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People can't return to the land and life that their ancestors had

Published Feb. 9, 2004


Guest columnist

Calvin W. Sale has lived in the Klamath Falls area since 1965, working for local farms and other businesses and is soon to retire from Merle West Medical Center.

There's no doubt about it - we live in a great land, identified on the map as the United States of America. It's a great, wonderful, bountiful land. Too bad so many hang their heads in shame because they don't think it's really our land, since we stole it from the Indians.

Many whites believe that if we cannot return to the Indians the land and lifestyles they once enjoyed, we must then spend the rest of eternity trying to make it up to them, flogging each other all along the way. That's a charming sentiment, perhaps, and while I do not propose to speak for the Indians, I wonder if they really want their children to continue to live out this legacy of bitterness and resentment, believing not only that the world owes them something, but that this country is evil to the core.

In the 40 years I have been in the Basin, I have had the privilege of knowing and working with many Indians, and in every case found them to be a hard-working, honorable people who want nothing from the white man, the feds, or anyone else - a sign of true independence. The idea that they would still be fishing from the riverbanks, living the idyllic life in tepees is probably a product of the white man's fantasy, but there remain a few Indians, like many of us, who find it difficult to let go of the past.

Claims legitimate, but...

The Indians claim that when the white man overran the native population, they robbed them of everything they valued, raped the land and killed their children. They have a legitimate grievance, and their struggle to survive as an entity is equally legitimate. Mourning the lifestyle of a previous era, though, is not reasonable.

Since the beginning of man, humans have migrated, marauded and murdered over land and water, only to be killed or run off themselves. Recently, we have tried to hold entire nations accountable for abuse of human rights, but there was a time when the only law recognized on this planet was the law of acquisition, and the Indians lived by this same law.

The native population in this country a few hundred years ago was so sparse and fragmented that no organized resistance could be realized to hold off an increasingly mobile world. Of the many nations that attempted to establish colonies here, Great Britain prevailed, but regardless of who came, people were coming, and the lives of the native population were destined to change forever, as did the original inhabitants of most of the lands that exist today. And this land was not originally made up of a single people, but rather many different peoples, nations and tribes, some constantly at war with each other. While some were peaceful, and some were great and noble warriors, some were not so noble, killing both women and children, demonstrating that man's inhumanity to man has always been global in both race and culture.

Maintaining their culture, preserving their heritage and recouping their land and resources are worthwhile goals to pursue, using whatever legal means at their disposal, but others who have a stake in these issues are welcome to fight for them in the same manner. One would think, though, that the local tribal entities would direct some of their ire at their own people - the ones who sold their inheritance, then failed to consider future generations by not investing in land, businesses or education.

If they believe that all whites should accept responsibility for the errors of previous generations, then they must do likewise, and accept that their ancestors have not always acted wisely either. Stereotyping each other is a mistake we both make, and the one thing we must come to terms with is that not all whites are admirable, nor are all Indians noble, and even though most on both sides are good people who live quiet lives, the lines of good and evil are not so clearly defined as some would have us believe.

I wish all of our ancestors had done only what was right and honorable, as future generations will wish of us, but they did not, and regrettably, neither will every one of us today. As a nation, we will continue to make mistakes, but as a nation and as individuals, we continue do a great deal of good in the world, and I reject the idea we, as a people or a government, are evil.

I feel proud to be an American, and I feel pride in knowing that unlike most countries of the world, this nation is willing to face its past, and allow people to seek justice, even though justice is not always easy to obtain.

America is a potpourri of religions, races, ideals and lifestyles thrown together mostly through choices not our own, including some whose families were en-slaved and brought here against their will.

Are we prejudiced? Yes, but there is no law against that. Who says we have to embrace people of other races, agree with those whose lifestyles we fundamentally oppose, or even like each other?

Controlling how we feel is not fully within our grasp, but what is within our grasp is the ability to control our actions. In this country we make a concerted effort not to allow prejudice to manifest itself in violence, causing pain or suffering to another human being, to their person or their property. The rights of every person are respected and protected under the law, and those who break that law will suffer the consequences. Our country isn't perfect, the system doesn't always work, but we still have a voice to protest with, and still have opportunities to change things for the better.

We owe it to our children to offer examples of how to resolve conflicts, because conflicts will always be with them, as they are with us, and as they were with our fathers before us.

Capable of control

Griping and complaining may make armchair critics feel virtuous, but as always, it will be the examples of responsible parents, teachers, and ordinary citizens who provoke future generations to good works. We may never embrace each other with mutual understanding and love, because, in truth, not many of us are capable of this on so grand a scale. We are, however, capable of controlling our actions as well as our words, and that is all that is required of us.

Finally, it is ludicrous to expect Indians not to be angry that their ancestors were subjected to such obvious injury and losses, but under no conditions would they have escaped the influence of an advancing civilization, or avoided the profound events of this coming age. Today, we all have equal opportunity to become anything we want - anything, that is, except what we once were. No one can return to the land and life of their ancestors, and things will never be the same for any of us. The past belongs to those who lived it, but we are responsible for today, and today is the day for which we will answer.

Indians and whites, young and old, we are all authors of this generation's yet-to-be-written history. We should dream of ways to write it well.




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