White Lies

By Mitakuye Oyasin

A recent survey of the American people indicates that 51 percent of them don't trust the government. To me, the most surprising thing about this survey is that 49 percent of the people do trust their government. This seems to confirm the P.T. Barnum philosophy that a fool is born every minute.

Keep in mind that history will record America as the only nation ever to bomb itself with nuclear weapons and then keep the fallout figures a secret for 50 years. Not too many veterans of Vietnam dreamed that their worst enemy was their own country dropping Agent Orange all over them. And in the Persian Gulf War, thousands of soldiers discovered that following simple orders, like blowing up an ammunition dump, can lead to some rather serious health problems. As if the deeds themselves were not serious enough, the first reaction of the government to any resulting medical claims has always been flat-out denial.

Then come the recent revelations of medical experiments on African-Americans, Indians, and the indigent, all of which read like a page from Hitler's diary. Maybe the government needs to realize that "trustworthy" means "being worthy of trust."

None of this is a surprise to Native Americans. Between 1779 and 1871, the U.S. government signed 371 treaties with the Indian nations and then systematically broke each one. They literally "treatied" the Delaware out of existence.

In his book The Dull Knifes Of Pine Ridge, Joe Starita describes the attempt by the government to break up what remained of the Great Sioux Reservation into six smaller reservations while stealing half the land for prospective settlers. This took place in the late 1880s, and the Lakota leaders adamantly refused to deal with the liars sent by the government. "To circumvent their resistance, government agents initially tried to gather the signatures of six- to 14-year-old boys, a ploy Congress rejected. Finally, after several years of failed attempts and rancorous debates the government turned to George Crook."

Remember George Crook? Crazy Horse sent him running home to lick his wounds in a battle one week before the Little Big Horn. Still, in their dealings with him in later years, the Sioux found him to be one of the few whose word seemed to mean something. He was tough but, in their minds, he was fair.

So, in the early months of 1890, he was called out of retirement to try to get the Sioux to listen. As Starita relates, "It was left to the aging army general to convince the Lakota that it was now in their best interest to sell off some of their land in exchange for the security of long-term annuities, critical food supplies and a generous share of any proceeds from the surplus land sale. Throughout the long and heated discussions between Crook and the Sioux, food again surfaced as the one key issue. Lakota who had seen promise after promise dishonored In one way or another firmly believed their food rations would be greatly reduced once they signed away the land and it took all of Crook's considerable skill as a diplomat, intimidator and Indian expert to convince them otherwise."

Well, Crook got the job done. He used their trust in him as a weapon to secure the number of signatures needed by Congress to approve the sale of their land at $1.50 per acre. Two weeks after Crook left, signatures in hand, the government slashed one million pounds of meat from the Pine Ridge rations.

This type of lie was experienced time and again by every Native Nation of Turtle Island. They were, at first, easily suckered by the lies of the white man simply because they were themselves so honest. As Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, pointed out, "Because we believed that the deliberate liar is capable of committing any crime behind the screen of cowardly untruth and double dealing, the destroyer of mutual confidence was summarily put to death, that the evil might go no further."

And the dishonesty of the American government is not something which only started in the past 50 or 100 years. In the very beginning, a Mohawk called Thayendanegea, with the English name of Joseph Brant, issued a scathing challenge to the leaders of the new Republic. In those days, people liked to refer to the United States as a Christian nation, and it is this hypocrisy that Joseph Brant addresses: "Our wise men are called Fathers, and they truly sustain that character. Do you call yourselves Christians? Does then the religion of Him whom you call your Savior inspire your spirit, and guide your practices? Surely not."

"It is recorded of him that a bruised reed he never broke. Cease, then, to call yourselves Christians, lest you declare to the world your hypocrisy. Cease, too, to call other nations savage, when you are tenfold more the children of cruelty than they."

He could make the same speech today.

This article posted to Zephyr online August 15, 1997
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