Thursday, April 21, 2011

How the Indian Lost His Feathers

...Continuation of What is an American Part V.

I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet
Native American Proverb

When you think of the Great Plains of the United States your mind conjures up images of a vast flat sea of grass. This is true for many parts of the Great Plains, but there is this spot in Southeast Montana that does not fit the picture.

The geography of Montana shows its character like the face of an old withered man.  The winter's are harsh, the summers hot, even the animals that live there must fight for survival.  My first experience with Montana came when I arrived there in April, many moons ago. I did not go of my own volition.  The military had sent me fact when I received my orders for Montana, I thought I was being sent to Spain.  An honest mistake. When I arrived it was cold.  This was in stark contrast to that hot day on June 25th 1876.  

It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.
Sitting Bull

The United States had changed its approach to dealing with Native Americans.  George Washington and Henry Knox had envisioned an assimilation of the Indians into America.  What they did not understand was that for many of the tribes this was not acceptable. They did not want to be Americans...they did not want whites living with them...they did not want to live with whites.  At least some of them didn't.

The people among the Five Civilized Tribes (called that because they embraced European values) lived among the whites...and lived as if they were whites.  They were learning to be Americans.  The converts did maintain some of their old ways, but they also learned how American law to fit into a new society.  Just as it appeared that all was well with these tribes...the Federal Government changed course.

Andrew Jackson had no love for the American Indian.  He remembered the brutality of the natives during his childhood, and how twice the natives had allied with America's enemies.  The most recent memory was the brutality of the Natives in the fighting around Detroit during The War of 1812.  This led to the relocation of eastern tribes, primarily those in the South East to the newly created Indian Territory of Eastern Oklahoma.  This is also known as The Trail of Tears.

An arduous journey lay ahead of the Natives as they are forcibly moved from their homes, and businesses.  Although they were by actions becoming American...they were not legally Americans.  They were sovereign nations with in the boundary of the United States.   They were not part of any state, but instead were considered under the protection of the Federal Government.  There were many excuses made for moving the Indians, but when all is said and done...greed was the primary factor.  Tens of thousands of Native Americans died along the way to their new homes.

The feathers of an Eagle are sacred to the American Indian.  They stand for strength, bravery, freedom and wisdom.  When taking an Eagle Feather the Natives do it without harming the essence the Feather transforms the young Brave into the Eagle.

The Crow is not like the Eagle.  The Crow is a scavenger, picking up the left overs from the toil of others.  The Crow is a coward who will fly away at the first sign of danger, and is dependent on others for its survival.

The Crow's Nest
Montana Territory

There is a Mountain that overlooks the Little Big Horn River.  By Montana standards it is really more like a hill.  George Armstrong Custer looked out from the hill and saw an Indian Village.  Military reports said that there would be about 800 Indians occupying the village.  From what he could tell, that was true.  He calculated that the village was just waking up..and this would allow him time to occupy the bluffs overlooking the village. 

In the village were the targets Custer had been sent to find...and capture.  The Indian Leaders who had taken their people off the reservations in Dakota Territory, and returned to the nomadic life they understood.   The most important of these were Crazy Horse, and Gall.  However, the Indians had been brought to this place by the visions that Sitting Bull said he had.

In Sitting Bull's vision the Indians would defeat the American soldiers and once again return to their ancestral ways.  Sitting Bull had vowed he would never take handouts from the whites, live on their reservations, or accept their handouts.  Sitting Bull saw himself as an Eagle..not a Crow.

Instead of their being 800 Indians in the camp...there were over 2000.  They had come from tribes that had never worked together...they had formed a coalition to provide common defense..and attempt to insure their freedom to live in the old ways.  At first things went very well...the Natives had moved about freely for several weeks.  But then the Cavalry came.

The actual events during The Battle of the Little Big Horn are in dispute...what is not in dispute is this...Custer was dead...the Indians would be forced back to the reservations....and Sitting Bull's greatest fears would be realized.

They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they did.
Red Cloud

Red Cloud had no idea how much more would be taken from the Native Americans.  The U.S. Government granted to all Natives a large plot of land that would be their's forever (as long as certain rules were met).  Blankets, building materials, food, teachers,  and healthcare were provided.  All free of charge.  

Unlike their Eastern cousins, the Western Indian knew nothing about cultivating crops, or living in one place.  They had traded their freedom for the security of Government assistance...they had sold their pride for safety promised by the Great White Father.  

They have become the children of Government, as such they have lost their pride.  They are no longer the Eagle...but the crow. Greedily eating the scraps from the Great Fathers table. 

That is how the Indian lost his feathers.

We Live, We Die, and like the grass and the trees, renew ourselves from the soft earth of the grave. Stones Crumble and Decay, faiths grow old and are forgotten but new beliefs are born. The faith of the Villages is dust now...but it will grow the trees.
Chief Joseph

According to the stories from old...when the Europeans arrived in the New World the Natives taught them how to survive.  At present Americans, and Native Americans are in the same lodge.  Too many of our people have lost faith...they have lost the desire to live as free people.  They turn to Government to feed them, clothe them..and provide for their needs.  They have traded their freedom for the safety of someone else to blame for their failures.  

I work to restore our country to the splendor that it once will be a painful and dangerous journey..but it is one that we can accomplish and still keep our villages safe..and rebuild the pride that many have lost.  

We can get our feathers back.

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