My ancestors immigrated from Eastern Europe to the New World. Many of them lived in North Dakota during the late nineteenth century–they tended the land and worked the fields. Several members of my contemporary family have shown interest in our family’s roots and have taken strides to discover as much as possible about our family tree’s North American roots.
About twenty years ago, my great uncle took a trip to North Dakota with his adamant sights set on finding documents and artifacts that pertained to our family’s history. He searched the archives of the towns where the relatives had lived. While he was digging through one particular pile of papers, he came across a newspaper clipping from the morning of October 25, 1883. The preceding day had marked a special occasion: the driving of the last spike in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway.
In the newspaper was printed an invocation delivered by Iron Bull, chief of the Crow Native American tribe–many of whom had inhabited the same areas that the White Man had plowed through and industrialized. He and his people had, without question, been implicitly and explicitly persecuted by the settlers of this new land. As the industrialist settlers had begun to call the emerging West their home, Iron Bull’s tribesmen had begun to die out.
But Iron Bull didn’t rant against the people who had occupied his native land. In less than two hundred and fifty words, he conveyed a simple and dignified message:
This is the last of it–this is the last thing for me to do. I am glad to see you here, and hope my people of the Crow nation are glad to see you, too. There is a meaning in my part of the ceremony, and I understand it. The end of out lives is near at hand. The days of my people are almost numbered. Already they are dropping off like the rays of sunlight in the western sky. Of our once powerful nation there are now few left–just a little handful, and we, too, will soon be gone. After the savage, though, has given way to civilization, the whites will come. They will enjoy the same bright skies, the same glad sunshine, the beauteous mountains, lakes, and rills, where once we delighted to roam. They will probably live in it, populate it with the flowers of their race, but will they forever remain in possession of the grand domain? Who knows but that some race at present unknown, will make and appearance and overpower and take the land away from them, too? Then as the last chief of the paleface nation stands before the conqueror, will he bid him welcome to his all, to his home, to his life, to his very soul, with more earnestness as with as much sincerity as his red brother welcomes him now? I am glad to see you here.
In the face of an almost tyrannical conquest that had hijacked his people and annexed his land, Iron Bull was at peace. He defied a natural belligerent reaction: he showed hospitality to his conquerer. “I am glad to see you here,” he said to the men who had stolen his land and reinvented it.
It is appropriate and significant at Thanksgiving to listen to words like his. When we are confronted with pessimism and dismal truths, may we all be blessed with the grace, elegance, and buoyancy of Iron Bull and his people.