Pray and do what’s right

Anniversary of The Battle of Bear Valley 9 Jan 1918

Today is the anniversary of The Battle of Bear Valley, which was “a small engagement fought in 1918 between a band of Yaquis and a detachment of United States Army soldiers. On January 9, 1918, elements of the American 10th Cavalry Regiment detected about thirty armed Yaquis in Bear Valley, Arizona, a large area that was commonly used as a passage across the international border with Mexico. A short firefight ensued, which resulted in the death of the Yaqui commander and the capture of nine others. Though the conflict was merely a skirmish, it was the last time the United States Army engaged hostile Native Americans in combat and thus has been seen as one of the final battles of the American Indian Wars” Wikipedia

But what I find astonishing is that was less than 100 years ago.

One of my favourite non-fiction books is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It is a meticulously researched and chronicled Indian history of the American West that still enrages me as much as when I first read of the betrayals, broken promises, lies, deceit and land-grabbing, the total disregard for human beings, and the racism, hunger and loss of culture that First Nation Americans had to endure.

On p.40 it tells the tale of Ta-oya-te-duta (Little Crow) a 60-yr-old chief of the Mdewkanton Santee Sioux who had signed treaties that tricked his people out of their land and money for that land. A moderate, he had been to Washington and seen President Buchanan, joined the Episcopal Church, built a house and started a farm.

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(Little Crow. From a photograph taken in 1858 by A. Zeno Shindler, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

But despite his attempts to get along with the white men, he became increasingly disillusioned. In July of 1862 he and several thousand Santees assembled at the Agency on Yellow Medicine River to receive the annuities pledged by the treaties, that they were to exchange for food at the agency. The money never arrived.Because their people were starving, Little Crow and some of the chiefs went to see the agent, Thomas Gilbraith, to ask for food from the well-stocked agency warehouse for which they would pay once the money was received. They were refused. Galbraith sent for soldiers to be drafted in to guard the supplies.

By August 15 the Santee still had not received any money or food and were told the agency had no intention of issuing supplies until the annuities arrived. Little Crow asked again and warned that they were starving and if food was not forthcoming they would take it themselves.

Galbraith then asked the other traders what they should do. One of them, Andrew Myrick, said, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”(p.233 Meyer, Roy W History of the Santee Sioux.  Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1967,  p. 114)

Needless to say this did not help the situation and there was an incident involving the theft of an egg from a settler’s hen which ended up with three white men and two women being killed. Gnawing hunger, years of abuse  and now in fear of repercussions, Little Crow gave orders to attack the Agency. A company of soldiers who went to the aid of the Agency marched into an ambush and less than half survived. The situation escalated, more troops were drafted in, more warriors arrived to fight, there were losses on both sides, the Sioux were defeated and rounded up to be hanged.

It seems that Myrick’s attitude towards indigenous people prevails today. And now we have a similar situation with Standing Rock Sioux interests and treaties being disregarded in favour of corporate financial interests and we have the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.

Water protectors are locked in conflict with a multi-national oil corporation who are proposing to build an oil pipeline under the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of water supply. A segment of the pipeline is planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River, which is on Sioux land. After battles with the police where peaceful protesters were hosed with water and shot at, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the controversial pipeline on December 4. But it is not over yet as digging is still taking place on the other side of the river and there are fears about what will happen when Trump takes office.

“They’ve been historically abandoned and lied to, especially the Lakota,” Eastman said, referring to the larger confederation to which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe belongs.  “Everyone is sort of holding their breath for Donald Trump’s inauguration.” (Philip Eastman quoted by Danielle DeCourcey in her blog January 7th 2017 http://www.attn.com/stories/14078/standing-rock-far-over)

There are lots of changes ahead with the new administration but I pray that the Battle of Bear Valley really was the last time the US army is engaged in conflict with Native Americans.

“The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being.” Emma Goldman

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