Today marks the anniversary of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which American soldiers slaughtered over 150 Arapaho and Cheyenne, mostly women and children, in the November dawn at the Sand Creek settlement in eastern Colorado near the Arkansas River. Believing the US soldiers would not fire upon anyone standing under the Stars and Stripes, Cheyenne leader Black Kettle mounted the flag above his tipi in the middle of the village, but his efforts were in vain. The American military displayed trophies of the “battle”, including body parts, in Denver for months afterwards. If you get the chance to read Dee Brown’s landmark book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it will open your eyes to the US government’s overt and covert campaigns against the indigenous people of North America in the 19th century – it’s a scathing indictment of the US politicians, soldiers, and citizens who colonised the American West.
The following are the words of a song I wrote commemorating Sand Creek. It is written from Black Kettle’s perspective during the night before the atrocities:
In the year of 1864
In the moon of popping trees
On the banks of the Arkansas
When the water starts to freeze
The stars have gone out one by one
The moon’s turned pale and weak
The spirits will not gaze upon
Our children at Sand Creek
The Stars and Stripes are flying high
Above me as I sleep
In dreams I hear our children cry
Why is it that they weep?
The sky’s been dark since war began
Please let us live in peace
I reach out for the white chief’s hand
The killing now must cease
Tonight the lights are going out
For the children at Sand Creek
An estimated 300 million indigenous people continue to experience institutional violence, poverty, disease, and marginalisation today. They include the Maori people of New Zealand, the Mapuche communities in Chile, the Maya of Mexico and Central America, the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, and descendants of the Incas and Aymaras in South America. Assimilation or integration into dominant “civilised” societies has not worked for many aboriginal peoples. Self-determination and self-governance are key human rights issues for them. It cannot be beyond the wit of mankind to devise a sensitive and sensible way of allowing indigenous people the means to manage what’s left of their own land and resources, along with their own education, health, employment and judicial systems.