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Plenary Session I
Breaking the Cycle of Violence in Indian Country for Future Generations
Larry Echohawk, J.D.
"I would like to offer a unique perspective on diversity and understanding, reaching back to my roots as a Native American." Thus Larry Echohawk began a profound and deeply moving story of his family and his tribe, their suffering and decimation at the hands of white settlers, their forced relocation from the plains of Nebraska to the deserts of New Mexico, their alienation from the places of their ancestors and their traditional ways of life. He told of the divisiveness of the school system, the humiliation endured by the native peoples, and the downward spiral of alcoholism and abuse. "But," Echohawk stated, "out of that pain was born promise."
Echohawk heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was 15 years old:
I have a dream — a dream deeply rooted in the American dream, that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal" . . . . I have a dream that my . . . children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
"I believe in America," Echohawk continued. "An America that says that regardless of who you are—your race, your religion, your ethnic background, your economic status—this must be a land of opportunity for all people."
"But I have seen that this promise is not realized for many, many people," Echohawk stated. "Too many people live in poverty—especially in Indian country. And where there is poverty, there is despair. And where there is despair, there is alcohol and substance abuse. And where there is substance abuse, there is domestic violence, and the abuse and neglect of children."
What can we do to break this cycle? "There is hope," Echohawk affirmed. "I have seen what was, but I can see very clearly what we can all become. We must not blame—we must take responsibility. We must join together in learning and find solutions. We must work for positive change by building on diverse backgrounds and diverse cultures."
In closing, Echohawk encouraged each of us to leave the world a better place for the generations that will follow. "You have the power to change," he stated. "I challenge you to embrace these diverse cultures, to embrace each other. Join together, stop the pain, and bring forth the promise."