Charles Trimble: Young Indian man chained by victimhood

The following column was published in The Lakota Country Times.

Recently I’ve received a series of shrill and insulting e-mail messages from a young Native American man named Joseph who is perplexed that I have the gall to tell about humorous or even enjoyable memories of my twelve years in an Indian boarding school. He likens me to a Jew who tells of good memories of time spent as an inmate in the Auschwitz death camp during WWII. He has even circulated a cartoon of me that he drew, illustrating this very thought. In one of his emails, he wrote:
“I am a freshman in college. You are 76. I truly believe that many Indians of your generation have been completely brainwashed by boarding schools and many have even passed down much of the brainwashing to younger generations.”

This young man concerns me because of his seething bitterness, which steals away much from experiences and learning he should be getting as a college student. He seems quite bright and obviously reads much; but his reading appears to be reduced to materials that he knows will justify his rage. It makes me wonder about the teachers that feed his mind, for it is this rage that enflames and implodes, and leaves only a vacuum in his mind and soul.

What concerns me as well is his attitude expressed in this statement:
“I would never serve in the military of a foreign country like America like you because I am passionate about Indian sovereignty. I go to powwows late so I don't have to watch veterans being honored and the American flag being honored along with our sovereign flag. I don't believe veterans should be honored for mindlessly fighting wars that are domestically "sold" as "fighting for our freedoms" when millions of innocents are murdered purely for corporate profits and capitalistic greed. The military made my people walk between American flags on which babies were skewered during the forced march. I refuse to salute the American flag for this reason. I remember hundreds of thousands of Indians who were sold into slavery to strange, foreign lands while your generation has completely forgotten those people and are not even aware of their continued existence to this day. You are the older generation; I am the newer generation. Sorry, but we think differently. I refuse to be Americanized. I am the future but I am more traditional than those of your generation.

With peace and love,


I won’t argue for waging war, but I’m not what one might call a “dove” either. I do agree with a strong national defense, but I am not for war as the first option for solving international problems. I don’t necessarily feel good or uplifted when I walk through a military cemetery, for although I know I am among heroes, I also know that many of the graves are those of young men – and increasingly, young women – who did not have to die but for the arrogance of some of our national leaders.

I enlisted in the U.S. Army just out of college in 1957, and served three years between the Korean conflict and the Viet Nam war. I had never seen combat and feel fortunate that I didn’t have to. But if it happened, I hope that I would have been brave in the face of death. And I admire those who have faced death in combat, many of whom brought home scars that will never disappear, in the form of posttraumatic stress syndrome. When I see a man or woman in military uniform, either in active service or in some veterans’ organization, I want to salute and tell that person “thank you.”

But people have a right to speak or write their own thoughts and feelings and beliefs, however repugnant they might be. I hope that young Joseph, the very opinionated Freshman, will come to understand the feelings and beliefs of others, and quit missing the very moving and touching openings of the wacipis or powwows, just to diss the veterans. And with his strong feelings of Indian victimhood, that he will understand what has made so many Native American young men and young women volunteer to serve, willingly and un-brainwashed, and fight for freedom for all, and for the pride of family and tribe.

The photo with this column is a constant reminder to me of the patriotism of the American Indian servicemen. The photo was taken in 1946 at the funeral of my cousin Clayton Gibbons, who was killed in the Pacific, I believe. His grave is next to the monument marking the mass grave of the people of Big Foot’s band who were slaughtered at Wounded Knee on December 29th, 1890. There are other white marble government-issued markers throughout the cemetery as well.


Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.

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