Book of Oppositions | Pocket Full of Mumbles |


This world is one big game of "Go"-- Black against White, Light against Darkness --and we all have a choice to make: Do we war FOR the Light?

...or against it?

Words, Apologies, Atonements, Sharing Dreams

There is a mural in downtown Dothan, Alabama (there are, actually, a lot of murals), a tribute to Chief Eufaula of the Creek Indian nation. In 1836 while leading his people (numbering in the thousands) westward to new lands set aside for them--a reservation--he was afforded the honor of speaking to the Alabama legislature in the city of Tuscaloosa, then the capital of Alabama.

Here is his rather short address to those lawmakers. I wonder, though, if had he known what awaited them on their Trail of Tears, might he have addressed them differently?

“I come here, brothers, to see the great house of Alabama and the men who make laws and say farewell in brotherly kindness before I go to the far west, where my people are now going. In time gone by I have thought that white men wanted to bring burden and ache of heart among my people in driving them from their homes and yoking them with laws they do not understand. But I have now become satisfied that they are not unfriendly toward us, but that they wish us well. In these lands of Alabama, which have belonged to my forefathers and where their bones lie buried, I see that the Indian fires are going out. Soon they will be cold. New fires are lighting in the west for us, they say, and we will go there. I do not believe our great Father means to harm his red children, but that he wishes us well. We leave behind our good will to the people of Alabama who build the great houses and to the men who make the laws. That is all I have to say.”
It's hard not to be bitter when men despitefully use you, and steal from you all you have ever known. The 'white' man has never been particularly good at sharing with those he doesn't understand... but then, no one truly is. But this speech reminds me of another speech, by another 'Chief' also hounded, harried, hunted, killed, robbed, and generally abused...

"Tell General Howard that I know his heart. What he told me beforeI have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed.Looking Glass is dead, Tu-hul-hil-sote is dead. the old men are alldead. It is the young men who now say yes or no. He who led the youngmen is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people --some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets and nofood. No one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death. Iwant to have time to look for my children and see how many of them Ican find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs,my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fightno more against the white man."

Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé people, October 5, 1877At his surrender in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana

We make promises, and pretensions toward trustworthiness, but Americans have found it very difficult to make good on any promise, to any person or people.

Nanci Griffith wrote beautifully on this national character flaw of ours... this land we've taken for our own... where the white man does as he pleases. She is a truly gifted songwriter. You can listen to it here

Deadwood, South Dakota

Well, the good times scratched a laugh
From the lungs of the young men
In a Deadwood saloon, South Dakota afternoon
And the old ones by the door
With their heads on their chests,
They told lies about whiskey on a womans breath

Yes, and some tell the story of young Mickey Free
Who lost an eye to a buck deer in the Tongue River Valley
Oh and some tell the story of California Joe
Who sent word through the Black Hills
There was a mountain of gold

And the gold she lay cold in their pockets
And the sun she sets down on the trees
And they thank the Lord
For the land that they live in
Where the white man does as he pleases

Some flat-shoed fool from the East comes a-runnin'
With some news that he'd read in some St. Joseph paper
And it was "Drinks all around" cause the news he was tellin'
Was the one they called Crazy
Has been caught and been dealt with

And the Easterner he read the news from the paper
And the old ones moved closer so's they could hear better
"Well it says here that Crazy Horse
Was killed while trying to escape,
And that was some time last September,
It don't give the exact date"


Then the talk turned back to whiskey and women
And cold nights on the plains, Lord
And fightin' them indians
And the Easterner he says he'll have one more
'fore he goes
He gives the paper to the Crow boy
Who sweeps up the floor

And the gold she lay cold in their pockets
And the sun she sets down on the trees
And they thank the Lord
For the land that they live in
Where the white man does as he pleases
Where the white man does as he pleases
As he wants to, as he pleases

I recognize the need for an honest-to-goodness apology, but how do you apologize for wholesale destruction? I apologize every year for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I have no illusions it can ever be accepted; to quote the unnamed woman in my yearly apology...
"I will forgive you when the dead do."
Because of this, I can understand why our own 'flat-shoed fool' tried to apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I can understand why he was refused. Words have meaning, and because of this words must never be issued lightly or without the weight of authority, and responsibility. How does one apologize for 80,000+ instantaneous deaths, and tens of thousand later in lingering illness and cancer? How does one apologize to the Indian nations for what America has done to them? How does one apologize for the bondage, slavery and atrocities committed upon an entire racial group?

You can't. Not even money can repair the damage--though in our hubris and pride we continually attempt to purchase the assuagement of our national guilts, but these attempts never work. It's easier to say "I forgive you," than it is to actually forgive. Resentment and bitterness rarely ever completely leave our hearts.

Apologies therefore may be impossible but atonement is not. As I stated earlier, words must carry the full weight of their meaning, nothing held back, or they are meaning-less; words alone are insufficient in terms of atonement. There must be action behind those words. And that action must be consistent with the words we employ.

Listen to Chief Joseph's address in Washington, 1879, two years after his surrender of the Nez Perce Indians...

At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bringmy friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came.I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are somethings I want to know which no one seems able to explain. I cannotunderstand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it didGeneral Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government hassomething wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs areallowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many differentthings. I have seen the Great Father Chief [President Hayes]; theNext Great Chief [Secretary of the Interior]; the Commissioner Chief;the Law Chief; and many other law chiefs [Congressmen] and they allsay they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while alltheir mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done formy people. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good wordsdo not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not payfor my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun bywhite men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay formy horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children.Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, GeneralMiles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can livein peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comesto nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good wordsand all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by menwho had no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made;too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and theIndians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian hecan live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike.Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live andgrow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are allbrothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all peopleshould have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all riversto run backward as that any man who was born a free man should becontented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If youtie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen anIndian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, hewill not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked someof the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say tothe Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white mengoing where they please. They cannot tell me.

I only ask of the Government to be treated as all other men aretreated. If I cannot go to my own home, let me have a home in acountry where my people will not die so fast. I would like to go toBitter Root Valley. There my people would be happy; where they arenow they are dying. Three have died since I left my camp to come toWashington.

When I think of our condition, my heart is heavy. I see men of myown race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, orshot down like animals.

I know that my race must change. We cannot hold our own with thewhite men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other menlive. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shallwork alike on all men. If an Indian breaks the law, punish him by thelaw. If a white man breaks the law, punish him also.

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work,free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free tofollow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act formyself -- and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each otherthen we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike -- brothers ofone father and mother, with one sky above us and one country aroundus and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rulesabove will smile upon this land and send rain to wash out the bloodyspots made by brothers' hands upon the face of the earth. For thistime the Indian race is waiting and praying. I hope no more groans ofwounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great SpiritChief above, and that all people may be one people.

Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht has spoken for his people.

It would seem Chief Joseph and Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a dream.

Read the entire article...

posted by Eric @ 2:42 PM, ,