Seeking Justice for Stolen Indigenous Lives by Charles UphamTweet
The only good Indian is a dead Indian!” A phrase attributed to Gen. Phil Sheridan (1883-1888) whose statement actually read: “the only goods Indians I’ve ever seen were dead!”. Sheridan would later deny his words but I’m more convinced by the 173 Blackfeet women, children and elders who were massacred, in middle of the winter, by the US Cavalry under the command of Col Eugene Baker. Baker was ordered by Sheridan to ‘Strike ’em and Strike ’em hard!’ The bodies of the victims are still lying out there on cold prairie with no marker or acknowledgment by the US Government while Sheridan and Baker were decorated for their deeds. This sentiment was later echoed by President elect Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) when he stated: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are”.
Unfortunately this popular disdain is still harbored by many white people in this country. With that, It comes as no surprise that laws of the land fail Native communities and justice is not for all. How could this happen? In short the laws of the land did not apply the Native Americans because they were not US citizens at the time the concept of the Indian Reservation was established in 1830. In fact Native Americans did not become citizens until 1924. Before that we were regarded as ‘merciless Indian savages’, according to the declaration of independence. Ironically in that same document Jefferson is quoted as stating ” We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I guess that’s another thing that didn’t apply to the Native American.
Some will argue that the past should be left alone and that we should move past those atrocities that were committed by people long dead and gone. That is easier said than done in a country that is still founded on the Declaration of Independence which also declares I am less of a person by virtue of my ancestors whose only crime was being indigenous. So when you hear about the crimes against Indigenous people including rape, murder, kidnapping, assault, racism and you hear how the police refuse to protect and serve the Native communities or how courts (State and Federal) fail to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. Then you should understand why this ignorant, archaic mentality has been sustained over the centuries in our country. Although that is a terribly shameful legacy to embrace it is currently perpetuated by people in denial of the sins of their forefathers. They’re not my ancestors. My message to the children of the founding fathers is “Own it! Then change it.”
My daughter, Misty Upham, was just one victim in a growing list of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Men. They’re not the only victims, also are the families left behind to pickup the pieces of a broken heart. Victims of a political system that routinely overlooks the concerns of our people. Remember, just because racism is protected by the first amendment doesn’t make it right. But It’s not just about sacred land, broken treaties, environmental protection, Civil rights, Indigenous rights or Human rights. It’s about One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.