Dying In Indian Country - the Roland Morris Story

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Standing up to be counted.                    

by Lisa Morris

   A reporter from mainstream media said to me awhile past, "When I see hundreds of tribal members stand up and say they don't like how tribal government is run, then I might start to believe there is a problem." 

  They pretend standing up to be counted is easy. 

   A few days ago a woman stormed into our shop. "Did you read the headlines on that paper you've been distributing?" she asked, referring to the Native American Press.
   "Of course," I answered. 

   "Well," she said, "I don't see how you can distribute a paper with a headline like that."     Opening the paper, she pointed to an article headed,

"FDL (Fon du Lac) man charged with 15th D.W.I.:

Driving while intoxicated or driving while Indian?" 

     "Maam," I explained to her, "If you would read the article, you will see the headline isn't putting Indians down; it is questioning whether or not the man was discriminated against because he was Indian." 

     "Well I don't care," answered the woman, who was white, "I still don't like the paper. We've had enough trouble around here in the last two years. We need to cope with each other. People don't have to be starting new trouble." 
     "Maam, this is a Native American paper. Native Americans have a right to speak up about the troubles they see in Indian Country. And as a mother of Indian children, I have a right to speak up about what I think isn't good for them." 
     "Well," she said, I suppose Indians can complain. But white people should stay out of it."
    "There are white people that help and they are appreciated," I answered. 
     The woman turned and left. She'd done what she came for: made it clear she didn't want us rocking the boat. 

  How easy is it for people to stand up and be counted? People such as this woman don't make it easy. But her feelings and reactions aren't new in history. According to my father, who escaped from Germany in 1938, before Hitler gained power many people stood at the sidelines not wanting to get involved; not wanting to rock the boat. Granted, we are not in the grave danger people were in then, but back then, few knew what danger was coming. The point is, freedoms were being taken away from people a little at a time and those that were not affected stood back and looked the other way. They felt the most comfortable minding their own business. They had their family and jobs to take care of. They didn't like the uncomfortable feelings controversy brought. Does that sound familiar? Is that the way things should be? Even more insane, when oppression begins should only those that are oppressed have the right to stand up and object? 

   And even in situations not as volatile, situations without actual persecution, haven't Americans fought and died for our right to simply disagree? The United States of America has a Bill of Rights. Those rights include Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press. I think we all want to know those rights also exist within Indian Country. 

   Sadly, that woman isn't alone in her attempts to silence dissenters. Tribal members have also been known to try to silence those that speak out. As I was coming out of local business with some fliers in my hand last year, a woman quickly approached me. Opposed to my and my husband's politics, she had verbally harassed me at the public meeting in Polson in 1996 and again at Cosco that spring. There was nothing this day to indicate she learned to behave herself. 
   "Can I have one of your fliers?" she asked, smiling. 

   I looked at her, said "no" and kept walking to my car. 
   She followed. "Why?" she asked, still smiling. "Are you discriminating against me?" 
   I opened my car door and started to get in. "Yes." I answered. She grabbed my car door to keep me from closing it. "Give me one of your flyers." she said. 
   "Get your hands off my car." 
   "Give me a flier. Are you discriminating against me because I'm Indian?" 
   I pulled on the door. "No, I'm discriminating against you because you're yourself. You make trouble." 
   She pulled again to keep the door open. "Give me a flier. I'll get one myself." she tried to reach past me. My 3-year-old daughter was in the front seat. 
   "Get your hands off my car." I said pulling again on my car door. 
   Again she tried to reach in, but I stood in her way. She attempted to push past, but I held my ground. 
    "I make trouble?" she asked, "Do I make trouble in the neighborhood? Do I write letters and...." 
   Looking straight into my eyes, she suddenly shoved her body into mine. 
   "Get your hands off my car," I said again, "or I'll call the cops." 
   She made one more attempt to get past me. When I still stood firm, she smiled again and said, "I'll just go to where you got them." and marched off. 
   I closed my car door and we drove home. My 3-year-old daughter, who had watched the whole incident, repeated over and over again the whole way, "That's a bad woman. She wouldn't get her hands off our car. That's a bad woman." 

  Standing up for what one believes: I don't think there's ever been any promises that it would be easy. But when I look at my daughter and all our other children, knowing that the same tribal government that was convicted four years ago of millions of dollars worth of fraud and ballot box stuffing and continues today with fresh faces but frighteningly similar symptoms...knowing this same government has legal authority over our children should we die is enough to keep me standing up to be counted. I simply can't give in to those that would like to bully us into silence. 

  In Seattle, my husband testified at a Senate hearing on tribal immunity. The place was packed. Parking quite a ways away, Roland approached the hotel through pickets. On one side, white people were carrying signs in support of Senator Gorton's bill. On the other side, close to the entrance of the hotel, tribal members were drumming and holding signs opposed to Gorton's bill. Scattered in among the tribal members were some white people, handing out "Free Leonard Peltier" literature to passers by. But no other tribal members seemed to be allied with the crowd of whites in support of Gorton's bill. 
   Getting to Roland's seat was difficult. The standing, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd wouldn't allow movement toward the front. Some of the white people glared at Roland as he attempted to do move between them. Backing out, he had to go around toward the kitchen. 
   Once seated, he was still somewhat nervous about testifying as a United States Citizen against tribal government. It's not an easy thing for any tribal member to do. During his testimony, he became a little tongue tied. 
   Meanwhile, out at the picket line while Roland was speaking, some of the white picketers carried bumper stickers which stated. "Save a dollar, shoot a buck." 
   These statements were not only hateful, irresponsible and offensive, but dangerous and stupid. People are put in danger by such rhetoric. What if someone in the woods really felt that way? The picketers were told this. They were also advised that when the media sees those signs, they will focus on them and any truth that is being told will be disregarded. 
   Two of the men were like bricks; their hearts were hard. They didn't care. 
   One of them said; "Signs like these get the point across," and then with a laugh added, "If the moccasin fits, wear it." 
   Another man, it could be seen in his eyes, did hear what was being said. Just a flicker. He turned his sign around in his hand and looked at it again. Then he saw his friends eyes, and quickly returned the sign to its original position. 
   But one of the men a ways down the sidewalk said, "I was trying to tell them that myself." He spoke a few minutes about what the real problems are and where they originate. I appreciated his attitude. 
   Another man stood leaning on a car listening. He never said a word, but smiled and gave a wink of encouragement. 
   After the hearing, a couple tribal members approached Bill Lawrence, publisher of NAP. The woman and her husband were so glad to see Bill and Roland testify. Having suffered abuse by tribal government on her Washington state Reservation, she and her husband had come on their own in support of Gorton's bill. She'd even made signs to hold up. To stand up alone despite the ignorant rhetoric of outside picketers was daring. But to stand alone, amidst and in opposition to your very own reservation members was brazen. Outstanding, to say the least. 
   There are many tribal members concerned about current federal Indian policy allowing many tribal governments to practice near dictatorships over the people. We know this because many have contacted the
Native American Press through the years and told their stories. And many have contacted Roland by phone or mail and or come into his shop. They tell both Bill and Roland that it is hard to stand up and speak openly. One man explained, "I wish I could say what you're saying, but I have a lease with the tribe..." A woman said, "My family are all employed at the tribal complex..." And Bill and Roland understand. Hard enough to speak against the feelings of family and friends. Harder still for members to stand up to tribal government when the tribe holds all the strings, (control of your housing, jobs, etc.,) but can't be held accountable. 
   It is hard enough for members to stand against tribal government. But when both tribal members and non-members work to discourage people from freely speaking, or worse, when non-members act hostile and make hateful, dangerous statements, the likelihood of tribal members standing up to speak openly becomes even smaller. 
   It is hard enough for members to stand up against tribal government. We can all make it easier by removing those additional obstacles: by backing off and allowing each other to speak,
no matter our race, without fear of retribution. We can all make it easier by taking the time to listen. 

Copyright 2000-2008  Lisa Morris   All Rights Reserved



In mocking Sarah Palin, elite libs are mocking the very people they profess to care so much about:

Blue Collar Common Folks.

A Canadian Columnist has even called us the White Trash Vote -  Never mind that Palin's husband is an Alaskan Native.

Fine.  We're used to being called Names.




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