Indigo Insights

Thursday, February 13, 2003

February again and Black History Month. Same TV shows as 2002, but each year there are probably viewers who missed some of the shows last year. Designating a month for historical exposure of ethnic American groups that contributed to the building of our country is an excellent idea. Such an excellent idea, in fact, other groups should have a month of honor. After many years of Black History Month, we are all familiar with names of outstanding Black Americans. Quickly coming to mind are Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and WEB DuBois.

So how about a month for the Indigenous People who were here first, our Native Americans? If I were choosing their month of recognition, I would pick January, the first month of the year, but November is already designated as National American Indian Heritage Month. November doesn't seem to get the media coverage that February does, though. In fact, I didn't even know November was National American Indian Heritage Month until I started researching a little for this post. Just as February is filled with historical information on African-American heritage, November should regale Americans with background history on Native Americans.

Tecumseh, for instance, is considered by many historians to be the greatest Indian leader of all time. He was of the Shawnee Nation, born in West Virginia, March 9, 1768. Tecumseh supported the British, and in a battle in 1811, William Henry Harrison followed him into Canada and killed him. This made Harrison a national hero and paved the way for his election as president with the campaign battle cry of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too". Tecumseh's name was so famous in that era that General William Tecumseh Sherman was named for him. General Sherman was referred to by other names in the South, you may recall.

Ely Samuel Parker was born in 1828, a member of the Seneca-Iroquois tribe on the Tonawanda reservation in Indian Falls, N.Y. His first tribal name was Hasanowanda (“The Reader”). His family had originally adopted the Parker name for use when dealing with the white settlers in the area. Before his birth, a tribal prophet told Ely's (pronounced E-lee) mother that her son would become a distinguished warrior and peacemaker. Parker lived 67 years and achieved widespread recognition as a scholar, tribal leader, Civil-War soldier, and champion of Indian rights.

As a warrior and a statesman, Chief Red Cloud's success in confrontations with the United States government marked him as one of the most important Lakota Sioux leaders of the nineteenth century. Considered a military genius, Red Cloud evaded capture by the U.S. Calvary for nearly a dozen years. My favorite vignette illustrating Red Cloud's military prowess in outsmarting the Calvary is that in all the years of chasing him back and forth across the plains, he was never caught. One of his strategies was to dismount at the bottom of a hill and walk the horses up; then, remount and ride on when the terrain flattened. The Army horsemen rode their horses to exhaustion. This is his speech given at a reception in his honor in New York, July 16, 1870.

Crazy Horse (Tashunkewitko), an Oglala Sioux, was born on the Republican River about 1845. He was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877, so that he lived barely thirty-three years. Although no known photograph exists of him. there are drawings of various artists' impressions. The picture here was a "guess" out of some unknown photographs, it is said. Crazy Horse envisioned his own death and told of it long before it occurred. The Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota will be the world's largest mountain carving when completed. Some pictures here give an idea of its enormous size.

Ira Hamilton Hayes, full blood Pima Indian, was born in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Pima Reservation on Jan 12, 1923. His parents Joe E. and Nancy W. Hayes were both farming people. When he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he had hardly ever been off the Reservation. His Chief told him to be an "Honorable Warrior" and bring honor upon his family. Ira was a dedicated Marine. Quiet and steady, he was admired by his fellow Marines who fought alongside him in three Pacific battles. We would probably never have heard of him had he not been one of the six Iwo Jima flag raisers.

The Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in shortening the war in the Pacific, according to World War II military historians. Due to the secrecy of their mission, and public apathy so long after the fact, they received no recognition from our government until 1992, when, after decades of appeal, The Department of Defense officially and openly honored its Native American code talkers.

That takes care of two months of remembering Americans who helped forge our nation. October might be appropriate for Italian-Americans, since Columbus landed on our shores in that month of 1492. Perhaps March for the Irish-Americans, in honor of St. Patrick. Chinese, Japanese, Germans, Poles, Spanish, Scotch, Lithuanians, and all other ethnic groups who represent our United States deserve a month too.

Of course, that's just my opinion. What's yours?