Dr. Duane Champagne was preaching to the choir when he visited Bishop on Tuesday evening to discuss the history, as well as the current state of Indian affairs. As Champagne, a professor in the Sociology department at UCLA, discussed his new book, “Notes from the Center of Turtle Island,” as well as the current and past struggles of indigenous people, members of the audience, many Native Americans from local tribes, nodded their heads in approval and mutual understanding.
Champagne’s presentation was part of the Third Annual Community Reads Program in Inyo County, running now through March. The program is a way to get all of Inyo County to pull together, read one book and celebrate the culture it represents. Year one of the program focused on Manzanar and the Japanese-American internees and year two covered Jill Kinmont Booth.
This year takes a look at Native Americans and the book to read is “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie, which won the National Book Award in 2007.
According to Champagne, now is a great time to take a look at Native Americans because “self-consciousness has grown among Indians regarding their rights, history, etc.”
Indians are trying to figure out where they fit in. “There is a special amount of law dealing with indigenous people and it gets more complicated every day,” Champagne added.
Champagne spoke of the idea of dual citizenship for Native Americans, which began to evolve with President Richard Nixon’s special message to Congress in July 1970, regarding Indian affairs and the idea of self-determination.
“We must assure the Indian that we can assume control of his own life without being separated involuntarily from the tribal group,” Nixon said in his message. “And we must make it clear that Indians can become independent of Federal control without being cut off from Federal concern and Federal support.”
Today, according to Champagne, this still applies to Indians who continue to struggle between assimilating into the American marketplace while holding onto their heritage. He explained that today’s educators could help Native American students by giving them access to knowledge about their heritage while simultaneously giving them tools to succeed in the outside world.
“You need to be able to work in the marketplace but preserve your values,” Champagne said, “because working gives you the money to preserve your values.”
Champagne added that kids who are between worlds have the most problems, therefore helping them develop strong identities would make them more at ease not only with themselves but with the community.
Duane Champagne has been presenting a series of comments on Indian policy, history, and culture since October 2006 in the newspaper Indian Country Today. “Notes from the Center of Turtle Island” is a compilation of many of these editorials, plus two chapters not previously published. Champagne hopes the book will create discussion about the issues that confront indigenous peoples while educating a broad audience about the complexities of American Indian issues.
The next segment in the Community Reads Program will be held Feb 1 and 2. “Smoke Signals,” a comic film written by Sherman Alexie and a Sundance Film Festival award winner will be shown at the Inyo Council for the Arts building in Bishop and the Lone Pine Film Museum, respectively. Visit http://www.inyo.org/calendar.asp for times and further information.