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By Paul White Eagle
This is a response to the Feb. 5 article "AhNiYvWiYa: Teaching 'the human people' -- Whether they are an actual tribe is debated."
AhNiYvWiYa Inc. is listed with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Native American tribe under the categories of religions and education. AhNiYvWiYa is a legal Missouri corporation and is not under treaty with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. AhNiYvWiYa is not a group formed in the past few years calling themselves a Cherokee tribe. AhNiYvWiYa has existed with its government, culture and language from time immemorial.
I am asking the Southeast Missourian to print an apology to the people of AhNiYvWiYa for printing a defamation-of-character article degrading the tribal people and their leaders.
This rebuttal is to incorrect statements contained in the article either reported by the reporter or statements made by individuals who are not tribal members and do not have correct information about AhNiYvWiYa tribal history or its people. Native American history of this area, whether contained in history books or otherwise, is processed from oral history collected and then written in the local history. AhNiYvWiYa history has been kept within the people for preservation of true facts.
In tribal language, "oh-si-yo" means "I greet you as my equal," not "How are you?" "Ni-hi-na" means "How are you?"
Whether intended or not, references such as "wears a backward hat" and "a camouflage jacket worn jauntily" give an implication as to the nature or characteristics of a person and colors a reader's impression of the person.
Anyone has the right to question the legitimacy of anything. I do this also. But when a person questions the legitimacy of AhNiYvWiYa or any other group, the person questioning should know his own history and activities can and do come into question.
Trying to prove Native American bloodlines by government records is a tricky road to travel. Since it has become popular to be Native American today because of federal money, many have fabricated genealogies to make themselves Native American.
AhNiYvWiYa does not have to prove government records, because we are not seeking federal recognition as other Missouri groups are doing.
Glinda Ladd Seabaugh said in the article, "It's sad. I feel like a lot of the people down there have been defrauded by Paul. He tells them a lot of things about what it means to be, what they call AhNiYvWiYa, and it's just not accurate. They believe him because they don't know any better."
Our people are well-educated. Many hold degrees ranging from bachelor's degrees to doctorates.
To say a specific people "don't know any better" is a sad commentary on the part of the person who made such a statement.
The article said, "Most of the AhNiYvWiYa do not look native at all. Blue eyes and fair features are not uncommon among their ranks. Talk to them and most claim only a grandparent or even a great-grandparent of any Cherokee stock. So are they really Indian?" First, we are not Cherokee. We are AhNiYvWiYa. To refer to some 18th-century federal ethnology reports, when an AhNiYvWiYa and white mix, the children will often come out looking white but are very Indian in nature. What is an Indian supposed to look like? Not like movie stars. It is not an uncomfortable question because we know our history, our heritage and who we are. People who judge others on the color of their skin for identification as to Native blood should look in their mirror and at members of their own groups.
The article said, "Each night while the freezing, bedraggled marchers camped in Cape Girardeau County, one of 'the human people' would slip off and escape to join the others ... ." This was in the spring of 1839. Several escaped from the federal troops while camped where Trail of Tears State Park exists today. From the beginning of the forced march to the end, many escaped from the troops. Why is this a question now?
The article mentioned "the Anikutani Clan, a group of priests ... ." There never were priests in the AhNiYvWiYa culture. I have been strong against this kind of teaching.
Reference is made to AhNiYvWiYa keeping their culture secret for many years. From 1839 it was necessary because of great persecution against Native People. One of the reasons for this is because people such as these who seek to destroy the true Native culture never stop persecuting or ridiculing the Native People who keep their traditional cultures and are not seeking to make money off of it.
The last paragraph quoting Dr. Frank Nickell refers to society liking to refer to what we have overcome. AhNiYvWiYa do not glory in what we have overcome but only want the true history told, not what has been written or told by those who have never lived as true Native People.
Paul White Eagle of Grassy, Mo., is the chief of the AhNiYvWiYa Tribe of Native People.