Home of the Brave(s)?

It’s been a little less than a week since I completed my cross country drive from Portland, Oregon back to my home in Cherokee, NC. After many beautiful stops (Yosemite!, Grand Canyon!, Amarillo?!), something that stood out was the neverending Native American representations.

From the Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite all the way back to the Chattahoochee in Tennessee, Native American origins were apparent throughout the country. From streets, to parks, to entire states. Also prominent, those darn headdresses and teepees. From gas stations to gift shops, I literally lost count in California. But there was never much more than just the basic symbolism. I doubt many of the people running these businesses even knew that most Native Americans don’t live in teepees or wear headdresses.

And then of course there were all the casinos. Always out in the middle of nowhere with the generic “three feathers” or “iron horse” names that made them as easy to forget as the many miles that flew by.

I didn’t stop at many of these places but one place I did stop was Earl’s Family Restaurant in Gallup, Arizona. At the suggestion of my Navajo friend (and kick-ass runner), Alvina. When I’d asked her about finding some good jewelry in the area she said Earl’s was the place. It wasn’t a restaurant fronting as a store or anything like that. It was a cozy family diner where you could get just about anything from frybread to chicken noodle soup and also purchase jewelry from individuals roaming around inside or set up out front. I loved how Native and Rez it felt. I’d say 98% of the people in the place were Native. It felt like home 2,000 miles away. But much like home it still felt segregated. Like it could have been the late 1800’s and we were still fighting the “new arrivals”.

And I guess that’s what pains me about the overall trip. The impression of Native Americans across the country was more often than not just a caricature for businesses to profit. No different than a Lucky’s or Old Joe’s gas stop. And when we did get to the “native” restaurant it was like an anomaly and not fully a part of the rest of society. Hell,it was it’s own society in and of itself. No way we would have stumbled upon the place without the suggestion.

I’m not saying I want us to be fully integrated in the rest of the U.S. because I know we would lose so much of our uniqueness if we were to do that. That’s why Reservations are still important. But as the entire country becomes more and more of a melting pot I can’t help but feel like we’re being left behind. Personally, I find too many of our people too caught up in the past or too worried about their own individual futures. Letting the present just pass us by. And now that I’ve gotten myself good and confused…help me answer this — how do we integrate without disintegrating?