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.