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Who benefits from the American Dream? Not Native Tribes

A member of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe reflects on the narrative of equality in the US

Visitors to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum pause to examine a new exhibit explores the early interactions between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Cristina Cabrera is a Pocasset Wampanoag and a steering committee member for Native Green, an Indigenous activism and organizing group.

Although I was born in Massachusetts, I was raised in Uruguay since I was 3 months old. I was taught that indigenous people were extinct—that the community no longer existed.

The attempt to erase native culture made my transition back into the United States difficult. After 30 years abroad, I felt disconnected from my native identity. Western culture shocked me. I felt constant judgment that my culture wasn’t appropriate. If I spoke too much, I was out of line; if I didn’t speak enough, I didn’t have “the edge” or leadership skills.


I realized that aboriginal lives and voices weren’t equal to those of others and asked, “What was this American Dream I heard about? Who was it benefiting and protecting?” It wasn’t native tribes.

I was tired of performing and complying with the code. So, for a few years, I traveled across the country to meet different indigenous community members and witness how their land was exploited for fracking, and their rights infringed upon. What I discovered underneath an underlying and pervasive narrative of equality was this: “Do as we say; move as we say; speak as we say. Do not create any ripples.” Communities of color were so often the first impacted and least served.

When I started organizing for environmental justice 20 years ago, before Al Gore and more progressive environmental policies emerged, my concerns were ridiculed. My culture and ways of being were portrayed as inadequate. It’s been a journey of realizing the truths of our society and who it benefits most, but as I continue my advocacy with Native Green, I’ve stopped caring about the limits imposed upon me. I’m challenging them instead.

I live a life that is authentic to my culture and identity—one that is in balance with my spirit and Mother Earth.