Dying in Indian Country - the Roland Morris Story

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We can’t prevent them from hating one group by teaching them to hate another:

In defense of two groups it is still okay to hate.
by Lisa Morris  

Dying in Indian Country - A Story of Inspiration - http://www.accessmontana.com/morris/index.html


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     I saw the film “Pleasantville” and felt uncomfortable all the way through it.   What disturbed me was the obvious message that “those that advocate Family Values” are racist, redneck, up-tight and close-minded.   However, the movie inferred that those that feel free to be promiscuous and adulterous are the “real” people, the only ones truly able to think and feel.   Because of their ability to feel and think, they turned from “black and white” into people with color.  Sure, the producers of the movie threw in a nod towards art and literature as ways of freeing the mind.  But the majority of those in the movie that became Blessed with new insight and pigment came to it through sex, and only after freeing their minds through sex did they become interested in books.   The racist accusation was made clear when the black and white townspeople began putting up signs banning “coloreds” from the stores.
     Racism.    We Americans have a very singular view of what that is.  The other day while watching the TV show “Walker,” my six-year-old son observed, “It’s the bad white people against the good Indians again.”   How sad for him, a small boy of both American-Indian and German-Irish heritage, to be brought into such thoughts.  I immediately told him that it’s wrong for TV to continually portray white people as rednecks.   How is a young boy of both heritage’s to feel?  More importantly, by rousing minority anger and mistrust toward white people, how is the problem of racism in America remedied?
     The following night, we watched a show about the bad white people against the good black people.
     Let me add my two-cents about hate and hate crimes.   Hate appears to be something humans do.  I’m not saying that makes it okay, I’m saying that if it isn’t another “race” that they are busy hating, humans find some other point of difference to hate such as religion, tribal affiliation, or even politics.   The horrible massacres in Rwanda were committed by black people against black people.   The horrible bombings in Ireland are committed by white people against white people.   In Somalia, it is black against black and in Bosnia, again, white against white.   In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge committed horrid atrocities against their own people, and in early America, Indian Tribes warred and took coup on other Indian tribes.
     So I am tired of hearing about how horrible white people are.  There will always be evil people in this world, but there are also good people of every heritage.  The truth is, all humans are quite capable of evil and if we are ever going to move away from our hateful behavior in America, we are going to have to take a more mature look at the problem then simply blaming all wrongs on the bad-white-rednecks (low-income, conservative whites) and/or those that would like to see a return of family values (whom, as the movie “Pleasantville” brought out, are frequently seen as rednecks and hate-mongers but have also been interpreted as Christians).
     To start, let’s clarify what hate is and what it isn’t.  While sitting in a kitchen with a Tribal Chairman and his wife two months ago, these words were said by the Chairman, “...we as Native people, I guess we’re not compared to other people, because, your spirituality is intermixed, we’re not something that we just do on Sunday.  See in other cultures, their spiritual only goes to Sunday.  In the Native culture, every day is a spiritual day...”
     What the Chairman didn’t seem to realize in his statement was that many cultures, including cultures of white people, intermix spirituality with every day life.   There are many white people that do, and have for centuries, prayed unceasingly.   My Grandmother, an Irish woman, was one of these.   It is subtle statements such as these that separate people and cause some to feel they are different, or even better, then other people.
     When asked about White landowners on the reservation, he said more, "We’re lucky, we don’t have the problems many reservations have.  We don' t have as many white people...”
     Because he had said he prays for his people when they come to his office, I asked, “Could you pray for a white landowner that came to your office?”
     He answered, “It would be hard.”


     Although this Chairman went on in the conversation to push my husband and I to teach our children the Native culture to the exclusion of their other heritage’s, I don’t believe he intended to say hateful or hurtful things.   I believe he really wasn’t aware of the hurt his words carried.  Having been a member of my husband’s family for close to twenty years, I have heard many things while sitting in the kitchens of my tribal in-laws and I know there are misconceptions on both sides of the fence.  I have heard many hurtful words said about white people.  I’ve heard that white people don’t love their kids the way Indians do, aren’t as hospitable as Indians and aren’t as smart as Indians.  But I know that some of these things said are not said with hate, but frustration laced with lack of understanding, many times without realizing how it can hurt.  I have also sat in the kitchens of many white people and heard the same thing.  What is said is not always hate, but many times frustration, misunderstandings and lack of knowledge.
     Most of us have prejudices based on ignorance, not hate.  Even me.  The other day a white man entered our shop.  Tall, gangly and loud, he had the thickest southern accent I’d ever heard.  He was even chewing tobacco.  A real hick.  Of course I assumed immediately that he didn’t have a brain in his head.  I even assumed he would recoil at the sight of my husband.  After all, he must be a redneck, right?    It wasn’t until after we’d worked with him a little bit that I realized how intelligent he was.
   Not only that, he didn’t recoil from us.  In fact, he later went out of his way to help us with a problem we had.  I had prejudged him.  And for that I deeply apologize.
       Many of us have prejudices based on ignorance, not hate.  Ignorance partially encouraged by our culture that formerly picked on minorities but now continually picks on white people.

     And while much of what is said is ignorance, there are those that deliberately make nasty accusations against conservative white’s.   This is hate and it is time for those responsible  to be called on the carpet because what they are saying does hurt.  Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) is one in point.  Mr. Toole’s network has continually made remarks and held conferences against what they call “religious extremist groups,” equating those that homeschool, old Bible studies in their homes, and vote conservatively with hate groups.  What are religious extremist groups according to them?   A March 1993 article in their newsletter states that these groups include anyone that seeks to proscribe or eliminate abortion rights, teach creationism or oppose pornography.  Included in this is the Christian Coalition, Family Issues Forum, and Focus on the Family.   Have these groups burned crosses and incited violence?  No. What have these groups done?   The article went on to accuse these groups of having “agendas” and of doing things as horrible as running for political positions.   Correct me if I am wrong, but if a politician does NOT have some kind of agenda, why is he there?  One would hope our politicians DO have goals and ideas and are not there just to warm a seat.  Apparently this particular human rights group has a problem with free speech and the right of all citizens to vote and hold office.
     At a conference in September of 1996, Toole discussed “hate groups” in Montana and included “the religious right” in his topic.  He then suggested that religious parents that attend school board meetings and voice their concerns create in others “a fear of their heads being blown off.”   He has gone before Montana law officers with similar statements about Christians being in line with hate groups, creating a fear in me that law officers might actually take him seriously.

     In January of 1998, Toole expressed an interest in meeting with my husband who at the time was the president of a local organization.   My husband responded by letter to the MHRN board, “after careful consideration of the various public comments Mr. Toole has made in the last few years and my personal reaction to them, I must state that I cannot meet with Mr. Toole.  His continual assaults on Christians and homeschoolers, of which I am both, have been intolerable, and I have no confidence he intends to participate in discussion with an open mind.”
     Mr. Toole reprinted the letter in his publication and, apparently trying to make Mr. Morris look bad, inferred that he was nothing more then a puppet of the organization he presided.   MHRN then sent this article to every member of the Montana legislature.

    Very interesting, in light of  a 1995 Daily Interlake article discussing a MHRN refusal to meet with another group.  That article stated, “Toole suggested the (group) expressed interest in meeting so that a refusal could be used to make the network look bad.”   I guess Toole would know.


     MHRN and other groups like them don’t seem to see the hate they themselves are  promoting.  They could spend less time with hate-mongering and more time pursuing the real and vicious hate in this world.  The other day I spoke to my husband about an old photograph I had seen on TV of three or four black men hanging from a tree with a large crowd of white people standing underneath.  In the crowd, a couple of teenage girls stared into the camera, smiling.   How could those people stand under the tree with smiles on their faces and watch men strangle?   I then wondered aloud about the massacre in Rwanda, the bombings in Ireland and the Holocaust in Germany.  How can any person coldly kill another human being?   How could a man boldly murder a defenseless child, let alone an adult?    My husband responded that it is pure hate. The murderer does not see the victim as an equal.  “The society the person is part of teaches them to see the victim as something lower.”  I then asked my husband if he ever in his past was at a point where he viewed others that low.   He said yes, at one time he did.  Why?  Frustration of how he was treated by some white people.  Hate breeds hate.
     How does that hate begin in the first place?  When ever anyone feels somehow threatened?

     Change is never easy, but darn it, it keeps happening.  Could it be prejudice is a  kind of a fear?   Maybe a fear of...not wanting any change in the safe and comfortable way of life we’ve led up to the point when the outsiders became too noisy?   Could prejudice be not wanting any aspect of comfort to be taken away by outsiders?   Maybe some protectionism?   Maybe a little selfishness?   Sometimes, as with the Germans toward the Jews, is there a little jealousy?   Maybe there is some greed toward what the other person has.  Or sometimes, maybe there is almost...an enjoyment of bullying.   And what is a bully.   Why is a bully?

     Maybe prejudice has its birth in any of those small petty indulgences we all carry.   Maybe prejudice is a blown up form of a pettiness.
     But it can turn to hate.  And hate breeds hate.  And it is so easy for everyone to feel it.   No one is immune.  If we understand that though, maybe we can work to overcome it, individually.   I mean, the work to overcome it can come only from inside ourselves, by ourselves.   I have to make a conscience decision that I may be wrong about someone, then decide I want to change that feeling.  No one but me can make those decisions.

      I may not agree with everyone’s thoughts and feelings but I must see the human in others.   Holocaust survivor Corrie TenBloom, when confronted with the death camp soldier responsible for killing her sister, initially recoiled in hate.   But then, after she looked to God, reached out to the man and forgave him.
     Complete mind control, forcing everyone to love each other, is impossible.  So how do we fight hate?   How did my husband grow away from his hate?    Although I may be hated for saying this; it was through his relationship with God.   He began to understand that we all, no matter the race, tribe, political or religious difference, really are the same within.   He began to understand that none of us are better than or worse than any one else.  And then he began to love other people.

     You see, indifference isn’t an option.   Indifference is still a form of hate.   It is indifference that helped atrocities to occur again and again throughout history.   So that leaves us with only one option.  Could it be that the reverse - Love breeds  Love - is also true?  Although some may find that idea sappy and simple, how many realistic options do we have in this world?   We’re talking about horrible murders that noone can seem to bring an end to.
    Obviously though, Love can’t be forced.   It is a decision each individual can only make on their own.  But while we can slowly get there by teaching our children that hate is wrong, we have to be careful of  what methods we use to teach them.   People may recoil at the thought of teaching about God’s love, but hate shouldn’t be part of our teaching method either.  We can’t prevent children from hating one group by teaching them to hate another.   This must stop.   Low-income, conservative whites aren’t trash and conservative Christians have worth.

     While sitting in that kitchen with the tribal Chairman and his wife two months ago, the Chairman had one other thing to say about love;

“It’s where God will take you if you are willing to go.   There’s a scripture in Psalms 51:17 that says the, “The sacrifices of the Lord are a broken heart and a contrite Spirit.”  We all know what brokenness is.   We all say God break me, break me.  And I read that one time and I read “contrite,” I didn’t know what the meaning of that word was so I looked up.  And when I saw the definition it said “crushed.”   See a lot of us will allow God to break us, but when it comes to crushing, ...there’s totally nothing left of you.  There’s no prejudice, there is no, ah, ideology in you....God takes all that out and breaks it.”

     Back atcha, friend.  I’ve read somewhere that God is Love, (although I won’t admit it was at a Bible study).   I pray that we stop talking and really start thinking, start looking within our own hearts for a willingness to love those we disagree with.

It's the only cure for what ails us.

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Copyright 1998-2008  Elizabeth S. Morris   All Rights Reserved

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