“Real” Native History

History

Jul 15

Since the dawn of time, we’ve all been encouraged to “find a teacher.” Our most ancient epics contain the archetypal steps to glory, but before our hero can cross that threshold, he must “meet his mentor.”

It has been said that what has been left out of our history textbooks could fill libraries and that the matter we learn from those same texts are flagrantly based upon a “white mythology.”

History loves great men. In fact, of all the ways we are taught to look at history, the most appealing seems to be the “Great Man Theory.” That every step we’ve taken toward the future was initiated by a great man, and in our case, a great white, Christian man.

Well, so much for the bullshit we’ve been fed since birth and beyond.

On Twitter I have met my mentors and through them I have learned the stark history of America. Sure, we’ve all had intimations of how cruel early Americans were to the natives. Even the story of Lewis and Clark, recorded by Clark himself spreads the lies about natives. They murdered two young Blackfoot Natives, and later accused them of stealing from them. Yet Lewis and Clark came from a culture based on war and violence and were armed to the teeth, as the saying goes. The two young men were impressed, I’ll bet, before they were murdered.

Every day I learn a bit more about native history, and I must have reached an age of fragile sensitivity because I cannot go a day of new learning without tears welling up.

I present to you what I have learned from my young mentors simply for your edification. I have no white man guilt. My ancestors came here right after the first world war, so none of them were involved in the treatment of natives. I present it to you because we are all brothers and sisters, and no one is free while others are oppressed, and sadly, the oppression of natives in America continues daily on this continent. Our natives live in the most squalid poverty knowable, and in the richest country in the world, this is unequivocally wrong.

Before the Arrival of the “White Man”

The tribes before our arrival.

This is the land invaded by white settlers. These are the tribes they encountered and these are the lands the natives settled in. There is no such thing as ownership of land among the natives, just stewardship.

There is an old native saying: “When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground , perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you , it is you who belong to this land.”

Now I would like to show you the map we’ve all seen before, the map of the United States; its acquisitions, its conquests.

From our history books.

Not much mention of natives, is there?

My Teacher

I’d like to introduce you to the brilliant young man who has opened my eyes. His name is Brett A Chapman.

He is a Native American attorney and descendant of Standing Bear, the first Native American to win civil rights in the United States.

I will let his words speak to you.

“I’m Native American. 40% of Americans think we are extinct. The rest think we are people from the 1800s or mascots. We’re still here. Almost all of those dispossessed tribes are still here. Still dispossessed. When it comes to Indian land issues, non-natives think it’s in the past.”

To really appreciate the full extent of the lands populated by natives, he posts a link to this map: Native Lands.

Brett doesn’t use the term “genocide,” and here is why:

“I purposely avoid language that plays into the misconception that we are extinct when I address land issues. We are still here. The conversation isn’t about reparations; it’s about sovereignty and restoring land. If people believe we are extinct or history, then so are our claims.”

He tells us that the map we all learned (above) is the kind of propaganda you see in American history textbooks. It claims to show how the U.S. acquired all its land. Nice and clean. No mention of Native Americans, of course.

The native map, he tells us, list the people we killed and stole the land from, although those are my words. Brett is gentler with his language. He uses the word “cheated.”

He points out that “The United States entered into 371 treaties with hundreds of Native American nations.”

Treaties that were all broken, because what’s a treaty with a savage worth?

It was at this point where I realized who the actual savages were.

“They took it by fraudulent treaties, not by conquest. Very important. The U.S. government would invite the leaders of Native American nations to Washington and treated them as foreign dignitaries when it came time to negotiate treaties. They went to do business [as usual]. They got swindled.”

He goes onto say, “I’ve always hated the term ‘free states’ from the Civil War era. Complete joke of a term. In 1850, California passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. It effectively legalized a form of Native American slavery and allowed the trafficking of Indian children.”

It was Brett’s grandfather, Chief Iron Whip, who met with President Buchanan for negotiations. Here is what is recorded by historians.

Two days later, on December 31, 1857, Iron Whip met with President Buchanan in the East Room of the White House. This was the first time a Ponca chief had met the President of the United States. Iron Whip entered the room determined to negotiate the sale of the Ponca territory with the President as equals, both politically and racially.

From the Illustrated London News, Jan. 14, 1858.
Original Caption: Presentation of the Ponca to the President of the United States at the White House. Washington, 1858 (engraving)

Noted Scottish poet Charles Mackay, then an editor for the Illustrated London News, was present in the East Room during the ceremony and artfully described Iron Whip’s interaction with President Buchanan:

“We are,” said Iron Whip looking right into the eye of the President, and approaching so near that his breath must have felt warm on Mr. Buchanan’s cheek as he spoke, “the children of God as much as you are. We see by these things (pointing to the gilded walls, to the carpet, and the curtains) that you are rich. We are rich in the days that are past. We were once the favorites of God. The very ground on which we now stand (and he stamped significantly with his feet on the carpet as he spoke) once belonged to our fathers.”

A journalist for the New York Daily Herald wrote:

“Then the head chief of the Poncas, Iron Whip, a stalwart looking fellow, advanced and spoke in an impressive and firm manner. He lied great stress on the idea, and frequently repeated it, that all of us, white man and redman alike, came from the same Great Spirit. He appealed to the President for a just consideration of their rights, urging as an argument that the very soil they stood upon, pointing in a significant manner to the earth with his finger, once belonged to them.”

Iron Whip concluded his remarks to Buchanan by telling him, “It was the will of God that we both came into existence. You are a man, and so am I. I hope what you say comes from the bottom of your heart.”

Following Iron Whip’s statement, Buchanan then addressed at length the combined delegations collectively and used the occasion to broker an armistice between the Ponca and the Pawnee, ceasing decades of open hostilities. He said, “I have one request to make of the Pawnee and Ponca, and if it is granted, it will make me very happy and I will fell that God will approves. I understand that these tribes – all brave men – have been at war. And whilst they are at war with each other, the can never improve their condition, and I pray that God at this moment may appear before me; and, I being a party to it, I hope that he may case them to make peace and shake hands with me, and shake hands with each other, in token of perpetual peace.”

Mackay, who had enlisted the services of several artists upon his arrival in Washington, had them sketch the scene of Buchanan brokering the Ponca-Pawnee peace agreement with Iron Whip and Only Chief of the Pawnee:

This is a photo of Chief Iron Whip (second from the right) taken on March 3rd, 1865.

Brett tells us, “The next day, they attended Lincoln’s inauguration and heard him say ‘with malice toward none, with charity toward all.’ They each got malice and three of them died on the Ponca Trail of Tears.”

We are surrounded by myths, inundated by them, but today, many of our most treasured myths celebrated by holidays are beginning to unravel.

Christopher Columbus did not discover new lands; he discovered new slaves.

Here is the bottom left of this map blown up:

Early on natives were depicted darker than they were in nature to reclassify them as “Negroes,” thus facilitating their transition from native to slave. This tradition continued all over the globe as “explorers” began “exploiting” the peoples they found inhabiting their newly discovered lands.

Representing Natives as Negroes continued well into our colonial period.

And then came our first US census.

“They enslave those who are not of their color although created by the same God. They would make slaves of us if they could—but as they cannot do it—they kill us.”

Chief Pachgantschilias of the Lenepe

Many myths continue even today. Brett tweeted:

This is Volume 1 of History of the United States from 1858. For Native Americans, it may as well still be current. If we’re lucky enough to even be in a U.S. history book at all anymore, we’re still portrayed like this submissive naked Indian maiden kneeling before our masters.

And the natives were to be cared for because they couldn’t look after themselves.

Brett teaches us: “Slavery was the defining characteristic of the Confederacy and Civil War. When will everyone come to the realization that land theft is the defining characteristic of the United States and it only got worse after the Civil War?”

And still we buy into the mythology, such as, “The myth that America was an empty wilderness populated by uncivilized Native Americans is a cherished one. Yet somehow the Ancestral Puebloans constructed more than 400 miles of roadways; infrastructure which connected some 75 communities in the Four Corners region of the U.S.”

And the natives have fought back, not anymore with guns because guns are useless against the white man who had all the guns, but through the courts.

Standing Bear fought in the courts and actually won.

“If a white man had land, and someone should swindle him, that man would try to get it back and you would not blame him.”

Standing Bear said this to a federal judge after the U.S. stole his people’s land.

Standing Bear said this to a federal judge after the U.S. stole his people’s land.

Standing Bear

“In the animal & bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. So close did the Lakotas come to their feathered & furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.”

Luther Standing Bear

Natives have always fought, and it’s way past time to recognize their courage and bravery.

And they are still fighting today.

Just the other day, Brett tweeted: “On this day in 1924, Congress finally granted universal citizenship to Native Americans. 148 years after the Declaration of Independence, 59 years after they freed all the slaves, and still less than 100 years ago! Few know this because we are invisible people locked in the past.”

Less than 100 years ago.

And most important Brett points out: “Lakota sued over the broken treaty that robbed them of the Black Hills. In 1980, they won. SCOTUS awarded reparations now worth a billion dollars.

“They never cashed the check.

“Why?

“They want the land, not the reparations. Taking the money means disclaiming land. Very emblematic.”

There is so much more to learn and pass onto future generations. But most important is the lesson our Natives have learned since they first encountered the white man.

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