What is known as The Dakota 38 occurred the day after Christmas in 1862 when President Lincoln sentenced 303 Dakota men to hang for crimes said to have been committed during the Indian Wars in Minnesota. The president commuted the sentences of most but 38 were hung in the largest mass execution ever carried out in this country.
Horse rides this December have been completed to commemorate the Wounded Knee Massacre and the Dakota 38 + 2. Harsh winter would scarcely begin to describe what those riders have endured to remember the past and for the sake of those hung and to work through feelings and deep losses and to seek reconciliation. I spent an evening watching a full length film about that 300+ mile long ride from the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota where the executions took place. It has been only 3 weeks since we was driving on much of the route the horse riders would have followed, but their trek included blinding snows and even colder temperatures than we had experienced while riding in the jeep with the heater turned on.
The Navajo, 8,000 were forced on what they call the Long Walk and incarcerated at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Those who did not surrender hid in the canyons and mountains to avoid detection. When the Navajos returned from Fort Sumner in 1868 their reservation was one-fourth the size of the original territory they had used before the war.
We have an incredibly beautiful and diverse country and this December a lot of it got protected by President Obama using the Antiquities Act of 1906. Since the Antiquities Act was passed, 16 presidents have designated 152 national monuments using the legislative authority. Obama has used this power to protect more land than any previous president. During the 110 years of the Antiquities Act it is the first time that tribes have come together to ask a president to use the act on sacred sites on their behalf. The President of the Navajo Nation explained, "Diné people, but also our Hopi, Ute, and Zuni neighbors came together in an unprecedented show of unity to conserve these lands for future generations of all Americans." Delegations from five tribes tried for 8 decades for this area to be protected.
This December the Bears Ears area in Utah from earth to sky unsurpassed in wonders, which had been a refuge for many Navajo during the Long Walk received protected status. Another area important to tribal heritage with additional sacred sites received protection in Nevada. Gold Butte is the land that connects Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. It had been named for the gold that had once been found there. Gold is a recurring theme, the quest for it in Georgia led to the Cherokee Removal Bill of 1830 and the quest for Black Gold, oil brought over 300 tribes together at Standing Rock to stop a pipeline.
The urge to extract gold, yellow or black has not gone well for Native people.
This December has been one to remember for what can go right for the tribes. But always with the lingering thoughts of past Decembers and how quickly what is right is lost.
The Cherokees and the Navajos were led on forced marches. Americans and Philipinoes were forced to walk on the Bataan Death March during World War II. My brother Tim walked in New Mexico's Bataan Death March when he was 52 and signed up on the next to last day to do it again this March. He registered and will take that walk, or as he says, he will march the 26.2 miles of it.
No one will force me to walk, I will be walking in marches against pipelines that can harm water such as the Diamond Pipeline which will cross the Trail of Tears in Arkansas and organizing walks this year, for Tar Creek, and for Water.
Every step I will be thinking about the power of putting one step in front of the next, the next steps we take to fulfill our dreams, the next steps to take to reach a goal, the next step remembering steps taken by our ancestors who survived so that we could all be here, the next steps we take so this planet and the future for the next seven generations to have the beauty we have seen. As we step into this next year together what will your next steps be?
Remembering Days in December.. Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim