With about an hour left until it is September 11 once again, and trying to come out of the political freak-out that's happening on all sides right now, my parents reminded me of two of the main reasons why this election is so important. They are both very directly related to Alaska Native culture, issues, and people. They are both very directly related to the huge issues happening in American right now.
They are both my cousins.
The oldest of these cousins is trying to figure out all he needs to take care of before he heads off on his third tour in Iraq with the Marines. He will leave his young son once again to fight a war I am still grasping at straws to understand - or at least understand its justification. Why are we still in Iraq, and why does my cousin have to go again?
I grew up with this cousin, and at one time we (my older sister, cousin and I) believed all of us were brother and sisters. We sat in front of my grandparents door, announcing "He's our brother!" and "We're his sisters!" to all who entered. I remember being particularly elated that he, the "cool" cousin that could lip-synch George Michael songs, and a whole year older, would finally be living with us, not just spending the night.
I also remember being sorely disappointed that we were a bit confused.
The other cousin is much younger than I. I "babysat" him occasionally, and he quickly became a "favorite" cousin of mine when he asked me, in all seriousness, if I knew everything.
He graduates from basic training tomorrow, September 11, and will be heading to Iraq soon after that with the Army. At some level, it is harder for me to imagine this cousin in Iraq. My older cousin, after all, had a bit of "hero" status growing up, being "so much" older than I. He was always tough, always stuck up for (if he wasn't the one teasing) the other cousins.
But my younger cousin - he's so young! It was only about two seconds ago he was playing with my brother in my grandparents yard. Why on Earth does this young man need to go and risk his life for a war we shouldn't be in?
For that matter, why are we arguing about lipstick while this is still going on?
My point is not to make victims out of my two, strong Alaska Native cousins. They are anything but victims. They entered into service willingly, and I think very bravely. But how can we, as a country, take their gift lightly, or pettily?
I may have been one to take this less seriously, if it had not been for the events of seven years ago. September 11 changed the view of many, and I was certainly one of them. On September 10, just a year out of high school, I thought the military was a big waste of money. Just a few hours into September 11, I saw how very wrong I was.
But this is not a reason to use our military - not an impartial "force", but real men and women - recklessly. It was JFK, after all, who cautioned us both on restraint, and the need to act if neccessary during the Cuban Missile Crisis:
"We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced."
My point is this - on the eve of September 11, I cannot remain "partisan." What we have before us is too important, is too close to what I care about to pretend that I can ever support something I fundamentally believe to be heading us even further down a path in which more lives are recklessly lost, more lives are sunk into poverty, more lives are not seen as lives, but as numbers. Or worse yet, not seen at all.
For Alaska Native and American Indian people, not being seen at all can be an even more poignantly painful reality of generations past - with a fear of generations to come. Not being seen by the government, not being remembered by politicians, not viewed as important enough to bother with - this policy of ignorance has hurt far more than outright hate or physical injury ever has, or ever will. When I think about what I want for the future, I care about the economy and whether or not I will have a job in a few years. I care about education, and health care, and subsistence and other Native issues.
But if I ever find myself slipping into the ridiculousness of lipstick arguments and who is wearing what - and I have certainly been guilty of it all too frequently - it takes two things to remind me of what is really so important about this election.
They are both my cousins.
I see them for the brave and precious men that they are, strong Native men with a heroic heritage, and an honorable present. I will do everything I can to elect the man that opens his eyes and sees them too, and will do everything he can for their future.