When White Men and Indians Were Warriors

Some people get it. Some don't.

By Dr. David A. Yeagley

 

We Indians are supposed to hate the white man. Everyone tells me this. I’ve heard it from whites, blacks and even from Indians. Well, folks, I hate to disappoint you, but I like white people just fine. To tell the truth, I rather admire them and their fascinating history.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. "Yeagley! How can you say that? How can you admire a people who slaughtered your ancestors, gave smallpox to those left alive, herded them onto reservations, made them all drunks, and--as the final indignity--sold their turquoise mines to the Japanese?"

Well, the way I figure it, anyone who could whip our Indian behinds like the white man did deserves our highest respect. And anyone who can whip a Comanche (my tribe) deserves the Medal of Honor. I admire a man who can beat me. I dare say, deep inside all Indians--at least those who are still warriors at heart--there is a special admiration for the white man.

When the Comanches first encountered the white man, his behavior didn’t shock them. They saw that he took what he wanted by force. And they understood. Because the Comanches did the same to their weaker neighbors. If my ancestors had been strong enough, they would have taken the white man’s land, instead of the other way around. And they wouldn’t have felt guilty about it afterwards. You wouldn’t have seen any defeated white people getting affirmative action from Comanches. When one general surrenders to another, they salute each other. It doesn’t mean that there’s no bitterness between them. It just means that a warrior respects his foe.

White people understand this, because they too come from a warrior culture. The white man has great respect for the Indian. I’m not saying he always treats us the way we want to be treated. But he respects us for putting up a good fight. Have you ever noticed how cowboy-and-Indian movies always focus on the same tribes? It’s either the Sioux, the Apaches or the Comanches. White people remember those tribes, because they fought hard and were the last to surrender.

Why does the U.S. military have helicopters named "Apache" and "Comanche"--but none that are named "Arikara" or "Ojibwa?" They name their weapons systems after the fiercest tribes, because they want some of that fierceness to rub off.

Back in the 1930s, the warrior spirit was still strong in Indians and white men alike. At that time, the Oceti Sakowin Hunkpapa Sioux elders of Standing Rock honored the University of North Dakota by giving them permission to use the name "Fighting Sioux" for their sports teams.

At that time, many old people, both whites and Indians, still remembered the last wars. Wounded Knee was more recent for them than World War II is for us. Yet they saluted each other, warrior to warrior. Because one fighting people understands another.

Today, the leftists tell us that the "Fighting Sioux" name is an insult to Indians, and we must demand that the university change it. I guess that goes for the Apache and Comanche helicopters too. I’ve written other columns on this issue. Everyone knows where I stand. I’m with the Sioux elders, who believe that a warrior can respect and honor his foe.

Some people get it. Some don’t.

Keith Rushing doesn’t. He’s a black man from Hampton, Virginia, who wrote to me February 22, in response to my February 13 column, "Don’t Walk the Black Man’s Path." Mr. Rushing was "shocked" by my attitude.

"I’m sure you realize that the reference to the ‘Fighting Sioux’ is akin to calling Native Americans wild Indians," he lectured me. "I'm a black man but I've never quite understood why white-owned athletic teams have this fantasy about fierce Indian warriors when they unfortunately decimated so many Indian people. There's some sick irony involved there."

In Mr. Rushing’s view, the "fierce Indian warrior" is nothing but a white "fantasy." We were not warriors, he implies, but poor, defenseless victims who were "decimated" without putting up a fight. Mr. Rushing seems to feel that there is more honor in being pathetic. Perhaps he feels we should think of ourselves as alcoholic, diabetic, suicidal and unemployed.

No thank you.

The white man may have taken my land. But he took it like a warrior, fair and square. Yes, he treated my people harshly. But he never denied their bravery, never besmirched their memory as warriors.

But you did, Mr. Rushing. You did.

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[For five years, through Spring 2001, Dr. David Yeagley taught Humanities and Psychology at Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City. He is currently writing and lecturing. He can be reached at badeagle2000@yahoo.com.]

June 1, 2001

 

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