At the end of December, Twitter − and no, not Native Twitter − was buzzing about a tweet from Donald Trump. The tweet was about bills the president signed promoting tribal sovereignty and thanking ‘Indian Country’ for making it all happen.
That’s when Twitter lost its shit. Apparently, according to non-Native Twitter, ‘Indian Country’ is offensive, despite it being a legal and widely accepted/used term in Indigenous communities. While everyone else was berating Trump for his racist statement, Native Twitter was trying to explain that no, Indian Country is not that offensive, at least to most Indigenous people in the U.S. Yet, surprise surprise, no one listened, and instead choose to talk over us.
Many of the tweets responding to our national orange were supposedly advocating for Native people in the U.S. — Indian Country if you will. Unfortunately, very few of the tweet-ers actually used their space on the social media app to elevate the voices of those they were ‘advocating’ for, choosing to call the president racist and ignorant on their own, stifling the voices of Indian Country along the way.
I’m not here to say Trump isn’t racist and totally ignorant, I’m here to address the other part of this issue. Non-Indigenous people taking up space that rightfully belongs to us and ‘sticking up’ for us when we did not ask or need them to. It’s this kind of entitlement of the Well-Meaning-White-Person that has caused so many troubles for tribal communities, pushing us further and further away from mainstream society.
Indigenous people have dealt with this type of educated person coming into our spaces, thinking they know all there is to know about us, assuming our needs and casting us to the side and calling it social justice. We’ve seen it in journalism, film, art, research and of course, academia. This Twitter situation goes to show that while you may think you are, you are not educated on Indigenous people, who we are, what we do and the things we face.
These incidents are particularly problematic because you think you are doing right by us, thinking you are helping us, putting on your White Savior of the Month cap, rolling up your sleeves and ‘doing the work.’ You fail to see the issue of what you are doing and many times loathe to be corrected, especially by the community you are trying to fight for.
Frustratingly enough, this was the Indigenous issue America wanted to speak up about. This is the hill they wanted to die on for our rights, the term Indian Country is where they draw the line. Not pipelines, not missing and murdered women, not traumatized children, not national ignorance, but a legal, widely accepted and used phrase to describe our communities.
Here’s the deal, if you want to be a real ally, step to the side until people from those communities have actually spoken and said their piece. When these groups are speaking, shut up and LISTEN. Follow their leads of what their communities need because no one knows what they go through more than them. Don’t ever for a moment believe that you are in some way more entitled to talk over or speak for Indigenous and people of color.