Despite repeated efforts to eradicate the original peoples of these United States, we stubbornly endure.
Our nations grow steadily stronger, our population is now more than 5 million. For those who would prefer the diminished, displaced Natives of the past, the outlook is bleak.
With each generation of survivors comes a sense of triumph, a new wave of indigeneity defying the narrative of American exceptionalism. We were supposed to accept forced assimilation and quietly fade into history.
Alas, the power and vitality of indigenous peoples were grossly underestimated.
Native American cultures and traditions remain deeply held; the efforts to reclaim that which was never given and protect what is still ours are multifaceted and extensive:
Language immersion and revitalization breathe life into dialects spoken on Turtle Island since time immemorial; battles against cultural appropriation and misrepresentation demand equality and recognition of Native Americans as modern, sophisticated people; and coast to coast, protectors of lands and waters stand up to powerful industries for Mother Earth.
Our obstacles are many.
Though the uniforms have changed, the wars that took many of our ancestors’ lives rage on. Police brutality, incarcerations, and lack of tribal criminal jurisdiction claim our relatives at shocking rates. Suicide and poverty persist in Native communities. At this very moment, a well-funded, concerted effort to gut tribal sovereignty and protection of our children through the dismantling of the Indian Child Welfare Act is winding its way through the courts.
But all around us, the voices of Native Americans fill the air. A new generation stands on the teachings of those who came before, learning and applying the lessons that will in turn go to the next arrivals.
Over 40-percent of Native America is under the age of 24. To those Native youth: you are empowered. You are the manifestation of a refusal to submit, the living embodiment of Native resilience. This world can and must change – the next fire will be lit by you.
For the rest of us, the fight continues, as it has since undocumented European immigrants first stepped foot on our shores.
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.