I had the privilege of attending a gathering last weekend in southern Maryland between the local Piscataway Indian Nation and people of Native American ancestry who hail from the countries of El Salvador, Paraguay, Colombia and Peru. Included in the group were Spanish-speaking laborers from Prince William County in Virginia, who have been the target of attacks by anti-immigrant forces.
During the evening, many people spoke, with English translated into Spanish or Spanish into English, as and necessary. At the end, of the evening, Chief Billy Redwing Tayac made a speech to his guests that pulled together Native American history and the current immigration debate. His speech is reproduced with his permission.
My name is Billy Redwing Tayac. I am the hereditary chief of the Piscataway people, who are indigenous to Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. Our present ceremonial ground and spiritual and political center is located in what is called Port Tobacco, Md.
Over the years, I have worked for the reclamation of Indian people. We have so many people who have lost their way, who don’t know anything about their traditions or religion. This work involves “de-Angloization,” or bringing our people back to the earth, back to being Indian people. It is hard to be an Indian in any city, because we are separated from the earth by concrete. We can’t feel the power of the earth, the wind, the trees.
All people, regardless of color, were at one time tied to the earth. Even the Europeans had tribes tied to the earth. The earth is everything to everybody.
My father, Chief Turkey Tayac, was a traditional chief, but I was much more interested in joining with other Indians in groups, such as the American Indian Movement. Through AIM, I came to realize that to be an Indian today, one must transcend tribalism. We are a race of people. In the terminology of the movement, we are “Many Nations, One People.” Whether we speak English, Spanish or Portuguese, Indians are all one people stretching from the tip of North America to the tip of South America.
The dominant society has divided us, cutting up our land into slices they call countries. But we are still a people — and not a small group of people. There are tens of millions of Indian people in the Western Hemisphere.
Governments don’t like to classify us as Indians. What some call mestizos, Latinos, Hispanics or Chicanos are really Indians. They are not classified as Indians because of paper genocide. The Indian people themselves will say, “I am a Mexican,” because they have been brainwashed, because the lowest people on the ladder are the Indians. Who wants to be part of that group?
The rise of the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s helped to restore a sense of pride. People were no longer ashamed to be Indian. They demanded that treaties be upheld. They demanded to be treated as human beings. AIM brought back the traditions, customs and religions to thousands, maybe millions, of Indian people.
In the late 1800s on the Great Plains, the Indian communities were suffering tremendous depopulation. There was famine, disease and forced removals from the land. They were losing their culture, and they were in danger of being completely exterminated.
One of the spiritual renewal movements of that time called for people to perform a Ghost Dance for several days and nights. The feasting and spiritual renewal would lead to a return of the ancestors and an end to the illegitimate power of the European invaders.
While the power of the Europeans has continued, I see the other part of the Ghost Dance prophecy coming true today. So-called Hispanics, with faces that sure look like Indians to me, are returning to repopulate North America. We cannot always speak to each other, because we have learned the languages of different colonial powers. But these Indians have as much right to come and go on our land as the geese when they migrate north and south. No one would dare to ask them for their passports and visas as they cross man-made borders.
Indian peoples can become a powerful voting block in this country, especially if we all check the Census category for “Native American.” There are some Hispanics who do not have any Indian roots because their families migrated from Europe to Latin America recently. But many so-called Hispanics can trace their roots to a combination of European, African, Asian and Indian ancestors.
Instead of seeing Hispanics as outsiders who do not belong here, we need to start seeing them as ancestors of the original inhabitants of these lands. They are the living fulfillment of the Ghost Dance prophecy.
For more information: piscatawaynation.org.