(AT THE WINNEBAGO NATIVE AMERICAN RESERVATION. From the right are Martin Rodriguez from Guatemala, Reem Khalifa from Bahrain, Alpha Barry from the US State Department, Val McPherson of Kiwanis International [Nebraska], Jerome Lafontaine of Winnebago Indian News [Nebraska], and David Llorito from the Philippines.)
The visit at the Winnebago Indian reservation was fantastic. I grew up on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns where Native Americans or “Indians” are portrayed as brown, muscle-bound topless horse-riding warriors who are lethal with the tomahawk and the Henry rifle. The first Indian I met approached us in a blue sedan. When he got out of the car, I immediately knew the warrior we were going to meet is not the physically chiseled man of the old days but a sedentary suburbanite who grew up fighting for Indian rights in a gentler way through dialogues, petitions, and the Internet. I thought his name would have sounded like Dances with Wolves or White Clouds but he introduced himself as “Jerome Lapointe, editor of the Winnebago Indian News.” (One of the reservation’s staff manning the cash register at the store selling Indian products was a charming lady named Alyssa York). When those powerful and beautifully original names like Sitting Bull or Aleshanee (“She plays all the time”) or Nitika (“Angel of precious stone”) have become less fashionable, I never came to know.
After just a few niceties, Jerome was immediately discussing how business through e-commerce is changing the Reservations’ economy. He was very upbeat, telling us about programs and projects (e.g., Buffalo breeding, housing, grocery stores, gasoline stations, real estate leasing, among others) that will bring more prosperity to the Winnebago nation. It’s nice that they have someone from the tribe who graduated law and economics from Harvard. She went up America’s corporate ladder but eventually left Big Business to head Ho Chunks, the reservations’ own business organization.
“She is a very smart lady,” Jerome said.
Yes, the Indian ladies are fast rising up the educational and social ladder, something that could not be said of the boys who are shy about going into the bigger world outside the Reservation. That explains, Jerome said, why diabetes particularly among males is a growing concern. A lot of them simply have nothing much to do in isolation. No wonder why their huge, newly completed hospital is specializing in the treatment and research on diabetes.
The Indian girls, Jerome admitted, are going places and meeting and getting husbands from the Latino and other communities. “They get our women but they don’t share their women with us,” he complained, jokingly.
I expected Jerome’s newspaper to contain stories about “discrimination” or some historical injustices. The few copies he gave us contained feel good ones and a lot of color pictures of Indian braves and white people wearing colorful Indian attires happily dancing together during an annual powwow. When Reem, a journalist friend from Bahrain, asked him about the positive or happy slant of his newspaper, his answer was a bit surprising: “If we don’t tell good stories about ourselves, who else will?”
The Winnebago Reservation is a 120,000 square miles of rich territory situated in the middle nowhere in the wilderness of Nebraska. Yet the forces of globalization, good or bad, are evidently working in there. Jerome was talking Internet commerce all the time. I haven’t seen any teepee or wigwam; the ones’ being built were those picture-perfect lower middle class American bungalows that you can see in Virginia or Maryland.
I thought bringing home some Indian products as gifts to friends here in the Philippines was cool so I got myself some nice shawls and placemats. I was about to pay at the counter when I discovered that the stuff I got were not made in the reservations but somewhere in South Asia, in far away India.
“I thought these are Indian products?” I asked Alyssa York.
“Yes, they were made in India,” she said.