Vi Waln: Indian people have been terrorized for centuries in US

There was major hoopla across this country surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. America sure is proud to show her bloodthirsty colors. I was appalled to see people cheering in public at the death of a human being. In my opinion, it shows they are no better than those human beings who rejoice in foreign countries at the death of American people.

Granted, bin Laden was not the most popular person on the planet but he was still a human being. Americans hold him responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People said 9/11 was the first major terrorist attack on “American” soil but I disagree.

The Lakota and other tribal people experienced countless terrorist attacks after the arrival of Columbus. Were these attacks on our people not committed on “American” soil? This is a fact many people conveniently forget. Indian people have been terrorized for centuries right here on “American” soil.

I fail to see the joy in the violent death of any human being, even if society has judged him as an evil killer. Indian people were killed in violent confrontations with the US military. Just like many Americans who say “We Will Never Forget” when referencing the 9/11 attacks, Indian people across this country will also never forget the bloody attacks in which the military massacred our innocents.

I posed a rhetorical question last week when I wondered if people cheered just as loud when Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were assassinated. My question offended many people. I believe many American people in the 19th century viewed the Lakota as terrorists. Even though our ancestors were fighting for the land upon which we still stand they were judged as terrorists deep in the minds of many Americans. Many still think of us as savage terrorists. In fact, some of our spiritual leaders cannot cross borders to perform ceremony anymore because they are on the post-9/11 list of people denied clearance into other countries.

Some of our own people believe we should all succumb to being “proud Native Americans.” One person even stated that our ancestors were likely “proud to be American.” However, there are many of us today who simply consider ourselves Lakota (not Sioux). Apparently, some of our own people do not know our history because in the 19th century we were not “Americans.” Indians were not granted “citizenship” until 1924; Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were never American citizens.

Also, the military used the name of a famous Chiricahua Apache in their mission against bin Laden. Goyaałé, or Geronimo, was a famous leader of his people. Geronimo stood up and fought for his peoples’ freedom against the land hungry invaders. Geronimo died in captivity as a prisoner of war in 1909 before he could be recognized as an American citizen.

The fact that the military used the name Geronimo sparked an outcry from Indian Country. I thought it was disrespectful to the memory of the Apache leader who was said to possess spiritual powers. I hear all the time about how the Americans reference Indian or tribal names to honor our people but I think it’s just a ruse.

If you believe that America “honors” us by using the names of our tribes or famous leaders you might be suffering from the effects of colonized thinking. This means you think like the wasicu and they have your mind right where they want it to be. Do you feel pride at the fact that there is a military helicopter called the “Lakota?” I don’t.

Winona LaDuke said “This was one of the most expensive single campaigns to find somebody, bin Laden. And the reality was, is that the Geronimo campaign, the campaign against the Apache people, was one of the most expensive wars ever waged by the United States government. You know, for 13 years, they spent millions of dollars, essentially. Five thousand soldiers, and additional, went after these people, relentlessly, for that long period of time. So, from the military’s perspective, that’s a little of how they were looking at it . . . The reality is, is that the military is full of native nomenclature. That’s what we would call it. You’ve got Black Hawk helicopters, Apache Longbow helicopters. You’ve got Tomahawk missiles. The term used when you leave a military base in a foreign country is to go ‘off the reservation, into Indian Country.’ So what is that messaging that is passed on? You know, it is basically the continuation of the wars against indigenous people.”

Oftentimes, when Lakota people express truth by saying things which cause people to gasp in astonished horror, we are chastised by angry, arrogant Americans. This happened to Paula Antoine, a Lakota woman from Rosebud. Her response to the use of “Geronimo” as a code name for bin Laden’s assassination was: “It's another attempt to label Native Americans as terrorists.” Her statement was featured as the Quote of the Day on Time.com.

Paula received an email from someone named Thomas Segers who was very unhappy. I have edited an excerpt from his message and include it here.

“There is no connection with Geronimo and Bin Laden other than in your mind. You and others who think this way have serious problems. Don't you have anything better to do with your time and life? . . . With your demonstrated narrow minded mentality, you are probably thinking that my response suggests that I don't like Indians. You would be gravely mistaken . . . I don't like stupidity, racism and prejudice . . . I am officially challenging you to a public debate to have everyone hear your nonsense and stupidity that you are spewing. . . Of course, I will never hear from you because your ignorant comments can't be backed up in a public forum, you will be forced to explain your stupidity.”

My prayers are for all human beings who die every day in the war zones.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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