Many times, I have seen the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico and seen it slowly find its way at sunset over Mount Taylor to the west. Many times, I have felt the cold winds of winter and I have seen the beauty of the color of fall.
In all of this I find hope. Hope for a better life for our elders, hope for the continued existence of our people; hope that we all, as Indian people, are still around 5,000 years from now. That is and should be our mission for our people. Not just for the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), but for every other Indian organization today.
We are all in this together and we need to stand united during these trying times. We at NICOA have been at the forefront of this battle to ensure the continued survival of tribal communities for the past 42 years. Our elders are the last bastion of tribal culture, tribal history and traditions and the languages that tie us to our Creator and other deities that we believe in.
In the past few years there has been a ground swell in this country that relegates our beliefs to the dustbins of marginalization. It is as if our beliefs belong in the trash bins of modern society. Our beliefs go back to time immemorial. What is more “American” than the beliefs that were practiced here long before the landing at Plymouth Rock and long before the pyramids of Egypt?
The Navajos, the Cheyennes, Crows, Siouxs, Ojibwes and Hopis had their beliefs, and those beliefs were challenged by those who came after us. We understood that we all believed differently, but the deities we worshiped were the same entities that controlled the weather, the climate, and our relationship to our Mother Earth. We understood we came from her, and we would end up in her bosom when our short time on this land is over. We don’t own her; we don’t sell her, and we don’t have exclusive rights to her.
On this little piece of land that we call the United States of America, some of these newcomers have come to believe that they are superior to all other peoples and nations. This arrogance is nothing more than an effort to cover up their insecurities and shortcomings. We, the country, are subjected to mass shootings of our children and our communities every day. Schools, churches and synagogues, and shopping malls are places that are no longer safe.
In Indian Country, we need to be prepared to take care of our people, our schools, and our senior centers. What happens when this arrogance comes to Indian Country? We cannot afford to lose one elder or one child. The former represents our history, our culture, and our language; the latter represents 5,000 years into the future. We cannot lose either – they are too precious.
As if that was not enough, there has been a cry from some in the larger world to “take back our country.” That country is Indian Country, and we have the final say as to “taking back our country.” Every inch of this country contains the dust and ashes of our ancestors – it is holy and sacred grounds that we walk upon. Those who say those words do not understand and never will. They do not understand what this land means to us as Indian people. Every hill, every mountain, every creek, every tree, every living being, belongs here. THEY BELONG. This is the belief undergirding the National Indian Council on Aging. We belong and we will be here long after the delusional ringmasters are gone.
We will do our part and we look forward to you joining our efforts. Your support, your prayers and donations ensures that we continue our preservation efforts. Thank you and we look forward to seeing all of you in Cherokee, North Carolina in September 2023 for the next American Indian Elders Conference.