“Erasure is institutionalized by other sectors in society, including the K-12 public education system, pop culture, and the media.” – NDN Collective
with Native American Heritage Month in full swing and songs from Veterans Day cultural activities still sounding off in our hearts and spirits, i was reminded of how far we have come and evolved as a society of Native people.
from the moment of first contact, which happened over a period of 500 years, 300 for Indigenous people in western North America. for my Ni’mii’puu nation, it was first documented in 1804 by the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery. however, in our oral history, we had encountered settlers long before Lewis and Clark from the west coast with maritime Russian and Portuguese traders.
for Native people oral history is a significant piece of who we are. as Ni’mii’puu, we are salmon people, and were traversing, fishing, and trading down the mouth of the Columbia River long before Lewis and Clark arrived. we fished and traded at one of largest trading and gathering sites known as Celilo Falls, on down into the mouth of the Columbia into the Astoria sound.
the audacity of settler colonialism to erase our history prior to their arrival and invasion remains to be one of the most egregious points of western history. the beauty of science and our Indigenous reziliency can be found in the facts. as it is, facts remain to be the solid connection of Indigenous oral history to carbon dates, which indicate we had civilization that predates Christianity and the arrival of conquistadores into the Americas way before first contact happened post 1800.
as a Native teacher educator, thinking through how long Indigenous people have actually been here is a stark reminder to rethink the schooling i was taught. the miseducation of Indigenous people is one that continues to work at erasing our entire existence. we have always been here. we did not immigrate through a land bridge. lastly, we surely did not emerge from the rib of a man as missionaries brainwashed us to believe.
rethinking schooling means we also work to revise history books and the erroneous curriculum that still works to erase who Indigenous people are to this continent. despite an administrations work to dismiss our significant contributions to a so-called democracy, what we are learning is this government is a fascist regime founded on white supremacy.
yesterday, after hearing beautiful stories of Native veterans, i was reminded of my own relatives who were combat veterans. their stories of survival and escaping death helped me to understand their trauma and the PTSD they will live with for the rest of their lives.
what i was also reminded of that stirred my own warrior spirit, was their victory and how they counted coup. the victory is found in how they lived to tell their stories and share their ultimate sacrifice so that, we, civilians could live.
i really appreciated how Ndn Collective storied Veterans Day for Native people. so much that it reignited the fire spirit in me to recall and retell my brother Erik’s story and also remember both my late grandmothers’ prayer’s for their son’s (my uncles Harley and David) to return safely from the Vietnam war. one uncle, (the late Stephen Ellenwood did not make it back) both my uncles who were in combat were not sure they would make it back.
hearing how each of them, regardless of their service experienced war first hand and lived to tell their stories has a big teaching in it that we all know of well. tomorrow is never promised to us. live each day to the fullest.
while in that space, my youngest and i got to visit with one of our beloved patriarchs who also served and today is going through cancer treatment. although he was not a combat veteran, he is fighting one of biggest battles we could know. as we talked story he shared words of wisdom telling us what we need to know about life. not to hold grudges, or to hang on to things that don’t belong to us. what belongs to us is goodness and peace. as i listened to him i knew that spirit was talking through him and accepted that it was exactly what i needed to hear and hoped my baby would someday remember his grandpa’s words.
in thinking about life and how we go through different battles, i had this great feeling of victory overcome me listening to our beloved share his story and remembered the old warriors of historical past who used to steal horses as a victory.
war was different back then. as we are taught, war was over stolen children, women, horses, and violation of territorial boundaries for hunting, fishing, and gathering sites. they respected their enemies, but also knew when to war and if any of the above mentioned occurred, it meant the inevitable. so words, actions, and deeds were well thought out and planned.
horse stealing proved who was the most cunning and stealth.
the greatest war deeds were when it happened right “under their eyes” which was right up there with touching an enemy with a lance and living to tell the story. the warriors of old time did not live or fight to kill. they fought to touch an enemy, steal their horses, daughters, or wives and fought to live to tell the story because what kind of warrior would be able to walk the earth if people knew he had these invaluable precious parts of his life stolen? there was shame and a warrior protected all fronts so this did not happen.
imagine the shame in your enemy retelling the same story of how they stole these very things that made a warriors home a home? as the old ones shared, the valor was found in having an enemy who was the most decorated warrior that could not kill you.
for the greatest warriors who lived long to become a war chief, the valor was not found in killing enemies, although that did happen, their valor was that they could not be killed and lived to continually count coup even up until their last breath. the more decorated a warrior, the longer their war bonnet. which is why we take issue with white women wearing war bonnets. for Native people who wear these, the cultural significance and integrity of earning the right to wear one, is centuries old.
going back to horse stealing, i also thought about how we as Native people are reclaiming our humanity and fighting back after 500 years of genocide. we are essentially stealing back our horses, women, and children and livelihood with the responsibility and protection of Mother Earth. each one is connected to and not a separate issue or concern.
we are taking back what is rightfully ours. we have doctors and lawyers who can read through the white lies that Vine Deloria was telling us about. their greatest fear is that we would learn to read and write and speak up for ourselves. we learned to read and write to tell our side of history and get to rewrite, reclaim, and revise what was has been taught and told to us.
closing thoughts are all over, but when i hear this warrior Horse Stealing Song by Black Lodge Singers, i am encouraged. as long we still have our songs, they can never take our spirits. as we are taught, the warrior spirit lives forever. may we all wake to the many other horse stealing songs from our nations bundles to steal back our horses.
Horse Stealing song Black Lodge singers