This blog is a continuation of the Native Americans at G.C.C. blog series. The purpose of this blog series is to share what I learn about Native American culture as I talk to some Native American students at G.C.C.
Rochelle Hill is a business administration major who, like JoVanni, is part of the Seneca Nation.
Rochelle and I spoke in the library about her experiences growing up as a Native American and her opinions on where Native Americans stand today. She is intelligent, kind, and open minded, yet passionate about historical events and has a deep desire to see her fellow brethren and family thrive.
Q. Where are you from?
A. The Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. Most Native Americans will agree that the term Indian is pretty offensive. Personally, I don’t understand why we still use it.
Q. How do you feel about America’s history and how do you find your place in America today?
A. My co-worker put it quite bluntly once. He said “If you think about it, your ancestors kind of took one for the team and now you get all these benefits”. Of course I was offended…people think that just because you’re Native American you get all this free stuff. The government only gives us all these benefits because they feel guilty and like they owe us something.
I wish they’d teach middle school and high school students about the truth. Teach them that we used to cover this whole land and now we just have these small reservations.
Q. Have there been any great strides for Native Americans that you can look up to?
A. Definitely. Hearing that a Native Am. woman is working in a hospital delivering babies of her own kind reminds me that we’re making it and that we all don’t have to be stuck on the res. A common goal for us is not to be stuck there. That’s become the stereotype. Native American’s being thought of as alcoholics who can’t keep their kids. A res is all trailers and it seems like no one ever leaves.
I’m proud of myself for being here at school, and living off the res. I’m trying to get a job and make something of myself.
Q. I didn’t know about all of the stereotypes. I think it’s because I grew up in New York City. Do you think most Native Americans live on reservations?
A. Most of my family lives on one reservation, and some live on another. I don’t want to live on a res, I want to make it out. Yes, there is free housing, electricity and water but I think that’s the reason why most people don’t leave. It’s that mentality of being spoiled, and being comfortable with having things handed to you because the government feels an obligation.
Q. Do you feel reservations should be expanded?
A. Part of me says yes, but the other part says “Why are there still reservations?” Why are we so separate? It’s 2016 and we’re so segregated. Some think it’s a good thing to remain separate and hold onto our power and sovereignty. But we still need the government for help. We can’t do everything on our own. We are not free standing. Some Natives will mark “no” on government forms that ask if you are an American Citizen, but then you have to send in documents that were never provided to us, so some of us mark “yes” just to make it easier. That separation of nationality isn’t fully there.
Q. If you were in the White House what changes would you make?
A. That’s difficult to think about. I’ve never thought about that. I’d want to see Native Americans become more united with American life. The reservations can stay as a choice. Native Americans should have communities but they shouldn’t be as isolated as they are now.
Q. When was the first time that you learned about Native American history?
A. It was in high school but it wasn’t from my teachers, it was from my dad. The genocide of Native Americans was not taught in my high school or my friends school. We learned about the Holocaust and about things that happened in other places but not about what happened here. One day my father sat me down and asked me what I was learning in high school and when he saw that I wasn’t learning about it, he sat me down and said “You should know that being a Native American means this”. And he told me.
Q. Wow! Did you go to a high school on the reservation? Did you have Native American teachers?
A. There is no education on the reservation. We go to a high school off the reservation. There was one Native American teacher. He taught the Seneca Nation language course, and it was an elective. The only people who took it were like Native American students, probably because we felt obligated. No one is mandated to learn about Native American history. You can feel or believe how you want about it, but we shouldn’t wait until secondary school to teach the truth.
Q. What is life on the res like?
A. Crime, someone stealing your car. Drugs, trailers, everything you think of. I don’t think anyone strives to live on the res, people want to leave, it’s not a place people want to visit. Girls have children young and then get them taken away, and a lot of young people don’t graduate high school. That’s become the norm. I don’t like that.
Q. It sounds like growing up in the hood. Are there any programs in place to help motivate people to do better?
A. Community groups help. They talk to people individually, and then they bring groups of people together to talk. But people have to want to try.
Q. What is your major and career goals?
A. My major is business administration and I want to do something along the lines of real estate or car sales.
Q. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A. California, with mountains and the sunshine. But I’d want to take my family with me, I don’t want to leave them on the res.
Q. Would you be encouraged if you saw a population of Native Americans who did not live on a reservation?
A. Definitely. It would remind me that we’re making it. We’re doing more with ourselves, we’re progressing.
Q. Any parting words?
A. Regardless of what’s happened based on the action of others, and regardless of your nationality, it’s fine to go out and make something of yourself. Just because it is happening to others, it doesn’t have to be you too. That’s why I’m here.