Racism On The Reservation

Racism On The Reservation 4/10/06
 
by William Simonsen
Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation, Wash. — “Why don’t you guys want to be friends with us?
“Why don’t you want to share with us, when we gave you everything?
“We always welcomed people. I don’t think we ever turned anyone away,” said Janet Charles Francis, a tribal member.
Francis was speaking at a meeting of countywide Multi-Cultural Task Force called to address racism against Native Americans. The task force is an ad hoc committee created three years ago to address racial problems Coast Guard personnel encountered in Clallam County.
The meeting last week was held at the tribal center on the Lower Elwha Reservation. It was called when overt, organized signs of racism in the community surfaced after the state dry dock project on Ediz Hook was halted.
The project was located over a 2,700 year-old Klallam Village. The excavations were unearthing hundreds of tribal burials.
“I don’t think there is any time in history that a people have been asked to dig in the dirt with their hands for bits and pieces of their ancestors,” said tribal representative on the task Monica Charles.
She said the tribe called for work to stop at the construction site because it was “like an open wound for us.”
“That’s what the elders told us from the beginning, we shouldn’t dig up our ancestors,” she said.
Many speakers said racism in the area condoned continuing the excavation because the corpses unearthed were Native Americans.
But when the construction stopped, people in the county reacted with racially motivated anger thinking it hurt the local economy, several speakers said.
Tribal chairman Francis Charles said a backlash over the closing was most evident in some of the retail stores and schools in the county. 
“We don’t like to admit to it, but racism does take place in Port Angeles and Clallam County. We feel it.”
“We’ve been verbally attacked,” she said. “Pushing and shoving” confrontations have broken out over the closing.
About 100 tribal and community members attended the meeting.
She said tribal members are being hustled out of local stores so other customers don’t have the chance to confront them.
Jamie Valadez said there is racial profiling in stores in the area. She said children from the reservation are taught not to go into stores alone because they could so easily be accused of a crime.
Valadez said, “We are not here to tolerate each other, we should be here to celebrate each other.”
Alfred Charles Sr., a local businessman and tribal member said the government has always shut down any profitable enterprise owned by a Native American. “You can’t have Indians making money,” he said.
He said when the tribal remains were being exhumed, “I would lie awake at night, tossing and turning, thinking, ‘Why is this happening’.
“My grandparents could be buried there.”
He said the task force lacked representation of minorities. 
“I see one Indian. Where is the Negro, where is the Mexican, where are people who know something about racism?” he said.
Alfred Charles son, Lonnie Charles said he worked at the site for 15 months. He said the only way racism can be stopped is one family at a time.
“It all starts at the top and works its way down,” he said. “We are all able to stop it.”
Monica Charles said, “There has been public racism here since 1990.” She described her experiences in public schools in the county as institutional racism carried out by racist students and faculty.
Charles said she was the first Lower Elwha Klallam to graduate from college.
Her experiences in the public educational system were similar to those of Francis Charles.
Francis Charles said attended Peninsula College and WSU even though her high school counselor told her she was not “college material.”
She said the graves on the construction site were violated  in 1910, 1920, 1950, and again in 1950 before the current excavation.  She said, “Over 300 cedar boxes have stood looking for reburial” from the state dig.
“Let us dig up your family members then ask you, ‘Okay, now where do you want us to put them,'” she said.
Janet Charles Francis described her emotional turmoil from working at the site. She said every night she went home and “cried in front of my altar.”
Theresa Hammer said when the tribe was moved from the village on Ediz Hook, “All of the old ways were lost.”
“This is our last chance.
“This is one chance for people who have hurt us so much to help us get our culture back,” said Hammer.
The meeting, scheduled for two-hours, was extended to over three hours so more people would have an opportunity to speak.
Task force members said another meeting would be held on the reservation.
 
© 2013 William Simonsen. All rights reserved.
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