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Cowboys and Indians


I’m just saying…I decided to explore the area around the Umatilla Reservation yesterday. There’s a tiny grocery store on the Rez called the Mission Market. “Mission” because that’s the name of the small town on the Rez. It’s actually not much more than a 4-way flashing red stoplight with an Appaloosa mare and her foal grazing nearby. Not going to comment on the irony of the name Mission, except to say, let’s hear it for manifest destiny. At the Mission Market I asked two lovely ladies where there might be more shops. “In town.” Which town? “Drive straight this way into Pendleton.” So I did, and 15 minutes outside of Mission, this is what I found. Couldn’t resist the Group Therapy sign (aiming for lowest prices). Then I walked into Garner’s Sporting Goods and holy shmoly, found myself in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie! Guys dressed in khaki all hanging around the door as I entered. They held it open for me, though. But these guns!!!! Ok, so I’m from a slightly different culture, and had to put on my social science hat and observe, not judge, right? When I tried to take these photos as unobtrusively as possible, the owner came up to me, “You’re not from some group, are you?” No, don’t worry, I smiled charmingly. And left quickly.

Great interviews yesterday. I won’t tell you what was said, though. Why? Because for the first time in my many years of listening to young people in post-conflict areas, I heard young people ask me about how the information they were sharing would be used. I reassured them that before anything they said was made public, I would clear it with them and with the Communication Director for the Tribes. They were aware of their rights! That was amazing cool thing number 1. Amazing cool thing number 2 was that the CTUIR Director of Department of Children and Family Services, who is herself a former member of the Board of Trustees (9 elected members who govern the Tribes), reassured these young people that I was safe to talk to and had been vetted. So I really am in.

So, though I can’t tell you what they said, I can say they were just back from Washington, D.C., where they met Michelle Obama and were told that both she and the President have their backs. (But what does that really mean, I’m wondering. They looked so proud when they told me this.) And I can say they were articulate and honest and gutsy. I was thinking, oh, these guys would have been so good to have along on Peace Lab. (That’s the course I taught in June when Erik and I took 21 students to Kosovo.)

Had an excellent interview with the woman who set up the Youth Council. It’s barely two years old. The language of the documents is straight out of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When I asked her about this, she said they used the language from their own Board resolutions. So this tells me a rights discourse is embedded in their governance structure. Voice is very prominent in the language, that youth have a right to voice. And despite older tribal members saying when they were young they were told to keep quiet unless spoken to, these same elders now embrace and encourage their youth to speak up and bring about change. Youth, voice and agency. This makes my young heart happy.

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