This story is the fourth and final installment of Our Mission in Action series. In this closer look at the work of alleviating poverty, our executive director reflects on the root causes of poverty and the reality of the trauma, lack of access, and violence it begets.
“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” - Nelson Mandela
The Native American reservation system in the United States is also not an accident. It was a system set up to oppress. To eliminate. It might also have partially been the ignorance of some governing in a rush to step aside a problem. Or a revengeful, greedy action and reaction. Clearly, the system is man made, though. It could be removed or modified by kinder, more compassionate human beings.
And if there were any questioning Gandhi’s belief that “poverty is the worst form of violence,” -- one need only to imagine the violence seen by a child in the same room as a fist coming crashing down nearby or upon as a response to the stress of hunger and the lack of ability to provide, as happened in the reservation town of Wamblee this month. Or the violence of a bullet crashing into the heart of a child from a drive by in the reservation town of Oglala last year. Or the violence driving the youth to suicide as a reasonable alternative to that violence on most of the 326 Federally recognized reservations in the United States over the past century. Mandela is right in maintaining that those happenings are both accidental and removable.
And so, it is true that the violence and trauma on the reservations started as the vengeful, racist, and arguably evil efforts by a conquering government over a century ago. And it is also true, that in the ensuing century, that violence has turned in on itself and has become set and hardened into systemic and generational patterns that spare virtually no one and then again begets its own violence. For those living within, as well as those seeking to provide comfort and support from the outside, efforts can feel futile and, in fact, the violence and trauma often even lashes back out to protect itself from relief and change.
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” - Nelson Mandela
Mandela is correct, I believe, when he maintains that it is not futile to push back and protect against what is – and that the efforts to assist and provide relief must emanate from places other than charity and indeed guilt. Rather, that help must be sourced from a fundamental desire to protect and make right and/or maybe even from a place of outrage at the injustice and incompetence of those with the authority, resources, and ability to make change, but choose not to. Those include Federal, State and Tribal governments. The offers to help must be carried and shielded with strength and persistence . . . and necessarily with compassion and not with pity.
For over a decade, we have met many of you willing to push back against the systemic causes of Native American reservation poverty, trauma, and violence. And we want you to know that, while our moral mandate is to respond to the daily and desperate calls for food, firewood, water, assistance with paying for electricity, the calls for employment and all the other pleas for basic needs, we are simultaneously looking at the larger, systemic causes that lie beneath the surface. And, when opportunities arise, we stand with our Native relatives to push back against the corruption, racism, hatred, ignorance, lack of opportunity and education, abuse and a generational trauma that have stubbornly taken root, but – we believe – will eventually yield to the better nature of humanity.
And we stand in continuous gratitude to all of you who help us in this effort.
Alleviating Poverty, Reconciliation, Indigenous Wisdom Gen7 Youth are the guiding pillars which integrate across all our activities. Thanks for following along over the past four weeks as we explored each of those pillars in action!
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