The Soul Has No Color

by Mitakuye Oyasin

He was a brave warrior, a leader of his people, a holy man. When he was born, the Sioux were a powerful nation. As he grew older, he could see his people weakened in number and strength by the incursions of the White Man. He saw the buffalo disappearing and the lands shrink in size, all because of the White man. Just prior to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he participated in a Sun Dance, sacrificed over 100 pieces of flesh from his arms and had a vision showing a great victory for the Sioux over the hated bluecoats. When Custer and his men attacked without provocation, this holy man did not have to prove himself by fighting. The young warriors were more than enough for the bluecoats. So it fell to him to gather the women and children to safety.

And after Custer and his men were wiped out and some of the warriors wanted to kill all of Reno's soldiers gathered on a hill a few miles to the south, this same holy man declared that there had been enough killing. In the months that followed, when it became evident that Custer's defeat did not mean the bluecoats would now leave him in peace, he led about 2,000 of his people to the safety of Canada.

Hunger finally accomplished what the bluecoats couldn't. In 1881, he led his depleted band across the border to his former homeland and surrendered. He spent some time in a military stockade before finally being released to the reservation. He participated in one tour of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but felt degraded by the experience.

Nevertheless, he became very popular with the American public. Every household knew the name of Sitting Bull. His popularity caused him to be invited to speak at a ''last spike'' dinner for the railroad. Envision the black coats and ties of the high powered executives gathered to hear the words of this great Sioux chief, cigar smoke wafting through the air, self-contentment oozing from the pores of the listeners. Then, in Lakota, Sitting Bull said, ''I hate all the White people. You are thieves and liars.'' His interpreter, dumbfounded, mumbled some meaningless phrases and Sitting Bull got a standing ovation.

But this story tells us more of Sitting Bull's sense of humor than of his feelings for the White man. He was anything but a racist. The Canadians he dealt with were White and he respected them because they were honest with him. As a rule, he took people one at a time, regardless of race, and judged them on the truth of their words and actions. It just happened that most White Americans he encountered were out to take his land, dismantle his free way of life and would say anything to get what they wanted.

Sitting Bull was a simple man who just wanted to be left alone to live the way his ancestors had always lived. He did not want the ''better life'' of the White man. ''If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a White man he would have made me so in the first place,'' he declared. His tolerance for others shows itself in his next statement: ''He put in your heart certain wishes and plans; in my heart he put other and different desires.''

Does he think his way is the best way for everyone? Does he think he is superior to the White Man? It would not seem to be the case. He continues: ''Each man is good in the sight of the Great Spirit. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows. Now we are poor but we are free. No White man controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights.''

Strange, isn't it? He could easily have been quoted by an earlier generation of Americans struggling for independence from the tyranny of King George III. Is there some irony in this or did I just misread the Declaration of Independence?

But an angry Sitting Bull was not a racist. To my knowledge, there were no Native Americans who hated the White man simply because of skin color, at least not in the beginning. I have never heard of a Native echoing General Sheridan's remark, ''The only good Indian is a dead Indian,'' with a like statement about the White Man. Undoubtedly there were some exceptions in the same way that we may view Sheridan's attitude as an exception. Many White settlers despised the inhumane treatment of Native Americans even though, by their presence, they or their ancestors had been part of the problem.

During the Minnesota Uprising of 1862, many of the White settlers left their land and sought shelter because they were warned by peaceful Sioux of the danger they faced by staying. If there is any one episode which points out the inanity of racism, this would certainly be a prime example. People (Indians) helped people (White settlers) to escape the perils of warfare. It happened time and again throughout the history of conflicts between the settlers and the Native Americans, conflicts which arose all across the land from the 1500s through the 1800s.

Racism has always been a refuge of the weak, seeking a scapegoat for their problems. It is not races that cause problems. It is people. And people who want to blame other races for their problems are in love with their ignorance, which makes them stupid. Worse than that -- they have also strangled the life from their souls. That is why they can so easily kill themselves when they have finished their racial blood-baths.

It is a mystery that, somehow, they can build a better self-image by looking down on others. This is the the theme song of White supremacists today, and fortunately, while there are too many of them, they are few in number. How unfortunate and how dull-minded it would be if those of us belonging to the ''mud races'' blamed the White race for the bigotry of a few demented creatures.

Only an imbecile would conclude skin pigment has any bearing on intelligence or character.

The Great Mystery, you see, is color-blind. So is evil.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 1, 1999

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