A Winter Count
Compiled by Skip Schiel
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2004 and earlier
To record their history, Plains Indian people typically decided each winter what the signal event of the previous year was, then drew a picture on a buffalo hidethe coming of the Jesuits with a drawing of a black-robed figure, or the good buffalo hunt with a drawing of many buffalo. I adapt that tradition to give a chronology that might help see contemporary Lakota (Sioux) peoplenative peoples generallyin a historical context.
Is there a human being who does not revere his homeland, even though he may not return?...In our own history, we teach that we were created there, which is truer than anthropological truth because it was there that we were given our vision as the Cherokee people... In the language of my people...there is a word for land: Eloheh. This same word also means history, culture, and religion. We cannot separate our place on earth from our lives on the earth nor from our vision nor our meaning as a people. We are taught from childhood that the animals and even the trees and plants that we share a place with are our brothers and sisters. So when we speak of land, we are not speaking of property, territory, or even a piece of ground upon which our houses sit and our crops are grown. We are speaking of something truly sacred. (Jimmie Durham, Western Cherokee, 1978, quoted by Matthiessen in Indian Country)
1300-1490Gun powder comes to Europe and Arabic lands. Bells are made into cannon, able to hurl stones up to two feet diameter against ramparts. Constantinople falls to the Turks, blocking the Europe-Asia trade routes. To protect against pirates, cannon are put onto ships, leaving no room for oarsmen so sail technology improves. Commerce and the military are linked. In the western hemisphere, the Aztecan-Mayan-Incan societies are highly developed with calendars, hieroglyphs, temples, and commerce. Founding of the Iroquois' Great Law of Peace (also known as the "Great Immutable Law," or Ne Gayanesha-gowa) This law and confederacy influenced the writing of the the U.S. Constitution. The Siouxan people are on the east coast (indicated by linguistic studies) or centered in the Black Hills (as Lakota origination stories indicate).
1492The Jews are expelled from Spain, either that or be converted. And the Moors are defeated and expelled. Columbus arrives in the Western Hemisphere.
They are good to be Ordered about, to be made to Work, Plant, and do whatever is wanted, to Build towns and be taught to go Clothed and accept our Customs. (Columbus, 1492)
Murder, imported disease, and subsequent fleeing and suicide cut the native population in the Caribbean from an estimated 75 million to 2 million within one hundred years. The Spanish sever the hands of the Tainos if they don't regularly find a monthly quota of gold. Within 100 years the Tainos are extinct.
If you discover that some among them steal, you must punish them by cutting off nose and ears, for those are parts of the Body which cannot be concealed. (Columbus,1494)
1493Columbus sails on his second voyage, with 17 ships, 1500 men, and 20 purebred mastiffs and greyhounds. Native dogs don't bark. They learn to bark after encountering the European dogs.
While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, who the aforesaid Lord Admiral (Columbus) gave to me, and with whom, having brought her into my cabin, and she being naked as was the custom, I conceived the desire to take my pleasure. I wanted to put my desire to execution, but she was unwilling for me to do so, and treated me with her nails in such wise that I would have preferred never to have begun. But seeing this (in order to tell you the whole even to the end), I took a rope-end and thrashed her well, following which she produced such screaming and wailing as would cause you not to believe your ears. Finally we reached an agreement such that, I can tell you, she seemed to have been raised in a veritable school of harlots. (Michele de Cuneo, 1493)
1495The first battle between Europeans and Indians in Hispaniola. Dogs trained in Europe to hunt wild game learn to savour Caribbean flesh.
Those they caught alive, in particular the captains, they used to tie up by their hands and feet. Then they would throw them to the ground and pour molten gold into their mouths saying, "Eat, eat gold, Christian."..(Girolamo Benzoni, La Historia del Mondo Nuovo, 1565)
1496Half the native population of Hispaniola is dead.
From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold, as well as a quantity of Brazil (timber). If the information I have is correct, it appears that we could sell four thousand slaves, who might be worth twenty millions and more (Columbus, 1498)
1502Father Bartolome de Las Casas arrives in Hispaniola (now Haiti) and receives a repartimiento, a land grant, and the right to use Indian labor.
1503At the suggestion of Father de Las Casas, Columbus's son, Diego, brings the first African slaves to the Caribbean. De las Casas will later recant this idea. Spanish monarchs issue their first laws governing the African slave trade. By 1510 hundreds of slaves have been shipped to the Americas, driven by the need for cheap labor in the newly planted sugar fields.
If said Cannibals continue to resist and do not wish to admit and receive to their lands the Captains and men who may be on such voyages by my orders nor to hear them in order to be taught our Sacred Catholic Faith and to be in my service and obedience, they may be captured and taken to these my Kingdoms and Domains and to other parts and places and be sold. (Queen Isabella, 1503)
1511Father Antonio Montesino declares,
You live and die (in sin) by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery?
1514Las Casas, now a Dominican priest, renounces his gold mines and frees his enslaved Indians. He becomes a passionate defender of the Indians.
1519Hernan Cortes is received by Montezuma at Tenochtitlan. Horses are reintroduced to the continent. Great battles are fought; the Aztecs fall. God, glory, greed.
1527The "Gentle Conquistadores" set out from the American Southeast (Alabama), hosted by various Indian nations who tend to view the Whites as gods, arriving on the West Coast (California) by 1537. They stimulate trade eastward. (Gentle Conquistadores: The Diary of Cabeza de Vaco)
1531Almost the entire Tainos population has been decimated.
1541de Las Casas publishes his Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, leading to a reconsideration of the oppressive style of the conquistadores.
They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim's feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.
They usually dealt with the chieftains and nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smouldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them.
And because all the people who could do so fled to the mountains to escape these inhuman, ruthless, and ferocious acts, the Spanish captains, enemies of the human race, pursued them with the fierce dogs they kept which attacked the Indians, tearing them to pieces and devouring them. And because on few and far between occasions, the Indians justifiably killed some Christians, the Spaniards made a rule among themselves that for every Christian slain by the Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians.
1565from 2 million inhabitants on Hispaniola, to less than 150 (Girolamo Benzoni)
The range of population estimates for the Tainos before conquest is 3 to 12 million Let's say 8 million lived on Hispaniola in 1490 (coincidently this is the current Haiti and Dominican Republic's. population) .By 1496 the population was 3.5 million; 100,000 by 1510; and 250 by 1540. By 1570, 12,000 African slaves had been imported, of the approximately 60,000 shipped.
1619In the colony at Jamestown Virginia, the first black indentured servants arrive, they will soon become enslaved.
1622"A Declaration of The State of The Colony and Affairs in VIRGINIA..." by Edward Waterhouse, sets policy:
Because the way of conquering them (Indians) is much more easie then of civilizing them by faire meanes, for they are a rude, barbarous, and naked people,...Besides that, a conquest may be of many, and at once; but civility is in particular, and slow, the effect of long time and great industry. Moreover, victorie of them may be gained many waies; by force, by surprise, by famine in burning their Houses, by breaking their fishing Weares, by assailing them in their huntings, whereby they get the greatest part of their sustenance in Winter, by pursuing and chasing them with our horses, and Blood-Hounds to draw after them, and Mastives to teare them, which take this naked, tanned, deformed Savages, for no other then wild beasts, and are so fierce and fell upon them, that they fear them worse then their old Devill...By these and sundry other ways, as by driving them (when they flye) upon their enemies, who are round about them, and by animating and abetting their enemies against them, may their ruine or subjection be soone effected
1641Massachusetts is the first colony to legally recognize the right to hold slaves.
1650Harvard College is founded and dedicated to "the education of English and Indian youth...in knowledge and godliness,"; very few Indians have ever attended the College.
1675New England is secured by the colonialists as a result of "King Phillip's" war (the name given Metacomet, son of the friend to Puritans, Massasoit, by the English); this is the last armed resistance by Indians in New England.
1680The Pueblo Rebellion, incited by eighty years of harsh treatment by the Spanish, results in the massacre of over four hundred soldiers, officers, and priests; the Southwest reverts to Indian country until 1692 when it is reconquered.
1681William Penn's "Noble Experiment", the Quaker policy treating Indians fairly in the colony of Pennsylvania, lasts about 40 years.
1750'sDistilled liquorfire wateris used by traders to entice agreements unfair to native people; in the words of a Catawba, in North Carolina:
You sell (liquor) to our young men and give it (to) them many times; they get very drunk with it (and) this is the very cause that they oftentimes commit those crimes that is offensive to you and us and all... It is also very bad for our people, for it rots their guts and causes our men to get very sick and many of our people has lately died.
1760Lord Jeffrey Amherst , administering the new territories recently won from the Indians and French by the British, considers,
Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.
He later sends small pox-infected blankets to the Indians.
1761John Woolman, a Quaker living in New Jersey, decides to travel among Indians.
Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them; and as it pleased the Lord to make way for my going at a time when the troubles of war were increasing (the French and Indian wars in western Pennsylvania) were increasing, and when, by reason of much wet weather, travelling was more difficult than usual at that season, I looked upon it as a more favorable opportunity to season my mind, and to bring me into a nearer sympathy with them.(The Journal of John Woolman)
1760'sThe Sioux are in Minnesota, as canoists, and within 30 years, they become a horse-based culture.
1763The British proclaim a boundary line between their "civilization" and "Indian Territory"defined as "any lands beyond the heads or sources of any of the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West or Northwest." By 1840, this line, inherited by the U.S., the Permanent Boundary, separates white controlled, "civilized" lands from the "Great American Desert". It runs approximately from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan via the Mississippi River.
In that same year, Pontiac's Rebellion.
Englishman!/ Although you have conquered the French, you have not yet conquered us! We are not your slaves. These lakes, these woods and mountains, were left to us by our ancestors. They are our inheritance, and we will part with them to none. Your nation supposes that we, like the white people, cannot live without bread, and pork, and beef! But, you ought to know, that Hethe Great Spirit and Master of Lifehas provided food for us, in these broad lakes, and upon these mountains. (Pontiac, 1763, "Pontiac's Rebellion", in B.B. Thatcher's Indian Biography, 1837)
1769The first Spanish mission is constructed in California. By 1830, disease, brutality and other dietary and cultural changes had reduced the coastal native population from seventy thousand to twenty-four thousand. By 1840, six thousand Mission Indians were left, most of them serfs on large ranches.
1775The first of 374 treaties is signed, recognizing the rights of Indians to land they occupy (the last, in 1869, forced Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce people off their lands); few are upheld. Pachgantschilas, a Delaware Indian, speaks to his people,
...if you stay where your now are, one day or another the Long Knives (Americans) will, in their usual way, speak fine words to you, and at the same time murder you!"
In the same year, Daniel Boone acquires for the Transylvania Company practically all the land that is today Kentucky.
1776The Declaration of Independence, the opening of the American Revolution. A Tennessee Indian, Old Tassel, observes,
It is surprising that when we enter into treaties with our fathers the white people, their whole cry is more land...It has seemed a formality with them to demand what they know we dare not refuse.... Much has been said of the want of what you term 'Civilization' among the Indians. Many proposals have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your manners, and your customs... We should be better pleased with beholding the good effects of these doctrines in your own practices than in hearing you talk about them. (1776, Valley So Wild: A Folk History, Alberta and Carson Brewer, 1975)
1779George Washington, because of his scorched earth campaign against Iroquois towns, becomes known as the "town destroyer". Upon his inauguration, he is the richest man in the new U.S.
1789The U.S. War Department is created, in part, to handle all Indian matters. Henry Knox, Secretary of War declares,
The Indians being the prior occupants, possess the right of the soil... It cannot be taken from them unless by their free consent, or by the right of conquest in case of a just war. To dispossess them on any other principle would be a gross violation of the fundamental laws of nature.
In 1824, the War Department subsumes the newly created Bureau of Indian Affairs.
1795--The Treaty of Greenville (Ohio) cedes nearly two-thirds of Ohio, part of Indiana, and other sites, including those of Chicago, Detroit, and Toledo. For this, the Indians receive $20,000 worth of goods and the promise of $9500 in annuities. Alcohol, hunger, and the threat of military force hasten the Indians' decision.
1805Lewis and Clark, make the first white contact with the Lakota on the Plains, along the Missouri. Lakota people are moving from northern Minnesota to the Plains, possibly to lessen the impact of disease and encroaching whites.
1810--Tecumtha, a Shawnee born in the Ohio region, tries to organize his people, saying,
The way, and the only way, to check and to stop this evil (of white encroachment), is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be yet; for it never was divided, but belongs to all, for the use of each...We must be united; we must smoke the same pipe; we must fight each other's battles; and more than all, we must love the Great Spirit; he is for us; he will destroy our enemies, and make all his red children happy.
18101838--Under duress, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw of the Southeast and the Seminoles of Florida are forced to turn over their lands to Whites and relocate west. According to representatives of the Cherokee nation in 1836,
Little did they (the Cherokee) anticipate, that when taught to think and feel as the American citizen, and to have with him a common interest, they were to be despoiled by their guardian, to become strangers and wanderers in the land of their father, forced to return to the savage life, and to seek a new home in the wilds of the far west, and that without their consent.
1823The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the concept of "right of discovery", claiming "discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it", providing legal justification for the confiscation of Indian lands.
1830Washington Irving publishes the first biography in English of Columbus, mostly laudatoryLife and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Photography is invented.
1831-1832Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion, inspiring fear of Indians and Blacks. George Catlin and Karl Bodmer both paint Indian portraits and landscapes showing the people as they were before White contact. 1831The U.S. Supreme Court establishes that, in the words of Chief Justice John Marshall, "(the Indians') relations to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian."
1834--Black Hawk, famed for the resistance he led against settlers in Illinois, writes in his autobiography,
The whites may do bad all their lives, and then if they are sorry for it, when about to die, all is well! But with us it is different: we must continue throughout our lives to do what we conceive to be good.
...The white people never appear to be satisfied. When they get a good father (leader), they hold councils (elections), at the suggestion of some bad, ambitious man, who wants the place himself, and conclude, among themselves, that this man, or some other equally ambitious, would make a better father than they have, and nine times out of ten they don't get as good a one again.
1838The Trail of Tears, over 30% of the Cherokees die as they are moved from their homes in Georgia,the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee to Indian Territory (Oklahoma); the reservation system begins. Says John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation,
Possessions acquired, and objects attained by unjust and unrighteous means, will, sooner or later, prove a curse to those who have thus sought them, is a truth we have been taught by that holy religion which was brought to us by our white brethren. Years, nay, centuries may elapse before the punishment may follow the offence, but the volume of history and the sacred Bible assure us, that the period will certainly arrive. We would with Christian sympathy labour to avert the wrath of Heaven from the United States, by imploring your government to be just.
The first of your ancestors who visited as strangers the land of the Indian, professed to be apostles to Christ, and to be attracted by a desire to extend the blessings of his religion to the ignorant native. Thousands among you still proclaim the same noble and generous interest in our welfare; but will the untutored savage believe the white man's professions, when he feels that by his practices he has become an outcast and an exile?
Can he repose with confidence in the declarations of philanthropy and universal charity, when he sees the professors of the religion which he is invited to embrace, the foremost in acts of oppression and outrage?
Yet President Van Buren brags,
That the measures (for Cherokee removal) authorized by Congress... have had the happiest effects... The Cherokees have emigrated without any apparent reluctance.
1842The opening of the Oregon Trail, the first interstate highway, thousands of settlers, with their grass-consuming cattle, their earth-rutting wagons, their befouling garbage and debris, interrupting buffalo migrations, spreading white disease and corruption.
1854Chief Seattle (or Sealth, of the Suquamish) speaks of the interconnectedness of all life:
Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the people of the earth. If you spit upon the ground, you spit upon yourselves. This we know. The earth does not belong to people; people belong to the earth
His teaching becomes one of the most quoted 150 years later. But his land is taken by the Army, promised return when the military establishment to be built there is no longer needed. The land is never returned. It is developed later into private residences.
1860John Brown at Harper's Ferry, the last episode in his saga to free slaves.
1861The Paiutes in the Great Basin country (Nevada) are forced onto reservations, as Whites stream into the gold-rich lands. Tu-pi, a Paiute living in the 1980's, recounts family history:
(The soldiers) penned up the people like cattle here, took them all off to stockades up in Yakima, including (my great-great-grandfather) Horse's sister. And on the march, they shot down any lady who had to pee or go to potty; they just had to shit like geese right where they were. That was around 1861-62. (quoted by Mattheissen in Indian Country)
Yet a historical marker in the 1980's near the Paiute reservation asserts that some Indians returned there in the mid-1860's and "settled contentedly...preferring the generosity and kindness of the military to the Indian agents at Yakima. They aided the local military against the Bannocks and others resisting Caucasian takeover of traditional Indian lands."
1862The Santee Sioux of Minnesota, having suffered since 1837 massive loss of land, rise up against white settlers, killing approximately 800 in one month. Some Sioux flee to Canada, others move or are forced west. One Santee says,
The greatest object of their (the Whites) lives seems to be to acquire possessionsto be rich. They desire to possess the whole world. For thirty years they were trying to entice us to sell them our land. Finally the outbreak (in Minnesota) gave them all, and we have been driven away from our beautiful country.
1863Christopher "Kit" Carson forces eighty-five hundred men, women, and children on a 250 mile march to eastern New Mexico from their home in Arizona, slaughtering every sheep and cutting down every Navajo cornstalk and fruit tree; the Apache are likewise decimated. Says Geronimo,
When I was young I walked all over this country, east and west, and saw no other people than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it. How is it? Why is it that the Apaches wait to die?... They roam over the hills and plains and want the heavens to fall on them.
The Apaches were once a great nation; they are now but few, and because of this they want to die and so carry their lives on their finger nails. Many have been killed in battle. You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight to our hearts. Tell me, if the Virgin Mary has walked throughout all the land, why has she never entered the wigwam of the Apache? Why have we never seen or heard her?
1864The Sand Creek massacre, over two hundred peaceful Cheyenne in Colorado are killed by the Cavalry. Colonel J. M. Chivington, leading the assault, allegedly cries "Kill and scalp all, big and little, nits make lice". While in the East, many deplore the cruel killing and advocate instead compulsory assimilation into White society.
1865the Civil War endswhat to do with the officers, the soldiers, the weapons? Custer distinguishes himself in battle, is made (temporarily) a General at a young age.
In that same year, Red Cloud, an Oglala Chief, exhorts his people to resist white incursion:
Hear ye, Dakotas! When the Great Father at Washington sent us his chief soldier (General Harney) to ask for a path through our hunting grounds , a way for his iron road to the mountains and the western sea (the Bozeman Trail), we were told that they wished merely to pass through our country, not to tarry among us, but to seek for gold in the far west. Our old chiefs thought to show their friendship and good will, when they allowed this dangerous snake in our midst. They promised to protect the wayfarers.
Yet before the ashes of the council fire are cold, the Great Father is building his forts among us. You have heard the sound of the white soldier's axe upon the Little Piney. His presence here is an insult and a threat. It is an insult to the spirits of our ancestors. Are we then to give up their sacred graves to be plowed for corn? Dakotas, I am for war!
1868The Fort Laramie Treaty establishes the Great Sioux Reservation, from the Missouri River west to about the middle of what is now Wyoming, including the Black Hills, sacred lands of the Lakota, "as long as the grass is green and the waters flow".
1869Chicago to San Francisco by Union Pacific train is now possible; the "Laying of the Golden Spike".
1870'sQuakers, among other Christian groups, supervise missions, establish boarding schools, provide money.
1871Congress ends treaty making, with the Indian Appropriation Act:
No Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged and recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty.
Simultaneously, Congress voices its responsibility to honor all already "lawfully made" treaties.
1874Gold is verified in the Black Hills by Custer's expedition. The federal government breaks the Fort Laramie Treaty to remove the Black Hills from Indian control, a reduction to one quarter the original size. "You give us presents, and then take our land. That produces war." complains the Cheyenne spokesman, Buffalo Chief. Indians are forced onto reservations. Many resist.
1876The Battle of the Little Big Horn, led by Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and other war chiefs, a combined force of between twelve and fifteen thousand Teton, Santee and Yankton Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboine successfully resist forced removal to a reservation and kill Custer and about 200 of his Seventh Cavalry. Sitting Bull is present as a medicine man, and Black Elk as a 12 year old boy.
1877Crazy Horse is murdered by Indian police, instigated by the U.S. government. Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce people surrender at Bear Paw Mountain in Montana, "My heart is sick and sad, I will fight no more, forever." A 500 mile forced march by the Poncas in Nebraska is the first Indian grievance to receive sympathetic national attention.
1879The first school exclusively for Indian youth, Carlisle Indian Academy, opens in Pennsylvania. Colonel Richard Pratt, founder of the school and a former Indian fighter, announces,
I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get them under, holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.
1880Karl Marx reads Lewis Henry Morgan's Ancient Society written three years earlier.
What particularly intrigued Marx about the Iroquois was their democratic political organization and its mesh with a communal economic systemwhich was, in short, economic leveling achieved without coercion (Wasi'chu: The Continuing Indian Wars, by Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestas, 1979)
1880'sThe last of the buffalo are shot from trains, killed for tongues and hides and to wipe out a main source of food, clothing, and ceremonial objects for the Plains Indians; over three and a half million buffalo are slaughtered in two years. The height of the reservation movement and the Indian wars. A string of massacres including the Tlingit in Angoon Alaska, their village bombarded by U.S. naval warships.
1883Sarah Winnemucca publishes her book, Life Among the Paiutes, a tough-speaking chronicle of her dealings with Indian agents in Oregon and Nevada. She lectures widely throughout the East, detailing duplicity and greed.
The agent sold an Indian man some powder. He crossed the river, when he was met by one of the agent's men, who shot him dead on the spot, because he had the powder...Brother and I thought he did wrong to sell the powder to one of our men, knowing it was against the law... This is the way all the Indian agents get rich..."
1884Family, Private Property and the State, by Frederick Engels, is published. He'd inherited Marx's notes on the Morgan's Ancient Society and the Great Law, and writes that Morgan had
substantiated the view that classless communist societies had existed among primitive peoples; and that these societies had been free of the evils associated with capitalist societies.
Everything runs smoothing without soldiers, gendarmes, or police; without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those
concerned...the household is run communistically by a number of families; the land is tribal property, only the small gardens being temporarily assigned to the householdsstill, not a bit of our extensive and complicated machinery of administration is required...There are no poor and needy. The communistic household and the gens know their responsibility toward the aged, the sick, and the disabled in war. All are free and equalincluding the women.
1887--The General Allotment or Dawes Act, introducing private ownership of land. A Commissioner of Indian Affairs proclaims,
The (Indian) must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say 'I' instead of 'We,' and 'This is mine' instead of 'This is ours.'
Earlier, an Indian agent declares,
The common field is the seat of barbarism and the separate farm (is) the door to civilization.
Counters Smohalla, a Wanapum from the Northwest:
Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom? You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men. But dare I cut off my mother's hair?
In a later analysis,
118 reservations were divided up; 38 million acres were taken outright by the government, and 22 million were declared 'surplus' and opened for settlement. An additional 23 million acres were sold between 1887 and 1934 by Indians who were forced to alleviate poverty or pay debts, and 3.7 million were sold by Indians who inherited allotments before 1934, often for the same reasons. In total, the 'help' promised by the Allotment Act cost Indians almost two-thirds of the land they had owned in 1887: 90 million of about 150 million (Wasichu, Johansen and Maestas, 1980's).
1889The Ghost Dance appears, an attempt to resist white incursion through a combination of Christian and traditional Indian beliefs, non-violently, through a special form of dancing and singing that is supposed to roll back the earth, taking with it the settlers and their Iron Horses and Cavalry, and bringing back the buffalo and ancestors and the native ways. The U.S. government again unilaterally changes the treaty to reduce the Sioux Reservation to about one fifth its original size.
Herds of twenty of two hundred of ten thousand of /ten million buffalo/twenty miles fifty miles two hundred miles/wide (the length was unknown)/and the lowing was heard from 2 miles from 3 miles/away
To dance to dance/everywhere. All the Indians must dance./Very soon, next Spring/the Great Spirit will come/with all the game again/and all the dead Indians again/Go on dancing go on dancing/. in the prairies./Better times will come./ALL THE DEAD WILL BE BORN AGAIN Wowoka said/Jack Wilson (Wowoka)/war is bad and they shouldn't fight/the entire earth later will be good/brothers, they will all be brothers/Indians and Whites forming one people.
And some returned to their tribes with the tale: Jesus/came back to earth. The whites killed him/beyond the Great Waters, now/he has come where the Indians are, who never harmed him./The days of the past will return. The/buffalo will also return.
They saw in the trances of the Dance the world of the spirits/all the tents of new buffalo hide/the riding spirits returning from buffalo hunts/in the moonlight, loaded with buffalo meat/and the prairies with thousands and thousands of buffalo./The Ghost Dance was without weapons ("The Ghost Dance", Ernesto Cardenal)
Summer and Fall 1890The peak of Ghost Dancing, spreading to 12 states and 30 tribes, inspired by the teachings of Wovoka, a Paiute visionary from Nevada. The settlers believe they are about to be attacked. Headlines declare "REDSKINS BLOODY WORK, OLD SITTING BULL STIRRING UP THE EXCITED REDSKINS". Fearful Whites demand the Army control the Indians. Federal troops flood the Great Sioux Reservation.
December 15, 1890Sitting Bull, a Lakota chief, is killed by Indian Police under the direction of the Army. He claims,
I do not wish to be shut up in a corral. It is bad for young men to be fed by an agent. It makes them lazy and drunken. All (reservation) Indians I have seen are worthless. They are neither red warriors nor white farmers.
His people flee their homes for Pine Ridge Agency to counsel with Red Cloud and others.
December 22, 1890Sitting Bull's people reach the encampment of the aged and ill Lakota peace chief, BigFoot. Both groups join to walk and ride to Pine Ridge Agency about 150 miles south.
December 29, 1890After being intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry, Custer's old unit, and forced to camp at Wounded Knee Creek, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and their newly designed, not fully field-tested, rapid firing Hotchkiss cannon, the Lakotas are required to give up weapons. women are searched under blankets, bedrolls, and clothing. All implements such as awls, knives, as well as weapons, are confiscated. Firing begins. Within two hours, nearly 300 Lakota are murdered, mostly women, children, elders. This is the last of the outright massacres. The U.S. awards Medals of Honor to 18 soldiers .
1892Upon the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing, the socialist, Edward Frances Bellamy, composes the "Pledge of Allegiance"; he also proposes that each year October 12th be celebrated as Columbus Day. In this decade, lynchings of Blacks reaches a peak.
1893400 years of Columbus are celebrated at a massive event in Chicago, Revelry and festivities commemorate his legacy; not a contrary voice is heard. Columbus Day is proclaimed a national holiday, and in honor of the celebration, the Pledge of Allegiance is written. Indian people build authentic dwellings and dance in regalia.1900Between 1776 and 1900, settlers, government officials, ranchers, farmers and other Whites reduce Indian land holdings by about 95 percent, from 3,000,000 square miles to 200,000 (reservation lands are larger, but only small portions of them are controlled by Indiansthe difference between "reservations" and "Indian holdings"). Diseases, introduced by Europeans, sometimes deliberatelysmallpox, cholera, measles, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and influenzaand warfare, starvation, and slavery shrivel the size of the North American Indian population to about one tenth what it was in 1492from an estimated two million to about 237,000. Numerically and culturally, this is the nadir; people assume the Indians will either disappear or assimilate.
1903The descendents and community of Wounded Knee victims erect a memorial at the grave site.
1904In eleven years, a tribally owned area of the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation of more than 2,500,000 acres is reduced to less than 150,000 acres for the tribe collectively. The balance is assigned to individual Indians or sold to whites as surplus.
1907Edward Curtis publishes his first volumes of photographs of North American Indians, a nostalgic and elegiac view.
Alone with my campfire, I gaze about on the completely circling hill-top, crested with countless campfires, around which are gathered the people of a dying race. The gloom of the approaching night wraps itself about me. I feel that the life of these children of nature is like the dying day drawing to its end; only off in the West is the glorious light of the setting sun, telling us, perhaps, of light after darkness.
1910The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is formed.
1911"Pan-Indianism" begins, October 12th, in Columbus Ohio, as fifty Indians launch the Society of American Indians. The Society later strongly opposed the segregation of 12,000 Indian soldiers during World War I.
1918The Native American Church, blending Indian and Christian spirituality and using peyote, is organized and spreads rapidly. It advocates family cooperation and pan-Indian unity. By 1991 this right is rescinded by the Supreme Court.
1932Black Elk, present not only during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but as a young man at the Wounded Knee Massacre, prophesies in Black Elk Speaks that the seventh generation will have the last opportunity to mend the sacred hoop, i.e., rebuild lives and nations. This generation is due in the 1980's.
Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me (Great Spirit, Grandfather). It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree! (Black Elk Speaks, 1932)
1937The Indian Reorganization Act forcibly replaces traditional tribal governance (by consensus) with representative democracy (by majority vote). Rivalries between traditional and assimilated Indian people are thereby fueled.
1945The end of World War IIthe 25,000 Indians of the various branches of the military (numbering among them Navajos serving as "code-crackers" using transmissions derived from Navajo language phrases) go home; many of the 40,000 working in war-related industry lose their jobs.
1946The Indian Claims Act, in theory a means of redress of land claims, but in practice few lands are returned to native people.
1947Apartheid is formally established in South Africa when the Nationalist Party comes to power. They base their design of the homelands and townships, in part, on the U.S. reservation system.
1950'sA package of "Termination" legislation is passed, seeking to end the Federal Government's support for native people stipulated by 372 treaties and more than 5000 laws and presidential edicts. Indians are to be again "relocated" from reservations to urban areas to assimilate Indian people into White society. By 1960 one third of the 525,000 Native Americans are in cities. Between 1948 and 1957 Indians lose approximately 3,300,000 acres.
1960A meeting of over 500 Indians representing more than 65 tribes is held at the University of Chicago to discuss what the Kennedy Administration might do for and with Indians. And another meeting later at Gallup, New Mexico, where more activist-oriented leaders meet. They form the National Indian Youth Council which responds to local crises while speaking out and acting with a Pan-Indian awareness.
1964The first takeover in a series by Indians of the newly-closed prison on Alcatraz Island. Also the "fish-in" protests begin in Washington State.
1969The newly formed American Indian Movement (AIM), organized in midwestern cities by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and others, represents a militant voice for Indian rights. One program, modeled after the Black Panthers, monitors police. AIM is among a large group of Alcatraz occupiers, holding the island for 19 months, demanding attention to Indian health, education, housing, and culture
1970In New England, Plymouth MA officials invite a Wampanoag man, Frank James, to speak at Thanksgiving festivities. He condemns white destruction of native culture, and the National Day of Mourning, a yearly observance commemorating the social and political struggles of native people, is born. And on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, the first meeting of the North American Indian Ecumenical Movement affirms the role of Indian prophecy, the connection between Indians and the earth, and the importance of spiritual practices, use of native languages, and the struggle against substance abuse.
1970'sOn Black Mesa in Arizona, Hopi and Navajo people are pitted against each other by the opening of strip-mines by Peabody Coal Company. In the words of Asa Bazhonoodah, a Navajo woman,
When I first realized I had eyes, I saw that (the sky) was clear. Now it is getting hazy and gray outside. The coal mine is causing it. Because of the bad air, animals are not well, and don't feel well. They know what is happening and are dying. Animals are worrying, that is why there are dying.
1971The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act returns to natives more than 40 million acres of land, $462.5 million, and a large amount of mineral royalties, while reorganizing native society into corporations, share-holders, and entrepreneurs.
1972The Trail of Broken Treaties, a cross-country motor caravan to advocate Indian sovereignty, results in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington DC when discussions between B.I.A. officials and caravan leaders break down.
1973Many people from the Pine Ridge Reservation and supporters, led by AIM, occupy Wounded Knee to bring attention to corrupt and unjust treatment by tribal, state and federal governments. Wounded Knee is again ringed by high-tech weaponry, this time in the hands of the combined forces of local and federal agencies. Several die, several are wounded, the violence on Lakota lands intensifies.
19731976At least sixty-one violent deaths occur on the Pine Ridge reservation. All but several of those deaths were those of AIM activists or supporters. Using only the (conservative) figure of documented deaths, the death rate was 170 per 100,000. By comparison, Detroit, the reputed "murder capital of the U.S.," had a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 in 1974, Chicago had 15.9, New York City, 16.3, Washington D.C., 13.4, Los Angeles, 12.9, Seattle, 5.6, and Boston, 5.6., while the U.S. average was 9.7. (Wasichu)
1975The killing of two FBI agents and one Indian on the Pine Ridge reservation. Leonard Peltier is convicted of the agent's killing and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences. Native and other groups strongly dispute this, citing evidence of a frameup.
And the passage of Nixon's Indian Self-Determination and Education Act, repealing the termination doctrine and re-establishing the development of reservations.
1970'sThe Black Hills Alliance is formed. Says Winona Laduke, one of the most effective speakers and writers for traditional Indians
The Black Hills are an oasis in the Great Plains, a source of water and life to the whole region. They lie at the center of North America, and they are a spiritual center for the Lakota Nation; for as long as the old people can remember, there have been prayers and songs to 'Paha Sapa, our life blood.' Farmers and ranchers as well as Indians, all people who live with the earth instead of exploiting her, can also understand the sacredness of the Hills. For such people. the Black Hills is not just another mine site with a 'potential' for energy production, as it is for the multinational corporations and the U.S. government. Paha Sapa is the great battlefield in the energy wars against the Indians, and the new Indians are white as well as red. (quoted by Matthiessen in Indian Country)
Someone else claims,
Red people go up there for our vision quests, and white ones can go worship at Mount Rushmore.
1978The Longest Walk, in support of a unified struggle for native rights, goes from Alcatraz Island to the nation's capital; they oppose a package of pending anti-Indian legislation.
1980Reagan begins a series of social service cutbacks that drastically hurts native people. In 1983 alone, Indian aid is slashed from $3.5 billion to $2 billion. In the words of a tribal planner, "Trickle-down economics feels a lot like being pissed on." Partly as a result of the cutbacks, Indians initiate gambling on the reservations.
With the advent of the Reagan administration, and its brutal cuts in federal assistance to the poor, environmental desecration of Indian lands is heightened.
Reservations all over the country became vulnerable to the kind of exploitation that no other areas would permit. The proposed sites for spent nuclear fuel repositories, for example, were mostly on or near Indian territoryone was on Yakima treaty land, thirteen miles west of the Hanford Nuclear reservation, in Washington; and others in Nevada, Utah, and South Dakota (near Edgemont, in the southern Black Hills) were a direct threat to Ute, Navajo, and Lakota populations. Meanwhile, a chemical dump site had been established on ceded land adjoining the Umatilla reservation, in Oregon, and the huge toxic waste disposal firm in Houston, Browning-Ferris Industries, was investigating dump sites on Chemehuevi lands on the desert border of California and Arizona and also on lands of the Duckwater Shoshone in central Nevada, the Northern Cheyenne in southeast Montana, and even the small Cherokee reservation in the mountains of North Carolina. (Matthiessen, Indian Country)
1980'sPenobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes in Maine recovered title to almost two-thirds of the state, yielding more than 300,000 acres and a $27 million trust fund. Native people and their supporters close the Dickson Mounds, in Illinois, open grave sites for decades on display to the public.
1985Anticipating the upcoming Wounded Knee Massacre centennial, Lakota leaders organize the first of five BigFoot Memorial Rides. Approximately 20 riders and 15 supporters retrace the path of BigFoot's people, 150 miles over the wintry plains.
1990The final BigFoot Ride, an estimated 250 riders and 300 supporters from over 30 Indian nations and 10 European and Asian nations. The temperature plummets to 25 below; the attendant suffering helps unite the Riders and supporters with the ancestors, and strengthen the "Wiping of the Tears and Mending of the Sacred Hoop".
1992500 years of Columbus. Many spiritually-based walks and runs commemorate the Quincentennial. Kairos, the teachable moment, what do we learn?
1993The first of the next 500 years. The United Nations declares this, The Year of the Indigenous Peoples. As a result of what we know, what do we do? How do we change our lives, individually and as a nation?
In the past 500 years, we've had our leaves ripped off, our branches cut down and our trunk brutalized. But we still have our strong roots and here we are! (Cristobel Tapuy, at the First Continental Conference on 500 years of Indian Resistance)
(From The People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn; The Conquest of Paradise, Kirkpatrick Sale; John Mohawk and Russell Thornton, talks at Harvard in October 1991; Bartolome De Las Casas, who accompanied Columbus; In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander; Chronicles of American Indian Protest, compiled and edited by The Council on Interracial Books for Children; Wasi'chu:The Continuing Indian Wars, Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestas; Indian Country, Peter Matthiessen; and other sources.
I'm especially grateful to Peter Nabokov's wonderful book, Native American Testimony, from which I extracted not only much information, but some wording. Also to Deborah Small and Maggie Jaffe's 1492: What Is It Like to Be Discovered? Special thanks to Louise Dunlap who provided much insight and editorial assistance.)
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