By Ray Dewilde
It is strange to me to feel racist feelings in my heart, while I have always seen that my Alaskan Native culture was different and that policies at the local, state and federal level have impacts, both positive and negative, on my people I have long since left behind the old resentments that lingered. I used to always remember the pictures of “No dogs or Natives” in the store windows. My mom used to talk about that with some anger, but I was little. Fairbanks and even “White people” were strange concepts that existed only in the stories of those who journeyed to the strange land of Fairbanks. My white father did not agree with the open racism, he was angry too, said it was foolish to judge others based on color, all this racism stuff from the 60’s and 70’s was like fairytales told to me.
When I was 13 I ended up in Foster homes in Fairbanks. Many people were nice, but many were not. It used to be when I walked down the streets of this city, GI’s or other White men would throw beer, eggs, candy or whatever they had at me and my Native friends. One time I went on a date with a friend. As we walked romantically down the street near the Regal Gold stream theaters a black four door car drove by and threw a candy at my date, it struck her in the face and gave her a black eye. I was unable to catch up to the car or retaliate so we ended up walking home in silence and anger. There were times I was spit on for my skin color, I used to live out at 6.9 mile Chena Hot Springs Road and rode my bike to work at Fred Meyers West. I was 16 then, working as a foreman building wooden sewer pipes. Lots of those old wooden sewer pipes are still used here in town, but they were treated with Benzene and creosotic to stop them from rotting so the city outlawed them a year after I took over. Every day, six days a week I would ride into town and work 10 hours and then hang out in town or go home. Every moment on that bike was a danger. Half full beer cans hurt bad when they hit your back, likewise eggs and other things at 60 miles an hour are really painful. By the time I was 14, I had learned that the cowards that did these things were too scared to stop and fight me, even though I was only about 90 pounds, the cowards would instead speed off and yell out racist things. Eventually, if I wasn’t hurt I wouldn’t even react to them. I just kept doing my own thing otherwise I’d look stupid chasing some group of white kids in a car. But I could never get over being spit on, that enraged me greatly. Something about someone driving by and spitting on you and yelling “F**king drunk Native” or “Stupid Native” that pissed me off, I always chased those cars like a stupid Native. One time when I was about 13 I caught up to them and a group of African American Men jumped out with tire irons and bats. I came riding fast on my bike and faced the four big men, they laughed like hell. I said “at least you will face me,” they let me go and I had to admit chasing them was stupid and foolish.
Schools were no better. When I was a freshman in North Pole I was on the bus, two seats behind the driver. A classmate pulled a knife on me and put it on my throat while we rode home. It was a long ride home, staring at the bus driver in the mirror demanding with my eyes that he intervene and stop the attack, feeling this classmate spit run down the back of my neck and hearing his racist words, “Drunk, Pervert, Native,” and looking dead in the eye of the bus driver. I fought that classmate and lost, he had a knife and I did not, he pulled it but did not use it so I came back armed to the teeth with knives and so here North Pole High School had one more Native kid armed and looking for a fight. I never went unarmed for years, No more letting white people spit on me and if “White People” would not defend, I would.
I used to hate White People, funny thing was I lived almost exclusively in white foster homes. I refused to live in Native homes because I thought there was too much chaos and since I was removed from my native home for a good cause I felt it was better to stay with the Whites if I could. But I hated the Whites I went to school with. I started looking into westernization and what it cost my people and I became more well versed and fluent in my racist views, they became more a part of my being. Even my childhood therapist was white. When I was 18 my Foster Dad confronted me about my views. I respected him a great deal and may even have loved him as a father figure so I listened to him. He talked about himself and how he cared for me and other young people in my situation, all races stayed in his home so I could see his goodness and his honesty. I had to admit all white people were not bad or racist, it took many years to get past all the old resentments I had. Resentments that went back four generations, back to the moment some racist white man stepped on this great land and started oppressing my people and faced no great opposition from their counterparts.
From my view America belongs to the American people who lived here first, this is Native Land, and this is a country built on OUR land. This land may have been stolen and taken by force through wars and broken treaties but it is still OURS and all who reside here are guests on land that belongs to my people. As a host to these people I feel it is important for me to show respect and care. It is our way to feed and help those who visit our homes, and it is also our way to try and learn from those who visit us. After all my people benefit greatly from guns, airplanes, math, science, central heating, clean hospitals and other such like marvels that western peoples have brought and invented. The point is, for me, I feel I have no choice in the matter. Westernization has happened and we must make the best of it, but morally and culturally this is still OUR land, not theirs. As I watched the country become more inclusive and respectful of my people and other minorities. I watched as this great nation embraced the core values of my people, inclusivity, respect, recognition of differences without judgment of the “Goodness” of one culture over another. These things I saw happening helped me to feel good about the process of westernization. My view was that my people sacrificed greatly to build this, we, the first Americans, gave up land, culture, blood and tears all so that this great nation could become what it was. I started feeling like I was American, that this was my country and that it was a part of who I was and my people were. That our sacrifices of lives and land, culture and language, hunting rights and an entire nation was sacrificed for the possibility of this idea of equality and justice, honor and respect, goodness and righteousness. I felt that all our sacrifices as a people were becoming worth it for this great hope that existed. As I watched this hope grow I reached out to other races and embraced them as an equal. I made brothers and sisters of those I always considered a guest on my land.
Now I watch as white Supremacists march down our streets. They march on MY land, on MY soil, these rude visitors who come here many generations ago and starved and struggled and reached out to my people for help, who ate at our tables, who walked partners with us while we taught them to live in this beloved land we called home. Now they have the audacity to march on my land and shout out things and words that are meant to remove me, to degrade me, to degrade others who visit this land. They march and shout at my people, my African American Brothers and sisters, my white brothers and sisters, my Hispanic brothers and sisters and they degrade my nation as a whole. So, I feel this anger, and this voice raises up in my heart and my warriors spirit that shouts out the age old First American command “Get off my land.”
I and my people, my Native American People, My African American People, My Hispanic American People, My White American People, we all sacrificed for a dream, we all gave blood and sweat for this idea, we killed each other for it and we each lost and gained from westernization. Do we now abandon our dream, after all the death and destruction, the extermination programs initiated by the Despicable Andrew Jackson, the enslavement of the African Americans, the death of hundreds of thousands of white people who died during the western expansion and the taking of the First peoples land and the countless wars fought by us all to protect what we built? The state of the nation in respect to equality and justice is essential to the justification of all the murders, death, blood and pain that went into building this great nation and the idea it embraces. And as I embraced the others who live here I also embrace the idea of America and I give up rights to say, this is “My Land” because I am American and I have non-Native family who by their birth have become my brothers and sisters, “My Land” is now “Our Land.” My people are now our people.
Most importantly for me, I am a Warrior, proud and honorable in my own way, no different than those warriors of old, those warriors who fought a great war against the white man and lost, but died with great honor and a right to respect, those great warriors who fought an entire army in the name of justice and respect, I count myself amongst those great people. And I realize that not all White people are enemies, some are great warriors as well, I see them speaking out and raising their own voices, bleeding their own blood and fighting for the same values as I and my people, Respect, equality and honor. In this I see that my First Peoples outrage is not the only outrage. I see that though my history and the ways in which America came to be may impact me and my people in one way, and we may have sacrificed in our own way, others sacrificed as well, in their own way and all are impacted by the racism we see raising up. We, The Americans, are warriors, we may have inherited this Country from our parents, but we also inherited the responsibility to care and protect it and the values it stands for regardless or our sacrifices in the past or the actions of the past. This great country was born in blood and sweat, violence and love, striving and feasting. This country, with its history of Slavery, Murder, extermination and lies also share a great and proud history of WWIII and the overthrowing of Hitler and his Evil Racism, the defense of other countries that were oppressed; this is the country that made footprints on the Moon, mechanized production of goods and crossed every river and creek in the land. As our people, The American People bled and died for this dream many years ago and time and time again in defense of our beloved country, we are now faced with violent and open racism.
Those white supremacist demand that I and my Fellow American people take a knee while they rape this country once again. They demand we turn a blind eye to their twisted actions stemming from twisted hearts and minds and let them take some power from all of us and defile the dream every American has sacrificed for. I for one am more than an American, more than a First People, I am a Warrior that sees my home being defiled and my people in fear, my warriors spirit sees what is going on, I think all warriors see what is happening and we are all outraged.
As our president treads on our values and joins in with the hateful idiots, our congress speaks of Economics and the economy. Democrats are supposed to represent me, but I know something those white democrats do not know, no matter how good the job opportunities are, no matter how much cash I have or how fast my car goes in the end that crap means nothing if someone can spit on you and hold a knife to your throat. No matter how many men walk on the moon, it means nothing of I and my sons and daughters cannot earn that education or even walk down the street without having to avoid eye contact with someone because we may be attacked for our race. In my opinion it is the epitome of White Privilege that there are white men and women marching in our streets espousing values and actions that would result in the end of my people, the literal death of my kids and my grandkids simply because I am not white like them and the white leadership speaks of economics policies. They, those inactive and passively aggressive democratic leaders well mostly be OK, they are mostly white anyways, and they are rich. White supremacy means a bad feeling, but to millions of warriors it means death. In the end, I sit here telling my warrior to rest and be still, but that warrior keeps telling me it’s time to rise and fight, that an honorable death and nothing else is what was offered to my ancestors and perhaps I am facing a time when that is becoming my only option.