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Martin Luther King Jr., Holiday Speech
Before the North Dakota Conference of Churches
Faith Lutheran Church
Bismarck, North Dakota

January 19, 2004
In Celebration, A Renewal
By David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
Bismarck, North Dakota

Good Evening. Thank you for allowing me to speak here and share my thoughts about this memorable occasion. Thank you, especially to Rev. Lionel Muthiah for this invitation, along with his colleagues, the bishops and parishioners, and the North Dakota Conference of Churches. Your introduction is greatly appreciated.

My name is David M. Gipp, and I am from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe - a Hunkpapa Lakota. I was born at Fort Yates, North Dakota and am the son of Margaret Halsey Teachout and the late Francis J. Gipp. I was educated in numerous places around the country and completed my postsecondary education at the University of North Dakota.

I have been president of United Tribes Technical College since May 2, 1977, going on 27 years. I was involved with the founding fathers of United Tribes when they created United Tribes for training and economic development programs in 1969.

Over the years, I have worked with a wide range of efforts - including tribal college development - to bring greater equity and access for American Indians and others to the workplace and other areas of service.

These have included the need here in North Dakota to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr., and his work as a Civil Right Leader. Many of us worked hard toward that recognition by advocating for the establishment of a statewide North Dakota Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. This was done. I was among those who first served on the commission in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unfortunately, it was later abandoned in the late 1990s by one of our former governors.

United Tribes and I were among the advocates for recognition of the current holiday by the State of North Dakota. This was accomplished by 1991. A great amount of work and dedication was necessary to convince the legislature of the value of such a state holiday.

The Federal Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, and Coretta Scott King, his wife, recognized me in April 1991. This award was accepted on behalf of all those who persisted in the fight for recognition in North Dakota of Rev. King and the equal rights he advocated. Indeed, the sacrifices of many are to be remembered today which resulted in the Civil Rights Act and policies which have followed us for nearly two generations.

So it is, we have a number of official rights and those have opened the doors for many people, socially and politically.

To those of us who lived through the era of advocacy for such rights of access and opportunity, and for those who were born after the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., we must continue to examine where the path should lead.

We ought to ask, "What is our role today?"

Martin Luther King, Jr., remembered as a Civil Rights Activist today, was a principal who laid the foundation throughout the Nation in preparing the American People for sorely needed Civil Rights legislation. It was overdue. It helped eliminate "legal racial segregation." Indeed, this is Rev. King's historical legacy. It is his and it is a history for millions of other Americans, who prior to the time of such legislation, could not share or take advantage of the "promise of American or U. S. democracy."

We are thankful for the sacrifices of many in the past, but also thankful for the progress made since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. We've come a long way since the time of the "green drinking faucets" for African Americans and "white drinking faucets" for White Americans. We can be thankful there is also an Indian Civil Rights Act, which is a part of Civil Rights law.

Yet, in the 21st Century we must look at the state of affairs as it impacts all Americans. Much of this has to do with the assurance of our continued ability to use the Bill of Rights and the guarantees enabled by them-whether for the right to peaceably assemble or to express our First Amendment Right of Free Speech.

What we know is that the gap between the rich and mid-level and poor citizens is growing wider. Indeed, the Nation's wealthiest one percent are becoming richer and more powerful.

For American Indians or First Americans of tribal heritage, poverty is an issue. Access to education is greatly limited. This is the also the case for African American children and other minority students. The No Child Left Behind legislation, intended to bring every American Child up to par in Reading, English, Math and Science skills, may very well be the door that locks out many-particularly minority and other disadvantaged youth. This is especially true when Federal resources for No Child Left Behind are not adequately provided. Similarly, most States are showing neither the funding nor commitment to help the law succeed. For the poor and disadvantaged, the door to better educational attainment may be a myth. Overall, we know, it is not only the poor and distraught that will suffer, but also the nation as a whole.

We continue to see a large number of American Indians who drop out of high school-as high as 50 percent or greater in many public and federally funded schools. It is also fair to say a number of public and even private schools, where such students attend, may turn their heads to the true needs of these students.

Today, we must renew our commitment to the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his mentors such as Mohandas K. Gandhi. Rev. King focused on seven major areas of concern (The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., New Market Press, 1987), which are:

"The Community of Man"

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?"

"Racism"

"There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance."

"The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only Southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South."

"Civil Rights"

"It is one thing to agree that the goal of integration is morally and legally right; it is another to commit oneself positively and actively to the ideal of integration-the former is intellectual assent, the latter is actual belief. These are days that demand practices to match professions. This is no day to pay lip service to integration, we must pay life service to it."

"Morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. The law cannot make an employer love me, but can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin."

"I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called education people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from a morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from fiction.

"The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively & to think critically. But education, which stops with efficiency, may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but with no morals."

"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living."

"Justice & Freedom"

"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

"Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial."

"Faith & Religion"

"When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality."

"There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science, only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover."

"A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself. This means, at bottom, that the Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is changed. Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see - an opiate of the people."

"Nonviolence"

"I've decided that I'm going to do battle for my philosophy. You ought to believe something in life, believe that thing so fervently that you will stand up with it till the end of your days. I can't make myself believe that God wants me to hate. I'm tired of hate. I'm tired of violence. And I'm not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use. We have a power, power that that can't be found in Molotov cocktails, but we do have a power. Power that cannot be found in bullets and guns, but we do have power. It is a power as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mahatma Gandhi."

"I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos."

"Peace"

"True Peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

"Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God."

"Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it."


To these seven major areas of philosophy that Martin Luther King, Jr. focused on, I would add that today we should renew and focus on:

Racial inclusion
Cultural understanding
Religious tolerance
Equal Opportunity for all
Economic Justice for all
Non-violent social change

In today's world, these ideals are sometimes attacked for being "politically correct."

Martin Luther King's views were guideposts for the last half of the 20th Century and they mark the principles for nearly all the world's great religious beliefs.

We have faced "9-11" and we have even more reason to adhere to these principles and use them as guideposts for ourselves, our children, and children of the future. We must seek justice for all, access and equity for all-especially for those who have been "shut out" and even "put out" the door in this time and age. Moreover, we must assure ourselves that we can continue to use that philosophy of "Non-Violence." It's a challenge, given what's happening in the world and in the Nation - especially with the U. S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have challenges, today, in our every day living-in our community, in our state, and throughout the Nation.

We can make a commitment to live with good ideals and reach out to each other. We need to learn, educate ourselves, and live with greater understanding about diversity. We need to overcome misunderstanding and racism in our schools, in our businesses and among our professions.

We can provide renewal by actively supporting diversity in the churches and asking church leadership-either at the pulpit or in the committees and governing structures-to take proactive roles in education and in diversity.

You can do so by supporting the Mayor's and the Bismarck's City Commission's Human Rights Advisory Committee and the work it is doing. It is a first time, historical effort on the part of the city and the new committee. It is developing forums for the citizenry and a new avenue to share issues, challenges and provide education about diversity.

You can support equity and justice by supporting better and greater understanding between law enforcement agencies and minorities, particularly American Indians. I am suggesting that an Advisory Committee to the Bismarck City Police be put in place - one that includes Native Americans and others, as well. This is important since we will see more tribal people move here and United Tribes will grow to serve some 2,000 adult students over the next five to seven years.

Indeed, we need to see diversity in employment in our city and county governments, especially the Bismarck City Police force, where only one Native American is a police officer. More city and county workers of minority and American Indian heritage are needed. Mandan has no American Indians on their police force and few, if any, in city or county governments.

We need to see greater employment representation in North Dakota State government, as well as in private industry.

In speaking with the Mayor, it would be wonderful to see more opportunities afforded minority and American Indian entrepreneurs.

We must understand that we in North Dakota and in the surrounding area do not live in a box, isolated from the rest of the Nation. We must stay current and realize the great changes that are taking place with diverse populations across the land. Indeed, this change is coming to our region as well.

Another focus is the continued work of improving better academic performance and results of American Indian students in the Bismarck Public Schools. I thank those who are working diligently to bring better communication and addressing academic needs and policies for American Indians and other special student populations.

We ought to be creating more forums and more opportunities to listen, see and commiserate with our community of cultures- certainly Native Americans, but also our Arab and Hispanic and other ethnic groups, the refugees, and those of different faiths, beliefs, and lifestyles. Most important, we need to address the issue of discrimination in all of its overt and covert ways.

The religious practices of American Indians were only assured in the last 26 years by the Indian Religious Freedom Act, passed August 11, 1978. This is something that no other group had to seek from the United States. At Standing Rock, the Sundance and other religious ceremonies were outlawed for nearly 60 years before they were allowed to be practiced again.

We know there are many different belief systems, even among our tribal people. We need to keep in mind that we can and must respect one another. One's beliefs and origins do not make them better or superior to others.

We must and should make a commitment to Non-Violence, whether through the teachings of Rev. King, Jr., Mohandas K. Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama.

Leaders from my tribe and many other tribal nations stood up for their rights and persistently sought the preservation of these rights, first, through peaceful means.

Sitting Bull said: If you see something bad in the White Man's Road throw it away. If you see something Good, keep it and use it."

So it is with respect that I pray for us to learn and know more about one another, about our history and beliefs, and the things that make us human beings - worthy of justice and respect, dignity and love, and valued in the society around us.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight on this special occasion.

Pilamayapelo.

 

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