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Harjo: Now imagine the Gulf evacuations as forced marches

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  • Harjo: Now imagine the Gulf evacuations as forced marches

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    Harjo: Now imagine the Gulf evacuations as forced marches

    (javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: September 22, 2005 by: _Suzan Shown
    Harjo_ ( / Indian Country Today
    The spectacle of Mother Earth cleansing and cooling herself is
    mesmerizing - even for those who can't quite make out what they're watching on
    television - and the consequences for people and other living beings are enough to
    break the hearts of all but the stoniest of characters.

    The sadness and hurt on the faces of the Gulf Coast evacuees, especially the
    elders and children as they leave their homes and all their precious things,
    make me understand more about my Muscogee ancestors in the deltas and bayous
    of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

    I look at the tragedies appearing endlessly on the cable stations, at the
    pain of people too stunned to cry or too angry to stop their tears. One after
    another whispers or shouts or speaks in the perfectly modulated tones of shock
    about loss and not knowing if they will ever see anyone or anything familiar

    I see the people evacuating New Orleans and Mobile and Pass Christian, and
    imagine them with Muscogee faces - but the Muscogee removal was with hands and
    feet in chains, with bayonets at their backs.

    The Muscogee people were forced to march by orders from Pres. Andrew Jackson
    from home to hard places, from night to day, from happy lives to early
    graves. Thousands were murdered, starved and walked to death.

    People read about the Trails of Tears - and all Native nations have had at
    least one - as movements of peoples, without appreciating the humanity of the

    Grant Foreman wrote about the humanity and documented the Trails of Tears of
    the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, as well as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and
    Seminole Nations, in his 1932 ''Indian Removal,'' describing them as
    ''people of fixed habits and tastes.''

    Foreman, an author and former Dawes Commission attorney, wrote that the
    ''southern Indians'' were not ''nomads like some western Indians'' and were
    ''less inclined to wander to strange places than white people.''

    ''They loved their streams and valleys, their hills, and forests; their
    fields and herds, their homes and firesides, families and friends; they were
    rooted in the soil as Choctaw Chief Pushmataha said, 'where we have grown up as
    the herbs of the woods.'

    ''More than white people they cherished a passionate attachment for the
    earth that held the bones of their ancestors and relatives. Few white people
    either understood or respected this sentiment. The trees that shaded their homes,
    the cooling spring that ministered to every family, friendly watercourses,
    familiar trails and prospects, busk grounds, and council houses were their
    property and their friends; these simple possessions filled their lives; their
    loss was cataclysmic.

    ''It is doubtful if white people with their readier adaptability can
    understand the sense of grief and desolation that overwhelmed the Indians when they
    were compelled to leave all these behind forever and begin the long sad
    journey toward the setting sun which they called the Trail of Tears.''

    The Trails of Tears were spawned by Gen. Andrew Jackson, who enjoyed a long
    career of fighting Indians: and the ones he despised the most were Creeks.
    Jackson went on to Congress, where he and his former military cronies took over
    the Indian affairs committees and crafted the first Indian removal bill,
    which he signed into law just weeks after his presidential inauguration.

    The Creeks and other so-called ''civilized tribes'' were coerced into
    removal treaties and driven at gunpoint to Indian territory. Foreman compiles
    descriptions from myriad sources to document the removal of one group in this way:

    ''It was 'very slow moving them in irons, chained together, and Montgomery
    is the nearest point we could take water,' wrote Capt. John Page. The sullen
    warriors, manacled and chained, marched in double file. The venerable Chief
    Eneah Emathla (at 84) was not exempt from this humiliation ...

    ''In the wake of the manacled warriors followed a long train of wagons and
    ponies conveying the children and the old women and sick who were unable to
    walk. As they approached Montgomery where they were to be placed aboard the
    boats, their despair led them to commit numbers of excesses: One warrior who was
    being brought through the streets in a wagon, drew a knife and cut his
    throat; another killed a guard with a hammer and was shot dead; another was
    bayoneted by a guard ...

    ''On July 14, 2,498 of these unhappy people ... were crowded aboard two
    little river steamboats ... and two barges in tow of each, and conveyed down the
    Alabama to Mobile. 'From the inauspicious season of the year and the crowded
    condition on the boats' the Montgomery Advertiser predicted the Indians would
    suffer much from disease.

    ''This body included 900 Yuchi and 500 Kasihta ... Twenty-three hundred of
    them were embarked aboard two boats that evening for the Mississippi river;
    the next night a severe storm was encountered and the terrified Creeks were
    battered in the holds of the vessels for safe keeping.

    ''These Indians reached New Orleans on the eighteenth. 'One of the barges
    was retained for the purpose of taking the sick, infirm, children and baggage
    up the Canal, and was towed by the Indians themselves to their present
    encampment' ... 'The excessive rains of Monday night, and which continued nearly
    without interruption all of yesterday, have proved peculiarly unfortunate to
    these poor savages ... They have put up a few rude tents, which afford them,
    however, but feeble protection against the driving rains.'

    '''... The flies are most distressing; a horse can hardly be controlled from
    lying down to roll, such is the torment. The heat is excessive and the water
    of the worst description.'''

    Foreman quotes from a Dec. 25, 1836 letter from Little Rock, which was
    printed in the New York Observer on Feb. 11, 1837, to describe another group:

    ''Thousands of [the emigrating Creeks] are entirely destitute of shoes or
    cover of any kind for their feet; many of them are almost naked, and but few of
    them anything more on their persons than a light dress calculated only for
    the summer, or for a warm climate ... In this destitute condition, they are
    wading in cold mud, or are hurried on over the frozen ground, as the case may
    be. Many of them have in this way had their feet frost-bitten; and being
    unable to travel, fall in the rear of the main party, and in this way are left on
    the road to await the ability or convenience of the contractors to assist
    them. Many of them, not being able to endure this unexampled state of human
    suffering, die, and are thrown by the side of the road, and are covered over only
    with brush, etc. - where they remain until devoured by wolves.

    ''... When the extreme of winter does fall upon these most miserable
    creatures, in their present suffering and desperate condition, the destruction of
    human life will be most deplorable.''

    Revisiting this history with the perspective of today's man-made and natural
    disasters makes me appreciate even more the Muscogee and other ceremonial
    people of this time who stoop low with humility to carry medicine to honor
    those who carried council fires on their backs.

    This is in appreciation for those who keep the fires in Oklahoma and
    throughout the Southeast, where even those Native people who were harmed by Katrina
    are sharing what they have with non-Native victims.

    Why? Because we know what it means to be uprooted, dispossessed and

    Because we hear echoes in the denials that race and environmental
    degradation have nothing to do with what has happened.

    Because we hope that non-Native people will one day help protect the sacred
    places Native people were forced to leave but never left behind.

    Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the
    Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C. and a columnist for Indian Country
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

  • #2
    Forced Relocation in Modern Times

    I was watching the Hurricane coverage on NBC and Brian Williams, I believe, made some statement about the evacuees being a novelty, the only forced relocation in 'modern' times. This angered me. As Harjo states, the Muskogee Creek were forced at gunpoint to relocate. Maybe it wasn't in the last 50 years, but in a country that now seems to accept anything made less than 100 years ago an antique, the relocation of my mother's ancestors damn well counts as modern times in my book.


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