In the coming weeks and months, Congress will continue its debate in an effort to find a way forward to reform America’s broken immigration system. Much of this debate will center on border security, employment, and strengthening the process for individuals to earn U.S. citizenship. During a time when Congress has often been unwilling to demonstrate cooperation on many issues, it is clear that there is a desire and intent to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform. The recent Senate passage of an immigration bill is a good sign of a bipartisanship approach, but the bill is sure to find greater challenges in the House of Representatives.
Nonetheless, there is an opportunity that is absent in the broader national immigration reform debate. As part of its comprehensive immigration reform bill, Congress should initiate true systemic change by taking proactive and progressive action that would serve to reverse the multi-generational cycle of ignorance that has been an affliction upon America for far too long. This affliction of ignorance is the consequence of America failing to educate its citizens, and those seeking American citizenship, about this land’s first people.
As the result of an educational and political system that has failed to provide an accurate and honest portrayal of America’s relationship with the indigenous people of this land, most American citizens have no awareness and understanding of the complexities and depth of this relationship. For those of us fighting to protect and promote our inherent sovereignty rights as nations and people, we encounter this reality on a daily basis. While this reality is pervasive across America, it is a deplorable and unacceptable reality that demands change. The current immigration reform effort provides an opportunity to stop this cycle of ignorance by requiring those pursuing the American dream to receive a proper education about the indigenous people of this land as part of the process to become an American citizen.
During President Obama’s second inaugural speech, he stated, “We (America) are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” It is from this diversity that America draws its greatest strength. Further, it is the diversity drawn from the indigenous Nations of this land that shaped America’s beginnings and subsequent growth into the wealthiest and strongest Nation the world has ever known. Unfortunately, America has not been willing to reconcile its own past in a manner that arrives at an accurate and honest accounting of this historical and present day unique relationship with Indian country. In failing to do so, it does not afford the relationship the honor, respect, and dignity that it deserves.
During that same speech, President Obama spoke about “a new era of responsibility—a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world”. This new era of responsibility must begin with acknowledgement of areas where America falls short. More importantly, this acknowledgement must be followed by meaningful change; change that reverses accepted norms and that has long term aspirations to strive for something better.
America must begin by recognizing that its romanticized and revisionist story of us is the furthest thing from demonstrating responsibility to Indian country. This must then be followed by a fundamental change in America’s approach to educating its citizens about its historical and present day relationship with the indigenous Nations and people of this land.
As Congress works to fix a broken immigration system, it has the real opportunity to heed President Obama’s words by initiating meaningful change that will have the effect of stopping a component of this cycle of ignorance. Congress has the opportunity to create a new norm that sets the bar of knowledge and responsibility at a much higher level. In setting this new norm, the citizenship of America will begin to demonstrate a stronger understanding, awareness, and appreciation of its special and unique relationship with Indian country. In doing so, ignorance will be gradually replaced with a more aware citizenship that is better positioned to carry out and fulfill America’s sacred trust responsibilities.
This is my challenge to America; a challenge that requires it to assume and fulfill a moral and ethical obligation that it has ignored for far too long. As part of immigration reform, America has the opportunity to stop one component of the current cycle of ignorance by ensuring that those seeking American citizenship have a deep and thorough understanding of the indigenous first peoples of this land and our unique relationship with America. No longer should anything less be accepted by anyone who calls themselves an American citizen.
In fulfilling this obligation, America will reflect its evolving greater appreciation and understanding that its greatest strength is drawn from not only its diversity, but from the truth that accompanies the very diversity that it celebrates. Evolving from current distorted realities to this truth will allow America to continue to grow and evolve as a Nation.
America’s next area of opportunity…the educational school systems across this country.
Kitcki Carroll is the excutive director of United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), Inc.