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Saturday, September 18, 2004

Carter Camp-Should we celebrate Lewis and Clark

This essay was penned by Carter Camp. In it, he questions whether or not the Indigenous Nations should celebrate the Lewis and Clark commemoration. A group called the "Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo" has been tracing, by replica boat, the route travelled by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the event. Lewis and Clark acted as an advance party for the American Empire, as they prepared to lay claim to the homelands of Indigenous Nations.

Should We Celebrate Lewis and Clark?

Americans have an unfortunate penchant for big anniversary bashes
celebrating their various successes in their five centuries old
assault on Native people. The most glaring example is of course the
national holiday for Columbus, another is the many place names and
celebrations for famous "Indian Killers" like Amherst, Custer and
Chivington. These `celebrations' are so common and ubiquitous across
our lands that Americans are surprised and hostile when a Native
voice is raised in opposition. If we dare ask that the usual
distortions of history be corrected or that sober thought be given
to the appropriateness of all or certain parts of the event, we are
seen as enemies to be overcome once more.

The first tactic employed is always to convince, bribe or coerce
some of our own people to join them and denounce the objectors as
renegades. From 1492 through the genocidal centuries on until today,
the invader knows that if they can put a red face out front they can
hide their true intentions and escape responsibility. The
big "celebration" going on in D.C. right now for the "National
Museum of the American Indian" is a prime modern example of how the
conqueror uses Indians to hide their responsibility for the times of
horror they visited upon our nations. Too often our leaders accept
their offers to celebrate genocide.

The old but effective tactic is once again in use, this time
the wasicu seeks Indian cover for their "celebration" of what they
call an "expedition" instead of what it truly was… an attempt to
cover-up once again the ugly truth of genocide called "manifest
destiny". In 1992 Indigenous people from throughout the hemisphere
rejected the colonialist portrayal of Columbus and his ill-fated
journey. Our scholars dug out the ugly words and actions of Columbus
from among ancient documents and gave the truth to the people. We
demanded truth and taught those Columbus supporters among us the
truth of his legacy so to this day, each "Columbus Day" we raise our
voices in truthful remembrance of what we lost. But 1492 only began
the parade of invaders which were to wash up on our shores, each of
them proffering friendship before beginning to murder us.

Now the Americans are beginning a national "celebration" of
the "Columbus of the West" and spreading the same stories we heard
for so long about 1492! They portray Lewis and Clark as intrepid
explorers in an attempt to cover-up the true intent of exploitation.
Jefferson lusted after the wealth of our Nations in exactly the same
way the King of Spain did those of our eastern shore and they each
sent their "explorers" as a prelude to invasion and conquest. The
only difference is that Columbus enslaved some of our people while
L&C brought their slave with them… in one of their more
perverse "celebrations" they have carved her likeness on a coin.

Lewis and Clark came into our lands uninvited and used our
traditional hospitality to spread their lies. They looked our
leaders in the eye and attempted to convince them their mission was
one of peace and trade while they knew full well the American intent
to subjugate our people and steal our lands. In weakness they
observed our customs and shared our food while knowing that in their
wake would come the evil emissaries of their coercive state-church.
They came among us to probe for weaknesses and provide their army
with vital intelligence about our lands and defenses. Their report
to their leaders served as a blueprint for conquest.

Once I heard the Chief of the Nation that welcomed the pilgrims
apologize for letting them attach to our shores. Perhaps my Ponca
Nation owes all the People upstream an apology for not stopping
Lewis & Clark at the mouth of the Niobara, all of us have paid a
huge price for failing to understand that a handshake with Lewis &
Clark meant our time of horror was dawning. We are the survivors of
that genocidal onslaught, we must remember if we are to deny them
their final victory.

In those long ago days maybe we could be excused for not
realizing that evil and death dogged the heels of Lewis and Clark,
but today we know full well what the lasting effects of their visit
would become… has become. We know today that every circle of life in
our world was devastated after Lewis & Clark walked in our lands,
some are gone forever like the `passenger pigeons' that once filled
the sky but most of us remain as remnants, clinging to an earth
forever altered by the rain of death which sailed up our life-giving

Ask the Buffalo, the Grizzly, Eagle or Elk Nations if they are
prepared to celebrate what came up the river two centuries ago. Does
the Salmon Nation miss Celilo Falls on the Columbia River or hate
the Hungry Horse Dam on the Snake? Does the moon miss the call of
the Wolf as she rises over our depleted lands? It was not only our
human circles that were slated for destruction by the forces of
greed that sent Lewis & Clark into our midst. Their ship was one of
death, it looked with vampire eyes across our lands and slavered
with greedy anticipation at the wealth of life it observed.

Should we join their celebration so we can "tell our side" as
they are suggesting to our leaders? Or should we stand as one red
nation and send the celebrants back down the river where they came
from… as we should have done so long ago?

Carter Camp, Ponca Nation


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