Free verse poem by Richard Iyall
Why was this country formed, this country called United States? Did not
the founders seek their freedom and their independence from a king
who ruled its people with an iron fist? Was not this country formed for independence from repression and from oligarchical control?
Was not the founders’ former government “destructive of these ends”
of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
Before the English settled on this land there were some people here.
Before the Spanish plundered all this land there were our people here.
Before Columbus placed his foot on sacred sov’reign land, our ancestors were here.
Old nations of the people lived their lives with freedom on the land.
Some people roamed the land to follow herds of buffalo.
Some people fished for salmon, hunted deer and other game. Some roots
were dug and berries picked to give the people strength.
The land was rich for all to live with nothing gone to waste.
Kami-akin, organic farmer in what now is Washington was so respected by
the people of some sov’reign nations that they made him chief
of all Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakama. He was a friend to all
until the greed of European immigrants had changed his heart
to join his people in the fight for justice in the land. He sought
to save his people and their land, indeed their way of life, from U.S. genocidal policy
against the stewards of the land. A U.S. military soldier sparked a war.
A man named Isaac Stevens was a graduate of West Point in the year of 1839.
While serving in the war in Mexico he moved up in the ranks. Another U.S. military man
named Franklin Pierce had fought in Mexico and ran for president in 1852. When Pierce
became the president he honored Stevens with the title of the governor of Washington.
The man named Isaac Stevens was appointed governor in 1853.
He was the first to serve as governor before it was a state. As such he also was the
Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Diplomacy was not the way that Washington
was lost. The governor used force to get the leaders of the tribes
to cede their lands and rights. He was a drunkard and a scoundrel with support.
Kami-akin then led the warriors east of Cascade Mountain Range in war
against the U.S. Army and militia men of Washington. From 1855 to 1858 the wars
were on. His cousin Leschi was involved. He was a major factor in the wars.
Nisqually war chief Leschi led the sov’reign nations west of Cascade Mountain Range
in war against the genocide. He organized a battle targeting the coastal town
Seattle. Colonials with greater numbers and with greater weapons proved
to be too much. Chief Leschi could not save the freedom for
the peaceful, nature-loving people of the land who were the stewards there.
He could not save our freedom there.
The governor sent forces out to capture Leschi then. Two men were killed
as they were seeking him. A. Benton Moses was the name of one of the men killed.
Chief Leschi faced a trumped-up charge of murder. Yet he wasn’t even there.
His status as a legal combatant in time of war was ignored by those in charge.
With martial law declared unjustly by the governor, they captured him.
Chief Leschi was turned in by nephew Sluggia in 1856.
He should have not been tried at all. Injustice broke his heart.
Chief Leschi had a brother, Quiemuth, who surrendered after Leschi was not free.
Van Ogle and James Longmire came with him. Olympia is where they went.
But justice was not served in these United States. They spent the night.
Before the morning came a man shot Quiemuth with a gun. He chased the man.
As Quiemuth chased the shooter, going out into the street,
a murderer stabbed Quiemuth in the back! He was a victim in the capital
in 1856. Though there were witnesses to this attack, there was not one
who had the courage to identify the murderer.
The case remains an unsolved mystery today.
A jury in a military court could not decide the guilt or innocence
of Leschi in the year of 1856. A second trial later was convened with evidence withheld.
Chief Leschi was convicted wrongly in a U.S. court.
Defeat and sad injustice put this man
in prison. In 1858 injustice reigned as Leschi then was hung.
September 1858: Chief Owhi of the Yakama paid visit to the Army Colonel Wright
at Latah Creek in search of peace. The Colonel ordered irons put on him.
Chief Owhi and his chieftain son named Qualchan were well known.
“I then sent a messenger for Qual-chew (Qualchan) desiring his presence
forth with (sp.), with notice that if he did not come I would hang Ow-hi.”
Colonel George Wright, 9th Infantry, United States Army
Son Qualchan came to George Wright’s camp unarmed, in peace, to talk.
Chief Owhi watched in horror as the Colonel broke the universal sign for truce.
A flag of peace was being flown as Wright commanded Qualchan hung.
A quarter hour passed. With genocidal violence pursued, in that time, it was done.
A few days hence as prisoner of war Chief Owhi rode a horse. His legs were tied
beneath the horse. Lieutenant Morgan oversaw the chief that day
while Army troops were going to a fort. The group approached a little creek.
Then Owhi made his move. He whipped the soldier in the face,
then dashed across the creek. He sought his freedom from the European immigrants;
their ways of violent dominion over people, nature and the land.
Lieutenant Morgan chased Chief Owhi then and shot him in the back. Not once.
Not twice. Three bullets from the gun had hit their mark, yet Owhi didn’t stop.
When cornered in a cul-de-sac the chief surrendered to the man.
Lieutenant Morgan’s gun had fired all its shots. He ordered Sergeant Ball
to shoot the chief. Chief Owhi sat upon the horse with honor in his heart.
The sergeant took his aim and fired just one shot. The bullet hit Chief Owhi in his head.
The wounded body of the chief slung underneath the horse. By sunset he was dead.
I am a member of a sov’reign nation called the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
I am descended from the Cowlitz Chief Scanewa, called the “chief of chiefs.”
Scanewa ruled the land and all the tribes along the Cowlitz River from
the Puget Sound up in the north to where the river merged
with water in Columbia, the mighty river to the south.
I am descended from the chief named We-ow-wicht, the father and his son
named We-ow-wicht, a chief as well. Between the two they served as chiefs
a century of time. Their tribe, the Pisch-wan-wap-pams, was a major tribe which was
combined with other tribes and bands by Isaac Stevens, to be called the Yakama.
I am descended from some other people from the great Northwest.
They all became subjected to the wanton acts of this “new nation” called United States.
The people of this country took our lands to gain some freedom for themselves.
They took our lands for independence from the British monarch’s rule.
So now I ask of you: Where is our freedom now? Where is our independence now?
Where is your freedom now? Where is your independence now?
It was not right to not allow the sacred dance Ghost Dance.
Where is the freedom in this land? Will you give us a chance?
We honor Mother Earth who gives us life. We honor life.
We know that we are one with all. We are the stewards of the land.
Some leaders of this government which occupies the land
have built a web of strict restrictions, taking freedom by their hands.
They now declare their power over simple trade by all.
They place taxation on transactions of the U.S. currency.
They make so many laws restricting legal use of guns.
Do they respect the treaties and the U.S. Constitution? No!
They put some limitations on where you can go. They put some limitations on what you can wear, or not. They put some limitations on
some plants that you can grow, like pot.
Where is this land that’s made for people to be free? Is this what you call “brave”?
Are we so free, or are we slaves? If they put limitations on what you might drink,
would they put limitations on what you might think?
Would they not do that with a drug or with a slug? Of course, they would.
One day they will demand a laser mark upon your sacred skin;
or find a fiendish way to use a microchip, like in a new vaccine.
Without the mark they will not let you buy
your food, your water, or conduct your business, by order of the government.
You might survive by living as an outcast, as a radical, a criminal, an artist of the heart.
You might be a musician or a poet spreading light. But save yourself from misery
of giving in to fear. We’ve learned a lot by going through the things that we don’t want.
So where can freedom and the independence now be found?
We still have freedom in our heart. We still have freedom in our mind.
Please pay attention to the subtle, incremental judgments over you.
If you think you have freedom now remember history and know our history.
The people who have lived upon this land for centuries were free.
Our freedom and our independence were our sacred ways to live in harmony.
Our freedom was contracted with expanding laws of this “new” nation, the U.S.
They labeled us as “savages” in judgment over us.
The European immigrants stole homelands of the sov’reign nations here
with greater numbers of the people and with military tools of death.
The people of this land adapted just to try to live. The centralized technologies of war
are not sustaining life for all. The key to life is greater harmony with Mother Nature
and with Gaia. It is love! The domination is a force of darkness, not of light.
Rebellion by the European immigrants gained independence from their king.
But where is justice for the rest? The greed of some
has brought contamination, disrespect and chaos to this land.
Do not fall prey to dark temptations such as that. Instead, try living life for all.
Please do not wander on this land with head implanted in the sand.
Let your heart and your soul be spreading truth, for then you will stand tall!
Richard Iyall is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe of Longview, Wash. He has lived in Fresno since 1957. He has written and done photography for the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.