Indians of the Americas have maintained a common dream: our long hope to be left at peace on our own lands, without barriers to our participation in every aspect of world and human affairs. That dream is not particularly exotic in human history, yet it has been treated as the most far- fetched concept by nearly every country in the Americas. The United States in particular has reacted to articulation and manifestation of that dream as though it were un-American.
It has become clear, despite great differences in language and culture, that we Indians of the Americas feel more of a kinship with each other than we do with non-Indian citizens of our countries. But our strongest bond is the understanding that we are separate peoples.
We Cherokees could not be other than we are if we wanted to be. It is not to us a question of some "tribalism" that we might some day discard; nor is it a question of a kind of nationalism, which would place us in an even more isolated and adversarial position than now. The Mapuches of Chile demand to be sovereign in their own territory, fully participant citizens and part of a continental confederation of Indian nations. That same stubborn lack of Realpolitik is true for the Otomi of Mexico, the Sioux of the United States and the Cree of Canada.
We share a lack of trust not only of governments but of any Indian programs set forth by governments and of any change in governments, suspicion derived from almost 500 years of bitter experiences. The most notable exception to that phenomenon, in concrete terms and Indian perceptions, was the situation in Chile during the time of Allende. But the Mapuche of Chile have since suffered the repression of the Pinochet regime far more acutely than the rest of the population of Chile, and have today one of the most serious and pressing situations. Probably only Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador and the United States have cases of greater urgency. Yet it is Nicaragua upon which world attention is focused, as in Russell Means' op-ed article ("The Real Freedom Fighters in Nicaragua," March 11).
The International Indian Treaty Council, an organization meant to be a voice in international forums for Indian groups, and the American Indian Movement began having sporadic conversations with the Sandinistas long before Somoza was overthrown. Once the Sandinistas had established themselves, we asked for their policy toward the Indian populations. We were told by Ernesto Cardenal of the ruling junta that the policy was to facilitate communications between all of the Indian populations and give them time, perhaps years, to develop their own programs and policies, with the government providing only such assistance as may be requested. In its simplicity and integrity, that sounded to us like an Indian solution. We were amazed.
But it was a honeymoon that was quickly disrupted by contra attacks against the government. The Sandinistas reacted clumsily, with an excess of zeal and revolutionary self-righteousness to the complicity of some Miskito Indians in these attacks. (Indian populations are not exempt from humanity's propensity to generate reactionaries and crooks.)
It was not long before Miskito individuals arrived in the United States and began approaching Indian organizations. When an Indian from anywhere tells us that he is being oppressed, our reaction is belief and solidarity; when an Indian who cooperates with his government approaches us, our reaction is, justifiably, suspicion.
There is now a body of evidence in the case of Nicaragua and the Miskito Indians that shows exaggeration, distortion and lies; duplicity developed to show the Sandinistas in the worst possible light by people with secret agendas and ulterior motives. It may be true that the Sandinistas are, in part, victims of their own attitudes toward Indians; certainly they are not exempt from the racial stereotypes so common in the Americas. Yet they are the first government to engage in talks with indigenous peoples.
So we have to ask: whose purpose is being served by the destruction of the talks between the Sandinistas and the Miskito Indians? It has divided the Miskitos among themselves and against other Indians in Nicaragua. It has divided Indians here in the United States at a time when President Reagan's Indian policies demand our unity.
In the time-honored traditions developed by Cortez and Andrew Jackson, Indian peoples' long hope and sorrow have been used against us. As the indigenous mountain peoples of Southeast Asia were used by the CIA to further American designs in that part of the world, so also the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua are being used and divided to that end. If anyone truly wants to see justice done for the Miskito Indians, then the first priority must be an end to U.S. involvement in Nicaragua.