For a change, let’s do the right thing

America, and South Kitsap — which was still part of America the last time I checked — have a love-hate relationship with Indians.

John Wayne played a hero many times after the real shooting stopped, killed tribes full of celluloid Native Americans in the movies.

He and his fellow actors always seemed to be saving virtuous little girls like Brittany Spears (that’s irony, folks, don’t write and tell me about her ninth wedding this year) from “savages.”

But our cultural attitude toward Native Americans is no longer the simple “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” proposition that dominated our 19th century national conversation.

Many Americans have, over the years, developed a deep respect for the way Native Americans lived with and on the land we tend to log and pave over.

Even the movie view of Indians changed. By 1990, Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” portrayed the Indians (and Kevin) as the good guys.

And I’ve met at least 100 pure-dee white Americans since I moved West 20 years ago who’ve tried to convince me they are one-quarter Native American.

All but one of these ersatz Indians claimed to be Cherokee. The one rebel said he was “part-Choctaw.”

If there were as many part-Cherokee people around as there are white folks claiming to be Cherokee, that poor tribe wouldn’t have been forced onto the Trail of Tears. We’d have marched our butts off instead.

But the fact that so many folks value Indians enough to want to be part-Indian themselves says a lot about our (white folks) confused feelings concerning the issue.

For example, you don’t see too many folks named Smith claiming to be one-quarter Iranian or one-eighth Afghani. There is something this culture values about Native Americans, even if we have mixed feelings about our historical dealings with them.

That’s why I read with interest Adele Fergus-on’s column, published in this newspaper Aug. 11, concerning the Suquamish Tribe’s attempts to retake control of Old Man State Park, the final resting place of the tribe’s greatest chief, Chief Seattle.

Whatever you think of my writing, you have to read the columns to see what I’m saying, because my opinions are all over the map. I sure won’t be voting for George Bush, but I did vote for his Daddy.

I voted for Bob Oke the first time. I am not a card-carrying anything.

Unlike me, Miss Adele, at least when Native Americans are involved, doesn’t give you a lot of looks as the sports scouts like to say about one-dimensional athletes. In my eight years of reading her columns — liking some, agreeing with some, hating others and disagreeing violently with a few — I can’t remember Adele ever giving a Native American a fair shake.

Indians are her Achilles Heel.

She can say what she likes, her writing gives one the definite feeling that she isn’t someone who will ever claim to be one-quarter Cherokee.

Of course Adele thought Old Man should stay in the state’s hands. Washington has been running the park since buying it in 1950. This from a woman who has made her reputation complaining about big government.

According to Adele’s main source, some old dude who retired from the state’s park commission four years ago, the tribe doesn’t “show much love and care” in the park’s cemetery.

One might make the point that the state didn’t show much love and care for Chief Seattle while he lived, but why be petty? Even Adele admits Indian occupation of the park’s site dates back 2,000 years.

The park belongs to Native Americans. They should have it. Seems simple enough to me.

And the Park Commission basically agreed with me at its Aug. 13 meeting. They’ve put some conditions on the deal but have turned the park, and the chief’s grave, over to the tribe.

That was the right thing to do.

America has a less-than-sanguine history concerning Native Americans. Granted, settlers were in a war with the various tribes they displaced from sea to shining sea, but still...

I’m glad to see the descendants of our area’s settlers have decided to do the right thing by the descendants of Chief Seattle.

And I’m sure the tribe, which has shown quite a head for business with its casino, will be able to cheerfully maintain the tiny Old Man State Park.

Oh yeah, I’m not gonna make any money on this deal. I’m half-German (paternal) and half-Irish (maternal). Not that I wouldn’t be proud if Indian blood flowed in my veins. It just doesn’t.

I’ve got enough to contend with wondering why half of me wants everything organized and the other half of me often feels like it needs a drink.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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