A Native Perspective

Forked Tongue

Mitakuye Oyasin

When President Grant wlned and dined Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux, he presented a rnap showing how the territory of the Dakotas was going to be rearranged for the benefit of the Sioux. It was a proposal little understood by Red Cloud or the other Sioux chiefs present at the meeting. Red Cloud, however, was able to use sign language to describe his opinion of the latest treaty proposal of the white men in Washington. He held out his fist, index and middle finger protruding in the white man's "V" for victory sign, only his word was "forked tongue" as in "lies." (Come to think of it, I can still see Richard Nixon waving the "V" sign over his head when he won the election, which should have told us what he would be doing during his terms of office.)

But please understand. Native Americans do not visualize all white men as liars, although Sitting Bull might have argued that most of them are. Sometimes it's just the language my ancestors didn't understand, which is not at all unusual. Sometimes, I don't understand it either

So, occasionally, I would like to ask if you are saying what you mean or do you mean what you are saying? Society, for example, has legalized abortion. For the last 20 years. we have heard arguments about what a fetus is and isn't. Pro choice people say it is not a human being and this is the position of the government when it comes to legalizing abortion. Yet we have a case of murder being charged against a man in nearby Canton who, allegedly guilty of killing a young woman, is also being charged with murdering her unborn twin daughters. How can you murder something not human? Pick your side in the debate between pro-choice and pro-life, but do you see why I am confused by the language of the white man?

Another case in point is the legal term "assault and battery." I am fairly certain that if l am in a public place and a 4-year-old girl misbehaves, I will be arrested if I lay a hand on her. Yet one afternoon in a local town I witnessed a 4-year-old girl being hammered by her mother. She was screaming "I hate you!" at the little girl while she was laying into her with such venom (backed by a hefty 200­pound body) that the car was jumping. The little girl looked thin and malnourished and had bruises on her legs. Needless to say, I interfered and was told that the mother was just trying to get her daughter to put on her seat belt. I called the police and reported the incident. A policeman went to her house, visited with her and the little girl, and left, satisfied that the incident would not be repeated. Why is this not "assault and battery?" Because it was done by the mother? Do you see why l am confused?

"Freedom of speech" is another of those things I hear about, read about, and continue to be puzzled about.

Can you tell me what nude "dancing" in a public bar has to do with freedom of speech? This is the Constitutional protection granted to establishments featuring "exotic" dancers in "adult" places of "entertainment." (How kind they are with their choice of words!) You may like it, and you may even frequent such places, but what speech are we talking about? Mammary glands don't talk. Neither do Š well, you know what I mean. And if showing body parts in public is protected by "freedom of speech," then how do you draw the line between showing those parts (which is legal) and doing something with those parts (which is illegal)? Why isn't doing something protected by freedom of speech? Maybe I will never grasp the language.

Real speech can be dangerous. A black man in Texas is dead, dragged to his death by three white men exercising freedom of speech with ideas of white supremacy dancing in their heads and flowing from their lips. Whether Matt Hale is a symptom of this disease or the virus that causes it is open to question. But this much is certain­­ he stands ready to use the Constitution to destroy what it stands for. In the name of his own rights to freedom of speech he seeks to stamp out the freedom of non­whites to pursue life and enjoy liberty.

Has freedom of any kind ever meant license? Isn't boundless freedom, after all, just another word for anarchy? Isn't my constitutional right to own a gun and shoot it limited by the targets I select? Should freedom of speech ever be without regard to the safety of others?

Do you see, once again, why the language of the white man is so confusing to me?

It has always been that way. Black Hawk said it over 150 years ago: "How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong and wrong look right."

Posted to Zephyr Online March 8, 1999
Return to the Zephyr home page: <http://www.misslink.net/zephyr>