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‘As long as you love Jesus’: The battle for Pine Ridge’s children’

Why do so many Christian missionaries descend on the Native American reservation, and how do residents feel about them?

The Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Pine Ridge Reservation; in 2012 a teacher at the adjacent Jesuit-sponsored school did not have his contract renewed after he violated a policy on maintaining appropriate boundaries with children. He was later accused of sexually assaulting children at another school [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]
By Stephen Starr
21 Oct 2020

The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota covers approximately 2.8 million acres (1.13 million hectares) and is home to almost 20,000 members of the Oglala Lakota people. Within the reservation’s borders is the Badlands National Park, a vast expanse of karst table mesa formations, and a dozen small towns and settlements.

On the quiet main street of its largest town, also named Pine Ridge, there is a new supermarket, a Taco John’s fast-food restaurant, a gas station and a Pizza Hut.

There is also the Holy Cross Episcopal Church facing the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is a stone’s throw from the Joint Presbyterian-Lutheran Ministry and an adjacent retreat centre that is used for Christian-themed gatherings and for handing out food parcels. The churches and other Christian buildings, a hodge-podge of structures built in the 1960s and 70s, look dated and worn.

Further down the broad main street is Higher Ground, the town’s sole cafe. Last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it belted out Christian rock and pop music to a stream of largely non-Indigenous customers. Many of them were Christian missionaries – a few of the younger ones were on their first visit to the reservation but many were middle-aged and returned year after year.

A short distance further out of town is the Potter House Church and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Churches, retreat centres and missions dominate Pine Ridge’s streetscapes and bucolic badlands. In fact, there is one church here for every 388 people – making it second only to Indianapolis in the United States (with a church for every 289 people) in terms of the number of religious organisations per capita.

The vast Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is home to the Oglala Sioux Nation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

A history of abuse and cultural cleansing

But Christian missionaries and churches hold a grim place in the historical consciousness of Native Americans.

In the late 1800s, boarding schools were set up and run by religious orders with the sole remit of assimilating Native American children into the Christian culture of the white settlers while attempting to destroy their connections to their own culture, languages, traditions and families.

For almost a century, Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to one of the hundreds of boarding schools across the US and Canada. There, they suffered starvation, neglect, illnesses such as tuberculosis, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Many children did not survive the schools.

In addition, the US government policy of forcible assimilation led to thousands of Native American children being adopted by white families during the 1950s and 60s.

But despite the decades of abuse and cultural cleansing, today, Native American children still find themselves surrounded by missionaries.

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is working to shed light on missionaries’ conversion efforts on the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong’

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is a 47-year-old musician who lives in Oglala, a town about 15 minutes’ drive north of Pine Ridge town. It is home to about 1,300 people and the Re*Creation & Worship Center, the Oyate Concern Missionaries and the Our Lady of the Sioux Church. With their brightly-painted wine and teal coloured roofs, the structures – some of the largest in the community – stand out against the mainly ageing trailers and mobile homes inhabited by residents.

She recalled the first time she saw missionaries on the reservation. “I was driving along with my ex-husband in Oglala. It was a Sunday morning and I saw all these cars parked together,” she said. “I asked him what was going on and he said it was a Christian service gathering. I’d never heard about this before”

She was not immediately concerned and, like many other parents in the community, allowed her children to play at the Re*Creation and Worship Center, a mission church with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God group of churches, for the simple reason that it had a playground.

But then, one day, her daughter, who was about 10 years old at the time, came home complaining of pain in her knees. She had been made to kneel on the gravel, she said.

“Then someone from our community called and told me [the centre] had a wall lined with certificates of baptisms, and they saw my kids’ names on them,” she recalled.

“I asked my kids and they said there was a small wading pool where the children were told to lie down and they were dunked in.”

“They had no idea what had happened.”

Little Spotted Horse said she confronted the centre’s leaders and was asked to leave. Her children never went back. The Re*Creation and Worship Center declined to respond to Al Jazeera’s queries about whether baptising children without their parents’ permission was or remains among its activities.

“They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong,” said Little Spotted Horse. “They think they’re entitled to do this weird stuff.” These incidents prompted Little Spotted Horse to begin investigating what churches and missionaries were doing across the reservation.

Christian propaganda material is still commonly distributed around Native communities on the reservation; this one claims Jesus is greater than the Lakota god, Tunkasila [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Poverty porn’

She started speaking to members of her community and asking them to share their accounts of incidents with religious groups.

“About 130 people flooded forward,” she explained. “They said that there were incidents of sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse. Picking up children without permission, their parents not knowing what is going on.”

She relayed the story of a mother who allowed her child to be taken by missionaries to play with other children at a nearby religious venue, but when the child was not returned at the prearranged time, she panicked, calling the police and organising a search. The child was returned several hours later, but the missionaries left without ever explaining the reason for the delay or being spoken to by tribal police.

Little Spotted Horse also said she believes missions are using images of Native children to fundraise for their own organisations.

“Honestly, I think all the churches are here just to make money because they do the poverty porn thing – ‘Look at these poor Natives, give to us, give to us, we’re going to save them.’” She exhaled and looked down at her infant granddaughter who was trying to wriggle free from her arms.

Her activism culminated in a 2017 tribal ordinance that requires groups coming to the reservation to report to the tribal authorities and adhere to background checks and drug testing for individuals working around children. “If they don’t, we can call the cops and have them escorted off the reservation,” she said.

About 60 percent of children live under the poverty threshold on Pine Ridge Reservation, compared with 21 percent nationwide [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Thanks for asking’

Duane Yellowhawk, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s law and order committee, estimated that there are 70 to 100 churches on the reservation.

“I can’t exactly say, but there’s a lot of churches around,” he said.

An additional 30 to 45 missions descend on the area every spring and summer, he explained.

The missions – which bring people from across the US to the reservation – take Lakota children swimming, camping and on other trips while introducing them to Christianity. Some missionary organisations also work on much-needed infrastructure projects, including building ramps for wheelchair users and painting homes.

But Yellowhawk said he does not believe the churches or missions are required to get permission from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council that runs the reservation before they arrive.

The situation is unclear. While the law and order committee is responsible for enforcing the ordinance, Yellowhawk said during his term he has not seen any background checks provided by Christian organisations. Little Spotted Horse, however, maintains that it is the law.

Other tribal council members contacted by Al Jazeera declined to comment on the role Christian organisations play in life on the reservation.

While a number of groups carry out important infrastructure and relief work, some reports of disturbing incidents have emerged. In March 2019, a priest with the Holy Spirit church who had previously worked on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe located 160km (100 miles) northeast of Pine Ridge was sentenced to six years in jail for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in Rapid City, South Dakota, 65km (40 miles) northwest of Pine Ridge.

In a 2019 article, the newspaper Indian Country Today reported on the case of T, a woman from Pine Ridge who was allegedly sexually abused as a child over four years by a member of the Re*Creation and Worship Center. T declined to speak to Al Jazeera for this article, citing acute discomfort with dredging up the past.

“When she finally came forward because no one believed her, [tribal police] said they couldn’t prosecute because it was her word against the guy’s word,” said Little Spotted Horse, who is familiar with the case.

Eric Sutton, the lead pastor at the centre, told Indian Country Today of the alleged perpetrator, “I fired him as soon as I heard about the charges. The last I heard, he was in Pennsylvania.”

Queries put to Sutton by Al Jazeera via email as to whether background checks are currently being performed on volunteers working around children were answered with: “We have no comment. Thanks for asking.”

The Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Pine Ridge town centre is one of the many Christian institutions that dominate streetscapes across the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Is Jesus Christ your saviour?’

Travelling around Pine Ridge before the pandemic forced it to close its borders to visitors for a time earlier this year, the presence of missionaries and their apparent evangelising could be seen everywhere.

At the local Pizza Hut, about a third of the customers in a one-hour period were non-Native. Many wore T-shirts bearing the names of mission groups and churches.

At the Higher Ground cafe, a middle-aged white woman spoke to two Native high school students. “Is Jesus Christ your saviour?” she asked them. She spoke intensely to the children, who disclosed which high school class they were in but otherwise remained mostly silent. “Jesus Christ never did anything wrong,” she stressed before buying them a drink, giving them some money and leaving.

Calls later made to the cafe’s owner requesting comment on missionaries’ activities on their premises did not receive a response. Emails sent to a number of mission groups asking whether Lakota children they or their volunteers interact with receive money for any reason also went unanswered.

A ban on proselytising

The Oglala Lakota Nation Wacipi and Fair celebration usually held at the pow wow grounds on the outskirts of Pine Ridge every August (but cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic) is an important social, cultural and spiritual gathering for Lakota peoples from across the US. Hundreds of Lakota gather over three days to watch and take part in drum-beating, dance and regalia competitions and events. The sound of Lakota ceremonial songs fills the still South Dakota air. Next to the pow wow grounds are a rodeo event, a carnival, and a campsite where friends and families chat late into the night.

But here too, the missionaries were prominent last August. Next to the main entrance was a stand for the Jehovah’s Witnesses by which a well-dressed, young white man and a young Native woman stood. When Al Jazeera directed a question to the woman, the man interjected, asking that press questions related to their work on the reservation be directed to their website. Emails to the Jehovah’s Witnesses general counsel in New York, asking whether the organisation thought it appropriate to appear at this traditional, spiritual Lakota event, went unanswered.

The annual pow wow or ‘wacipi’ is a spiritual, family event for Pine Ridge’s residents, but here too missionaries make their presence felt [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]Of course, many of the Christian groups aim to help a community where 60 percent of the children live under the poverty threshold (compared with 21 percent nationally), where life expectancy is the lowest in the US and where, in August, a suicide emergency was declared following reports of 177 attempts by young people to take their own lives in the first eight months of this year. But at the heart of these problems and others is the intergenerational fallout of white America’s efforts to eradicate Native American identity – something that many missionary groups appear to be replicating.

Although not all organisations are strictly missionary-orientated.

The Re-Member organisation is a non-profit based 10 minutes east of Pine Ridge town that expressly points out in its volunteer preparation package that proselytising is forbidden. It also warns that clothing depicting religious imagery should be avoided.

“Although many of our volunteers do come from churches, we are very upfront in our terms and conditions, pre-trip information, and on-site orientation, that Re-Member is a not-for-profit volunteer organisation,” said Cory True, an executive director. “Re-Member insists that all volunteers adhere to our policy against any proselytising whatsoever during the course of their visit.”

According to its Facebook page, this year Re-Member installed several ramps, 14 outhouses and delivered close to 70 beds to communities on Pine Ridge, spending approximately $25,000 on construction material in the process. In addition, some of the items for sale in its online store are the work of Lakota artists.

Yet Re-Member is not a secular organisation. It was co-founded by a preacher in 1988, and many of its donors and contacts are religious institutions. None of its current officers or board of directors is Lakota.

Every year it brings about 1,200 volunteers, some as young as eight years old, to the reservation, charging adults nearly $600 per trip – money it says is used to pay for food and accommodation. It puts significant effort into fundraising and, according to public records, in 2018, it had an income of more than $515,000 through “programme service revenue” and received a similar figure in the form of “contributions and grants”.

‘As long as you say you love Jesus’

Local community activists say the presence of well-resourced Christian groups creates and feeds an unequal power dynamic and relationship of dependency with Native children. And when the weeklong mission experience ends and volunteers go home, local children are left to return to their everyday lives.

What is more, some say missionaries are outbidding local efforts to help people in need. “You have these churches coming in here, building what they call ‘poverty porn’. They got all this money to do all kinds of stuff in those communities,” said Milton Bianas, who is Oglala and works with male criminal offenders through the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services. “They got more connections; they can get in there and do a lot more than we can do – as long as you say you love Jesus.”

Milton Bianas and Jenn Black Feather of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]Incarceration rates among Native Americans are twice that of white and Hispanic Americans. Bianas said in many communities on Pine Ridge, his is the only tribal programme doing culturally and spiritually relevant work in the jails. “The other 10 programmes are all different denominations of Christian groups,” he explained.

Last year, Little Spotted Horse embarked on a needs-test project that, she said, will take her to every house on the reservation to, in part, document residents’ religious affiliations. She says the information would better inform people’s needs but also offer insight into whether the presence of so many Christian groups is merited. While the pandemic has halted that effort for now, as well as forcing missionaries to stay away this year, she expects to pick it back up once the COVID-19 emergency passes.

“Ninety-five percent of our reservation is traditional. Ninety-five percent of us are not Christians,” she said. “They’re going around saying we’re evil devil-worshippers, that something is wrong with us, that we don’t believe in Christianity, so they need to save us. It’s really disgusting. They want to come here to supposedly save us.”

“People here are poor,” added Little Spotted Horse. “People will go to the churches and revivals [meetings organised to recruit new converts] because they know that afterwards, they give them food.”

Still, the pandemic-fuelled travel restrictions this year that have prevented missionaries from coming to Pine Ridge have led to some positive developments.

“We haven’t had to be watching out for the kids or heard complaints from people [about the missionaries],” said Little Spotted Horse. “The Tribal Council has stepped up with aid and support for people, which goes to show that we can do this without having the missionaries here.”

SOURCE : AL JAZEERA

Canada’s Supreme Court to consider whether Native Americans in U.S. have rights north of the border

by Amanda Coletta, The Washington Post, October 7, 2020

Richard Deseutel, a member of the Lakes Tribe in Washington State, shot an elk in British Columbia in 2010 to assert a right to the traditional hunting lands of the Sinixt people.

It was a frosty October morning when Richard Desautel aimed his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle at a cow elk in the Arrow Lakes area of British Columbia, shot the animal dead and phoned wildlife conservation officers to report what he’d done.

That call, made a decade ago this month, set into motion a plan that was years in the making. Authorities charged Desautel, a U.S. citizen and member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington state, with hunting without a license and hunting big game while not a resident of British Columbia.

It was what Desautel wanted. It gave him the opportunity to argue that he was exercising his right under Canada’s constitution to hunt for ceremonial purposes on the traditional land of his ancestors, the Sinixt, an Indigenous group that Canada declared extinct more than 60 years ago.

Now he’ll argue his case before Canada’s Supreme Court, in a proceeding that could have sweeping implications for Indigenous groups on both sides of the border. A victory could give more Native Americans in the United States the right to use their tribes’ traditional lands in Canada.

The main question before the justices is whether rights afforded to “aboriginal peoples of Canada” by the Constitution Act can extend to groups that don’t live in Canada. But for Desautel, who traveled to Ottawa for the hearing Thursday, it’s about something larger.

“For the Sinixt people, this case — and it sounds almost corny to say — is about their very identity,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s lawyer. “Everything is at stake for them.”

The lower courts considered centuries of history.

Desautel, 68, says he is a descendant of the Sinixt, an Indigenous group that hunted and fished in traditional lands that extended north and south of the 49th parallel before and after contact with Europeans in 1811.

British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinski wrote in a2017 ruling that a “constellation of factors” eventually led the Sinixt to “more or less” live full-time in the southern part of their territory, which became part of the United States in 1846 when the Oregon Boundary Treaty established that section of the U.S.-Canada border.

Many of the Sinixt, who had become known as the Lakes Tribe, took up residence in the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, where Desautel lives. By the 1930s, they had stopped traveling north to hunt. The Sinixt in Canada were moved in 1902 to a reserve set up along the west side of the Upper Arrow Lake for the Arrow Lakes Band.

After the last member of the Arrow Lakes Band died, Canada in 1956 declared it “extinct” under the country’s Indian Act.

Their descendants, including Desautel, contend that their very existence proves the opposite.

Crown prosecutors argued that Desautel doesn’t hold a constitutionally protected right to hunt in Canada because he doesn’t belong to one of the groups that make up the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” — and that granting him such a right would be incompatible with Canadian sovereignty.

The Crown also said Desautel failed to prove that the Sinixt people’s tradition of hunting before contact was carried out by its modern-day successor group — a test for establishing a right under Canadian law. Prosecutors argued that they voluntarily drifted from their northern territory and traditional practices there.

Mrozinski disagreed and acquitted Desautel. Even if members of the Lakes Tribe moved south, she wrote, there’s no evidence that they gave up their claim to the rest of their traditional territory or that their move was entirely voluntary.

“Whether or not the Sinixt, or Lakes Tribe as they are known, utilized their traditional territory north of the 49th parallel after the 1930s,” she wrote, “I am left with no doubt that the land was not forgotten, that the traditions were not forgotten and that the connection to the land is ever present in the minds of the members of the Lakes Tribe.” British Columbia’s Supreme Court and its Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown’s appeals.

“Imposing a requirement that Indigenous peoples may only hold Aboriginal rights in Canada if they occupy the same geographical territory in which their ancestors exercised those rights,” Court of Appeal Justice Daphne Smith wrote in the 2019 ruling, “ignores the Aboriginal perspective, the realities of colonization and does little towards achieving the ultimate goal of reconciliation.”

The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the case is of national importance. Its ruling could have far-reaching ramifications.

In legal filings, prosecutors warned of “legal and practical difficulties” that could arise from a decision in Desautel’s favor, including the possibility that other Indigenous groups in the United States with traditional territory divided by the border could be entitled to constitutional rights in Canada. The government would then have a duty to consult with them on projects impacting their traditional lands, such as pipelines.

Several such groups applied for and have been granted intervener status — comparable to amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” standing in the U.S. courts — in the appeal to the Supreme Court. The Peskotomuhkati Nation, which has communities in New Brunswick and Maine, said in legal filings that it’s “dishonorable” to hold that U.S.-based Indigenous groups do not have rights in Canada.

“If you read the factum for the government, there’s a fear of what we call the floodgates of law,” said John Borrows, a professor of Indigenous law at the University of Victoria. “That if you allowed this example . . . then that unlocks the door to dominoes.”

Many of the major rulings that have established Indigenous rights have arisen from defenses to criminal or regulatory charges. Borrows said it would be “much better to have this done through negotiation or some other dispute resolution process that [is] more systematic.”

Shelly Boyd, a member of the Lakes Tribe who says she is descended from the Sinixt, remembers what it was like as a young girl to learn that Canada considered her “extinct.”

“I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense. That’s what happens to dinosaurs. That’s what happens to animals,’ ” Boyd said. “The reality is that we weren’t thought of as human. . . . You’re not just treated as if you’re less than. You’re actually, in this case, declared less than, declared nothing.”

Desautel says a ruling in his favor would affirm that his decade-long battle was “a journey well spent.”

“The court decision is something that’s in the judicial system that has to be taken care of,” he said. “As for me, being here in my traditional territory, the burial ground of my ancestors, walking the path of my ancestors . . .You can’t take that away from me.”

GUIDE TO INDIGENOUS LAND AND TERRITORIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

What is an Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement?

An Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement is a statement that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from the homelands and territories upon which an institution was built and currently occupies and operates in. For some, an Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement might be an unfamiliar practice, but it is a common protocol within Indigenous communities in the United States and is a standard practice in both Australia and Canada. The terms “Land” and “Territorial” are not necessarily interchangeable, and the decision as to their use should be specific and local, pertaining to those Indigenous people who are being acknowledged as well as to those legacies and responsibilities of an institution that are also being acknowledged. In this guide, a preference for land acknowledgement is made in keeping with advocacy acknowledging Lenapehoking as Lenape homeland. Within cultural institutions, these statements can be adopted in various ways. However it is vital that they be spoken as a verbal statement given at the beginning of programs or events. In addition, they can also be expressed through a text panel or plaque, and an acknowledgement on an institutional website.

Why are Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements Important?

The teaching of U.S. history, in schools, museums, and the media, has left out many voices and difficult truths in order to create an idealized nationalistic identity. The displacement of Indigenous peoples and the devastating effect that forced relocation has had on these communities has been largely hidden within the nationalist narratives. While many Indigenous nations have treaties with the United States government that designate land ownership, most only have rights to occupancy. Often the land on which Indigenous nations and communities reside is not the land to which they have ancestral ties, as many have experienced dispossession and displacement through colonization. However, the connection to homelands has endured by means of multiple and ongoing Indigenous strategies of resistance to settler colonialism. This connection is often central to cultural identity and worldview. The examples of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline and the shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument demonstrate that relationships to place and identity persist. The settler colonial state continues to struggle in the recognition of inherent Indigenous sovereignty and respect for homelands.

Why Cultural Institutions?

Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgements pertain to all places, especially to libraries, archives, museums, and universities, because it is their ethical obligation as educational institutions to create truthful and factual representations. These acknowledgements have an educational function that makes them universally applicable, regardless of an institution’s particular focus. They are about respecting and recognizing Indigenous peoples, and their relationships to land through the protocols of naming people, elders, ancestors, and the times of past to future. Acknowledgement statements confront institutional legacies as agents of colonialism. Cultural institutions have utilized deeply colonial methods to develop mainstream representations of the “other” as territory, in addition to perpetuating and reinforcing destructive colonial narratives. Further, because of the authority of cultural institutions, these narratives have been accepted as truth, informing policies that negatively affect Indigenous peoples. The ongoing effects of settler colonialism need to be addressed.

Suggestions for Creating your Land or Territorial Acknowledgement

Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgements should be motivated by a genuine respect for Indigenous nations and communities. Reaching out to local Indigenous communities to ask how they would like to be acknowledged is crucial. This is the most respectful approach as it recognizes the sovereignty of Indigenous nations to define their own terms. Acknowledgements are a collaborative process to be formed through continuous relationships with Indigenous people. An acknowledgment begins as a spoken embodied action. It is also appropriate for institutions to adopt material versions (i.e., plaque or text panel). This practice should be integrated by institutional staff into the protocol of everyday proceedings, such as board meetings, gallery talks, and larger events. It is important and meaningful to have institutional representatives acknowledge the institutions’ legacy and to indicate reckoning and a commitment to change within the institution.

Land or territorial acknowledgement statements can take many forms. The following is an example of an acknowledgement statement that could be used within a museum setting:

We are gathered on the unceded land of the ( ) peoples. I ask you to join me in acknowledging the ( ) community, their elders both past and present, as well as future generations. (Name of institution) also acknowledges that it was founded upon exclusions and erasures of many Indigenous peoples, including those on whose land this institution is located. This acknowledgement demonstrates a commitment to beginning the process of working to dismantle the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism.

Cultural institutions have an obligation to support ongoing education as well as accurate and responsible representation. By harnessing institutional voice, there is a capacity to effect change into the future far beyond institutional walls.

Resources:

● This guide was designed to complement the USDAC’s extensive #HonorNativeLand Guide, which can be found here: https://usdac.us/nativeland/.

● If you aren’t sure which community or communities to acknowledge, https://Native-Land.ca is a great initial resource.

● This guide builds upon the important work that the Lenape Center, American Indian Community House, Rick Chavolla, Emily Johnson, and the New Red Order (NRO) have been doing with regard to land acknowledgements in Lenapehoking.

● Please reference the School for Advanced Research’s “Museums+Communities: Guidelines for Collaboration”: https://sarweb.org/guidelinesforcollaboration/.

● Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” can help to contextualize this practice within a larger decolonization framework https://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18630.

Developed by: Felicia Garcia (Chumash), M.A. Museum Studies, New York University, 2018.

For further resources and information see: http://www.landacknowledgements.org

Please send any comments or questions to LandAcknowledgementGuide@gmail.com

New Research – The Hunt for Crazy Horse’s Women!

From top left : alleged sculpture of Black Buffalo Woman; Black Shawl; possible death record of Black Shawl; the Crazy Horse monument; allegedly No Water.

With everyone locked-down because of the Coronavirus, and unable to travel or meet, I got to thinking. Not that I don’t do that otherwise! Like Wordsworth, I was savoring recollections of my Native American road-trip in the tranquility of my home, when I got to wondering whatever became of Black Buffalo Woman and Black Shawl after Crazy Horse. I won’t summarize the remarkable story of Crazy Horse here, as that would not do him justice at all, but will explain briefly who these women were.

Black Buffalo Woman was the great love of his life, and that love was more than reciprocated. Unfortunately, she was the niece of the wily Red Cloud, and he married her off to one of his one band members, No Water behind Crazy Horse’s back. One account says that he organized a war party to entice Crazy Horse away, and, on the way, No Water pretended to be ill and returned to camp, where he was quickly married to Black Buffalo Woman. Despite this, she eloped with Crazy Horse to the Slim Buttes area. No Water, usually an alcoholic and layabout, refused to accept the Lakota system that allows a woman to take or divorce a husband anytime she chooses, and chased after her. He attempted to shoot Crazy Horse, but only injured him, after which he ran away as quickly as he could, to escape the wrath of Crazy Horse’s people. Eventually, Black Buffalo Woman returned to No Water. She had 3 children with him prior to this episode, and one in less than a year after it. This last daughter was said to be unusually light haired, like Crazy Horse, and lived possibly into the 1930s. She could be Crazy Horse’s daughter, though no such claim has ever been made.

After his shooting, Crazy Horse was lovingly nursed back to full health and vigor by Black Shawl, a niece of his maternal uncle, Chief Spotted Tail of the Brule (the same man who would eventually betray him). During this period, they fell in love and got married. They eventually had a daughter, Kokipapi (They Are Afraid of Her) named that as he wanted her to be an independent, powerful woman. By all accounts, he doted on her and it was a humourously incongruous sight to see this fierce warrior, deeply feared by even the US Army, turn to putty in her hands, as he played with her. Sadly, she died, probably of whooping cough, just a couple of years later, leaving the parents utterly heart-broken. The bond between Black Shawl and Crazy Horse only got stronger with the years.

On the fateful 5th September 1877, Crazy Horse was assassinated at Fort Robinson, succumbing to the machinations of his own people, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail. As his vision had predicted, so long ago, the great War Chief whom the US Army could not defeat even once, and who defeated two of their illustrious generals, Crook and Custer, fell at the hands of his own people.

I wondered what became of Black Buffalo Woman after her return to No Water, and especially what became of her last daughter. The No Waters eventually had to change their name to Star Comes Out or Starr or Star, because of the infamy of the No Water name. Does anyone have any clues about their fate?

Black Shawl almost certainly lived to the ripe age of around 80 years, despite lifelong ill health, and probably died of the flu in the Pine Ridge Reservation. Again, history has consigned her to the dusts of oblivion the moment she moved out of the incandescent spotlight of Crazy Horse. All I have found so far is a death record that could be hers.

When travel to the US is possible again, I intend to hit the Red Road again and spend plenty of time digging through the dusty records (they have not been digitized) in the basements of the National Archives in Washington DC as well as Kansas City, MO, along with the archives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other sources.

If you know anything of these women, or know of someone who does, or know any family members who will share their history, I would be hugely grateful.

I will keep updating you here as this incredibly difficult hunt continues.

Police Killings Against Native Americans Are Off the Charts and Off the Radar

Courtesy Equal Justice Initiative

Police shootings of Native Americans are generating greater attention after recent reports reveal that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial group in the United States.

“The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Asian Americans,” according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected between 1999 and 2011 shows that Native Americans, who are 0.8 percent of the United States population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. They are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. (Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of whites.)

“Yet these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media,” writes Stephanie Woodard in a special investigation released this month. Of the 29 Native people killed by police between May 2014 and October 2015, only one received sustained coverage in any of the nation’s top 10 newspapers, and brief mentions of a second shooting misidentified the victim, Suquamish tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, as Latino. None of the other 27 deaths received any coverage.

Major media likewise failed to report on a series of Native deaths in custody in 2015, including that of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother of two who died in a South Dakota jail after being denied medical care during the same month that Sandra Bland died in police custody.

Ms. Woodard reports that even the most recent and most egregious examples of resistance to civil rights for Native Americans by police, public agencies, and private citizens continue to be left out of the national conversation about race. Recent hearings held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, revealed that Native Americans today experience mistreatment, from being denied service in public places to police brutality, that “sound[s] like tales from the pre-civil-rights Deep South.”

In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch. USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as “slave labor.”

Violence and discrimination against Native Americans are legacies of this country’s history of racial injustice. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the genocide of Native Americans or the myth of racial difference created to justify the “removal” of Native people and the forced assimilation of their children. Generations of Native American activists have challenged this country to more truthfully confront this history and its legacy, which includes not only the highest police-violence rates, but also the highest poverty and suicide rates in the country.

The latest incarnation of this activism is Native Lives Matter. On December 19, 2014, NLM founder and Lakota attorney Chase Iron Eyes and others, taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, marched in Rapid City, South Dakota, to draw attention to police brutality against Native people. The next day, Rapid City police shot and killed Allen Locke, a Native man who had attended the protest. In the nearly two years since, activists across the country have adopted the NLM slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for a range of issues affecting Native people, from child welfare to mass incarceration, and to seek accountability for police violence against Native and non-Native people.

After 32-year-old Jacqueline Salyers, a member of the Puyallup tribe, was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year, her family and tribal members joined with other residents, Native and non-Native, who had lost loved ones to police violence. Under the banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All,” they are now advocating for a statewide ballot initiative that seeks greater police accountability for using lethal force.

Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her 70’s who was gassed, beaten, shot at, and arrested during 1970s protests for Native rights, wants recognition and accountability for Native victims of police violence like Jackie Salyers – and for victims of racial violence who have been been denied public acknowledgement and commemoration for decades. She explained that, in the late 19th century, presidential proclamations and Congressional actions broke up the Puyallup reservation and forced tribal members to move to isolated cabins on separate plots.

“Fishing and trapping were outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’

Among them was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie.

The Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie … a girl who has been dead for 104 years.”

A growing Native Lives Matter movement is drawing attention to police killings that are rarely covered by the media.

Police shootings of Native Americans are generating greater attention after recent reports reveal that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial group in the United States.

“The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Asian Americans,” according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected between 1999 and 2011 shows that Native Americans, who are 0.8 percent of the United States population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. They are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. (Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of whites.)

“Yet these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media,” writes Stephanie Woodard in a special investigation released this month. Of the 29 Native people killed by police between May 2014 and October 2015, only one received sustained coverage in any of the nation’s top 10 newspapers, and brief mentions of a second shooting misidentified the victim, Suquamish tribal member Daniel Covarrubias, as Latino. None of the other 27 deaths received any coverage.

Major media likewise failed to report on a series of Native deaths in custody in 2015, including that of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother of two who died in a South Dakota jail after being denied medical care during the same month that Sandra Bland died in police custody.

Ms. Woodard reports that even the most recent and most egregious examples of resistance to civil rights for Native Americans by police, public agencies, and private citizens continue to be left out of the national conversation about race. Recent hearings held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, revealed that Native Americans today experience mistreatment, from being denied service in public places to police brutality, that “sound[s] like tales from the pre-civil-rights Deep South.”

In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch. USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as “slave labor.”

Violence and discrimination against Native Americans are legacies of this country’s history of racial injustice. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the genocide of Native Americans or the myth of racial difference created to justify the “removal” of Native people and the forced assimilation of their children. Generations of Native American activists have challenged this country to more truthfully confront this history and its legacy, which includes not only the highest police-violence rates, but also the highest poverty and suicide rates in the country.

The latest incarnation of this activism is Native Lives Matter. On December 19, 2014, NLM founder and Lakota attorney Chase Iron Eyes and others, taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, marched in Rapid City, South Dakota, to draw attention to police brutality against Native people. The next day, Rapid City police shot and killed Allen Locke, a Native man who had attended the protest. In the nearly two years since, activists across the country have adopted the NLM slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for a range of issues affecting Native people, from child welfare to mass incarceration, and to seek accountability for police violence against Native and non-Native people.

After 32-year-old Jacqueline Salyers, a member of the Puyallup tribe, was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year, her family and tribal members joined with other residents, Native and non-Native, who had lost loved ones to police violence. Under the banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All,” they are now advocating for a statewide ballot initiative that seeks greater police accountability for using lethal force.

Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her 70’s who was gassed, beaten, shot at, and arrested during 1970s protests for Native rights, wants recognition and accountability for Native victims of police violence like Jackie Salyers – and for victims of racial violence who have been been denied public acknowledgement and commemoration for decades. She explained that, in the late 19th century, presidential proclamations and Congressional actions broke up the Puyallup reservation and forced tribal members to move to isolated cabins on separate plots.“Fishing and trapping were outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’

Among them was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie.

The Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie … a girl who has been dead for 104 years.”

A growing Native Lives Matter movement is drawing attention to police killings that are rarely covered by the media.

The despicable lie of “Custer’s Last Stand”

Courtesy :  Warren Gray, in “Gunpowder Magazine”

Guns and Bravery: Is This What Really Happened at the Little Bighorn?

“They never fought us with swords, but with guns and revolvers…
We were better-armed than the (soldiers)…it was just like killing sheep.”

— Rain-in-the-Face interview, 1894.

“They fired with needle guns (single-shot carbines). We replied with
magazine guns, repeating rifles…They could not stand up under such a fire.”

— Sioux Chief Sitting Bull.

“The Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they had ever fought.”

— Sioux Chief Red Horse, 1881.

We’ve all heard the official government version of the tragic story of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. What is known, beyond any doubt, is that Lieutenant Colonel (brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer, age 36, entered the Little Bighorn Valley of south-central Montana on June 25, 1876, with approximately 657 soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, expecting to find no more than 800 hostile Indians. But they swiftly encountered a massive encampment of approximately 8,000 to 12,000 Sioux and Cheyenne natives, of whom at least 2,500 to 3,000 (according to Chief Crazy Horse) were young warriors between the ages of 15 and 37. But because of the tall, leafy, cottonwood trees along the winding banks of the Little Bighorn River, Custer’s isolated regiment could only see one-sixth of the assembled Indian village in advance.

George Custer then made the serious, tactical error of dividing his own forces not once, but four times, first leaving Company B, his slow-moving, pack train of supplies, behind, as he advanced into the valley with three large battalions, totaling more than 512 cavalrymen. Then, he sent Captain Fredrick Benteen south with 115 men on a reconnaissance mission, and eventually dispatched Major Marcus Reno to lead the attack on the village from the southeast at 3:03 PM with 177 men.

Custer himself proceeded along the ridgeline east of the river with five remaining companies and divided them once again at the head of Medicine Tail Coulee at approximately 4:00 PM, sending C, I, and L Troops forward along the ridge, while E and F Troops rode down the coulee to attack the hostile village directly across the river. Sioux Chief Rain-in-the Face later remarked that, “We knew they made a mistake when they separated.” The old expression, “Divide and conquer,” refers to dividing the enemy’sforce, never your own, and even the Indians clearly understood that.

Reno’s ill-fated attack was repulsed by the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, who outnumbered his battalion by 14 to one, and he re-crossed the Little Bighorn River at 4:00 PM, wisely taking the high ground there, where he was joined by Benteen’s battalion at 4:20 PM. At virtually the same time, Troops E and F were two-and-a-half miles away, about to cross the river to attack the huge Indian camp from the east. And this is where the official version of the story, as told by the National Park Service and the U.S. Army, differs substantially from the Army’s own initial reports, and the direct, eyewitness testimony of countless witnesses on both sides of the battle.

As Colonel W.A. Graham expertly explained in his ground-breaking book, “The Custer Myth,” in 1953, “It began in controversy and dispute, but because a devoted wife (Libbie Custer) so skillfully and forcefully painted her hero (George Custer) as a plumed knight in shining armor…and because her hero went out in a blaze of glory that became the setting for propaganda which caught and held, and still holds, the imagination of the American people, what began in controversy and dispute has ended in myth… magnified, distorted, and disproportioned by fiction, invention, imagination, and speculation. The Custer known to the average American is a myth…There is a Custer mystery…and out of this very fact grew the fictions, inventions, and fantastic legends that together form the Custer Myth.”

To snatch some semblance of victory from the jaws of a stunning defeat during the nation’s joyous centennial celebrations just two weeks after the horrific battle, the Army and most of the U.S. government literally abandoned their own after-action reports, assessments, and eyewitness testimony, in favor of perpetuating Libbie Custer’s fanciful myth that her flamboyant husband, George, “died with his boots on,” his long, blonde hair waving in the wind (even though he had cut it short before the battle), with a pistol in one hand and a saber (although no sabers were carried that day) in the other, heroically standing tall atop Last Stand Hill until the final bullet of the battle was fired.

It was a wonderful, inspiring story, a grandiose fairy tale, but totally at odds with the actual eyewitness testimony and the Army’s own reports. To foster this dazzling myth of revisionist history, Custer had to ride along the upper ridgeline with Troops C, I, and L, to eventually reach Custer Hill alive. That’s the U.S. government’s official story, and they’re stubbornly sticking to it, even today.

But before we learn what really happened, we need to take an in-depth look at the guns of the Little Bighorn, because Custer’s remaining battalion of approximately 225 men, including C, E, F, I, and L Troops, was not only severely outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the Indians, but was hopelessly outgunned, as well. The enlisted cavalrymen were mostly armed with Springfield 1873, single-shot carbines in .45-55 or .45-70-calibers, prone to jamming with soft, copper-cased ammo, with 100 rounds of ammunition per man, including 50 rounds at the ready, and a further 50 in the pack train, which had been left far behind.

Each man also carried a Colt 1873 Single-Action Army revolver, a fine weapon, with six rounds loaded, and 18 more rounds on their ammo belts. These revolvers were zeroed for 25 yards before the battle, but the Army later zeroed their Colts for 50 yards, as a result of lessons learned at the Little Bighorn. Large hunting knives were also plentiful, mainly for skinning wild game.

To travel quickly and lightly across the rough prairie, Custer had left behind three, six-barrel Colt 1866 Gatling guns in .50-70 at Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota. While it would have been nice to have these rapid-fire (each averaging six rounds per second) weapons available for the battle, their loss ultimately would not have changed the inevitable outcome. Even General Nelson A. Miles, a veteran Indian-fighter, later remarked that, “I’m not surprised that poor Custer declined. They are worthless for Indian fighting.” All sabers were likewise left behind at the fort, as they were deemed too noisy, rattling and clanking during travel, and might alert the Indians to their presence.

The cavalry officers were permitted to acquire their own weapons, which were usually more expensive, and far superior in quality, to the enlisted troops’ weapons. For example, George Custer carried an 1875 Remington No. 1 Sporting Rifle in .50-70, literally a “buffalo gun,” and according to most descriptions, he wore a pair of nickel-plated, British-made, 1867 Webley RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) double-action revolvers, probably in .442-caliber, and carried an 1863 National Arms Company single-shot derringer in .41 Rimfire. He also wore a very large hunting knife, and French-manufactured, brass, Lemaire binoculars.

His brother, Captain (brevet Lieutenant Colonel) Thomas Ward (“Tom”) Custer, age 31, a two-time winner of the highly-prestigious Medal of Honor during the Civil War, has been variously described as carrying either a 15-shot, 1873 Winchester repeating rifle in .44-40, a Springfield 1873 Officer’s Model in .45-70, or a Springfield 1873 sporting rifle in .45-70. There is no absolute certainly here, but if he indeed owned the Winchester, it would have been virtually the only lever-action repeating rifle in the entire regiment. The Rain-in-the-Face, 1873 Winchester rifle may support this scenario, and I’ll describe it later.

Tom also owned three revolvers: a French Galand-Sommerville in .442-caliber, a captured, 5-shot, Confederate (British) Kerr in .44-caliber, and a double-action, Webley RIC in .442-caliber, just like George’s famous pair. The first two guns were left behind at Fort Lincoln, and he apparently took the Webley into battle with him. He also carried a large hunting knife, as did most of the officers and men.

Captain Myles Walter Keogh, an Irishman decorated for valor in the Papal War of 1861 in Italy, was armed with an 1874 Sharps Sporting Rifle in .45-70, a Webley RIC revolver in .442, engraved with his initials, “MWK,” and a very large hunting knife. First Lieutenant James Ezekiel Porter, commanding I Troop under Myles Keogh, carried a nickel-plated, Smith and Wesson Model 3 in .44-caliber.

In addition, at least five enlisted men under Major Reno’s command were armed as long-range sharpshooters with scoped rifles, most likely 1874 Sharps buffalo guns in .45-70, and four of these surviving men, Sergeant George Geiger and Privates Henry Mechlin, Otto Voit, and Charles Windolph, were each subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for their expert covering sniper fire over a 20-minute period, while 15 more soldiers braved intense, enemy gunfire to retrieve water from the river for the wounded. All 15 troopers also earned the Medal of Honor, which was the only available award for bravery at that time in U.S. history.

In contrast, the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were far better-armed. From 1984 to 1985, excavations at the Little Bighorn Battlefield by archeologists Douglas D. Scott and Richard Fox, Jr., unearthed 2,361 bullets and shell casings, representing at least 371 different guns of 45 different types, including 69 Springfield rifles, and numerous Colt revolvers, Henry repeaters, Sharps hunting rifles, Winchesters, Remingtons, Smith and Wessons, Ballards, Starrs, and other types of firearms.

The Indians had at least 192 repeating rifles, including 124 Winchester 1866s in .44 Rimfire, favored by Sioux Chief Crazy Horse himself (who also sported a Remington .44 revolver), at least six Winchester 1873s in .44-40, and 62 or more lever-action, 15-shot, 1860 Henry rifles in .44 Henry Rimfire, whereas Custer’s men had, at most, one Winchester repeater.

In addition, the Indian warriors had countless single-shot rifles, including 27 Sharps 1874 “Buffalo Rifles” in .50-70, various carbines, bows and arrows, tomahawks, revolvers, shotguns, muskets, knives, lances, and war clubs. The cavalrymen never stood a chance against such intense and overwhelming firepower. The Indians say that Crazy Horse alone killed 16 soldiers on Custer Hill, and 15 more on Reno Hill, which may be only a slight exaggeration, but is entirely plausible.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn thus rapidly devolved into two actual engagements more than four miles apart, the Battle of Custer Hill and the Battle of Reno Hill. What is truly astonishing is that George Custer and 220 more soldiers were virtually wiped out to the last man within the brief span of 55 minutes, whereas Major Reno’s 292 men father south relentlessly fought the very same Indians for at least 14 total hours over two days, and sustained only 11-percent casualties; yet it was Reno who was scorned, maligned, and severely admonished afterward, although he was very clearly the more successful, battlefield commander.

The archeological excavations further revealed that the soldiers on Custer Hill fired only 1,000 to 1,800 rounds of ammunition during the entire, 55-minute battle there, averaging only about six rounds per man. Why were so few rounds fired over the course of nearly an hour? For one thing, numerous Indian eyewitnesses reported a large number of cavalry suicides atop Custer Hill as the situation grew more desperate with each passing minute, and many of the wounded, probably including George Custer himself were killed by their own comrades.

An after-action assessment of the positioning of the bodies and the number of shell casings around each man revealed that apparently only four soldiers truly put up a sustained and determined defense, men whose utterly heroic actions that day were more than worthy of recognition with the Medal of Honor, which they would never receive, in order to perpetuate Libbie Custer’s highly-aggrandized version of the story.

We must now return to the myth versus the reality of the battle, and discover what really transpired that fateful day. According the General Alfred H. Terry’s (Custer’s immediate commander) official report, Custer personally led Troops E and F down Medicine Tail Coulee toward the Indian village with about 90 men, boldly attacking across the Little Bighorn River, but “had unsuccessfully attempted to cross.”

This was later verified by the testimony of at least 15 Indian eyewitnesses, three of whom were Custer’s own Crow scouts, paid employees of the U.S. Army, and two cavalrymen farther downstream, Privates Peter Thompson and James Watson, all of whom saw Custer himself at the river. Thompson was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Reno Hill the next day. Conversely to these 17 eyewitnesses who personally saw Custer at the river, there were absolutely zero battlefield witnesses who saw George Custer standing, or even alive, at any time after the failed river crossing.

Major Marcus Reno himself, an actual participant in the battle, accurately confirmed this incident just four years later, writing that, “We now know that Custer headed down to the river at Medicine Tail Coulee…(and) came face-to-face with 10 Sioux warriors (actually, four Cheyenne and six Sioux), all of whom fired on him. One of the 10…claimed to have killed Custer himself. Custer, shot through the chest, was carried away on horseback by one of his men, and his brother, Tom Custer took command.”

Pretty Shield, age 20, the wife of Custer’s Crow scout, Goes Ahead, further confirmed that, “(Custer) went ahead, rode into the water of the Little Bighorn…and he died there, died in the water…the other blue soldiers ran back up the hill…the general fell in the water…The monument that white men have set up to mark the spot where Son-of-the-Morning Star (George Custer) fell down is a lie. He fell in the water.”

Indeed, White Cow Bull, aged 28, a Cheyenne Warrior, said that he killed or badly wounded an officer in buckskin clothing with a “big hat,” a “moustache,” and a “heavy rifle,” who was riding a “sorrel horse with…four white stockings.” This detailed, physical description perfectly matches only one cavalry officer and one horse on the entire battlefield, George Armstrong Custer and his Kentucky, thoroughbred, sorrel stallion, “Vic” (short for “Victory.”) “The man who seemed to be the soldier chief was firing his heavy rifle fast. I aimed my repeater at him and fired. I saw him fall out of his saddle and hit the water.” At the end of the battle, White Cow Bull climbed Custer Hill and positively identified the body of officer that he shot. It was, indeed, George A. Custer.

Colonel W.A. Graham noted in “The Custer Myth” in 1953 that, “Custer charged and was repulsed on the north bank of the Little Bighorn.”

Author David Humphries Miller, who wrote “Custer’s Fall” in 1957, personally interviewed 72 Indian eyewitnesses to the battle between 1935 and 1955 in their own, Lakota language, including White Cow Bull, age 91 in 1939, writing what was probably the best-researched book ever published about the Little Bighorn. Miller described it this way: “Just then, at midstream, the unbelievable happened. Custer, the great, invincible, soldier-chief, golden-haired hero of the effete East, self-styled swashbuckler of the Plains, Son-of-the-Morning-Star to the Crows, Long Hair to the other tribes, fell, a hostile bullet through his left breast.”

Doctor Thomas B. Marquis added in his 1976 Custer book, “Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself,” that, “General Custer was killed rather early in the battle…he was not one of the final, surviving group…The presence of Tom Custer’s body intimates that he was the final commander, after both General Custer and Captain Yates had been killed…it may be that Keogh also had been killed.”

Nathaniel Philbrick’s, “The Last Stand,” published in 2010, was glowingly described by the Los Angeles Times as “an engrossing, thoughtfully-researched and tautly-written account of a critical chapter in American history. With strong, narrative skill, offering broad context and narrow detail, Philbrick recounts a story and, in the process, dismantles old myths piece by piece.” Philbrick concluded that George Custer was shot very early in the battle, that Tom Custer probably shot his mortally-wounded brother in the head at the last minute to prevent his capture alive by the Indians, and that Tom Custer was the last soldier to die.

More recently, Phillip Thomas Tucker, Ph.D., a noted, Department of Defense historian, published “Death at the Little Bighorn” in January 2017, stating that, “A number of reliable and collaborating, Indian accounts…have revealed that (George) Custer was hit…while leading the charge across the ford.”

The overwhelming mountain of evidence clearly shows that George A. Custer bravely led the cavalry charge at Medicine Tail Coulee, but, as so often happens to soldiers at the very front of any formation in battle, he was, in fact, shot out of his saddle and mortally wounded in the chest, just below the heart, at approximately 4:21 PM, while in the middle of the Little Bighorn River.

His bugler, Corporal Henry C. Dose, and his half-Santee-Sioux, half-French-Canadian scout, Michel “Mitch” Bouyer, were also hit in the initial volley fired by four Cheyenne warriors, including White Cow Bull, who shot Custer, and Bobtailed Horse, who shot Dose. Ironically, all three men apparently lived until near the end of the battle, when Dose was killed by an Indian woman, the wife of Sioux Chief Crow Dog, at the edge of the village, Bouyer was killed near the river’s edge by Sioux warriors, although his body was never actually found (a skull believed to be his was recovered in 1984), and George Custer was shot in the left temple with a .44 or .45-caliber revolver, probably a cavalry weapon, according to the Army. George was right-handed, however, and there were no powder burns on his skin, so this was not considered a suicide.

Accurately describing the rest of the battle would take at least an entire book, but the most frequently asked question would be, “If George Custer wasn’t the last soldier standing, then who was?” There were actually two very courageous men, both of them captains, standing 430 yards apart, one atop Custer Hill and one down its southern slope, whom the Indian eyewitnesses described separately as the very last to fall.

Wooden Leg of the Northern Cheyenne said that “the last man killed” had “a big, strong body” and a “long, black moustache,” and was “down the hills, toward the river.” Two Moon added that, “One man rides up and down the line, shouting all the time…He was a brave man…He wore a buckskin shirt, and had long, black hair and moustache…He fought hard with a big knife.” This description exactly and exclusively matches that of Captain Myles Keogh, age 36, who was found with five dead, Indian ponies around his position.

Interestingly enough, Wooden Leg also saw the dead body of George Custer’s favorite, female, Scottish staghound, “Tuck,” atop Custer Hill after the battle. She apparently got away from Private (Orderly) John W. Burkman, who was left behind with the pack train before the battle began, and loyally followed Custer to the bitter end.

Keogh was the only cavalryman whose body was not mutilated at all after the battle, a clear indication of reverence and respect for his amazing courage. His famous horse, Comanche, was not killed or captured by the Indians for the same reasons, and was later found alive, literally the only surviving, cavalry eyewitness to the battle at Custer Hill. Sitting Bull called Myles Keogh “the bravest of the brave,” and incredibly, when Sitting Bull was later killed by Indian police at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, he was wearing one of Myles Keogh’s Papal medals (the Pro Petri Sede, or Medal for the See of Saint Peter) around his neck as a talisman of extraordinary courage and sacrifice.

But, at almost exactly the same instant that Keogh was killed, at approximately 5:16 PM, another captain in buckskins was about to meet his own fate. In 1881, Chief Red Horse of the Sioux told Colonel Garrick Mallory that, “Among the soldiers was an officer who rode a horse with four white feet (only George Custer’s personal horse, ‘Vic,’ met this description)…the Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they had ever fought…I saw this officer in the fight many times, but I did not see his body (which was likely mutilated beyond recognition)…This officer wore a large-brimmed hat and a deerskin coat (matching Tom Custer’s description perfectly.) This officer saved the lives of many soldiers by turning his horse and covering the retreat. (The) Sioux say this officer was the bravest man they ever fought.”

Wooden Leg noted that, “One wounded officer, a captain, still lived…He raised himself upon an elbow, glaring wildly at the Indians, who shrank from him, believing him returned from the spirit world. A Sioux warrior (probably Rain-in-the-Face) wrested the revolver from his nerveless hand and shot him through the head. Thus died the last of Custer’s battalion, his identity unknown.”

Captain Frederick Benteen, an actual participant in the battle, cited for bravery, observed upon finding the bodies on Custer Hill that, “Only where General Custer was found was there evidence of a stand.” This was Tom Custer’s position as acting commander, and it was here that the Indians sustained their heaviest casualties.

We must remember that, after George was seriously wounded at the river and carried to the top of the hill, Tom now had full access to George’s horse, Vic, and all of George’s weapons, giving Tom, the valiant, two-time, Medal of Honor winner, a total of two rifles, one of which was likely a rapid-fire, Winchester repeater, three fast-firing, double action, Webley revolvers, two large knives, and perhaps the best and fastest steed in the whole regiment. David Michlovitz concluded for Warfare History Network on August 27, 2015, that, “At the end, Tom fought like a demon possessed.”

Rain-in-the-Face, who had been captured, imprisoned, and beaten by Tom Custer in December 1874, before escaping in April 1875, was virtually the only Sioux warrior who actually recognized both of the Custer brothers on sight. At the very end of the Little Bighorn battle, he definitely attacked the top of Custer Hill, and saw Tom Custer, known as Little Hair to the Indians, still alive. In 1894, he confessed that, “I saw Little Hair…He knew me. I laughed at him and yelled at him…I shot him with my revolver. My gun (rifle) was gone, I don’t know where…That’s all there is to tell.”

Then, in 1905, Rain-in-the-Face made a deathbed confession, “Yes, I killed him. I was so close that the powder from my gun (revolver) blackened his face.” The famous, Sioux warrior admitted to using a revolver at the Little Bighorn, but was later photographed (about 1880 to 1883) in possession of an 1873 Winchester repeating rifle, serial number 487, manufactured in 1874, in .44-40, with the capital letter “C” crudely engraved on an oval, metal plate on the stock. Was this, in fact, Tom Custer’s gun?

Based upon a mountain of physical evidence and compelling, eyewitness testimony, on March 11, 2011, I officially and posthumously nominated Captains Tom Custer and Myles Keogh, as well as First Lieutenant James Calhoun and First Sergeant James Butler, for the Medal of Honor through formal, U.S. Army channels. Over the next two years of back-and-forth correspondence, instead of earnestly cooperating, the Army inexplicably threw every possible impediment in my way, holding these four true, American heroes to the exceptionally-stringent standards of the 1942-to-present-day version of the Medal of Honor, instead of the original, simple standards of the 1876 Medal of Honor, which was previously earned by 24 surviving, cavalry recipients under Major Reno’s command, for the very same battle.

The Army demanded “incontestable and verifiable, first-hand knowledge regarding their individual actions,” which Chief Red Horse and many others had certainly provided in the past, but the 1876 version of the medal, according to the Army’s own written criteria, was for soldiers “as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action,” which was virtually the only requirement at that time. In 1876, there was no requirement for nomination through the military chain of command, no requirement for any testimony or witnesses, and no limit on the number of medals that could be awarded to each soldier. The four men that I nominated all certainly met this official standard.

It was readily apparent that in order for the Army to award these prestigious medals, they would have to tell the truth about what really happened at the Little Bighorn, officially dispelling the enduring, Custer Myth once and for all. In the end, they declined, not once but twice (in February 2012 and January 2013), and the revisionist, fantasy history of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is still the U.S. government’s final word on the subject, despite the incredible wealth of evidence to the contrary.

President Abraham Lincoln, the commander in chief for George Custer, Tom Custer, and Myles Keogh, who all fought bravely for the Union in the Civil War, once said that, “A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” A full century later, President John F. Kennedy stated that, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” How will this nation honor and remember “the bravest man the Sioux ever fought,” and what does that say about us as Americans?

So, let’s take just a moment to honor the greatest, unrecognized hero of the Battle of the Little Bighorn by reading the official, proposed, U.S. Army citation for Captain Tom Custer’s unprecedented, third Medal of Honor nomination: “After his regimental commander was mortally wounded, Captain Custer took command and relocated his five companies to higher ground in the face of an overwhelming, enemy onslaught. Encircled by well over 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, he boldly issued orders for the defense of the regiment, assessed his commander’s medical condition, and fought heroically until the very end of the battle under a most-galling fire, most likely the last cavalryman to fall in action.

“As the best-armed soldier in the field that day, he inflicted the greatest volume of casualties upon the surrounding Indians, making by far the most fierce and stubborn, last stand on the entire battlefield, according to the sheer volume of empty shell casings near his body, cavalry after-action assessments, and the later admissions of enemy leaders. Indian warriors described him as ‘the bravest man…the last to die,’ courageously fighting to the very end, and rising up to fire one final shot before being killed in action while valiantly defending the regimental headquarters staff at the cost of his own life. Chief Red Horse vividly described Captain Custer as ‘the bravest man the Sioux ever fought.’”

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, eight more military qualification badges, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.webs.com.

This week is the somber anniversary of the largest mass execution in the US

Courtesy :  Leah Asmelash, CNN

The Dakota Wokiksuye Memorial Ride and Memorial Run of 2012 commemorates the Dakota warriors hanged following the Dakota War of 1862.

(CNN)On this week more than 150 years ago, dozens of Native American men were killed by the government in the largest mass execution in US history.

In the Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising, groups of Dakota (part of the Sioux group of Native American tribes) were angry with the US government over broken land treaties and late annuity payments. Times were tough, too, and Dakota families were starving.
A lithograph from 1883 depicting the execution of the 38 Dakota Indians at Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862.

Dakota natives went to war against white settlers in Minnesota, which had just become a state four years prior.
The fighting lasted six weeks, according to the Minnesota History Center. More than 500 white people and 60 natives died in the fighting, the Wisconsin Historical Society reports.
The uprising ended on December 26, when 38 Dakota natives were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, in a mass execution. The remaining natives were forced to leave Minnesota — at first being held at a camp and then being sent out of the state.
Originally, more than 300 men were sentenced to hanging by then Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey. The number was reduced when President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to the governor, listing 39 names to be hanged instead. One was later granted a reprieve.

A Voice for the Unborn Generations

A cautionary tale for our troubled times; an object lesson in the abuse of power. As is said, those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. And the history of an even greedier, even more unprincipled and immoral person like Andrew Jackson does not bear repeating. The parallels to modern times are uncanny and ominous – well worth heedful consideration. Over 150 years ago, historian Robert Winthrop warned, “Professed patriotism may be made the cover for a multitude of sins.” Many Americans are either unaware of the sere tragedy of the Native American experience or have been conditioned by decades of wildly untrue movies, and stereotypes of crime, drugs and suicide on Reservations. It is past time a Nation that never needed to be made great acknowledged the more troubling aspects of its heritage, and the long, dark shadow they cast over the present.

Even by today’s uncertain standards, Jackson was an exceptionally venal and ruthless stain on the US Presidency. The Cherokee had tried harder than any other tribe to adopt European ways, some even owning plantations and slaves, like the President himself. However, the discovery of gold resulted in their being ruthlessly dispossessed, first packed into roofless stockades, and then forced on a horrific death-march through winter blizzards, abused by soldiers, contractors and Nature, to distant Oklahoma. The genesis of this tragic exodus, reminiscent of the Holocaust, was Jackson’s infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830. When Justice Marshall, at the US Supreme Court, ruled Georgia had no right to evict the Cherokees, Jackson not only ignored it but even sent Federal troops to support Georgia’s illegal land-grab – probably the worst abuse of power in US Presidential history. The Trail of Tears killed more than a quarter of their population, mainly the elderly and children. Essentially, the survivors staggered into Tahlequah without a past or a future.

Most Native Nations suffered similar, inhuman trauma. Even the practice of Native religion was made illegal, punishable with 10 years’ imprisonment. Worse, holy Medicine Men were incarcerated in places like the Hiawatha All-Indian Insane Asylum at Canton, South Dakota. Only in 1979 was this pernicious law overturned. In their own land, they were not even permitted citizenship rights until as late as 1924 (though they were encouraged to die for their country, as soldiers).

However, perhaps the most inhumane chapter was written, in a bizarre echo of today, when their young children were forcibly separated, and sent to harsh boarding schools in distant Pennsylvania. There, missionaries punished them severely for the slightest use of their own language or customs, relentlessly drilling into their tender minds that they were Evil and that theirs was the inheritance of the Devil. The founder, General Pratt’s blatantly expounded, “Kill the Indian; save the Man.” Little wonder this brutal ‘conversion therapy’ frequently led to suicides and often-fatal attempts to escape. Unbelievably, child custody laws changed only in 1978. This horror was largely responsible for almost completely wiping out many Native languages and cultures.

Now, slowly, some “invisible warriors”, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, among others I met recently on a long, solo road-trip through the Great Plains, are trying to claw back their roots, trying to give the unborn generations back their own voice and authentic story. One such pair is the Meiti, Mark St. Pierre, and his Lakota wife, Tilda, whose fledgling Cloud Horse Art Institute is fighting incredible odds to create a film school that will not only provide employment and economic succour but, above all, give the Lakota a voice, to tell their story, especially important at a time the country is seriously examining diversity in its entertainment industry. The heroic community effort, using their own homes and personal resources that went into their first film, the romantic comedy “Mallard’s Road, ”, is truly inspiring. It is not history if written only by the victors. Having achieved so much with so little, one can only wonder at the heights they could achieve with a little mainstream support, not just financially, but in teaching, technique and distribution. They are a lone voice in the wilderness – their brave and, so far, rather lonely effort helps nurture the Nation’s precious soul.

Another such “invisible warrior”, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a few miles from the site of the epochal Wounded Knee Massacre, is Cindy Catches. She, her late husband, Peter, as well as his father, the last Holy Men of their particular Lakota ilk, created Oceti Wakan, to help revive Lakota language and culture among Native children, educating them about their religious beliefs and practices, their true heritage. They have created a 7-year Medicine Wheel curriculum, which helps give the young a strong Lakota identity, and the life skills to heal the generational trauma of the past, build towards a brighter future. 70% of students do not graduate high school, and Cindy continues to fight what is now an even lonelier battle, without her husband, long-time collaborator, and font of Native religious wisdom, to change this and help revive the unity-in-diversity that was one of the strongest, most aspirational foundations of America.

So, who am I, to opine thus? I am from half a world away, a huge admirer of America, a nation that never needed to be made great, as it has always been so, despite its blemishes. But the America I admire so deeply is not the America of a second-generation immigrant hate-monger; it is the America of the Marshall Plan; the America whose welcome to the world was, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; the America of “We, the People”; the America that brought Apollo 13 safely home; the America of Martin Luther King Jr.; the America that, I pray, will acknowledge its true Native American heritage and stretch forth its generous hand to enable them, too, to share the great American Dream.

Author interview by the Awesome Gang Newsletter

Chandra Lahiri 
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Though I have written freelance articles for newspapers and magazines for many years, this was my very first book – and it was moreorless accidental! I have been a top management corporate executive for 45 years but it is only now, having retired, that I am free to pursue my lifelong passion for Native American heritage and history.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Red Road Across the Great Plains” emerged organically out of a life-changing, solo voyage of discovery that I drove two summers ago, across the Native American & Western Frontier heritage of the blood-soaked Great Plains. On my return, I realized I had such a wealth of notes that it just begged to be turned into a book!

Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Nope! I just wait for inspiration to strike – sometimes, it takes 45 years!

What authors, or books have influenced you?
Dee Brown and a whole passel of insightful writers on Native America. I have included a select bibliography at the end of my book.

What are you working on now?
Just trying to get the word out there about my book. I am doing this not for my own ego or financial gain, but to spread the word about these exceptional people and their true story.

What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Waiting to find out!

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Its one of the toughest and steepest mountains you can possibly climb, but it is worth it! If you have a worthwhile story to tell, there are people out there willing to hear it. The only, tiny, hurdle is getting to them!

What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Just do it!

What are you reading now?
Red Road Across the Great Plains! For the 20th time!

What’s next for you as a writer?
Ummmm….I am actually waiting for the next inspiration strike!

If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
“Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown
“Rendezvous Series” by Will Blevins
“The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King
“Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglalas” by Marie Sandoz

Author Websites and Profiles
Chandra Lahiri Website
Chandra Lahiri Amazon Profile

Chandra Lahiri’s Social Media Links
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Author Interview by Joan Gleason on Twitter!

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Joan Gleason
@BookReaderMag
Featured Interview With Chandra Lahiri

Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?

Chandra Lahiri is an “Indian from India” who lives in the Sultanate of Oman.After many years as a global CEO, he now focuses on his lifelong passion for Native American heritage. His wife is a Special Needs Educator in Oman, and his two sons live in the USA. He loves hearing from like-minded readers, at http://www.dawnvoyager.com

At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I started reading voraciously when I was in Junior School – ending up having to get eye glasses! I started writing freelance articles while in College, but never dreamt of writing a full-length book till this odyssey inspired me beyond resisting!

Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
I love history, historical fiction and detective stories, though I will read pretty much anything. Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” probably had the most profound influence on me. But then, I also love stories about animals!

Tell us a little about your latest book?
A life-changing solo voyage of discovery across the blood-soaked Great Plains. An odyssey to momentous sites of Native American heritage. Meet the amazing “invisible warriors” fighting impossible odds to reclaim their heritage and share in the American Dream without losing their unique identity, much as their ancestors fought on the battlefields to save their way of life.
Nurturing a half-century obsession, I take the reader along on my astonishing solo road-trip through haunting places of intense tragedy and stunning triumphs, through Native American spiritual experiences that shook the atheist in me, plunging into the rough and tumble worlds that were Deadwood and Dodge City, chuckling gently over modern American idiosyncrasies. Neither a “white historian” nor a “red commentator,” I visit both sides of the Native American experience to discover exciting sparks of a brighter, more hopeful future – an unusual and enthralling odyssey effortlessly plaiting space and time.

bookreadermagazine.com/featured-autho

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4:37 PM · Dec 14, 2019

“…brutally honest, emotional and well written…”

The Review

Part history, part travel, author Chandra Lahiri’s novel does an amazing  job of creating a narrative that showcases the authors real life journey to these iconic, historic and sometimes tragic locations in the West and Mid-Western United States. The evenly paced read delved deeply into the violent, heartbreaking and blood-soaked history of the Native American tribes and the impact on both their culture and the white settlers as they expanded their territory further and further westward.

From the genocide that was the Trail of Tears to the Civil War and more, the author lays out the history behind the Native American people and highlights the struggles they endured. However this history is broken up naturally by the travel aspect of the author’s journey, showcasing the modern day experiences the author had while seeing first hand the locations and the history of the United States as it settled westward.

The novel is expertly written, with a voice and tone that speaks of personal experiences the author had on this trip with historic facts that are both known and tragically some that are overlooked or forgotten, for as the author points out in the book, history is written by the victors, but often history is only half true or inaccurate if only written by the victors.

The Verdict

This was a brutally honest, emotional and well written historical/travel novel. An even mix of historical research, graphs and statistics that really put the history of the Native American people and culture into perspective, with the natural observations and personal stories brought to life while on a life-changing trip like the one the author experienced, this novel has something for everyone, and is not to be missed. So if you are a fan of travel stories or are just a major history buff like myself and want to experience the emotional journey of the Native American tribes of the United States, then be sure to grab your copy of author Chandra Lahiri’s “Red Road Across The Great Plains” today!

Rating: 10/10

Anthony Avina

Author of the “Nightmare Academy” series

Elizabeth Warren introduces bill to revoke Medals of Honor awarded for Wounded Knee Massacre

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced a bill Wednesday that would posthumously revoke 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Native Americans — mostly women and children — at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.

The Remove the Stain Act accompanies a House version introduced earlier this year by Democrats Paul Cook of California, Denny Heck of Washington and Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

“The horrifying acts of violence against hundreds of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee should be condemned, not celebrated with Medals of Honor,” Warren said in a statement. “The Remove the Stain Act acknowledges a profoundly shameful event in U.S. history, and that’s why I’m joining my House colleagues in this effort to advance justice and take a step toward righting wrongs against Native peoples.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gestures as she speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. Warren has introduced a bill that would revoke Medal of Honor for 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gestures as she speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. Warren has introduced a bill that would revoke Medal of Honor for 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. Several Native American tribes, including descendants of the victims, have backed the legislation along with veterans groups such as VoteVets and Veterans for Peace.

Wounded Knee took place on Dec. 29, 1890 when U.S. troops with the 7th Calvary began to crack down on a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance. Lakota leader Chief Big Foot and his people were confined to a camp in South Dakota and ordered to give up their weapons.

When a weapon accidentally went off, the cavalry troops opened fire and killed as many as 250 people. Congress apologized for the massacre in 1990 but did not revoke the medals, the military’s highest award.

“The Medal of Honor is the highest award our nation can bestow upon its servicemembers for acts of valor,” Heck said. “There was no valor in the killing of unarmed Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, and the Medals of Honor given for the massacre must be rescinded.”

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota has said he does not support the effort because “we’re now guessing” about the roles of individual soldiers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Keystone Pipeline leaks 383,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota

(CNN)Part of the Keystone 1 Pipeline in North Dakota was shut down after a leak of about 9,120 barrels of oil — 383,040 gallons — was discovered, TC Energy company said in a statement.

Keystone pipeline leak

The oil leak was discovered just north of Edinburg, in the northeast part of the state, and affected about 2,500 square yards of land, the company said. A drop in pressure was detected on Tuesday, and the pipeline was immediately shut down, the company said.
The company is not sure how the leak started, but says an independent party is examining the pipeline.
“We are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response. There have been no reported injuries or impacted wildlife,” TC Energy said.
“The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.”
The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality said the spill impacted a wetland area. “Personnel from the NDDEQ are at the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation,” the department said in a news release.
The Indigenous Environmental Network, an environmental justice nonprofit group, responded to the spill with concern.
“This is exactly the kind of spill we are worried about when it comes to Keystone XL being built. It has never been if a pipeline breaks but rather when,” said Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network frontline community organizer.
The organization criticized the company, saying that it hasn’t done enough to secure the infrastructure of the pipeline.

Pipeline protests

The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles from Alberta, Canada, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas.
Keystone 1 refers to phase one of the Keystone Pipeline that starts in Alberta and runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. Phase one started operating in 2011.
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline would begin in Alberta and extend south to Steele City, Nebraska. The company says it hopes to start construction in 2020.
The pipelines have sparked months-long protests. In 2017, a spill exposed 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. As many as 10,000 people participated during the peak of the demonstrations.
Clashes with police at the protests turned violent at times, with one woman nearly losing her arm after an explosion in November 2016.
Courtesy : CNN

The complicated history of Gen. Vallejo

slide image

Like many Petaluma youngsters, John Sheehy was presented a glowing picture of Mariano Vallejo in school.

The local historian and author said he admired the man, who is remembered as one of the founding fathers of California, a prosperous Mexican general that colonized the North Bay Area and created a legacy that lives on throughout the region.

Over the years, however, mounting evidence about Vallejo’s treatment of Native Americans has forced many to reconsider their views of the legendary ranchero.

A permanent Petaluma Museum exhibit for Vallejo has become a source of tension for local historians that are divided on how to present his story as efforts to rearrange the display get started.

It’s an issue that elevates the question being raised around the country about how to balance modern morality with the behavior of historical figures hundreds of years ago. And beyond that, how to uplift the stories of the natives or the slaves that are rarely memorialized.

Sheehy believes the museum label for Vallejo needs to be updated, or should at least share the space with a summary of what the California Indians experienced during the era of Rancho Petaluma in the early 19th century.

“It’s time to make the invisible, visible,” Sheehy said. “We need to bring it out for our own purposes to understand. The myths existed to tell us how we came to be here, what it means to be here and how we’re going to be going forward.

“If we’ve always got these secrets in the closet that we don’t want to talk about, we’re going to be hampered going forward in having a sense of place here.”

The current exhibit label was written a decade ago by historian Skip Sommer, a Petaluma Argus-Courier columnist and former developer, who views Vallejo as “the most important man in Sonoma County history.”

Sommer, a historical author for three decades, is wary of any sweeping changes to the exhibit, and called for a balanced and evidence-based approach to ensure Vallejo’s legacy isn’t hastily undone.

“People want the truth, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “Certainly there’s lots of stones to turn over — of everybody. I just don’t want to destroy our local hero here.”

Archaeological digs by state officials, diaries from Mexican soldiers, and newly-translated Russian documents connected to the settlement at Fort Ross have revealed conflicts with Vallejo’s overarching story.

Breck Parkman, a retired archaeologist for California State Parks, who was based in Sonoma County and oversaw Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, described Vallejo as an “opportunist” savvy to the shifting political winds.

It was Vallejo’s actions during his rise to power in the 1830s that local historians are taking issue with.

Russian documents tell a story from 1838 when Vallejo rounded up 50 of his indigenous workers after losing 35 of his cattle. In response, suspecting they were stolen, he executed 35 of them, Parkman said.

The most notable issue was a decision not to vaccinate his workers at the Petaluma Adobe fort when smallpox first appeared in 1837. Vaccines had been available for decades, and evidence shows the Russians had immunized their workers at Fort Ross to preserve their operation.

Vallejo, on the other hand, opted only to inoculate his family and close allies like Chief Solano, a controversial native in his close circle. As a result, most of Vallejo’s 2,000 workers died and the Adobe never recovered, Sheehy said.

The spread of smallpox almost eradicated the Coast Miwok and Pomo populations, the indigenous groups that first inhabited parts of Sonoma County.

Parkman likens the debate over Vallejo to the discussions in the American South where monuments dedicated to Confederate commander Robert E. Lee are being torn down. Parkman is opposed to removing Vallejo statues, like the bench statue in Sonoma Plaza or the busts around Petaluma, but it’s important to recognize he’s not guilt-free, he said.

“We have the myth of Robert E. Lee, and then you have the truth and there’s those nagging questions,” Parkman said. “Same with Vallejo — we have the myth of Vallejo. I still have a certain amount of respect, but he’s not a hero.”

For Reno Franklin, the former tribal chairman of the Kashia Pomo Indians, who said he’s a direct descendant of the “genocidal acts” of Vallejo, the feelings are much more straightforward.

The Pomo Indians worked side by side with the Russian settlers at Fort Ross, and Franklin said Vallejo allowed villages to be pillaged by the Mexican government where children were taken as slaves.

It wasn’t until a visit to Fort Ross when Vallejo was tasked by the Mexican government to gauge the Russian presence along the Sonoma Coast that Franklin said he changed his approach with the California Indians, trading goods and offering labor in exchange for protection.

Throughout his life, though, he still wavered. As a member of California’s first State Senate, Sheehy said Vallejo co-authored a bill that allegedly authorized the enslavement of unemployed natives and indigenous children under forced apprenticeship.

A member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a presidentially-appointed body that shapes policies for the federal government, Franklin said it’s important to view Vallejo holistically, as the man he started as, the man he became and how he changed along the way.

“A cultureless people will always look for heroes where there are none,” Franklin said of celebrating Vallejo’s legacy. “Those people who came here and left their lands, they didn’t bring their culture with them. They brought their greed, their unprincipled actions, their murderous intent.”

Discussions continue over how to reorganize the space dedicated to Vallejo at the Petaluma Museum.

The area around his exhibit is introducing more history of the California Indians, and while Franklin believes total education reform is the key to changing the narrative of Petaluma’s controversial settlers, he conceded that this is a good start.

“It sounds like they’re doing some positive efforts to do that, and I applaud those efforts to tell a story that’s more inclusive of the tribe,” Franklin said.

—– Courtesy Argus Courier

Native American tribe regains island taken after 1860 massacre

 

Most of an island off northern California will again belong to the Wiyot Tribe, which was decimated by settlers in 1860.

Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]
Native Americans of the Wiyot Tribe paddle a dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island, in Eureka, California (Ben Margot/AP) [Daylife]

An island off the coast of northern California was the site of a massacre of members of an indigenous tribe, a place that was contaminated by a shipyard and flush with invasive species. But it is also the spiritual and physical centre of the universe for the small Wiyot Tribe, and it will belong to them almost entirely on Monday after a city deeds all the land it owns on the island to the tribe.

“It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said. “It’s a really good story about healing and about coming together of community.”

The tribe was decimated in 1860, when scores of elders, women and children were wiped out during a raid by settlers while the tribe’s men were away gathering supplies. Since then, the now 600-member tribe has been making small strides towards regaining the land it lost.

The tribe sold art and fry bread and took in donations to buy 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) on the eastern tip of the island for $106,000 in 2000. Years later, the city of Eureka gave the tribe more land.

On Monday, the city will sign over the deed to the largest chunk – more than 80 hectares (200 acres) in what was the historic village of Etpidolh. No money was exchanged.

“For our city, it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why we’re doing it,” said Councilwoman Kim Bergel, who was born and raised in the county. “Certainly, it’s been far too long.”

Tribes have lost millions of acres of land through treaties broken by the US government, by force and in exchange for federal services such as healthcare and education. Rarely has it been restored, said Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Most tribes resort to buying land as it comes up for sale.

The tribe with the largest land base of any, Navajo Nation in the southwest, has purchased ranches in Colorado outside the boundary of its 70,000sq km (27,000sq miles) reservation.

Wiyot 2
Wiyot Tribe tribal chair Cheryl Seidner waves as she travels by dugout redwood canoe from Indian Island across Humboldt Bay to a deed ceremony in Eureka, California [File: Ben Margot/AP]

In New Mexico, Santa Ana Pueblo bought back a large swath of ancestral land in 2016 for an undisclosed price. Isleta Pueblo to the south added 362sq km (140sq miles) to its reservation the same year when federal officials agreed to put it into trust.

The US government offered Sioux tribes money for seizing the Black Hills more than a century ago. The tribes refused the payment and have sought the return of the land.

In California, a former Wiyot councilman unsuccessfully petitioned Eureka for part of Indian Island in the 1970s. The tribe started fundraising in 1998, watching for any properties that came up for sale.

The Wiyot knew the parcel it bought in 2000 had extensive contamination from a former shipyard that was established on the island shortly after the massacre, along with livestock grazing. That did not matter. People in the community asked what they could do to help.

The tribe and community members came together to remove boat batteries, lead paint, chemicals, scrap metal, rusty buckets, a huge engine and contaminated soil. A 1,000-year-old clamshell mound containing burial sites, tools and things left over from ceremonies was restored.

The land was deemed safe in 2014. The overall quality of water, plants and marine life have improved, the tribe says.

Vassel took the first group of children there and remembers the excitement.

“You could feel it in the air,” she said. “The feeling of coming home.”

The clean bill of health by the US Environmental Protection Agency also meant the tribe could resume a ceremony it was forced to abandon after the massacre.

The ceremony staged in 2014 to renew the world and restore balance lasted 10 days. Sea lions came up on the beach and watched dancers and singers. Egrets stooped on cypress trees.

The last day started off clear and sunny, before heavy rain sent 100 people fleeing for shelter, which Tribal Chairman Ted Hernandez took as a sign the ceremony was complete.

“We knew our ancestors were still there,” Hernandez said. “We can feel them, saying, ‘We are watching you, we know that what you are doing is correct.’ It’s a peaceful feeling.”

The tribe has been trying to revive its language and cultural practices that were driven underground after the massacre. The last person fluent in the Wiyot language died in the 1960s. Some elders who were sent to boarding school were afraid to teach Wiyot traditions to the younger generation, Hernandez said.

The massacre is a point of history third-graders learn during a ferry tour that passes Indian Island, Bergel said. Over the years, tribal members and the community have joined in a candlelight vigil around the anniversary to remember those lost.

The tribe’s reservation in Loleta is southwest of Indian Island, which can take hours to reach by boat. During the highest tide, the island can become submerged.

The city had no use for the land it declared surplus property and offered up to public agencies but had no takers. Few parcels on the island are privately owned.

The tribe imagines the island as a place where native plants can flourish and be used in ceremonies, where the community can gather and where its renewal ceremony can be practised annually. The next one is scheduled in March.

Officials attribute the relationship built between Eureka and the Wiyot to communication and understanding that they all benefit from the health of the island.

“It was never vile, us versus them,” Vassel said. “It was more about healing the community, healing the land. We all live in this community together.”

 

SOURCE: AP NEWS AGENCY

INDIAN SUMMER

20180621_171551Days 29 & 30 :  Toksha Akhay

This is the last entry in my diary, for this epic, personal pilgrimage. I will never again have such an extraordinary adventure, in this lifetime. After 30 days, almost 5800 kilometers, 83 hours of driving, 430 liters of petrol, 6 States, 3 time zones, 5 ballpoint pens, 4 completely worn tyres and 1 speeding fine, my amazing odyssey is finally over. A lifetime of wonder is stored in my mind, for “reflection in tranquility.”

Yellowstone National Park was the perfect culmination. It is one of the most fascinating, strange and beautiful places on earth. On our penultimate day, we discovered the Canyon to Roosevelt road, easily the most exciting and diverse part of this giant Wilderness. First up, we passed the huge Yellowstone Lake, with an inexplicable, narrow strip of land, with a stand of mature trees, right out on the water, unconnected to any other land. Yes, it is an island, but a rather unusual one. The next act was Mud Volcano, an entire area of constant thermal activity, with clouds of steam billowing out of the earth, everywhere, and a strong, sulphuric smell in the air. It could serve as a precursor to Dante’s inferno! Winding along the steep mountain road, we reached snow, at just over 8000 feet, and the scenery transmutes into Switzerland. Temperatures, that day, ranged from a high of 12 degrees Celsius, to a low of 2 degrees – in summer! The next, most dramatic, act is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This simply has to be on everyone’s bucket list. Over the millennia, the rushing Yellowstone River has twisted and turned it’s eroding way, over rapids and through spectacular falls, till it has ground out a very deep gorge through this Absaroka Range. It engendered the deepest respect, in me, for the Native Americans and the intrepid Mountain Men, the fur trappers, who braved this utterly daunting river gorge in their flimsy canoes, a couple of centuries ago. They definitely were a different breed of men.

For two days, we had seen innumerable warnings about bears, and posters explaining the difference between black bears and grizzlies. Having not seen any the first couple of days, I was beginning to wonder if it was just tourist hype. On the way back from Roosevelt, a long line of cars were pulled over at the side of the road, and some Rangers were doing their best to keep traffic flowing. We had learnt that this was the surest indicator of an animal sighting, and so, hastily, pulled up too, and ran over. There were a couple of black bear cubs romping happily in the meadow grass. Their parent were, undoubtedly, around, but kept out of sight. Stoutly resisting the urge to take these bundles of cuteness home, since it might make the Rangers a bit unhappy, we moved on. The day had started out rainy and misty, but soon cleared. The change in the weather seemed to have cheered the animals too, as we soon came to another procession of crawling cars – and there, several huge, brown grizzly bears were moving leisurely about, near some light woods. Unfortunately, it was not a place we could stop safely. Feeling really thrilled, we moved on, and reached a traffic jam. A couple of Rangers stopped traffic, to allow part of a herd of bison to cross the road. They did so with admirable traffic discipline. Finally, a Ranger shooed a small, baby bison, scampering on unsteady legs, back to its mother. The show was over, barring the sighting of several grazing elks and moose, and a couple of foxes, out scrounging a food hand-out.

On our last morning, we decided to head out early, for lilliput Cody Airport, in the hope of seeing more wildlife. We virtually ignored the passing elk and bison, to which we had become a bit blasé, by now. A lone deer made a cameo appearance, before bouncing off into the trees. And then, we were truly rewarded. Just ahead, loping along the road, was a large, adult black bear. Glancing warily back at us, every so often, it continued along, right beside our car, for quite a while, allowing us a great video opportunity, before entering the trees.

Breakfast was at Buffalo Bill’s original, wooden, hunting lodge, just outside the Park gates, and then, all too soon, the mountains dumped us at Cody. The magical interlude was over.

As the aircraft banked over the serene glory of the Bay Area, making its final approach to San Francisco Airport, I reflected on the entire experience. Despite the horrors, and heroism, of the past, there is definitely a slowly dawning sense of revival among the Natives. I am confident Wakan Tanka will inspire this great, awe-inspiring country, of such heroic achievements and dynamism, to finally embrace them; and the great American Dream will, eventually, become an inclusive reality. As the dawn of a bright, new day shimmered through my aircraft’s window, it seemed an omen.

Toksha Akhay, till we meet again – in this lifetime, or the next.

 

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 27 & 28  : Trail’s End – Yellowstone

Unlike the Imperial-hubris of Fraser’s “End of the Trail” sculpture, of the exhausted, defeated Native Warrior, I ride to my trail’s end, energetic and excited, eager to experience the magic of Yellowstone – after a childhood diet of Yogi Bear and Booboo Bear. After a long, lonely month, my wife now rides shotgun, in my fossil-fueled stagecoach, drawn by mechanical horses. The three hour drive to Yellowstone is, to put it mildly, spectacular. Cody is past in the blink of an eye, and up to the gate of the National Park, it is average on the wonder scale. Thereafter, the road climbs into really breathtaking scenery, with a racing mountain river keeping us company. Eventually, dramatic snowy peaks emerge, and, before you realize it, you are actually at the snow line. There is ice right next to the road – nearly in the middle of summer! Traffic, unsurprisingly, is quite heavy, but moves smoothly. At every scenic outlook, there are thoughtfully arranged pull-off areas, where you can stop and stare, in awe and wonder. After innumerable oohs and aahs, we eventually make it to Grant Village, on Yellowstone Lake, right in the heart of the nearly 9000 sq.km. protected wilderness and wildlife habitat.

A pleasant and helpful Receptionist informed us that our room would be ready only at 4pm, and suggested various things we could do, or see, in the intervening three hours. We decided to have a late lunch and browse the shops in the village. When we returned at 4pm, a different Receptionist curtly informed us that our room was not ready and that check in was only at 4.30pm. When I mentioned the other lady had given us the 4pm time, she curtly barked, “Then, she informed you incorrectly.” By then it was already 4.26pm but she responded, equally curtly, “It’s not 4.30”. So, we waited. She eyed me stonily, till the four minutes passed, and then handed over the room key. On enquiring about a wi-if password, she spat, “You have to pay for it.” This is one of the very few places in the US where you do. Welcome to Yellowstone!

That behavior really dampened our spirits, but it only lasted till the next morning. Though it dawned overcast and drizzly, we did not let that affect our enthusiasm for the grizzly, and decided to head out early, to beat the crowds. And we were rewarded. Arriving at Old Faithful, the amazing, huge, incredibly punctual geyser, the sporadic rain stopped, and we were in time to grab the best ringside seats. As we waited, a condescending Brit tourist asked us if we knew we were all sitting on the world’s biggest volcano, which could erupt at any time. To his obvious chagrin, I confirmed we did, and added that it would save us all cremation expenses. He was not amused! Exactly at 10.39 am, Old Faithful built up a head of steam, and let loose with an utterly jaw-dropping thermal geyser. In size, height and intensity it was everything it had been cracked up to be. What surprised us was how quiet the eruption was. Almost like a ballet, this prima donna was accompanied by an entire troupe of subsidiary geysers, letting off steam, all around. At the end of the performance, we joined the, largely Chinese, audience, in giving Old Faithful a rousing hand of applause!

Heading to Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance to the Park, we realized the entire area is a collection of thermal basins, filled with steaming lakes, hot springs and myriad geysers. Nearing Mammoth, the rain resumed, accompanied by mist. Nothing could dampen our excitement at the wild and wonderful spectacle. Sections of the road were under repair, and awash in mud, which camouflaged our car brilliantly. On the way back, we decided to try the alternate route, via Canyon and Lake. This was a mistake, as it was just boringly lovely, compared to the stunningly lovely route via Norris. However, we finally did get to say hello (from my wife, literally!) to some wild life. Massive buffalo (actually, bison) grazed contentedly all around, completely ignoring the admiring hordes of tourists. Further down the road, we met a couple of elks, right next to the road. One posed its behind for my wife’s camera. I must confess, I avoided eye contact, having just had elk sliders for lunch.

And then, we were attacked by a grizzly bear! Just kidding. Earlier, when we stopped at a pull-off, near another motorist, he told us we had just missed seeing a grizzly, by five minutes. Perhaps, tomorrow.

Back at the Deer Lodge, we decided to drown our sorrows at missing the grizzly, with a bottle of wine. Completely forgetting that we had picked up a corked bottle, and there is no corkscrew at the Lodge! There ensued an epic battle. Nothing gets between us and our wine! Pressed into service were car keys, scissors, coffee stirrers, and considerable perseverance and ingenuity! Needless to say, the wine was drunk!

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 25  : Glory in Sunset

Battle waged furiously, in the valley of the Rosebud River. Significantly outmanned, and considerably outgunned, Crazy Horse had, nevertheless, decided to attack General Crook’s army, in defence of their camp, over the watershed, on the Little Bighorn. At its peak, a Cheyenne Chief’s horse was killed, and he fell. His sister, watching from a nearby ridge, quickly grabbed a horse and rode fearlessly out to him. Collecting him, on the gallop, she rode back to their lines. Forever, thereafter, this battle on the Rosebud would be known as The Battle Where the Girl Saved Her Brother.

Largely with bows and arrows, or old rifles, against the Army’s massed, modern, repeating weapons, it was almost as Quixotically heroic as the Polish Army’s horsed cavalry charges against German tanks, in WWII. The world of values and spirituality, versus the world of realpolitik. Against all odds, Crazy Horse defeated General Crook, who was forced to retreat, all the way back to Fort Laramie. As a result, he would not be there to support Custer. It was later estimated that this battle cost the US Government $ 1 million for each Native warrior killed. The overall cost of the “Indian Wars” would be an astronomical $150,000 per day! Buying peace, instead, would have been a bargain. It is ironic that this defeat was inflicted on General Crook, a rare intellectual in the military, who understood, and empathized with, the Natives. Asked for the most difficult aspect of fighting the Natives, he courageously replied, “Knowing you are wrong.” Despite this, though, he probably never forgave Crazy Horse, as he allegedly supported the plot to imprison the surrendered Chief, and exile him to a wretched Florida island, an American St.Helena, leading to his assassination.

A week later, the arrogant, over-ambitious Custer, bottom of his class at West Point, blind to all realities except the fantasy of his own invincibility and glory, divided his completely exhausted troops into three detachments, and, with his 250 soldiers attacked a camp of 1500 skilled warriors. He expected to repeat his Washita tactic, wanting, at any cost, his ‘victory’ to happen in time for him to run for President. However, here, he faced not peaceful, old Black Kettle, but the genius of Crazy Horse, inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull. As Chief Gall chased Custer up Last Stand Hill, Crazy Horse anticipated his every move, completely out-generalled him, despite only 1 in 5 of his warriors having guns, cornered him, and systematically wiped both Custer and his entire command, off the face of the earth. The Achilles Heel of any military, the unbounded hubris of an unsuitable commander, invariably costs the lives of gallant soldiers.

Never before, or after, were the Lakota so united, so ably led. The quiet, modest, unmaterialistic, personally unambitious Crazy Horse, the antithesis of Custer, in every way, was the decisive factor in the battle, just as Sitting Bull’s vision was the decisive factor in uniting and inspiring the Lakota to their greatest victory. However, even in that moment of glory, the Chiefs knew it was the last splutter of the flame. America would respond with massive force, and their people were in sunset. Doubting their ability to win militarily, the Army would use its might to drive the buffalo to near extinction; the Natives to near starvation. Hunger finally won the West. These free spirits would be forced, by the greed of invaders, onto small reservations, places where, Lincoln said, “Indians live, surrounded by thieves.” Natives would not even receive citizenship rights till as late as 1924. In the end, America eradicated 80% of the Native population (compared to 63% of European Jews, that Hitler did).

Atop Last Stand Hill, I gaze out over the prairie grass and dandelions, swaying gently in the breeze. It is a scene of extraordinary tranquility. The lonely, mournful whistle of a passing locomotive adds a dirge. The lush hillside is obscenely pockmarked with stark, white headstones, marking the place each soldier fell (Custer’s is black). More recently, red granite markers have been installed at the spots Native warriors died, fighting not for some abstract need to conquer foreign lands, or take something that belonged to others, but simply to protect their families, tribes. The monument to the doubtfully glorious 7th Cavalry, the same unit responsible for the Washita and Wounded Knee massacres, stands in solitary vigil, on that summit. A monument to all the Native tribes was finally installed in 2003.

The Ranger video, and lecture, understandably, tread lightly on the Army’s “golden soldier”, ignoring his shortcomings. A throng of white Americans (where are you, brown people!) pay homage to Custer. I, the sole Injun, pay homage to Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and their warriors. Fortunately, the Crows – traditional enemies of the Lakota, and, therefore, supporters of Custer – today, operate an excellent tour of the expansive battlefield, offering a well balanced narrative. At the end, I am left to wonder at a capricious universe, that turned the Natives’ greatest hour of glory, into the blood-red sunset of their world.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 24  : One for the Underdog

The horses charged up the green Piney Trail Ridge, snorting and panting, urged on by the battlecries of the soldiers. The few Lakota, ahead, were clearly fleeing, in panic. An easy kill. At the summit, Captain Fetterman barely paused to consider his Commander had specifically ordered him, not once but three times, not to cross this Ridge. Fetterman contemptuously threw caution to the winds, and dashed over. After all, as he had claimed repeatedly, with just 80 troopers, he could wipe out the entire Lakota Nation – and he had exactly 80 troopers with him now. As they plunged headlong into the valley, and up a little rise, suddenly, several hundred furious warriors sprang out of hiding – exactly as the Colonel had forewarned Fetterman. In short order, the entire troop was wiped out, to the last man. Known to the Lakota as the Battle of the Hundred Hands, it was the Army’s worst defeat, till Custer outdid the ignominy, exactly ten years later. Score one – a big one – for the underdog.

What led a seasoned officer to flagrantly disobey orders and end up with all his men killed? Exactly the same factors that influenced Custer – overweening ego and unbridled ambition. Custer, too, would famously boast, “I could whip all the Indians on the Continent, with the 7th Cavalry.” He, too, would learn the error of his ways. Fetterman’s troop was divided into three, and killed, while Custer himself split his soldiers into three and had his troop wiped out, to the last man. The weighty price of hubris. It would take the Army quite some time to understand that, the Natives fought as they hunted, relying on tactics, rather than technology. Once they learnt guerrilla warfare from the Lakota, the tide would turn, and turn irrevocably. For the Natives, living, and fighting, were both absolutely individual and personal. Their highest honor was to touch a live enemy, to show one’s personal courage, rather than killing him. Hence, the understandable claim by the Army that this happened because never had the Lakota been known to fight a planned, tactical battle. They forgot that the warriors’ code was “Every day is a good day to die.”

The Fetterman Fight was led by Red Cloud. To head the decoy party, which so convincingly lured the soldiers on, he appointed a young warrior, Crazy Horse. It was the beginning of a war career that remains unmatched in the annals of American history. The Ranger video at Fort Phil Kearney, like at the Washita, does credit to the country, with its complete honesty, despite it being an embarrassing disaster for the Army. The Fort itself was burnt to the ground by Red Cloud, along with all the others on the Bozeman Trail, when the Army withdrew, after two years of failing to win Red Cloud’s War. Today, it is a poignant sight – just a field of pretty wildflowers, with rusty markers bearing mute testimony to past lives and spilt blood.

Today has been the first, long drive, after a week of lazing around the Black Hills. I left sleeping Deadwood early (its slogan, “Deadwood Alive” clearly does not refer to mornings), in search of breakfast, hopefully in the next town, Spearfish. And I searched and searched. This is probably how brunch was invented – you keep hunting for breakfast till nearly lunchtime! Though I leave the beautiful Black Hills reluctantly, I am excited to rendezvous with my wife, at Cody, Wyoming, in a few days. It has been a long, lonely month. Of course, before then, my dashing, new-look beard and mustache simply must go!

After brunch, I was back on my old friend, I-90, passing the “Center of the Nation”, at Belle Fourche. To my surprise, the geographic center of the US really is in South Dakota! Drifting through little Sundance (not, as their literature says, where the film festival is), I decided to drop by the courthouse where the Sundance Kid was tried, and the jail from which he escaped 18 months later, to join Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang, to become The Sundance Kid. Together, they would go on the biggest, and longest, crime spree in the history of the West.

As I head deeper into lovely Wyoming, full of hills and little lakes, snowy peaks begin to appear on the horizon. Traffic is very light indeed, though most are RVs. One man has decided to take his entire house along! I give that Wide Load a wiiiide berth! And I have picked up a few more choice roadside signs, to add to my collection. “Red Ass Rhubarb” gives fair warning, while “Wife Insurance” is intriguing. Then comes “Force Road” – persuasion didn’t work, huh? While most States post sharply reduced speed limits, in road work areas, warning of doubled fines, South Dakota tries to be punny, instead, “Our workers…give ‘em a brake.” I finally arrive at the very cute Story Pines Inn, and relax on the lawn, watching wild deer – till a heavy pine cone falls on my head!

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 22 & 23 : Sin & Debauchery!

I am sidling, nervously, into a Town of Sin and Debauchery! A leisurely 45 minute drive through the exquisite beauty of the mystical Black Hills, shows me, once again, the flip side of the Frontier. As usual, I am the only Injun amid a horde of cowboys. I wonder if I am the only non-white in the whole of South Dakota! However, they treat me as I expect a horde of Injuns would treat the Lone Ranger – with benevolent indifference.

If ever there was a town whose foundations are built on pure, unadulterated, unabashed greed and venality, it is Deadwood. A hugely atmospheric little town, still thriving on, at least, one of its hereditary sins, gambling, it was once the heart of the Black Hills gold rush. Deadwood has seen it all. The gritty, eponymous HBO series has prepared me for the rawness of this once no-holds-barred, lawless and, indeed, completely illegal, ‘camp’, on land guaranteed “in perpetuity” to the Lakota, by the Treaty of Laramie. Al Swearengen did run his bordello, the Gem Theatre, across the road (today the Mineral Palace Hotel), a refuge for gamblers, cardsharps, and, in the exquisite parlance of the day, “soiled doves”. Nearby was the equally notorious Bella Union Saloon. 11 of every 16 women were ‘soiled doves’. Further down Main Street, witness to so much, is the infamous Saloon No.10, where a cowardly Jack McCall shot the legendary Wild Bill Hickok in the back, as he sat playing cards, holding what has come to be known as the Dead Man’s Hand – 2 aces and 2 eights. This street has known Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, allegedly Wild Bill’s girlfriend, celebrated Sheriff Seth Bullock, Charlie Utter, Sol Star, Wong Lee, all larger-than-life Wild West characters in their own right. They all now sleep in the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Of course, Deadwood would not be Deadwood if this famous cemetery was not also home to the graves of its celebrated brothel Madams, such as Madam Moustache. The entire town was built on alcohol, prostitution and opium, riding the heady crest of the gold rush. The law was a rough and ready thing, at best, and its enforcement both sporadic and hazardous. Guns, grit and, above all, gold. The Homestead Gold Mine finally shut in 2002, after 126 years of operation. The last brothel downed its less-than-discreet shutters as recently as 1980.

Deadwood was a tough little gulch and its residents even tougher. A devastating fire destroyed the town in 1879, but it rapidly rebuilt and rose again, phoenix-like. Seth Bullock and Sol Star’s shop was one of the victims, but they reincarnated into the Bullock Hotel, still operating today – complete with tours to meet Bullock’s ghost. Almost Divine retribution, for its sins, fire and flood destroyed Deadwood several times, over the years. But Deadwood is still here, and prospering. Today, it is no longer the town of sin, greed and lawlessness, but it does use its highly picturesque past to good effect, in promoting tourism, as a baby Las Vegas, but with history. There are regular ‘shoot-outs’ up and down Main Street, and the infamous assassination of Wild Bill Hickok is re-enacted, along with the first, sham trial of Jack McCall. Even Kevin Costner has got in on the action, after he filmed “Dances with Wolves”, buying up the Midnight Star Casino and a tour company.

As the evening shades draw in, I stroll back to my hotel, the Historic Silverado Franklin, just a few feet from where gold was first struck, in Deadwood Gulch. Rooms beside mine have hosted Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, John Wayne, Buffalo Bill Cody and other celebrities. Jolted by a flurry of gunshots, I realized it is the evening shootout, and hurry across the street to the Masonic Lodge, to watch the trial of Jack McCall. Having witnessed the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, earlier, I am keen to see its conclusion. The only ticketed event of the day’s many historic entertainments, it is staged with enthusiasm, skill and great humor. Audience members are often hauled up to the stage, to participate as witnesses, and I suddenly find myself ‘volunteered’, despite having studiously avoided eye contact with the ‘recruiter’! Though I have not acted since my schooldays, I throw myself into the part with gusto! As the trial ends, and the murderer is set free, by the jury of disreputable minor miners (average age 6 years), I walk back on to Main Street, now draped in velvety night. Looking down the street, fairly dimly-lit, even today, it is easy to see the ghosts of horses, carts and stagecoaches, clattering about, and the rowdy, boisterous crowds that were the lifeblood of Deadwood. Rarely has a town been so inaccurately named!

On a somber note, I just received word that the Medicine Man I interviewed on Day 1a4, passed away four days later. My photograph of him, in Muscat Daily, was the last of him alive. Pila maya, Catches His Enemy.

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 21  : Choo Choo Train

I have now been on the road for three full weeks, and the tiredness seeping into my ancient bones admonishes me that I should have been home yesterday! And yet, the irresistible siren-song of the open road still has me in its thrall. I am happy to have this relaxed day, in the beautiful Black Hills, away from the searing tragedy of the Native American experience, as well as the exuberant derring-do of the frontiersmen, the indomitable spirits that built this Nation. I write this as I chug gently along on an excruciatingly cute little 1880s train, out of Keystone, heading for lunch, an hour away, at Hill City. After lunch, I shall board the open-sided Redfern coach, to meander back to Keystone. Both are tiny towns, tucked away in the Black Hills, surviving only for tourists; evaporating come winter.

I hadn’t realize that my latest Patel palace is just 2 miles from Rushmore, almost within sight of the four Big Bosses. A relaxed half hour drive from Custer, I arrive much too early to check in. This gives me time to muse on the idiosyncrasies of this great and wonderful country, that I have encountered so far.

Why, for instance, does the same road have upto three different numeric designators? And, for greater confusion, three possible suffixes – BL (Business), BYP (Bypass) and ALT (Alternate). Street names can be perennially entertaining, like the latest in my collection, “Windbreak Road”, so susceptible to alternate interpretations. There is even a “7-11 Road”. Some pique my curiosity for the backstory, like “Lame Johnny Creek.”

As the century-old, wooden coaches dash along at a blinding 20 miles an hour, I remember the Toy Train of my native Darjeeling, which, too, a brisk walker can outpace, perhaps with a nap or two. Oblivious to other passengers’ wanting to listen to the narrative on the train, two elderly ladies, from “Minne-sodah” carry on a loud, mind-numbingly inane gossip. A young father asks his little son, “So, buddy, are ya havin a good taaaahm?” Buddy, priorities crystal clear, focuses intensely on his ice-cream. Grandma ignores the No Smoking signs and puffs away – till she sees the Conductor approaching, and flicks it out of the open window, with practiced ease. Her ‘little ol granny’ expression does not slip for a second. It turns out, the train is packed with ‘Minne-sodahs’!

Breakfasts are fascinating. People do live up to their stereotypes! White Americans (men in shorts; women in sleeping pajamas) will usually greet you; Europeans, never. African Americans (usually women only, in tracksuits) will ignore you, but will be quick to apologize if they, inadvertently, get in your way. To the rare Indians (except the Patels of the motels), I am transparent; just don’t exist. The Chinese look at me as though I have stolen their babies. A thoroughly enjoyable daybreak!

The cops, though, defy stereotypes – like the one that stopped me in the heart of rural Kansas. Oops! I let that cat out of the bag, didn’t I! Waaal, Kansas has these incredibly long, straight roads, almost bereft of cars, besides the odd truck, surrounded by flat, empty fields that, I was convinced, couldn’t possibly hide a cop. So, well, I just might – might, I say! – have touched the pedal up to the occasional 120 mph. I had just, laughingly, taken pictures of a dinky little town called Gage, with its dinky Courthouse, and zipped ten miles past, when I was annoyed by a trucker ahead repeatedly flashing his braking lights. Only when I noticed the cop’s bright, flashing lights, in my mirror, did I realize he was trying to warn me there was a cop around, to slow down. As I stopped, I was excited, “Just like the movies!” The next moment, I remembered that, in those movies, the cops were always bad! I kept both hands conspicuously in view, on the steering wheel. The cop said, “Sir, I had you clocked at 91, in a 65 zone.” My shocked look didn’t quite cut it, even with me. He was very pleasant and almost apologetic, “Sir, if it was on the Interstate, I could probably have given it a pass, but on our little KS-25…,” he just shook his head, in disbelief. Since I did not contest it (knowing my actual speeds), and made his life easier by readily going back the ten miles, to that same dinky Courthouse, to pay my fine, he even gave me a discount, just like in Oman! Even the Court Clerk was apologetic and soothing. And the fine…well, let’s just say it was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow the rest of the trip! What a comeuppance that was! Kansas cops, Hollywood does you no favors!

This 20-mile stretch is the only bit left of the original Deadwood railroad, that flourished for exactly a hundred years. Ambling along, among the fragrant Ponderosa pine forests, and black granite rocks, the train eventually, despite sometimes seeming to have second thoughts about continuing the effort, trundles gently into Hill City.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 20  : Tasunko Witko

“My lands are where my dead lie buried,” the simple, haunting rebuff to a mocking question about where his lands are now, shortly before his murder. Tasunko Witko, Crazy Horse (more accurately, His Horses Are Crazy), The Strange Man of the Oglala, perhaps the greatest Native, or even North American, warrior ever. The man the US Army was never able to defeat, or break. There is poetic justice in this astoundingly gigantic mountain being carved (in the likeness of his spirit, since he never allowed himself to be photographed), to dominate the sacred Black Hills he fought so hard to save. A fitting response to the pettiness that named the little nearby town, State Park and county after the man who opened the gates to the despoiling of Paha Sapa, Custer. There has to be historic discomfort in the street signs carrying the name of Custer, the undeserving darling of the miners, juxtaposed with the name of his victor, Crazy Horse.

The scale of this mountain carving is truly epic, the largest ever attempted by man. All the four Presidents on Mt.Rushmore, themselves gargantum, could easily fit into part of his head, while the big bus I rode to the base of the mountain could comfortably travel through the pupil of his eye! His horse will, eventually, stand 22 stories tall. Over the last 70 years, 19 million tons of rock have been blasted out, and the work is expected to take at least another 70 years to complete. I am glad my children will live to see it. The monumental work already attracts 1.5 million visitors, just a little  less than Mt.Rushmore, and perhaps it’s greatest contribution is in making these millions aware of the Native American story, and the fact that they had heroes who were as glorious, if not more so, than any others. Absolutely deserving to be on everyone’s bucket list, the bus ride to the base of the mountain is an experience that simply cannot be described. For a more significant donation, it is even possible to take a small van right to the top – for the non-vertigo-afflicted, unlike me.

The Black Hills are exquisitely beautiful, draped in a gown thickly embroidered with dark trees, startlingly black against the backdrop of the surrounding green plains. It is easy to appreciate the Natives’ reverence for their Paha Sapa; their horror at its desecration. One can also see, if perhaps to a lesser degree, the Americans’ desperate need for its bountiful gold, which, at that time, saved it’s economy from certain recession. Gold, worth billions, has flowed from the Black Hills – with not a single dollar’s worth, in these last 150 years, going to benefit those who, even today, legally own the Hills, the Lakota. The truly sad reality is that almost all the Native lands were appropriated, under “Manifest Destiny”, “Eminent Domain”, “Civilizing the Savage”, or similar fantasies, but, in reality, for gold or oil, resources the Natives did not value at all, and never objected to the white men taking freely, so long as they could keep their buffalo, their lifestyle, their ancient cultures, an elemental defence of family, tribe, home and hearth. Undoubtedly, both could have coexisted peacefully. Why, oh why, could a genuinely great Nation, the land of the free, and home of the brave, not find it, in it’s heart, to spare the home of the bravest of the brave, or the land of those who had always been free.

I passed Mt.Rushmore, on my winding way along the often very narrow and steep, but incredibly picturesque, Highway 16A. It fully justifies it’s fame, and is undoubtedly one of the great achievements of mankind. There are several stunning views, framed by tunnels, as you approach, that I can confidently say I have never seen the like of, anywhere in the world. While it is, understandably, the focus of American patriotism and pride, the Native perspective is little known. Carved out of their most sacred hills, it is akin to placing a monsterous statue of the devil in the middle of St.Peter’s Square, at the Vatican. Two of those Presidents were slave owners and traders, while the most beloved of them, Abraham Lincoln, was responsible for the largest single hanging in US history, almost a State lynching, when 39 innocent Dakotas were killed, to appease the hysteria of white settlers in Mankato, Minnesota. Ironically, they were all recent converts to Christianity, who went to the gallows singing a Christian hymn, in their own language, which the local Press, at the time, unable to understand, labeled “heathenish, savage, Indian wailing.”

Earlier, I visited Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. A construction contractor had uncovered a treasure-trove of mammoth skeletons, and, in a rare, unselfish gesture, handed the site over for preservation. After 40 years, only a third of the site has been uncovered but already yielded over 60 skeletons, curiously all male, of woolly mammoths and, the far bigger, Columbian mammoth. Sort of puts time, and human strivings, in perspective, doesn’t it?

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 18 & 19 :  Behold, the Holy Mountain

It is really scary! White Thunder and I are on our way to Bear Butte, the most sacred mountain of the Lakota as well as other Native Nations. Chatting along I-90, at well over 80 mph, we are right behind a long, double-decker vehicle carrier, when it suddenly wiggles crazily across the lanes, in a snake dance! A red Toyota, alongside it in the next lane, escapes being smashed into the roadside ditch, with barely inches to spare. The trucker regains control and all ends well, but it is frightening enough for me to ease off the accelerator and stay tucked, demurely, behind.

Vernell White Thunder is descended of an old, illustrious line. Originally of the Northern Cheyenne, his oldest known ancestor, following their oral tradition, was a Medicine Man who was the keeper of the tribe’s most revered Sacred Arrows, stolen from him by their foes, the Pawnee. These holy relics, akin to the Christians’ Holy Grail, in a very belated gesture of conciliation, will, soon, finally be restored to the Cheyenne by the Pawnee. White Thunder’s own father, now more Lakota than Cheyenne, was an actual Chief, and he himself is a rare, fluent Lakota speaker and practitioner of their traditional faith. Not a Medicine Man, he is, nevertheless, deeply immersed in Lakota spirituality, values and practices. I am greatly honored to have him show me Bear Butte. With my few Lakota words, picked up from my readings, he understands I am no dilettante, and opens up wholeheartedly.

As we wander, reverentially, through the rattlesnake-ridden prairie grasses, up the slopes of the Holy Mountain, I suddenly have goosebumps and the hair on my arms stirs. There is, clearly, some strange, eerie, mystic force on that mountain, something even I, the ultimate skeptic atheist, can neither explain nor deny. Like a powerful magnetic field, it, equally inexplicably, releases me the moment we are off the mountain. I have absolutely no idea what I just experienced, but that I have experienced something otherworldly is beyond question – even by me. White Thunder smiles gently at my stunned expression, as he explains the inner meaning of their rituals. I am, again, struck by similarities to Shinto and core Hinduism.

Our wanderings bring us to two Lakota, praying in a secluded glade, and, unexpectedly, he takes me over. He joins their sacred song (Lakota are expected to always join, in support, and not just spectate), though I, obviously, cannot participate. It turns out they are from Washington DC, and have been praying for days. It struck me powerfully, the whole morning, that, despite being a complete stranger, I was always made welcome by everyone, even in the midst of their sacred rituals, chatted with, and offered whatever food and drink they had. And no conversation was complete without the incomparable Native humor!

Further up the slopes, we meet one of the several men and women praying, a young Apache, with his Lakota friend, excited, nervous and scared at the same time, who has come all the way to holy Bear Butte for his first Vision Quest, the searing ritual of upto four days of total abstinence from food and water, absolutely alone, up among the higher crags of the mountain, completely naked to the elements, utterly focused on singing, dancing and praying, “crying for a vision” to guide one’s life, prayers to Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Four Directions. Capable of inducing a very deep, meditative trance, it sometimes offers a brief glimpse of one’s future, the “beyond”. Natives believe time is a continuous flow, without beginning or end, and, through such prayers from a pure heart, it is occasionally possible to “see beyond”. It requires at least a full year of preparing one’s mind and purifying one’s heart. Silently soaking in all I hear and see, on that strangest of mountains, something, perhaps long-dead, stirs within my soul, as though from a waking dream.

We head pensively back towards Rapid City. I am silent, and White Thunder gently allows me the mental space. He knows it cannot but have been an intense experience. Bear Butte, the Holy Mountain, always is, for the open hearted. Less than an hour later, I am plummeted from the deeply spiritual to the mundanely material, as the city swallows us. Rapid City is a picturesque, small city, amidst lush, low hills, full of charming lakes, parks and woods – and the remarkable Journey Museum. It is the only city I have ever visited with colorful art on the usually ugly street switchgear, and even a monument to the physically challenged. Though a jewel of a little city, a study found it the third most racist city, towards Natives, after Las Vegas and Denver. Could it be subconscious, generational angst over the actions of their forebears, akin to modern-day Germany?

Back in the motel, it is my laundry day. As I moodily watch the machine churn, the gradually darkening skies open up, with gentle rain, like a benediction. A portent of peace, harmony and conciliation to come?

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 14 –  Medicine Man

Disaster! My phones and iPad are out of juice, and my little teepee has no electricity. My Garmin sulkingly refuses to switch on. To top that, my phone has not picked up any network on the Reservation (or even in Dodge, for that matter). Finally, the icing on the cake, my video camera shuts down two minutes into my interview with Cindy Catches! On a beautiful, crisp morning, with Kodachrome skies and birds rejoicing in lush greenery all around, my day just keeps getting worse! This is a panic-worthy situation, but I console myself that tomorrow I should have electricity to recharge. Ahhhhh!

On the second of my four days on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation, I collect two more interesting road signs – Cook Oil Road, and the Shady Rest Motel (not where I stayed!). The Heritage Centre, at the Red Cloud Indian School (why do Natives still allow themselves to be misnamed by a confused, lost Spaniard) is disappointing. There is little heritage there and the, mainly non-Native, staff unhelpful. Rather a sad tribute to Red Cloud, the awe-inspiring warrior and statesman who created the School. To prevent settlers from flooding onto the Bozeman Trail, and destroying their life-sustaining hunting grounds, he fought the US Army to a complete standstill, over two years, till they were finally compelled to abandon all those forts – which Red Cloud then systematically burnt to the ground. In later years, some believe he became more politician than statesman, but he did gain peace for his people, on his own Reservation. He is among the few war chiefs who died peacefully, of old age.

I move from war to spirituality, as I drive down the deeply rutted, mud Tobacco Road, to meet with an authentic, hereditary Medicine Man of the Lakota. Though dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he is the highly respected 38th Medicine Man of his people, following the way of the Spotted Eagle. The very elderly Peter Catches His Enemy is dying, but still agrees to see me, with his wife, Cindy, explaining. Despite his extreme frailty, he displays flashes of quiet humor. Native Americans have always been supreme masters of the spirit world, just as the Westerners are of the material. First, they explain the importance of tobacco to the Way of the Pipe. Native tobacco is actually the inside bark of the willow, and is not meant for smoking. The puffs of smoke from the Sacred Pipe travel up to the Great Spirit and establish a spiritual link for prayer, in many respects, similar to Eastern meditation. Many of the elements of their faith bear striking resemblances to core Hindu philosophy, Shinto and Bahaii. There is considerable irony in the fact that the European colonizers, the supreme materialists, forced their religion on the supreme spiritualists, claiming an absolute monopoly in the knowledge of the One Big Spirit. Sadly, the desecration continues even today, with a growing conflict with the giant Sturgis motorcycle rally wanting to build biker bars and strip joints right on the edges of the Natives’ most sacred, and last remaining, holy place, Bear Butte.

As the supreme skeptic, I question Peter on the motivation behind Lakota religious practices and he gently reminds me that their rituals are, primarily, for holistic healing. And they have, repeatedly, been proven to work. True Medicine Men do not take any money, nor gain any personal or political advantage out of the service they provide. The entire value system is based, very deeply, on virtue, love, wholeness of the spirit, service and, in a very Shinto way, being one with Nature. After all, everything has life, value, purpose. Hence, the Lakota talk of trees as “rooted people”, animals as “four legged people”, even rocks and stars as people. Mother Earth, Father Sky and the four cardinal directions (which have multiple meanings) are at the core of their beliefs. The strength of this tradition is attested to by the fact that, after several generations of forced conversion and brutal attempts to remake them in the image of the invaders, today, there is a major reversal of that flow, back to Wakan Tanka and the Way of the Pipe. The sere tragedy of the Lakota has perhaps made them echo Red Cloud’s words, “We have seen neither Him nor his Works.” Peter has been invited by the US Government, as well as countries around the world, to advise on Native holistic healing – the same Government that banned any practice of Native religion till as late as 1979. Lately, he and his wife, Cindy, have developed, under a Federal grant, a special curriculum of lessons on Lakota spirituality, to be taught to Native children, over a period of years. Perhaps the revival of the spirit will begin the revival of the Lakota. After all, the visions of long ago had prophesied this generation would do just that.

This Medicine Man’s words, and deeds, simply cannot be dismissed, like my skeptic soul would prefer. Perhaps this road-trip is turning out more of a voyage of self-discovery than I had planned.

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 16 & 17 : Back to the Future

Today, I have been time-traveling. Much like the movie, I feel my car has zipped into time-machine mode, moving smoothly between the past, present and future. Yesterday, I drove across the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, marveling at the first blossoms of hope for their future, before crossing the mighty Missouri River, to Chamberlain, the furthest east of my road-trip. Just for the night, I slipped across from Mountain Time to Central Time. I had come to visit a single institution, the Akta Lakota Cultural Centre of St.Joseph’s Indian School. And it was well worth the many miles. It is a rich repository of Lakota artifacts, beautifully presented. The quality of the Centre, and the campus, attest to its multi-million dollar financial reserves – clearly being spent well.  

Chamberlain is a laid-back town, with not much to commend it, except it’s commanding riverine location. The parking lot of my riverbank Motel had more boats  on trailers than cars. I picked up a few more interesting road signs. There was “Bad River” – though I don’t know why it had been naughty. A passing village was Wasta – Omani influence? The advertisement for a restaurant raised a chuckle, “Mexican food so good that President Trump will want to put a wall around it.” The road itself, for about 50 miles around Chamberlain, is a beautiful, smooth red that I have not seen anywhere. Unlike the regular jointed concrete freeways, which rock the car in a gentle, rhythmic motion, like a horse, these roads are as smooth as silk. Reflecting on roads, I wonder why the same piece of road often has two or even three different identifying numbers. To confuse matters further, the same road number can have, at least, three possible suffixes – BL (Business), BYP (Bypass), ALT (Alternate)! Puzzling them out takes the monotony out of long, straight roads through endless grazing fields. For the first time, I understood what ‘big sky’ is. When you look for, what seems like, hundreds of miles, in every direction, and see not a single living thing, or geographical feature, or man-made structure, you feel you are completely alone in the universe, under a giant sky.

As I re-crossed the Missouri, I slipped not just into the next time zone, but all the way to 1880 – the amazing 1880s Town, just off the I-90, near Midland. This remarkable recreation is a collection of authentic period buildings, crammed to the rafters with genuine artifacts, artfully presented with a careful coating of dust, as well as a few painstakingly accurate reproductions. In this milieu, are housed many items from the sets of “Dances with Wolves” and other films. It even boasts a diner inside a real Santa Fe Railroad train. Of course, being middle America, it could not resist a touch of kitsch! A most rewarding journey into the past.

I think my Garmin has fallen asleep, as it instructs me, on the way to my next destination, in the middle of nowhere, to turn right – bang into a stout, wire fence! Good, old-fashioned paper maps, and intuition, finally set me right and I look up to see a most incongruous 20th Century sight. Amid those endless, empty vistas, in the midst of a herd of peacefully grazing cows, rises the sinister snout of an underground nuclear missile silo. At the height of the Cold War, over 1000 Minutemen nuclear missiles were hidden, in plain sight, under the prairie grass of these Great Plains. Superimposing Armageddon on this bucolic scene is mind-bending. Now decommissioned, a few of the silos and command centers have become tourist attractions. Looking down into the Delta-7 silo, and seeing that end-of-the-world missile crouching silently there, gives me the shivers. Especially when I recall that today’s world may be heading into another Cold War, or worse.

Moving away, my time-machine does another flip, and takes me back to 1890, to the excellent, privately-funded Wounded Knee Museum at Wall, just off the I-90. Not only do they have extensive photographs of the massacre, and associated items, but they also run an ongoing campaign to petition Congress to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded for it. Another of their campaigns is trying to force sports teams to stop misappropriating Native cultural names and symbols. I sign up to support both petitions. Abruptly, I am shot back to the present, at lunch, at the very modern-day, ultimate kitsch heaven, the famous Wall Drug Co. For lovers of this cultural ethos, it is probably like entering the Pearly Gates of Heaven!

A final, quick stop at the local Air & Space Centre gives me an opportunity to eyeball the biggest aircraft of different eras. But, above all, there sits a beautiful, beautiful Dakota, in all her glory, triggering a tidal way of nostalgic, childhood memories. This particular aircraft once flew the highly hazardous Hump, over the Himalayas, transporting supplies from Assam to China, during World War II.  

The river of time flows quietly on. A rollercoaster day slowly fades into the gloaming, as I finally reach Rapid City.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 15 :  Invisible Warriors

Invisible warriors! Mark St.Pierre’s brilliantly evocative name for the unsung individuals working ceaselessly to improve the lives of people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It has taken me to my last day “on Rez” to discover this intensely passionate “troublemaker-activist” and his equally brilliant, full-blood Lakota, educationist & craftsperson wife, Tilda. Mark, a writer & film-maker, is a Canadian meiti – part Native, part French (heritage of the early fur trappers, who frequently settled into Native tribes) and a tad Irish. The couple has lived “on Rez” for over 40 years. I am deeply fortunate to have Mark take me around and give me a rare, in-depth insight into Reservation life today, and how the invisible warriors are slowly transforming it to match its beautiful, pristine environment. Progress is slow, but discernible and growing. When a people have been deprived of civil society for over a century, recovery cannot but take time.

Visiting their small film-making school, I am astounded at how much they have achieved with a small USDA grant. Their film “Who will bury our dead?” is Hollywood-quality. The Studio is living proof of how far the Lakota will stretch their extremely hard-won dollars, wrested out of an unsupportive and often deeply prejudiced bureaucracy, to achieve their dreams. The cracked windscreen and malfunctioning window of Mark’s war-weary stationwagon evidence their sheer grit and passion, channeling their own scanty dollars to support this fledgling Lakota educational venture. I see similar passion in Tony Brave, who started Native America’s only TV station, almost  two decades ago. His televising of Tribal Council meetings has gone a long way to ensuring transparency and accountability. A similar success story is the Reservation’s Kili Radio, which I enjoy listening to, on my drives. Thanks to the indomitable Mark & Tilda powerhouse, the community now has its own Chamber of Commerce and Credit Union. But it still faces the deadly rip current of opposition from the ‘dominant society’. The Post Office at Kyle opens for just 4 hours – I failed to mail my package. When an off-Reservation Bank was successfully sued for discriminating against the Lakota, they fulfilled the letter, not spirit, of the award against them, by sending in a mobile unit for just 5 hours, once a week, with severely restricted services! National media largely ignores them; International media loves to perpetuate the stereotype of the poverty, drunkenness and lawlessness on the Reservation, which, incidentally, I myself have not seen a shred of. None of their amazing success stories, their amazing fight against all the odds, their amazing, quiet resurgence. I have had a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse beyond the caricature. Where even a haircut was unavailable on the Reservation, and watching a movie involved a 2-hour drive to Rapid City, and a family outlay of around $200, today things are changing, relatively rapidly. The new cinema at Kyle charges just $7 to enjoy the latest movies; convenience stores are popping up; home ownership is zooming.

Mark takes me to meet a truly remarkable person, who starred in the film I watched, Stella Iron Cloud, a descendent of the redoubtable Santee Chief, Red Wing. She is elderly, in great pain and wheelchair-restricted, but nothing diminishes her bubbling humor, warmth and sheer, infectious joie de vivre. She generously takes time explaining her invaluable genealogy work and shares stories of her ancestors, truly Native royalty. She tells the story of her Grandmother excitedly taking her, as a little girl, along with a crowd of Lakota, to see the first movie to have Lakota dialogue and tell their story. However, just before a cavalry charge, her Grandmother abruptly took her away. When the disappointed Stella asked why, she said she could not bear to watch soldiers killing Natives again. She herself had survived Wounded Knee, only to watch out-of-control soldiers rampage through Pine Ridge, killing any survivors they chose to.

It is hardly a surprise that generational trauma is alive and flourishing among the deeply brutalized Lakota. The obsolescence of their traditional vocational skills, like hunting; their complete lack of training in new skills like farming and business; white missionaries forcibly taking their children away to boarding schools to drill into them how evil they are and how their culture is the work of the Devil; the endless discrimination against them as “savage, lazy and drunk”; the near total lack of jobs, education or prospects, all led to a shockingly steep rate of suicide, depression, alcoholism and drugs – a self-fulfilling prophecy, born of utter hopelessness. It is only now, through the tireless efforts of the invisible warriors, that the tide has begun to turn. And turn sharply.

I have now driven 2/3rds of my total mileage and half my total days on the road. As I return to Mark & Tilda’s delightful, comfy Odd Duck Inn, in the middle of nowhere, I ponder how much I have learnt, how many preconceptions have changed, how emotions have been roiled. But, above all, how inspiring have been the stories of the undefeated heroes, the invisible warriors, a generation of highly educated professionals, now truly winning the West, against unbelievable odds.

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 13 : Requiem

Brooding banks of towering, black clouds, spreading a grim overcast across the landscape, seemed a perfect, almost Wagnerian, setting to my sombre mood, as I drove down the gravel road from my overnight Teepee on the Prairie (yes, I spent the night in an authentic Lakota teepee with no mod cons), towards the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre – the worst massacre of defenceless civilians, by the US Army, in its entire history, till My Lai, in Vietnam.

My teepee is, amazingly, on Air B&B! Tucked away in a remote part of the Pine Ridge Reservation, it took me quite a while to locate. The dusty driveway has deep wheel ruts and the teepee, up on a slight, very breezy rise, in solitary splendour, has just a cot and sleeping bag. The toilet is an outhouse without a door – air-conditioned by Nature. There are no meals or piped water – but there is wi-if! My charming hosts, the elderly half-Lakota, Gerald Weasel, and the full-blood Elmerilita Whiteface, who speaks broken English, explain that their ancestors were from Crazy Horse’s band but not his family. That family, now curiously surnamed Cloun, live in the hills around us. Not even they know just where in these Black Hills he is buried.

Stepping onto the fateful meadow beside Wounded Knee Creek, the many little wisps of mist still enshrouding the land seemed like ghosts of Chief Big Foot’s ragged, starving band of Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota, trudging wearily, in their pitiful rags, across the freezing ground, under a huge white flag, desperately seeking safety and sustenance at the Red Cloud Agency in Pine Ridge. It was 29th December 1890, and the band comprised mainly women, children and the elderly, led by a dying Chief. Just weeks earlier, the towering legend, Chief Sitting Bull, living a peaceful life on the Standing Rock Reservation, had been assassinated by Native policemen, and Big Foot’s people were fleeing the consequent turmoil, desperate for the sanctuary of Red Cloud’s reservation. Near Porcupine Butte, they were intercepted by the 7th Cavalry, under Col. Forsyth, and forced to camp at Wounded Knee. The following day, the 350 starving, destitute Lakota were surrounded by over 500 troops, 22 artillerymen and 30 Native Scouts, armed with four deadly Hotchkiss machine guns. What actually triggered the shooting is unclear, but, when the sun set that fateful day, 300 Lakota lay dead, including more than 200 old women and children. The berserk soldiers’ friendly fire also killed 25 of their own. This was the revenge of the 7th Cavalry, for their crushing defeat at the Little Bighorn – despite these Lakota never having been near it and being, clearly, non-combatants. Heaping further ignominy on themselves, the soldiers savagely mutilated and scalped the bodies, including that of Chief Big Foot. Fleeing women and children were chased as much as two miles, to be slaughtered in cold blood. The bodies were, later, dumped in a mass grave on a grassy knoll overlooking the site. The few survivors, roughly hauled to Pine Ridge, were left out in the freezing snow for hours, before being dumped in the Episcopal Church – under a huge Christmas banner, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men”.

For Wounded Knee, the Army was awarded a remarkable 20 Congressional Medals of Honour. One citation even read “For conspicuous bravery in rounding up…a stampeded pack mule”. Despite numerous calls for their revocation, these awards still stand. Even the inhuman General Miles was unhappy about this ‘battle’, though the subsequent Army Court of Inquiry merely criticized Forsyth.

The next day, the same unit of the 7th Cavalry was despatched to ‘round up’ (phraseology seemingly used equally for Longhorns and Natives) a few surviving Lakotas who had managed to escape. However, at Clay Creek, these warriors completely pinned them down, and they had to be rescued by the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th. This last splutter of the Lakota flame was a final testament to their undying spirit and courage. Crazy Horse’s cousin, Black Elk, who survived, summed it best, “I did not know then how much was ended…I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there…the Nation’s hoop is broken and scattered.”

A century-old cry for justice reverberated in February 1973, when 200 Oglala Lakota of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized Wounded Knee and faced off against 500 heavily armed Federal Marshalls, supported by armoured vehicles and jets, in a tense, 71-day armed stand-off, to draw attention to the Government’s many broken treaties. Despite that remarkable gesture of defiance, AIM is generally not well regarded by most Lakota, who consider them troublemaking outsiders.

Driving pensively back to my teepee, I recalled the 1890 comment in South Dakota’s Saturday Pioneer, “Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untameable creatures from the face of the earth.”

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 12 : Betrayal

Murder, assignation, treachery, betrayal, back-stabbing – this tragic site, at Fort Robinson, had it all, in one explosive incident. For me, this visit is pilgrimage, not tourism. This is the place one of the greatest Native American heroes, the Strange Man of the Oglala Lakota, Crazy Horse (or more accurately, His Horses are Crazy) was treacherously betrayed and murdered. The indomitable warrior the entire US Army was never able to defeat even once, finally fell to a stab in the back. I pay sombre homage, in reverence and awe, at the exact spot he was bayoneted, now marked by a simple quartz cairn. This is hallowed ground.

By May 1877, when he finally rode into the Red Cloud Reservation, to lay down weapons, Crazy Horse’s reputation had become far larger than life. An enigma, even to his own people, this loner was that rare, intellectual war leader who was able to clearly understand the battle tactics of his enemy, visualize the changes needed to his own, and inspire his followers to join battle on his terms, an unheard of achievement as Lakota warriors always fought as individuals. As a result, his successes were legendary, and easily the equal, if not superior, to those of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Cochise, Geronimo and their like. Renowned for his extraordinary personal courage, and utter fearlessness in battle, he honed his skills fighting the Lakota’s traditional enemies, the Blackfeet, Crow, and Pawnee. Emerging from the dust of those battles, he was chosen a war leader, by the tribe.

His first major exploit against the white soldiers was decoying the reckless and arrogant Capt. William Fetterman out of Fort Phil Kearney. Despite being specifically ordered not to cross Peno Head Ridge, the egotistical soldier did so, leading his 53 infantrymen and 27 cavalry troopers straight into a Lakota ambush that resulted in the entire unit being killed on the field. Fetterman had boasted that, with 80 men, he could wipe out the entire Lakota Nation. Exactly 80 soldiers paid the price of his foolish vanity.

Along the way, when he was not at war, Crazy Horse managed to have a tempestuous affair with a married lady, Black Buffalo Woman. Later, he would marry Black Shawl, who outlived him , till 1927. Back on the battlefield, he would go on to defeat General Crook at Rosebud, and then wipe out Custer and his entire unit at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Eventually, though, primarily through the repeated exhortations of Red Cloud, he came to realize that the day of the Lakota warrior was in sunset. The buffalo were gone, Sitting Bull had moved to Canada, Red Cloud had become a politician, warriors were dwindling – the future was either peace or perish. The Lakota had already been condemned to the doldrums of history.

When Crazy Horse and his warriors finally came into Fort Robinson, voluntarily, to lay down arms, eye witnesses attested that Natives and soldiers, alike, lined the road in awe. It was, they said, more a triumphal entry than surrender. He was accompanied by one of his closest, oldest and most trusted aides, Little Big Man. Ever a man of his word, for the next four months, he lived peacefully there. However, despite being extremely modest, and completely publicity averse, his renown and the respect shown him even by the Army, aroused the jealousy of Red Cloud and even his own Uncle, Chief Spotted Tail. False rumours were spread to the soldiers, by them, that Crazy Horse was plotting a return to the warpath. As they continued to inflame the soldiers’ already extreme fear of him, additional troops were hastily brought in. When they finally moved to arrest this single, unarmed man, they felt they needed a force of not less than 400 soldiers! They found he had gone to his uncle, Spotted Tail’s Reservation. Receiving a cold welcome from his Uncle, he and his warriors were persuaded to return to Fort Robinson, where he was assured of hospitality and safety.

On the evening of 5th September 1877, they rode back to Fort Robinson. As it was late, the post commander promised a meeting the next morning and ordered him to be given lodgings. As he was led to it, however, he realized he was actually to be imprisoned in irons, in the jail. It later transpired that this was a conspiracy to capture and ship him to a swampy island in distant Florida. Instantly, Crazy Horse tried to escape, but was restrained by one of the Native Scouts, and then mortally bayoneted in the back by the accompanying soldier. As the dying Crazy Horse turned to see who had restrained him, he looked into the eyes of Little Big Man. His own, trusted childhood friend and companion of many battles, had betrayed his Chief. Exactly as Crazy Horse had foreseen, during his arduous Vision Quest, many long years ago, he died through the actions of his own people. With his last breath, a quiet greatness passed from the earth. The undefeated warrior was 35 years old.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 10 & 11 : Tornadoes & Treachery

The tornado warning sirens screamed continually; urgent “severe thunderstorm” notifications kept flashing on TV, radio and messages over my phone; the evening sky was obliterated by heavy, black, louring clouds; the Weather Channel showed live feed of heavy clouds beginning to swirl into an angry tornado, on the nearby Oklahoma border that I crossed just two days ago. Finally, the Motel Receptionist called, to advise me to be prepared to take shelter in the bathtub “with all your things and all the bedsheets” (bedsheets?). Such was Dodge’s farewell! Despite the locals assuring me that tornadoes generally dodge Dodge, I was quite happy, next morning, to speed off into the fog, fleeing tornado country.

These have been the two longest day’s drives of the trip – a total of almost 1000 kilometres, with an overnight stop at a charming little hamlet called Lewellen. I wondered if its founders were Welsh. However, my bed won out over curiosity. It had been a couple of pretty tiring days, through largely flat and unexciting country. It must have been great for horses and buffalo, in them days. Only on crossing into Nebraska did the flat land develop contours, the road take on curves now and then, pretty little lakes zip by and even the greenery seem a richer emerald. But still, not a soul in sight anywhere – not even the cattle that Kansas had! Nebraska is a pretty Kansas! As I lay abed, that night, I heard voices, coughing and snores through my bedroom wall. The lonely, midnight whistle of a passing train finally lulled me to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that my room is the last in that wing; there is no room beyond my bedroom wall!

All tiredness vanished as I approached the fabled Fort Laramie, the scene of so much that was good and bad on the Frontier. I finally turned off the black anaconda that is US-26, and wound my way past the fateful North Platte River. There, ahead, on the promontory, awaited Fort Laramie, its few silent, crumbling ruins witness to momentous treaties and treacheries. Founded by ‘Mountain Man’, William Sublette, it was taken over by the Army, and became the site of the infamous Treaty of 1868, guaranteeing the Lakota that their sacred Black Hills would remain theirs forever, “as long as the grass grows and water flows”. As in most Treaties, it also stated that “the Government of the United States desires peace and pledges its honor to uphold it.” The ‘discovery’ of gold in the Black Hills, by Custer, trying to catapult himself into the Presidency, trumped honor, very shortly.

An earlier Treaty, at nearby Horse Creek, did earn peace for three years. Till yet another inexperienced, arrogant young Lieutenant, John Grattan, instigated an unnecessary fight, east of here, on the Oregon Trail, that unleashed a generation of war onto the Great Plains, setting the Continent inexorably on the blood-soaked path that would eventually end at Wounded Knee. The Lakotas’ wanted only to ensure their freedom to follow and hunt the buffalo, their ‘general store’ from which they received everything – food, shelter, clothing, weapons, toys, tools, everything. Unscrupulous settlers would, eventually, steal even that, destroying an estimated 60 million buffalo, in a stunningly savage “scorched earth” tactic, to defeat the warriors that the Army could not, in war.

The brash Lieutenant, his lust for glory fired by the greedy settlers, refused to be reasonable and tried to force the issue. The resultant battle (even today, called a massacre on the site marker) ended in the death of all 30 soldiers as well as the Brule Chief. This set fire to the Great Plains, and would become part of the longest war ever fought by the US. This tragedy was followed by Gen. Harney killing 100 innocent Lakotas, at Blue Water Creek, witnessed by the youthful Crazy Horse. He would never forget, and would become the Army’s most implacable foe, in the years ahead. A foe that it was never able to defeat in a single battle, ever.

Several treaties were signed at Fort Laramie, including the controversial Treaty of 1868, but not a single one would be honoured by the Government. A Princeton University study found that the Government signed, and dishonored, over 600 treaties with the Natives. Over the coming years, many famous Civil War leaders, such as Generals Sherman, Sheridan and Miles, and the infamous Cols. Custer and Kit Carson, would indelibly stain their records with unrelenting brutality and savagery towards the, mainly non-combatant, Native populations. The few insightful and visionary officers, like Gen. George Crook and Col. Edward Wynkoop, were labelled ‘Indian lovers’ and found their military careers withered on the vine.

The guns have long been silenced, the smoke of many peace pipes dispersed to the thin air. Great warriors do not tread the earth here anymore, and treachery is no longer rife. Not much remains of the original Fort Laramie, but what there is, bears witness to the weighty hand of history.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 8 & 9 : Get the heck out of Dodge!

Last evening, I rode wearily into town. Unlike the star of TV’s “Gunsmoke”, or Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and their ilk, I rode in on four wheels. Still, it had been a long, hard 660 kilometre ride, through the utterly somnoferic, rural heartland of Kansas, roughly following the old Chisholm Trail, on which ten million Texas Longhorn cattle moved to the Dodge City railhead, in another age. Fascinating road signs broke the monotony, with not a soul to be seen for 50 miles at a time. Several signs pointed to an empty field, insisting it is “Berlin”. A little further, I passed over “Dead Warrior Creek”, and in Dodge I met “Butter & Egg Road”. I kid you not! Passing three closed-down petrol stations in three tiny, peopleless hamlets, over more than 100 miles, I eyed my rapidly wilting fuel gauge with concern. My little car has either a voracious thirst or a tiny tank. Hmmm… Fortunately, a live pump hove into view, just in time! With not the smallest cafe for hours on end, Lyallpur Navratan Mixture saved me from starvation. I had crossed the Arkansas River, marking the divide between the southern and northern Great Plains; crossed from Oklahoma to Kansas; from the radio exhorting you to “Rahse to the Oklahoma kahnd of lahfe” to, well, not much, as I had yet to find anything other than cattle living in Kansas! I have moved from the land of the Cherokees to the Apaches & Comanches, and now to the ultimate horse meisters, the Cheyenne.

One has got to love the great American freeways – smooth ribbons of concrete, stretching as far as the eye can see, with open, green fields on all sides, so clearly signposted & Garmin-ed that only I can get lost! It’s easy to appreciate the Americans love of the road. For the last week, though, my Garmin has been emitting very frequent, annoying chimes. Only now have I figured that is a warning of speed limits exceeded. Judging by the frequency of the warnings, I guess I must have been just a little bit of a naughty boy!

I had travelled this long road for a glimpse of the other side of the Native American experience – the rowdy, bawdy, gutsy, no-holds-barred world of enterprising settlers, cowboys, miners, trappers, railroadmen, Chinamen. While Dodge City was not a direct result of the clash of two civilizations, it certainly was one of the landmarks of that era – much like another I visited some years ago, Tombstone, Arizona. These remarkable pioneers built the America we know. In 1872, a bar, set up in a tent on the Santa Fe Trail, birthed Dodge. Variously nicknamed “Wicked, little city”, “Sodom of the West” and more politely, “Queen of the Cow Towns”, Dodge City achieved international fame through that unforgettable line from Marshall Dillon that became part of the lexicon. Today, it welcomes tourists with “Get the heck INTO Dodge!” and has even renamed a major street, Gunsmoke. Dodge really came into its own, though, with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, starting its cow-town era. Even today, beef accounts for 60% of its economy, with a monstrous Cargill meat plant dominating the skyline.

Dodge was the end of the very long trail for cowboys, desperate to blow their earnings on alcohol, women, clothes – and a bath! However, it earned it’s place in folklore through its colourful lawmen – Wyatt, Morgan & Virgil Earp, Bat Masterson and their friend, the famous gunslinger, Doc Holliday. The foursome, Earps and Holliday, would later move to Tombstone, where they shot out the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Little known of Wyatt Earp, the archetypal lawman, is that his career included arrests for horse thieving, gambling, escaping jail, and being fined for “keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame”!

I marvel at the effort made to preserve the atmosphere of its heyday, despite so few artifacts surviving. The original Santa Fe Railroad Depot is now home to The Depot Theatre Co. A curiosity, in this most curious town, is that the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame (visited, to doff my hat to my teacher wife) houses the Gunfighters Waxwork Museum!

As the afternoon wore on, I strolled the extraordinary, experiential Boot Hill Museum. Built on the old Boot Hill Cemetery, it houses fascinating artefacts of the Old West (and, it is said, not a few famous ghosts), besides a painstaking recreation of the original Front Street, with live shops, served by staff in period costume and personality. A popular attraction, here, is the shoot-out, at high noon and dusk. After a vigorous exchange of gunfire, with much smoke, noise and ‘hollerin’, the resurrected gunslingers turn bartenders for the period Long Branch Variety Show. The old Long Branch Saloon, and its nearby China Doll brothel, had defined the Dodge of old.

Tomorrow, as I head the heck out of “the wickedest little town in America”, I shall look back, with affection, at this living relic of a boisterous century, where folks lived hard, worked hard, conned hard and died hard.

 

 

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 7 : Death at Dawn

“Roses aren’t red, Violets aren’t blue, All my dreams are dead, I don’t know what to do.” That cheery ditty on the radio, heading out on the long slog to Dodge City, set the tone for my first, deeply sombre, stop – fateful Washita. Peace Chief Black Kettle, of the Southern Cheyenne, was an ardent believer in harmony and the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the settlers, though it cost him dearly in followers and credibility. As a Peace Chief, his band comprised women, children and the elderly. While encamped at Sand Creek, Colorado, almost exactly four years earlier, his defenseless people had been attacked, without warning, by the notorious Col.Chivington, resulting in the horrific Sand Creek Massacre of 105 women & children and 28 men. All were scalped and mutiliated, with incredible cruelty, by the soldiers. Black Kettle barely escaped and his wife was seriously injured in nine places. This triggered the Great Plains Indian war, and 3000 warriors left, to join the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne, to fight back, though, eventually, the great Cheyenne would suffer more than any other tribe. This would become the longest war ever fought by the US Army, lasting over 60 years, killing more than 20000 on each side. It would cost $150,000 a day – a peaceful and honest settlement would have cost a fraction of this. The massacre outraged the American public and Chivington was eventually relieved of command.
Despite Sand Creek, Black Kettle retained his faith in peace, and sought protection at Fort Larned, for his surviving 400 old men, women and children. The sympathetic Col.Wynkoop settled them on the Washita River, giving him a huge US flag, with the assurance, “You will be totally safe under this flag. No soldier will ever attack it.” The Chief proudly flew it on a tall pole beside his tepee, along with a large white flag. He stayed in camp there, despite many urging him to flee, believing in the power of his flag. At daybreak, on 27th November 1868, the vainglorious “boy general” of the Civil War, 28 year old Lt.Col.Custer, and his 7th Cavalry, surrounded and attacked the village, sleeping peacefully under its twin flags. After the butchery, Custer, never hesitant to embroider the truth in his own interests, reported 103 warriors dead. A modern account by the US Centre of Military History puts that number at 50, almost all old men, women and children, including Black Kettle and his wife. In reality, almost everyone in Black Kettle’s village was killed. The fierce Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, encamped nearby, heard the firing and attacked. It was too late. Fearing for his life, Custer rapidly withdrew, unhesitatingly abandoning Maj.Elliott and his troop to be killed. This was Custer’s first “Indian battle”; his second would be his last.
“It’s good that more people are visiting, and learning the truth” says the Ranger, instead of General Sheridan’s careful campaign of untruths and fabrications. Controversy rages, to this day, over the official description of this event as a “battle”. A sheepish Ranger explained to me that only ‘battlefields’ could be designated National Parks, and so….. A curious rationale for distorting history. All Native nations, and Wynkoop himself, were utterly horrified. The latter immediately resigned, in outrage, while for the Natives, this would inflame passions beyond quenching. Custer himself considered it normal military action. Americans, however, were outraged at the barbarity of the attack. Some Custer apologists, even today, claim it was totally one-sided but not a massacre! One of the truly great aspects of America is its total honesty about its past. Rarely is there ever an attempt to ignore or whitewash unpalatable events. The Rangers, here, clearly calling it a massacre, reflect that.
It would be this blind self-assurance, born of his “success” here at the Washita, that would be Custer’s undoing at Little Bighorn, where he believed completely that he could use the same tactic on a huge warrior village led by the redoubtable Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. He would not live to regret his error.
Today, all that remains of Black Kettle is an empty field, splotched with patches of brown grass, like old, dried blood. Walking the rough trail, under a blazing sun, to the, then, riverside (the river has changed course in the 150 years since), where the massacre actually took place, I pause in silent, somber contemplation of the inhumanity of man to man. I pray that Black Kettle and all the dead, on both sides, are finally at peace, with the grandfathers, as the Native Americans express it.
Like the pitiful survivors of Washita, I move slowly, and in low spirits, down that road of ghosts, towards the same destination as theirs’, Custer’s base, Fort Supply. Only four gutted buildings remain of the once huge fort. On its grounds is a penitentiary, whose guards bar my entry. Fortunately, Taylor Hunter, the site manager, comes out to the usually closed site, especially, to allow me to pay homage to the spirits of the dead.

INDIAN SUMMER

Days 5 & 6 :  A missing head!

SYes, there is definitely a head missing! Actually, on closer study, there are at least three heads missing – Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and the greatest of them all, Crazy Horse. Anadarko is a town so tiny that, if you blink, you will miss it. However, it hosts the Hall of Fame of Native Americans. In a pleasant little park sit rows of beautifully sculpted busts. All the usual suspects are there – Sequoia, Sacajawea, Pocahontas, Cochise, et al, but, for some unfathomable reason, not the three greatest. I am astonished to discover one, Charles Curtis, was a Vice President of the US, while another, Stand Wattie, was the very last Confederate general to surrender, and Will Rogers, for whom OKE airport is named, was a famous Hollywood actor and writer. Even the Terms of Surrender at Appomattox, were written for Ulysses Grant by a Native, Ely Parker, who had the best penmanship of them all. Facts one does not normally associate with Native Americans. I have made an early start to take in tiny Anadarko, and it has rewarded me with surprising insights.

Leaving Lawton, I bid a tearful farewell to my friends, the bedbugs. After all, we have become blood-brothers, overnight. Though they did leave me with an itch to hit the road early. Knowing he would take loving care of them, I commended them to Raj from Gujarat and headed off on my trusty metal steed.

The usual clear, blue skies, with not a tornado to be seen, had turned overcast and dark near Anadarko, but cleared up again as I neared Oklahoma City. Speaking of tornadoes, the Great Plains Museum, in Lawton, has a realistic simulation of a tornado shelter, with one passing overhead – and it is deeply scary. Going past El Reno, a prominent yellow sign warned, ominously, “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates.” No lifts for anyone today! The mesmerizingly undulating ribbon of asphalt, stretching into the horizon, over gentle hills, with the occasional lonely oil well amidst grassy fields, suddenly gave way to dead-flat countryside, the road becoming arrow-straight. I had entered the Great Plains.

Passing a historic marker for a watering hole on the old Chisholm Trail, I finally enter Oklahoma City. My motel here is owned by – you guessed it – a Patel from Gujarat! Yes, really.

This is a big city with a small town feel. Though it has all the big city blessings, like expensive parking and impatient drivers, the people are unexpectedly warm and friendly. It’s the only major city I have ever visited where street intersections have blinking stop lights rather than regular traffic lights, relying on the self-discipline of motorists to stop in sequence! And, they do! I wandered the charming, quaint streets of Bricktown, where, yes, everything is made of brick – the roads, buildings, parks, everything. This seems to be Oklahoma City’s fun quarter – family fun, I must emphasize! Appropriate, as these two are my relaxation days. I can’t believe I have been on the road a full week already, and completed a quarter of my odyssey.

As usual, portion sizes of meals in America almost reduce me to tears. A “small” is enough for two meals for me, with a bit thrown away. And they won’t let me buy a kid’s meal instead! O, America! Tonight, I finally resorted to “Lyallpur Navratan Mixture” for dinner.

Day 6 was a relatively peaceful one, other than my managing to lose my way twice, despite the GPS. Clearly, Starbucks coffee, today, wasn’t as strong as McDonalds, yesterday! The Oklahoma Railway Museum will be of interest to train buffs, but does not have too much to show. From there a short drive took me past a lovely golf course, which had me thinking of my Muscat friends, and on to the sprawling National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This is a great place, well worth the visit, though it is, clearly, narrated from the perspective of the white settlers. Even it’s dramatic centerpiece, Fraser’s towering sculpture “The End of the Trail”, is something of an insult to the country’s Native heritage, as it portrays him as utterly defeated, destroyed, finished, clearly reflecting the jingoism of the era. Even the paintings of masters like Remington and Russell contain stunning mistakes, such as the painting of a war chief, whose weapons include a stickball stick, which was used for a game, not war. Another entire gallery is devoted to glorifying Hollywood’s portrayal of the West, despite its being responsible for the incorrect and demeaning image of the Native, rooted firmly in the popular imagination, worldwide.

But, to make up for it, today was their Chuckwagon Festival, and I enjoyed the traditional fare of the old West, for lunch. It would have been even more enjoyable had the temperatures not soared to Oman-like levels, with a matching sun glare factor.

Tomorrow, I finally head out of Oklahoma, into Kansas. On the way, I will stop to pay homage at a place of heartbreaking tragedy. But that is a tale for tomorrow.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

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Days 4 :  Comanche Attack!

“Comanche attack!” The feared alarm was very familiar to Frontier settlers, regularly fed wild stories of bucolic settlers being attacked without warning by bloody savages. Universally recognized as the finest horse meisters in the world, the Comanche developed a rare, pure warrior society, on the back of this horse culture, and eventually killed more white settlers invading their land, than any other tribe. However, by the time they finally made peace, the Comanche had been driven to the brink of extinction, with just 1700 survivors. Even today, clawing their way back from the edge, they still number barely 17000. I was keen to discover the reality behind the stereotype, as I wandered the streets of little Lawton, the home of the Comanches, in south western Oklahoma. At the Comanche National Museum, I fell into conversation with Carney Many Came (an abbreviation of his full Comanche name) their Culture Specialist, a full-blooded Comanche himself, and asked if thej Comanche are still the finest horse breeders in the world. “Well, these days, we scalp fewer enemies and cities and towns are not really horse-friendly,” he deadpanned, “so, no, these days, all our horsepower is automotive!” Indeed, in the modern era, the Comanches, along with the Navajo and other tribes, are famous more for their Code Talkers, who played such a vital, but till recently, unsung, role for the Allies in WWII. I enquired, what his people think of the whites today, the people who took their lands and traditional way of life. As we walked on, he said, with a rueful grin, “Remember, there are no cuss words in our Native languages. Nor any words for owning the land, either. He also reminded me that scalping was unknown to the Natives; introduced by the Spaniards and later, white trader companies, as a means of tallying Natives killed, for reward. And, as for land, “termination” under eminent domain” (the successor to the infamous Manifest Destiny) continued right up to President Eisenhower. The first, and only, President to actually meet with and sympathetically listen to them was Kennedy. Despite it all, Carney urges acceptance of realities and reconciliation.

My Motel room is the sort that encourages an early start in the morning! My shower has all the enthusiasm and alacrity of a geriatric government clerk. Even the servers at the local McDonalds, where I breakfast, look like customers was bringing utter tragedy to their lives. With such inducements, I decide to head out to nearby Duncan, under a beautiful, blue sky and kind weather, across gently undulating hillocks with fields where farmers are, literally, making hay while the sun shines. The freeway is graduated with roadkill instead of mileposts, and, right in the midst of rural Oklahoma, I pass “Plato Road”!

The experiential museum at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Centre is well worth the detour. Outside Hollywood reel-life, and our misguided childhood games, the interaction of real-life cowboys and the Native tribes was very limited, as they represented the second wave, after the hardy frontiersmen had already ‘settled’ the West, beyond reversal. I could not help but admire the sheer  grit and spirit of these tough men, on the long, hard, dangerous cattle drives – for which they received just a dollar a day, usually for 100 days of 15, often literally back-breaking hours each. In a few days, I will follow that same trail to its railhead, at Dodge City.

Back at Fort Sill, I spent the afternoon in a frenetic hunt for Geronimo’s grave! A fully functional Army base, where soldiers from around the world attend artillery training, it is a massive, sprawling facility, and I can testify to how easy it is to get lost in it. In true military style, the guards at the gates were very courteous, but had no clue about the grave, or even many of the roads within the Fort itself! Finally, I wandered into the Fort Kitchen, by mistake, and received guidance! Between that, sheer perseverance, and an old-fashioned paper map, I finally discovered it! The last, and probably the greatest, war chief of the legendary Apaches sleeps under a simple cairn of rocks, amid the graves of his family, far from their home in Arizona.  This was the man the Army feared so much that, to receive his surrender, with his remaining band of just 24 warriors, the hated General Nelson Miles felt it necessary to send 5000 troops, 500 Apache scouts, a flying column of cavalry and thousands of irregular, civilian militias! Later, all their children were forcibly removed to European schools in Pennsylvania, were more than fifty died, many by suicide. It recalls the aborigine experience in Australia, so poignantly recounted in the film “Rabbit Proof Fence”. Among the most pernicious to come among the Natives were Christian missionaries, like Rev. Hinman, who advocated less land and more Christianity for the Natives, while helping himself freely to all their best properties.

I linger awhile by the simple grave, in silent and somber homage – and then return to the 21st Century.

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 3 :  Submarine on dry land!

A huge, authentic WWII submarine, sitting in the dry, landlocked heart of the Continent!  It was a strange sight that greeted me, on this slight diversion from my Native American pilgrimage. The USS Batfish is a Balao-class submarine, famous for sinking three Japanese submarines in 1945. Inside, it is remarkably cramped and claustrophobic, with the crews beds lying under torpedoes slung overhead. Decommissioned in 1969, it now slumbers in the War Memorial Park, at Muskogee, Oklahoma. How the warweary submarine was moved all the way from New Orleans to Muskogee is a saga in itself – but that must, sadly, remain a tale for another day! Most poignant here, though, are the three rows of stark podiums, each commemorating a US submarine, sunk during WWII.

I am on my way to Lawton, home of the famous and greatly feared Comanches. Driving out of Tahlequah, bright and early, I pass “Coffee Hollow Drive”. Reminded of my missed caffein boost, I decide to interpret the speed limit with a certain flexibility. Almost immediately, I see a road sign to “Correctional Facility”. A short while later, another sign points to “Cemetary”! I ease off on the accelerator!

My first detour on this route, not far from the landlocked submarine, is historic Fort Gibson.As literature explains, “It guarded the American frontier, in Indian Territory, from 1824 until 1888.” When constructed, it was, in fact, the furthest Western point reached by white settlers. For half a century, it was a genuine Peacemaker, unlike Samuel Colt’s creation. Indeed, Fort Gibson even managed to achieve peace between the inveterate enemies, the Osage and the Cherokee. It did, though, garrison both the Mexican war for Texas, as well as the infamous Trail of Tears. Despite its generally lessthanexciting history, it had a number of famous residents over the years – Robert E Lee, Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, and Nathan Boone, son of the storied Daniel Boone. By the 1850s, though, the Cherokee were bitterly complaining about the liquor and brothels at Fort Gibson destroying their people, and demanded its closure. Most unusually, the Army acceded to their request, shut down the Fort in 1857 and, even more unusually, handed over title to the Cherokee Nation. If nothing else, Fort Gibson eloquently proved that peaceful co-existence was possible. The remains of the Fort, though, other than a recreated stockade, are disappointingly small and sparse. For a place with such a story, it disappoints.

At my next stop – the Museum of the Five Civilized Tribes I was desperate to find out, why‘civilized tribes’? Were the others not? They are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes of the south eastern US. It is perhaps telling that the reservation thrust upon the Chickasaw and Choctaw was called Boggy Depot. A Museum official, Sarah Little Feather, laughingly responded, “We were the settled tribes, farming, living in permanent houses in static villages, with a structured tribal government. So, I suppose, the Europeans of that time considered us ‘civilized’. I guess no one has bothered to change the name since.” That said, the Museum itself is disappointingly small and with few exhibits worth the trip. Like Fort Gibson, for such storied tribes, this is a poor offering indeed. As I wandered around the gallery, I met Eric Standing Bear, a young Creek artist. I asked him about the interests of young Creeks today. With a straight face, he said, “These days, we do less of the smoke signals, war-paint and Tonto stuff.” Then, musing thoughtfully, “The US Government has always wanted to “destroy the Indian and – perhaps – save the man. I guess they succeeded. Assimilation is, sort of, complete, good or bad.” As the old Native song succinctly puts it, “Only the earth endures.”

I left the Museum in a pensive mood, pondering weighty topics, such as, the dynamic interaction of civilizations, and demographic shifts. But my un-philosophical stomach reminded me of more down-to-earth matters – lunch. I had a long 425 kilometre drive ahead,in the afternoon, and, I know of few more efficient fuels for the soul than a juicy, Oklahoma steak! With the car’s gastank fed, I took care of mine, and settled in for the drive. The gradual transition from the more rural eastern Oklahoma to the more urban central part was marked by a change from 2 lane to 3 lane interstates, more traffic, some deterioration in traffic courtesy, the appearance of an ocassional Police cruiser, and a reduction in windscreen insect splats.

The Oklahoma Turnpikes are beautiful, escorted by lush greenery on both sides, and it is easy to see why the Great American Roadtrip is such an integral part of life here. Unfortunately, the toll machine refused to accept my money. The disembodied Help voice advised me to just drive through and then report it to the toll authority later. The moment I did, it set off a loud, jangling alarm! Without further ado, I pulled over and called them, to sort it out. Enough excitement for today!

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 1: Westward Ho!

The glint off the aircraft’s wing, much like the menacing flash off a Colt Peacemaker, wakes me. I am actually travelling Eastward Ho! Leaving home, in the East Bay, at 4 am, it has been a long haul, across three time zones, from San Francisco, via the Mile High City of Denver, to the heart of the storied old “Indian Territory”, the very stuff of myth and legend. As the Southwest jet makes its final approach to Tulsa International Airport, in Oklahoma, I am excited to begin my long-cherished Native American odyssey, a month-long, 5200 kilometre, solo road-trip, following a rarely trodden route, across six States, from Tulsa to the Yellowstone National Park, vertically across the heartland of America, the dramatically storied Great Plains. I am unabashedly for the underdog, and, though history is written by the victors, I do not believe it should be exclusively so. My objective is to understand a fraction of the Native American experience, gain an insight into their culture, make a pilgrimage to the major historical sites, meet their people to understand their perspective of their past, present, future. The story, from the perspective of the vanquished, but proudly undaunted, deserves greater exposure. For me, the “other” Indian, from another colonized and forcibly “civilized” people, half a world away, their story has especial resonance. I hope to share some of it with you, over the next few weeks. Mayhap it will inspire some to delve a little into their truly extraordinary, but relatively little known, saga.

Bypassing the urban sprawl of Tulsa, I get my first faint whiff of the West, in the name of a passing town – Broken Arrow. In my little Ford Focus, my trusty Avis steed for the next one month, I hit the open road. The Muskogee Turnpike is a joy to drive; the passing countryside surprisingly green and beautiful, with many flower nurseries – one sign read “Stop and peek at our bloomers”! I am on my way to Tahlequah, the Capital of the Cherokee Nation and end point of the inhuman Trail of Tears they were subjected to. Authored by the slave-owning, slave-trading President Andrew Jackson, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, at the casual stroke of a pen, forced the entire Cherokee Nation, from Georgia and eight other eastern States, to trudge the 4-month, 800-mile trail to Tahlequah, through deep snow and winter storms, many barefoot and ill-clad. Despite having tried hard to adopt the ways of the white settlers, some even owning slaves and living in plantation houses, overnight the Cherokee lost everything. All their homes, lands, property were summarily commandeered, without compensation or warning. One in four Cherokees died of cold, hunger, exhaustion and European diseases to which they had no immunity. The Government paid just $0.56 per head per day to unscrupulous contractors, who openly cheated on both the quality and quantity of food supplied on the long, pitiless march. It outraged even some of the escorting soldiers. Despite Justice Marshall, of the US Supreme Court, ruling that Georgia had no right to evict the Cherokee, President Jackson refused to enforce the order and, instead, sent Federal troops to support the action – an object lesson in the abuse of power. Today, the Cherokee Nation owns less than 0.3% of their original lands. They arrived in Tahlequah largely without their elderly or their children, who died enroute; they arrived, essentially, without a past or a future.

Today, the Cherokee Nation is a self-governing entity, with its own laws and institutions, based at the Cherokee Nation Capital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Though they seem to be relatively better off than the other Nations, even their language, a key anchor for any culture, has been nearly eradicated, by the concerted “civilizing” State Policy of the past. As a four-term former Principal Chief, Chad Corntassel Smith, put it, “As important as growing our economic self-reliance, I believe, is the need to preserve, and indeed propagate, our Cherokee language and culture. For me, these have been among the main pillars of community development, across all my terms in office.” Unfortunately, like any modern politician, he was no stranger to controversy, having bitterly fought, and lost, the initiative to include freedmen and intermarried whites as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

As I pass the flourishing Cherokee-operated casinos, hotels, and film and entertainment studios, on my way to my Motel (owned, inevitably, even in remote Tahlequah, by a Raj from Gujarat!), I see the tentative shoots of hope for the future, peeping through. Battered and decimated by the merciless Trail of Tears, and culturally amputated by the concerted repression of the victors, the once legendary Cherokee are finally beginning to recover. Despite the horrors of the past, there seems to be an air of cautious optimism for the future, that they, too, will someday be able to participate fully in the American Dream. Tomorrow will be another day!

 

INDIAN SUMMER

Day 0  :  Dawn

Tomorrow is the big day! After months of preparation – and, literally, decades of reading up on the subject – I am finally about to hit the open road, on my Native American odyssey right across the legend-saturated Great Plains. For almost half a century, I have been deeply fascinated by the Native American heritage – a profound passion whose causeI myself am at something of a loss to explain. Perhaps, as my wife joked, I was one of them, in a previous life! Whatever the reasons, I am filled with anticipation – and, perhaps, just a little mild apprehension too. I will be venturing forth into territories I have never visited and know little about, other than from myth and legend.

Tomorrow, I shall collect my little Ford Focus from Avis, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and head down the Broken Arrow Expressway, into the heart of “ Indian Territory”, on my voyage of discovery. Driving a 5200 km road-trip, all alone, will also be something of a voyage of self discovery, I suspect. Though, at 63 years of age, it probably is a tad late in the day to discover oneself!

I have an early start tomorrow, at 4 am, leaving the beautiful blue skies and slightly chilly ‘summer’ mornings of San Francisco, for what, I suspect, will be more Oman-like weather and geographic conditions. Well, as the Lakota would say, “Hoka-hey!”

To B&B, or not to B&B….

The AirBnB phenomenon has certainly revolutioned hospitality options during travel. Today, an immense variety of high quality B&B options are available to the voyager, at a range of price points to suit most pockets. Inevitably, the success of AirBnB has spawned a plethora of other wannabes – some good, some less so.

However, when travelling in Russia and Eastern Europe, this option calls for a bit of extra consideration, as we have found the quality of the offerings can vary distressingly. Almost all of them do indeed deliver all the ‘facilities’ they claim to, but sadly, most appear to do so to the letter of the law, rather than to its spirit. Moreover, what is left unsaid is often much more important than what is clearly stated. We have found that the photographs on the sites are also usually true to life – but with the creativity that goes with ‘photographic license’! Again, what is not shown is often as crucial as what is.

Let us take, as a good example, our recent trip to St.Petersberg in Russia. The city is truly amazing, and strongly recommened for all lovers of art, history and heritage. As, like most people, our focus was on the Winter Palace/Hermitage, and the Admiralty piers, we pounced on a promising sounding B&B which was, purportedly, right on the Admiraltyskaya, and within a stone’s throw from the Winter Palace. It also seemed to be furnished well, and the pictures looked promising. We arrived, much excited.

The place was indeed very close to the Winter Palace, but turned out to be off a seedy back alley, through a very shabby doorway, which has obviously not seen any maintenance since the last War. Braving the initial shock, we entered to find it still being ‘cleaned’ (despite our having arrived after the check in time), and, we later discovered, the drapes were partly off the rails, the mattress had a large, hidden bloodstain (we did not dare speculate on its origin), half the bedroom was taken up by a stored foldaway of some sort (under a heavy, very dirty, dust cover), utterly filthy bathmats…and more. The bathroom, as we realized during our subsequent travels, appears to be a standard offering across Eastern Europe – it is so tiny that its very difficult to move about in, and entering the miniscule shower module involved a very athletic hop over the toilet! If I had been even a few kilos heavier, I doubt I would have been able to use that restroom at all!

Even in Warsaw, our experience was a bit depressing. The place was conveniently located and, in theory, had everything it promised, but, again, was depressingly low quality, poorly maintained and rundown. The apartment next door had some very noisy drilling going on, and the TV in the apartment did not work at all. Speaking to the managers about the problems elicited sympathy but no results.

After a series of such unhappy encounters with the B&B scene in Russia and Poland, we decided to switch to small hotels for our visit to Krakow and Prague, and they turned out to be the wisest decisions we could have made. The hotel in Krakow – the Europejski – was especially wonderful, all old-world charm, excellent service, reasonable prices and absolutely awesome location, easy walking distance from both the central railway station as well as the Old Town.

So, while the B&B option still remains an extremely attractive one at most locations – especially in the USA and Scandinavia – voyagers would be well advised to check carefully before venturing to them in Russia and Eastern Europe in general. That is not to say there aren’t good B&Bs there; just that you need to look long and hard to ensure you choose one of the good ones, rather than one of the others.

Happy hunting!

Norway : the exquisite Naeroyfjord

There are few experiences in the world to compare with the Norwegian fjords. The people are warm and friendly – they say, they are happy to see anyone who has travelled all that way to visit them! Here is an Itinerary from Copenhagen to Stavanger and Bergen, to visit one of the most beautiful parts of Norway – Naeroyfjord. My family and I did this trip quite a few years ago, but I have updated it recently.

The train ride from Copenhagen to Hirtshals is not especially memorable, unless you love seeing agriculture and cows! The ferry ride is really beautiful. When we rode it, the ferry terminated at Kristiansand, in Norway, but it now goes through to Stavanger. Hence, we have recommended taking it all the way there. A note of caution, though – the North Sea is often rough and choppy. It is not recommended for those who tend to suffer seasickness.

Stavanger is a cute little city and worth spending a day enjoying its unique atmosphere. However, the real treasure of Norway is, of course, Bergen the Beautiful! A truly lovely and fascinating city, and, in our view, the best city in the country. A ride on the cable car to the top of the mountains overlooking Bergen is unforgettable.

The ultimate treasure, of this Voyage, is the trip to Naeroyfjord. First, take the train from Bergen to Myrdal. This is a short, local run and served by many trains. The fun starts from Myrdal, on the amazing Flam Railway, down to Flam. That is … but no, I won’t spoil it for you. Just know that is is an unforgettable experience. From Flam, a leisurely cruise down the utterly spectacular Naeroyfjord, brings you to Gundvangen. Here you board a bus to Voss, and this must be one of the steepest bus rides in the world! You will have your heart in your mouth all the way, and you do need strong nerves. But, don’t worry, these buses have very powerful, special brakes! From Voss, take any local train back to Bergen.

The train ride from Bergen to Oslo is especially spectacular in winter, when snow covers the route and icicles overhang the ledges over the tracks.

I recommend this voyage so strongly that I have made it the subject of my first post! Do try it!

Just click on the link, below, to open this wonderous voyage. And I really would love to have your feedback on it.

NR-101 Copenhagen-Stavanger-Bergen-Naeroyfjord-Bergen-Oslo

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