Should We Celebrate Lewis and Clark or Stop Them?

Carter Camp, Ponca Nation,
American Indian Movement
September 18, 2004

Soon a call will be going out across Indian Country for people to gather in South Dakota to stop the ignorant and racist celebration of the Lewis and Clark slaveholding expedition into our lands. This action will be led and organized by our young people who have turned to some of us for advice and counsel. They are offended by the continuing insults America seems determined to heap upon our People. They see our leaders lining up in D.C. to bless the grave robbers museum of our demise while at home on the rez the depredations continue. They see our Tribes being changed into corporations that put money over our culture and they watch as our lands and sovereignty is eroded to nothing. And now they watch as the Lewis and Clark `celebration’ is endorsed, even by those Indian leaders who  know how ugly its truth is to our people.

Our youth, our Tokala, our future, are tired of standing by while these things are going on and they are demanding something be done or they will be forced to act.  When the call goes out it will be too late for elders like me to mediate so I must stand with them and I ask all those within the sound of my voice to stand with us. Here’s why. ….

Americans have an unfortunate penchant for big anniversary bashes celebrating their various successes in their five centuries old assault on Native people. The most glaring example is of course the national holiday for Columbus, another is the many place names and celebrations for famous “Indian Killers” like Amherst, Custer and Chivington. These `celebrations’ are so common and ubiquitous across our lands that Americans are surprised and hostile when a Native voice is raised in opposition. If we dare ask that the usual distortions of history be corrected or that sober thought be given to the appropriateness of all or certain parts of the event, we are seen as enemies to be overcome once more.

The first tactic employed is always to convince, bribe or coerce some of our own people to join them and get them to denounce the objectors as renegades. From 1492 through the genocidal centuries on until today, the invader knows that if they can put a red face out front they can hide their true intentions and escape responsibility. The big “celebration” going on in D.C. right now for the “National Museum of the American Indian” is a prime modern example of how the conqueror uses Indians to hide their responsibility for the times of horror they visited upon our nations.

 

The old but effective tactic is once again in use, this time the wasicu seeks Indian cover for their “celebration” of what they call an “expedition” instead of what it truly was… an attempt to cover-up once again the ugly truth of genocide called “manifest destiny”. In 1992 Indigenous people from throughout the hemisphere rejected the colonialist portrayal of Columbus and his ill-fated journey. Our scholars dug out the ugly words and actions of Columbus from among ancient documents and gave the real truth to the people. We demanded truth and taught those Columbus supporters among us the truth of his legacy. To this day, each “Columbus Day” we raise our voices in truthful remembrance of what was lost. But 1492 only began the parade of invaders which were to wash up on our shores, each of them proffering friendship before beginning to murder us. 

Now the Americans are beginning a national “celebration” of the “Columbus of the West” and spreading the same stories we heard for so long about 1492! They portray Lewis and Clark as intrepid explorers in an attempt to cover-up the true intent of exploitation. Jefferson lusted after the wealth of our Nations in exactly the same way the King of Spain did those Nations of our eastern shore and they each sent their “explorers” as a prelude to invasion and conquest. The only difference is that Columbus enslaved some of our people while L&C brought their slave with them…. in one of their more perverse “celebrations” they have now carved her likeness on a coin.

Lewis and Clark came into our lands uninvited and used our traditional hospitality to spread their lies. They looked our leaders in the eye and attempted to convince them their mission was one of peace and trade while they knew full well the American intent to subjugate our people and steal our lands. In weakness they observed our customs and shared our food while knowing that in their wake would come the evil emissaries of their coercive state-church. They came among us to probe for weaknesses and provide their army with vital intelligence about our lands and defenses. Their report to their leaders served as a blueprint for conquest.

 

Once I heard the Chief of the Nation that welcomed the pilgrims apologize for letting them attach to our shores. Perhaps my Ponca Nation owes all the People upstream an apology for not stopping Lewis & Clark at the mouth of the Niobara, all of us have paid a huge price for failing to understand that a handshake with Lewis & Clark meant our time of horror was dawning. We are the survivors of that genocidal onslaught, we must remember if we are to deny them their final victory.

In those long ago days maybe we could be excused for not realizing that evil and death dogged the heels of Lewis and Clark, but today we know full well what the lasting effects of their visit would become.… has become. We know today that every circle of life in our world was devastated after Lewis & Clark walked in our lands, some are gone forever like the `passenger pigeons’ that once filled the sky but most of us remain as remnants, clinging to an earth forever altered by the rain of death which sailed up our life-giving river. 

Ask the Buffalo, the Grizzly, Eagle or Elk Nations if they are prepared to celebrate what came up the river two centuries ago. Does the Salmon Nation miss Celilo Falls on the Columbia River or hate the Hungry Horse Dam on the Snake? Does the moon miss the call of the Wolf as she rises over our depleted lands? It was not only our human circles that were slated for destruction by the forces of greed that sent Lewis & Clark into our midst.Their ship was one of death, it looked with vampire eyes across our lands and slavered with greedy anticipation at the wealth of life it observed.

Should we join their celebration so we can “tell our side” as they are suggesting to our leaders? Or should we stand as one red nation and send the celebrants back down the river where they came from…. as we should have done so long ago? Prepare yourselves my relations…. 


Hoka-hey!

Statement Listing:
Stop Lewis and Clark:
Protest at the Bad River,
By Debra White Plume,
writing from the banks of
Wounded Knee Creek,
Webposted Oct. 2, 2004

Should We Celebrate Lewis and Clark or Stop Them? Position Statement,
Webposted Oct. 1, 2004