This week I am traveling to Washington, D.C., from my home on the Navajo Reservation. I am scheduled to give a lecture and Q & A at Georgetown University at 8 PM on Wednesday, December 1, 2010. This lecture is regarding a proposal I wrote nearly two years ago to create a 51st virtual Native American state.
Since that article was first published on Indianz.com back in 2009, I have received several interview requests and been given numerous opportunities to speak on it by several organizations including the University of New Mexico, Brigham Young University, the Christian Reformed Church of North America and the Christian Community Development Association among others.
But this is the first time I will have an opportunity to bring this conversation to the city at the center of political power for our country.
The mid-term elections are over and hopeful presidential candidates are slowly beginning to practically plan out their campaigns for the highest office in our land. It is to these candidates that I would like to engage next in this dialogue. The 51st virtual Native American state proposal is about giving a voice (as well as respect) to the Native American tribes, communities and peoples that are scattered throughout this land.
I would like to make a simple request of our presidential candidates. Before they begin campaigning in the states of New Hampshire and Iowa, I would like to invite them to first take their message directly to the tribes and peoples who were here long before this country was ever founded.
I am not asking them to do this for me. I am not asking them to do this because it is flashy, romantic or even lucrative. I am asking them to do this for all Native American peoples and for our elders and because it is the right thing to do. I have sought for years to find a way to effectively communicate what it feels like to be Native American and live in a country that, by and large, does not even know you exist.
Traditional Navajo culture is matriarchal and our identity comes from our grandmother. She is the head of the household and most everything belongs to her. It is her hogan (house), her sheep and her family.
Because of this, I have often told people that being Native American and living in this country feels like I am an old grandmother who has a very large and beautiful house. My house has many rooms and is filled with finely crafted furniture. Years ago, some people came into my house and locked me upstairs in a bedroom. Today, my house is full of people. They are all throughout my house, eating my food, sitting on my furniture and thoroughly enjoying and making themselves at home. The door to my bedroom has since been unlocked, and I am able to come out of the room.
But much time has passed, and I am now very old, tired, weak and sick. Yet the thing that hurts me the most is that no one has ever come upstairs to find me in my room, pulled up a chair next to my bed, looked me in the eye and simply said, "Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be in your house." In fact, I think most people don’t even know whose house they are at in the first place.
In the next two years leading up to the presidential election of 2012, there will be much talk about power. Candidates will be seeking the upper hand and vying for money, media coverage and recognition to fuel their campaigns and propel them into office.
However, I am not concerned with power. Instead, I would like to focus the conversations of this next presidential election on authority.
Power is the ability to act. Authority is the right of jurisdiction. Power is demonstrated and can be won. Authority is exercised and must be earned. Power is feared. Authority is respected.
So, before another President is elected and sworn into the most powerful office in this land, I first would like those campaigning for that office to demonstrate that they understand authority and respect the history of this land. I would like them all to walk upstairs and find the grandmother in her room. I would like them to sit down next to her bed and thank her for allowing them to live in her house. And then I would like them to share with her their vision for leading her guests and seek her input on how to best care for her home.
As I said, this week I will be in Washington, D.C., the city known as the 'seat of power' for this country. It is my hope that I can engage with our current, as well as future, leaders and convince them that while it is tempting to become infatuated with power and easy to be attracted by promises of quick solutions and instant fame, it is better to patiently build your integrity, study your history and sit at the feet of your elders so that eventually you can be entrusted with authority.