A Letter From Our Founder
Dylan O. Baca
A Letter From Our Founder
Our Constitution is a living document and embedded deep in its core are the ideals of equality, liberty and justice. While the words our founding fathers used were narrow in scope, it is the way we choose to define who “we the people” are so we can all work to build a “more perfect union.” I have come to the conclusion that to be or to become an American, a person does not have to be of any particular background. All we have to do is to commit ourselves to the ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism. Thus the universalist ideological character of American nationality means that it is open to anyone who is willing to become an American.
As a nation and global community, we face many challenges and we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that though we may have different stories, we hold common hopes. We might not all look the same or have come from the same places but we all want to move in the same direction towards a better future for generations to come. While the words “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union,” were signed into practice in the summer of 1787, they were left stained and ultimately unfinished by this nation’s original sin of genocide and slavery. However, embedded within the framework of our Constitution is the ideal of equal citizenship under the law, the promise of liberty and justice for all people, and a union that could and should be perfected over time. Words on paper would prove not to be enough to provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans and their successive generations who would be willing to do their part through protest and strife, both on the streets and within the corridors of power. It has always been a great risk to narrow the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our time. To continue the work of those who came before us—and to continue the work for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring, and more prosperous America.
The lack of opportunity, infrastructure, and heightened suicide and poverty rates have been key indicators of just how much assimilation and oppression have and continue to affect tribal communities. My late great-grandmother, or as I called her Big Sister lived to be 97 years old. Her lifetime has served as an example and reason why I founded the Initiative in the spring of 2019 alongside Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai. When I was little, I would often go to Cibecue Arizona on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where my mother’s side of the family is from. On one particularly hot summer day, Big Sister and I were walking under a tall walnut tree. Adjacent to the tree was an archaeological site; I remember when it would rain it would unearth pottery, beads, and tools. As we walked, my great-grandmother picked up a beautiful black and white pottery piece and handed it to me and closed my hand. When she gave it to me, she said, “Never forget where you come from.”
Big Sister was a quiet hero — like many people. They are not known, their names are not in the news, but each and every day they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children and grandchildren. They are not seeking the limelight — all they try to do is the right thing. As a result of my great-grandmother’s influence and seeing my community be disempowered, I started the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative to be an advocate for underrepresented communities.
Big Sister’s example is what pushes our work forward. It is my hope that as we reflect back as an organization, the work of the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative hopefully helped Indian country and our nation; that our work was in alignment with my great-grandmother’s canon, to “never forget where we come from,” and use it as a driving force in our work to seek out change to benefit all people.
Our generation we face above all are moral issues; at stake are not just the details of policy but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our nation. I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.
James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
When historians sit down and pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let it be our generation, who laid down the heavy burden of hate and let peace triumph over violence and hatred. Let it be our generation who worked to create a society built on the ideas of equality, peace, and unity. This country born of change, this country born of revolution and this country of “We the people”. This country is great and can be better. We must be mindful that our work is not yet done. Mindful that we are going through but another checkpoint on our common journey toward a stronger and more unified America. Native American cultures are not dead, and our civilizations have not been destroyed. Our present tense is evolving rapidly and creatively as everyone else’s.
Dylan O. Baca