RTC: Wounded Warriors – We hear in the news about “wounded warriors”; battle fatigue, physical wounds, depression, and other emotional repercussions from battle that can lead to suicide. How does your family EMOTIONALLY and SPIRITUALLY prepare for service?
AV: It’s more than just speaking to a recruiter. Families will have really big ceremonies for people who are about to go into battle. The process of these ceremonies is something I can’t share; it’s meant for that person and their family. It’s one of the most powerful ceremonies in the Crow culture. It’s meant to protect people who are going to see things that are unnatural; killing people, which is unnatural, but necessary; participating in battle. During the ceremony, there will always be at least one veteran present who will break it down for them, let them know what it will really be like. When the warrior returns, there is another ceremony, which incorporates the person back into society, back into the tribe. This is why native warriors have less issues post-combat. It’s a process to spiritually bring them back, to reincorporate them into a non-combative environment. The Crow way provides a greater support system versus an individual seeing a psychologist.
RTC: Which Native cultural VALUES would you like to see more fully incorporated in American society?
#1: The environment above all. The Earth. Taking care of where we live; not ruining the planet for financial gain. Great things can come from oil drilling, but appreciation for plants and animals that aren’t always replaceable is even more important.
What kind of thought process even considers dumping in the ocean or releasing waste at the port? Jobs matter, but the environment should be considered equally. A lot of the things we think matter, really don’t. Protecting the planet requires more energy than it has been given.
#2: Protection of women and children and basic human rights. VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) was just passed, allowing us to take care of our own people.
#3: Sharing. I would like to see more of a tribal society, because it teaches us that when you have something, you share it with those who do not have it, such as information and food. When someone is wearing really nice clothes or such and someone compliments them, the Crow way is that you give that item to the person. (Author’s Note: The Lebanese do this, as well.) You’re not supposed to hold on to them. You’re supposed to share them. Material things come, but the ability to help someone isn’t always there.
RTC: If there is one thing you want non-Native people to understand and respect about the Native American cultures, what would it be?
AV: #1 – Remind people that there is more than just one group of Indians out there with different ways of doing things. Different languages, different dress, different locations.
RTC: It seems many non-Native people, irregardless of their political stances, lack a comprehensive understanding and connection with the Native American cultures. In other words, they lack a framework by which to relate Native Americans into their worldview. In your opinion, what’s the best way to close that knowledge gap?
RTC: Education? How, more specifically?
AV: They should spend some time on reservations. The Japanese are the #1 tourists in the world, but the one place they don’t visit is their own countryside. Americans are like this, too. It’s important to travel around the world, but it’s just as important to travel around your own countryside.
RTC: What’s the biggest way people can help?
AV: The best way would be to put the time and energy into learning about the issues within Indian Country. The more people can learn about Indians, the more they can influence their congress people. What people do with their own land shouldn’t be the business of people who live off of it. The Black Hills [South Dakota] have all these natural resources. There are people from a mineral company trying to purchase the Black Hills. They don’t care what happens with the land. It’s an ownership way of looking at it. But it’s Indian land and the tribe should decide what they want to do with it. Keep it green and clean or develop on it. It’s their right.
RTC: How can learning about Native Americans benefit non-Native people?
AV: Knowledge. The more they learn, the better. When people see the issues in the future, it will be less boring to them. It can change people’s opinions quite a bit.
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