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~ Nita Pomeroy
I have been listening to Bill Miller again. “Reservation Road,”
again. Not the polished version from the professionally
produced video, but the video where he performs as a
soloist and does complicated guitar work:
Bill Miller - Reservation Road - Best live version! @AIAC ...
www.youtube.com .This is probably one of, if not the best rendition of Reservation Road that I've heard. Incredible guitar work and emotion.
It moves me deeply. The music and technique are amazing, but the song – this version – is deeply poignant in addition to being beautiful. This is a grittier version, yet has all the haunting beauty of the original. He captures so well the sense of stolen dreams. Stolen, yet never relinquished. Always hoped for, yearned for, longed for… even battled for. Always just a heartbeat or a breath away. Then, unlike the whitewashed version of that other beautiful production, he inserts into the lyrics a brief list of the worst of the worst consequences of the atrocities my people committed against Native People.
My heart is broken. I am nearly speechless – I, the one who writes and speaks volumes, can barely articulate these feelings. But speak I must even though totally bowed down. At some future point I will dance it out. But for now, I can only grieve.
The added words are these:
“A thousand dreams away beyond the Reservation Road…
I walked way beyond the Reservation Road…
Way beyond the suicides,
Way beyond the alcohol,
Way beyond the child abuse,
Way beyond the shame
Let me take you down the Reservation Road…”
A woman asked me Sunday how I was feeling. She is a bachelor woman, recently ordained an Anglican deacon, and she has come by to minister to my spiritual needs. I like her – but we have our differences. Like dinosaur heads behind her, they showed themselves when she spoke. “Atrocities? I wasn’t aware of anything happening recently – it was all a long time ago.”
Inside I cringed: those long-ago atrocities make life today a minefield which is impossible to negotiate safely. Centuries of attempted annihilation, assimilation, segregation, integration, just plain ignoring them, have left an indelible mark on the remnants of Indigenous People. I am 64. My childhood was a minefield – I never knew when things violence would erupt. My brother, sisters and I all have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result. Our lives were seriously affected by the problem in our family, and we have been forced to work hard to overcome these difficulties with varying degrees of success. And although it could be argued that it was institutionalized against us, it was the same problem across all races, creeds, cultures. For Native People, this violence against them was singular in its focus: it has only happened consistently to Native People for over five centuries.
Native Americans have been under siege since our arrival in the Western Hemisphere on the eve of the sixteenth century. Attacks against them have been relentlessly ongoing. And when they haven’t been outright violent acts against Native people, they have had the guise of paternalistic benevolence: “Look at these great boarding schools we have created to teach your children!” These boarding schools served to take generations of children and alienate them from their tribes, severely disrupting the natural transmission of cultural knowledge between generations. These Native children were cast adrift, neither part of their own culture nor part of the dominant culture. And that is only one aspect of the problems with the boarding schools. Other problems included, but were not limited to, abuse, rape, forced labor and starvation.
Atrocities ranged from obvious to hidden, blatant to subtle, political to religious, economic to social. They were disguised as benevolent government or even non-government social help programs. They have been made to look as choices or obviously forced. Trickery and dishonesty were part of most attempts to control the (Indian) problem or to get rid of the (Indian) problem. But the worst of all is that it continues to this day.
When I say this, my White friends look at me with confusion. “The atrocities stopped in the late 1800’s. They are long gone.” They are neither long-ago incidents, gone and swept under the rug by our dominant culture, nor are they ended. They are alive and well, often showing themselves as Protean changelings in our modern culture. These Protean changelings include high rates of unemployment, poverty, addiction, domestic abuse, and pervasive shame – which all contribute to alarmingly high rates of suicide. Neither have the atrocities ended. As recently as the 1970’s, for instance, Native women were forced to undergo sterilization at our hands.
Even more recently, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe took action to protect the water on their Reservation. A Reservation promised to them in perpetuity, “as long as grass shall grow and water run” (Treaty with Comanches and Other Tribes and Bands, Article 5,12 August 1861). All they asked for was the right to protect their Tribe’s water source. The Standing Rock Sioux wanted clean water to drink and to bathe in, pure water for ceremonies. Water which would be safe for the next seven generations. Their movement was a peaceful one: no weapons were allowed in the camps or on the lines and inspections were performed on all vehicles and people entering the camps. Yet they were met with militarized police action. They faced attack dogs, water cannon (in freezing weather), tear gas, mace, concussion grenades, military grade assault rifles, rubber bullets. Hundreds of Tribal Nations showed their support of this important movement.
And, once again, Tribal sovereignty was ignored and treaties were set aside, so that we, the dominant culture, could wring some last reluctant bits of mineral wealth from the earth.
We won’t even place the welfare of our own children above the acquisition of grotesque amounts of wealth, much less seven generations.