A Thanksgiving Reflection
I wrote this 8 years ago, but I often think of Chief Joseph’s speech.
I was recently at an Elton John concert in Vegas during which he played a song I hadn’t heard before. The song was about Native Americans and it got me choked up, which I hate, not only because it’s unseemly, but also because I hate being emotionally manipulated by topics that are exploited by the political class. I also know there were many atrocities committed by both sides in the battle for this country, and I have even pondered the origin of property rights to assess whether hunter-gatherers have the same rights to the land as those who mix their toil with the soil. However, there is no denying that the Native Americans suffered the greatest tragedy, and I found value in reflecting on what they must have gone through.
I recalled the Surrender Speech of Chief Joseph which my daughter’s class recently included in their performances of America’s Great Speeches. I thought about how it must have felt for these people, these tribes, cultures, nations–however you want to think about these communities of peoples–to see the past and see the future and know that their culture was dying, that their children would not be their children, would not know the values and wisdom of their own parents. I see this happening in my own age, but the profound grief of it is dampened by the fact that it is not as obvious because it is not an invading culture but our own leaders who are undermining us, and it is not happening in one generation but incrementally.
I realize the American Indians did not disappear as a culture in one generation either–the span between Christopher Columbus and “the last buffalo” was a full 400 years–but I can’t help thinking that many fine and proud men and women had that one moment, like Chief Joseph’s, when they knew their cause was lost. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us before we have that moment.
Here is Chief Joseph’s speech…
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
In 1877, the military announced that Chief Joseph and his tribe of Nez Perce had to move onto a reservation in Idaho or face retribution. Desiring to avoid violence, Chief Joseph advocated peace and cooperation, but fellow tribesmen dissented and killed four white men. Knowing a swift backlash was coming, Joseph and his people began to make their way to Canada, hoping to find amnesty there. The tribe traveled 1700 miles, fighting the pursuing US army along the way. In dire conditions, and after a five-day battle, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles on October 5, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana Territory, a mere 40 miles from the Canadian border. The Chief knew he was the last of a dying breed, and the moment of surrender was heartbreaking.
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
My heart breaks for them and for us. Perhaps there’s a lesson to us all in the broken promises of hypocritical policies of the US Government from the Indians to the slaves to our own propaganda-driven CoViD-era exploitation. However, there has never been a Thanksgiving yet when I have not been thankful for so many blessings. Even growing up in relatively poor conditions, my father would often say to me, apropos of nothing in particular, how fortunate we were to be born in the United States. I think he would still say that, maybe while cracking a Ballantine Ale and saying in his animated fashion, “Thanks God!!”
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Cats and dogs living together? What has this world come to??
Of course some lovely mushrooms and peppers from Mr. A. And what have we here? Mr. A.’s Halloween costume? Something like the pencil headband? Nope. He won’t tell me exactly how it happened, but as I write this, there is an actual nail in his actual hand. OUCH!
On a brighter note, my friend of the Impeach-Gavin-Newsom t-shirt sent me some pictures of primroses. Ever since I watched the feel-good (look-good too, with a young Clive Owen!) movie Green Fingers, I’ve always wondered what a primrose looked like & now I know!
Blast From the Past
This Month’s Book Recommendations
STRONGLY RECOMMEND: The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction, by Gregory Harms with Todd M. Ferry
Gregory’s other books are good too…especially Straight Power Concepts
It’s Not About Religion, by Gregory Harms
See my interview with Gregory in the December 2023 Newsletter.