Saturday, June 22, 2013

Promises Made to Be Broken

Ministerial Meditations
By The Rev. Connie Yost
July 10, 2009
Red Cloud, Mahpiya Luta, Oglala Sioux Chief, 1897

On this past 4th of July holiday, I was reflecting on the price our freedom has cost the peoples who were enslaved, made war upon, lied to and abused in the quest of our Independence and prosperity. 

While Thomas Jefferson and others eloquently wrote that they would sooner "cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose," indigenous peoples were increasingly lied to and manipulated as their ancestral lands were taken from them.

Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota of the Sioux nation, who lived through the battle of the Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, which pretty much marked the end of the US government's war on the western Indian Nations, as their colonization was now complete.  He reflects:  "I did not know then how much was ended.  When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young.  And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard.  A people's dream died there.  It was a beautiful dream…the nation's hoop is broken and scattered.  There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."

I visited the battlefield of the Little Bighorn recently.  As a kid we used to travel from Seattle to Montana every summer to visit relatives in the Billings area.  Most summers we would stop for a few days in Yellowstone, and spend a week or so at my Uncle's ranch in Fishtail, Montana.  On the ranch we city kids would help with the milking, herd the cows and sheep, ride the horses and dig in the hillsides for Indian arrowheads and beads.  Back then, I never once thought deeply about who these Indians were -- the owners of the arrowheads and beads.  Growing up in the 50's, my brother had a coonskin cap, and we played cowboys and Indians.  The westerns on TV pretty much portrayed the cowboys as good guys, and the Indians as savages.  You know, a good Indian is a dead Indian.  But on my recent trip, it was all I could think about  -- who were these Indians who walked these lands and lived here for centuries before my country existed?

The Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 was a great Sioux victory, but there was no way that the Indian nations stood a chance against the US government.  What strikes me over and over in reading the history of our nation's westward movement, is that from the beginning, indigenous peoples were made promises that were broken time and time again.  Red Cloud, another of the great Oglala Lakota chiefs of the late 19th century said this of the US government:  "They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it."  

What promises are we, as a people of faith, willing to make, and keep, in the name of justice for all living things and for the earth?  How can we celebrate not our Independence, but our Interdependence with all livings things?  How do our actions restore the nation's hoop, and help find a center that is loving, kind and just?  Let us be a people of our word, and let us make sure that our promises bring greater life and love to all living beings.
                                                                                                                              Love, Connie

Copyright 2013 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved