Different rug designs have different meanings, depending on the type and area in which it was made. ...More on these rugs coming soon... Did you know that Navajo/Diné rugs have no fringe 99.5% of the time, often have a side selvage cord to keep a straight edge and usually have a wool warp?
Eleanor Roosevelt on Native Americans
“These lands are all these people have and they own them by treaty with the United States government…’
'…What we do for our Indians is watched by people all over the world. And the Indians feel quite rightly, I believe, that our treatment of them is not enhancing the respect for democracy nor the feeling that we try to give all of our people equal freedom in our country and equal justice.'
In our efforts to win the trust of the uncommitted nations throughout the world we must remember that the treatment of our own citizens has a great deal to do with the confidence they put in us as a world power.'
'Both in the United Nations and in our contacts with nations outside there is a realization that a great nation must respect small nations and must keep its word. Otherwise, there is no security for any small nation.'
'To many people the problem of our own American Indians may seem very small, but it is really a concern of every citizen. For these were the first owners of the country in which we now live and they have a right to have the treaties they made with the U.S. Government respected and carried out with justice.'
Eleanor Roosevelt, January 23, 1959, "My Day."
The homogenized names the US has given to our vastly diverse Native Americans ironically exemplifies these tribes' shared experience of immense disrespect and tragedy endowed by their namers. Most ironically, the country that named these culturally and ethnically diverse people with a homogenized name to refer to the whole, is the country that is responsible for one of their greatest shared experiences... that shared experience being immense disrespect and tragedy to a vast amount of nations.
However these tribes always have been and are still distinctive from one another, each with different governments, lands, cultures and histories. 566 Federally recognized Tribal Nations in the United States alone.
"Now the Indians in our midst were the original owners of our country, and it seems ironical to me to practice discrimination against them.” Eleanor Roosevelt, October 3, 1960, “My Day."
"Even in our blackest moment, we have to acknowledge that there is something very fine in human beings," Eleanor Roosevelt, November 3, 1943, "My Day."
"Language is the source of misunderstandings," Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(I have found time and time again scholars notice the moments that ER acted like a mother. ER scholars, Laurence Hauptman and Brigid O'Farrell discuss it in respect to workers' rights and the Native Americans. Here, I don't see the pronoun as a threat of possession, but as her challenging the people to take responsibility for their suffering and to offer service and respect. But I digress...)
What was the best way to restore their dignity, equal justice and freedom? For a while, assimilation was thought to be the answer, by Eleanor Roosevelt included. Since FDR’s presidency, ER worked very hard to restore dignity to Native Americans. She felt it her duty to express humility for the country, and the more she learned, the more she advocated for these peoples in a way that they found most respectful.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a champion of Human Rights; everything she did, she did gracefully, and yet the question of what to do with Native Americans may be one of the questions she struggled with the most.
I am grateful to have had the pleasure of learning about this sort of respect from my best friend, Kalen who is of the Diné (Navajo), and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian tribes. It is because of this friend that I began looking into Eleanor Roosevelt’s history with the Native American peoples. What I found was extraordinarily fascinating and I’ll try to share just some of it with you. Just from being friends with this brilliant person, from sharing conversations and from asking questions, I have learned so much. He is currently working on a multi-year long long photo-journalist project in Fort Berthold, ND, studying the affects of the oil boom on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations (The Three Affiliated Tribes). You can read the national award winning article here and read more about him and view his photography here. As you know, The Partnership is currently working on programming and an exhibit called, Contemporary Voices, which you can learn more about here, and so I have been thinking a lot about the people around me who are #FollowingInHerFootsteps and Kalen, a huge inspiration, has been like ER in his passionate and intimate advocacy and outreach, and in some ways as a teacher for me too.
The story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with the Native Americans is a story of changing heart and internal growth that expressed itself also on the changing world's attitudes. Eleanor Roosevelt is a person with very few shortcomings and it only becomes harder to criticize her the more you learn of all she was able to do in a normal human life span.
As you know, Eleanor Roosevelt was bold, but also interested in hearing from other people. One of my favorite quotes about ER is featured in Brigid O'Farrel's book, She Was One of Us:
"Mrs. Roosevelt asked many questions but she was particularly interested in why I thought women should join unions." Rose Schneiderman, All for One, 1967.
The story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with the Native American peoples is a story of how bettering relationships between two groups of people can change the course of history.
A Timeline of Some Things I Learned
“Perhaps when a baby is born on our soil or when an individual becomes naturalized, he ought to be given the opportunity, if he desires it, to change his foreign name to its American equivalent… What is wrong about changing Lowenstein to Livingston, Rabinowitz to Robinson, or any of these comparatively foreign names to simpler versions? … We should welcome and honor people willing to take this step toward Americanization. It may prove to be a most important factor in bringing about a more unified American people," Eleanor Roosevelt, July 14, 1945, "Liberty."
ER on American Coercion of the Indians
“There is a constant effort going on to transfer Indian property to whites and one of the most successful ways in the past has been to disrupt the Indian social system. Between 1887 and 1933, through land allotment, we transferred 90 million acres of the best Indian land to whites. This was largely done by the method of persuading or compelling the individualization of tribal properties," ER, October 5,1948, "My Day."
ER tells the public WE'RE NOT FINISHED
“Had we done a really good job it seems to me that our Indians today would be educated; there would be no need of reservations; they would be fully capable of taking their places as citizens, and the tribes would have full compensation for lands they owned. Our inability to work out this small problem satisfactorily and fairly is one of the real blots on our history,” ER, August 25, 1950, “My Day.”
You can view those poems here.
“Things happen to the government’s wards, the Indians, because most of us are not aware of what is being done to them.” ER, April 1958, "My Day."
"When we fail to face up to a moral problem, we not only harm ourselves at home but place us in a bad light all over the world."
This, ER could do. This, ER advocated for frequently.
So why in the world did I get upset that ER didn't do something I wish she had done, like re-focus her advocacy efforts concerning Native American peoples? Why did I lose her as a superhero figure for even a moment, when she has done SO.MUCH.GOOD, and even though she didn't do everything right, she still helped strong voices be heard, that hadn't been beforehand? I have come to realize that I was afraid that amazingly well-intended actions could sometimes not be the right actions. That you could be 99% perfect and that 1% still left out certain people and voices from the equation. And for a moment, it made me feel stuck, scared, threatened.
The point is, nobody is perfect. And we hear the words, "don't worry, nobody is perfect" all the time as a thing that should make us feel better about our failures. But in reality, maybe the saying isn't useful anymore. There are greater and higher reasons to understand and believe that perfection is not reachable, beyond self-confidence for self-confidence's sake. Because striving for perfection is not even useful.
We need things to strive for and to learn from at the same time, and that is the point of looking back at history, but holding onto the idea of perfection is counter-preservation and counter-innovation. Being both critical and being forgiving are fundamental. That is what ER's relationship with the Native Americans has helped me come to better understand.
What I have learned from this research is also in part what I want this organization and other preservation and innovation organizations to be able to help others in advocacy to learn.
ER is an icon, and always will be now. I'll probably have many days where I say she is perfect and many of us find ourselves so in love with her that we can easily get defensive about her. But in these moments of absolute admiration, there is always room to look humility and humanity in the face for the sake of today and tomorrow (after all, what's the difference between today and tomorrow, for a Roosevelt fan?). We can only learn and innovate with the full truth in mind, and that doesn't mean Eleanor isn't still the closest thing to perfection that I know. It just means her lessons are even more dynamic and valuable.
There is so much to learn from her life, her words and her choices. Imperfection is something to be thankful for and she is still the closest thing I know to this bizzare concept I can't shake of "perfection." Imperfection not only makes us feel better, but puts us back into reality so we can strive for higher. I challenge everyone who has read this far to learn about ER and identify the people today in your life who are like ER, and then to strive for higher than ER.
Since ER’s first columns about native peoples, I can see that the country thinks differently and we may call this growth. And as I look back at how she grew and changed her attitudes and politics, I realized, all the while she was acting to give other people the power to have a voice. There is always something to be done, even when all of America is unsure, or in fear... there is always something that can be done.
Eleanor Roosevelt proactively put herself into a position of power and she used that position of power to bring others into power who could do good. She wasn’t born in power, it wasn’t handed to her, like I used to think it was. There was nobody like Eleanor before or after her. She educated and informed the public. Not for nothing, because she genuinely believed democracy only works with a well-educated public.
And ER, if anyone, always knew "equality and justice for all" is not a charity for the underdogs, it's about mutual respect, human rights and dignity for all people.
There is still a large amount of inequality for the native peoples of American - higher suicide rates, many are under the poverty lines, governmental representation and higher education can be hard to come by, and there is a huge amount of stereotyping of their cultures that homogenizes the diverse peoples, cultures, histories and value systems, with complicated long-term negative effects...
However, strides are being made today. For example, recently a legal battle was fought and won, advancing strides against the homogenization and hate speech of native peoples. The Washington Football Team has been renamed from what you likely knew it to be, the "Washington Redskins." Lots of native news media rejected to print the word "redskin" in protest of its commercial use and its status as a racial slur. This just happened a couple of weeks ago and the suite was won by Amanda Blackhorse, a Diné woman living in the Navajo Nation.
As Laurence M. Hauptman stated,
“Roosevelt’s changing attitudes about American Indians reflect a larger change in American liberalism…,”
and later he goes on to conclude,
“Eleanor Roosevelt and her liberalism not only had great bearing on the civil rights movement but influenced the direction of Indian policies even after her death in 1962.” That is a huge statement about influence. The relationships that Eleanor Roosevelt was able to foster for progress exemplifies the difference between sympathy and empathy, which I now see as more like opposites than like synonyms.
It is the people that we open up our hearts to and genuinely get to know that define what kind of change we are able to make in this world.
And it is each individual's personal engagement with the world that makes our history. That is democracy.
"We make our own history." Eleanor Roosevelt.
About The Sources
Laurence M. Hauptman is a distinguished history professor of over 40 years at SUNY New Paltz, and specializes in Native American, mainly Iroquois and Civil War history. In this blog I have referred to his article published by The Hudson River Valley Institute, titled "Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Indian: The Iroquois as a Case Study." His thesis from this paper is one of a kind and I have found no research on this topic quite like his. Any of my ideas have been influenced greatly from his.
Matika Wilbur is a photographic journalist and activist who started Project 562, which “creatively addresses and remedies historical inaccuracies, stereotypical representations and the absence of Native American images and voices in mass media and the national consequences.” It is called 562 because when the project began, there were 562 Federally recognized tribes, however the number since has gone up. The project may be one of the most important story-telling projects currently in the United States, and I think it has radically vast potential to make a big difference.