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I am writing this to you from Saint Augustine, Florida, the oldest continually European occupied city in the United States of America. My name is Casey Leydon, and this is my hometown. It is also the hometown of the Timucua, the indigenous people of this area. For more than 900 years, the Timucua lived here in peace. Seloy was the name of the Timucua Village, until the arrival of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles on September 8, 1565. The City of Saint Augustine is underway with its celebration of its 450th Anniversary. Their organization is called “St. Augustine 450th Commemoration. They are planning two years of events to celebrate “The Story of Us”, all leading up to the arrival , and honoring, of the current King and Queen of Spain.
The City of Saint Augustine is home to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest functioning fort in the United States. The Spanish invaders’ and occupiers built the Castillo on Sacred Land of the Timucua, and forced the men of the Timucua to quarry the stone, transport the stone, and build the Castillo. They forced them by holding Timucua children in a pen in the town plaza, and would feed a child a day to their Spanish war dogs if the men did not work. They worked the Timucua to death building the Castillo. That is why you have not heard of any living full blood Timucua. The Castillo is the only memorial left of the presence of the Timucua in Saint Augustine.
When Spain ceded Florida to the United States of America, the U.S. Army took possession of the Castillo, renamed it Fort Marion, and it served as a Prisoner of War fort for the Seminole warriors and Chiefs. Men like Osceola, Wild Cat, Micanopy, and many more, were prisoners there during the Seminole Wars. During the Indian Wars out west, captured warriors, and their wife’s and children, were transported in trains, chained and shackled, across the county to Fort Marion. For years and years, it was a prison to the Great Indigenous Native American Freedom Fighters of the Plains and Southwest. The Arapaho, the Kiowa, the Cheyenne, the Comanche, the Caddo, the Apache, and more, all found themselves, warriors, elders, women, and children alike, prisoners of the United States Army in St. Augustine at Fort Marion. While they were incarcerated , many died, especially the young children, and the elders. These people were buried, in unmarked graves, in the grounds that surround the Castillo. Gradually, over years, the adult prisoners where relocated to reservations, and the children were sent to Indian Boarding Schools, like Carlisle, for re-education.
After the turn of the century, the U.S. Army abandoned Fort Marion, and it set neglected for many years until the City of St. Augustine requested that it be taken over by the National Park Service. To promote tourism, and to diminish its grim history as a POW camp, it was renamed the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. It was restored, and today it is the primary tourist attraction in St. Augustine, and receives more than 800,000 paying visitors each year, many thousand of which are school children taking the historical tour. Reinactors , dressed in Spanish soldier costumes, portray life at the Castillo, and march around with period piece rifles, and fire period piece cannons on the hour for the throngs of visitors. Four years ago, something different and beautiful happened.
Sixty people, men, women, and children, descendents of the Indigenous Native American Freedom Fighters of the Plains and Southwest Nations, returned to the City of Saint Augustine for several days. They were Kiowa, and Cheyenne, and Comanche. They returned for Healing. They held a public round dance in a elementary school gymnasium, just one block from the Castillo. Hundreds of City of Saint Augustine residents came and joined the dance. I was one.
On their last day, the National Park Service let the returning descendants of the Fort Marion Prisoners’ of War have private use of the Castillo. From outside, we could hear the singing, and the drums, of a healing ceremony that lasted hours. As they exited the Castillo, one teary eyed Kiowa man I had befriended told me that the Castillo was now a place for healing for all Nations. He told me that their was still much healing, and cleansing to be done.
The visiting descendants of the P.O.W.’s have returned to their homes, but have left us with a mission, a vision. We are to return the Castillo to Indigenous Native American control, and we are to create a Healing Temple, built on Native Land, built with Native hands, washed with the tears and blood of Native men, women, and children, made Holy by the hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous Native Americans, and blessed, in healing ceremony, by the living descendants of its prisoners of war.
Our mission, with our community, The International Native American Memorial, is to gather all Indigenous Tribes and Nations to form a virtual round dance around the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and to reclaim it for Indigenous Native Americans to occupy, not as slaves, not as prisoners, but rather, this time as holders of the keys to the doors of the Castillo. We seek to build a large enough community, 100,000 and more, in order that we can successfully petition the President of the United State of America, to issue a Presidential Executive Order to bequest the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument to a Council of Elders Representing the Nations and Tribes of the descendants of the Prisoners of Fort Marion, and every Federally recognized Tribe.
We have no plans to tear down the Castillo, or to diminish its importance to the historical education of the 800,000 plus annual visitors.
We have no plans to close the doors, and make the heart of St. Augustine’s downtown historic district quiet.
We plan to increase its importance by creating the First Native American Memorial bestowed that honor by the United States of America.
We plan to open its doors to the world to experience every Indigenous Native American Nation and Tribe that will come and join us.
We plan to fill the Castillo with the Healing song, drum, and dance of hundreds of Indigenous Nations and Cultures.
We plan to fill the Castillo with the life, music, and shining faces of the children of the Indigenous Native Americans of the United States of America.
This is the year that marks the 500th year of Spain arriving on an already civilized hemisphere.
The City of Saint Augustine is already in preparation of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration, the “Story of Us”, which will be in 2015.
We can think of nothing more grand, nothing more important, nothing more historical, than to create the International Native American Memorial. After 500 years, this is time to do the greatest thing we can do remember, to honor, and to respect the Indigenous People of the Americas’.
We can do more than celebrate what became genocide for 100 million Indigenous Americans, we can do more than polish and shine the statues of invaders.
We can do more than honor the King and Queen of Spain with a royal reception to honor their ancestors decree, El Requerimiento, which in part states,
“ On the part of the King, Don Fernando, and of Doña Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castile and León…
I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him: and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”
We have a choice.
We can choose to actually make history, or we can choose to repeat it.
It is time for Healing, and the City of Saint Augustine, the United States of America, the National Park Service, the President of the United States of America, the Indigenous Nations and Tribes. and all people of this country who can gather together to make History that would make headlines around the world.
If it is our will to create healing, then this is the time to do it.
We invite all Indigenous First Nations and Tribes, and people of the United States of America, and Turtle Island, and all Nations around the World, to join this gathering to create healing.
We welcome you home.
We invite the good people of the City of Saint Augustine, and the organization St. Augustine 450th Commemoration, to join our gathering to create the Healing Temple we have named The International Native American Memorial.
In closing, be reminded of the words of Saint Augustine, for whom you named yourself.
“ For great are you, Lord, and you look kindly on what is humble, but the lofty-minded you regard from afar. Only to those whose hearts are crushed do you draw close. You will not let yourself be found by the proud, nor even by those who in their inquisitive skill count stars or grains of sand, or measure the expanses of heaven, or trace the paths of the planets.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo
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