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How Those Indians Doing Anyway?

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Somewhere between the stuffing making and the gravy sipping, I'd like to propose we pause and consider our continuing relationship with the Native Americans.

Because centuries after we broke bread on that first day of thanks, and despite all our continual promises to do the right thing, we still, of course, abuse Native American rights whenever it's convenient to do so.

Right now in Nevada, the Barrick Mining Company is planning to build one of the largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mines in the United States on Mt Tenabo, a sacred Shoshone site. The Bush administration, predictably, has done nothing to protect the Shoshone.

All you have to do is read the phrase "open pit cyanide" to understand the destruction this project will bring to the site and the region. The Shoshone have sued, "We want them off this mountain, this is a spiritual genocide what's going on," says Carrie Dann, a grandmother and longtime Shoshone activist. "This mine will drain the water from Mount Tenabo" and will suck "the water out of the mountain forever."

She's not exaggerating, through an extensive groundwater pumping system, the mine will de-water the entire mountain and "permanently destroy approximately 6,800 acres of land on and around Mt. Tenabo."

The history of gold and the destruction of Native American's way of life are, of course, intricately intertwined. George Custer's opening of the Badlands to prospectors in 1874 began the chain of events that ultimately led to the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Rereading Evan Connell's masterpiece, Son of the Morning Star last night, I came across this passage. You don't have to read it aloud at the dinner table or anything, but it might be worth considering now:

Sitting Bull clung to his dream beyond all reasonable hope. Even after they crossed the boundary on that final march he tried to persuade his people to break away. 'We will cross the Missouri River at Wolf Point, cross the Yellowstone, and go up the Tongue River into the mountains,' he told them. 'There we can find plenty of game and hide from our enemies.' He did not know that while he was in Canada this region had been settled.

Clifford said many of the people following him had just one garment. Some were naked. What little clothing they did have was dropping off their bodies.

In this condition Sitting Bull with 186 Unkpapas was escorted to Fort Buford. There, on July 20, at eleven in the morning, the obstinate fugitive behaved as usual. Instead of handing his rifle to the American major who conducted the bittersweet ceremony, he gave it to his six year old son, telling him to give it to the major; and he made a speech during which he said that he wished to be remembered as the last of his tribe to surrender his weapon.

With this the Indian trouble ended. Not literally, not until the last shot had been fired at Wounded Knee. But when Sitting Bull admitted defeat the intermittent warfare ended.

Count Hermann Keyserling, speaking of America, remarked that no gods had been born of this nation's marriage with man. There was Manitou, whose ghost continues to hover on the plains, but Manitou was not strong enough to become the soul of a continent, as did Osiris, Allah, and Jahve. When Sitting Bull gave up his rifle he gave up the only god known to America.

To take action for the Shoshone, please go here.

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