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Massacre at Charleston: #BlackLivesMatter for Native People Because History

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“Those who were killed were…the old men, women and children…after the firing was over, the soldiers gathered up the bedding, clothing and subsistence and piled them up with a lot of wood and set fire to the pile and burned everything up…”

Joe Kipp, US Army Guide
Testimony to the Indian Claims Commission about the Marias Massacre

“I found a young squaw hidden in the brush nursing her baby…She made signs saying, “Wait until my baby gets its fill from my breast. Then you may kill me…I ignored her, turned aside and went away. A while later I again passed that thicket. There I saw the dead bodies of both the mother and child.”

Tom LeForge
Armed Volunteer for the US Army

We’ve seen this before. It’s exactly the same evil, folks. Different times, same evil.

QUICK STORY: There have been many incidents in this Nation’s history that showed Native people exactly how cowardly racism is. On January 23, 1870, the Amskapipikuni people learned that lesson. At daybreak of that day, during a particularly brutal winter in a land known for harsh winters, four companies of the 2nd US Cavalry massacred 173 Native people (many sources say up to 220 Native people), primarily women and children. See, the men were out hunting on this particular morning; the village was already weakened from an outbreak of smallpox and US Army’s attempts to exterminate them by killing literally millions of buffalo in the previous couple of years. 

Yet, despite the senseless slaughter of their food sources and disease, these Native men still went and hunted in order to fulfill their evolutionary role—provide food for their families. So the men were gone hunting and of course they took all the weapons. The village was filled with unarmed and sleeping women, old people and children.

And that’s when the US Army, led by Major Eugene Baker, decided to strike. This was known to be a friendly group of Natives—these weren’t even the ones that they had beef with if there was actually beef to be had. I mean, if Baker really wanted to have a fight, there were Natives who were definitely ready for that. But he didn’t want that sort of problem. 

Coward.

These men just wanted to kill some Indians. They now call this the “Marias Massacre”—they were massacred simply because they were Indian. 

The soldiers waited until it was forty below zero. They knew that the Amskapipkuni followed the buffalo south from Canada and were in their Marias River hunting grounds. After the massacre the civilian soldiers tried to steal robes and furs from the dead Indians’ camps. There were a few young kids who escaped somehow—they saw that the US soldiers were murdering everyone, women, old men and children. Therefore, a few young children attempted to run away and somehow, only through amazing resilience, faith and physical endurance, did anyone survive this horrible, horrible act. 

Cowardice. 

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WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS? The massacre in Charleston, South Carolina is yet another example of the cowardice of racism. The young monster in that case, the white kid Dylann Roof who said that he wanted to start a race war, went to a place that was friendly, peace-loving, non-threatening. He went to that place because, according to Roof, black folks “raped our women” and are “taking over the country.” Therefore, according to this young racist, “I have to do what I have to do."

If he did indeed have a problem with black folks, these weren’t the black people he had a problem with. But like all racists, he was a coward. IF black folks did him wrong, those black folks at the church certainly weren’t the ones who did it! Importantly, they also weren’t the black folks who were packing heat—let’s keep it real, if he really wanted to set it off he could have gone to the 'hood and found some of the warriors. But he didn’t. Coward. Naw, he went to the functional equivalent of the Native camp where the warriors were gone and it was the women, the old folks and the children there. A church. Unarmed people. These aren’t folks thinking about fighting.

Photo credit: The Other 98% Facebook page

He just wanted to kill some black folks. In the same way that Baker wanted to kill some Indians. Those folks in Charleston were killed only because they were black. 

Cowardice. 

Native people have seen this narrative before. Black folks are catching hell the way that Natives caught hell years ago—it is literally open season on black folks. Now sure, things are FAR from ideal for Native people. Assaults on our dignity are happening far too frequently and we have horrible health and economic indicators. Not only that, but Native women are far too frequently the victims of violence from both non-Natives and Natives alike. There is no doubt that we have issues that we desperately need to fix. And we will. Hell, Native people know that we deal with way too much racist violence from law enforcement, in border towns and just plain ignorant ugliness like the Rushmore Convention Center incident, where 57 Native kids were assaulted and degraded. We deal with a lot. We know this. But black folks are getting it every single day—honestly, I would HATE to be the father of a black child right now just because I would literally be worried every single time he went outside. My primary focus is always the tribal communities that I live in and work in, and Native people generally but I can’t help but to look at what’s happening to black folks right now and say “Damn. They’re getting it right now…”

When I say it is open season on black folks, it’s a unique type of threat to the very existence of individual black folks. Just like Native people faced a hundred and thirty years ago. As much as we have struggles now, thank God were not getting shot and killed on a daily basis for simply being Native. 

It happened to us before—I pray that it never happens to us again. I hug my baby boy daily and thank God that this isn’t happening to us right now

But I also know that if it can happen to black folks now, it can happen to Native people again. So Native people have a vested interest in making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself; we were literally almost exterminated a little over a hundred years ago. We can’t go backwards. Native people’s history with this type of ugly, destructive and cowardly racism compels us to voice loudly that #BlackLivesMatter. Hopefully our national organizations—NCAI, NIGA, NARF, NIEA get involved. Even if they do not, history should compel us to find a way to support #BlackLivesMatter even while taking care of business within our own Native communities. It’s not either/or. 

We’ve gotta stand up to this evil because we’ve seen it before.

Photo credit: The Other 98% Facebook page

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
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