Wednesday, December 15, 2004



By Jack Random

To the Cherokee west is where souls go to die. To the Lakota it is home to the terrible thunderbird. Perched atop the tallest mountain, it has no form yet its wings span the horizon. It has no head, no legs, yet its talons are the size of Grizzlies and its beak is fanged and lined with the teeth of wolves. Its voice is thunder and its glance is lightning. It is only one yet it is many. It devours its own young and all who come before it. It is the great avenger, the Dragon of Deganawidah (whose name must never be spoken); it is the one who cleanses the earth to make way for the coming world.

West is where the crow flies at dusk and west is where Jerico Whitehorse resumed his journey, riding into a rust red sunset. He left behind the Mississippi Valley and the dark clouds that shrouded his vision. He prayed they would not visit him again. He left with the blessings of the people. He had discovered once again the central truth in Lakota philosophy: that all creatures that walk the earth were one; that the Lakota, the Cherokee, the Choctaw and Chickasaw were all one people, one tribe.

He watched the sun melt into the distant trees of the great forest as if for the last time. By morning the forest would give way to the rolling hills of Indian Territory, modern day Oklahoma. By tomorrow, he would reach the open desert of the southwest, land of the Apache and the Navaho. For now he followed the path the Cherokee walked in a time no longer remembered. He pulled off the road and listened to the haunting night song of hoot owls, cicada and the nightingale. This was the Trail of Tears where the lost souls of the civilized tribe still walked the long summer nights.

The Cherokee are the only tribe ever to be granted the status of a nation in their native lands. The Great White Father, whom the Cherokee once called a brother when they fought side by side in a white man’s war, defied the highest court of the land and showed his former brothers the long trail from Tennessee to Oklahoma that would define their existence for posterity. This night, Jerico walked with them.

He shared their sorrow, felt their suffering, and welcomed to his soul their defiance, strength and courage. He watched men carrying women, women carrying children, and the strong carrying the dead. He saw their eyes, filled with memories, but their expressions wiped clean. This was no funeral procession. It was a march of destiny. They would betray no pain, no fear, no pride. They would give the white man nothing for their suffering, nothing for their betrayal, nothing that they could hold in their hearts and minds for vengeance.

What was their crime but to perceive themselves as human beings, equal and worthy? Even the children were too tired to fear. They marched blankly in a line, eyes dead ahead, following the sun to where souls go to die.

Jerico saw the tears of strangers alongside the trail, poor white people, brown and black, choked by their own impotence and guilt at not suffering enough, at not having the courage to march with them, at not belonging to the land as the Cherokee did.

He saw the march of generations, mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, children and grandchildren. He saw a child in the arms of her mother. He saw the ones that fell off the trail, some of whom would die or be killed, others who would find their way back to their own land in the mountain forest of copperheads and red tails.

He saw and understood: Mitakuye Oyasin. All my relations.

Editor’s Note: Leonard Peltier, political prisoner and warrior of Wounded Knee, remains in a federal penitentiary. Have you thought of Leonard Peltier lately?


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