Fast Company

Repercussions of "Custer's Last Stand" Need to End Now

Hanh mitakuyapi.  I tried to post this yesterday but it wouldn't go, so here it is today.

 On June 25, 1876, a thug named George Custer and soldiers of the U.S. 7th Cavalry under his command attacked a peaceful village of Plains ITI once again - but this time, they got what they had coming, and were annihilated.
  We ITI call this "the battle of the Greasy Grass" for the river where it happened; the majority culture calls it "Custer's Last Stand" or "the battle of the Little Bighorn".  A national monument or park has been made of the area, and for decades, we ITI were villified for having the audacity to fight back, let alone to win, while many crocodile tears were shed for the "massacre" of Custer and his goons.
  George Custer and his brother Tom were widely known to have thrown Indn babies in the air and caught them on their bayonets while shouting, "nits make lice".  These are not heroes.  Yet, we Indns have been abused by "people in power" since we won this battle - 132 years ago.
  Out here in Dakota Territory, Indns of all Nations have been abused since that time - systematically, by means of government programs, agencies, and agents, and in general have been denied loans, access to credit, grants by state agencies, etc.  The way federal programs for Indns have been set up, the states have to join in to make things "go".  I saw this up close when I was on the local SBA SCORE "team".

  The SCORE team had several good members, but the 'head' of it was an unabashed bigot, who shouted at me in a meeting, "I'm going to whip you into shape yet!"  I told her she was never going to whip me at all, let alone "into shape", and I quit the "team".  I raised quite a stink about her and was told, "but she's from an "Old Family" here.  We couldn't embarrass them that way."  I saw no reason then why not, and I still don't.  A bigot is a bigot and deserves a good swift kick - and preferably, public embarrassment in the form of publishing the truth about them.

  Just the same - The first Tribal College in the U.S. is here - at Bismarck, ND.  It was established in 1969, when the Tribal Councils of the 5 Reservations in ND joined together to form this college, and so put a crack in the wall the majority culture put up out here to keep us down.


  As you should know from my posting of a couple of days ago, bigotry is alive and well in all of Dakota Territory, and reaches to the highest levels of state government.  A former governor of SD bragged openly about his "kills" of "Indn lovers" - and of Indns.  Linda Butts - whose last name is spelled correctly, note - told me in open grant hearings such gems as, "I don't ever want to make a grant to any company whose mission statement says it means to provide jobs for Indns." - while she was ND's Deputy Director of Economic Development and Finance in 2001.  When my Board complained to the governor, he backed her, writing, "I must allow my Deputy Director of Economic Development and Finance to manifest her vision for ND's economic future development as she best sees fit".  And then this former 'business friend' snubbed me until other Republicans saw it and made him stop. 
  Also in 2001, I heard the Lt. Governor tell a Republican big wig, "We had to get rid of John Dorso and Gary Nelson from House and Senate Majority Leadership because they were starting to listen to the wrong kind of people - Indians."
  When they came around the corner and saw me, the big wig said, "There she is!  Carel Two-Eagle!  What if she heard us!!"  Jack Dalrymple replied, "I told you - she's nothing; she's nobody! She has no money, no votes, no power!  Besides, even if she heard us, she wouldn't know what to do with it; she wouldn't know where to go with it; and who'd believe her??  She's an Indian, and I'm the Lt. Governor, for gods' sake!  Now let's go have some coffee and talk about something important." 
  Takoszja, I knew what to do with it; I knew where to take it; and they believed me.  Two or 3 days after I got this information to Gary Nelson, he stepped out of his office as Senate Majority Leader of ND with no warning, took a job heading the Federal Rural Development office at West Fargo (effective at the end of the Session), and threw the Republican "power structure" here into chaos.  Like jackstraws.  It was quite an interesting thing to watch.
  Told people I am his "best buddy after my wife" and made them call her on his cell phone for verification.  Not bad for someone with no money (true), no votes (depends on who you talk to; I don't peddle influence, I influence by educating); and no power (depends on whether you consider spiritual power or merely temporal power as more important.  I vote for the spirits any time, although that isn't "my" power; I simply have access to influencing it.)

  In 2005, Jack Dalrymple refused to shake my hand in the Inaugural Line, and his wife saw it - along with a large number of other people.  She insisted I tell her why he did that, and eventually, after she "demanded" I tell her "and call me Betsy!" - I did.  It was kind of fun to watch the Lt. Governor stand there holding his stomach and to listen to him groan..  She read him the riot act that night, apologized to me, and said if there were any further incidents to tell her.  OK, this is good, in my eyes.

  Also in 2005, State Sen. Dwight Cook, from Mandan, gavelled me with a full-arm swing - in Committee in front of 26 people - pointed at me with his arm fully outstretched, and roared, "Stop!  LEAVE this room!" 

  Eight white people jumped up and ran out, and he stammered, "Wait! Wait!  I didn't mean you!  I meant her!"  They stammered back, "That's OK!  We don't need to testify!  We see how things are!" and they beat a hasty retreat.  I stood stock still, fixed him with my best steely-eyed glare, and said quietly, "Is the Senator from Mandan... attempting to violate my Con-sti-tu-tional RIGHT to be HEARD?!?  Senator?"  The exchange is long, but since this occurred in an official Committee meeting (Senate Political Subdivisions), it was taped, and I have copies of the official tape recording of that meeting.  What this exchange proves is that bigotry is alive and well in "America" yet today, and it certainly was in 2005, in this hearing room.

  The subject of the bill?  Tax dollars for non-government entities, particularly "faith-based" ones, to perform social reform functions.  I was the only person to testify against it.

  I finished my testimony, of course, but before I went back to it, I thanked "nobody's Senator at all" - whom I also call Dwight Cooked - for proving the thesis of my opposition to the bill.  He asked what that was, and I replied, "That any non-Christian organization, particularly if it is a Traditional Indn organization, will not get fair consideration under the law if this bill passes as written, and likely will not get any consideration at all."

  Indns in "America" are kept at the bottom of the economic totem pole as much as is possible by bigots in positions of political and financial power even today in 2008, in the supposed Age of Enlightenment - and at least out here, it is mainly because some of us beat the crap out of George Custer and his goons at the Battle of the Greasy Grass on June 25, 1876.  It's time to correct that.  Mother Theresa was utterly wrong when she said, "the poor are beautiful in their poverty".  There isn't anything 'beautiful' about poverty, unless you count being lawsuit-proof, and I'm not entirely sure about that except in a few circumstances.

  Money doesn't cure many things - the lives of the rich we hear about daily prove that - but the lack of money causes many other evils to crop up in peoples' lives, and what we need to shoot for is the happy medium where Indn people have, as the country western song says, "we'd be havin' a pretty good life, if we had a little bigger piece of the pie".

Add New Comment

3 Comments

  • Jon Gates

    I found this post due to searching for a blog on Custer. I am unable to comment on your current plight since I'm not a peer of yours. However, in my opinion you are in the wrong by calling Custer a "thug".

    I can appreciate your general dislike for what he represents "to you", but the man was following orders. And did so with an 1800s mentality. You are judging him with the luxury of 100+ years of hindsight, information, education, and the views of a complete different society that Custer (or anyone from that era) could not possibly comprehend.

    As the plains indians attacked, killed, slaughtered other tribes to gain land and possessions...so did Americans. The sacred Black Hills were not the Lakota's from the begining of time. They were forced out of Minnesota by other tribes from the east and in turn overran the plains until checked by the Pawnee and Crow.

    The fact is that almost every people were discriminated against...Jews, blacks, and, yes, even the pilgrims for their heritage, religion, possessions (or lack there of), etc. And, I would challenge you to find any culture free from any wrongs against others.

    Getting back to my main purpose...Custer was not a "thug", just a person who felt pride in his America and doing what he felt was his patriotic duty.

    By your theory we could call villainize anyone throughout the history of the world leading troops or a war party.

    I admire many things about you. However, I suggest you stay focused on contending with what you were dealt (and you seem to be). But, you come off badly by Custer bashing. To me it seems "cheap" and it overshadows the great ideas and goals that you have.

  • Carel Two-Eagle

    "Never" is a long time, and the only people who fail are those who don't try. Yoda was right when he said, "there is only doing and not doing", but in order to do or not do, people first must try. It requires hands reaching across the artificial boundaries humans have created, with no strings attached to those who need the help. That means "no efforts to 'acculturate' / 'assimilate' us, to eliminate our Traditional Ways - especially our spiritual Ways - or to otherwise demean or diminish what it is to be ITI". None. Tah-koo-NEE-shnee in my Lakota language. Over 85% of the Constitution of the "United" States is derived from ITI Ways of seeing the world and interacting with it; of 'governing'. It is indeed a strange dichotomy that on the one hand, the people developing "the United States" took so heavily from our Ways - thus admitting and underscoring the tremendous lack in their original cultures' ways - and then turned around and insisted on 'assimilation or annihilation' of the people and cultures they based the new country's ideology and government on. Sounds like a classic abuse scenario, to this Indn; which I believe is historic fact. We continue to be abused, although a tad less than when I was a child, because we have learned enough of the majority culture to use its ways to fight its abuses. We - especially we Traditional People - have obviously not been annihilated, despite ongoing efforts to do that. The very stubbornness that has brought us much of the abuse is the thing that enables us to continue to survive. The circle continues, morphing into a spiral of hope....

  • Jay Tatum

    This is an interesting post written with a real militant zeal for recovering American history. While I share much of the disdain for the plight of Native Americans, I am a part of the dominant culture that creates, maintains, and sustains the economic disparity inherent in the American caste system. I also share a sense of shame for the failure of a young government to maintain the integrity of a Constitution that does not embrace the native race of this country and an older government that simply uses Native Americans as a displacement object for its negligence to act justly.
    Over half of my adult life has been spent in Restorative Justice as an ordained cleric working with the marginalized and poor, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden. I share a certain respect for those like Mother Theresa who have made a complete dedication of their lives to living and working with those in poverty and can appreciate the beauty of those in poverty, if only from a distance. While I have not endured the misfortune of the Native American population, I did grow up poor, white, Appalachian in a culture and geographic locale that continues to marginalize those in poverty. Not cheap grace on my part, just an acknowledgemenet of solidarity with growing up poor.
    Additionally, a significant portion of my ministry as a cleric was spent in rural Oklahoma where the Native American population still enjoys the same levels of poverty today that they did during Custer's reign. In one of my appointments to Cheyenne, OK, I was privileged to spend many opportunities with the southern tribe of the Cheyenne and took part in activities celebrating and defaming the Battle of the Washita in Roger Mills County, OK, where a Memorial exists in honor and memory of those massacred by Custer. I was reminded on more than one occasion that the Cheyenne and other tribes continue to remember Custer's First Stand as the Massacre of the Washita.
    I agree with Carel Two-Eagle's closing words from the country song that suggests "we'd be havin a pretty good life, if we had a little bigger slice of the pie." The challenge of Restorative Justice of which I've been a part is to first make amends by acknowledging the injury to others, then inviting them to the table and giving them a voice, and growing with them in a mutual environment of equality and trust. While the skeptic in me says it may never happen, the recovering cynic says, "Extend your hand and try."