Posted by on Jul 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

No One Owns The West, So How Did We Lose it?

July 23 , 2012

By: Dana Lone Hill

I saw this link making the rounds on facebook last week. To be honest, I was a little offended by it’s title. “How the West Was Lost by Native Americans” is an animated GIF made by Serena Dai, based upon turning old graphics “by Louisiana State professor Sam B. Hillard into a mini-movie that viscerally demonstrates the gradual chopping away of Native American land through cessions, or a surrender of territory to another entity. The green represents Native American land, and any part that turns white was ceded.”

She wrote that she made it because she “was having trouble visualizing the sheer scale of the land loss” and the animated GIF clearly shows that the amount of land after 1895 is about 2.3 percent of the original size- except what I noticed is that the “original” size should be ALL of the land of Turtle Island.

Other than that, like I said- what bothered me was the title. It’s not brand new either. It’s been around. “How the West Was Lost” is as Americana as a faux Old West shoot out while eating salt water taffy at a tourist spot on this land that has been strip mined and deprived of respect.

To me, it is offensive.

Why? Because what it means is, we lost. We lost what we never conceded. We lost and never had OT. We lost without ever being in a tie game. We lost without sudden death. It means that somewhere, somehow, and someway we said, “Ok we are not who we are, we are now you, and we give up.”

This is just how I feel. I know the GIF shows land loss that any greedy person with dollar signs in their colored eyes will look at; that same lovely soil that was once roamed upon by our people and buffalo so freely- and figure out how to strip it of its every natural resource so they can have a summer home. All the while they leave the land suffering and crying for trees in what was once a forest.

However, in all those millions and billions of acres, I do not see that as a loss for Indians-Native Americans-Indigenous people of this land. Sure, we were marginalized as to where we could roam and hunt, but I see that as a loss for the land because Grandmother Earth no longer has her caretakers respecting her and honoring her on a daily basis. Instead, what she has is a people who don’t care for the very core, heart, and essence of her. A people who no longer care for the life and water she provides on a daily basis. A people who do not step around her softly but instead dig her open, strip her for the sake of cash, and leave her to die, while poisoning her water.

Who treats their elders that way?

The other part of the title that offended me, well it is all the same part- but to assume we lost, is so offensive. Especially when I have elders that hung onto the songs, who hung onto our ways, and our traditions, our culture, and most of all, our spirituality. Despite the fact that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (only 34 years ago) finally gave us the right to practice our own spirituality freely, even though the First Amendment should have guaranteed that hundreds of years ago, our people held onto the ways.

I just don’t feel like we lost the “West” or the East or the North or the South, for that matter. Wiyohpe Yata, or the West, is the direction we start our prayers to. We honor where the thunder beings and storms come from every year to take care of us for another year because we know we need them to have life. We honor every direction just as our ancestors before us did. We pray just as they did and we try to live life as they did. It would be naive to assume we carry these ways strongly just because of ourselves, when our elders before us held onto the language, had ceremonies in basements, and secured sundances so that we may have it for our children and future generations.

I just feel as if from the time I first encountered racism in the 1st grade and knew what it was, up to the point that being an American Indian is now what many others want to be, has only been growing and will continue to grow. The many Indigenous people of Turtle Island are proving it day in and day out. Like the Haudenosaunee People representing the Iroquois Nationals and taking the bronze at the World Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland. Like Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury and all the Indigenous athletes, actors, artists, filmmakers, writers, singers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, firemen, mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, and every single one that makes a difference every day- so much so that a child somewhere knows who they are.

I remember in my 20’s when I first worked mail order in a trading post, that was when I learned I could sling my beadwork for a night’s worth of supper on the table or a pack of diapers. Someone back then told me, “Ride the Dances With Wolves bandwagon for all its worth. In a few years no one will be interested in ‘Indian’ stuff, anymore.” This was in 1990.

Well, I’m still riding it- because we never lost the West. Silly people, no one can own a direction you look to.

That is because after all the suffering, turmoil, heartache, land loss, and being locked on reservations, we still have the ways that were passed along to us. Even if those ways are as simple as listening to one another instead of arguing, respecting your parents, in laws, elders, teaching your children something as simple as not to stare, and sharing what you have with those with less than.

All these ways are being sought. All our elders are being quoted, and every year non-natives of Turtle Island make way to our homelands in droves to see exactly what it is we have in our lives that makes us content.

Crazy Horse predicted this years ago.

“Upon suffering beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom. I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we shall be as one.”

~ Tasunka Witko – Crazy Horse ~

We never lost. We are only beginning. Watch.