Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King make his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at Lincoln Memorial in August 1963.

Guest Commentary

Published January 15, 2018

One of the most impactful experiences of my life was during my undergraduate years,more than 12 years ago, where I took a theology course taught by a black Catholic priest at Marquette University. He introduced the class that he was one of 81 black Catholic priests out of 100,000 in the United States. He continued with his introduction by sharing the history of mistreatment by the Catholic Church towards people of color since the Church’s inception, including the actions when Europeans arrived here in the Western Hemisphere and have sanctioned some of the worst atrocities in human history. That would be the content of the course. With the majority of the class being upper-class, elitist, entitled European Americans, many couldn’t believe that their religion was violent and oppressive and failed to credit both the instructor and the class. My immediate thought was, “I already love this class!”

The course featured some significant teachings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his method to use the Bible to pursue equality before he started going to jail and became the well-known orator we still see in his later days. No doubt, if he were still alive, he’d still be the subject of a Federal investigation where he would be considered a domestic terrorist. His dedication to his beliefs influenced a great many to take action and speak when things needed to be addressed. He did so with a craft, where he used the language and beliefs of his oppressors against themselves in a way where they understand and participate in beliefs instilled in their religion and their laws. He learned his craft and method from those who oppressed him and made it his own. He was and will be forever genius.

Darren Thompson

As American Indian people will be ever in conflict with America because of the natural resources we sit on—the best remaining are in our hands. Since the Indian reservation was created, America has aimed to take away whatever rights we have retained. This was previously disguised with the convenient argument that all people should enjoy the same basic rights.  For example, when our ancestors preserved hunting and fishing rights, the right to govern ourselves, tax exemptions on our own land, European Americans stressed equality especially in government-funded, religion sanctioned boarding schools. But as Indian Country knows, on the local level Native people do not have employment, housing, equal treatment in the criminal justice system, and even social equality (we’re still not taught about in the classroom—perpetuating the ignorance towards America’s first people). The latter rights were never boasted about or seriously given any thought, since then and now. The only significant change that comes to addressing those rights in social society is the growing populations of people of color.

In almost every part of the nation, American Indian people are treated with disgust and disdain by surrounding communities. With more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the country, that’s racism in 500, or more, ways. We sit on America’s best oil, water, and mineral resources and America wants it. Until 1890, we played a critical role in America’s domestic affairs and will, no doubt once again as our country strives to be energy indepedent. 

We have a bright, exciting future ahead of us with a lot of teaching to do. We will need strong leaders who are educated and connected to community and Earth with allies who have experienced the beauty and power of Native culture. We need strong citizens who can believe their leaders, their people, and a future. We will need highly educated intellectuals who are supported, not criticized. The more we are communicating, teaching and learning, the stronger and keener our ideas will be. We need our historians to speak. We need our language revitalists to share the history and stories of our language. We need our medicine people to pray. We need to gather more frequently. We made it this far. We will make it so much farther.

Today, as our nation recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must realize this critical time of crisis in our country. White racism is in the Oval Office. His very recent comments towards his preference of immigrants from Norway is more than proof of this. It can be time that we stand up as citizens to demand that racism have no place in the White House. It can be time that America honors its first people, too.

Darren Thompson (Ojibwe/Tohono O’odham) is a Native American flute player and writer from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. He contributes to Native Peoples Magazine, Native News Online, Native Max Magazine and Powwows.com. For more information please visit www.darrenthompson.net

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