OPINION: Light can drive out the darkness of prejudice
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis angered and saddened people across the world, resulting in demonstrations and protests to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and minorities everywhere.
Saturday evening, I witnessed something most people like to think doesn’t exist in this community – racial prejudice – during a protest in Park Rapids that included members of the White Earth Nation.
I know three of the protestors personally. Neegonee Brunner is a teacher at Pine Point School, 20 miles from Park Rapids. Her youngest daughter, Francisca, was one of my students when I taught Head Start there. Her older daughter, Teresita, is a graduate of Park Rapids Area High School.
While interviewing the participants at the protest, I heard a driver yell an obscenity at the group where Francisca was standing in the front row proudly holding her sign with its message of love. The driver was already down the street, or he would have seen her smile disappear as she told her mom she was scared and asked if the man was going to hurt her.
Most people passing by probably know very little about the heritage of our indigenous neighbors. If they knew Neegonee, they would know her name was given by an elder and means “leader of women.” She is a Christian who has instilled in her daughters the importance of standing up for what is right.
Members of the White Earth Nation are “Anishinaabe,” a word that means original people. They were here long before Columbus. White people took their land. Many treaties were broken and these people who once inhabited all of this wonderful land were forced to live on reservations.
While working on the reservation, I met an older woman who had experienced the pain of being forcibly taken from her family to a boarding school where they tried to take away her cultural identity.
Prejudice comes from the words “pre judge.” Drivers yelling anonymous insults from car windows were judging the people standing on the corner of Hwy. 34 without knowing them.
Last year, signs in the Ojibwe language were posted at many facilities and businesses around town saying “Biindigen,” which means welcome. Are our native neighbors really welcome in this community? Actions speak louder than words.
During the protest, it began to rain. A lady stopped by and gave the group umbrellas. “She helped Francisca feel better to know there are more nice people in the world than mean ones,” Neegonee said.
Indigenous people have to overcome generations of trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and a lack of employment opportunities.
There are many ways to make a positive difference: donating money to provide scholarships to minorities, volunteering in a classroom or Boys and Girls Club on the reservation or speaking up for someone who is mistreated.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only Love can do that.”
Everyone has a choice: to give an umbrella to those standing in the rain or to drive by yelling insults.