Last week I recognized Juneteenth by reflecting on the innate human drive for differentiation and the problems it has caused over centuries. This week I want to ponder the importance of diversity through reflecting on Native American cultures and heritage.
As I noted in a post last summer, white leaders in America sought to erase the rich Native heritage in New Mexico by forcibly taking Native children away from their families and placing them in mostly Christian-run “Indian Schools.” Those schools ironically sought to erase all trace of these children’s “Indian” heritage and replace it with a “superior” white model—as if a monolithic white culture really existed. As I noted last week, my own ancestors all came from the British Isles and are considered “white” here in America—but if you’d called my Scottish ancestor Peter McArthur “English” in the 1770s there would have been hell to pay!
He would probably also be appalled at how much diversity I embrace. New Mexico is the spiritual home of my heart. Growing up there formed and shaped me, and it is a diverse place. A Census map reveals that it has the third largest Native American population (after Alaska and Oklahoma) spread amongst more than twenty federally recognized tribes.
Yet I grew up thinking of Native Americans in a monolithic sense. Fortunately, the racial equity awareness I’ve gained over the past three years has helped me understand the significant differences in heritage and experience between the traditionally nomadic Apache and settled Pueblo peoples. There are also multiple languages and dialects spoken by the different Native populations.
Today I want to specifically celebrate that diversity by highlighting a photography endeavor I recently learned about called Project 562. Matika Wilbur made a commitment to take pictures of members of “562 federally recognized Tribes, urban Native communities, Tribes fighting for federal recognition and Indigenous role models in what is currently-known-as the United States.” The goal of this “creative, consciousness-shifting work” is to accurately portray the diversity of Native Americans today.
Why does this differentiation matter? I believe it is foolish and even dangerous to lump people together. When we do that, it’s easier to move beyond knowing individual (and precious and beautiful) Americans. It becomes way too easy to think in terms of “us vs. them” and then shoot groups of “them,” be they Jewish or Asian or Black or Native Americans.
I invite you to spend some time this week pondering areas of your life where you might subconsciously or unconsciously lump people together into anonymous groups. What do you gain in doing so, and what do you lose?