12/27/2007

Chief Joseph -- A Great Mind


I was at Vinegar and Honey this morning and Jan had a wonderful post there entitled "Natural Laws of the Cherokee." It got me thinking about one of my personal heroes Chief Joseph. Joseph was a great and selfless leader to his people. If he had a flaw it was his kindness and his willingness to not fight but rather to make concessions to keep peace. This character strength on his part was a weakness when put against those who would not keep their word. All in all he was an unapologetic lover of freedom and a kind and free spirit. We would do well to teach our children the ideas that he, and many other Native American tribes, lived by. Enjoy his wisdom:

"At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bring my friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came. I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are some things I want to know which no one seems able to explain. I cannot understand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it did General Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government has something wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things. I have seen the Great Father Chief [President Hayes]; the Next Great Chief [Secretary of the Interior]; the Commissioner Chief; the Law Chief; and many other law chiefs [Congressmen] and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done for my people. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.

I only ask of the Government to be treated as all other men are treated. If I cannot go to my own home, let me have a home in a country where my people will not die so fast. I would like to go to Bitter Root Valley. There my people would be happy; where they are now they are dying. Three have died since I left my camp to come to Washington.

When I think of our condition, my heart is heavy. I see men of my own race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, or shot down like animals.

I know that my race must change. We cannot hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men. If an Indian breaks the law, punish him by the law. If a white man breaks the law, punish him also.

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself -- and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other then we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike -- brothers of one father and mother, with one sky above us and one country around us and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers' hands upon the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race is waiting and praying. I hope no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.

Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht has spoken for his people."

Chief Joseph - Nez Perce

19 comments:

Yehudi01 said...

Growing up in Iowa, I always had a facination of the Plains Indians, the Sioux, Cherokee, Black Feet, Crow, etc...We took field trips in school to sites of great Indian battles and burial grounds...it was soooo cool! Their lives were exciting, proud, and full of integrity. The US government treated them badly, and that's shameful. Great post, Jason!

The Hermit said...

I read about Chief Joseph when I was a kid.He was a Nez Pierz, (sp) wasn't he, and they were the folks who bred the Appaloosa horse.

Yehudi01 said...

Jason, the rabbi that has a blog that I enjoy reading has been slandered...would you mid going to his blog and encouraging your readers to do the same? Here's the link:
www.alleywaystotorah.blogspot.com/
Thanks my friend!

Brooke said...

Great post. As you said, the Chief's only fault is that he may have been TOO honorable when dealing with men who had little.

WomanHonorThyself said...

thanks for sharing Jason..and hey..Have a super weekend!:)

Yehudi01 said...

Thank you for posting such a kind and thoughtful comment on Rabbi Ehrman's blog, Jason. Nice touch, my friend.

The Frank Family said...

A friend of yours is a friend of mine. His accuser is a coward and it does not bother me to say so. I would tell them directly but their anonymity seems to be the problem in the first place. Job was accused by those he called friend as well and God stood beside him. God will not fail your rabbi friend.

rockync said...

"All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it."

Such a simple request from a great man. I too am an admirer of Chief Joseph although I believe his willingness to compromise was his downfall, but he was trying to do what was best for his people.

Jan said...

Jason, I actually did comment on here last night, but for some reason, a lot of my comments are not showing up on different blogs. I'm sorry that you thought I hadn't been by!

I said that this man of such eloquent speech was wanting nothing more than what we all desire, which is mutual respect,our own dignity, and freedom. It is sad when we anyone is denied that,isn't it?

Rhonda said...

A very wise man indeed.

Farmer John said...

It's a shame we don't teach more of American Indian history. I'm personally a big fan of King Hendrick and Joseph Bran(d)t whom I believe to have actually been Sir William Johnson and his son, Sir John Johnson/aka Sir Guy Johnson.

And King Tamanend... lets not forget him. In many ways, he was an archetype for the four kings, and of many Native American leaders to follow... like Cornplanter

If you found the movie "American Treasure" to be interesting, you should research the pre-Revolutionary War history of America's "native" Americans and the celebration of the 1st American saint.

Farmer John said...

In fact, Franklin's "Sons of Saint Tammany" was modelled upon the Philadelphia Society of Ancient Britons who celebrated their feast of St. David's every March 1st in the Indian King Tavern (not the NJ version) in the days before Ben Franklin and his "Junto" used to meet there (1732+)... and once e pluribus unum occured, the "ancient and honourables" all began to celebrate the 1st of May on the riverbanks at the Colony (later "state") of Schuylkill and St. Tammany's Day, instead. I always thought it a shame that they felt they needed to become improved.

Oh well. I think I'd better wait until the 1st of Sweet May to sing this tale. But there's nothing I love more than a good tale of "native" Americans, aboriginal or otherwise.

The Frank Family said...

Farmer -- as always, you are a wealth of knowledge

rhonda -- yes, I agree

Jan -- thanks for the inspiration

rocknyc -- if only all our leaders had our interest in mind

wht -- I plan to, thanks for stopping by

brooke -- it's always a sad story when someone acts honorably and believes that others are acting with the same degree of honor but later find out differently.

hermit -- that's true. If you like the appaloosa you have the Nez Perce to thank. A proud horse for a proud people.

nanc said...

i read a book about him many years ago - being of native american heritage myself, my father had an extensive library on the plains indians mostly and when he passed, left it to my sister and i.

the chief and his people were too trusting.

young_activist said...

You must be confused, conservatives are supposed to hate people who don't look like them, especially when they pose a threat to their own expansionist ideas.

The Frank Family said...

So then.....you have absolutely no concept of the real life conservative.

young_activist said...

Actually most conservatives are liberals in hindsight.

The Frank Family said...

And most liberals are poor choices when exposed to the light of truth.

Muliya said...

Interesting to know.