"My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys": Why Columbus Day Should Be Native-American Day

"1890...this is the year of the Wounded Knee Massacre. On September 29, US Troops surrounded a Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Creek and massacred Chief Bigfoot and 300 prisoners of War using a new rapid fire weapon that fired exploding shells, called a Hotchkiss gun. For this so-called battle, 20 Congressional Medals of Honor for valor were given to 7th Cavalry. To this day, this is the most medals of honor ever awarded for a single battle. More medals of honor were given for the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children than for any battle in WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

At the conclusion of our retreat this weekend, my dad, who is ordained in the Native American Church and who holds ceremonial fireplaces of several tribes, led us in a sweat lodge- a practice I am grateful to have had apart of my life since a young age.

By the end of the second round, an amazing and unexpected thing happened. The door was raised to reveal a parade of winged ants making their way from a hole directly in front of the sponsor's seat out the east door. The sponsor of the ceremony called the meeting because he wanted to start new, let go of the past and any anger he had, and go forward with confidence- and here were thousands of creatures that traditionally represent anger being birthed from the earth right in front of him. They were emerging from underground, spreading their wings for the very first time in their lives, and venturing out to the light. They could have gone any direction, they could have scattered and gone many different ways, but together they marched with purpose directly out the east door- where the sun first rises, and a new day is born. It's the same reason we, as humans, leave out the east door, as well. Somehow they knew.

Across from the sponsor- the seat that represents a mirror of the reciprocal individual- sat a beautiful Chinese women who wept. "I know now why I was brought here today. Many of you know me by my American name, but my traditional name given to me by my mother is Hui Yee. In Chinese, this means 'new beginnings.'"

As my dad always says, "I'm not a superstitious man. I just see these things happen, and I can't explain them."

Yet today, we celebrate not the people who first formed a relationship with these lands. The people who greeted many of our ancestors with open arms, welcoming them by sharing their most sacred medicines, their most sacred foods. We celebrate not the people who instilled their trust in us, and whose trust was broken time and time again with horrifying, catastrophic consequences. You think our 9% unemployment rate is bad? On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, unemployment fluctuates between 85-90%. More than 90% of the reservation's population lives below the poverty line. The life expectancy for men is between 46-48 years, roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia.

If you want the real history of our nation- and you should- please watch this short, incredibly moving and informative TED talk, which includes stunning photographs of our native people. Educate yourselves. It will shock you. Know that this genocide and injustice continues today. Know that with all the outcries of racial injustice, prejudice against minorites, lack of opportunities for people of color, and health disparities between whites and non-whites, Native-Americans have it worst of all and far, far worse at that.

There are many ways that you can get involved, and I encourage you to do so. A follow-up post on how to do so will follow. These cultures are on the brink of extinction. The time to act is now.
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