Last week, President Trump told four of my colleagues to “go back” to where they came from — even though all are American citizens, and only one is an immigrant. But Mr. Trump has somewhere to “go back” to as well: He is a second-generation American. For Native Americans like myself, his comments are perplexing and wrongheaded.
If anyone can say “go back,” it’s Native Americans. My Pueblo ancestors, despite being targeted at every juncture — despite facing famine and drought — still inhabit this country today. But indigenous people aren’t asking anyone to go back to where they came from.
When I heard the chilling, hate-filled chants coming from the president’s rally the other night, I thought about my fight in a committee hearing, earlier that day, to protect my ancestral homeland of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The Bureau of Land Management plans to sell leases in the area for fossil fuel extraction.
In the late 1200s, my Pueblo ancestors migrated to the Rio Grande Valley from the areas of Chaco Canyon, Bears Ears, Mesa Verde, Grand Staircase Escalante and other places. I want to protect these sacred sites for future generations and against this administration’s policies that put profits over people. This administration has put a premium on leasing federal land to oil companies and neglects to consider the impacts on sacred cultural sites.
For thousands of years, the Pueblo people have inhabited this continent. We developed food sources and a strong agricultural tradition, and we perfected rock and adobe architecture. Without Native American knowledge, experience and intelligence, many Europeans would not have survived their first winter.
This is the first time in history that someone like me has a platform in Congress to give this perspective. This year, I joined Sharice Davids of Kansas as the first two Native American women elected to Congress. The resilience of our communities and our drive to protect our culture is the reason we believe that everyone has a right to be here.
The fact that the president claims this country as his own and wants to keep everyone in their place proves that he doesn’t understand his place. I question the standing of anyone who would call to send my sisters and colleagues — Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib — or any other American “back.” As a 35th-generation New Mexican and a descendant of the original inhabitants of this continent, I say that the promise of our country is for everyone to find success, pursue happiness and live lives of equality. This is the Pueblo way. It’s the American way.
Those laying exclusive claim to the American dream lack a clear understanding of this country’s history. The tenets of my cultural teachings are rooted in our commitment to lift up every community member so that no one is left behind. Work and food were shared equally. Through our commitment to community, we care about children, even when they aren’t ours, and we want our old folks, and yours, to live their last days in dignity and comfort. As a member of Congress, I work to ensure that I live up to my ancestors’ legacy.
Indian policy throughout history was meant to exterminate us, but we are still here. This administration’s policies are reminiscent of the darkest days of our history: when the government took Native American children from their parents and put them in boarding schools and forced Japanese immigrants into internment camps. This is an administration that separates and cages children and asylum seekers and bars people from coming to our country and serving in our military based on who they are or how they worship. Racism and bigotry should never fuel any administration’s policies. Calls to send anyone “back” contradict who we should be as a country and the ideals for which we stand.
The president’s tweets and words matter. It’s on all of us to call out what is pure hate and racism and stand up for one another. There is no moral high ground from which President Trump or any of his followers can tell anyone to leave this country, because they are not the first inhabitants of this land. They should instead look into their history to learn where, when and why their ancestors came to this country.
There is space for everyone here — we must look back to our Native American history to remember that.
Deb Haaland is a Democratic representative from New Mexico.