Are Cultures Nations?

Last week I read Jill Barcum’s commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I noticed she used the word nation for cultures that exist in the United States. Why is this remarkable?  In this talk of nations in the United States, where are the actual nations? Examples include the Dakota, Ojibwe and Cherokee to name a few. This is my response to the commentary and a portion of it was published on February 17, 2013:

It was with great anticipation that I read Jill Burcum’s article, The United States- A Nation of Nations. Instead I became saddened that her commentary focused only on one group of people in the United States- the descendants of the European immigrants and settlers. Ms. Burcum’s commentary is based on a larger text called American Nations which I have not read.

With all due respect to the writer and intent, I believe the article contributes to a false and one-sided narrative of our country. It is also an example of how we are all miseducated about the truth of who we are. Case in point- The only nations within the United States are the Dakota, Ojibwe (Anishinabe), Hochunk, Oneida and many others. Nations are sovereign entities that can create treaties and govern their people. Cultures do not. Nationalities do not. Folkways do not.

The groups outlined in the article-Yankeedom, midlands and the like are contemporary mashups of regions, culture and folkways. They are not nations. This commentary perpetuates the myth to us, our community, our children and new immigrants that the USA is only comprised of white people and only their cultural aspects are important. Yes, I do agree with Ms. Barcum’s statement that we have “multiple regional cultures in North America” but they do not make virtual nations within our union.  Only indigenous nations have that right.

The cultures that make us mighty are African American, Dakota, Ojibwe, Japanese American, Chinese American, Mexican American, and, yes, European American in addition to many more. Acknowledging and validating this reality gives us strength. Each cultural group contributes to the dominant American culture through the vitality of their cultural beliefs, practices and traditions. In fact, we have many sub- cultures in Minnesota such as Ojibwe (Anishinabe), Norwegian, Dakota, Swedish, African American cultures for example.

The overall commentary leaves the rest of the United States out of the United States. It begs the question as we move to 2040- who is an American and how will we work together to change the narrative from myth to the truth of who we are as Americans?

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