IDEA #74. Find the closest piece of Native American territory to where you live and pay a visit. Perhaps it’s a large reservation, or just a casino. Stepping onto what is legally Indian territory is a good reminder that half a millennium ago the whole continent had that status, and that American Indian people today represent a vibrant and important part of our population.
This might well be a family activity, especially if the nearest Native American destination is a either far away or a standalone gaming casino. But it is more than a little healthy as well as humbling to be reminded that American Indians are still very much a part of the American landscape and that they maintain sovereign control over at least some territory in about forty states. As inadequate and even pernicious as the reservation system may be, it is a part of the national experience. A trip that includes travel on reservation land is essential for giving children an understanding that the Native Americans who seem to disappear from history books some time around 1890 are still very much present in our society.
It is critically important that travel to Indian land be undertaken in a spirit of healthy interest and respect. It may be possible to support Native American enterprise by making purchases at Indian-owned stores or gas stations (in some areas state taxes are not applied to purchases on reservation land), and there may be cultural events or institutions with an educational or entertainment mission. The bane of American Indian tourism is that so many Americans seem unable to move past the stereotypes of Indian customs that have long been prevalent in our entertainment media and even in our schools. Sadly, some Native Americans who rely on tourism have found it expedient to play into those stereotypes out of sheer inability to overcome the apparently inexhaustible ignorance of visitors; we hope that no readers of this blog would be party to such a travesty.
There is also the matter of what social scientists call “appropriation of culture”: the utilization of Indian-made objects with cultural or spiritual significance by members of the dominant culture as entertainment or decoration—e.g., Indian devotional objects used as ornaments in homes and automobiles. How or even whether a white person can respectfully own and display an Indian-made “dream catcher,” for example, would be a great adult–child conversation in conjunction with this activity, and this might even be a question that could be broached to a Native American seller of such objects.
White America has a long and unfortunate record of dismissing—and much worse—Native American cultures and people. The interested child of any age or race who is willing to make an effort to correct, or at least repudiate, this history, will be deepening his or her own understanding of an important issue as well as helping our society make progress toward a better place.