GUEST OPINION: Righting Ancient Wrongs

By on June 21, 2017

Why Chief Washakie should have a place in town hall over Trump and Pence.

Chief Washakie

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I am an immigrant from Zimbabwe. When I became a US citizen in the fall of 2000, the man who swore us motley crew of new Americans into this country—the dentist in Kemmerer, Wyoming,—acknowledged that although in his opinion the US was the greatest nation on earth, it was we, the fresh waves of immigrants who arrive annually, who give this nation its immune system.

“Our gift to you is freedom. Your gift to us is your hunger. Keep your hunger,” he told us on that incredible day. “Whatever hunger for freedom it was that brought you here—a search for political freedom, the freedom to make a living, the freedom to worship as you so wish or the freedom to speak your mind—don’t ever let anyone take that hunger from you because that hunger will lead all of us to freedom.”

From the age of 2 to 18, I lived under four different dictatorships in countries in southern and central Africa and on the literal front lines of the wars and genocides those dictatorships precipitated. The four dictators differed in their particulars. Two were right wing and underwritten by the racial capitalism of South Africa; two were left-wing and supported by China and Russia. But what they shared was a cult of personality and a rabid insistence that their portrait hang everywhere you look, from schools to airports to town halls to clinics. In some cases, the cult of personality reached such a pitch that it was a crime punishable by imprisonment to tamper with a president’s portrait even if that portrait was on the page of a newspaper.

Thank God, this is not that nation.

Our mayor, Pete Muldoon, has taken a courageous stand for freedom that I as an immigrant from countries ruined by dictatorships can applaud. His stand against federal overreach bolsters our freedoms, not diminishes it. This is a return to local power in its most organic form. It is also—let’s not pretend otherwise—a stand against a president who ran on a platform of outright xenophobia, misogyny and a deep disrespect for our immigrant population.

For those who argue that the removal of President Trump’s and Vice-President Pence’s portrait will have an economic impact on this town’s tourism dollars, that argument corroborates my belief that we blindly exist in a system of unapologetic racial capitalism. That perspective assumes all tourist dollars are white, and that whites will be upset by the removal of the portrait of a president who has unapologetically privileged white, male power.

Are we really afraid that white tourists will spend their money in a white supremacist theme park in Idaho just because we took down Trump’s portrait from the town hall in Jackson Hole, Wyoming?

At no other time—from the management of wolves to a woman’s right to an abortion—has Wyoming’s right wing taken such a pro-federal stand. At no other time have our state’s Republicans gotten so exercised about the potential loss of federal dollars. (I thought my august colleagues on the right were against federal dollars and federal government overreach?) Chief Washakie’s as old a local as you can get. And he’s purely bi-partisan—he died before Native Americans were officially made citizens of the US. But for those who are feeling their whiteness in attack, it should be noted that against his own people’s best interest, Chief Washakie was, very notably, a friend to the white settler.

It is an irony unknown by most white Americans that our Native American brothers and sisters have fought with distinction in every war for the last 200 years on the side of the US military and in higher numbers per demographic than any other ethnic group in the nation, though more than 500 treaties between the US government and sovereign native nations remain broken. They know what active service is. That’s more than can be said for all the presidents of this nation since George H. W. Bush.

By choosing Chief Washakie’s portrait for our town hall, we recognize and begin to redress an ancient wrong. We also take a stand against federal overreach and the unfortunate impression that we are a white-friendly tourist destination, unfriendly to people of color. PJH

Alexandra Fuller is a New York Times bestselling author and for 17 years, a frequent contributor to National Geographic Magazine.

About Alexandra Fuller

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