The White Lie
By: Terrell Iron Shell
“We are fed a lie by the white man. I’ve seen that lie being swallowed . . . not only that but our elders have swallowed that lie of the white man. They say were a vanishing people . . . No! We will be here for another 500 years. We have no intention of giving up, and vanishing, assimilating into this society as if we haven’t our own.” Carter Camp, American Indian Movement leader, August 1941- Forever.
My relatives before me paved the road I walk on. Their hopes for the future embedded in every strand of my DNA, their dreams in my actions and words. Every aspect of life in today’s society are the ripples of past events. From past victories to present day struggles, Native America has been on the forefront of the fights against the overreaching powers of the U.S. government and later, the extractive industry. Our story is not one you’ll learn about in schools or in the media.
We serve at higher rates in the military than any other race while only accounting for about 2% of the entire U.S. population, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear about the acts of valor of most of our brave men and women in uniform. Our lands are abundant with coal, uranium, zeolite, gold, natural gas and oil, we may never see justice in our fights for clean water.
Once a boundless territory rich with life, our lands were reduced by the relative size of the U.S. state of Montana. Over 100 million acres of land down to about 40 million by the 1930’s. We’ve had everything ranging from; massacres and smallpox to starvation, and even having to suffer through contamination of our water and land by abandoned, irresponsibly handled and often times illegal uranium mines. The tactics of today are more subtle, but with the same objectives in mind, get the land, get the resources, get rid of the indians.
Large numbers of our people live below the poverty line, strategically rendering us dependant on government subsidies and federal programs to survive. Food deserts are the new norm in indian country and we are facing the contamination of our Ogallala aquifer in the name of profit. Multiple studies published on the overrepresentation of indigenous people in the justice system show that native people are more likely to be killed by the police than any other race. Not only that but we are twice as likely to fall victim to violent crimes, with about 60% of these crimes being carried out by non-native attackers.
In the days of Custer, the Army would set up camp as close to indigenous villages as possible to increase the odds of a victory, knowing all too well that we’d do anything we can to protect our women and children. Troops would rape and mutilate our women, taking “trophies” to show to their superiors to prove a job well done, killing our children and our bloodlines. Our grandparents sent to boarding schools, destined live their entire child and young adult years learning to be toxic to the whole community, never in reality meant to assimilate into mainstream society. Trained by the abuse to be abusers. Victims of the church, evil men and women tainted by the teachings of the doctrine of discovery, never knowing the feeling of love, compassion or respect.
They want to “kill the indian, save the man”. Now our youth are taken from their families and made wards of the state, being illegally taken by states like South Dakota for the sole purpose of making a profit. Our young people are also subject to being referred to juvenile court at higher rates than whites, as opposed to having their charges dropped. Native men are incarcerated at a rate four times higher than white males and our women at rates six times higher than their white counterparts. Often times poverty on top of the stigma the previously incarcerated people live with after release, lead many people to end up back in the prison systems.
We are a matriarchal society and our women are under attack. Our communities plagued by stories of missing sisters, mothers and cousins. The stories usually follow a pattern of abuse until they ultimately end up seriously injured or dead. In some territories our women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average. 1 in 3 native women will be raped in their lifetime, usually by someone close to them. The lack of action on the end of law enforcement leaves victims and their families without justice. This response from police triggers mistrust for them in our communities and makes victims reluctant to report sexual assaults and missing relatives, fueling a lack of data about women who have been raped, are missing or have been murdered.
After it became illegal to practice our ceremonies, our women kept our traditions alive. Going underground they vowed to keep our sacred fires burning, preserving the ways of our ancestors for generations to come. Women bare life, they create human spirits and mold them into warriors. It is because of the suffering they experience giving birth that they didn’t have to suffer as men do in the sundance, as it is said that they suffer enough for our people. Our warrior women are on the forefront of every fight today, and now participate in sundance as a way to honor them for keeping it. They didn’t keep it for themselves, or for us here now; they kept it for the next 7 generations coming.
One of the main reasons Iron Shell agreed to sign the Ft. Laramie treaty of 1868 for the Brule Oyate was solely because of the “Bad Men Clause”. This clause states “If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington city . . . and proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained”.
By invoking this right as Lakota people, we have the inherent right to hold non-indians accountable for their actions on our lands as opposed to the leniency they get now by most tribal governments. The government consented that any indian harmed by a “wrong”, or crime, committed by a non-indian under U.S. jurisdiction are promised compensation from them even though they had no role in the wrongdoing as insured by the treaty. Article VI of the U.S. constitution states that “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby”.
Resilient, a trait used by many to describe the original occupants of turtle island. We have faced many hardships in our struggle to maintain our identities, only to make us that much stronger. Throughout our history with the United States we have always tried to hold them accountable for their actions. Whether it was burning forts along the Platte or battles along the Powder River we were there and we fought valiantly for our people until treaties were signed. Delegations of headsmen met with the Grant white house to discuss the relations between our society and theirs and the promises that were made to protect indigenous peoples from white colonial settlers. Those promises broken before the ink could dry.
We were raised with the stories of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Some have even said that Gen, Crook and his troops ate their horses on their retreat from the Battle of Rosebud Creek, rather than run into Crazy Horse and his warriors again in a country full of game. Interactions between American Indian Movement members and the FBI molding our distrust for the invader government. Our views shaped from past rulings by federal courts, proving that the waters of justice are muddy, to say the least, in indian country. We can see you, we know who you are. Can you see us? The descendants of warriors, the active members of your communities. Can you see us? The mothers and fathers of future leaders. We are the answer to our ancestors prayers.