Between the years of 1860 and 1890 CE the United States of America embarked on a campaign of western expansion; ‘manifest destiny;’ colonization of a land already inhabited by the indigenous peoples of North America. “By conservative estimates, the population of the United states prior to European contact was greater than 12 million. Four centuries later, the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand. In the years surrounding 587 BCE the Babylonian empire marched on the city of Jerusalem. With their people slaughtered, the city laid to waste, and the temple completely destroyed the people were cast into exile beyond the borders of their homeland; into the ways and places of the Babylonians. In the deep emotions of Psalm 109 we can still hear their voices lamenting in the synagogues and on the streets. In what way can we hear the voice of the first nation peoples in similar ways? In the book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” Dee Brown brings to life the voices of the first nation peoples. Their leaders words are spoken into a new existence as one by one, their homes are destroyed, their people are slaughtered, and their homeland is taken away. Their voices are a song of lamentation woven intricately together with the voice of an exile!
Psalm 109; Prayer for Vindication and Vengeance; 1 Do not be silent, O God of my praise. 2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. 3 They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. 4 In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.* 5 So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. Whose voice was first sounded on this land? The voice of the red people who had but bows and arrows. … What has been done in my country I did not want, did not ask for it; white people going through my country.… When the white man comes to my country he leaves a trail of blood behind him.… I have two mountains in that country – the Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountain. I want the Great Father to make no roads through them. I have told these things three times; now I have come here to tell them the fourth time.
MAHPIUA LUTA (Red Cloud) of the Oglala Sioux
6 They say,* ‘Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin. 8 May his days be few; may another seize his position. 9 May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. 10 May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of* the ruins they inhabit. 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 arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to the 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.
11 May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. 12 May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children. 13 May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation. 14 May the iniquity of his father* be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same. Say to us if you can say it, that you were sent by the Creative Power to talk to us. Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. If I thought you were sent by the Creator I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to live on yours.
HEINMOT TOOYALAKET (Chief Joseph) of the Nez Perces
15 Let them be before the Lord continually, and may his* memory be cut off from the earth. 16 For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the broken-hearted to their death. This war did not spring up here in our land; this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things. The Great Father and his children are to blame for this trouble.… It has been our wish to live here in our country peaceably, and do such things as may be for the welfare and good of our people, but the Great Father has filled it with soldiers who think only of our death.
SINTE-GALESHKA (Spotted Tail) of the Brule Sioux
17 He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him. 18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones. 19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day.’ 20 May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord, of those who speak evil against my life. 21 But you, O Lord my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me. There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see Him. If he had come, He would do some great things as He had done before. We doubted it because we had seen neither Him nor His works. The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had Made.
22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me. 23 I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. 24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt. 25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads. You have driven me from the East to this place, and I have been here two thousand years or more.… My friends, if you took me away from this land it would be very hard for me. I wish to die in this land. I wish to be an old man here.… I have not wished to give even a part of it to the Great Father. Though he were to give me a million dollars I would not give him this land.… When people want to slaughter cattle they drive them along until they get them to a corral, and then they slaughter them. So it is with us.… My children have been exterminated; my brother has been killed.
STANDING BEAR of the Ponca’s
26 Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to your steadfast love. 27 Let them know that this is your hand; you, O Lord, have done it. 28 Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame;* may your servant be glad. 29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonour; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle. 30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. 31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death. I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A peoples’ dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.
BLACK ELK, on the massacre at Wounded Knee.