Notes From March 20 LWVBC DEI Meeting
Submitted by Sunny Leerkamp, LWVBC Co-Vice President and DEI Committee Chair
On March 20th the LWVBC DEICommitteemet to discuss Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Shari Frank and I were the only ones in attendance, likely due to the NCAA tournament conflicting with our meeting time. ;-)
This history of the annihilation of the indigenous Native Americans in the late 1800’s is thorough and graphic. It is a very difficult read. In the first chapter there is a quote from Columbus upon his first meeting of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, describing them as follows: “Their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.” He then goes on to describe how they are essentially ripe for exploitation. From the massacre at Sand Creek to the deception and final massacre at Wounded Knee, the Native Americans were constantly trying to understand the Whites and make peace with them, only to suffer betrayal, starvation, and efforts to erase them and their culture. Through a program of forcibly removing their children to boarding schools and giving them Christian names and only allowing them to speak English, the Whites sought to achieve total assimilation of those that they did not annihilate.
One bright light in the story was the first Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a man named Donehogawa, Keeper of the Western Door of the Long House of the Iroquois, English name Ely Parker. From a young age he decided that he would voluntarily attend one of the boarding schools to learn English so the Whites would not make fun of him. He went on to become a lawyer (but of course could not find a Bar that would admit him to practice) and later trained as an engineer. Fate brought him together with Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War and they developed a friendship and respect. When Grant was elected President, he decided that a Native American might be better suited to head up the Office of Indiana Affairs and help resolve many of the problems between Natives and Whites. This proved to be an insightful decision and the new Commissioner enacted many reforms to counteract the vast corruption within the system. The progress was short lived when political bosses became disenchanted with Parker’s reforms as they interfered with taking over Native lands and resources. Parker was out after approximately two years and things went back to their old corrupt ways.
The irony of the history of the interactions between the Whites and the Native Americans over the years portrayed in this book, is that the Natives were repeatedly making overtures to peace and fair treatment for their people, in spite of being lied to, manipulated and treated as less than human beings repeatedly. The Indians realized they could never win against the Americans with their numbers and sophisticated weapons, but just asked to be treated fairly and allowed to live according to their respective cultural traditions. But the Whites could not allow that. Geronimo said it best:
I was living peacefully with my family, having plenty to eat, sleeping well, taking care of my people, and perfectly contented. I don’t know where those bad stories first came from. There we were doing well and my people well. I hadn’t killed a horse or a man, American or Indian. I don’t know what was the matter with the people in charge of us. They knew this to be so, and yet they said I was a bad man and the worst man there; but what had I done? I was living peacefully there with my family under the shade of the trees, doing just what General Crook had told me I must do and trying to follow his advice. I want to know now who it was ordered me to be arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to sun, to let me live quietly there with my family. I don’t know what the reason was that people should speak badly of me. Very often there are stories put in the newspapers that I am to be hanged. I don’t want that anymore. When a man tries to do right, such stories ought not to be put in the newspapers. There are very few of my men left now. They have done some bad things but I want them all rubbed out now and let us never speak of them again. There are very few of us left.
This book reminds us that we must honor the memories and culture of the people who called the Americas home long before the white man.
On March 23rd I attended a virtual meeting involving the LWVBMC and LWV Palo Alto, CA DEI groups. This meeting arose out of my regular attendance at LWVBMC DEI meetings. Bloomington-Monroe County had connected with Palo Alto through a Sibling Cities USA Civil Discourse series involving both Leagues having participated in a Living Room Conversations program. The two decided to have a follow up meeting to discuss each League’s approach to DEI and trying to enhance the impact of the program. Both Leagues admitted to having small attendance at DEI meetings. There was a discussion and encouragement to attend courses at www.leaderosity.org/courses/the-equity-journey-/. Both Leagues wish to promote education and invite diversity into their audience. Both Leagues discussed the value in collaboration with other groups, as opposed to membership drives. A model such as Living Room Conversations is seen to have the potential to bring people together, build understanding and broaden relationships. The group will continue to work together to share ideas for enlarging the reach of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.