With Reservation

“Words do not pay for my dead people.”

Shall we talk
about
it
awhile while we travel the miles
of
defiled
land
slaughtered
animals
murdered
people
that
lead
to a
place
you will be
graciously confined to
called
a
reservation
but
you
don’t
need
an
application
just
lose
your
apprehension
and
stay
put
here
awhile while we hand out the piles
of
stingy
food
rationed
goods
white man’s
ways
that
you
are
being
graciously supplied
without
hesitation.

“Good words will not give me back my children.”

Yes, but you fled
showing great
premonition
against our
demands,

AND

we require
your
supplication
without
RESERVATION.

“Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law.”

Sure, just submit
to our
imposed
economic
spiritual
cultural
bounded
limitations

until we discover the next resource we want.

“Give them all an even chance to live and grow.”

You ARE free to live
and grow –
within the
restriction
called
a
RESERVATION
and
all
its
white man’s
imposed
economic
spiritual
cultural
bounded
rules!

“Let man be a free man – free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself – and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.”

Sigh.

We’ve talked
about
it
awhile
while you traveled the miles
to
bitter
tears
stolen
lives
broken
hearts
that
you
have now
been
forever (until we discover the next valuable resource we want need)
graciously subjected to
called
a
reservation
but…

“You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”

but…

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises.”

but…

“All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers…”

but…

“Words do not pay for my dead people.”

All the words in quotes above were taken from a speech given by In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat (Thunder traveling over the Mountains), more commonly known as Chief Joseph. He was chief of a tribe of the Nez Perces (Wal-lam-wat-kin band of the Chute-pa-lu), a group of people who had maintained peace with white people since they had first met and helped Lewis and Clark in 1805. It was always his goal to live peacefully with the white people. After a few young Nez Perces men took revenge on a white settler group who had killed their own fathers and brothers, Chief Joseph’s tribe became the target of military action and revenge, in spite of his appeals.

He led an extraordinary 1400 mile retreat with a band of 750 men, women, children and elderly through the mountains and canyons of the Northwest. He was simply seeking a safe place for his people to dwell. In four months, his people fought 18 separate battles against the pursuing American troops that numbered more than 2000 regular army men with an added number of militia. They were stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border that would have provided their protection. Chief Joseph’s surrender speech, given after a five day siege near the Bear Paw Mountains, is a painful one to read. It includes the quote: “I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I will 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.”

The speech from which I quoted Chief Joseph in the poem was given in Washington, D.C. to lawmakers as an appeal for his people to be returned to their ancestral lands in Oregon as he had been promised upon his surrender. His people had been taken, against the terms promised, to a desolate, malaria-ridden reservation in Oklahoma where many of them died.

Chief Joseph and some of his followers were eventually moved to Washington Territory where this courageous, wise, peaceful man died from what his doctor termed “a broken heart”. He was labeled and is remembered by many whites as the “Red Napoleon”, an incredible misnomer.

In order to understand the passion behind and the importance of the DAPL peaceful protesting in North Dakota, I think it helps to understand our history of broken promises, ignored treaties, stolen lands, decimated resources and appalling reservation conditions that native people have faced since white people began moving into, destroying and taking control of Indigenous lands.

Words and Photography ©2016 Tanya Cliff ~ to contact me

Posted in poetrynoDAPL & human rights. Bookmark the permalink.

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46 thoughts on “With Reservation

  1. Perhaps the most poignant, heart-striking, soul-moving piece you have written on this horrendous subject… From beginning to end you tell the terrible story of the Indigenous Peoples with brutal honesty, in Truth … and, yet, also quite beautifully, too. In many ways, painful to read, but excellent! God bless you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Thank you” doesn’t really express my gratitude for your comment, but Thank you! I was searching for a framework to help people understand the significance of DAPL and the protests going on around it. You’ve given me some encouragement that I maybe kinda got there…
      God bless you also, my dear friend.
      And thank you, again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The statistics on the reservations should make us all ashamed. Remote and enclosed where we the people hope those the people will stay and be quiet. I don’t think the protest is receiving the amount of of press it could use. Prayers for common sense and peace to prevail. Thank you for raising our awareness !

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Greed, insensitivity, stone hearts?
      I was just researching the so-called “non-lethal” bullets that they are firing on the DAPL protesters: they are “less likely” to cause death (in one study, “only” 2 out of 100 died, while “only” 18 experienced crippling injury…death more likely, of course, if they hit a child). It is just so gross and inhumane. I was also watching footage of protesters in the water being hosed with spray. These people are UNARMED. We can speak out, support, stand with and educate. I will keep doing those things, but my heart aches….
      Thanks for the feedback, Roger. It is appreciated, and every single voice matters.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It amazes me how the information is cut off at the source. Nobody hears about those things. It is so easy and natural to silence them and hide them away. I wonder sometimes how we dare to call ourselves a “civilization”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Amen. The real “savages” are easy to locate, once you strip off the bandages of bigotry and greed and give an honest look. The information is out there, but we have to keep pushing it. It gets buried under mounds of inconsequential news/entertainment/filler.
        “Civilization” seems like a stretch sometimes, doesn’t it?…Lol

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Tanya, my friend, these words are very powerful. I read them two different ways. In their entirety and then going back to read only the longer quoted lines. When people have been disenfranchised for so long, the failed promises tend to get passed down each generation. I would not hold much trust in our leaders either. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for adding your voice to this, Keith! When you read the history of treaties and treatment of indigenous people in America (as to other minority groups), it really speaks to the complete hypocrisy of this idea we call “liberty”. That “liberty” applies most generously to those with the deepest pockets. Poor, diverse, hurting peoples all too often are drowned in the wake that rich, powerful ship. We must do better.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Tanya, this post is so poignant. We first have to admit there is a problem, take off the blinders, and do the right thing. Thank you for your beautiful words and continuing to be a voice for those whose voices fall on deaf ears.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chief Joseph was a beautiful man inside and out.

      When Sitting Bull was touring with Buffalo Bill’s perverted/inverted Wild West Show for four months, something that was hard to understand him doing apart from maybe wanting to see the world his children were going to have to live in, he was appalled by the beggars and homeless people he came across in the cities. He gave to them from the $50 he earned each week. This from a man whose family and people were impoverished on the Standing Rock Reservation. We have some humbling lessons to learn.

      Thanks for adding your voice to this, Dermott. I will always be grateful for the tip you sent me regarding the DAPL. It was a good fire to light.

      Like

      1. To know the background of things is very important indeed. That is why I am opposed to this movement to wipe out information and events concerning race relations and such from history books in schools.

        Yes, it is ugly, but it is important information to know so that we can learn to act differently. I think it is important to teach young ones that hatred has existed since the beginning of time, and will probably continue to the end of time. But that doesn’t mean they have to be a part of it themselves. They can make the choice to be different and help to try to make changes in others for good.

        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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