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Note: This post is a modfied version of a letter mailed last week.  In addition to light text editing, I've added blockquotes, pictures and links.

Taos Pueblo Color Guard (New Mexico)




Maj. Gen. Terry "œMax" Haston,
Adjutant General
Military Dept. of Tennessee
Nashville

RE: "Indian Country"

Dear Major General Haston;

I attended an event recently at which you spoke, giving tribute to musician Charlie Daniels.  I listened as you described the remote, rarely visited military outposts where Mr. Daniels makes USO appearances.  I was interested and impressed.  But then you uttered two astonishing and troubling words.  You described flying over Sadr City in Iraq in a helicopter, refering to it as "œIndian Country."

"œIndian Country"?  Really?  In the 21st Century?

I can't imagine what you meant by that phrase.  But I'm pretty sure it's something very different than what it means to me.

All the Indians were run out of Tennessee, nearly 200 years ago now, thanks to Andrew Jackson in a shameful travesty remembered today as the Trail of Tears.  Thousands of them died on the brutal forced march.  Given their absence, perhaps your ignorance about Native Americans is (somewhat) understandable.  I'™m writing to, hopefully, enlighten you at least a little on that score.

"[I] witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the history of American warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and headed for the West."
          - - - - Pvt. John G. Burnett, 1838
Indian Removal aka Trail of Tears
I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.
                                            -- Georgia soldier who participated in the removal
Portions of the Trail of Tears have now been incorporated into the National Park system.  Hiking paths follow segments of the original route(s), with information supplied at historic sites and visitor centers.
I don't know why it is, given their treatment over the centuries at the hands of the US Army, but Native Americans join the military at higher rates than any other ethnic group in our country.  Every powwow prominently features a Color Guard and a segment to honor the veterans present.  Every. Single. One.

That'™s Indian Country.

You must, no doubt, know of the legendary Code Talkers from World War II.  The Japanese enemy never broke their code in the Pacific theater.  I've had the privilege to meet a few of them face-to-face.  The Navajos are the best known of that highly specialized branch of military service, but there were other tribal groups who served that same way, including Choctaws in World War I.  

In decades past, Indian kids were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools where they were beaten for speaking their own language, even to their own siblings.  Anyone who thinks it's a waste of time to preserve native languages, ought to keep the Code Talkers in mind.

That'™s Indian Country.

As it happens, 1800 members of New Mexico's National Guard were deployed to the Philippines in 1941, including many Native Americans in its ranks.  They were the first Americans to "fire on the enemy" in WWII after the bombing of Clark Field, concurrent to the infamous Pearl Harbor attack.  The NM units were not initially sent on a combat mission and were not well armed, but put up a fierce defense until they were overpowered by Japanese forces four months later and taken prisoner.  Surely, you must know of the Bataan Death March.  You may not know that nearly 10% of the dead were New Mexicans, half of the aforementioned 1800.  The impact on our state was so big that one of our main state government buildings is called Bataan Hall in their honor.  Many of the dead, and many of the survivors of the Bataan Death March were Native Americans - Navajo, Apache, and the 19 Pueblo tribes.

1942, American and Filipinos near the beginning of the brutal Bataan Death March, for which there were eventually war crime prosecutions and convictions
Bataan Death March, 1942

One of them who survives to the present day, Tony Reyna, is a respected elder at Taos Pueblo.  He had to leave another of his tribal members dead along the way.  Just last February, on the eve of his 96th birthday, Tony retired from running his crafts store at the Pueblo, which he opened in 1950 after spending 2 years building it himself from traditional adobe.  He passed the business along to his son, although he still works part time at the counter.  His daughter, Diane Reyna, served as director on the Peabody-winning series Surviving Columbus. Tony'™s granddaughter Marlene Platero, an engineer graduate of MIT employed by Raytheon Missile Systems in Arizona, was sadly lost to lupus erythematosus at a too-young age just last year.


That'™s Indian Country.

Miguel Trujillo with his daughter, 1940s

Twenty-five thousand Native Americans served in the military in WWII, with 550 killed in action.  When the soldiers returned back home to New Mexico, they couldn't vote.  Despite the US having granted citizenship to its aboriginal population in the 1920s, New Mexico would not allow it.  It took a man from Isleta Pueblo, Miguel Trujillo, to stand up and change that.  This civil rights pioneer is little known outside New Mexico, and not as well known as he deserves to be inside the state, for that matter.  He brought suit in federal court after being refused when he tried to register to vote.  He thereby won the right for his people to vote.  Although, at first, some of them gotten beaten up for their trouble - for having the temerity to vote, even after having put on the uniform for their country.



That'™s Indian Country.

Also during World War II, major tracts of Indian land were taken from various tribes on the grounds of "œwar emergency."  That war'™s long over, but the Nisqually have yet to get back their land, now known as Fort Lewis.  Ditto on the bombing range in the Black Hills of Dakota.

That'™s Indian Country.

Elouise Cobell met with President Obama
upon settlement of the class action suit
Since the days when the reservations were the bailiwick of the War Department, the US government has, in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the various tribes, leased out mining, lumber, grazing, drilling and other rights on their lands. Except the monies thus collected were never accounted for, and the rightful recipients of the lease payments came up short. At the same time, ignorant people were calling them welfare cases, even while up to $100 billion of lease payments over a century and a half were not accounted for. A class action suit, spearheaded by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet community banker, led to a recent settlement of this matter, after many years of government obfuscation and obstruction. (Starting in the Clinton years, and throughout all 8 years of Bush-Cheney.)

That'™s Indian Country.

If you've not heard of Lori Piestewa, you should have.  She was the first woman killed in Iraq, and the first Native American woman killed in combat ever.  She was in the same unit as her more widely known best friend, Jessica Lynch.

She's well known in Arizona, at least.  A signature landform in Phoenix was officially called "Squaw Peak", a name found distasteful by many.  In 2005, the process to rename it Piestewa Peak in Lori's honor was completed.  That name is acceptable to all, a change for the good.

Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona

In a touching episode, the finale of the 2005 season, Extreme Home Makeover built a home for Piestewa's parents, who have taken on the responsibility of raising her children.

Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa had a pact. They agreed that if anything happened to either one of them, that the other would make sure that the family was cared for. Jessica Lynch went a step beyond--she applied to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to fulfill Lori's dream: a home where her entire family could live together and be happy. They accepted her application, declaring this to be the most challenging Extreme Makeover yet.
That'™s Indian Country

Below: The Piestewa Color Guard, photo by Neeta Lind
And yet you, Adjutant General of the Military Dept. of Tennessee, go around referring to any "œenemy" in generic terms as "Indian Country."  Don'™t you think it's time to put that outlook to rest?  Past time, really.  Long past time!  I was stunned to hear you unself-consciously display such a backwards-looking attitude.  And it sounded like you're not the only one who does so, either.

I decided to send a letter rather than speaking directly to you in person for two reasons.  First: it was off-topic for the musical event and honors at hand.  Second, I figured that if I sent a letter on paper, someone would have to read it, and figure out where to file it, whereas you could ignore and forget about words that were merely spoken.  I'™d like it if this got sent up the chain of command, but I hardly expect it will.  I don'™t know that I'™ll live to see the day when the Army leaves the 19th century behind on this point, and moves on to the modern day.

But perhaps, at least, you will think twice before you repeat the words "œIndian Country" as synonymous with "œenemy of the US" ever again.

Sincerely &c - end of letter.

red_black_rug_design2


Martin Heinrich for Senator


Congressman Martin Heinrich, at a campaign rally on Saturday, October 27, 2012. He is running to replace retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman
Martin Heinrich
I attended two election events this past weekend in New Mexico.  The opening photo for this post, of the Taos Pueblo Color Guard, is from Friday night.  As a followup, tribal government provided transportation for tribal members to vote early the next day, Saturday.  Also on Saturday, a rally in the town of Taos was visited by several candidates and campaign representatives.

Of particular note for Native American Netroots:  Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) is the Democratic candidate running to replace retiring U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman.  He spoke about the importance of the Supreme Court, and the Senate's role in confirming nominees to the high court.  Martin promised that when his turn comes to question nominees to the federal bench, at all levels, he would pose questions about western water rights and about tribal sovereignty.  That's good news for Indian Country, because as Gen. Haston's words remind us, there's more than a little ignorance of tribal issues afoot in the land.

You can donate to the Heinrich campaign directly, or via the Daily Kos Act Blue page.  If you're a New Mexico voter:  Early voting is underway.  If you don't know where to vote early, you can find your early polling location here.  Next Saturday, November 3, is the last day for early voting in New Mexico.
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An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes.

Originally posted to Native American Netroots on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 01:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by New Mexico Kossaks, Three Star Kossacks, History for Kossacks, Headwaters, and Team DFH.

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