I’ve been through a lot of depressing places in my travels. In South Africa, I drove past a settlement of thousands of hovels and one of them close to the road was ablaze. I thought to myself, some family is forced to live there and now they’re losing all their possessions.
In Brazil, near Sao Paolo, I saw shacks covering a couple of square miles, where the poverty-stricken lived within sight of the gleaming skyscrapers of the city.
In the Dominican Republic, I went with a doctor’s mission to a place called Dajabon on the Massacre River bordering Haiti. The hospital where the physicians set up was a sad affair as was the dusty town, but to my amazement, Haitians were walking across the river to get there because it was far worse where they lived.
But the saddest place I’ve ever been to is called Browning, and here’s why: It’s located in the state of Montana. Browning is the center of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and it looked like hell. I asked myself, how is it these proud people of the plains have been reduced to such destitution?
Then I looked in the mirror.
In the 1800s, white’s justified their westward expansion as “manifest destiny,” the notion that settlers were entitled to take over North America in order to redeem the Old World.
But one man’s manifest destiny is another man’s conquest, and that’s what happened, not just in Montana, but across America, from the days of Columbus right through Wounded Knee in 1890. Here in the South, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Creeks were forced off their homelands and marched on the Trail of Tears to what is today Oklahoma so whites could usurp the lands these tribes had lived on for centuries.
What our ancestors did to Native Americans is a shameful chapter in America’s history that can and must be acknowledged if we’re to learn and grow, if we’re to form a more perfect union.
The humiliation, the pain, the sickness, the deaths, the poverty, the addiction they suffered, that’s on us. I’m not sure we can ever make up for these atrocities, but I saw a glimmer of hope recently when Rep. Deb Haaland was confirmed and sworn in as Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to serve in a modern presidential cabinet.
A member of the Laguna Pueblo people, Secretary Haaland is a 35th generation New Mexican. That’s about 1,000 years. And speaking of conquest, the Pueblo nation was the victim of the brutal Spanish conquistadores (“conquerors”…the Spanish didn’t bother with nice-sounding words like manifest destiny), who made it their business to slaughter and enslave as many Pueblo as they could in the 1500s.
Native Americans have always had a spiritual relationship with the lands on which they live, so Haaland’s appointment is significant. Unlike the previous administration, which believed the natural resources public and Native American lands contain should be exploited to the fullest, the Biden administration thinks a balance can be struck between preservation and exploitation.
That will be Haaland’s job along with managing Native American affairs.
I’ve been in public relations for 40 years now, and I know one of the most important attributes for any spokesperson representing a company or an institution is to measure one’s words carefully when speaking on the record. Words matter because they resonate and can often reveal more than intended.
Jay Baker, the communications director for the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, apparently didn’t know that last week when he appeared with other officials at a news conference in Atlanta to provide background on what prompted 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock to gun down six Asian women, two white people, and wound another man at spas in Acworth and Atlanta.
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope,” Baker explained to the assembled media. “Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
A really bad day for Long? Seriously? What about his innocent victims? What about their grieving families? What about the shocked and justifiably frightened Asian communities?
Despite the evidence, law enforcement says Long likely didn’t commit a hate crime. I don’t buy it. Police statistics show hate crimes targeting Asians have surged by almost 150% in 2020 as the pandemic raged.
This hate and violence emanates from somewhere, and I’m not the only one who suspects ex-President Trump’s racially-charged “kung flu” and “the China virus” rhetoric has had something to do with it. Did Long hear Trump? Is that a factor that caused him to pull the trigger?
Baker’s apparent empathy for Long just having a “really bad day” might be explained by his Facebook post from last year showing Baker buying and promoting a tee shirt that said “COVID-19, Imported Virus from Chy-Na.”
I think spokesman Baker might be in the wrong line of work.