than they are for other racial and ethnic minorities.

For decades, the United States has eaten away at tribal sovereignty (the inherent right for tribes to govern themselves). This is a classic colonial move. In the type of colonialism we have in the United States–settler state colonialism–the end goal is the absolute abolishment of the entire indigenous population. It began with genocide, where indigenous people were literally slaughtered, and moved to boarding schools, when the goal was cultural genocide, and has consistently moved to make tribal nations “less than.” The end goal is the abolishment of tribal nations.

For this to end–for decolonization to happen–it would be good to have a president who understands that tribal nations ought to be treated as equals on a nation-to-nation basis.

Right now, there are only two candidates I trust to begin to establish that: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

A few years ago, during the movement at Standing Rock Reservation against the Dakota Access pipeline, Bernie Sanders stood openly, passionately and proudly with Native Americans. He stood up with them before former President Obama made even a small move to support tribal people. On his website, Bernie directly says that, in his administration, he will “Honor Native American tribal treaty rights and sovereignty, moving away from a relationship of paternalism and control toward one of deference and support.”

Because she falsely claimed to be Native American, Elizabeth Warren has been exceedingly schooled on Native issues. She now knows that being Native American isn’t so much about your percentage of Native heritage. It’s a political identity, not a genetic one. As retired professor Steve Russell is known to say, “It’s not about who you claim. It’s about who claims you.”

Beyond this, Warren understands the nation-to-nation relationship between Native nations and the United States. She pledges to uphold that.

Native American issues are among the issues I care about. They should be issues you care about, too, if you care about any political thing at all. I’m proudly voting for Bernie. Warren is my second choice. Those are the two mostly likely, out of this entire ordeal, to get things straightened out with Native Americans.

I’m Voting for Bernie for My 20-Year-Old Self

Twenty years ago, I was not bogged down by mental health issues. I was fit, healthy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. All my life, ridden by poverty, I dreamed of making the world a better place. I attended college because I craved knowledge. I wanted nothing more than to learn as much as I could. I was hungry to learn.

And learn I did.

I learned that the criminal justice system is racist and elitist. I learned that people die due to lack of healthcare. I learned that financial barriers keep many people from attending college. I learned that climate change is undeniable. I learned that a select few own large corporations. I learn what I had always known: The 1% rules.

Tonight was the Iowa caucuses. I saw Bernie Sanders take the stage and address every single one of these issues.

Twenty years ago, I was 20 years old. I hoped beyond hope for a systems change. I dreamed of something better. With the information I learned in college, I hoped there was a way for us all to come together to make the drastic changes for the better. I hoped for racial justice, where Black and brown people are not disproportionately jailed and impoverished. I hoped the NRA would not have such a hold on American politics. I hoped for economic equity to raise families like mine out of poverty. I hoped for the kind of harmony I imagined in my mind.

Tonight, while I was listening to Bernie Sanders, tears welled up in my eyes. I reached back to the far corners of my mind, back to the 20-year-old me who wasn’t yet jaded and bruised from life’s hardships. I reached back before I had been hospitalized numerous times. I reached back to when my daughter was young.

I thought about now. I have grandchildren. What kind of world would they like to live in?

I’m voting for Bernie Sanders for the 20-year-old me. The one who wasn’t afraid or beat down. The one who thought she could do something to make a positive difference in this world.

Tonight I knew I could change the world. And all it would take is a vote for Bernie.

Understanding Bernie: Vote Like Your Family Depends on It

Back when I was in college, I took a course called Personal and Social Freedom. It was in that class that I studied Marxism for the first time.

We learned that, for Marx, the are three economic stages. There’s capitalism followed by socialism and communism. For Marx, capitalism is marked by class struggle and class warfare. There’s the very few with ungodly wealth and the masses who have very little. Socialism begins when the masses (the proletariat) rise up against the wealthy (the bourgeoisie).

At the time, I came from a humble background. I saw my family struggle with finances my whole life. I also saw, on TV mostly, the very few with enormous wealth who controlled everything.

I was convinced that socialism is the next step and made it my goal to be a part of that effort. Socialism is when the means of production is owned by the community as a whole. Under socialism, there will be no select few with billions controlling everything. Instead, the masses will be in control and share in on the wealth. This levels the playing field. It gives families like mine a fighting chance.

I know that Bernie is a Democratic Socialist. And I think it’s time I put my efforts into the fight. Therefore, after looking at Bernie’s policies, I vow to vote for him in the primaries. I also know very well that he may not be able to accomplish everything he wants to do. That’s the pragmatic nature of all of this. However, I know Bernie will fight as much as he can to get things done. There’s no one I trust more for this office–and to fight for me–than Bernie Sanders.

If you come from a family like mine, who didn’t have everything and worked hard for what they did have, I ask you to join me in voting for Bernie.