AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT GRAND GOVERNING COUNCIL
From AIMGGC: Some of the letters we have received deserve publication. In the days, weeks, and months to follow we will post letters that are thought provoking and well written. Letters to our email address or mailing address will be considered.
COLUMBUS DAY-NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING
We recently attended the grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American Indian with an indigenous people's organization we belong to, The United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP). After the parade we were milling about and the president of our group, Roberto Mucaro Borrero, was being interviewed by a young reporter who was asking about our people, the Taino. Mucaro mentioned that the Taino were the first to encounter Europeans, Columbus to be exact. The reporter then asked, "and when was that?"... I just looked at him and rolled my eyes... I wanted to scream "1492, you big dummy!". And, it occured to me those of us who want this holiday removed, know a heck of a lot more about it than the people who celebrate it. Even as we talked to people of other nations, I became aware that MOST people don't seem to know much about Columbus at all.
If you ask most people what they do know about Columbus, the one thing most will say is that Columbus discovered America. This is confusing to many people because the United States of America is often referred to simply as "America" which gives the impression that Columbus was here in the U.S. at some point, which is incorrect. There are 39 countries in the Americas... not just the U.S. Most people would also know (well, not the reporter), that Columbus sailed in 1492... that he had 3 ships, the Nina, the Pinta & the Santa Maria... some will know that he made 4 voyages to the New World. Some will say he set out to prove the world was round. Most have an image of Columbus falling to his knees & thanking God for safe passage and then planting his flag and claiming the land for Spain. Most also know he was greeted by Natives, but that pretty much sums up what most people know about Columbus.
The truth is that Columbus set sail in 1492 with the intention of finding a shorter route to India. He promised the King & Queen of Spain that he would bring them riches beyond belief and spices. Spices were highly valued because with no refrigeration much of the food people ate at the time was what we would consider today to be rotten. It was very important to the Queen of Spain that he spread the Catholic religion to anyone he might encounter.
Columbus first sighted land and wound up in the Caribbean, landing near the Bahamas. He sailed to other islands in the Caribbean as well, claiming and re-naming them as he went along. His "claims" included making the Natives subjects of the crown. He "took" some of the Native Taino people aboard his ships so they could show him where the gold could be found.
In one of his first entries in his journal, he said that the people were so generous you had to see it to believe it. He also said that with 50 men and his weapons, he could enslave the entire population and they could be made to perform his will.
On Christmas morning, the Santa Maria drifted toward the shore and crashed to pieces on rocks there. The Taino helped him to retrieve every salvagable item from the ship. This presented a problem to Columbus because he could not fit the 39 sailors who had sailed aboard the Santa Maria onto his other two, smaller ships. Columbus used the wood from the Santa Maria, built a fort named La Navidad and left the 39 men behind with a promise to return.
When Columbus returned on his second voyage with 17 ships, 1,500 armed men and the intention to colonize, he found his 39 sailors had been killed by Caonabo, Casique of Maguana. Caonabo would not tolerate the treatment of the Taino at the hands of the sailors who were taking everything of value they could get, and raping women and girls as young as nine. When Columbus saw this, he set out to retaliate and it was war.
The natives were enslaved. Gold quotas were established and the people were forced to mine for gold, those who failed to meet their quotas had their hands chopped off and were left to bleed to death. People who resisted the invaders were killed in despicable manner, some just for sport, starving dogs were set upon them, they were roasted alive in groups of 13 representing the Savior and the apostles.
It became apparent that the islands did not have the quantities of gold Columbus had hoped for, and he needed to deliver something of value to the King & Queen of Spain to repay them for their expenditures incurred in financing his voyages. So, the entreprenuerial Columbus, rounded up 500 of the biggest and strongest Taino, stuffed them into the stinking holds of his ship, and returned to Spain where they were sold at the slave market in Seville. Over half died enroute and their bodies were thrown overboard. Other explorer's accounts of the times said it was possible to find your way to the Indies by following the trail of bodies in the water. Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas.
On his third voyage, word of his abuses reached the King & Queen of Spain and they sent out a new governor for the islands and an order that Columbus be arrested, which he was. He was returned to Spain in chains....a truth that is glossed over in our history books.
He lived to make another trip to the Indies and Venezuela, always believing he had found India (which is why he called the people there Indians, a mistake that has caused 500 years of confusion).
What Columbus did do was chart a path across the ocean that opened up exploration to other greedy explorers like himself... Columbus' harsh treatment of the Taino nearly extinguished their once-thriving populace. On his heels came Hernando Cortez, who annhilated the Aztec. Then along came Pizarro, who had previously sailed with Columbus, and the magnificent Inca population was also decimated.
The word "discovery" is a misnomer as there were already people in the "New World" who had been there since time immemorial... didn't they discover it? The Age of Discovery was a period of grotesque genocide against Native peoples. The true legacy of Columbus is one of genocide and slavery, yet the federal government of the United States of America (a place Columbus never even set foot) honors him with a holiday. A fact unknown to most people is that Columbus Day is the ONLY disputed federal holiday with 17 states refuses to acknowledge, celebrate and/or recognize it.
Please think about these truths and join us in the effort to rid our country of this offensive holiday once and for all and replace it with a long overdue holiday for the Native peoples of this land.
"Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I am an Apache and I am the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently - because of time - but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he must very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry? excuse me? and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future? our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando."
[Brando?s speech was written during the siege at Wounded Knee led by the American Indian Movement (which started in late February 1973), for delivery at the Oscar ceremonies when Brando won Best Actor award for his role in "The Godfather." Brando himself did not attend the event, and refused the Oscar. Sacheen Littlefeather, who attempted to deliver the speech, was able to read only a part of it (hence, the "unfinished" in the title below) before being booed from the stage.]
That Unfinished Oscar Speech By Marlon Brando March 30, 1973, The New York Times
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ''Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.''
When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.
But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice?
It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one's neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done, all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we're not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.
Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining our evening, invading our lives with things that don't concern us, and that we don't care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.
I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It's hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.
Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.
I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.
I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.
Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.
I was a young woman in my mid-twenties when I delivered that message and that prayer to an international television audience at the 45th Academy Awards presentation in 1973. That evening was an ending and a beginning... an ending to my career in the film industry and a beginning of what I hope is the healing process to the thread of institutionalized racism with which the fabric of our society was woven. Because of the mention of Wounded Knee I came to the attention of the FBI who arranged to have me "white-listed" in Hollywood so that I never worked in the film industry again.
WOUNDED KNEE AND ANNA MAE
Nearly thirty years have gone by, and the death of Anna Mae Aquash goes unanswered and maybe her spirit walks the Earth. Why must she suffer yet? Her family will not rest until the truth about her death is known. Recently, two AIM members were charged with her murder, and it seems like the end, but is it?
Arlo Looking Cloud was not on trial in South Dakota, the American Indian Movement was. I will begin with the media who knows no truth. I read an article by a member of the Associated Press, which stated, “When machine-gun toting American Indian militants took over Wounded Knee in 1973, the eyes of the world focused on the tiny Pine Ridge Reservation village and a tense 71 day stand-off with government agents.” Also stated in the article was that Anna Mae Aquash took part in the occupation of Wounded Knee and according to some, she knew too much. Well then, I knew too much, and over 250 warriors including women and elders knew too much. What we knew was that we were surrounded by over 300 FBI, U.S. Marshals, Special Operations Group (SOG) toting M-16’s, Army Personnel Carriers with M-60 machine guns mounted on them, U.S. Army tanks, and F-14 fighter jets flying over our heads. We seen a chemical weapon called M-17 poison gas that was used on us, which had been only tested in Vietnam. We saw the U.S. government supply the Tribal government goon squads with M-16’s that they carried to guard their illegal roadblocks. The goon squads who occupied these road blocks kept people from coming into Wounded Knee by beating the men, and countless reports of raping women in their drunken state of mind. The U.S.government, and the tribal government at that time directed by Dick Wilson allowed this to happen.
The claim that a black man named Ray Robinson was killed in Wounded Knee, and Anna Mae Aquash knew about that too is ludicrous. I walked into Wounded Knee with Anna Mae, and when we arrived there, and in the days to come, we saw no black men inside Wounded Knee, and knew of no murder inside Wounded Knee except for Buddy Lamont and Frank Clearwater, killed by snipers of the U.S. government, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs police. Perhaps the family of Ray Robinson should question the FBI about his disappearance. The FBI knew about an incident that happened in the hills surrounding Wounded Knee in which the tribal government’s goon squad held eight to ten supporters of Wounded Knee at gunpoint, and would not let them go, although there was a request from the FBI to do so. In the night, there was gunfire heard in that area, and we inside Wounded Knee did not know what occurred there. We had heard on the radio about supporters out in the hills that goon squad roadblocks were holding. Later we heard about eight graves somewhere in the hills near Wounded Knee. We never knew if there was an investigation.
Anna Mae Aquash, as I knew her, was a very strong woman. She was always working in one way or another for the Movement, and doing good work. When we walked into Wounded Knee she was carrying a heavy pack filled with medical supplies. When we got close to Wounded Knee, we had to hit the ground and get back up and run for cover from U.S. government gunfire. Anna Mae had to do this too, and it amazed me that she had the physical strength with the heavy backpack (and she was small), to do this and I realized she had strength in her heart too.
Some people think only AIM was involved with her murder and some people think the FBI was involved. The FBI was never a friend to AIM. I think Arlo Looking Cloud is innocent. I wonder if the family of Anna Mae is satisfied with the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud. The pressure the government received from Anna Mae’s family to find justice for her murder brought some characters into the pursuit of the investigation. One is this person named Ecoffey. The name Ecoffey is in itself a goon name, one that was involved in the death of Pine Ridge Reservation Civil Rights leader, Pedro Bissonette and Jeanette Bissonette. Someone with the same name killed Joseph Stuntz at the shootout in Oglala.
The investigation by Ecoffey led to a pitiful homeless man sick with alcoholism. It is a flashback to Myrtle Poor Bear. The FBI picked on a woman who was unstable and threatened her life so that she would testify against Leonard Peltier. They told her if she refused, she would end up like Anna Mae Aquash. The jury in Arlo’s trial viewed a videotape of Arlo Looking Cloud under the influence of alcohol confessing to the charges against him. The trial was a typical racist trial in the racist state of South Dakota against Indians. Without a weapon, without a witness, Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. What will they do to John Graham? Arlo’s trial was a vendetta against the American Indian Movement, and a sure no freedom for Leonard Peltier. The government knows they have the wrong man in prison for the deaths of two FBI agents. We know and they know it.
Why the rush to judgment after 28 years? If the government is so sure about Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham’s involvement, then we better start asking about the government’s involvement because they are not clean. We must not be satisfied with the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, and the possible extradition of John Graham for trial, and have them found guilty, and that’s that.
AIM stood for the rights of Native people. No one can deny that. After Wounded Knee so many people wanted to take credit for this or that. The media played a huge role in identifying and promoting leaders, some who may have not have deserved the titles. The rumors and accusations fueled the government’s COINTEL Program that set out to destroy AIM. It succeeded. Today, there is no such thing as this other AIM that split from the original AIM. This other AIM is just another means to factionalize and attack the work done by many people involved in the formation of AIM, who are still working today in many areas.
For the family of Anna Mae, I pray her spirit has gone where her people are. She would have been the last person to want her name and memory used as a pawn for betrayal and lies. She will always be in my heart. I received strength from just knowing her and walking with her into Wounded Knee.
I met an elder woman named Gladys Bissonette in Wounded Knee too. I will never forget what she said, “AIM may have started in 1968, but I was AIM all my life.” I took that and held it in my heart, and to this day I say the same thing, I was, and am AIM all my life.
In Honor to the Spirit of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash,