Healing America’s Narratives: Trails of Tears and Broken Treaties

[Part of a series, this post is adapted from Chapter Four of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (Now Available)]

Photo © by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Some five-hundred-plus years ago, European explorers began bumping into land masses now known as South, Central, and North America and the islands of the Caribbean. The indigenous inhabitants of these areas include the Taíno, Aztec, Lakota, Yucatán, Iroquois, Inca, Nez Perce, Huron, Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Olmec, Inuit, Toba, Quechua and Chibcha, among many, many more.

These peoples had been on these lands for some 10,000 to 20,000 years when the English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French met, interacted with, and eventually colonized them.¹ Slaughter, rape, removal, and betrayal often characterized the colonization process, which in contemporary parlance is a literal cancelation of people and culture. The invaders interpreted what was different as “lesser” (or, as some might say today, not “woke”) and perceived the unfamiliar humans as “innocents,” “savages,” or both.

A pattern emerged: arrival, intrusion, violence, commerce, acquisition of land through treaty, and acquisition of more land through violence and treaty betrayal. As more Europeans arrived or as something of value was discovered in or on the land, the Europeans and then the Americans broke treaties and took what they wanted.

In his enforcement of the 1830 “Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi,” Indian killer, slaveowner and president, Andrew Jackson, promised that “There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as the Grass grows or water runs. I will protect them and be their friend and father.”² Estimates put the total number of humans removed during the 1830s at around 100,000, with 15,000 deaths along the way.³ Said differently, an infant, a child, a woman, or a man was forced to leave home 100,000 times and travel hundreds of miles in horrible conditions. More specifically, some 2,858 refugees were forced to travel some 1,200 miles by steamboat and some 12,496 were forced to travel by foot and wagon for 2,050 miles over three different routes.⁴ Their friend and father didn’t protect them.

That’s a synopsis of one example. Here’s a list of several more, among many: the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (broken amid a gold rush shortly after it was signed); the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and the retaliatory 1866 Fetterman Massacre; the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (broken in 1874 with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, and again in 1877 with the Congressional “act to ratify an agreement with certain bands of the Sioux Nation of Indians and also with the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians” in direct violation of Article XII of the 1868 treaty, effectively taking the Black Hills without consent of 75% of adult male Indians).⁵

By 1890, the 60 million acres of the Great Sioux Reservation, as identified in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, had been reduced to about 22 million acres in 1877 due to government’s and prospectors’ interest in gold and other minerals, and then further reduced to 12.7 million acres through the Dawes (General Allotment) Act of 1887. The Dawes Act ended the tribes’ communal holding of land and allotted set acreage to individual Indians, who were required to farm the land for twenty-five years. Any land that was not so allotted would be sold to the public.⁶

Less than thirty years after the 1890 slaughter of some 150 children, women, and men at Wounded Knee, Choctaw men whose parents and grandparents had been removed from their land in the 1830s enlisted to fight in World War I and became the first “Code Talkers,” using their native language so enemy spies could not understand messages. Some thirty-three tribes, most famously the Navajo, would similarly serve in World War II.

Fast forward to 1980: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in 1877 the U.S. government had in fact illegally taken the Black Hills in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The ruling upheld a 1979 Court of Claims decision that called on the U. S. to pay $17.5 million plus 5% annual interest, which at the time totaled about $106 million. The Sioux refused to take the settlement, which is now worth more than $1 billion, asserting that the land was never for sale, that money was not just compensation, and that the value of the gold, timber, and other resources removed from the area is significantly greater than the money offered.⁷ The issue remains unresolved in 2022.

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1. Adam Rutherford. “A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas.” Atlantic. October 3, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/a-brief-history-of-everyone-who-ever-lived/537942/. Accessed March 8, 2021. The article is adapted from Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. New York: The Experiment, 2017.

2. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, (Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 133–34.

3. Elizabeth Prine Pauls, “Trail of Tears,” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears, Accessed February 10, 2021.

4. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, (W. W. Norton, 2020), 280.

5. Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Article XII: https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/fort-laramie-treaty#transcript

6. Miles Hudson, “Wounded Knee Massacre,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 22, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre Also: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Dawes General Allotment Act,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Dec. 4, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dawes-General-Allotment-Act. Accessed April 23, 2021.

7. Numerous legal, historical and journalistic sources exist for this story. See Kimbra Cutlip, “In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 7, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/1868-two-nations-made-treaty-us-broke-it-and-plains-indian-tribes-are-still-seeking-justice-180970741/; and Tom LeGro, et al. “Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion”, PBS News Hour, August 24, 2011, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/north_america-july-dec11-blackhills_08-23 Accessed May 4, 2021.

Found Poems – Ukraine, March 1-2, 2022

#1

I wouldn’t really want

to participate in anything like this,

but I don’t really have any choice

because this is my home.

I have nowhere to go.

and I’m not going

to give it up.

I don’t get to decide

if Putin is going to invade or

to launch a nuclear weapon or

whatever. What I get

to decide is how

I’m going to respond to it.

My choice is to do something

productive and to help the people

who are defending my city.

     – Hlib Bondarenko, 21 years old, Kyiv, Ukraine. Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak, Mark Boyer and Michael Downey, “’There Will Be a Battle’: A Family Prepares for War in Kyiv,” New York Times, March 1 & 2, 2022.       https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/03/01/world/ukraine-russia-war

#2

I am the mother of my son.

And that is it. And I don’t know

if I will see him again or not. I can

cry or feel sorry for myself, or be

in shock—and all of it.

     But we’re past that phase.

There are more important things

in front of us now. Right now

they are coming to kill us all.

Everyone, 100 percent. Not one person

in Kyiv is feeling safe now.

     – Natalia Bondarenko, Hlib’s mother (source as above)

#3

It’s very simple. We

protect our choice of freedom,

what we selected many years ago.

We proved this several times in 2004,

2014 and now. Fight for your country.

And I pass this message to Hlib. And

I believe the same message Hlib

will pass to his children.

       – Oleg Bondarenko, Hlib’s father (source as above)

#4

Russia, the war, the

whole situation –

It’s just barbarity.

That’s how I see it.

They surely will lose

because they don’t have

any other arguments

besides cruise missiles and

heavy weapons.

       – Boris Redin, volunteer, near Freedom Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Associated Press, March 1, 2022

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 3

Welcome back!

In this 13+-minute video, we’ll work with responding to or talking back to a poem – using someone else’s poem as a starting point, we’ll begin writing based on some aspect of the poem that resonates with us. In this episode we’ll use poems by Roque Dalton, translated by Jack Hirschman, Naomi Shihab Nye, and yours truly.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.

Enjoy!

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times Episode 3 – Responding to What Resonates 4.8.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2

Welcome back!

In this 12-minute video, we’ll work with imagery – using sensory, concrete language that appeals to the senses.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.

Enjoy!

Grave and Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2 / Imagery 4.1.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Narrative ‘Tradecraft’ #2 – Image(ry)

This post originally appeared at http://www.teleosis.org.

While it may be true that an image or picture can be worth a thousand words, in our less quantitative approach to narrative healing, an image is that which the words bring to mind – the picture that the words conjure for a reader or listener – which we’ll say more about below.

Woman DanceImagery – the presence and function of images in a narrative is at the heart of the “show, don’t tell” directive for writers and it beckons us to write “Heart pounding, palms sweating, I slowly turned the doorknob…” as opposed to “I was really, really scared.” Imagery in writing allows us to feel in our bodies what we might otherwise only be able to understand with our minds. It takes our abstract notions of fear, joy, love, anger, confusion, rage, empathy, bliss, anxiety, doubt, contentment, certainty – any and all of the emotions or states of mind with which we may be familiar, and translates them into concrete, sensory language.

While the abstraction gets us into the vicinity of what we’re trying to express, the image drops us into its essence – we can see, feel, taste, touch or smell what the idea itself suggests. Anger becomes a clenched fist; love appears as the young woman cradling her newborn. And just to be clear, in this particular context, we are not even considering the prospect of the image as metaphor – used to represent one thing as or through another (stay tuned for metaphor in future narrative tradecraft writings). Continue reading

The Healing Narrative – Choosing a Story that Heals

This post is an initial reflection of my collaboration at Teleosis Institute with my good friend, Dr. Joel Kreisberg, who’s also a fellow Integral Master Coach™. I hope you’ll stay tuned as we work to bring the strengths of “integral” in the world of and “health coaching.”

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Faced with the grief that inevitably accompanies loss – whether due to illness, injury, death or departure of a loved one or any other trauma, what is the story we choose to tell, and how and why do we tell it? Do we tell a story of resistance, victimhood, blame and guilt that relentlessly revisits the trauma – what we might call an illness, injury or victim narrative? Or do we tell a story of acceptance, awareness, connection, gratitude and presence – what we’ll call here a healing narrative?

reggie pic1The choices we make and the stories we tell emerge from how we see our lives, and have a powerful impact on what we’ll be able to see and do next. We learn our earliest storytelling predispositions from the narratives our parents, guardians and teachers tell when we’re very young. Having just fallen from the tree and broken our 8-year-old arm, are we confronted with an inquisitorial scolding about carelessness, danger and fear, or are we enveloped in a loving embrace that connects with our pain, creates awareness around the risks of exploring while still accepting the inherent value therein, and expresses gratitude that we are, in fact, all right – albeit with a broken arm. These earliest narratives set a thematic undertone that we may not be aware of for years, if ever. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Writing and Healing

Following my interview on Grief and Healing with Dr. Robert Wright and Christine Wright of Stress-Free Now, I’d like to share a bit about my earliest personal experience with the role of writing as a vehicle toward healing. My own “healing narrative,” in addition to writing, includes meditation, physical exercise, wandering in nature and conversation/relationship as practices that nurture healing. An earlier post and the interview are available here, and what’s below makes most sense in the context of the interview.

My earliest memory of intentionally engaging writing as a healing practice (that language emerges through hindsight – at the time I was simply venting my frustration at a perceived injustice) occurred when a Vice-principal told me he would throw me out of school if I didn’t get my hair cut. This was 1970-’71, my junior year in a Catholic High School in New York. I wrote for several weeks in a notebook about how, in light of everything I did at the school (which I’ll spare you here), a focus on my hair was horribly unjust. Today I can embrace both the superficiality of the length-of-hair issue and the developmentally necessary self-expression it represented for the naively obedient-to-authority sixteen-year-old I was.

I learned that expressing my feelings in writing allowed me to vent without fear of repercussion. It also, over time, gave me some distance from what and how I was feeling – what I now understand as the subject-to-object move that is necessary for development. The writing allowed me to look at what I had previously been looking through. I was, over time, gradually able to more clearly see myself, how I felt, the Vice-principal, and our respective roles in a rapidly changing culture. I know now that he was struggling to keep his head above a rising tide of longer hair and loosening ties for the boys and shorter skirts for the girls.

My next significant writing/healing experience began as I attempted to reconcile my athletic and academic experiences – more specifically, doing well academically and getting cut from basketball teams in high school and college while working hard at both, and then being moved by the experiences of the high school student-athletes I coached and taught for 13 years. My notes and scribblings evolved into a book manuscript, The Quality of Effort: Integrity in Sport and Life for Student-Athletes, Parents and Coaches, which was published in 1991, and then revised and re-released in 2013.

When first engaged, the writing often intensifies difficult feelings – we become sadder, or more frustrated or more angry as we re-experience through the written word what needs to be healed. Over time however, writing that reflects and broadens perspectives, as opposed to writing that persistently and only revisits the details of the transgression, illness or injury, leads more often than not to a sense of increased well-being.

I’ll bring this piece to a close with a bow to James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and the essential researcher on the role of writing and better health.

Pennebaker, James, W. Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. New York: Guilford, 1990/1997.

Pennebaker, James, W. and John F. Evans. Expressive Writing: Words That Heal.
Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor, 2014.

See Dr. Pennebaker’s site for more.

Grief and Healing

Some months ago I was asked to write a “healing narrative” as part of a larger project with some Integral Coaching® colleagues. Through our work together, which is ongoing, I came to see that I have negotiated, and continue to negotiate, grief and healing in my life through 5 practices or modalities – writing, meditation, physical exercise, being/wandering in nature, and relationship/conversation.

More recently, I was invited by Dr. Robert Wright, Jr. and Christine Wright to explore grief and healing in an interview as part of their ongoing series for Stress Free Now.

The interview is just under 33 minutes, downloadable, and accessible by clicking here.

In upcoming blogs, I will explore each of the 5 healing modalities individually.

Thanks for staying tuned.