By Colton P. Barone, grade 12, *Ojibwe* – Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
2011/2012 Reconnecting The Circle Essay Winner
Reconnecting the circle with Native Americans has never been more important. American society is showing what happens when competition and a winner-takes-all approach reigns.
Today, we are seeing the fallout of a capitalistic society, where a few people win while the rest lose and suffer. In the U.S. today, just a few people control large amounts of money, power, property, and authority while the majority deals with the ruin of financial institutions, loss of employment opportunities and a government that doesn’t seem to be effective in rendering aid.
We are seeing people left in the streets without homes. Older people are not respected, they are ignored. Poor people do not have the same rights as someone with money. As the electronics era grows, people are becoming more and more isolated.
This imbalance would not have happened if native culture had remained vibrant instead of being marginalized by a dominating force that killed large amounts of their people, took their most resourceful land (and often left them with barren land), and attempted to destroy their culture and their spiritual connection to the earth.
Why would life be different if native culture had flourished?
Native American life is based on community, connection, and inclusion. Everyone has a role and everyone is important. Their contributions are valued. Elders are respected. The spirit in everyone is given attention in ceremony and connection between people is very important.
This way of life has had profound impact on my life. In a way, I’ve lived a combination of these lives, between two cultures. It helps to see them both. But my native family has always picked me up when I fell, and showed me they cared about me. In my naming ceremony, where I received the Ojibwe name Nawakwegisiss (man who receives power from the midday sun), I felt truly connected to my ancestors and knew my place in the community. I know I have a role in the world, and must be a leader to help others.
Native culture is not about being in touch through an iPhone, but through personal connection, events, and story. Society is replacing human touch with technology, which isolates us from each other. People do not survive in isolation well.
We can live differently.
I believe we are beginning to live differently.
Sustainable communities are echoing ancient ways. A movement towards respect for the land has been emerging and we are more resourceful in terms of developing new energy sources, including water and solar power, that are less harmful to the earth. There is a conversation among people who are choosing to identify themselves with their “tribe” (which they define as chosen friends and community members who share their values and outlook on life), rather than going along with old structures that force people to compete against each other for resources.
A sustainable community creates and maintains its economic stature and environmental health, and promotes social equity. The Native American community produces food and supplies that sustain their tribe. They take care of everyone in the tribe. Traditionally, they have been very involved in protecting the land and natural species from mining, pollution, overuse, and misuse.
Where native culture has changed very little, it is interesting to see these pathways back to it begin to show up.
More change is needed. People are being left behind because education is becoming a luxury for those who can afford it. Those who cannot afford higher education are seeing themselves limited from jobs that can help their families and tribal communities flourish.
As we see more disconnection in the world, more separation between people, we will naturally gravitate back to the native concept of community and tribe. There is comfort in a community where everyone sees themselves as part of the whole. We all want to be valued and seen as important. We want to be connected to the land and our spirits. Native culture provides this.
Life moves in circular cycles. If the Native American way of life was reconnected with the circle, people’s values might change from money, competition and power, to unity and spiritual connection with the land and others. At least there would be that option.
What will happen if we don’t reconnect the circle with Native Americans?
Society as a whole will continue down the same path towards disconnection, isolation, and lack of community. If we stop for a minute and really think about it, we can change the path.