Picture above: About 600 head of buffalo at Great Plains Buffalo Ranch, Reva SD (Phil Jerde)
Most of the time it is a horror to remember the atrocities of history in this world. Wars have been endless as nation after nation has attempted to conquer the known world of their time and to wipe out other people who get in their way. European history is a trail of bloody warfare as peoples and nations have dragged the boundaries of countries back and forth depending on who is in control. More than once the nation of Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe as the result of conquest and absorption. World War I was a war between ethnic groups before it became world wide. The Serbian War in our own time was an effort at ethnic cleansing that took the lives of thousands; in Cambodia the death toll of the Khmer Rouge is unknown. Bloody death and hatred seem to be more the norm than times of peace.
But I find it interestlng in this time of mass shootings and racial violence that no one has brought up the prejudice and violence against Native Americans. Now, of course, no group of people is innocent of prejudice. Indian tribes fought each other to near extinction, taking slaves from the defeated. But when we try to understand the whole premise of immigration it is good to remember that the Indians on this continent wanted nothing more than for Europeans to “go back to where we came from”. We are moving closer to dropping the observance of Columbus Day in October because it is not something Native Americans want to celebrate. As interlopers on the American continent, Europeans have a lot they are responsible for when it comes to attempted extinction. Read Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor and Dee Brown’s Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
Too often the excuse for making amends is something like, “Well, I wasn’t born then. I am not responsible for what happened.” But that is what it is — an excuse. Just as we carry the genetic code of ancestors long gone, we also carry responsibility for what has been done in the past. Many of the issues on Indian reservations today are the scars of policies implemented long ago.
Montana has seven Indian reservations and several surrounding States have many more. Indians did not become U.S. citizens until the Indian Citizenship or Snyder Act of 1924. From 1492 until 1924, hundreds of Indians were systematically killed. The Sand Creek Massacre saw 200 Cheyenne — men, women and little children killed. Colonel John Chivington, governor of Colorado Territory, wanted the Indians removed from the area. Saying “Nits make lice,” he gave permission for his soldiers to kill Indian children. It was the business of this country in its expansionary period to rip away the lands of the Native peoples because it was “good business”. Treaties were land grabs until the Natives no longer believed the words of white people and they still don’t.
Unfortunately we can never right the sins of the past, but we do have to recognize them as part of the fabric of our history. History is the continuing attempt to make life better for those suffering and walking in solidarity with people of all races and colors who are part of the history of the United States of America.
The last couple of blogs I wrote have an addendum, I guess you would call it. My search for a book to read brought several comments from folks which were fun. Responders mentioned books they were reading. Sharing books is always fun and talking about the books you have read or are reading is a great learning experience. I have seen people grab scraps of paper and begin to jot down titles they've just heard. People interrupt each other as their thoughts begin to trip over one another in their eagerness to tell about their favorite book. No two people will like the same book it seems, but it is such fun to share.
After writing the blog on my search I finally went to my own book shelf and started looking through all the books I haven't read yet. In the process I came across LEFT TO TELL. The author, Immaculee Ilibagiza, is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda (1994) when the Hutu tribe massacred one million members of the Tutsi tribe in about three months. This woman managed to find someone who would hide her from the extremists. She and six other women hid in a tiny bathroom in the man's house for three months. They could not speak; they could not flush the toilet unless someone else was flushing in the second bathroom. The food they were given was scraps because the man could not betray their presence in the house. When she was finally released she heard the story of the deaths of her parents and two brothers. They were hacked to death with machetes wielded by the killers. These killers were neighbors and friends they had grown up with.
The young woman had a strong faith in God having been raised in the Catholic faith. She devoted hours to prayer when hiding in the little bathroom and through her spirituality developed a trust that could not be shaken. In the months following her release she came to forgive the people who had committed these atrocities. When people wondered how she could do this she said she did it for herself because she had to be able to live to tell the story of what she had experienced.
It was a moving recital and I found myself sitting up late to read another chapter or two. Her story reminded me so much of Elie Wiesel's autobiography NIGHT concerning the Holocaust during World War II. He, like the woman from Rwanda, believed that because he survived, he had a lifelong mission to tell the story of what he had experienced. And it is true, what they both believe. It saddens me that when these massacres were going on, we, as members of the human race, did nothing until it was too late to do anything. We have to hear these stories and remember. After reading LEFT TO TELL, I looked up a little information on the terrible genocide in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. Mass graves were found everywhere.
Accounts such as these are terrible reminders that the killing never ends. In the Middle East we see ethnic and religious groups trying to wipe each other out. Their excuses seem paltry. Political and ethnic differences are often the cause of mass murders. But these events can happen any where when people forget we inhabit this earth together and we are all creatures of a loving God.
After writing about the canonization of Mother Teresa I saw a couple of articles from people who were telling stories about her to make her seem unworthy. That happens so often. I want to tell them that like all of us Mother Teresa was a human being. God knows our frailties, that "we are but dust", but God works through us anyway. Perhaps the things the distractors talked about were true, but she still did so much good for the world that she deserves to be remembered.