This story was a favorite of my late grandfather, Aaron Homnick (graduated Syracuse 1915, Columbia School of Pharmacy 1918). A politician was campaigning on an Indian reservation. Each time he made a promise or hit an applause line, the crowd jumped to its feet and shouted: “Hoya! Hoya!” Afterwards he asked the chief how well he thought the speech went over. “Fine,” answered the chief. “Just follow this path back to your car, but be careful not to step into the hoya.”
For a long time now we have been playing to both of the themes in that joke. First we have gingerly avoided stepping into any Indian — Native American if you must — issue which would soil us with responsibility for the Indians’ internal problems. Let them gamble and rumble and grumble and ramble all they please. If their idea of a well-ordered society is a cloistered cluster where a few sharpshooters manipulate the Federal funds, or the casino money, and most stumble aimlessly living off their dividend checks, so be it! Didn’t the Great Spirit say something like “Where the wind meets the waterfall you will find the windfall”?
Secondly, we allow them to have their own little coded language of ethnic victimhood without our interference. They talk about how spiritual they are and how they become one with nature. Hey, I have watered a tree or two in my day but I don’t claim to be a nobler savage than the next guy. Still, if that’s the illusion they want to sell us — and themselves — it’s no skin off our nose, or scalp for that matter. We can play along with all the wannabe Squantos and Hiawathas and Sacagaweas, if that is the price of cultural peace. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it, as long as you’re not in an urban office building.
Lately their politically correct language enforcement has been particularly arrant. They have begun a squawk against the word “squaw” in place names and book titles. A number of states have powwowed with these activists and kowtowed to their demands. And teams like the Redskins and the Indians, even the Braves, are scaldingly scolded by a raucous ruckus of sensitivity enforcers. Even nice guys like you and me were starting to mumble: “Listen, why not? Let them have their way.”
All the more reason to draw the line right now, right here. What the Cherokee Nation did last weekend is a horrific abuse. An abuse of humanity and an abuse of the democratic process. We need to pour a rain of indignation upon them.
Since 1866, the children of freed Cherokee slaves have legally been members of the Nation. By now, intermarriage and blending have rendered these distinctions visually indistinct. It takes a nasty racist to want to isolate these freedmen offspring and a priggish purist to keep track of the bloodlines. Now the quarter-million strong Cherokee Nation has voted 76-24 to expel and disenfranchise the 2,800 people who legally fit this category. The Natives are unfriendly. The comic Indian greeting used to be “How?” Today our tragic response is “Why?”
THE TALMUD SAYS THERE are three personality types a discerning mind finds repulsive: a poor man who is arrogant, a rich man who is ungrateful, and an old man who is an adulterer. The Cherokees have managed to combine the first two. They are poor but arrogant in culture and rich but ungrateful in national resources. To turn out 2,800 brothers and sisters after 140 years is crass beyond measure.
Is there a legal recourse? On the Cherokee side, their Supreme Court has consistently defended the rights of the freedmen. Yet if the election was legal, it is hard for us to recommend legal activism to rewrite the rules in the middle of the game. On the United States side, there is the possibility of eliminating all the financial benefit to the remaining members. Federal funds to the tribe should be cut automatically in direct proportion to the number of citizens who have been rolled from the rolls.
The time has come for the Indians to lose their attacks-exempt status. This act of public immorality, using the vote to arrogate and exclude, is a wake-up call. No more affirmative action in the realm of ethical and civilized behavior. This will only be the land of the free and the home of the brave if we have the bravery to stand up to the braves on behalf of the freedmen.