Monday, October 3, 2011

Kaw Lake, Day 2

During the powwow last night, the MC broke into the program several times to give OU and OSU footfall score updates. The Cowboy is the OSU mascot, and I had to chuckle at what seemed an amusing historical reversal where hundreds of Indians sat around cheering on Cowboys. Regardless of race, however, if you live in Oklahoma, you’re a rabid football fan. I think it may be required by a part of the state constitution.

The Kaw are called “the wind people,” and their presence was evident from dinner last night through today. The wind was forecast 15-30 mph, but it blew 30 mph or better all night. It didn’t drop to about 20 until late afternoon today. I found no peace of mind from Judy, a campground caretaker, telling me about a 70-90 mph straight-line wind that blew a camper trailer off the cliff and into the lake. In short, it was not a paddling day.

A small band of pelicans drift by our camp while feeding.

The north end of the lake looks like a field covered with fresh snow from the thousands of pelicans settling into the lake during their migration. During the afternoon a fragment of the group floated down the lake by our campsite while feeding. To get out of the waves, a powerboat had tried to land on the beach below our site, but was sunk as large whitecaps rolled over the transom and swamped the boat. An organized effort by a couple men simultaneously lifting and bailing finally got the boat afloat before it was moved around to the boat ramp.

The 22-ft. bronze statue of Chief Standing Bear.

With the rest of the day open, we traveled to the Chief Standing Bear Museum. I think it important to reflect a moment on the significance of the Indian Territories and Chief Standing Bear. During the travel reports of Lewis and Clark, other expeditions by the French, Spanish, and the fur traders, the impression in Washington was that the portion of the Louisiana Purchase that would become the Indian Territories, was of little value to whites. Since it was also barren and open, it would make Indian activities and movements easy to observe. Indian control or eradication was debated for some time. Several issues would conspire to settle the issue. Forcing all the Native Americans here to Oklahoma would free richer lands then available for farming and settling by those continuing to press west and south. Under ever-growing pressure for their lands, and fearing the government would not honor its promises, several tribes in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi had gone to court to seek jurisdiction over their own lands. Then gold was found in the Cherokee lands of Georgia, and something had to be done about Indians competing for the buffalo herds. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and Pres. Andrew Jackson signed it into law. Over the next ten years, over 70,000 Native Americans would forcibly be driven from their lands and into the Indian Territories. The 14th Amendment says that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” However, forced movement of these peoples from their homes and lands was considered legal and appropriate since Indians were not persons, or humans, and therefore did not fall under legal protection.

“The soldiers formed a line at one end of the village and drove the people like cattle before them. The 500-mile march was hardest on children, the old and sick.” Chief Standing Bear’s own daughter was one of the victims of the march. They arrived in the ’warm lands,” where the government promised to provide food, blankets, and implements to sustain them until they got established, since they had been unable to bring anything with them. The supplies never materialized, and the tribes faced famine. Between their arrival on July 9 and the end of the year, 158 of the 730 Poncas from one village that survived the march had died of pneumonia and malaria, including Standing Bear’s second child, his 12-year-old son. As his son lay dying, he asked his father to promise to return him to the land of his grandfathers for burial.
On a January night, Standing Bear and 29 others slipped away to carry the boy’s remains north. When they arrived, they were arrested as renegades and imprisoned without a trial. Two attorneys, one being chief counsel for the Union Pacific Railroad, filed a suit for a writ of habeas corpus on Standing Bear’s behalf. After a two-day trial in 1878, the judge ruled on Standing Bear’s behalf, and for the first time in U.S. history, Standing Bear had made it possible for an Indian to be considered “a person--a member of the human race.” To make sure it wasn’t a total victory, the Indian agent approached Standing Bear at the conclusion of the trial to inform he that since he was now a non-Indian, he could never again enter any Indian Territories, even for a visit. There is a lot of U.S. History that is never taught in public schools.

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