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The Natives Issue

One World, One Love

All races of people are not the same. They're just not. It's like saying that a man and a woman are the same. I do not think like a woman and a woman does not think like me. That's why they have the man and the woman. We don't think alike.
January 1, 2006, 12:00am

Charlie Fisher holding court

All races of people are not the same. They’re just not. It’s like saying that a man and a woman are the same. I do not think like a woman and a woman does not think like me. That’s why they have the man and the woman. We don’t think alike. It’s the same way with different races of people. They follow the same human species structure, but they do not think alike. So if the government or somebody who is non-Indian structures a program for alcoholism, for example, and expects it to work? Unless he thinks like an Indian it won’t work. He doesn’t know what we think like. A program that works well in New York City doesn’t work at all here. It’s like night and day. I think it would be really, really nice in this world if we were all the same, but we’re not. The old statement that says, “All men are created equal”? Well, if we’re talking about rights—the right to be somewhere or the right to do things—that’s true. But as far as being equal, we’re not, because we don’t think alike. We have a different mental structure. Our Indian thought patterns and the way that we lived in the spiritual world, the way that our religion was our culture—it was a way of life. Religion is usually a group of people in agreement on their spiritual views, but ours was our life. It wasn’t a separate thing. You don’t find too many atheists among Native Americans. It isn’t the way we’re structured. There’s this concept we have of four basic colors of people on this planet. We have the red, the black, the yellow, and the white. Each one of them plays a role. I’m not saying that we need to exterminate one group, because that’s not true. They all play their role in our circle of life. And each one has their own purpose in what they are meant to do here, and each one was entrusted with something vital that gives something to the whole structure. The white race was entrusted with the knowledge, and the symbol for their knowledge is the beaver. He was the one that had the knowledge. The beaver did engineering feats that are still unequaled today in terms of being able to hold back water, so he was entrusted with the knowledge. The yellow people were entrusted with the emotional part of the spirit. Because of that nourishment, they’re symbolized by the buffalo. The black people were entrusted with the physical. You have to admit that they play sports better. They were just entrusted with that. You see them move and dance and stuff and you know they are unequaled. Their symbol is the wolverine because of the physical part of them. The red man was entrusted with the spirituality. The symbol of that is the eagle. There is a purpose in our culture for each one of these animals. With all four of them, you have a perfect circle. When everybody acknowledges that everybody has a purpose and a place here, then you have smooth balance, like a tire on a car. It runs down the road smoothly. When you try to eliminate one of those, it’s like driving down the road on a flat tire. It ain’t gonna happen. Everything gets out of hand. We didn’t structure it this way. It was structured. You can see what happens when someone tries to eliminate a race of people. You know, Hitler didn’t get the Jews annihilated and the Europeans didn’t get the Natives annihilated. Their first concept was, “We’ll just annihilate ’em.” The scalping part of stuff was introduced to our people by the Europeans. When they had a bounty on the Native Americans, the Europeans scalped them as a way to collect their bounty, to prove that they had killed this Indian. We thought it was a pretty good deal, counting coup like that. We thought that was pretty nice. So we figured, “If we’re supposed to scalp them, we’ll scalp them.” That’s when that started—we didn’t do it originally. But then we figured it was pretty catty [“catty” means “cool-looking”—Ed.] to wear someone’s hair on your belt. One of the biggest problems that I see is when one race of people doesn’t understand another race of people. It should just be a matter of saying, “OK, I respect that. I don’t understand what you’re thinking or what floats your stick, but I can respect it.” It’s like the relation between a man and a woman—“You’re a woman, I’m a man. Let’s just leave it alone. We ain’t figured this one out yet and nobody’s going to.” Instead of applying that same structure to a race of people that you don’t understand, the concept was, “Well, we don’t understand you, so what we have to do is kill all of you.” That’s the way it went. It started out back when Columbus got here and it hasn’t ceased in the 21st century. They’re still trying to assimilate us. But they can’t make me and a white person alike or me and a black person alike or me and a yellow person alike. It just doesn’t happen. It’s not going to happen. The United States government came up with the blood quantum, a way to gauge who was Blackfeet and who was not. What other race has a blood quantum? How much black blood do you have to have to be black? How much Irish blood to be Irish? I don’t understand why it’s just us. I guess it’s back down to assimilation and termination. Get rid of us once and for all so they don’t have to mess with us. But they are going to deal with us forever. They say, “We’re pretty tired of providing health services for these Indians.” Shouldn’t have written it in your treaty. You don’t want to put housing on this reservation? Shouldn’t have put that in your treaty. You don’t want to provide educational money for these Indians? Shouldn’t have put that in there either! The approach they need to take, instead of getting rid of us or making us like them, is to say, “You can be how you want to be and I’ll be how I want to be.” We all have this set of rules we have to live under in these United States of America. As long as we all live under these rules, it doesn’t matter to me what you think. I am not concerned with what you think. I am only concerned with what I think, even though I have to abide by that same set of rules. I feel that I am more of an American than a white person, anyway. Am I patriotic? Do I believe in the American government? Give me one incident that gives me enough confidence in how they dealt with us for me to say, “Yeah, I trust our government.” But all they did was send troops in to massacre our people time and time again. Meanwhile, we didn’t even get citizenship until 1933. They dealt with the Blackfeet differently up in Canada. They just built a fence around them and left them alone. So the culture is more preserved. The first language on the reservations up there is Blackfeet. Down here, you can count the really fluent Blackfeet speakers on two hands. One people trying to make a decision about how another people should think about spirituality is stepping over a serious boundary. That’s what happened to the Blackfeet Indian. We are a product of attempted assimilation, where the United States government hired the Catholics and the Protestants to Christianize us because we didn’t believe in God. We were savages. But I say we had such a strong spiritual belief that it’s the only thing that pulled us through all the things we were subjected to. And we’re still intact today. We went through massacres and children being removed from the homes and put in these institutions called boarding schools or residential schools. I was probably one of the last people that went to the old boarding schools. They got a modern one now that’s nice. The one I went to, they didn’t treat the people very well. They didn’t hesitate to beat you or to give you extreme punishments. Some of the things we had to endure when I was at the Cut Bank boarding school were just unreal. And over the smallest things, like a can of peaches. One can of peaches was stolen out of the kitchen once, so they took the whole school down to the basement where they had a bench all the way around. From seniors all the way down to preschoolers, they brought the whole group down. We started in the morning and we sat there until sometime in the afternoon. We weren’t allowed to leave the bench. When the little kids had to go to the bathroom, they just had to go there. They were trying to see if one of us would tell on the person who took the peaches, or admit to doing it themselves. Personally, I had no knowledge of it. It took so long seeing if somebody was going to fess up for this can of peaches, that at one point I was like, “Hell, what are they gonna do to me if I tell ’em I took it?” I knew nothing about it, but I didn’t want to sit there for a week over a can of peaches. They can’t do more than beat you, right? Finally these two boys admitted that they took the can of peaches, so they had us all stand up. We spread our legs, took our belts off, and these kids had to climb through all of our legs while we smacked them with our belts. That punishment was called “the line.” If you didn’t smack them hard enough to satisfy the supervisor, then you had to crawl through too. That was weird. It was way, way out of line over a can of peaches. I’ve seen people get less punishment over killing somebody. And I don’t even like peaches that well. Our reservation is below the poverty level of a ghetto and people don’t seem to understand that poverty breeds alcoholism, drug abuse, murder, and rape. You’re looking at a bunch of people, you have to understand, that don’t have a lot left to lose. There seems to be no way out. It’s strange to me that the government is prepared to pay the Blackfeet who are going down to New Orleans to work for FEMA more for six months’ work than they’ve earned in four years. So sure, everyone is trying to go. But I think the whole structure is wrong. BOB BURNS