November 29, 2012

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Holds Hearing on Reclaiming Native Identity

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held an oversight hearing on Reclaiming Our Image and Identity for the Next Seven Generations, yesterday.
The Committee heard testimony from Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN); Andrew Lee, Vice President of AETNA Healthcare; Mary Kim Titla, a twenty-year NBC journalism veteran; Sam McCracken,General Manager of Nike N7 Programs and Chairman of the N7 Fund; Tonantzin Carmelo, Screen Actors Guild Award Nominated Actor and star of Into the West; and Marjorie Tahbone, Miss Indian World 2011-2012.
“November is Native American Heritage month – a month which provides Native peoples the opportunity to educate by sharing their history and culture with a larger audience,” said Chairman Akaka. “Many times this begins with breaking down the harmful stereotypes of Native peoples perpetuated in many movies, television shows, and by Native-themed mascots. Through continuous outreach and education, we must continue reclaiming our image and identity.”
Valbuena said, “It is importance to educate the public and non-Indian people about who we are as tribes and tribal people. History demands that we define ourselves to the non-Native world; otherwise stereotypes will take hold and redefine our children and grandchildren.”
“Throughout history, American Indians have made enormous contributions to humanity, but too often we fail to pay sufficient attention,” said Lee. “The sharing of these success stories would present a picture of Native America that is very different from what we see on television. These are stories that need to be told because they help restore Indian nations to their rightful place of honor among the world’s nations.”
In addition to honoring Native heritage, witnesses suggested that November must serve as a reminder that much remains to be done through education and policy to help Native people reclaim and restore their identities. Many Natives do not know their ancestors’ history and struggle as they navigate between modern America and traditional lifestyles.
Titla said, “We are rapidly moving through the 21st Century. Our children do not know or comprehend what it means to be American Indian in this modern age. We must work together with the support of lawmakers if our next seven generations are to reclaim their heritage and capture the vision of American Indians in the 22nd Century.”
“We are taught to memorize all of the United State Presidents but not of our ancestral leaders and prophets. At a young age our identities were taken away in exchange for a western foreign one,” said Tahbone. “I started to rely on media and books to teach me how to be an Indian. I had unknowingly created a false identity of myself.”
Titla said, “World-class culturally based education is one way to help Native students reclaim their proud image and identity. It is also one of the most important solutions to helping our children and communities succeed in a world in which knowledge is economic, social, and political power.”
Witnesses discussed that the federal government can assist in helping Natives establish their own identities by continuing and furthering self-determination policy.
Lee said, “Our ability to reclaim our image and identity is inextricably tied to our continued support for the policy of self-determination. Successful Indian nations assert the right to govern themselves, and they exercise that right effectively by building capable and culturally appropriate institutions of self-governance.”
“Studies show that self-determination policies have enabled Indian tribes to build strong economies, reverse decades of language loss, and tailor programs and services to better meet the needs of their people,” said Chairman Akaka.
As the hearing drew to a close, Chairman Akaka said, “Though I am retiring soon, I know Indian Country is in good hands because of the leaders here today, the hundreds that have participated in the committee’s events over the last two years, and many more that are doing tireless work in their communities.”
More information and an archived webcast is available on the committee’s website: LINK
Contact: Emily Deimel
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