I’ve pondered this article by Gyasi Ross and his problematic conclusions all day. Here’s my humble response.
I agree that there is a “brain drain” happening when young people like myself go off to school and get an education–whatever that means. But does that necessarily mean we are “buying” into some sort of program of assimilation? Or, I would pose the question like this, is Ross’s conclusions another attempt to draw unnecessary distinctions between on- and off-reservation for young people?
I don’t think that’s a fair or very understanding dichotomy. First, most reservations were created under the auspices of prisoner of war camps. Natives were never meant to leave and leaving often meant (and still does) violent retaliation. Now the rhetoric is that we’re supposed to “turn reservations into homelands.” Yes to tribal sovereignty, etc. but what about those who were violently removed from their homelands? Better yet, what about homelands that have been dispossessed of us that we still cherish? I’ll fight for treaty land and against KXL even though that treaty land has been dispossessed and stolen. I’ll live in places that are not reservations, but does that make them any less Indian land or homelands? I hope not.
Second, I’ve always enjoyed Ross’s articles, whether I agree with him or not. But he drank the Kool-Aid on this. I was taught that what little remaining land and autonomy we still possess is to be defended at all costs. More importantly, we have to be good relatives to each other, whether we live on the reservation or not. We’re a free people if we want to be. Confining our identities to essentialized notions of reservation Indians is just plain wrong. What about treaty lands? What about the fact that half our populations live in urban settings? Hello! Are they any less Indian?
My advice to young Native people: you know who you are. You know where you came from. Forget all the bullshit about not being enough Indian. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Ask us life-long students if you have problems or questions. That’s what we’re here for. You’ll probably end up somewhere that’s Indian land or at least Indigenous land. Fight for that space. Make the space Indian when everything says it shouldn’t. You belong there as long as you’re accountable to its original inhabitants. Above all, you belong where you are right now. So be in the right now. But don’t ever forget your home or your nation. If you do, we’ll always be here for you. And thank you and we’re proud of you wherever you may land.