My time in the Land of Enchantment is over. It's been a hell of an 8 weeks. I learned a lot, met some awesome people & had a lot of fun...sometimes too much fun, but that's what keeps life interesting.
Throughout this summer, I've thought extensively about what this journey means to those around me. I originally started this journey because of how it can improve the lives of my children. Before left for New Mexico, though, I had some pretty incredible conversations with some of the elders that I respect deeply. Through these talks, I was reminded of the absolute desperation that exists just below the surface. Our tribe is still mostly impoverished, crime in Indian country is disproportionately high, just so many problems... With each person that I talked to, I heard similar pleas. Even individuals that don't understand what a J.D. is seem to hang grasped onto the possibility of my earning this degree as if it were the last ray of hope for change in the conditions that have existed long enough as to seem normal in some sick, dysfunctional way.
As I would learn, this is not an uncommon burden among the other Native students in the program. Many of us are the most educated people in our families. Some, like me, are the ONLY people within our circle that have a college degree. One man from the program will be the first in his tribe to obtain a professional degree. I sincerely hope that he goes back to work for his tribe and makes a real difference.
We had a banquet last night to celebrate completion of the program. There, we heard from program alumni and our professors. The recurring theme that came up in most of their remarks, and at various times throughout the 8 weeks, is the fact that the fate of Indian country is in our hands. The hard work of pushing for basic civil & human rights for tribes has been done by those that came before us. It is up to us, now, to protect and refine that. It sounds cliche on the surface, but the reality is that the heart of the matter is survival. The outcome of a particular court case can literally mean the survival or extinction of a tribe. We have an amazing opportunity and, I argue, a responsibility to do whatever possible to make a difference. If we fail to do so, it will be future generations that pay the price for our silent complicity.