He Who Takes Without Asking

by Mitakuye Oyasin

It was not the color of the white men who landed at Jamestown in 1607 that stirred fires of war in the Algonquin natives of the region. Chief Powhatan wanted peace but it required all of his wisdom to keep his warriors at bay because of the way these English transplants began taking over land that didn't belong to them. Powhatan did not believe that the loss of a little land was worth fighting over but even he was puzzled by the pushiness of the ungrateful intruders. He asked the colonists, "Why should you take by force from us that which you can obtain by love?"

After Powhatan died in 1619 and with the "brave pioneers" still bullying their way into more and more land, the wars began. Understandably, the Algonquins and their allies were fighting to preserve their very existence in the face of this European cancer.

Strange as it may seem to those who have made skin color so important in their classifications and determinations of the worthiness of others, the first encounter of the Sioux with this strange European creature did not result in them designating him a "white man." To be sure, they noticed that his skin was different from theirs and that he was covered with hair, that he appeared to be dirty and that he smelled, but none of these things resulted in racial epithets.

It happened in the forest where they had hung some meat in the trees to keep predators from feasting. They noticed that something "smarter than a bear" was helping himself to their meat. Setting a watch, they observed a French trapper stealing their meat and because no Native would ever punish someone who was hungry and stealing food, (which they would gladly give if they were asked), the Frenchman probably went on his way, unaware that he was being observed.

When they reported back to their families what had happened to their meat, they said it was taken by a wasichu, (pronounced wa - see'- choo), which literally means "one who steals the fat." In modern English translation, wasichu would be one who takes the best without asking, a rude and grabby, greedy person. If you look it up in a Lakota/English dictionary, it will simply say "white man" because that is how the "white man" translated it. It makes one wonder if, of all the red, yellow, black, and white peoples of the world, the European transplants have been the prime originators and supporters of color consciousness or racism.

What began with Powhatan, then the Sioux and continued across the Continent of North America, was a Native understanding of the makeup of these European invaders which proved to be painfully insightful and accurate. The "superiority" of the invaders was twofold. They had sheer numbers and better weapons, both equipping them to sweep across Turtle Island like a prairie fire. Their unspoken motto was "Might Makes Right," but it remained unspoken because it did not fit the image desired by them.

In the minds of the invaders, they were justified in taking what did not belong to them because they were white, they were "Christian" and they were putting the land and water to "good use‹" something which God wanted them to do. Manifest Destiny became the credit card for stealing, killing and lying to those who blocked their path of conquest‹ all under the banner of building a nation "under God."

When the Cherokee nation was being forced out of their homelands in the South, they went to court. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor but Andrew Jackson refused to abide by that decision‹ commenting to the effect that the Supreme Court could decide what it wanted but would have to enforce its own decision. The next Chief Executive, Martin Van Buren, sent in troops to begin forced evacuation to "Indian Territory," 900 miles to the west. Approximately 14,000 Cherokees were pushed, at gunpoint, in a death march to present day Oklahoma. In what the Natives call the Trail of Tears, as many as 4,000 men, women, children and elderly died along the way.

A generation later, the Navajos suffered the same type of treatment in a 300 mile death march at bayonet point.

Americans who remember the Bataan death march in the Philippines in 1942 were outraged at the treatment of American and Filipino soldiers in a march that was 90 miles. There were no women, children and elderly who were being slaughtered along the way but this does not lessen my outrage at such inhumane treatment of people‹ soldiers or not. At the same time, I wonder how a civilized, "Christian" nation, as Lincoln called it, could allow its government and military to push, shove, kill and steal from innocent people whose only crime was occupying land wanted by the invaders.

Today, people like to say, "That was a long time ago," and move quickly into the present. All right, let's do that. In the late 1970s, President Carter signed a treaty with Panama relinquishing U.S. control of the Canal Zone by the year 1999.

In mid-December 1969, the United States sent over 20,000 troops into Panama in an unprovoked, surprise, nighttime attack against innocent civilians. The purpose was to set the stage for reneging on the Carter Treaty, which was accomplished post haste. Reporters were hampered in attempts to get the news out but enough data got out to bring down the condemnation of the United Nations on the United States‹ a news item not even reported on many news services in America.

Official casualties given to U.S. newspeople totaled about 250. When the smoke cleared and world pressure for facts was applied, the total casualty estimates ranged from 2,500 to 4,000, including elderly, children and civilian men and women, most of them poor and most of them dark skinned, living in shacks and tenements. Probably not all mass graves, (bulldozed by American military personnel), were discovered, which is why casualty estimates are so varied.

Needless to say, this did not happen "a long time ago." It would appear that Manifest Destiny is alive and well, only having altered justifications and changed directions. The propaganda machine today rolls out words like "fighting Communism" and "preserving democracy," neither of which really exists. Actually, in the simple mind of this Lakota, the wasichus have been with us since Columbus, pushing, grabbing and taking‹ and nothing has changed.

"The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun," declared Chief Seattle. "It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many."

"But why should I mourn the untimely fate of my people? Your time of decay may be distant but it will surely come, for even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him as friend with friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers, after all. We will seeŠ"

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