October 2017

Chris owns Chopper’s Ol’ School BBQ, a restaurant in Daleville, Alabama (I can vouch that it has awesome food). An Army veteran who served in multiple conflicts, Chris believes that our country needs to re-engage with its history and its role in the world.

How he uses his business to help others:

My restaurant offers a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving, and we don’t charge anyone for it. It used to be just for military families, as my wife and I did it when I was in the service. What we realized is that the whole community needed it. We opened it up to everyone. Just the outpouring of additional support from members of the community that can afford it is great. They donate money, time, and food. To help other people in this community have a good Thanksgiving meal is one of the things I look forward to every year. It’s about a three-day process to cook everything. They do get smoked Turkey and hams, but it’s still a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

He thinks people in Daleville are equally generous:

Whether people have the money or not, people are ready to reach out and help the next person. It’s not a wealthy town by any stretch. But on the whole, within this community, they may not donate money, but there are so many people who will come out and help you do a service project.

People’s feelings toward soldiers have changed over time:

The time I served was a very different time than when my dad served. When he served, there was one conflict, and that was Vietnam. It was a terrible time in American history in terms of how American citizens treated service members.

When I first deployed, though, people didn’t hesitate to send us anything we needed. Someone sent one of our soldiers a computer so he could keep in touch with his family. Sometimes people send small things like here’s a Christmas card. When you’re overseas, it’s small things like that type of gesture that matter because you are so far separated.

I think there’s one thing that the civilian sector sometimes forgets. When you’re home for Christmas, or New Years Eve, that’s great. But thousands of families are separated. Soldiers are in the Persian Gulf or in Iraq, and sometimes the community forgets that. I don’t want to say they turn a blind eye. But in some ways, they feel “that was a decision they made.” And they’re right, I chose to serve. But that doesn’t make it any easier on a child or a wife when the parent/partner isn’t home.

As long as this conflict has gone on, I think awareness has faded unfortunately. Support isn’t as prevalent. We have a new generation of service members who are doing the same thing I did and aren’t receiving the same support.

His thoughts on America’s role in the world:

America was built on taking care of the small guy. That’s one of the Marines’ big things. Do I think we should police the world? No. Should we police things that can do damage to our country and those we support? If we didn’t, nothing would be safe. You’d never know if riding on the train in the United States whether something would happen. People are wanting to create bombs everywhere.

Our politicians could use a lesson from military leaders:

I think that it gets lost that our politicians who are supposed to be there for us are not there for us. They’re there for them. I was brought up in the military where leaders’ needs go to the wayside when compared to subordinates’ needs. You’ll notice all the senior leaders eat last at a field camp. You always take care of your soldiers before you take care of yourself.

Our schools are failing to make good citizens:

One of the thing that kind of irks me is that if someone else from another country wants to be a citizen, they have to take a test. And I guarantee you most of America couldn’t pass that test. We have failed ourselves because we don’t teach history and what it means to be a good person.

The part of American history we need to reckon with:

People need to be taught the Civil War the same way everywhere. Whether you’re in Texas or California, we need to have the same starting point. When people start talking about the Civil War, I ask one question to see whether they really know the history: What is the Mason-Dixon Line? Most people don’t know.

This week I was up in Tennessee on a veterans ride, and we visited the largest Confederate hospital. I found out they have two different tours. The regular one we did, and then another one that covers all the slave stuff. They talk about the Underground Railroad and what slaves did during these conflicts. That’s different from what I’ve seen, and no one got upset about it.

Slavery is a part of our history. I’m not proud of it, but it shouldn’t be buried. It needs to be presented. If we don’t, it’ll happen again.

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This week, I flew to Enterprise, Alabama in order to visit Fort Rucker. While there, I had a chance to speak with active duty soldiers, their family members, and veterans. Over the next few days, I will post an interview with one person from each group.

Ashley is a stay at-home mom living in Enterprise. Originally from Tampa, Florida, she has moved all over the country with her husband, who is a now a lawyer for the Army (after time as a soldier). Our conversation covered familial sacrifice and avoiding political discussion.

Being married to a solider has changed her views on citizenship:

My views have changed in the last eight years because of my husband. I would’ve said I was a good citizen before I married Nick, but now I feel like it’s to a whole new level because I have to make a lot more sacrifices for our country. Now, I do feel like I can say I am a proud American because of what I’ve sacrificed.

The biggest sacrifice is familial:

I grew up with my mom, dad, and four sisters. I never had any desire to leave my hometown. We did family barbecues all the time. There was no reason for me to look outside that area; it had everything I needed.

Then I met Nick. I gave up my family. I gave up knowing everybody. I graduated college, got married two days later, and never went back. When we got married, we left and went to Texas. Thanksgivings and Christmas were now by ourselves. I went from having a huge family that I was a part of to having my husband be my family.

Being a military spouse has shown me he truly is my family. We’ve had to make each other family, as opposed to my parents, grandparents, and siblings. We moved here last July, and Holly and Chris (my hosts and another military family) had us over because I couldn’t get home. People like them are our new family.

What most citizens can’t understand:

I think most people are good citizens. But they don’t get the sacrifice.

Nick was deployed for fifteen months. He left October of 2007 and came home January of 2009. He missed two Thanksgivings and two Christmases. My sister was sitting there complaining about everything on Christmas. And I was so irritated because she was given this gift to be surrounded by everyone she loves. I was thinking how other people would give anything to have their loved ones here.

Most people don’t have the ability to understand it. When I move to new places, I have to fill out emergency contact cards for my kids at school that have three people in the area who the school can contact, which is hard when you don’t know anyone.

I think most people still honor American values, honor the flag, honor what our country stands for. But they don’t understand the sacrifices people are actually making.

She doesn’t talk about politics with people:

People can be so close minded when they’re passionate about something. One of the reasons I really didn’t do very much in the election is that I have my opinion, but it’s like, I don’t need to show it. I’m an educated woman, someone doesn’t need to cram something down my throat trying to change my ideas.

I don’t discuss politics with my husband. I just don’t want to know anyone’s politics. I’d rather see everybody for who they are, not who they vote for.

Her problem with how we talk about politics:

What I feel like happens in our country, especially around election time, people don’t tell you the good candidates will do. They point our the other side’s flaws. I want to see a candidate for how they’ll better tomorrow, not all the things wrong with them.

She tries to shield her son from the bad parts of American politics:

I wanted to shelter Andrew (my son) from all the candidate-bashing. When the majority speaks, that’s who’s President. When he saw people burning things down after the election, I was upset. I want him to understand you can make a change by not doing that.

There are also things Trump has said and done that are just horrific. So, we’d say to Andrew, our son, it’s not okay that Trump does this. We’d ask, what’s a better way to get our point a cross?

What it means to be an American:

I think it means working together for the greater good. I don’t feel like that’s happening right now; there’s a lot of division. I’d like to think that our forefathers when they wrote the Constitution, and when Betsy Ross sewed the flag, wanted unity. I think they wanted us to recognize how far we’ve come and work together to keep that work going.

Anybody who is passionate about something and wants to make change for the better is an exemplary citizen.

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Jennifer Chavez is the Executive Assistant to the Head of School at the Manzano Day School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An immigrant from the Philippines, she loves America and thinks opportunities are endless here. Our conversation covered gender, immigration, and America’s big problem.

Why she’s a good citizen:

I do believe I am a good citizen. I’m self-sufficient. I provide in the world. I don’t need a crutch to survive. I give to charities. I follow the rules and vote. I’m not a drain on society, which I think is a huge problem in America.


Her brother is an exemplary citizen:

I think my brother is an exemplary citizen. He came here from the Philippines and has served in multiple wars. He’s served through all kinds of different things. He’s disabled now, has strokes, but he still has full-time work and keeps his household. He’s proud, very proud to be an American. He’s not judgmental; he accepts differences.

Being a female citizen is quite different in the U.S. than the Philippines:

So much is different as a female in the Philippines. It’s really hard to be a female anywhere. But females are actually respected here (in the U.S.), for who we are and how we are. We’re asked opinions. We’re equal in that we’re not afraid of each other. I think a lot of men in other places are afraid of women. I have an education, I can get a job, go to the grocery store, vote. There, you can’t.

People often don’t realize she’s from the Philippines:

I’ve absolutely been confused as Mexican. I’m always asked, “What do you think as a Mexican?” I can be sarcastic about it. And that’s okay. People forget Americans all bleed the same even if they look different.

Someone told my husband, who’s darker than I am, “Trump was right about you Mexicans.”

Her thoughts on immigration:

It’s a tough question (about DACA recipients). But they’re here, and they’ve been here awhile. They deserve as much opportunity as the people who are born here. They’re taking opportunities Americans don’t want. They’re productive. It’s wrong that people want to take that way. They’re doing it!

They also shouldn’t take their parents away either. They’re improving themselves, their families, and society. There’s not a pediatric allergist here in New Mexico. So if an immigrant comes here who can do that, they’re saving lives.

We need a mindset shift:

We need to accept people for who they are and stop thinking we’re better than other people. We’re different, but we have the same common goal.

What she sees as America’s big problem:

I think we live in a sympathetic society, where we lack accountability. I think it’s very sad. It’s always someone else’s problem. People had a bad childhood, or a bad mom; people always have reasons why they aren’t productive And our society is so sympathetic, this is stroked. You can be this person who this happened to, and it’s okay, people will support you.

From a non-American point of view, as someone who came here from the Philippines, my mom came here to America to be all things she couldn’t be, to get all the things she wanted. She’s accountable for herself. No matter how tough it is, you have to become an adult, become productive.

I think that’s why a lot of people are coming to America. Americans aren’t using all this country has to offer, and we’re upset people are coming here taking it from us. But we aren’t using it.

Do and be all that you can be. My father and brother were in the service. I want them to be proud of all that I’ve done in this country. I want them not to feel like they came for nothing.

Her piece of advice to Americans:

Opportunities are endless. Open every single door. Figure it out. In America, you can do whatever you want.

What it means to be an American:

It’s such a privilege and an honor. I think the compassion people show when they come together is what I’m most proud of.

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Stan Hubbard is the Chairman and CEO of REELZ, a TV company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico that produced the Emmy award-winning show The Kennedys. A passionate conservative, he feels strongly that people on the coasts misjudge middle America and that all Americans should be able to pursue their own happiness.

American Politics:

The challenges facing American politics:

I think there are couple things that are (major) challenges to American politics. What Trump identified as the swamp  – there’s a monstrous bureaucracy that is looking out for its own interests. It sucks up a lot of resources: money, time, thought.

I think if someone else identified the swamp other than Trump, it’d be more universally accepted. If you look at city government, county government, state government, it’s a massive number. If you look at the percent of GDP that’s government spending, it keeps going up. The swamp is a drain, and it’s a life of its own.

It needs to be shut down. But elected officials are a part of it. Once you get elected, what’s your number one priority? To get reelected. There are exceptions to both sides of the aisle. But not many.

I’m in the media business. One of the challenges for this country is that national media is based on the eastern seaboard between Washington and New York. They act alike. They think alike. There’s a groupthink. A tremendous sort of fear of getting off the reservation. The groupthink isn’t healthy. Local TV and newspaper are a little different. People in New York have different priorities than people here in Albuquerque. The media think people disagree and get into stuff that they don’t.

How the government should spend its money:

I think the spending priorities should be what were the original priorities. It should be keeping the citizens safe. It should be creating infrastructure that allows people the flow of people and ideas. We should spend money on schools, but the running of them should be left to the states and communities.

We’ve added an awful lot to the responsibilities of the federal government. For every dollar the federal government takes from citizens, how much do you think it sucks off? The friction is unbelievable. There are a lot of retailers who won’t take American Express because of how much it charges. Think about how much New Mexico gives, just to get money back!

They put in this train that goes from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. If you drive, it takes an hour. If you take the train, it takes an hour and forty minutes, and then you have to take a shuttle to where you want to go! You wonder why the feds put in all this money, and then the state has to put it in. That money could’ve gone somewhere else.

The Kennedy’s:

On the ethics of producing TV focused on history:

The History Channel killed a show called The Kennedys because the Kennedy family didn’t want it to run. It was a fantastic show, with a great cast. Why did they kill it? I don’t know what it was. Our network, REELZ, picked it up.

I’ll give you a simple test (for how I measure historical TV). When we bought the Kennedy series, I made an offer subject to seeing all eight hours. I said my test would be simple:

If it’s an abomination of history, I don’t want it. If it’s Kennedy bashing, I don’t want it. If it’s bad TV, I don’t want it.

In general, when you talk to people about the miniseries, people take it seriously. George Kinnear, who played Jack Kennedy, said that then he put his cufflinks on, he felt the weight of history on his shoulders.

The Kennedy Family might be emblematic of America:

The show dealt with things that nobody argues in history. Whether it was the extramarital affairs, or Marilyn Monroe, or the drug use by Jack and Jackie, mixed in with that was the greatness of the family, the things they were able to get done despite themselves, the show captured that.

Maybe that’s the American story for all of us: we were able to achieve greatness despite ourselves.

Being an American:

He doesn’t see “middle America” as a place:

I think middle America is a mindset. It’s mainly in the middle of the country. But it can be in New York and California. There’s definitely an elitist view of middle America. I think there’s a sense from politicians that they have to look out for middle America because people can’t do it themselves.

The things he wants his children to know about this country:

I’d like them to understand the history and founding of this country and the Constitution. I’d like them to understand that the government gave us no rights. We gave it rights. Never forget that all rights are controlled by us, and the government only gets what we give them. And once you give the government something, it’s really hard to get it back.

I’d like them to understand the sacrifices people made before them. That could be the Founding Fathers, and the risks they took. That could be the soldiers and generals who gave their lives. The families who let the soldiers go to war. The sacrifices that immigrants and immigrant families made to come to this country. They did it because they either were facing immediate persecution or wanted a better future for their families. All of those sacrifices made this country what it is.

We should celebrate the pursuit of happiness:

Being an American means you are able to pursue happiness as you see fit, as long as you’re living within the laws, as long as you’re treating your neighborhood and communities fairly and respectfully. Other than that, it’s wide open.

Your pursuit of happiness is to get in a car and drive 8,000 miles. Someone else’s is to work a job that gets them home at 4:30 so that they can be with their family. Someone else’s is to make sacrifices to build a business, create jobs, and have vast wealth. Part of other people’s pursuit of happiness is to join the military and potentially make the ultimate sacrifice. Everyone has a different path. That’s how this country was founded. Everybody can do it their own way.

Since I was a young guy in business, I feel like we’ve seen a shift in the starting point. In the eighties, I was at a conference, and a guy from Europe told me that we’re lucky to be in America because you can do anything you want unless there’s a specific law inhibiting it. I asked how that was different from Europe. He said in Europe, you can only do something if there’s a law or rule allowing it. In the 30 years since that conversation, we’ve shifted way more toward the European model. You need permission to do anything in business now. It’s slowing our economy down. It’s held back a lot of entrepreneurs, especially small ones.

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Grange is a 28-year-old employee of Enterprise Rent-A-Car (and a kick boxing coach) living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Having grown up the son of an Army officer and as a devout Mormon, his perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the church and civic life were unique.

His good citizenship has limitations:

I have a pretty strong belief local elections are more important than national ones. But I’m a citizen of Colorado, not Utah, so I’m not as active as I could be. I often think I should move my citizenship to Utah so that I could be more involved in this community. On the other hand, my vote has more sway in Colorado, so I’ve left my vote there. It does impact my ability to be a good citizen, though.

His broad idea of citizenship:

Politics is a part of it. But citizenship is really about the impact you’re having on those around you.

How he thinks about political disagreement:

You can disagree with someone, but you can both be passionately helping the community.

I like to think about it this way. I feel passionately about helping the homeless population, so I put a little extra money into it every year. My family cares a lot about education, so they give a little extra to schools every year. Just because I want to support the homeless and they want to support education, just because we disagree with where we are putting our money, does that mean either of us has bad intentions? I don’t think so. We both want to help the community. We just have different ways of getting there.

How schools fail students:

A lot of time in schools we learn there are right answers and wrong answers. Students need to learn that people have different options, which is good so long as they’re thoughtful opinions.

What the Mormon church taught him:

The church attached a lot of importance to family and service. Growing up, I was a boy scout. At least one weekend a month I was volunteering. It instilled a sense of service, gave me good values. I’m still close with my family.

Why he left it:

For me, a big part of why I left related to wrestling with my sexuality. I’m gay, and there just weren’t a lot of options within the church. I explored the celibacy option. I told the church I wanted a family, but would go the celibacy route if I could work with the boy scouts or have a calling that worked with kids. I was told that because I had expressed feelings of attraction to men, I couldn’t do that. So for me, who grew up really valuing family because of the church, not being able to work with or have kids opened a lot of questions for me.

 He doesn’t think the church has an acceptance problem:

I do think the Mormon church is good right now about acceptance and embracing family members of the church. High members of the church are telling people not to shame kids and not to kick them out if they are gay. I don’t think that the church has a problem accepting. It just wasn’t the right fit for me.

His conflicted feelings about critiques of religion and religious people:

When I first left the church, I felt a lot of bitterness towards it. At first, it was easy to fall in with liberals who criticized the thing I was questioning. But it was hard. Most of my family is Mormon and LDS. I still think they’re great people, and I love them. Talking too negatively about the church bothers me because of that. While I agree with the critiques of the philosophy of Church, I had to draw a line when people began to say things like “all Mormons are crazy.”

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Jin is a senior at Harvard College, where he studies Molecular and Cellular Biology. Jin is an undocumented immigrant; his parents came here on a visa and over-stayed it. Our conversation covered how he has navigated being undocumented, the problems with the immigration debate, and how Harvard can better prepare its students as citizens. You can find more of Jin’s thoughts herehere and here.

Citizenship isn’t about papers. It’s about practices:

For a lot of people, citizenship is about papers. It’sa bout being a native-born U.S. citizen. For me, it’s not that. A lot of politicians say it’s not just about the papers that define citizenship. The question for me is, “Are you a part of the political union?”

I would say I am, because of the things I do. To me, you have to do things that demonstrate you’re a member of the country. I’ve done a bunch of things that show I want to do my part. One of the things I did until this year was direct a naturalization program that helped low-income people in Boston. It was called “Chinatown Citizenship.” People come to Harvard’s campus on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. We tutored them on how to pass the test. It’s practical, but we also engage with them on a more personal level. We want to understand the problems they face beyond the test.

The problems with the debate about immigration:

In the national conversation around immigration, we talk about it as a national security issue. Perfect example: “Secure the border.” Because we talk about immigration as a physical issue, it becomes associated with the Southern border. That’s why in people’s psyche they associate immigration with the people who came from Mexico and Latin America.

The immigration rights movement has also focused on a large, but limited part, of the demographic of immigrants. The media has not expanded the idea of the undocumented immigrant. People are seeing Mexican and Latin American immigrants over-and-over again.

People need to understand the truth. They need exposure to undocumented immigrants of all backgrounds.

The hardest parts of being undocumented:

It’s always hard because I can’t vote. I can’t participate in the political process. I can’t run for elected office. So, in some ways, the way I engage in civic life is my way of dealing with the fact that I don’t have political representation.

But there are more subtle ways it’s hard, too. I consider myself an American and a citizen. But if I went to some random place in the country, the idea that many people wouldn’t consider me to be a part of America, that they would be (questioning) whether I really belong here will always be something I have to dance around.

Why “illegal” doesn’t work to describe immigrants:

The first thing I’d say to people is let’s step away from the galley. The big problem a lot of people have with undocumented immigrants is we broke the law. And I get that. I agree with the rule of law. What I’m talking about is substantive legality – is it just to reject people who want to come here and make their lives and the country’s better? I want to change the conversation from whether people follow the laws to whether we have the right laws.

It’s really complicated. There are people who try to follow the law, come here legally on a visa, and then stay because of hard circumstances such as getting scammed by someone who would say they could help. The system doesn’t allow people to do this easily. I’m Korean, I’m undocumented. Your teacher, your doctor might be undocumented. We aren’t the caricature of the undocumented Mexican man crossing on a truck. Those people obviously exist. But it’s not a single story.

An “illegal” is not a thing. The idea of an illegal immigrant doesn’t make sense. When I was first told I was undocumented, I was called illegal, so I had an emotional response. Now, I think, “You don’t understand what you’re saying when you say that!” It’s not even a legally correct term. How can a person be illegal? A lot of people followed the law, over-stayed their visa, and committed a civil offense. It’s more similar to a civil offense like jaywalking than it is to committing a crime.

How things would change for him if he could be a legal citizen:

Everything would change. I would be able to get healthcare. I would be able to drive a car, vote, serve on a jury. All of these formal duties I want to be doing.

But I don’t think that my feeling of belonging would change. I have embraced the American ideals. I grew up here. From a subjective sense, not a lot would change. But so many people’s lives would change for the better with a pathway to citizenship. People could enter the job market more easily. That American promise – about creating a better future by working hard – is going unfulfilled for 11.5 million people. We would be better off if people had a pathway, because we would be living up to American ideals. It was one of our founding ideals.

But that’s just one part of the story. Our parents matter, too. Because they don’t offer as much economic benefit, they don’t get included in these conversations.

Whether Harvard is helpful to undocumented students:

If you talk to undocumented Harvard students, you’ll get a variety answers. My parents make less than the federal poverty line. So getting here and having Harvard pay for me is life-changing. It’s hard for me to say bad things about an institution that has changed the course of my life in a concrete way.

The students and faculty at Harvard are more supportive on this issue than I ever expected. My friends, peers, and professors are really supportive of me and understand that this is something I can’t control.

From an institutional sense, there are things that can be improved. There used to be a central administrator (and I think they’re hiring one now) who helps with undocumented students. But that’s not enough. Some schools in California have entire offices for undocumented students. It’s a space for all undocumented students to come and ask questions. We now have 85 undocumented students, so Harvard should think about creating more concrete resources like that.

How Harvard can better fulfill its mission to educate “citizens and citizen-leaders”:

We need to educate the “citizens and citizen-leaders for society.” That means you have to learn some things about how society does and should work! Harvard has the Gen-Ed system to do that. But it doesn’t function that way. I think Columbia does this a lot better. They have something called a core. They read the Western Cannon. People will complain about the cannon being white. But we can talk about that! Because Harvard has an amorphous thing that you can take what you want in, you don’t have to think about citizenship and society.

To accomplish that, we should have a required course, like expository writing. If you want to be a citizen and citizen-leader, you should have to tackle questions about society and your role in it.

What it means to be an American:

Being an American is understanding that there’s a challenge in your community, and doing something about it. But in addition, a big thing is that in America the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life. This idea of self-determination, that you’re the one who determines your destiny. That’s unique to America!

People don’t get it. When my parents moved here, after the South Korean financial crisis, they immediately thought of America. Why? People come here to build better lives. If we are Americans, we need to understand that people come here to improve their lives. We need to create laws and institutions that people are able to do that. That gets back to immigration. Most people came here to build better lives for themselves.

Obviously, the law is above everything else. But there’s a fundamental promise of America, that your race and gender shouldn’t determine your future. Are we allowing everyone that’s here to realize their goal, the real American goal of improving your life based on hard work, drive, and commitment?


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Michael is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies Economics and International Studies. A staunch conservative who has spent his whole life in liberal circles, he has a strong sense of the thing that matters most to him: individual freedom. Our conversation covered his intellectual inspirations and his criticisms of the left – namely the belief in state-created parity. Regardless of your feelings about Michael’s ideas, I would highly recommend reading this article he wrote in The Federalist about receiving death threats for an opinion article he wrote in high school. I think it highlights how things have gone wrong with public discourse.

How he has been involved in politics:

By my definition, of being in engaged with what’s happening in the country, by identifying what principles that created American, and trying to engage in national politics and local politics, I think I’m a pretty good citizen. I do a lot of writing. I’ve been writing for school papers and other publications since 9th grade. I’m pretty interested and dedicated to writing political stuff. That’s how I engage with those values.

I’ve been involved in some campaigning, and some activism. But I have more of the mind of a writer, someone who explains ideas, rather than someone who comes up with a clever way to get their message across. I could do more direct activism.

Whether he thinks his peers are good citizens:

Many can identify values that ought to be forwarded. And they fight for those values. But I’d argue that they aren’t values that correspond to the founding of America. In fact, they’re in direct contradiction to the values of America. The left and the right are not fighting for the same principles.

What he sees as the core values on the left and right:

The founding values of America – and the ones conservatives are fighting for – are based in the Enlightenment and the Old and New Testament. The best description is aspirational individualism. Fundamental to this ideal are the freedom of speech and to hold guns. The Declaration and Constitution are some of the best documents in terms of limiting government power and limiting control.

Our country has also been directed by basic moral principles from the bible. There’s no argument in the bible that a fetus is not a child. Why does the fetus in the 24th week all of a sudden become a child? Freedom of choice is often just an excuse to eliminate an undesirable class in society. Given the amount people cared about the Old and New Testament back then, the fact that the Bible says, “God knows you in the womb” should be a guide for us.

(On the other hand), the liberal ethic is mainly parody. Today’s left wants to see people in society be equal. That value is not inherently in contradiction to founding values. It’s not in contradiction to the founding to fight for civil rights. Now the terms have been co-opted, however. Now, there’s no difference between men and women. Now, there can’t be difference in interests between groups or a difference in talents between individuals. It’s not possible to consider from ethic of parody that people might not want the same things. It doesn’t grant the individual the freedom to pursue what they want.

There are limits to freedom:

There are limits to that freedom, though. You use your freedom to forward American values when you think the system is going astray. So to kneel for the flag, to cast aside the system for which you’re fighting, doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to abandon the system.

His thoughts on college activists:

College students are far more dangerous than white nationalists. The KKK is 2,000 members nationally (note: the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 5,000-8,000 registered members of the KKK). The people in Charlottesville had a permit. They have a right to march. College activists, though, don’t believe in free speech, and that’s the foundational civilization value. And recent polls show a lot of students feel this way.

How he thinks young Democrats could improve as citizens:

The average Democrat could be a better citizen by getting out of the echo chamber. I write these things, on the works of Rich Lowry, David French, and Heather McDonnell, and people are outraged as if they never hear these things. They read Salon and Slate. That’s what they base their views on. It’s difficult to have a debate with someone when your frames of reference are completely different. The average Democrat could add to their media consumption. But don’t watch Sean Hannity.

How young Republicans could improve as citizens:

The average young Republican is not a Trump acolyte. They should be careful with trolling. If you’re going to get liberals outraged, you shouldn’t border on being racist or misogynistic. People should focus more on ideas, especially since a lot of conservative ideas already are offensive to people.

The way our country should address its problems:

Maximizing the individual to the greatest extent possible is the best way to run society. The best way to fix issues in society, such as women being underrepresented on tech, is to focus on the individual. You don’t have to do mental gymnastics, or a massive intervention from the state. The left is out of ideas, so they cling to things that sound great but are divisive or unrealistic. The right has a chance to help individuals achieve their aspirations the best they can. Individuals are different and their aspirations are different, so we should’t try to make them all the same. Education is a great way to do this.

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Rain upon arrival:

As I entered Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota on my first day there, rain began to fall. It was slow rain, just enough to cover the windshield and make me turn on the windshield wipers, but not enough to stop me from seeing that I was entering a place completely different from anywhere I’d been. I saw the Rosebud Casino and the homes scattered around me, some cows in the distance and people walking along the highway. I knew immediately that these days would be informative. At the time, however, I didn’t know my time there would be a fundamental challenge to the very trip I’m undertaking.

Historical ignorance:

Growing up, I received the same education on indigenous people’s that I think many students do today. I heard about the way the Spanish massacred the first Americans; I read about the Trail of Tears; and then I learned nothing else. The Lakota, the Navajo, the Winnebago all faded into the backdrop of American history.

An education in Rosebud:

As a result, when I arrived in Rosebud, I didn’t know about the removal of indigenous children from their homes. I had heard of the Doctrine of Discovery, but didn’t know it was still relevant today. While studying history in college, I came to peace with much of America’s bloody history. I always thought that despite its flaws and failures, of which there are many, America has consistently come closer to living up to the world’s greatest ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But that thinking rests on the idea that we’ve made progress, that we’ve become more inclusive.

It became clear this week, that when it comes to tribes such as the Lakota, we have absolutely failed. Our government took children from homes based on the idea that they need to be “civilized.” In 2017, people use a modified n-word to describe students from the Lakota community. When it comes to indigenous people, the idea of being an American still depends on defining “America” in opposition to “indigenous,” rather than in a way that’s inclusive of those people.

Whether people would like to admit it or not, indigenous people have contributed in a fundamental way to the American founding. As Dwayne showed me, our Constitution was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy. Indigenous people created many of the crops that are crucial to American agriculture today. And indigenous people discovered the medical use for quinine.

But it’s not just their contributions to American life I was ignorant of. I also knew nothing about indigenous culture. Marianne explained that indigenous people valued and still value spirituality and family above all else. In that way, indigenous society was and is no different than Christian or Jewish America.

We are failing:

Despite all of these truths, I think people today sometimes have a historical stereotype of indigenous Americans that people held during the founding of the United States: they were savages, people unable to contribute or live peacefully. Although I think I didn’t hold this stereotype, I still didn’t reject it or disagree when people expressed it. Now, having spent time at Rosebud, I see just how wrong it is.

My time challenged me to think about what and who an American is. One student said to me that being an American is about “boundaries…between the reservation” and the rest of the country. If we continue to exclude and judge people who were so fundamentally important to all things good about our country, especially after massacring them and taking their land over several centuries, what does that say about us? About who we are? I don’t know.

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Dwayne Stenstrom is in charge of recruitment and retention at Sinte Gelska University. As my official host for the two days I was there, I had a chance to speak with him extensively about life on the Rosebud Reservation and at the university. Although I’ll write more about what I took away from my time on the reservation, I do want to say that it’s worth reading this interview in full. I suspect it’ll challenge your assumptions and understanding of the United States’ history and tribal culture. You can find the first two posts from my time in Rosebud here and here. You can also hear Dwayne talk about his experience growing up on NPR.

What it takes to be a good citizen:

I think one word that would sum it up is: be productive. Be a productive member of the environment you’re apart of. Do all that you can do to better the people around you.

Why he doesn’t vote in United States elections:

I guess in my world, I understand the concept of sovereignty and the makings of treaties. One of the things that I find is that if historically, if someone voted in a state or national election, it led to a conflict for the individual and the community. A treaty means two sovereign entities make a deal. So, I have my allegiance to my tribe first.

I’ve always felt that I had to be one or the other, either a tribal member or the citizen of the state. I always had to choose. I’m always going to be a tribal member. I dabble in the other world because I haven’t had a choice. Because of the experiences I’ve had over the years, I much prefer being a tribal member.

The American government wronged him and his family:

When I was eight years old, I was taken from my mother. And I was placed in a non-Indian home. At the time, I thought I would only be there for a few months. That few months transformed into twelve years.

I think about why all of that came to be. I don’t have any justification as to why they did that. It didn’t make sense to me back then, and it definitely doesn’t make sense to me today. One question I asked the government is whether there had been an adult male at home with me whether I would’ve been able to stay. The response I got was, “Yea, probably”. Ironically, I had two brothers who were serving in Vietnam. They would have qualified as adult males. But they weren’t in proximity because they were fighting for the country.

I did have an opportunity to reconnect with my mom ten years after I left her. We did have a little conversation about what went wrong. But I only got to know her for five months before she passed away. In a speech I gave in class, I talked about the little van that dropped me off. I kept waiting for it to come back. It never did.

Which is especially a problem, given the importance of family in tribal life:

I think what’s different between Native American culture and predominant American culture is the way people go about getting the basic things we all need. When I was in the home I was placed into when I was eight, I remember we went hunting one time and shot three dear. We had it processed at a meat locker. Their son came over later that week, and he was having a hard time and needed some help and some food. The dad basically said, “Get out there and make a living.”  And I was thinking, where I came from, it would’ve been different. We would’ve helped family and given food.

For example, one time, when I was still with my mom, I thought we were going to go somewhere on a trip. But then I saw my mom cooking, and was worried we weren’t going to get to go. But she told me she was cooking so that if someone stopped by, we could feed them. I still think about that till this day. Today, I lock my doors. When I was growing up we didn’t have to. My mom was going to leave food in our open house for anyone who needed it!

The things Americans need to know about tribal history:

One of the topics that is being talked about today is the Doctrine of Discovery (which allowed Christian conquerors to take all lands from non-Christians). When I started researching what that meant, I realized it did have a huge impact on the native community, and that it continues to today (the Vatican still has not rescinded the Doctrine).

Another part of history that has impacted me personally is the Indian Child Welfare Act (which was supposed to guarantee children would stay with their families). It’s still on the books, but it’s not used in a way that helps the community.

In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act was passed. States look at the act as superseding the Indian Child Welfare Act, even though it’s not supposed to. Kids are being taken off the reservations and adopted out into other communities. People now ignore the Indian Child Welfare Act.

My wife and I signed up to be foster parents ten years ago. We had to take a training course. About the fifth week, I became offended – why was a non-Indian person treating me how to be a parent to an Indian child? Never once during the training was the Indian Child Welfare Act brought up, except for when I brought it up. When my wife and I became foster parents, we got only one call, then never heard from them again. Meanwhile, they’re saying they need more Indian foster parents! To me it’s ridiculous what’s going on there.

How he’d like non-indigenous Americans to interact with tribes and reservations:

I’d want predominant Americans to engage with the tribal community with a willingness to understand. We don’t need anyone coming over here to fix us or save us. We need them to want to understand. We have a language and a way of life that has sustained us forever. We don’t need people coming over here telling us how it can be improved. Respect our culture for what it is.

What he wants for people on reservations:

I guess awareness. People need to understand our true history. It’s not really talked about here. I teach general psychology, and I try to incorporate a lot of Native American thought into my classes. What I’m finding is that a lot of people are unaware of a lot ideas and teachings that should have been passed down generationally. But because the education system doesn’t talk about tribal history (since schools are run by the South Dakota government), our own people doesn’t see it as a priority.

Also, we need to have more self-responsibility. People here have to let themselves know that it’s okay to be who they are. We don’t have a lot of choices today on this reservation. This reservation has something like 85% of unemployment. A lot of people feel like there’s not really stuff for them to do. When I go out and cut wood, I cut wood for a lot of different people. If people knew that doing that chore would have value to a lot of other people, it would make workers feel better about themselves. A lot of people have the mentality of, “Why bother?” That mentality isn’t just around here. It seems like a lot of people have just given up.

It’s important for us to believe. We’re going to have our trials and tribulations. But it’s how we respond. At one point in my life, I gave up. I remembered something my grandfather told me: “Never blame anyone for the circumstance you find yourself in. Take responsibility for all that you do because once you start blaming, people have power over you.” I didn’t see myself as spiritual back then. When he was able to remind me of where I came from, I was able to see how the experiences I had made me the person I am today.

A story on the power of optimism:

I try to put it into a positive perspective, because the negative side of me is too negative. One of my favorite stories is about two boys. There’s a boy who’s pessimistic, thinks life will be terrible. They put him on a chair in the middle of a bunch of toys. They told him he could have whatever he wanted and then left for an hour. When they came back, he hadn’t moved. They asked him, “Why didn’t you play with anything?” He said, “I’m afraid I was going to break something.”

The next boy is an optimist. They take him to a room and put him in a chair, too. But surrounding him is manure. They tell him to have all the fun he wants and leave for an hour. When they get back, the boy is sitting in the corner and throwing the manure up in the air. They ask, “What are you doing?!” He said, “With all of this stuff in here, there’s bound to be a pony somewhere.”

The four values he lives by:

My grandfather had four values: Spiritual, Social, Political, Economic. He said always look at them in that order. I’m always grateful I have another day. I don’t have any guarantees that tomorrow will come. So I try to make my day as positive as I can. I also have a resource where I can go to and talk about the problems in my life. All of those things are a part of spirituality. By remembering everything you’ve been through, that’s what can keep you going.

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This post is the second in a four-part series on my time at Sinte Gleska University (the first part is here). Marianne is a counselor there and lives in the Two Strike Community. Our conversation covered the relationship between the government and the Lakota, racism towards the Lakota, and how the Lakota are spiritual people.

The Lakota Way:

I respect myself. I respect others. And that’s the Lakota way. If you respect yourself and everything around you, you’re okay. That’s common sense. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Don’t talk down to someone. You do that, you’re a good citizen.

The biggest challenges facing the Lakota community:

The biggest challenge right now is the lack of respect for each other. That has a lot to do with drugs and alcohol that young people are using.

The parents are also not being parents. Another thing I see that is a big problem is technology. I go to the hospital, and mothers are sitting on their Facebook as their kids are running around and creating havoc. It’s addictive. I see it all the time. They’re constantly on it. Maybe they get away from it for twenty minutes. But then they go back to it. I see that in the future as one of the biggest problems.

The relationship with South Dakota’s government isn’t a good one:

The state (of South Dakota) has control over us because of the children. The food stamp program and others like it, the state runs. Our young people have to answer to the state if they want food stamps for their kids. The tribe used to control that at one time, it’d be great to have that again. But we don’t allow state patrol onto our reservations. They can’t come arrest us. One time I asked the store owners why we don’t have the federal lotteries here, then the state patrol can come over. We still fight for our jurisdiction. Our reservation used to be huge. The state gradually took it, though.

The relationship with the U.S. government is complicated:

The U.S. government has been in our lives as long as I can remember. Since they arrived, they’ve controlled us. But we now aren’t able to stand on our own two feet. This university is run by government money. Our hospital is federally funded. IHS is federally funded. Our school – St. Francis Indian School – is federally funded, and the other local school is state-run. The federal money is what makes this reservation moved. Almost all employment, except for the few stores, are all federally funded.

The government is obligated to help us. From their taking all the land, the treaties we made, they have to look out for our health. I want them to upgrade the hospital. Better education, too. I want the government to stand up to its commitment. They’re doing a half-assed job. They trickle the money down – “here’s this much” and by the time it comes down here, it’s minimal. Most of it goes to administration. The administration will tell us “next year’s money is already spent” because of helicopters and planes.

The Lakota face intense racism in South Dakota:

We are treated differently from the non-indigenous people. It’s about race. South Dakota is racist. It’s like Alabama. What black people suffer through down there, we go through here.

Our sports teams will go play places east of here, and the football team will sit in the crowd and say to our girls volleyball team, “Go home you perri n******.” That’s still happening here.

We’re both citizens, but they don’t care. It’s who we are. And it’s getting worse. With Trump saying it’s okay to act this way, okay to belittle someone with darker skin, it’s okay to march with the Nazi flags, I tell my kids, “Be careful when they go off to Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Don’t aggrevate people; you don’t know what they’ll do.”

In Rapid City, they shoot Natives, then ask questions, just like what happens to black people back east.

The great historical misconception about the Lakota:

That we were and are caring people. We weren’t savage and ruthless. Kinship meant a lot to us, and still does today. We cared about everyone around us. I wish that people off the reservation understood how we were.

Being spiritual was key to their way of life:

We were spiritual people. We had the inipi. They did that every day, the men. They went in and prayed their frustrations out. We pray in everything we do. When we have meetings or powwows, we pray. We looked out for each other. For the orphans and widows and old people. We were a caring tribe. We had vision quests. Sun dances. These ceremonies meant a lot to the families.

There was a certain time – when a girl came of age – and she’d be out in a teepee by herself for a week. The mother and grandmother would feed her and taught her how to be a young lady. She learned how to make moccasins and dresses. That’s one of the ceremonies we don’t do, and I think that’s why our young girls are lost.

Young men, when they were 12, had vision quests. They’d go pray for four days and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.

We also had and have the hunka. We can take someone into the family. If someone feels like a brother, and you’ve lost someone, you can welcome someone to be like your brother. A girl can do that for her sister. A mother with her son.

The proper way to refer to her heritage:

I want to be called Sicangu Lakota. That’s who I really am. It’s one of the seven council fires. If referring to the tribes in general, I think “indigenous” is the best word. But people should refer to people properly and specifically. We’re referred to as Sioux’s! That’s the name the French gave us. It means snake people! We have to get that out of the books.

How people can better treat the Lakota and other tribal groups:

We were treated like less than human for the longest time. Even in the Declaration of Independence, we’re still referred to as “savage.” It’s hard.

(So) treat us with more dignity and respect. The president did a lot of harm. We worked a long ways to get racism out of people, even with us towards white people. We spent a lot of time with Valentine people, learning how to treat us with dignity and respect. Now people in Valentine feel like they can treat us ugly again. Now they feel like they can push me in the store, and if I say anything, they threaten to call the cops. I don’t know which white person to talk to in Valentine anymore. I just do my business and leave. It shouldn’t be that way.

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