Throughout this Anchor edition are references to man’s great inhumanity to man. Father Buote’s Genocide II; the Knights of Columbus’ response to the Ukraine crisis; and Mona Golabek’s story of her mother’s experiences during the Nazi WWII invasion.
It’s mind-blowing how throughout history some “humans” believe they are better than others.
In my last column, I referenced a Muscogee Creek Native American, Marcus Bear Heart Williams; a healer and devout Baptist.
I spoke of how nature was crucial to the Indigenous people of North America in Bear Heart’s book, “The Bear is My Father,” but that only scratched the surface of what Native Americans (or First Nation in Canada) are about. Similar to Golabek’s sharing her mother’s story, in Bear Heart’s book and in its prequel, “The Wind is My Mother,” he relates the harrowing story of the White Man’s barbaric treatment of the Indigenous. In “The Wind is My Mother,” Bear Heart, who was born in Oklahoma in 1918, writes of his grandmother’s experience, “In 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed an order to remove the native tribes from the southeastern United States, and it was then that the Muskogee were moved,” along with other tribes. He continued, “We walked all the way from our homes to ‘Indian Territory,’ which later became Oklahoma. History has recorded that removal, but never once have the emotions been included in that record — what our people felt, what they had to leave behind [everything], the hardships they had to endure.”
Bear Heart tells that the move was forced, and the people had to walk what was to become the “Trail of Tears.” They had to walk from Alabama and Georgia, often shoeless and under-clothed even in the snow and freezing cold. They were escorted by U.S. soldiers on horseback. If someone couldn’t keep up they were left behind to die. When some did die (many died), they were simply covered with leaves and left by the roadside, causing great pain to the Native American people, who had sacred ceremonies to send off their loved ones.
If someone refused to leave their home, soldiers snatched a child and murder her or him telling the holdouts they would do that to their remaining children as well unless they left.
They were forced to cross the Mississippi River on ferries intentionally overcrowded so that they would sink. They walked from sunup to sundown. Many never made it to their new “home” provided by the government.
Bear Heart says this was recorded, and I have read about it in several other accounts, but it certainly wasn’t in the history books I had as a student.
Once the survivors reached their destination, the children were often separated from their parents and forced to go to boarding school, where they weren’t allowed to speak their in their native language — they were forced to speak English. They had to cut their hair, in which the Native Americans take great pride. They were mocked and ridiculed by the “civilized” people.
Yet, Bear Heart writes, “Those are just some of the things that we endured. And yet today in our ceremonies, many of our people still pray for all mankind, whether they be black, yellow, red, or white. How is it possible, with a background like that among our people, to put out such love?”
Bear Heart, in his 90 years on this earth, taught, healed, and inspired people of every race, creed, color and belief, despite how his ancestors were abused. He said, “Have a purpose, strive for its fulfillment. Strive to live in harmony and cultivate loyalty, belief and faith. All of these are ingredients that give substance to a full life.
“Love allows us to accept the dualities of night and day, guilt and non-guilt, negative and positive, black and white, man and woman.”
Bear Heart taught the Native American way, but also of the Great Spirit, God and His Son, Jesus. If ever there was a modern-day apostle, it was he.
I promise myself to research more on the “Trail of Tears,” and how Native Americans in this area known as the Diocese of Fall River were mistreated when the Europeans first arrived, and thereafter.
History is rife with the mistreatment of others, and sadly it continues today. But through the Knights, Golabek, Father Buote and Bear Heart, God’s love still shines overcoming the darkness.
And a shining example of that was in Fall River and New Bedford during the Civil War. Several sites in both cities were part of the Underground Railroad that ushered former Black slaves from their hellish conditions to places of safety and freedom in Canada. You can read about that in “Anti-Slavery Days in Fall River and the Operation of the Underground Railroad,” by Edward Stowe Adams.
Light overcoming darkness. Let’s all be light in a dark world.