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.
Tribes honor those tribal members who served in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and all wars involving the United States. Native people have served with conviction and honor in nearly all US wars. Tribal people were present at Iwo Jima flag raising, and native code talkers, Navajo, Cheyenne and others took key roles in communications during WWII. Those natives who served in this manner have received the highest honors at tribal gatherings, at pow wows and other events across the Nation. Many veterans say that they join to not only prove themselves to be warriors, but to represent the United States and their own tribal nations. Our tribal lands are also what our veterans are defending. This is as it should be.
There was a time before the tribal peoples were Americans that our people defended their territories from the United States. As I have written, many tens of thousands of our peoples died in that defense, as active participants or as bystanders, victims of total warfare strategies. Yet Tribes today, largely, do not memorialize these peoples that died defending our rights to be native and free. There are few rare examples of this in our nation. Yes we have histories, many many histories, but where do we publicly recognize those people who died defending our right to exist as sovereign nations?
I am proposing a public memorial in Oregon to the known and unknown Tribal peoples who gave everything for us all. They are not forgotten by many who carry family histories, lets make it clear to everyone else that our history and sacrifice for this land is just as worthy as that of any other people who now call this their home and country.
If you are interested in working toward this goal contact me.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.