“Words do not pay for my dead people.”
Shall we talk
awhile while we travel the miles
you will be
graciously confined to
awhile while we hand out the piles
“Good words will not give me back my children.”
Yes, but you fled
“Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law.”
Sure, just submit
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 –
“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.”
while you traveled the miles
forever (until we discover the next valuable resource we want need)
graciously subjected to
“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.”
“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.”
“All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers…”
“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
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