Saturday, August 06, 2005

Why we need to work together

There are many issues and concerns on both sides. Law enforcement, education, community development, civic duties, employment, social interaction, religious beliefs, on and on we can look at every aspect of day to day existence and find the need for better understanding. Ponca City like any small town does not like to look as though it doesn't care about its Indian neighbors. Towns all over the country like to be viewed as politically correct and culturally sensitive. Unfortunately there are real concerns in regards to pre-conceived ideals and/or perspectives about each other, longstanding resentments coupled with difficult situations even racial profiling is prevalent in this community. I was friends with the Director of the YMCA several years ago, I asked him why there were no afterschool projects in WhiteEagle. He said that's is a good question, he called in his program coordinator and asked if he knew how many kids were out in White Eagle. The young man said he really did not know, he admitted that he lived in Ponca City for over twelve years now but has never been out to the WhiteEagle community.

One businessman confided to me over ten years ago, in regards to how his fellow businessman viewed Indian efforts in economic development, they even had a saying about it among themselves. He said to me when he asked about one such effort by the Ponca tribe, he was told "Oh that's T.I.D. Typical Indian Deal, All F%$* Up." This seems to be the common perception by many businesses towards Indian efforts at improving their own economic and social status, only it is kepted close to the vest and not openly admitted. In the past there was real resentment when the tribe started selling cigarettes and gas close to town. Complaints about not having an even playing field in regards to competition with the tribe. One middle school teacher was reported to have said in their teachers break room, as far as Im concerned they are all either drunks, thieves or murderers in regards to his view of Indians today. It is becoming common knowledge among other Indian education organizations in the state that this town has issues.

The local Standing Bear Park was established by protest and unrest, many Indian leaders felt that the local Indians were not being properly acknowledged and/or respected. Now today it is being managed by a white bank owner and the park itself is run by a woman who has a Indian Card but no real connection to the community she represents. With 29,000 Indians from at least five tribes in and around Ponca City area and they were unable to find one person qualified from those tribes to represent the Indians in their own community? Many of the issues brought forth from that initial encounter between the two communities have still not been fully addressed, only superficial progress at best. It now seems tourism has the real interest of the City in regards to the Standing Bear Foundation/Park. For example, the drop out rate is still one of the highest in the state, our Ponca Indian boys average out at about an eighth grade education year after year and it goes without saying an unemployment rate that is just as high. Almost two decades later, there are no Native American Indians in city offices or very few in positions of leadership in the community, so one would have to ask just what good did the Standing Bear Foundation really do for our people.

Conversely, It seems that at times the Indians in the community have been their own worst enemy. Failure to work together inter-tribally, failure to be consistent within their own tribal structures when dealing with the city. The diversity within the tribal councils itself, keeps them from moving forward at times bogged down with political infighting. You can review volumes of newspaper articles that were written thru the years by local Indians filled with slander, mudslinging and open contempt for other tribal members who are in power. The City Manager once told me that they have tried time after time to meet with the Indians and build relationships. He said we talk to one tribal council and make plans, only to be stonewalled and/or rejected a year later by another council altogether different from the last. One minute there is an atmosphere of cooperation and good words are shared and the next time there is hostility and resentment. The Indians claimed the City is disingenuous and/or accuse the City of infringing on their tribal sovereignty/jurisdiction or they feel that they are just being used to fill the cities coffers. It becomes obvious at times the two communities just don't quite understand or trust each other.

There used to be a small community of Indians living in Ponca City on the south side of town on second and third street. Many Indian families lived there in the sixties and seventies, now most all of the homes are gone, having been condemned they were bulldozed and there are now open spaces where Indian homes once stood. I myself live on the corner of Third and Maple, the Salvation Army now occupies that space. I can remember feeling safe there when I was young and I identified with the community around me. Now today I see Indian kids playing in the school playgrounds their smiling faces are in the local newspaper when they are in kindergarten and/or elementary school, as time passes less and less of those faces are printed, less and less of them are smiling. When they reach the high school age they seem to have suddenly almost completely faded away. I see the many social clubs, band, cheerleaders, sports teams all without their presence. The same with the local government, school boards, committees, councils and civic organizational groups, very little or no Indian participation exists. It is as thou we are not there, living, working, growing old, raising our kids, serving our country in the military, dying. Many Indians find leadership roles elsewhere and are more readily accepted in other geographical settings.

Take this into consideration as well, for decades we have been portrayed as a villains, unintelligent, heathens without religion, for generations we have been told we are lesser and are in need of being governed. Now today many of our young people have bought into that concept and this has limited their own visions for the future. Now over half of the 2.5 million Indians from the over 500 some odd tribes today are under thirty years of age, that means we are a young race of people. The Indians in the Ponca City area are no exception to this fact. We are a changing people, all the more reason why we need to work together in our communities. We need to raise the level of tolerance and understanding of each other so in the future our people can live together in harmony and mutual respect, so all of our children can have hope and ambitions for a good clean life.