On this day, as we remember the man whose nonviolent activism set a new direction in search of civil rights for all men, women and children, my heart remains heavy when I consider the plight of the people whose land the United States Government stole in the name of greed. They were the stewards of America.

While my heart is heavy, my mind is angry, and my spirit compels me to draw attention to the state of the real nation. As a child of the ‘50’s, I was taught to believe that the people who lived in America prior to the European invasion were uncivilized and savage. That is what the history books told us, and that is what Hollywood portrayed. We played ‘Cowboys and Indians.’ The cowboys were the good guys, the Indians, the bad guys. As I moved through college, into a professional career and raised a family of my own, I didn’t think much about Native Americans. The term became popular during the civil rights movements in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Changing Perspective

My perspective changed about 10 years ago when I read a copy of The Soul of the Indian written in 1911 by Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman), a Santee Dakota. Ohiyesa’s small volume led me to Kent Nerburn’s work and ultimately to Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Minimal research reveals that Indians – once proud stewards of this land – live in dire poverty and exist far below a radar focused on immigrants and other racial groups.

Mrs. tVM spent time at Wounded Knee to honor the fallen on our trek north from Tucson to Wisconsin in the fall of 2016. I will return to Pine Ridge Reservation this summer to better understand the conditions the people face.

As we remember Dr. King and his legacy today, I encourage you to watch this TED talk by award-winning photojournalist Aaron Huey.


Mitakuye Oyasin

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  1. Gene,
    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments regarding the indigenous American population. Their story is heartbreaking and, I fear that many people in this country today either aren’t aware of or aren’t sensitive to their story and treatment even as we celebrate this special holiday.
    Thank you for writing about this today and perhaps enlightening a few regarding this part of our history.

    1. Few people understand, and fewer are sensitive to the situation. I recently read the draft of the “Poor People’s Campaign” report, The Soul of the Poor. While it is filled with much good information, I noted that in 30 pages, Native Americans were referenced 4 times compared to African Americans, 18 times; immigrants, 8 times; and Hispanics, 6 times. I draw no conclusions from those numbers, but they do suggest the attention that the Native Amerian situation draws.