Shelby alerted me to an AIROS broadcast on Buffalo Soldiers, and I listened, and decided to write this. I hope I've expressed myself well!
I just finished listening to as much as I could of the Buffalo Soldiers broadcast from earlier this year. I have several comments, but first let me tell you a little about me, to give you some perspective on my views.
I'm Black Creek, meaning my ancestors lived, fought and died alongside those who would later become the Seminoles. We began as slaves of the Creek Nation, but married into the tribe and wound up staying upon the land from which many of our Red brethen were removed, adamant that we would stay on and preserve the land, and as much of the culture of both our African and Native relations as possible. My family's land remained in our possession despite the best efforts of racist groups in Mississippi, and we were ostracized and attacked violently by whites for decades, for refusing to work for or with them.
I am the former wife of a Hopi katsina carver, have a half Hopi daughter enrolled into the Hopi Nation, and my "significant other" at this time is a Mnkwoju from the Cheyenne River Tribe, who is a documented descendant of the Crazy Horse lineage. And I've fought this Buffalo Soldier battle so many times over the past 20 years of my life among Native people that I had to say something.
First, the gentlemen on your show sidestepped a number of issues because they most likely have little or no real contact with modern Native people, outside of their work with them on their various projects, or their own Native cultures. I don't fault them for that. The gulf between Native and African people is wide and deep, for reasons to numerous to mention here, and I fear it will take more than a radio show to start the healing between us. It hurts me, too, because Osceola and many other Southeastern leaders realized early on, and tried, early on, to forge alliances between our two cultures--and were successful. But the divide and conquer tactics of the whites surrounding them won the day, in the end, I'm afraid.
I do not apologize for the Buffalo Soldiers' actions in any way. Period. I don't care that they were "unschooled," I don't care that they probably bought into the prevailing attitudes about Native Americans "like everyone else." That was wrong. They should have known better, and those who deserted when they realized what was being asked of them (Apaches out this way, and Hopis, will tell you that many did, stealing food and supplies when they ran and taking the TO the tribes in this area, as offerings of apology), are the only ones I respect.
However, I also know that there were and are Native Americans who turn against their own, who scouted for or, today, sell out their own people for money and other purposes. We know that Custer had "Indian" scouts, as did most of the "great" men sent out to subdue the Nations. We ALL have those amongst us who are guilty of wanting to be "top dog," of wanting to be the first in line when the conquerors are handing out their spoils. The "hang around the fort" Indians and the Buffalo Soldiers hoping to go home heros are acting upon the same baser impulses. In fact, I'm always a little bit confused at Hispanic, Native, Asian and African Americans who join the armed forces to this day, wanting to gain "respect" from an institution that has annihilated their own people for centuries. Tis a puzzlement, but it speaks to the strength of that need, in so many of us, for acceptance by the oppressor. And it also explains why so many of us turn on one another, almost out of a kind of envy. Some of my own relations are both envious and righteously angry that Black people, in their eyes, "sold out" their culture to "get ahead." But at the same time, the moment a Native gets written up for the same kinds of things they decry about Black people...that's "different." We've got to get honest, and then get over it. We've all been wrong, but...how do we get right, right now?
Another assumption I hear all too often surfaced in one of the calls toward the end of the broadcast. Most Native people assume that all African Americans "assimilated," and were slaves who grew up being taught the white man's way. First of all, some of us were never slaves. Shocking, but it's a fact. And some of us retained, for many, many generations, even unto this day, vestiges of our African and Native cultures, hidden, to be sure, beneath other practices, but hidden to protect and preserve them, not out of shame. So, some of those "Buffalos" probably took with them the traditions and values of their indigenous relations in Africa, which would have torn them to bits on the battlefield. In fact, I believe that's probably why the ones who deserted did so. Given the similarities between indigenous African and Native cultures, it would have been impossible for some of those men to rationalize, just as some Native Vietnam vets have said it was impossible for them to shoot at Asian people who looked so much like people they grew up with. But...many continued fighting, and came home forever changed, because of it.
We have a Hopi in law who sits, to this day, in a small room, carving katsinas and hiding from the world because he feels that he is somehow "evil," and should not be a part of ceremonies, etc, because of his participation in that war. He fought to survive, and killed, and he can't get over that. A Navajo lawyer I once knew had the same problem, and had to drink himself comatose every night, after playing the "Native role model" part all day long in public, because he kept seeing the faces of those he'd slaughtered, and remembering how some of the women looked like his own aunts.
There is no excuse for those Buffalo Soldiers who killed Native people for any reason. There is no excuse for the Bloody Knifes who led bluecoats of whatever color straight to their own people and assisted in the slaughter when asked or ordered. There is no excuse for the Native people who today turn their backs on their own people in exchange for tribal government or BIA jobs or favors, just as there is no excuse for the African American "conservative" who decides he doesn't need his community now because he's a "self-made" man who has moved up in the world.
There are traitors amongst all cultures. And there are those of us who have faced up to that, prayed over that, and made efforts to move beyond it. I was adopted by the Hopis because some of those Buffalo Soldiers made their way up to the mesas during a time of pestilence and famine and FED them, especially their children, and kept them alive. I was pulled over to a beautiful, huge sepia wall panel in a Whiteriver museum, which unfortunately burned down a few years ago, by the Apache curator who said, "I want you to see this." He wanted me to see a Black man, dressed in soldier's pants, and a ribbon shirt, smiling contentedly as three Apache kids sat on his lap, obviously vying for his attention. The curator told me that that man had been beloved by the people there, and that he just wanted me to know that. I've never forgotten it. I'm proud that my relations feel the same about me, and adopted me, ceremonially, to prove it, many years ago.
I thank you for approaching this issue at all, and for your patience, letting people vent, and at least try to speak their minds. I've taken up enough of your time, myself, and I apologize for the length of this reply. But I hope you've learned something from it, and that it will perhaps give you some ideas about future broadcasts on this and similar issues. I like your forum, and I commend you for your efforts.
Cynthia M. Dagnal-Myron