Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bury My Heart

now finished: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
now reading: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I owned a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for more than 15 years before reading it. Hence its place in "Project: Finally!" in which I have resolved to finally read over the course of 2013-14 the most nagging and lingering of all the books I've meant to read for years now. These aren't just books I've thought about reading here and there, but the ones that I've actively, totally, fervently meant to read, that I have touched or even owned, many of which I have started and read some of. These are the books that I know about and have engaged with and many, many, many times failed to read for some stupid reason. This project is about mending!

Would that the slaughter of the tribes that previously occupied the U.S.A. could be mended so easily.

It's not as if I can add anything to the tale of woeful history in which the U.S. manifested its destiny by slaughtering the previous occupants of the land. I will say, however, that this book presents the story in such a way that I felt really sad. And yeah, outraged, of course. Plenty of outrage. Of the if-not-you're-not-paying-attention variety. But even more sadness, the deepest, darkest, gut-punching sadness. Every time another leader tried to say, "Hey, we can live here and you can live here and we can all live here, but please let my people just live on this land without your soldiers attacking us" it hearkened back to the very first pages in which Christopher Columbus notes how polite the welcoming Taino Indians were, their manners "decorous and praiseworthy." Which prompted him to take all he could get. Nothin' but a G-G-G thang. Talk about your original gangsters. But don't gangsters actually respect their rivals' territory, maybe, at least a bit?

A few people did try, among them  John L. Webster, Judge Elmer S. Dundy, and Tom Jeffords, but there were so many assholes to contend with that the noble efforts of good people were but a tiny glimmer in a horrid, shadowy doom. Now, I'm a super proponent of "it's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." That's true, but many people didn't have even that much of a choice. So, so many people, especially Native peoples, were lighting their candles, only to be doused and darkened time and again by gold- and silver-hungry settlers, battle-hungry soldiers and officers who didn't have a living in the army if they didn't stir up shit, and general greedy destiny manifesters who told themselves Indians were savages.

Every time another massacre is about to happen in this book -- and yes, there are so, so many -- the dread creeps up again, and the reader just hopes against hope that this time someone will see reason, that someone will realize killing people they have just sworn to protect, including dozens of women and children, is a really bad idea, you know, morality-wise.

Alas, no.

This book made me so profoundly sad -- and I already knew some of this history! It's not as if it was a surprise, right. I've read I Will Fight No More Forever.  I grew up in Arizona. I know about Honor the Earth. I had thought and even ranted about loads of it before! I lived in Joseph City and I've been to Holbrook and know all about the Navajo, right?! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.  So pathetic that this is what passes for "knowing" this history. I lived on the edge of the reservation (you know, where the powers-that-be like to build power plants). I quoted passages from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee  in a college paper (without reading all of the book!) I'm a supporter of Native justice, so I totally knew all about what went on, right? Oh my dear gods, no. Those attitudes of "what can I do" + "hey, I'm on the right side, I've done something" are pretty dangerous. Especially if they prevent you from getting around to reading this book for fifteen years. Trust me, you can learn something from reading this book, no matter what you think you already know, and furthermore, you can feel something and experience something while reading this.

Then again, I really DON'T know what to do, even now that I've read it. For a long time I have wanted to get a job where I can even do something tiny and small to help right these wrongs and be better going forward. But what? How? Where?  etc. I really should have gone to law school at ASU. Fuck Hofstra's "international law" concentration; what a joke. I might add that I don't even know how to find my own Indian ancestry, which I always think about when I think about the deplorable behavior of the white folk in the 19th century. My great-great grandmother, the paternal grandmother of my paternal grandmother, hails from Quebec and was a "first nations" person, or whatever one calls this in Canada. See how pathetically little we know? Even my grandmother didn't know. Just knew that her grandmother was Indian, married into the family of Frenchies there in Quebec, and both of this ancestor's parents are recorded as French names in our records, without birthplaces even, so who knows who was French and who came from where. That's all we know. We don't even know what Indian nation she descended from, or who married or kidnapped whom. It bothers me that one's history can be so quickly erased and forgotten, whether on a personal level, or on the massive scale in which the U.S. army and settlers saw fit to eradicate entire tribes and nations and peoples and history in the Western U.S.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee should be required reading for everyone. (Is it required reading anywhere in school??) Yes, it will make you feel sad. You might have to pause and come back to it when it gets to be too much. But read it. Do.

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