For over 500 years we have endured increasing colonization of our lands and spaces. A wave of death came from the east and passed through all indigenous nations. Nothing was spared; no corner of our lands or cultural spaces was left to the people. Some estimates suggest 90 million died, through wars, through slavery, through imprisonment, through diseases; and through simply living as Native peoples in our lands.
Our known heroes are many, from Tecumseh, to Sarah Winnemucca, to Sitting Bull, to Geronimo, to Chief Seattle, to Chief Joseph, to Chief John, we honor those who fought for their people’s rights to continue to live in their traditional lands, and who would not give up except to save the last of their people. We know those men and women from our tribes, leaders, who sacrificed much for their people. They fought the British, the Spanish, the Danes, the Portuguese, the French, the Russians, and the United States; while these colonizers worked to take over the land, to take Native resources, to remove Tribal Nations, to change our laws and spirituality, to destroy Native people and replace Native culture.
Later, the descendants of the colonizers continued to take from Native peoples, our art, icons, intellectual knowledge, and culture; exploiting it, copying it, and selling it, while ignorant of the history of how these things were taken from Native peoples.
Invisible in our history are many tens of thousands of Native peoples who died just for being Indian. Some were warriors who fought alongside their chiefs and leaders and died defending their lands. Others were just people living in their villages and continuing their culture, suddenly attacked for no good reasons. These were men, women, children, babies who were targeted for extermination by the colonizers. They appear in our histories as part of the numbers of dead quoted for battles, for massacres, for attempts to exterminate our peoples forever. Some are noted in stories as “an Indian died” during an encounter with colonizers. In each region, thousands died just trying to live within their own laws.
They are the unnamed, the invisible, the silent, the exterminated, the imprisoned; the unknown Native people who’s ancestry in these lands goes back some 50,000 generations. They are our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They too deserve to be recognized along with the known leaders, as the victims of relentless colonization.
Most of us are the survivors of the known people, the few of our people who survive the brutality of colonization. We now work to remember what came before and recover the cultures and languages as best we can. Remembering the invisible and unknown is part of that recovery.