Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Live blogging from the New England Regional Minority Health Conference

Okay, not really live. I didn't get a chance to post until the end of the day, mostly because I've been presenting and otherwise had work to do. There was also the embarassing episode when I spent a half an hour after lunch looking for my vehicle in the parking garage. We are, to be excessively exact, located in the Mashuntucket Pequot Tribal Nation, more appropriately identified as a vast gambling casino complex stuck in the middle of woods and farmland in eastern Connecticut.

I will talk about the conference and the many important issues we've been discussing here, but first I want to say something about this bizarre place. The Mashuntucket Pequot had nearly disappeared -- there were no more than a couple of dozen people who even thought of themselves as Pequots, and even that was only on occasion, I think, although they will be quite annoyed if they read this. Butonce they gained federal recognition, and then the right to build this fantasy land, they had something of a revival of identity, if not culture. Whether people can truly reconnect with folkways, community, and history so thoroughly lost is questionable, anyway. Maybe it is not impossible.

But in any event, the "Indianness" of this place is transparently phony. Actually, to my outsider's eye it's offensive, bordering on the sarcastic. A giant quartz glass sculpture of a man with herculean proportions, dressed in a deerskin loincloth, aiming an arrow into the sky. That sort of nonsense. Even worse, "Wampum Rewards," free stuff you earn for losing 50 times as much money in the slot machines. Waitresses with a feather sticking up from the back of their head.

But, I gotta admit, these folks who used to live in a broken down trailer park are doing great now, raking it in from all these fools. This is the most absurd and inappropriate way of making reparations for the holocaust the English perpetrated on the indigenous people here. Most Native American groups get nothing -- including some of the most historically continuous, cohesive and needy groups, such as the Navajo -- while a random sample of groups, most with little cultural continuity or identity, get rich. And we do it at great social cost, with a lot of people coming out here and losing their retirement savings, kids college fund, and marriages. But the state depends on their cut now, so it won't go away.

This is no place for a curmudgeon.

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