NOT LONG AGO, it was common for journalists and statesmen to advocate the total physical extermination of Indians as a race. Of course, it didn’t happen. The extremists were overruled and the Indians were spared.
But spared for what purpose?
In reading some of the statements of America’s 19th century racial jihadists, I confess that I am sometimes struck as much by their prescience as by their cruelty.
Take L. Frank Baum. Best known as the author of the 1900 classic The Wizard of Oz, Baum was also a frontier journalist, writing in the Dakota Territory in the 1880s.
On learning of the assassination of Sitting Bull, December 15, 1890, Baum condemned all remaining "redskins" and called for their annihilation.
He wrote, "The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain…"
Baum’s words were cruel. Yet, ironically, they echoed the sentiments of many Indian warriors who preferred death in battle to a life of dependency on the reservation.
Even today, many Indians take that stand.
Over 190,000 living Indian military veterans testify to the fact that many still choose the warrior’s life over a meaningless existence in perpetual dependency. Indian census figures are far from reliable, but that’s about one out of seven of us still opting for action.
What of the rest of us, who live on reservations or in urban ghettos? What about our alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, domestic violence, and homicides? We generate the worst statistics of any group in America. Is this all to be written off as the fruit of oppression and poverty? Are these social problems to be blamed on America? Are Leftists with their "blame-the-white-man" philosophy the only voice that Indians will hear?
Baum’s epithet, "miserable wretches," is an arrow that pierces my heart, because it is true to a great extent. But I’ll not "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," while I’m still alive and kicking.
I’ll not wallow in abject resentment as long as I’m breathing. Warriors don’t wallow.
"They all have to be killed or maintained as a species of paupers," said General William T. Sherman in 1867. Cruel words, like Baum’s. But also prescient. Perhaps Sherman had seen the Indian "wretches’ on the reservation. As a man of war himself, perhaps Sherman sensed that warriors don’t do "dependency" well.
In 1868, when House Representative James Michael Cavanaugh of Montana said, "I like an Indian better dead than living. I have never in my life seen a good Indian…except when I have seen a dead Indian," maybe he too, in some twisted way, understood the nature of Indian pride, and its utter unwillingness to relent.
I don’t think it is dependency that Indians want. It is our past life we cling to, a past that can never be again. We live in our own memories.
This is what the Leftists don’t understand. They teach Indians that we have a right to dependency, to a government-funded fantasy. They would like us to be "miserable wretches," "a species of paupers." They think they are helping, by teaching us the language of complaint, grievance, beggary and victimhood.
But those of us who still remember our warrior ways would rather be dead than to speak that language.
Leftists are working against any hope of improvement in future Indian life. But too few Indians seem to realize this, or they are too deeply sunk in their dysfunctional lives to care.
I say Indians have a choice: we can remain "wretched" dependents on treaty promises, or our tribes can become financially solvent, independent American corporations. We can exist in the memory of the white man as a great warrior, as a government-funded museum piece or a mascot, or we can live up to our traditions, take responsibility for ourselves, and become true warriors in the modern age.
The words of L. Frank Baum and William T. Sherman have too long hung over our people like a curse. Only through our own efforts can we break that curse. Only thus can we shed the mantle of victimhood and reclaim our right to exist.