In the modern world we are bombarded by others' teachings. Being constantly surrounded by the ideas of computers, televisions and books we are influenced, we are shaped. We accept what we " ve been told and avoid discovering the truth because we know no better, and it's safer. Too often "We fail to step outside of that safe sanctuary defined by what other's wish us to know".
1 If the general population of the United States of America were asked what they knew of the Indians, common replies would be of romantic visions of the once free roaming, free spirited peoples of the nine-teeth century, the melodrama of the conflicts between the pioneers and the Indians, the scalping's, painted bodies decorated with feathers, reservations, and other familiarities of their past. Many would speak of the Indians 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 and Pocahontas protesting for casino or against Chief Wahoo, in the name of those same arcane treaties, then it is a little saddening to them to see the final deterioration 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 being simply 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 simple reason being that what is considered to be the past and history, is not really over -- it continues. Like salt on an open wound, the revealed horrors replace the horror stories of the past. The injustices that continue throughout this hemisphere, and in the remaining places in the world where indigenous peoples survive are for the most part, unknown. Over and over again the Indians have been forced to struggle with the evil to preserve their rights, culture, environment and people. One question arises-why are there still conflicts concerning the indigenous people still a threat in today's' highly "advanced" society?
Unfortunately, the scars of these injustices are ever present and are reopened again and again through more betrayal by the government (s). The memories of the wrong done builds onto one another, and every new injustice creates more distrust and aversion. It's an ongoing picture of cause and effect. The governments' hand in the massacres of the Indians, the many treaties broken a disregard for the land and people, the effects of wage labor, their education, the effects of Christianity, and the crooked politics that took place are all examples of the injustices that were done to the indigenous peoples. The injustices and their effects are still occurring today and need to be made known to spare the Native Americans' future from the tear stained stories of today. To prevent such reoccurrence there must be an understanding of the horrors that 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 when this 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, Colorado upon 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 the white 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 a Methodist preacher with an intense hatred for the Indians. While the 163 members of the camp slept, Chivington lead 800 soldiers to the peaceful camp heavily equipped with arms.
Black Kettle heard the oncoming soldiers, came out of his tent and 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 had been promised by the government, and trusted in that promise". 5 Chivington's men attacked the camp from three directions, and for the next six hours they would dismember and kill as many men, women, and children in the camp that they could. "The bodies of the dead were cut into pieces by many of the troops, and trophies were taken. Women's genitalia and breasts were taken and worn as decorations for hats worn by volunteers".
4 When asked why children and even 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 the government promised to repay the survivors for their loss, but Chivington was never punished. The descendants of those killed at Sand Creek still wait for the reparations promised to their ancestors. The question arises, will this treaty ever be honored, or will it be disregarded like so many other treaties made with Native Americans?
Another massacre that was said to have "justifiable actions"6 took place at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. The Sioux were camped along this creek surrounded by soldiers with orders to arrest their leader Big Foot and to disarm his warriors. The tension had been building up for months and was at its' height. The Indians were performing the Ghost Dance which was a dance believed to restore the Indians' old way of life, rid and protect them against the whites. A desperate Indian Agent wired Washington, "Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy...
We need protection and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined at some military post until the matter is quieted, and this should be done now". 7 Chief Sitting Bull was killed in the attempt of his arrest. When Big Foot heard of Sitting Bull's death he led his people to Pine Ridge Reservation for protection. The army intercepted the group on December 28"clouds of smoke filled the air as men, women, and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran into the ravine only to be cut down in a withering cross fire".
8 When the smoke cleared 300 Sioux Indians were dead. The Massacre at Wounded Knee effectively 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 where the Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded. There were twenty such awards given for this event. It is the highest military award for bravery that can be given.
In 1918 the law said:" ... the President is authorized to present... a Medal of Honor only to each person who... distinguish [ed] himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity 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 at point 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 war when they were gunned down by the Army.
In 1890, the Army had a code of conduct concerning the treatment of POWs. Why then were the bullet riddled bodies 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 at Wounded Knee is the epitome of evil". 9 There were countless other massacres that took place. These massacres could be and have been compared to the holocaust of the Jewish people.
By the end 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 of the governments' disregard toward the sanctity of the Indians' culture and people. Actions speak louder than words, and these actions will forever be in the memories of the Indigenous Peoples. Trust is something that has to be earned.
It has to be proven. How does one gain trust for someone who repeatedly break their promises? Throughout the relationship of the Indians and the European settlers there had been treaty after treaty 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. .".. the American People don't give a damn what anybody thinks about the absurd Cheyenne and Sioux claims for all this land- the trans-Missouri Basin of the Fort Laramie Treaty alone extends all the way south to the Arkansas River to include Denver, and on north to Canada to encompass most of Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana, and well into Alberta and Saskatchewan". 12 This was land promised not to be taken from the Indian after a great defeat the U.S. experienced by the Indians of South Dakota yet the outcome was predictable. Thousands of Indians were uprooted because of the inconsistency of the governments' word. There are many more areas that were intended to be preserved such as the Laramie Treaty promised, that were exploited at the expense of the Indian People.
Another example in history happened in 1874 when Custer, in command of the Seventh Cavalry led his troops into the Black Hills which "six years earlier had been set aside as part of the Great Sioux Reservation". 13 At the finding of gold there was an offer made to the Sioux to sell their land- they refused. The Army then allowed gold prospectors to come into the reservation's hills by the thousands. This prompted many Sioux to leave their North Dakota reservations and join with other resisting Sioux. This was yet another piece of evidence for the Indian People to use in 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 sacred places of worship, their ancestral burying grounds, hunting grounds, and ties to their past- their culture. To this day they continue to fight for access to their sacred areas. As Chief Abel Bosum of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation states "The goal- to remove the indigenous peoples from the land- was largely accomplished; 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 seven times between 1925 and 1975; and 'relocated' is the polite way to describe what was done 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 our rights, and the standards that are applied for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples are insufficient". 15 This is another issue the Indian People have had 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 residents to leave their homes, fields, and flocks resurfaces constantly". 16 To the realization of 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 to them... ". 17 One can read this statement and laugh out loud. Little did the Indians know that the same government who promised "justice and humanity" would be responsible for their genocide! It's no wonder the amount of betrayal the Indigenous People feel is so great. Once the Indians were forced to live on reservations they were also forced to give up their traditional life which was once defined by their relationship with other people, 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 the Indians- low paying jobs. The effects of this were blatantly clear. This kept them "in their place", in poverty and depending on the government fully. They are suffering from "85% unemployment, rampant alcoholic sickness and fetal syndromes and abysmal health care... the statistics of systematic racial repression go on and on and have 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... Now one-hundred years later, they were living in pig sties that weren't even good enough for a white man's pigs... ". 20 Just as in the massacre of Wounded Knee, the government used customary tactics of that time to put down the ghost dance, the destruction continues.
"The reis allotment, to make farmers of Indians. There is reallocation's to make wageworker's. Lately, there are village corporations to make entrepreneurs... Few reservations are economically viable, nor were they meant to be". 21 Another event that left a scar upon the Indians memories was of the education, 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 to wear traditional clothing".
22 This treatment made them think their culture and language was inferior, or wrong compared to that of the white's ways. Over and over again this idea was forced upon the Indians throughout history and left a lasting impression of the way they were thought of by this society and therefore treated by this government. Another event that created a lasting impression upon the Indians was the European's refusal to see past. ".. they [the Christian Europeans] need to see past their [Native Americans] own goodness, sense of rightness and look into their eyes and hearts and see the value of those good hearts, lives, and cultures... all I really keep 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 attitude ultimately "justified" the massacres.
It would be hard to obtain a spirit of forgiveness and understanding to a government who helped in the genocide of your people. Even though the Native Americans lived on the "free" land of the United Sates, this freedom didn't extend to them. They were, by law prohibited from practicing their beliefs until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed. Before this act there were arrests for people praying! At one time in Saskatchewan 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 very successful.
"After two or three generations of suppression, cultural practices disappeared and a rich heritage was completely destroyed". 24 In other words, the suppression of their religious beliefs caused the deterioration of the people as a whole. Not only were unjust acts passed regulating their religion, but throwing away the of the Indians form of government with the foreign democratic form 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 had functioned in efficiency for centuries. The United States believed democracy better for 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 to insure a fair majority's' rule instead of the old agreement of the traditional system of government.
Before 1934 the Indians were still able to govern themselves at a sustaining 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 until 1924, even then they were not guaranteed equal rights as other citizens of the United States of America were. Discrimination was an unstoppable problem for the Indians and is still today. Several signs David Rider saw read "NOW HIRING WITHIN- 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 the Indians were given the right to vote in 1948, this again, didn't insure that right. In September of 1997 over "13.000 Osage were denied the right to vote or have a say in 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 Bay Cree Indians of Quebec. The Cree want to stop Quebec's next destructive force upon the environment- the Great Whale Project. This project will flood a significant section of the Cree territory.
"There is no doubt that the scheme would represent a massive irrevocable interference with the natural systems which the Crees had lived with for so many centuries (and which they had kept in good health during all that time)". 28 Even though the Cree had been given the right to exclusive use of the lands for hunting, trapping and fishing, the James Bay Project violated the exercise of those rights. This violation and disruption in their environment would cause drastic changes to their traditional way of life. Also, even though the government voluntarily formed an agreement to the protection of the Indigenous Peoples, it [the government] went ahead without the agreement of the Crees.
The Cree eventually won the battle and the plug was pulled on the Great Whale Project. "Although this worked out quite well from the point of the Crees, it does illustrate the immense problems aboriginals confront in trying to assert their rights, particularly when those rights clash with the development objectives of industry". 29 In conclusion, the governments' hand in the massacres of the Indians, the many 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 all injustices done to the Indigenous Peoples. Their effects are everlasting and the continuation of injustices builds more and more distrust and aversion.
The Indians are simply trying to survive but are overshadowed with the remembrance of their heritage, the atrocities of long past, recently past and today. Chief Abel Bosum of the 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 indigenous people". 30.