by Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. Chairman
Today, the National Indian Gaming Association celebrates and honors the strength and perseverance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, more than any time in recent history – we must heed his words, follow his example, and unite to achieve King’s 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.”
While his work in the years immediately following the “I Have a Dream” speech spurred Congress to enact groundbreaking Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, our Nation has significant work ahead to truly achieve this Dream.
While it seems as if we have taken steps backwards over the last four years, we cannot let that deter from the work over the last 50 years that people of all colors have achieved. We will not go backwards but continue that forward progress that so many leaders like Dr. King have fought so hard for. . From the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to the January 6, 2021 domestic terror attack on the United States Capitol, America has entered one of the darkest chapters of racial injustice in our history.
Our Nation is shaken, but we will not be deterred.
Now more than ever, Native Americans must walk with Dr. King’s energy as a forgiving and peaceful but determined advocate for justice and equality. In the face of the hatred that seized the Capitol, we must heed the words from his book, Strength to Love: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Dr. King taught us all to stand united in the face of injustice. He knew that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” At a time when many in Indian Country still lacked the ability to exercise their voting rights, Dr. King stood with us—forcing all Americans to confront the past and the truth. In his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” writing about the origins of racism in America, King wrote the following:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
As Native Americans, we honor and revere Dr. King for his commitment to justice for all Americans. As a people, we must continue to be committed to standing firm, in non-violence, as we face the challenges ahead.
To be sure, we have much hope to build on. In the past year, men and women of all races, colors, and creeds marched in unity with the Black Lives Matter movement to protest the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery – a black man killed for simply jogging in his neighborhood.
On November 3, 2020, we took heed of Dr. King’s words by showing up at the polls in record numbers, honoring King’s work, as well as the work of our ancestors, to secure voting rights for all Americans. We did this despite continued attempts to suppress our votes and in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, we ushered in leadership change at all government levels and are making history with our first female of color, Vice President Kamala Harris.
In the face of the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead, we remain inspired by Dr. King’s words that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” This week, as we prepare to inaugurate the historic Biden-Harris Administration, we must remain focused on safeguarding and building on Dr. King’s victories, from securing voting rights and workers’ rights to expanding the promise of civil rights for all.
The National Indian Gaming Association commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his example as a peaceful yet assertive advocate for equality. We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his commitment to civil rights from all walks of life. Let us all continue to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice and achieving Dr. King’s Dream, and continue to ensure that all indigenous peoples’ cultures, customs, language, and ways of life are honored and respected.