Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

  Feb. 23, 2004

We can't change the past, but the future is ours

"Now, the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 4, vv. 32-37).

No, that excerpt from the Christian scriptures is not a description of how "Christian" Americans were living, but it is a description of how Indian tribes were living at the time the Europeans arrived in America and tried to convert the Indians to "Christianity." Irony piled upon irony.

The first Europeans to arrive were the British. They were truly puzzled that they couldn't get the Indians to work for them. The Indians didn't want their money, and none of the Indians wanted to become more wealthy than the rest of the tribe by accumulating. The British called them lazy, a name which stuck.

They were also puzzled by the politics of the Indians. They didn't have any real chiefs but settled things by talking them over around a council fire with everyone equal.

The British invented the idea of chiefs for them and so, later, there were some great Indian leaders, mostly to protest the foreign occupation. There were names like Black Kettle of the Cheyennes, Little Crow of the Santee Sioux, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux, Cochise and Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apaches, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces.

There weren't any outsiders in any of the tribes, either, not like the British underclasses. The Indians never resorted to shunning or exiling their problem folks.

Some tribes were nomadic and some were not. Some were warlike and some were not. They were like people everywhere, really, except they weren't capitalists.

The Native Americans survived by living in harmony with the land. After 1492, they welcomed the whites, and then lost their land, religion and language. The Europeans thought the Indians were "uncivilized." The Indians were willing to share land usage, but they did not understand the concept of private property. They were a barrier to progress.

Everyone knows the shameful history of the massacres by the United States Army. Perhaps the most famous massacre was at Wounded Knee, SD in 1890, where the U.S. Army shot to death, at point blank range, 300 old men, women and children. There is a long shallow grave today at Wounded Knee, containing their bodies. There is nothing else at Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, except for a Catholic Church and a country store.

Robert F. Kennedy, the week before he was killed, visited Wounded Knee. He insisted on going there, even though it was 60 miles out of his way to a rally in Rapid City. The others in the car tried to talk him out of leaving the freeway (I-90) because he would be late for the rally, but Bobby insisted.

He stood there, silent in the wind, over the long, narrow grave for the longest time. His campaign managers had told him not to waste his time on the Indians, but the Indians voted for him overwhelmingly in the South Dakota primary, the very week he was killed.

When Arthur Ashe, the great tennis star, who won Wimbleton in 1975 and the U.S. Open in 1968, contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, he was asked if he could cope with it and he said something like, "It'll be tough, but there's nothing tougher than growing up black in America."

Something like that can be said about growing up Indian in America (or, to be politically correct, Native American.)

The statistics for Indians these days are most disheartening if one looks at their rates of poverty, alcoholism, school dropouts and suicides, especially on the Reservations.

Very few Indians profit from the casinos which, of course, are owned and operated by white entrepreneurs. Legislators of both parties see Indian casinos as politically opportune. They can look as if they are helping Indians in a way that doesn't cost the government (i.e. taxpayers) anything.

But "Time" magazine (Dec. 16, 2002) says, "While the vast majority of Indians continue to live in poverty, many non-Indian investors are extracting hundreds of millions of dollars from casinos they helped establish, either by taking advantage of regulatory loopholes or cutting back room deals. More than 90 percent, if the contracts between tribes and outside gaming management companies operate with no oversight. That means investors' identities are secret as well as their share of the revenue."

This kind of information doesn't get into the daily papers, which have always been anti-Indian in their reporting.

In fact, fueling the holocaust against the Indians is the relentless propaganda against the Indians in the American press. It's a pattern in human nature to dehumanize people who are different.

In Europe of the 1940s, and in Africa in the '90s, millions of families were destroyed, millions were killed, and millions more were scarred for life. We cannot understand that unless we know that if we are serious about preventing such things in the future, we must know killing never just starts out of the blue; it is always preceded by intolerance and disrespect.

In Dee Brown's classic, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," he begins by saying that if one reads the history of Native Americans, told in their own words, then one can understand the despair, the agony, and yet, the unconquered spirit of the people.

Six million copies of Brown's book, still in print, have been sold around the world, but still not much has happened.

We can't change the brutal past, but we can change the future.

I don't know what to do about it all. Maybe you do.

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