The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was only 39 years old when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. If Dr. King were still alive, he would have celebrated his 91st birthday on January 15. Some of us have living parents or grandparents who are still living a full life, even though they have reached 90+ years of age. So, when I think of my elder Lakota relatives, I realize it wasn’t really that long ago when Dr. King was working for all of us to have the same opportunities as white people.
Dr. King was a clergyman and a civil rights advocate. He was hated vehemently by the wasicu who didn’t want people of color to have the same rights as white people. However, he didn’t let the hate from others stop his mission. He continued to forgive and pray for the best outcome for all people of color.
Dr. King was outspoken. Thanks to the internet, we are fortunate to be able to listen to the numerous public speeches he offered addressing the right of people of color to have the same opportunities as white people. Dr. King was disliked by many people all over the world who did not want to see any people of color advance. Nevertheless, every January we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday.
As a Lakota woman, I continue to experience racism due to the color of my skin. I’ve experienced racism from my own people because my government-imposed pedigree, also known as my Certificate of Indian Blood or tribal ID card, lists me as less than a full-blood. I also experience racism from people who are not tribal citizens. I don’t let it stop me. I don’t make eye contact with people when I am away from home unless they are people of color.
Before the civil rights movement, our people were viewed as second-class citizens. Our great-grandparents were targeted for blatant racial discrimination in many places of business across the country. Even though discrimination based on race is now against the law, we continue to experience prejudice as Indigenous people.
It doesn’t help that the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) encourages discrimination among his supporters. His attitude has emboldened many closet racists to come out publicly with how they really view Indigenous people. A lot of these now open racists are on school boards, county commissions or have served on either the state or national level legislatures.
People who hate anyone darker than themselves glare at me when I go shopping in Rapid City, Sioux Falls or Pierre, South Dakota. They commit on social media feeds, spewing their disgust for people of color any chance they get.
Dr. King wanted a better life for people of color and he stood up to advocate for it. So, even though we have a racist, homophobic POTUS – we still have the right to vote in local, state and national elections. We have the power to change the faces who represent us at all political levels.
But it’s up to you to help with this change. You can do this by registering to vote in your tribal, county, state and national elections. You can also bring more public funding to your area by making sure every member of your household is listed on the 2020 Census form. These may be small acts but they are a big way to prompt change.
Many of the opportunities now available to us as Indigenous people are a result of Dr. King’s work. Relatives, we cannot let racism win. Teach your children to be accepting of all people, no matter their color or disposition.
Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email firstname.lastname@example.org