Maui News

Akaka Weighs in on Reclaiming Native Identity

November 30, 2012, 10:11 AM HST
* Updated November 30, 10:52 AM
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US Sen. Daniel K. Akaka., File image courtesy Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

By Maui Now Staff

US Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held an oversight hearing on Reclaiming Our Image and Identity for the Next Seven Generations.

“November is Native American Heritage month – a month which provides native peoples the opportunity to educate by sharing their history and culture with a larger audience,” said Chairman Akaka said in a media statement.

“Many times this begins with breaking down the harmful stereotypes of native peoples perpetuated in many movies, television shows, and by native-themed mascots. Through continuous outreach and education, we must continue reclaiming our image and identity,” said Sen. Akaka.

Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations said it is important to educate the public.

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“History demands that we define ourselves to the non-native world; otherwise stereotypes will take hold and redefine our children and grandchildren,” said Valbuena.

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Andrew Lee, vice president of AETNA Healthcare, pointed to the humanitarian contributions made by American Indians throughout history saying, “The sharing of these success stories would present a picture of Native America that is very different from what we see on television. These are stories that need to be told because they help restore Indian nations to their rightful place of honor among the world’s nations.”

In addition to honoring native heritage, witnesses suggested that November must serve as a reminder that much remains to be done through education and policy to help native people reclaim and restore their identities.

Mary Kim Titla, a 20-year NBC journalism veteran said there is a struggle as natives navigate between modern America and traditional lifestyles.

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Marjorie Tahbone, Miss Indian World 2011-2012 also expressed challenges within the classroom saying, “We are taught to memorize all of the United States presidents but not of our ancestral leaders and prophets. At a young age our identities were taken away in exchange for a Western foreign one.”

“I started to rely on media and books to teach me how to be an Indian. I had unknowingly created a false identity of myself,” said Tahbone.

World-class culturally-based education was one way suggested to help native students reclaim image and identity. “It is also one of the most important solutions to helping our children and communities succeed in a world in which knowledge is economic, social, and political power,” said Titla.

Witnesses discussed ways in which the federal government can assist in helping by continuing and furthering self-determination policy.

Lee said, “Our ability to reclaim our image and identity is inextricably tied to our continued support for the policy of self-determination. Successful Indian nations assert the right to govern themselves, and they exercise that right effectively by building capable and culturally appropriate institutions of self-governance.”

Chairman Akaka of Hawai’i referenced studies that he said, “show that self-determination policies have enabled Indian tribes to build strong economies, reverse decades of language loss, and tailor programs and services to better meet the needs of their people.”

As the hearing drew to a close, Chairman Akaka said, “Though I am retiring soon, I know Indian Country is in good hands because of the leaders here today, the hundreds that have participated in the committee’s events over the last two years, and many more that are doing tireless work in their communities.”

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