In 1879, Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé Indians traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and other government leaders to plead his case to return his tribe – displaced from the Northwest to Oklahoma’s Indian Territory – to their original home in Oregon. Chief Joseph was known as a skilled orator. If you know anything about him, you may be familiar with his surrender speech to General Oliver Howard at Bear’s Paw, Montana, just 40 miles short of the Canadian border where he hoped to lead his people to freedom.
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsoteis is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
As we continue to engage in political debate in the United States approaching November elections, I continue to remind myself of Henry David Thoreau’s theory of government. We’ve already discussed that – and probably too much – on this blog. This morning, I read Chief Joseph’s 1879 speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C. I am compelled to offer several quotes from that speech that we would be well served to remember as we gather at the polls in November.
- “I cannot understand how the government… breaks [its] word. Such a government has something wrong about it.”
- “I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things.”
- “But while their mouths all talk right, I do not understand why nothing has been done for my people.”
- “I have heard talk and talk, but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.”
- “Good words will not give me back my children… Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves.”
- “I am tired of talk that comes to nothing.”
- “It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.”
- “Treat all men alike. Give them all an even chance to live and grow.”
- “All men were made by the Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.”
- “We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men… Let me be a free man… “
I continue to weep at how inhuman we can be to each other in the name of humanity. It is time to make a stand.
I will fight no more forever.