Bury my heart

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
 
407838_583866058296151_931822225_nA Facebook friend reminded me that it was 122 years ago today, on December 28,1890, that more than 300, unarmed  native Americans were slaughtered in South Dakota by U.S. Forces. The dead included women and children, and this travesty is recanted in horrific detail through the pages of  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
 
Colonel James Forsyth was later charged with The Killing of Innocents, but was exonerated and promoted. 22 of the soldiers that day were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Do you remember being taught that lesson in public school? Probably not. It’s a piece of American history we like to forget.
 
 “I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. My people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream… the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” -Black Elk (1863-1950); Oglala Holy man.
 
The Lakota and other tribes were labeled as terrorists in Washington, DC, long before we created the Patriot Act to keep ourselves “safe” from terrorists.
 
As we once again debate how to keep American citizens safe, many people dismiss the quaint notion of government tyranny. Tyranny happens in other places, not here…not now…they say.
 
Generally, these believers in government authority and the government’s sole discretion in keeping us safe are white folk who rarely consider the downsides of an unbalanced distribution of force and power. These believers in government sanctity forget about the rather recent atrocities in Dafur, Serbia, Libya or Nazi Germany.
 
I spent the summer of 1987 working on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Back then, I thought  wanted to be a priest.
 
I was 23 and full of my self as most 23-year-old men are. I strived to be sensitive, to be politically correct. The wise Lakota who surrounded me would gently smile when I used the words, “Native American.”
 
kidsOne night, while assigned to sit with a critically ill man (DeSmit Holy Bear) in the reservation hospital, I sensed his nephew needed someone to talk to, someone to work through his grief. John and I were about the same age. He appeared to be struggling with the pending loss of his beloved uncle.
 
I tried my best to be empathetic, compassionate. I desperately wanted him to know that I was enlightened and not a typical white man; someone who could listen and console him without judgment or prejudice. “I have no idea how hard it must be to be a Native American,” I offered. “To see your entire culture decimated, to face daily discrimination and humiliation.”
 
He slowly turned to me and paused before replying. In a low voice and with clear eyes, he said: “Give me a fucking break. We are Indians, and don’t you ever forget it. If you think you can assuage the sins of your past with a couple of words, you are even dumber than I previously thought.”
 
He stepped outside to have a cigarette. His uncle died two days later, and I will never forget that conversation.
 
So here are two pictures. One is from 122 years ago; the other is from 1987.
 
Take a good look, and you tell me… have we learned anything from history?
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2 thoughts on “Bury my heart

  1. It deeply saddens me to learn once again how brutal and intolerant my American ancestors were toward others not of their own race, as if the Indians were somehow less than and not even worthy of the same rights which we so arrogantly set up on the Indian’s land. In many ways, our mind-set has not changed. But why were the Indians considered such a threat? Because they tried to fight back for the gross injustices forced upon their lives and land by strangers? Because Indians dared to speak up against the ones who tried to enstill land rights onto their property? Dared to be protective of their own even if it meant taking a life? Ironically, Indians were taking part in the same rights which the settlers were establishing…the same ones that had been lived by long before the Europeans actually penned them for ‘our’ new government, such as protecting your own, speaking up if injustice is being served, defend your honor and your family. These poor people were surprise-slaughtered by our government with no chance to defend themselves and their families. Europeans were treating the natives in the same way they were trying so hard to run from and set up laws against. Tsk tsk. I guess the old saying ‘ the apple does not fall far from the tree’ applies well here. Very disturbing to me. I feel as if we owe Indians so much more than we could ever pay back. On another note, why did we ever start calling people by their heritage name rather than just American. I don’t clarify that I am Mutt-American unless I am discussing my heritage. Lets face it, it’s typically apparrent if someone is African-, Native- or Chinese-American unless you are trying to decribe someone in an article. Doesn’t American automatically mean a multicultural society? The labels just seem to separate us once again.

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