In and tragic old Chiefs,who were the last
In the modern world we are bombarded by others’ teachings.
Beingconstantly surrounded by the ideas of computers, televisions and books we areinfluenced, we are shaped. We accept what we’ve been told and avoid discoveringthe truth because we know no better, and it’s safer. Too often “We fail to stepoutside of that safe sanctuary defined by what other’s wish us to know.
“1 If thegeneral population of the United States of America were asked what they knew ofthe Indians, common replies would be of romantic visions of the once free roaming,free spirited peoples of the nine-teenth century, the melodrama of the conflictsbetween the pioneers and the Indians, the scalpings, painted bodies decorated withfeathers, reservations, and other familiarities of their past. Many would speak of theIndians as if their legacy was simply a chapter in the history books. Therefore when”…they occasionally hear a word or two about the descendants of Sitting Bull andPocahontas protesting for casino or against Chief Wahoo, in the name of thosesame arcane treaties, then it is a little saddening to them to see the finaldeterioration of the memory of the once glorious and romantic and tragic old Chiefs,who were the last real Indians.”2 Many think along the lines of their past beingsimply an old and unpleasant chapter in the history book that is over and done.
They feel it is time to move on. The problem is that they cannot, for the very simplereason being that what is considered to be the past and history, is not really over–itcontinues. Like salt on an open wound, the revealed horrors replace the horrorstories of the past. The injustices that continue throughout this hemisphere, and inthe remaining places in the world where indigenous peoples survive are for the mostpart, unknown.
Over and over again the Indians have been forced to struggle withthe evil to preserve their rights, culture, environment and people. One questionarises-why are there still conflicts concerning the indigenous people still a threat intoday’s’ highly “advanced” society? Unfortunately, the scars of these injustices areever present and are reopened again and again through more betrayal by thegovernment(s). The memories of the wrong done builds onto one another, andevery new injustice creates more distrust and aversion. It’s an ongoing picture ofcause and effect. The governments’ hand in the massacres of the Indians, the manytreaties broken a disregard for the land and people, the effects of wage labor, theireducation, the effects of Christianity, and the crooked politics that took place are allexamples of the injustices that were done to the indigenous peoples. The injusticesand their effects are still occurring today and need to be made known to spare theNative Americans’ future from the tear stained stories of today.To prevent such reoccurrence there must be an understanding of the horrorsthat took place in the beginning.
“The entire history of the relationships between the indigenous People and Europeans has been one of conflicts and justifying various means for separating the Indian from his land. There were many times whenthis justification involved genocide and murder.”3 Such was the case on the morning of November 29, 1864 and other massacres. The Cheyenne tribe led by Chief Black Kettle was camped at Sand Creek, Coloradoupon the orders given by the U.S.
military and Colorado’s governor, John Evans. “Their encampment was one of peace; they had willingly surrendered and were awaiting instructions as to where they would finally be relocated. Above the camp flew the flag of the United States and below et was thewhite flag of peace.”4 John Evans had obtained a volunteer regiment known as the third Colorado Cavalry,which was led by Colonel John Chivington. Chivington was a Civil War hero and aMethodist preacher with an intense hatred for the Indians. While the 163 membersof the camp slept, Chivington lead 800 soldiers to the peaceful camp heavilyequipped with arms. Black Kettle heard the oncoming soldiers, came out of his tentand held the U.
S. flag along with the flag of peace telling his people not to fear for”as long as he held that flag, the soldiers would not harm them. This is what he hadbeen promised by the government, and trusted in that promise.”5 Chivington’s men attacked the camp from three directions, and for the nextsix hours they would dismember and kill as many men, women, and children in thecamp that they could.
“The bodies of the dead were cut into pieces by many of thetroops, and trophies were taken. Women’s genitalia and breasts were taken andworn as decorations for hats worn by volunteers.”4 When asked why children andeven infants born and unborn were killed Chivington replied, “nits make lice.”5 Thegovernment said of Chivington’s actions to be “gross and wanton.”4 In a treaty thegovernment promised to repay the survivors for their loss, but Chivington was neverpunished. The descendants of those killed at Sand Creek still wait for thereparations promised to their ancestors.
The question arises, will this treaty ever behonored, or will it be disregarded like so many other treaties made with NativeAmericans?Another massacre that was said to have “justifiable actions”6 took place atWounded Knee Creek in 1890. The Sioux were camped along this creeksurrounded by soldiers with orders to arrest their leader Big Foot and to disarm hiswarriors. The tension had been building up for months and was at its’ height.
TheIndians were performing the Ghost Dance which was a dance believed to restore theIndians’ old way of life, rid and protect them against the whites. A desperate IndianAgent wired Washington, “Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy…Weneed protection and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined at somemilitary post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done now.”7 Chief Sitting Bullwas killed in the attempt of his arrest.
When Big Foot heard of Sitting Bull’s death he led his people to Pine RidgeReservation for protection. The army intercepted the group on December 28″clouds of smoke filled the air as men, women, and children scrambled for theirlives. Many ran into the ravine only to be cut down in a withering cross fire.”8 Whenthe smoke cleared 300 Sioux Indians were dead. The Massacre at Wounded Kneeeffectively crushed Ghost Dance movement. The way the government handled the massacre was in an unjust manner. This was the only “massacre” in the history of the United States of America wherethe Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded.
There were twenty such awardsgiven for this event. It is the highest military award for bravery that can be given. In1918 the law said :”…the President is authorized to present..
.a Medal of Honor onlyto each person who…distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry andintrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”8 Where was the”gallantry and intrepidity” when women and children including toddlers were shot atpoint blank range in a murderous craze for revenge? This was not heroism but coldblooded murder! The Indians had been disarmed and were considered to be prisoners of warwhen they were gunned down by the Army. In 1890, the Army had a code ofconduct concerning the treatment of POWs.
Why then were the bullet riddledbodies of women and children found scattered as far as three miles from the camp. There is no doubt that they were shot while trying to escape. “What happened atWounded Knee is the epitome of evil.”9There were countless other massacres that took place.
These massacrescould be and have been compared to the holocaust of the Jewish people. By theend of the Indian wars it was said that 400 million Indians had been killed.10 Thegovernment had found the Final Solution, so to speak. These hateful acts spoke ofthe governments’ disregard toward the sanctity of the Indians’ culture and people. Actions speak louder than words, and these actions will forever be in the memoriesof the Indigenous Peoples.Trust is something that has to be earned. It has to be proven.
How doesone gain trust for someone who repeatedly break their promises? Throughout therelationship of the Indians and the European settlers there had been treaty aftertreaty that was broken. This is also true for today. One promise broken out of a supposed “400 treaties…
.promises written,deemed law…by this government, that have been ignored…
“11 was in 1851. “…theAmerican People don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about the absurdCheyenne and Sioux claims for all this land- the trans-Missouri Basin of the FortLaramie Treaty alone extends all the way south to the Arkansas River to includeDenver, and on north to Canada to encompass most of Wyoming, the Dakotas, andMontana, and well into Alberta and Saskatchewan.”12 This was land promised notto be taken from the Indian after a great defeat the U.S.
experienced by the Indiansof South Dakota yet the outcome was predictable. Thousands of Indians wereuprooted because of the inconsistency of the governments’ word. There are manymore areas that were intended to be preserved such as the Laramie Treatypromised, that were exploited at the expense of the Indian People.Another example in history happened in 1874 when Custer, in command ofthe Seventh Cavalry led his troops into the Black Hills which “six years earlier hadbeen set aside as part of the Great Sioux Reservation.
“13 At the finding of gold therewas an offer made to the Sioux to sell their land- they refused. The Army thenallowed gold prospectors to come into the reservation’s hills by the thousands. Thisprompted many Sioux to leave their North Dakota reservations and join with otherresisting Sioux.
This was yet another piece of evidence for the Indian People to usein proving that the government was not reliable or trustworthy.The issue of relocation was one of the biggest fears for the Indian people. Leaving their land meant not only leaving their beloved homes, but their sacredplaces of worship, their ancestral burying grounds, hunting grounds, and ties to theirpast- their culture.
To this day they continue to fight for access to their sacredareas. As Chief Abel Bosum of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation states “The goal- to remove the indigenous peoples from the land- was largelyaccomplished; and it was all done according to law,’ although presumably in violation of principles of international human rights law that we accept today as valid.”15 He later goes on to say that his own people have been “forcefully relocated seventimes between 1925 and 1975; and relocated’ is the polite way to describe what wasdone to us.”15 Their rights are violated with every “relocation”. Who are they to turn to? Chief Bosum states that the “domestic authorities are not effective guardians of ourrights, and the standards that are applied for the protection of the rights ofindigenous peoples are insufficient.
“15 This is another issue the Indian People havehad to face in the past and it still persists today because of the patterns of the past. “…
many Navajos suspect the federal government’s intentions. The long-standing(and historically well founded) fear that the government will eventually force residentsto leave their homes, fields, and flocks resurfaces constantly.”16 To the realizationof few, this isn’t simply a worry of the past.According to Article three of the North West Ordinance of 1789 “The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken away from them without their consent.
..but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs tothem…
“17 One can read this statement and laugh out loud. Little did the Indians know that thesame government who promised “justice and humanity” would be responsible fortheir genocide! It’s no wonder the amount of betrayal the Indigenous People feel isso great. Once the Indians were forced to live on reservations they were also forced togive up their traditional life which was once defined by their relationship with otherpeople, their land, and animals in trade for wage labor.
“The Navajos expressed little overt hostility although they found it hard to imagine how wage labor could replace the wealth and security of livestock…wages could never provide wealth in the same way that the sheep and goats had done.
“18 Within this program the government set up they provided jobs specifically for theIndians- low paying jobs. The effects of this were blatantly clear. This kept them “intheir place”, in poverty and depending on the government fully. They are sufferingfrom “85% unemployment, rampant alcoholic sickness and fetal syndromes andabysmal health care…the statistics of systematic racial repression go on and on andhave been documented many times in books and newspapers.
“19 An effect of this poverty is the ghettos that were and still are being formed. David Rider’s statement of his account with the Navajo ghetto as being “… pig sties.
No lights, no phones, no plumbing, nothing, just dirt and pig sties and Indians…Nowone-hundred years later, they were living in pig sties that weren’t even good enoughfor a white man’s pigs.
..”20 Just as in the massacre of Wounded Knee, the government used customarytactics of that time to put down the ghost dance, the destruction continues. “Thereis allotment, to make farmers of Indians. There is reallocations to make wageworkers. Lately, there are village corporations to make entrepreneurs..
..Fewreservations are economically viable, nor were they meant to be.”21 Another event that left a scar upon the Indians memories was of theeducation, or in many cases, lack there of. “.
..the arrival of strangers whose job it was to take them away from their families, to be housed and educated at boarding schools…long hair was cut off..
.forbidden to speak their own language towear traditional clothing.”22 This treatment made them think their culture and language was inferior, or wrongcompared to that of the white’s ways.
Over and over again this idea was forcedupon the Indians throughout history and left a lasting impression of the way theywere thought of by this society and therefore treated by this government.Another event that created a lasting impression upon the Indians was theEuropean’s refusal to see past “…they the Christian Europeans need to see pasttheir Native Americans own goodness, sense of rightness and look into their eyesand hearts and see the value of those good hearts, lives, and cultures..
.all I reallykeep hearing is the heartbeats of all tribe nations and condemned good hearts.”23 Many felt the sting of the white man’s cold and heartless attitude.
This cold attitudeultimately “justified” the massacres . It would be hard to obtain a spirit offorgiveness and understanding to a government who helped in the genocide of yourpeople. Even though the Native Americans lived on the “free” land of the UnitedSates, this freedom didn’t extend to them. They were, by law prohibited frompracticing their beliefs until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Actpassed. Before this act there were arrests for people praying! At one time inSaskatchewan even Pow Wow dancing could bring 30 days in jail for the participant. In many places in Canada the effort to eradicate the Native culture was verysuccessful. “After two or three generations of suppression, cultural practicesdisappeared and a rich heritage was completely destroyed.
“24 In other words, thesuppression of their religious beliefs caused the deterioration of the people as awhole.Not only were unjust acts passed regulating their religion, but throwing awaythe familiaruarity of the Indians form of government with the foreign democraticform of government called the Tribal council. This form was forced on them by the”Roosevelt liberals”25 in 1934 replacing their simplistic elder’s councils which hadfunctioned in efficiency for centuries. The United States believed democracy betterfor the Indians, therefore made that critical decision without first consulting them. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 saw to it that elections would be held toinsure a fair majority’s’ rule instead of the old agreement of the traditional system ofgovernment.
Before 1934 the Indians were still able to govern themselves at asustaining level with gardening and hunting, and the law and order from the elders.It’s interesting to point out that after 1934- welfare set in.The Indians were not considered to be citizens of the United States until1924, even then they were not guaranteed equal rights as other citizens of theUnited States of America were. Discrimination was an unstoppable problem for theIndians and is still today.
Several signs David Rider saw read “NOW HIRINGWITHIN- INDIANS NEED NOT APPLY…and NO DOGS OR INDIANS ALLOWED.”26 Other forms not so apparent exist such as the denied right to vote.
Even though theIndians were given the right to vote in 1948, this again, didn’t insure that right. InSeptember of 1997 over “13.000 Osage were denied the right to vote or have a sayin their government.
“27 This great injustice is recent and real, and continues.A final example of disregard to the Indians rights happened to the James BayCree Indians of Quebec. The Cree want to stop Quebec’s next destructive forceupon the environment- the Great Whale Project. This project will flood a significantsection of the Cree territory.
“There is no doubt that the scheme would represent amassive irrevocable interference with the natural systems which the Crees had livedwith for so many centuries (and which they had kept in good health during all thattime).”28 Even though the Cree had been given the right to exclusive use of thelands for hunting, trapping and fishing, the James Bay Project violated the exerciseof those rights. This violation and disruption in their environment would causedrastic changes to their traditional way of life. Also, even though the governmentvoluntarily formed an agreement to the protection of the Indigenous Peoples, it thegovernment went ahead without the agreement of the Crees. The Cree eventuallywon the battle and the plug was pulled on the Great Whale Project. “Although thisworked out quite well from the point of the Crees, it does illustrate the immenseproblems aboriginals confront in trying to assert their rights, particularly when thoserights clash with the development objectives of industry.
“29In conclusion, the governments’ hand in the massacres of the Indians, themany broken treaties, a disregard for the land and people, the effects of wage labor,education, the effects of Christianity, and the crooked politics that took place are allinjustices done to the Indigenous Peoples. Their effects are everlasting and thecontinuation of injustices builds more and more distrust and aversion. The Indiansare simply trying to survive but are overshadowed with the remembrance of theirheritage, the atrocities of long past, recently past and today. Chief Abel Bosum ofthe Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation states:”…Today many indigenous peoples are endangered…Respect for our rights does not threaten existing states, but failure to protect our rights will have disastrous consequences for many indigenouspeople.”30