Reenactors of the 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark “Discovery” expedition traveling up the Missouri River in replica boats met with the first of several planned confrontations by Native communities on Sept. 18. When the reenactors docked their boats at a park in Chamberlain, S.D., Indigenous people were there to meet them. Lakota organizer Alex White Plume from Pine Ridge said, “We want you to turn around and go home.”
Lakota families drove four hours from Pine Ridge Reservation to protest the reenactment of the “Dawn of Genocide.”
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had carried out Thomas Jefferson’s original “Manifest Destiny” plan of reconnaissance on the territories of Native Nations between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. That expedition laid the groundwork for years of genocidal war against Indigenous people as the U.S. settler state penetrated territory after territory to conduct a series of genocidal wars. U.S. troops often attacked peaceful sleeping villages of women, children and elders at dawn. News papers propagandized against Native people, characterizing them as “savage” and “primitive.” The federal government guaranteed homestead land to settlers to help destroy the buffalo and other food sources in their drive to steal the lands all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
American Indian Movement activist Carter Camp (Ponca nation), said to those celebrating the expedition, “You are reenacting something ugly, evil and hateful. You are reenacting the coming of death to our people.” Camp added that Lewis and Clark knew what had already happened to the great Indigenous Nations in the eastern regions of “Great Turtle Island,” the Indigenous name for this continent. Camp said they knew that missionaries followed the soldiers, and the people of those great Native nations had been decimated and driven from their homes.
Lewis and Clark, said Camp, “had no honor. They came with the American lie. They murdered 60 million people. Come to your senses. Take those silly clothes off. And take your [expletive] boat and go back down the river!”
Lakota elder Floyd Hand said, “We are the descendants of [famous Lakota leaders] Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. I didn’t come here in peace.” He said that they would not smoke the pipe with the expedition. “We want you to turn around and go home.”
Alfred Bone Shirt of Rosebud Reservation told them, “This is disgusting. This is a slap in the face.” Bone Shirt described the racist character of South Dakota towns, including Chamberlain. “Our prisons are full, our children are being taken away.” Bone Shirt asked if there would next be a reenactment of Bush and Cheney invading Iraq.
White Plume told them, “The whole West is drying up. The Earth should be a priority and not your own personal needs.” He added, “If you continue the journey, we will harass you every inch of the way.”
Deb White Plume presented Peyton Clark, the great, great, great-grandson of Clark, with a blanket. “Smallpox,” she said. “Have it back.” And she chastised their celebration of genocide: “I have [only] two sons because your government sterilized me.”
Pointing out that they were surrounded by cops, she said police always surround Lakota. “Your government fought my family with guns and I survived and I am here to tell you about it. You are here with no respect.”
The reenactment had received funding of $85 million to play out a cover story that the expedition had “minimal or negligible impact” on the Native Nations. Official and academic events have been held to put a facade of “reconciliation” on the reenactment, and some Bureau of Indian Affairs governments welcomed the reenactment without the approval of the reservation communities they are supposed to represent.
Lakota people caravanned to Ft. Pierre, S.D., the following weekend to protest the “Dawn of Genocide” events there. Organi zers are calling on all Native peoples to “decolonize their viewpoints” on this issue and join the protests to stop the reenactment.
Quotes taken from organizers’ press release, UN Observer and International Report, and Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D.
Reprinted from the Oct. 14, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper