An Open Letter to President Obama: From Hill 57 to the White House
Ojibwe Native, Political rights activist
Posted: December 10, 2009
Montana. I lived in a two room house, more like a shack. It was put together with scrap lumber, Hill 57 was a collection of such ramshackle homes strung together with dirt roads. The bitter Montana winds feel merciless when you are a child living in these conditions. Still, our home was warmed by a wood stove. Hill 57 existed due to federal denial of a trust obligation owed the Ojibwe people; we were allies of George Washington’s forces. We were and still are; proud people. Hill 57 epitomized Indian poverty in America. Hill 57 was rivaled only by the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; a contest with no winner.
Our historic alliance with the French paved the way for the assertion of American independence. As our tribe lost more and more lands, with each successive treaty, our people were pushed deeper into land dispossession, deeper into an inescapable poverty. If the Ojibwe are a tribe on the winning side of a revolution; I cannot imagine losing. I can only envision that would entail total extermination. This is an ugly and undeniable skeleton in the American closet.
The historic Migisew clan of the mighty Ojibwe tribe were reduced to a small square of land; less than a half mile total. Eventually the county tax collector got that too; as the federal government provided no trust oversight. This defined my existence growing up. It took me a lifetime of effort to understand and study the origins of the Ojibwe-French-Colonial relationship in the context of Revolution. America has never been a nation of fairness. Our democratic ideals are just that–empty ideals. The course of history has proven the American system to be grossly out of sync with the lofty ideals of liberty, freedom–and the principal of equality. This is not to diminish the worthiness of these ideals; indeed, we must strive for our perfection now more than ever. We as a nation are now forced to look at our collective face in the mirror. It is not a pretty site.
We are at an arc in time, whose arrival is unprecedented and pregnant with incredible timing; this momentous point in our collective existence screams “teaching moment.” This arc finds American society reaching the ideological, economic, and spiritual limits of our dysfunctional democracy. We can see the situation unfolding in Afghanistan after eight long years–the waste of throwing more human lives into this abyss makes our hypocrisy inescapable.
Draping the Obama change mantle over this protracted conflict does not make a troop increase acceptable, ethical or moral. Some of us have not forgotten, this war was never a legal war in the sense of engaging a state actor who engaged in an act of war against us. The difference between a terrorist act and an act of war is not nuanced and subject to interpretation. Foundational principles of international law were thrown out the window by then-President Bush, and it is these laws that govern the global community. We are a pariah, it is as true then as it is now. As a woman candidate for the U.S. House, I am proud to carry Jeannette Rankin’s tradition of pacifism. This is rooted in my upbringing.
In a sense, those of us who embraced the Obama change mantra have had a bruising coming of age this past year. It is clear the hopeful campaigner has fallen short of his change message. We need to look at the reasons why, so that we can course correct. It was hard to attack a message of hope, indeed my own campaign is premised on the hope message. There is nothing wrong with hope, in fact, sometimes that is all we have. It is wrong to abandon hope, to curtail change that is within our grasp, largely due to our own internal conflict, fear, and unwillingness to evolve. This describes the Democrats in Congress. I dare say, Congressional Democrats are still stuck in the Bush era group think of the fear-mongering past. Bold actions are needed now, self doubt is not a luxury we have. We all know action to fix the economy is needed now. Jobs are needed now.
People are homeless and hungry right now.
Roughly half a year has been consumed on the health care debate, this is a time waster of poorly thought out priorities in the face of unprecedented job losses. This is a mismanaged effort–because of the manner in which the Senate Finance Committee and its Chairman Baucus–have mishandled this legislation. American families awaken every day and look at their credit card debt, dwindling resources, foreclosure, homelessness, joblessness and hunger. This IS the fierce urgency of now.
Campaign for America’s Future blogged about the dim prospects surrounding the jobs summit, and the apparent unwillingness of your White House to expand the stimulus. If your administration has another strategy, such as supporting the Dorgan-Durbin jobs bill–please by all means clue us in. The American people need to know now.
Doing nothing is not an option. Hosting a jobs summit, while leaking the White House’s limited efforts, and announcing an Afghanistan troop increase in the same week is poor planning, it reflects the hope train has flown off the tracks. I am worried. Here in Missoula, I have never seen people living out of their old RVs, pitching tents out of sight in the trees along the Clark Fork River, to the extent as I have this year. It is not uncommon to see bedding stashed off beside this city’s busy walking trails.
Winter is here, along the bottoms of Waterworks Hill hiking trail, just off I-90, the homeless pitched their tents in the trees earlier this fall. On a recent hike, I glanced to see them sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags, huddled against the brisk evening air of Montana. People are living in their vans and cars in Missoula, Montana. This city has an unprecedented number of homeless children in the school district. One recent day, my family member wandered into a local church to find out this church’s pews overflow at night.
People have nowhere else to sleep; a good number of these homeless are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. It makes no difference to them that our ranking Senator is Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and our junior Senator is on the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs. Their stature has not provided this city and other cities in Montana, with the means to address growing homelessness, poverty, and despair. This is America of 2009. America: 2009 is your Hill 57. Please, Mr. President–you must do more right now.