Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Honor exchanged for shame: Thoughts on America's history with Native peoples

I am the father to three, soon to be four,  Native American children and the husband of a Native American women. My wife and kids are all registered tribal members of the Oklahoma Band of Cherokee Indians, a.k.a Cherokee Nation. I am proud of their heritage and of the heritage of all Native peoples. Most Native peoples treated the land and each other with respect and had a particular amount of integrity towards the land and creation as well as honor and respect. I am ashamed of the way our nation has treated these honorable people and I believe there will be a reckoning for America's unrepentant sins towards indigenous peoples.

In Northern Michigan there is an Island, an Island I'm sure all of you have heard of before. It's called Mackinac Island. It's a beautiful get away from all of life's hectic things. It's trapped in time, there are no cars and all the homes and buildings are from the victorian era. It's known for it's cool summer weather, fudge and "the Grand" (the Grand Hotel, built by the rail road companies hoping to capitalize on the the industrial wealth coming to the Island at the beginning of the 20th century). I love Mackinac Island as most who have been there do. As a young person growing up in Michigan it was an annual summer trip to go to the Island, buy some fudge, walk around the state park and enjoy the ferry ride to and from the island.

As much fun as the island is and as beautiful as it is, it was once more beautiful, more sacred than most of us know. The island is a sacred place in the tradition of some of its earliest known inhabitants, the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) tribes, who consider it to be home to the Gitche Manitou or the "Great Spirit". Gitche Manitou is also known as the "great mystery". According to the Ojibwa, Mackinac Island was created by the Great Hare, Michabou and was the first land to appear after the recession of the Great Flood. The island was a gathering place for the local tribes where their offerings were made (in the form of tobacco) to Gitche Manitou and was where tribal chiefs were buried. A place that was once an organic, living, breathing temple...a sanctuary...the home of God himself, is now a tourist trap known for fudge, opulence and worthless souvenirs. 

Gitche Manitou is a god much like ours. He is benevolent and nurturing and owns the universe. He is unknowable, which is why he is often called the great mystery. He gave humanity his entire stock of tobacco, which he loves, and asks us to smoke the tobacco as an offering to him. This sounds silly, but in the mythology it is a great gift and serves as a medium between Gitche Manitou and humanity. 

What happened to Mackinac Island is just one example of White Europeans taking something sacred from the Native Peoples and treating it with shame and treating them with shame. The systematic hunting and killing off of the American Plains Buffalo, the uprooting of the Eastern tribes, i.e. Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Seminole and moving them hundreds of miles to the red dirt of Oklahoma, the intentional exposure of the Sioux and other Central tribes to small pox...all this is serves as a witness to our nations willingness to make minorities a means to an end for the sake of wealth and power. I understand that this happened almost 200 years ago, but there has never been any formal apology or attempt to reconcile and neither has there been one with the descendants of the Africans who were enslaved on this continent for 400 years!

I hope that there is more awareness about the plight of Native Peoples, what years of genocide have done to this once honorable people. They live in poverty, addicted to drugs and alcohol and plagued with obesity. They're forced on to reservations (if they want land to live on for free) and are offered subpar healthcare. Shame on our ancestors for stealing these peoples honor. My God have mercy on our nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment