Monday, August 18, 2014

Native Americans Understand…Thinking about Ferguson MO

My family moved to Missouri just over two years ago. Although we have lived in a few states around the US, I have discovered that most places are about the same. When we were in the transition phase of our move, selling a house in Buffalo NY, buying and moving to one in St Charles Missouri, we had an opportunity to spend some time around the famous Arch. I learned much on that day.

There is an Arch museum that is underground at its base. We did not realize that just beneath the earth, where the Arch stands, there are so many things to do and see. Riding the escalator down I saw a huge open scape with lots of people walking around. There was a long line to purchase tickets to various activities such as riding up to the top of the Arch, watching a movie about Lois and Clark or visiting the Westward Expansion Museum. Knowing that my lovely wife Nicole would not mind standing in line and picking our destinations, I was able to walk around and mostly people-watch.  

After a short time Nicole and our two boys returned and explained our plan. We would watch a short movie/documentary followed by visiting the top of the Arch. Luckily, for our convenience, we were able to purchase a ticket for multiple events that just happen to be scheduled back-to-back.

The movie was first. It was a story about Lois and Clark’s journey narrated by Jeff Bridges – The Dude! The scenery in the movie was beautiful and because we were going to make St Louis our new home, we were all fairly excited to learn more about these two adventurers. My boys were eleven and thirteen at that time and were seated in the middle of their mom and me.

The topic began to center on Clark’s Slave, York. We already knew something about York. The Indigenous folks out west called him “Big Medicine” as they had never seen a man like York before. They had great respect for him. When my wife or I talked about York to our boys we also did so with respect -- and truth.  In the movie, York was not labeled a slave; he was referred to as Clark’s “Companion.”


When I repeated that word quietly, under my breath, my oldest son seated next to me gave me a look and nod. When we got out of the movie theater, he quickly brought that statement back up.

“Dad…York was Lois and Clark’s companion?” he said…waiting for my reply. He already knew what was up, but just wanted to see my reaction. Both of my boys understand. Calling York a companion rather than what he was – a slave – is an attempt to spin a word. It is like calling the killer whales at Sea World, “entertainers.”

My boys understand and understood what was happening.

Wise Elders have told my sons some of the history of Native Americans. My boys understand that Natives used to be considered savages and called all sorts of words. Native Americans were and most times still are, considered on the same level as an animal. Savages and animals can be treated a certain way without much thought or push back from others. When humans can be transformed into something that is less than human, then all kinds of things can happen. They can be justifiably killed, tortured, or placed under the state’s control.

Native Americans understand suffering.

When a young African American man was killed by “law” agents in Ferguson Missouri recently, Native Americans understand. We understand the hurt; the frustrations; the loss. Native Americans understand what it is like and what happens when the majority sees you as less than human. Laws are written by majority rule and applied as such.

Above is a picture of the Wounded Knee Massacre where about 150 men, women and children were murdered. This image and many like it are burnt into the minds of Native Americans.

And when we see this current image below, of a typical reservation…

…we know that those two images are connected. People, who have suffered, like many Native Americans, understand what it is like to be born into a community with a long tragic history. When we see images on our TV’s showing a community in Ferguson Missouri… we understand.

My family has been talking about what is happening in Ferguson. We try to speak openly and honestly without filling ourselves with hate and rage. We ask ourselves what we can do to help our community. We talk about how we can be part of the healing process.

So, we do what we have been taught to do during these times -- we get our good minds together. We prepare ourselves internally. We make some personal sacrifices, praying to somehow connect with those who are suffering.

We try to become one. One mind. One people.

When my small family performs our usual ceremony, we will keep our good minds on our own health and wellness. We will also put our good minds on the people who are suffering in Ferguson. This is what we have been taught to do over the years.

We are all connected. We are all related.

And we understand.

UPDATE: Indian Country Today read this post and I had an opportunity respond to one of their stories:

Peace, DAP 

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