Thinking about issues that concern Native Americans

A Liberal Dose


 My apologies for going AWOL last week. It is an incredibly busy time at work, and I couldn’t find time to write a column.

This week, I want to respond to a couple of things my friend, John, has said recently - not in an antagonistic way but rather with a view to set the record straight. First, briefly, John has commented that most people parrot a party line rather than think for themselves. I tend to agree with that statement, actually. I don’t recall him specifically naming me among that group, but I wanted to point out that I wrote a whole column outlining the ways in which I diverge from the mainstream Democratic party line. I do not base my principles, opinions, or passions on what some group-think tells me to believe. However, the Democratic Party lines up with what I think (rather than the other way around) 10 times more than the Republican Party does. That said, I am, in fact, a Democrat (and adviser to the TTU College Democrats), and I chose to call this column “a liberal dose,” so it should come as no surprise that I present a viewpoint from the left rather than the right.

Here’s the other thing. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the need to use critical thinking (in other words, to think for yourself) and read between the lines and look for context when viewing news reports. I did not favor or condemn one media outlet over another, equally including Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and everyone in between. I specifically talked about two examples: coverage of missing or murdered women and coverage of oil pipeline protests. My overall point was that the fact TV news is commercially sponsored is going to influence what they cover - and how. John wrote in response, “Of course, he used examples that make groups he opposes look like the ones guilty of doing this. Perhaps that was part of his plan. Showing through example, how omission can be used to influence.”

I want to clarify that. While it is fair to say I oppose big oil companies, I do not oppose TV news media nor the idea of commercial sponsorship. I was just trying to explain how they interact in ways that necessitate reading between the lines. However, it is not an accident that I chose those two examples - because they directly affect the Native community, which I teach about, write about, think about, and, in fact, stand strongly in solidarity with, so it should come as no surprise that such examples would be the first to come to my mind.

This brings me to something not directly related to my column (or John’s). Very few Americans think about the indigenous perspective -not just in the issues I mentioned but just in general. This is largely due to the fact most non-indigenous people don’t encounter, interact with, or sometimes even know any Native Americans, who are only about 2 percent of the population. On the other hand, that means there are about as many indigenous people in our country as there are Muslims, Jews, Mormons, and several other groups. Sadly, that doesn’t keep many non-Natives from speaking FOR them, saying what does or does not, or should or should not, concern or insult American Indians.

At 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Backdoor Playhouse, on Tech campus, I’ll be hosting a panel about contemporary indigenous issues. I will be doing very little talking; most of it will be done by our panelists - five Native Americans from around the state (one from Cookeville) representing five different tribal nations. The second half of the hour will be them answering questions from the audience. This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to find out what is important to these individuals and their communities. I hope you can join us; it’s free to the public.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.      


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