Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

 "Where today are the Pequot?  Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and the many other once powerful tribes of our people?  They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.    We will let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without a struggle, give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us?  I know you will cry with me, 'Never! Never!'"  -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

The adults were sitting around the living room the other day and talking as adults do about what is the appropriate age to let your kids start watching R-rated films and TV shows and video games. Is 9 years-old too early for Pretty Little Liars?  What about John Wick 2?
 "It began with Christopher Columbus, who gave the people the name Indios.  Those Europeans, the white men, spoke in different dialects, and some pronounced the word Indien, or Indianer, or Indian.  Peaux-rouges, or redskins, came later.  As was the custom of the people when receiving strangers, the Tainos on the island of San Salvador generously presented Columbus and his men with gifts and treated the with honor."  -Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

I also sit in the middle of all these adults, our little grown-up living room wigwam, and listen as they speak.  'You know, I just turn on Netflix and leave the room,' she said... and 'They're going to hear it anyway at school, might as well start now,' he said... and "Once they turn 18 they're on their own,' another said.... and then this high school kid mumbles, 'It's better than school.  They made us read To Kill a Mockingbird, some guy got stabbed, it was so boring!'  That's about the time I leave the room.  
 "In 1829, Andrew Jackson, who was called 'Sharp Knife' by the Indians, took office as President of the United States.  During his frontier career, Sharp Knife and his soldiers had slain thousands of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, but these southern Indians were still numerous and clung stubbornly to tribal lands... In Sharp Knife's first message to his Congress, he recommended that all these Indians be removed westward beyond the Mississippi."  -Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Hours later, I'm sitting in my own living room reading Dee Brown's incredible Indian History of the American West with my daughters. It's the spectacular illustrated edition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  It's taken us almost a month to read, about 30 minutes a day, sitting together, looking at the photos, frantically googling.  I let them read it aloud to me, stumbling through pronunciations, pausing to clarify, just giving the narrative time to unfold. 
 "It was then, at the beginning of the 1860s, that the white men of the United States went to war with one another... there were probably 300,000 Indians in the United States... pressed between expanding white populations on the East and along the Pacific coasts- more than thirty million Europeans and their descendants. If the remaining free tribes believed that the white man's Civil War would bring any respite from his pressures for territory, they were soon disillusioned."  -Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

It's a colossal losing battle, I know.  I can't compete with anything modern.  The technology that surrounds and infiltrates and demands my daughter's attention.  The orbital pull of their casual friendships and relationships outside of my little living room 'peace pipe' circle that can't be matched.
"During the following thirty years these leaders and many more would enter into history and legend.  Their names would become as well known as those of the men who tried to destroy them.  Most of them, young and old, would be driven into the ground long before the symbolic end of Indian freedom came at Wounded Knee in December 1890.  Now, a century later, in an age without heroes, they are perhaps the most heroic of all Americans."  -Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Still, I sit on the big leather sofa and turn the page.  Chapter after Chapter:  Red Cloud's War, Cochise and the Apache Guerrillas, Standing Bear Becomes a Person, Dance of the Ghosts.  It keeps a very small hope inside of me.  A flicker of hope.  I need that.


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