The first Thanksgiving marks the beginning of Native Americans’ ongoing genocide, and this Thanksgiving could mark the end for the Lakota tribe, if we don’t stop the pipeline!
As we prepare for our warm turkey dinners today, Native Americans are being blasted with water cannons in freezing cold temperatures in North Dakota.
In recent months they’ve also been pepper sprayed, tear gassed, attacked by dogs, shot with rubber bullets, hit with concussion grenades, followed by drones, thrown in jail and locked in dog kennels – all for peacefully protesting corporate theft of their land and water.
Some are calling the struggle to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline “the final Indian war.” If Native Americans don’t win it, it could mark the end of their long, slow genocide.
In addition to running right through their sacred lands and burial sites, the pipeline is guaranteed to contaminate the Missouri River – the sole water source for tens of thousands of Lakota and other members of the Great Sioux Nation.
As told by the Manataka Indian Council:
The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.
But as word spread in England about the paradise in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boatload. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it public domain. They seized land, capturing strong, young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.
In 1637, near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival … In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “a day of thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.
Cheered by their “victory,” the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with as many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.
Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stanford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving.” During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.
The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside, instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War — on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.
The long, slow genocide
The documentary below explains how the genocide of the Lakota (and Native Americans in general) quietly continues long after the colonists wiped out the bulk of them with small pox and muskets:
By conservative estimates, there were at least 10 million Native Americans inhabiting what is now the United States before European contact. By 1900, there were less than 300,000.
By the late 1800’s, it wasn’t as acceptable to just line “Indians” up and shoot them. Instead, they shot the buffalo.
“The civilization of the Indians is impossible while the buffalo remain upon the plains,” said Columbus Delano, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, in 1870.
From 1871 to 1910, the US Army supervised a mass slaughter of buffalo. In 1873 alone, buffalo hunters massacred more than 1.5 million buffalo.
“As planned, our people became increasingly dependent on the government for even the most basic of human needs – food, clothing and shelter,” says the documentary’s narrator.
In 1874, General Custer spread rumors that started a gold rush in the Black Hills of the Sioux Reservation. When the Sioux refused to sell the Black Hills, the US Army started the Battle of Little Big Horn, lost, and then went from village to village killing women, children and ponies. The government forced the Lakota to sign over their land with a “sell or starve” campaign, cutting off food rations until they gave in.
In the 1880s the US Government joined forces with Christian missionaries to to steal Native children as young as 2 years old from their families and ship them to boarding schools. They burned their clothes, cut their hair, deprived them of family contact for years, and used mental and physical abuse to force assimilation into American society.
In 1883, the US created the Code of Indian Offenses to criminalize indigenous culture and spiritual practices such as the sun dance, the give-away, gifts for the bride, feasts and medicine men. Punishments included fines, hard labor, imprisonment and withheld rations.
In 1887, Congress divided communal land of the Sioux Reservation into individual parcels of private property. “Our people had no concept of individual ownership of our earth,” the narrator said.
“The Indian must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization, so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ and ‘this is mine’ instead of ‘this is ours.'” ~ John Oberly, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs
In 1889, Congress sold 11 million acres of the Great Sioux Reservation including sacred sites and burial grounds.
In 1890, the US government massacred 300 unarmed Indians at Wounded Knee.
In 1924, Native Americans were allowed to leave their reservations for the first time.
In the 1960s and 70s, US Indian Health Services physicians performed involuntary sterilizations on thousands of full-blooded Lakota women.
In 1973, more than 60 Lakota activists were killed for trying to re-occupy the land at Wounded Knee.
A slow, silent genocide of the Lakota (and all indigenous Americans) continues today.
A combination of the buffalo slaughter, ever-shrinking reservations on low-quality land and laws requiring permits to forage for berries and other wild foods, has left the the Lakota and other tribes almost entirely dependent on the government for food.
Corrupt local tribunals run by “half breeds” keep most of the money, leaving elders, women and children without food. The food that is given to them is often rotten and is mostly starch.
The result is disease never before seen by the Lakota people. Heart disease and cancer are epidemic on their Pine Ridge reservation, with rates up to 9 times higher than the national average.
Life expectancy at Pine Ridge is 44 for men and 52 for women, compared to the national average of 76 for men and 81 for women.
“Our bodies are attuned to protein, fruits and vegetables, but we are given carbohydrates and sugar,” one elderly Lakota woman said in the film. “We’re not really who we are supposed to be.”
There are more than 3000 abandoned open-pit uranium mines on Lakota land.
“All that radio-active dust – we’re breathing it in constantly,” the woman said. “It has gone down into the ground water and the surface water – we drink it. The cattle, horses, all the animals, eat the grass. We pick berries – all of those are covered with radio active dust … We have no clean drinking water at all, none.”
By the mid 1970s there were 380 uranium leases on Native land and only four on public or acquired land.
Of the 1300 toxic waste sites the EPA has labeled “Super Fund” sites in need of clean-up, 25 percent are on Native American reservations, which comprise less than 2 percent of the land in the country.
Radioactive elements, heavy metals and toxic chemicals – like radium, uranium, lead, mercury and arsenic – pass from mother to child during pregnancy and cause birth defects and miscarriages at a rate 6 times higher than the national average.
In addition to physical genocide, Native Americans have undergone cultural genocide.
Most of the surviving elders today were victims of the boarding school era, in which children were punished for speaking their native language and practicing their customs.
“Native students were beaten, whipped, shaken, burned, thrown down stairs, placed in stress positions and deprived of food. Their heads were smashed against walls and they were made to stand naked before their classmates.” Stephanie Woodard writes in an article titled “South Dakota Boarding School Survivors Detail Sexual Abuse.”
Today, the foster care system perpetuates assimilation through government-sanctioned kidnappings.
South Dakota removes 700 Lakota children from their homes every year. 90 percent are placed in non-native homes or group-care where their culture is lost, while licensed Lakota foster homes sit empty.
In Pine Ridge:
- 1/3 homes lack clean water
- 40 percent lack electricity
- 60 percent are substandard
- 89 percent live below the federal poverty line
- Every winter the elderly die of hypothermia from lack of heat
- Alcoholism affects 8 out of 10 families
- Lakota women are raped and assaulted at a rate 4 times the national average
“Our culture is tens of thousands of years old,” said the elderly Lakota woman from the film. “The only way you could live within this geographic area was how our people lived. If you look anywhere in the world where indigenous people live, within that geographic area, it’s the only way human beings should live. Otherwise they are going to destroy it.”
Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will further poison the river on which 30,000 Lakota depend. Here’s a list of people to call and email, petitions to sign and places to donate.