What does Native American Day mean, exactly?

September 18, 2015
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – September is an odd month for holidays. There’s not much going on for most people, with the exception of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Labor Day. I personally count the fall equinox as a holiday as well. In Boca Grande it’s one of the hardest months to find anything going on, as many of the restaurants and stores are closed. It’s downright difficult to find news to write about, I can tell you that.
Then I realize that on September 25 our nation “celebrates” Native American Day. I put that in quotations because it seems more than a little deceitful, to throw it out there with the same glamor as National Cheeseburger Day.
Since I was a young girl I have been surrounded by people of compassion. People who taught me to do good work, to be charitable, to help others whenever I can. We trick-or-treated for UNICEF, we volunteered for many church groups, we made sure we gave everything we could to the needy.
Sometimes those donations and volunteer hours went toward feeding children overseas, sometimes it benefited those in our country … some in our own hometown.
But I have always been at a complete loss how easy it is for someone to donate to people in other countries, and not to Native American causes. It almost seems as though we’ve been DNA modified to ignore their story, to ignore the fact that the land where we live used to be their land.
I work with islander Lew Hastings on the Native Now Foundation that he created. Ted Eagle, who lives in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, works like crazy with Native Now to help people on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation get their homes fixed up as best they can … and he does an amazing job. There is a group there called Okiciyapi Tipi that Lew and Ted work with, that coordinates volunteers who come to help build new homes and rehabilitate old homes on the Reservation.
We have been trying for a long time to buy new mattresses for the volunteer house. When the volunteers come they pay a nominal fee for lodging and food during the time they are there. The bunkhouse has been remodeled, but after years of trying to raise money for new mattresses they are still in need of five of them. This organization hosts, on average, 10 groups of 12 to 15 volunteers per season. That’s a lot of people using those beds, a lot of people doing long, hard, good work every day and who need a comfortable place to sleep.
It’s been really, really hard to raise this money, and I don’t understand why. I just can’t.
In honor of the native people of our country, people who have suffered a literal genocide at our ancestor’s hands, I would ask that you take a moment and make a donation to Native Now Foundation, PO Box 1932, Boca Grande, FL. 33921.
I apologize if the word “genocide” offends you. That’s what it is, that’s what it has been. And it’s not used to elicit a guilt trip, it’s used as a logical fact.
A man named James Cooper wrote a fictional tale of an old Indian woman he would sit with and learn from. On her 107th birthday he visited her and said, “They took your land?”
She said, “It wasn’t ours to keep.”
“They gave you smallpox blankets?”
She said, “But we survived the winter.”
“They broke the treaty?”
She said, “It was merely paper.”
“They stampede buffalo at you when you stood by the cliffs.”
She said, “Our spirits flew and became eagles, hawks and crows.”
“They killed your leaders?”
She said, “They became our ancestors.”
I was visibly frustrated with my old friend, and that’s when she smiled and said,
“I used to be angry, like you. Until I woke up and realized my life is their constant failure. You see, despite their efforts I survived … and became an old Indian woman.”
Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon