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Silence Equals Violence: Remember the Sand Creek Massacre

At the start of December I came late to a Ferguson protest being held in New Haven and started video recording. Happily I got a good chunk of the remarks of an American Indian student at Yale, Sebastian Medina-Tayac. It’s here entitled “We Are Your Allies.” After his remarks we got to talking and he told me that there was going to be a memorial to the Sand Creek Massacre that night outside a Yale building. So I brought the camcorder over to what proved to be the rear of the Yale Native American Cultural Center and recorded a lot of the memorial. It was impressive. Seven or eight people led the program with 30 or so looking on or taking part despite the drizzle. It was probably the only memorial to the massacre east of the Mississippi. There were prayers, drums, singing, poems and a talk by Ned Blackhawk. Ned Blackhawk! I had just read his piece about the massacre in The New York Times a few days earlier.

There has been an impressive amount of attention paid to the massacre around its 150th anniversary. Smithsonian Magazine had a major article by Tony Horwitz.

He quotes Colorado resident Joyce Mayo, who visited the remote Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, which opened some six years ago. She said, “Something happened here that nobody should have ever did. Which makes me wonder what else happened in our history that we weren’t told about.” All too true.

There was a piece in the Wall Street Journalby Michael Allen whose great-great-grandfather took part in the atrocity and brought home a scalp as a souvenir. The New Republic had a John Judis article about the statue in front of the capitol building in Denver that glorifies the soldiers who did the killing (which had its original plaque removed and replaced with one about the “battle” which concedes 150 were killed in “peaceful” Indian camp).

To my mind there are parallels to current events. After initial glowing reports of the “battle” the truth got out. There was a lot of condemnation in the newspapers and in Congress. Yet as Blackhawk writes, “Evans and Chivington [the governor and military commander most responsible for the killings] were forced to resign from their appointments. But neither faced criminal charges, and the government refused to compensate the victims or their families in any way.” Sounds like the results of the Senate’s finding on the C.I.A., horrific details, but no punishments.

Interestingly the name “Lincoln” doesn’t pop up in any of the articles. I can’t find if he made any comment about the Sand Creek massacre that took place a few months before he was assassinated. I don’t know if he remarked about the Bear River massacre or the forced removal of the Navajo that also took place during his presidency and cost 2,000 lives.

Sherry Salway Black wrote about the matter in 2013 in a Washington Monthly article called “Lincoln: No Hero to Native Americans.” She says he mostly continued the policies of presidents before him, seizing land and putting Indian nations in reservations. She notes that the Homestead Act that benefitted so many white farmers helped drive Indians off their land. 

In 1862, Lincoln approved the largest mass hanging in U.S. history – 38 Sioux were executed for their role in the Santee Uprising in Minnesota supposedly for their role in killing 400 whites. Terrible violence, no doubt, but as Jon Weiner pointed out in The Nation, Lincoln never executed a single Confederate general for their rebellion which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. His actions towards Indians are a permanent stain on the reputation of the emancipator. Even the best of us was tainted by the mental delusion of race prejudice.

So the young Yale student suggested the victims of the delusion must ally with each other and confront those afflicted with the illness.

#BlackLivesMatter #IndianLivesMatter #LatinoLivesMatter.

Stanley Heller is host of “The Struggle” TV News, seen at www.TheStruggle.org. His email is mail@TheStruggle.org