WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN INDIANA CITIZEN?
By Jay Hein
When a seven-year-old Abraham Lincoln moved with his family from the state of Kentucky to the Territory of Indiana in the fall of 1816, his father needed to navigate the Ohio River on a cedar flatboat and cut his way through 16 miles of woods before settling down. A couple months after they arrived, President James Madison signed a law establishing Indiana as the 19th state and the Lincolns became part of its inaugural group of citizens.
Please read Governor Pence’s reflections on the meaning of Thomas Lincoln’s journey in our “5 Questions” feature immediately following this column. But also consider how the prospect of our early settlers making a new life in our state two hundred years ago relates to your own journey. When did you become an Indiana citizen? And what’s your citizen story?
These are the type of questions Sagamore Institute is interestied in presenting to the first annual Indiana Conference on Citizenship on November 23, 2015 in Indianapolis. As G.K. Chesterton famously wrote, “America is the only nation founded on a creed.” In other words, America was built on a set of ideas and central among them is that the republic would fare as well as its citizens performed. “We the people” takes center stage, not the crown or the state.
So to perform our duties as a citizen means two basic things. First, we must understand what it means to be an American. Given all the turmoil in the world, this assignment has never been more true. And second, we must do something about it. In her “Citizen Profile” located in the Culture Makers section of the magazine, Joanna Taft says that practicing good citizenship is a mandate. Regardless of your philosophy, her central truth is compelling: we all have a role to play in making our neighborhood, state, or nation a better place. One group that knows this principle well is known as the Sagamores of the Wabash.
Sagamores of the Wabash
Governor Gates established the Sagamore of the Wabash award in 1942 as the highest honor a governor can bestow on the state’s citizens. The term “Sagamore” was used by the American Indian tribes of the northeastern United States to describe not the chief but rather a great man among the tribe to whom the chief would look for wisdom and advice.
The award has been presented to astronauts, ambassadors, artists and other Hoosiers of many other varieties. What they all share in common is an abiding love for Indiana and an impressive record of service. They also stand in a long line of tradition.
The highest civilian honor awarded nationally is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Napolean initiated the French Republic’s Legion of Honor and the British Monarch bestows feudal rank or its government appoints orders of chivalry. At the state level, one only has to hear the story of Harlan Sanders to grasp how much it meant to be recognized as a “Kentucky Colonel.” After being designated as such in 1950, Sanders began referring to himself as Col. Sanders and dressed the part for the next 20 years. Of course, his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises still use that image of their founder today.
Well, the Sagamores of the Wabash are no less proud of their award even if they show it in less dramatic fashion. However, the award has signaled more of a finish line than a starting line until now. The parchment that each Sagamore receives reads that they will become counsel to the governor, yet Governor Pence is the first governor to convene them and call them into action at the Indiana Conference on Citizenship.
The Sagamore Institute is especially grateful for the privilege of hosting this event since we took our name from the award’s inspiration when we were founded in 2004. Opposite most think tanks in DC that focus mostly on politics and the state, we are laser focused on the role of citizens in making America great and good. This is why we established our headquarters in Indianapolis. There is not better place to practice citizenship than here. Central Indiana Community Foundation CEO Brian Payne says it best:
“If you want to consume culture or community, it’s best to live in places like Los Angeles. There is much to entertain you there. But if you want to produce culture or community, Indianapolis is the best place in the world. All your efforts to improve society will be met with cooperation and enthusiasm.”
Sagamore has designed its own award to celebrate citizens who produce good culture and community. Specifically, because we’re a think tank and therefore in the ideas business, we seek to honor those who have taken big ideas and put them to work. We presented our first Celebrating American Ideas award to four living members of the Navajo Code Talkers at Sagamore’s 5th anniversary gala. These brave men took their unwritten native language and created the only military code never broken to help our armed forces win World War II.
Now at our 10th anniversary event, we are privileged to deliver our second award to Indiana University in honor of its medical program in Kenya. What started as a humble tripartite mission to deliver health care in a part of the developing world, train indigenous doctors there, and conduct research turned into one of world’s greatest cures for the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. The first patient who was saved, Daniel Ochieng, was a dying Kenyan doctor-in-training. As he regained health, the promise of defeating the pandemic across the continent was given its start. Daniel will join Indiana University officials to receive the award from Sagamore Institute board member, Jim Morris. Please read the article about Mr. Morris’ tenure as head of the United Nations World Food Program where he joined his former IU classmate in global health and hunger diplomatic roles at the same time their alma mater’s health innovation was going to scale.
The Indiana Conference on Citizenship does not seek to just celebrate good citizenship but also to help us all become better ones. The transmission of the ideas that shape America is not passive. They require the intentional transfer of knowledge, virtue and identity from one generation to the next. It is this inheritance that established the United States, and it is this inheritance that is continually in danger of being lost.
Therefore it is troubling to learn that most American students score lower on civic education than any other subject. Other studies reveal that an astounding number of Americans of all ages lack the ability to place key historical events within their appropriate century or grasp the meaning of even one of the nation’s founding documents. Dr. Bruce Cole, professor emeritus at Indiana University, refers to this trend as “American Amnesia.” He argues,
“…because democracy needs to be learned by each generation, we are in danger of losing the precious gift of self-governance that our Founding generation bequeathed to us. As careful students of history, our nation’s Founders knew that republics were fragile and that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” would not endure without an informed citizenry.”
In a 1915 report by the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Indianapolis’ elementary schools were cited as a case study in civic education. The city was hailed for its integrated approach to civics. Quoting the report, “the civic aspect of education permeates the entire work of the elementary schools in this city . . . “ even diffusing into elementary arithmetic.
From the inception of the tax supported public school system in the United States, one of the most important functions has been to give the instruction and training necessary for the intelligent performance of the duties of citizenship. Indeed, the work of preparation for citizenship has been and still is one of the strongest arguments for making education a function of the State.
- PP Claxton, Commissioner US Dept of the Interior - 1915
For Indianapolis’ public elementary schools in the early 1900s, civics was paramount to educating for life. Indeed the definition of civics used by the city’s public schools illustrates just how far today’s schools have lost sight of our founders’ ideals: “Civics is training in habits of good citizenship, rather than merely a study of government forms and machinery.” In particular Indianapolis viewed civic education as existing:
· To help the child realize that he is a responsible and helpful member of several social groups.
· To awaken and stimulate motives that will lead to the establishment of habits of order, cleanliness, cheerful cooperation, sympathetic service, and obedience to law
· To emphasize the intimate and reciprocal relation between the welfare of the individual and the welfare of the home and society.
· To develop political intelligence and to prepare the young citizen for its exercise.
To understand what it means to be an American and to stand for the ideas and ideals that make up its character is to be a thoughtful patriot. Sagamore will use the annual citizenship conference series and many other thought leadership tools throughout the year to help educate citizens and enhance our American identity.
Jay Hein is president of Sagamore Institute and Editor-in-Chief of American Outlook.
- 5 Questions with Governor Mike Pence
- Indiana Lt. Governor Seeks Big Ideas for
- Businesses Don’t Grow, People Do
- Dave Lindsey’s Corporate Citizenship
- A Billion + Change and Points of Light
Team Up With the Super Service
Challenge to Showcase Pro Bono Service
- Following in Colonel Eli Lilly’s Footsteps
- Joining Together to End Hunger in
- A Case Study in Global Health
- Daniel’s Story
- Indiana University Classmates … Global
- Food Security in Our Lifetime
- From The Indiana State House to the
Fields of Liberia
- George Srour
Citizens as Culture Makers
- From New Harmony to Heartland Film
- Indianapolis Foundation at 100
- CASE STUDY
- Joanna Taft
- Hunter Smith Band Story.
- United State of Indiana
- David McCullough on Teaching
- Lincoln in Indiana