I admit it. I watched way too much TV as a kid. Back in the fifties, despite the black and white screen, television was a novelty and my parents didn’t really care how much we watched. We were frequently admonished not to sit so close to the screen, but actual viewing time was never an issue. It should be noted here that I’ve worn corrective lenses since 7th grade, so they may have had a point there. Regardless, on Saturday mornings, cereal bowl in hand and face 12″ from the screen, I watched TV nearly all day. First came the cartoons, but around noon the Westerns came on. Cowboys and Indians, the wild, wild, West. You might say my formative years were strongly influenced by this experience.
My younger brother loved the cowboys. For his third birthday he was duly outfitted with a bright red cowboy hat, holsters and two six shooters which he proudly wore over a mostly clean swimsuit. I, on the other hand, much preferred the Indians. As I look back now, I can see that the lead actors were really white dudes decked out in make up and tatty costumes, making stereotypical remarks like “How,” apparently the only word they knew.
When second grade rolled around, a magical thing happened. The Bookmobile pulled into the J.W Reason elementary School parking lot. With great effort I climbed the big stairs and gazed up into the lofty heights of books that towered to the ceiling of the vehicle. For the first time in my life I was able to pick any book I chose to take home and read. I picked a little number on Navajo Folktales from the Painted Desert in Arizona.
I soon graduated to volumes on the Indians of The Great Plains in third grade. We studied the Native Peoples of Ohio. I read books about Tecumseh, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle as well as the Shawnee, Miami and Wyandotte nations. My Dad made a miniature Woodland longhouse created from bent twigs and maple bark from the tree in our front yard. It even had a tiny wooden mortar and pestle for grinding corn. I proudly carried it to school on the bus and shared it with my class, and Mrs. Stanley, our teacher was so impressed she gave my dad and me an A+ on the project.
In 6th grade my Uncle Jim was performing with a group of Boy Scouts that specialized in Native American Dance. With not a drop of Native blood, my uncle had the facial structure to carry off it off. Around the same time my mother was our Campfire Girls leader and she persuaded him to perform at one of our campouts. I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck standing at attention when a warrior, dressed if full regalia, flaming torch in hand, emerged from the foreboding darkness of the woods. I was so enthralled that I never noticed it was Jim whirling and whooping in time to the throbbing beat of the drum.
All very interesting and romantic, but I should point out here that at no time, and in no official textbook did I ever learn anything of the true and shameful way Americans have treated our Indigenous Peoples. I very much doubt that has changed in any significant way since my childhood and it makes me mad as hell.
With greed and a desire to own everything in sight, Americans put forth their best effort to wipe The People off the face of the earth. Not succeeding at genocide, we then attempted to steal the culture, art, language and spiritual beliefs of our Native American Citizens. We are still at it. How many of you know that just a few weeks ago Congress took Navajo land in an underhanded land grab or that the Keystone pipeline is slated to pass through the sacred lands of the Sioux in South Dakota? To quote Oglala Lakota Sioux, Red Cloud, “The white man made me a lot of promises, and they only kept one. They promised to take my land, and they took it.” Native Lives Matter.