By Richard Iyall, Cowlitz
Why was this country formed, this country called the United States of America?
Did not the founders seek their freedom and independence from a king
who ruled its people with an iron fist? Was not the formation of the United States
an act to create independence from a government of repression; a government
“destructive of these ends”: of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
Before the English settled on this land, we were here.
Before the Spanish plundered this land, we were here.
Before Columbus happened upon this land, there were people here,
old nations of people, living their lives with freedom, as the Great Spirit intended.
Many of the people roamed the land following the path of the buffalo.
Other people fished for salmon, hunted deer and other game.
Berries were picked and roots were dug. The land was rich, yet nothing was wasted.
Kamiakin, an organic farmer, one of the first in Washington, was so respected
by people of many tribes, that he was made the chief of his tribe, the Yakama.
He was a friend to all, until the greed and injustice of the European immigrants,
led by Indian agent Isaac Stevens, forced him to join the fight
to protect his people, their land and their way of life, from Manifest Destiny.
He led the Indian warriors east of the Cascade Mountains
in the war of the 1850’s against the U.S. Army and the American militia.
Leschi, Nisqually war chief, led the Indian nations west of the Cascades in the war,
but he could not save their freedom. He could not save our freedom.
He was wrongly charged with murder, of a man, in time of war,
while he was a legal combatant; and he wasn’t even there.
Then after not just one, but two trials, he was wrongly convicted and imprisoned.
Two years later, they hung an innocent man.
Owhi, Chief of the Yakama, went to visit Colonel George Wright of the U.S. Army,
At Latah Creek, to negotiate a peace, over the life of his son, Qualchan.
He was tricked to give the U.S. Army the location of his son, a Yakama chieftain,
with the offer to give up his freedom, to save that of his son.
Owhi was then seized and put into irons. Qualchan was one
of the greatest warriors. A message was then sent to Qualchan’s camp
that if he did not surrender, his father would be hung.
Under a white flag of truce, with his wife carrying his rifle, he came to Wright’s camp
to try to save his father. Owhi watched in horror, as the Colonel broke his word.
They hung Qualchan on the spot. The next day, after seeing
how the Army had so ruthlessly dishonored their agreement,
Owhi tried to escape, fleeing on horseback. Running for his life,
with his hands tied, Owhi was shot in the back.
Now, as a member of a sovereign nation that’s called the Cowlitz Indian Tribe;
and as a descendant of Chief Scanewa, who ruled the land from the Columbia River
all the way up to Puget Sound; and as a descendant of We-ow-wicht,
chief of the Pisch-wan-wap-pams, a powerful tribe of the Yakama Nation;
and as a descendant of other people who made their homes in the Great Northwest,
all of whom found themselves subjected to the wanton acts of this “new nation”,
formed, as it was, in the name of freedom and in the name of independence
from the rule of the British monarch, I ask of you:
Where is our freedom? Where is our independence?
Where is your freedom? Where is your independence?
Where is the freedom to practice the Ghost Dance?
Where is the freedom? Will you give us a chance?
We honor the earth, our sacred Mother.
We honor all life. We are one with another.
Some leaders of this government which now rules the land,
do not they build a web of restrictions around the choices in our lives?
Do not they declare their power over simple trade with your neighbor
with taxes on sales, taxes on trade and taxes on income from labor?
Do not they put limitations on where you can carry your gun?
Are our rights really protected by the supremacy of the Constitution?
They put limitations on where you can go,
on what you can wear, or not; and what you can grow, like pot.
Is this “the land of the free, the home of the brave”?
Are we really free, or are we just slaves?
If they put limitations on what you might drink
would they put limitations on what you might think?
They would if they could, with a drug or a slug.
One day they will require a mark on your body, a laser tattoo
or a microchip implant; or you can’t do business, by order
of the government. You’ll live as an outcast, a radical, a criminal,
an artist, a musician or a poet;
or you might be theirs, even after your dead!
So where is the freedom, independence to be found?
It’s found in our spirit; it’s found in our mind.
So please pay attention to the world around you.
If you think you have freedom, know your history; know our history.
To the people who lived on this land here, before you,
freedom and independence were not just ideas.
They were the natural ways to live!
With the expansion of the influence of the laws of this nation,
replacing the “savage” with “civilization”;
with the taking of lands from indigenous peoples,
by the power of numbers and superior weapons,
the Indians had to learn to adapt. All of the best intentions
and technologies in the world cannot achieve what the Indians had:
harmony with Mother Nature, harmony with the Great Spirit!
Colonial rebels got their independence from the tyranny of King George III.
But at what price to the Indians? The greed of others decimated our people.
Don’t fall prey to such dark temptations. Live instead for the uplifting of all.
Don’t wander the land with your head in the sand. Open your eyes, clear your mind and stand tall!
Richard D. Iyall is a volunteer journalist/photographer for the Community Alliance newspaper.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.