Who is a Bad Indian or Good Indian? And Who Is Qualified To Make That Determination?

A few weeks ago, while commenting back and forth on a blog with a person using a fictitious name, he/she told me something to the effect that because I do not have a Dakota name and I do not attend ceremonies, I am basically a bad Indian.  Although this person used a fictitious name, I could tell he/she was "rez Indian".  Naturally I took offence to that accusation.  After all, I thought, who is he/she to tell another Indian that they are a good or bad Indian.


In my view a "good Indian" is one who practices our Dakota values of Courage, Honesty, Perseverance and Generosity.  This person, by not using their real name, was not practicing these values.  In fact, by using a fictitious name, this person showed cowardice and dishonesty, which are the opposite of courage and honesty (I signed my real name after my comments).


But the person's accusations did get me thinking: does having an Indian name, speaking an Indian language, and attending ceremonies prevent an individual from using foul language, from stealing money from the tribe, from committing fraud against the federal government, from hitting their loved ones, etc.?  Does it automatically make that person courageous and honest?


Coincidently, last week I had a discussion with an individual who disagrees with another person (who they admire very much) about a very important issue.  This other person conducts our ceremonies.  I quickly said to that individual: What is happening is that we have individuals who are learning and practicing our ceremonies when they become adult.  However, learning and practicing ceremonies does not mean a person possesses our values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity.  These values usually have to be taught from infancy, so by the time a person reaches adulthood they follow them...  At this point, the person interrupted me.  I wondered if this individual did not want to listen to me being critical about someone they admired and respected.


So, how does this apply to my conversation with the person on-line?  I am a person who judges character on substance rather than rhetoric.  At a very young age, I realized that going to church every Sunday or listening to a minister was not going to make me a better person.  The only one responsible for my behavior was me.  As a result, I rejected all religion by the time I was in the seventh - eighth grade. 


Another reason for rejecting religion at an early age was I had seen a lot of mean and bad people do mean and bad things all week then go to church on Sunday and act like a saint.  I hated this blatant hypocrisy.  So, I quit going to church. 


It is the same with people who insinuate that by having an Indian name and attending ceremonies that they are better than those who don't.  Having an Indian name and going to ceremonies is one thing; practicing our values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity is another.  Let me use an analogy: just because a person puts on a doctor coat does not make that person a doctor.  Attending ceremonies and taking an Indian name does not make an Indian better then another Indian.


If you did not learn the Dakota values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity as a child and practiced them when you were growing up, then learning the language and going to ceremonies will not make you a better Indian, unless you make a sincere effort to practice our values.  It has been my experience that when an Indian is quick to say they are better then another Indian, they are probably not.

More on this subject in my next newsletter.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Erich Longie published on October 13, 2009 12:01 AM.

Will Tribes Trade Sovereignty for UND's Nickname? was the previous entry in this blog.

Will Reservations Go Out of Style? is the next entry in this blog.

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