Great Speeches by Native Americansby Bob Blaisdell
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Remarkable for their eloquence and depth of feeling, these 82 speeches encompass 5 centuries of Indian encounters with nonindigenous peoples. Speakers include Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, Seattle, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and many lesser-known leaders, whose compelling words are graced by forceful metaphors and vivid imagery.
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Great Speeches by Native Americans
By Bob Blaisdell
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
SIXTEENTH, SEVENTEENTH, AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
"With such a people I want no peace" (c. 1540)
In 1539, about twenty-five years after Juan Ponce de Leon had "discovered" Florida and enslaved south Floridan tribes, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and an army arrived in Florida. When de Soto sent a few Native Americans he had captured to ask Acuera to meet him, the Timucua chief had this to say.
Others of your accursed race have, in years past, poisoned our peaceful shores. They have taught me what you are. What is your employment? To wander about like vagabonds from land to land, to rob the poor, to betray the confiding, to murder in cold blood the defenceless. No! with such a people I want no peace—no friendship. War, never-ending war, exterminating war, is all the boon I ask.
You boast yourselves valiant, and so you may be; but my faithful warriors are not less brave, and this too you shall one day prove; for I have sworn to maintain an unsparing conflict while one white man remains in my borders—not only in battle, though even thus we fear not to meet you, but by stratagem, ambush, and midnight surprisal.
I am king in my own land, and will never become the vassal of a mortal like myself. Vile and pusillanimous is he who will submit to the yoke of another when he may be free. As for me and my people, we choose death—yes! a hundred deaths—before the loss of our liberty and the subjugation of our country.
Keep on, robbers and traitors: in Acuera and Apalachee we will treat you as you deserve. Every captive will we quarter and hang up to the highest tree along the road.
"Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food?" (c. 1609)
Powhatan (c. 1547-1618) was the head of a confederacy that spanned hundreds of miles and thirty-two tribes. (He is well known today because of his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, who rescued the English captain John Smith from execution in 1608.) In 1607 Powhatan's confederacy allowed the English to establish their first colony at Jamestown. In 1609, when the same Captain Smith, dissatisfied with trade negotiations, resorted to bluster and threats, Powhatan made the following reply.
I am now grown old, and must soon die; and the succession must descend, in order, to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opekankanough, and Catataugh, and then to my two sisters, and their two daughters. I wish their experience was equal to mine; and that your love to us might not be less than ours to you. Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple, as not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns, roots, and such trash, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should but break, all would cry out, "Here comes Capt. Smith;" and so, in this miserable manner, to end my miserable life; and, Capt. Smith, this might be soon your fate too, through your rashness and unadvisedness. I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.
"Thy mother doth complain, implores thy aid against this thievish people new come hither" (c. 1620)
The first Plymouth settlers of 1620 thoughtlessly desecrated the grave of Chikataubut's mother, stealing the bear-skins that covered her body. When Chikataubut found out about this, he gathered his people and called for vengeance. Chikataubut died in 1633, one of many New England Native Americans who succumbed to a smallpox epidemic.
When last the glorious light of all the sky was underneath this globe, and birds grew silent, I began to settle, as my custom is, to take repose. Before mine eyes were fast closed, me tho't I saw a vision, at which my spirit was much troubled, and trembling at that doleful sight, a spirit cried aloud, "Behold! my son, whom I have cherished; see the paps that gave thee suck, the hands that clasped thee warm, and fed thee oft; canst thou forget to take revenge of those wild people, that hath my monument defaced in a despiteful manner; disdaining our ancient antiquities, and honorable customs. See now the sachem's grave lies like unto the common people, of ignoble race defaced. Thy mother doth complain, implores thy aid against this thievish people new come hither; if this be suffered, I shall not rest in quiet within my everlasting habitation."
"Brothers, we must be one as the English are, or we shall soon all be destroyed" (c. 1642—1643)
Miantinomo (c. 1600-1643) tried to organize an intertribal resistance to the English colonists, and in the following speech he exhorted the Montauks of Long Island, New York, to join him. For his efforts, unsuccessful though they were, he was executed by the colonial government's Mohegan allies.
Brothers, we must be one as the English are, or we shall soon all be destroyed. You know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins, and our plains were full of deer and of turkeys, and our coves and rivers were full of fish. But, brothers, since these English have seized upon our country, they cut down the grass with scythes, and the trees with axes. Their cows and horses eat up the grass, and their hogs spoil our beds of clams; and finally we shall starve to death! Therefore, stand not in your own light, I beseech you, but resolve with us to act like men. All the sachems both to the east and west have joined with us, and we are all resolved to fall upon them, at a day appointed, and therefore I have come secretly to you, because you can persuade the Indians to do what you will. Brothers, I will send over fifty Indians to Manisses, and thirty to you from thence, and take a hundred of Southampton Indians, with a hundred of your own here. And, when you see the three fires that will be made at the end of forty days hence, in a clear night, then act as we act, and the next day fall on and kill men, women and children, but no cows; they must [not] be killed as we need them for provisions, till the deer come again.
KING PHILIP, METACOM(Wampanoag)
"The English who came first to this country were but a handful of people" (1676)
The occasion for the following speech came when a Rhode Islander named John Borden tried to dissuade King Philip (c. 1637—1676) from launching his planned campaign against the inhabitants of New England, which became known as "King Philip's War." (For biographical details of King Philip's heroic life and tragic death, see William Apes's "Eulogy on King Philip," pages 93-115.)
The English who came first to this country were but a handful of people, forlorn, poor and distressed. My father did all in his power to serve them. Others came. Their numbers increased. My father's counselors were alarmed. They urged him to destroy the English before they became strong enough to give law to the Indians and take away their country. My father was also the father to the English. He remained their friend. Experience shows that his counselors were right. The English disarmed my people. They tried them by their own laws, and assessed damages my people could not pay. Sometimes the cattle of the English would come into the cornfields of my people, for they did not make fences like the English. I must then be seized and confined till I sold another tract of my country for damages and costs. Thus tract after tract is gone. But a small part of the dominion of my ancestors remains. I am determined not to live till I have no country.
"But where are our prisoners?" (May 24, 1679)
After the Five Nations of Iroquois (the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, Oneidas, and Senecas) made a treaty, they would request their prisoners of war to be returned; if any of them were dead, they usually asked for members of the other tribe as substitutes. Here, Swerise, a chief about whom little is known, addressed the commandant and commissioner for Indian Affairs at Albany, New York. (He called these English colonial governors "Corlear" as something of an honorary title of respect, after the Dutch governor Arent van Corlear, who negotiated a treaty with the Mohawks in 1643.)
Brethren, we are come to this place with much trouble, as we did last winter, and renew the request we then made, that six Indians be delivered to us in the room of these six Christians, in case our people, who are prisoners, be dead. None of us have gone out against the Christians since we were last here; but we told you then that some were then out, who knew nothing of the Governor's orders, and we desired that if any thing happened it might not be taken ill. Now thirteen of our people, who went out against our Indian enemies, met eighteen men on horseback, as far from any of the English plantations as Cahnuaga is from Albany. They fired upon our people; our men, being soldiers, returned their fire, and killed two men and two horses, and brought away their scalps.
It would be convenient that the Governor tell the people of Virginia not to send their men so far from home; for if they should meet our parties in their way against our enemies, the Cahnowas, whom the English call Arogisti, we cannot answer for the consequences.
We have now observed the Governor's orders, in bringing the three other Christian prisoners; and we trust the affair of our prisoners wholly to the Governor.
We have now performed our promises: But where are our prisoners; or, if they be dead, the others in their room; now when it is so late in the spring? However, we will still trust this to the Governor.
[Then delivering the prisoners one by one, Swerise said:] We have, we say, now performed our promises, and are not ashamed. We hope Corlear, who governs the whole country, will likewise do that of which he need not be ashamed.
Corlear governs the whole land, from New-York to Albany, and from thence to the Senecas' Land; we, who are his inferiors, shall faithfully keep the chain: Let him perform his promise, as we have ours, that the chain be not broken on his side, who governs the whole country.
[Then the Commissioners gave them presents for their kind usage of the prisoners. After which Swerise stood up again and said:] Let Corlear take care, that the Indian woman, that is wanting, be restored, and, for those that are killed, others in their room. If Corlear will not give ear to us in this affair, we will not hereafter give ear to him in any thing.
[Hearing afterwards, that these last words were ill taken, Swerise, with two more of the chief Oneida sachems, excused it, saying:] What we said, of not hearkening any more to Corlear, did not proceed from the heart, but was spoken by way of argument, to make Corlear more careful to release our people that are prisoners; and you may be convinced it was so, when you consider that it was said after your answer, and without laying down either beaver or any belt or wampum, as we always do, when we make propositions; therefore we desire that, if it be noted, it may be blotted out, and not made known to Corlear, for we hold firmly to our covenant, as we said in our propositions.
UNNAMED (Onondaga and Cayuga)
"Our young men are soldiers, and when they are provoked, they are like wolves" (August 2, 1684)
The Iroquois chiefs, making a treaty with the British against the French, addressed the governors of Virginia and New York, to assert their independence and rights.
Brother Corlear, your sachem is a great sachem, and we are but a small people; but when the English came first to Manhattan, to Aragiske [Virginia] and to Yakokranagary [Maryland], they were then but a small people, and we were great. Then, because we found you a good people, we treated you kindly, and gave you land; we hope therefore, now that you are great, and we small, you will protect us from the French. If you do not, we shall lose all our hunting and beavers: The French will get all the beavers. The reason they are now angry with us is, because we carry our beaver to our brethren.
We have put our lands and ourselves under the protection of the great Duke of York, the brother of your great sachem, who is likewise a great sachem.
We have annexed the Susquehanna River, which we won with the sword, to this government; and we desire it may be a branch of the great tree that grows in this place, the top of which reaches the sun, and its branches shelter us from the French, and all other nations. Our fire burns in your houses, and your fire burns with us; we desire it may be so always. But we will not that any of the great Penn's people settle upon the Susquehanna River, for we have no other land to leave to our children.
Our young men are soldiers, and when they are provoked, they are like wolves in the woods, as you, Sachem of Virginia, very well know.
We have put ourselves under the great Sachem Charles, that lives on the other side the great lake. We give you these two white dressed deerskins, to send to the great sachem, that he may write on them, and put a great red seal to them, to confirm what we now do; and put the Susquehanna River above the falls, and all the rest of our land under the great Duke of York, and give that land to none else. Our brethren, his people, have been like fathers to our wives and children, and have given us bread when we were in need of it; we will not therefore join ourselves, or our land, to any other government but this. We desire Corlear, our governor, may send this our proposition to the great Sachem Charles, who dwells on the other side the great lake, with this belt of wampum, and this other smaller belt to the Duke of York his brother. And we give you, Corlear, this beaver, that you may send over this proposition.
You great man of Virginia, we let you know, that great Penn did speak to us here in Corlear's house by his Agents and desired to buy the Susquehanna River of us, but we would not hearken to him, for we had fastened it to this government.
We desire you therefore to bear witness of what we now do, and that we now confirm what we have done before. Let your friend, that lives on the other side of the great lake, know this, that we being a free people, though united to the English, may give our lands, and be joined to the sachem we like best. We give this beaver to remember what we say.
"Yonnondio, you must have believed when you left Quebec that the sun had burnt up all the forests which render our country unaccessible to the French" (1684)
General de la Barre, governor of Canada, rebuked Garangula and the Iroquois for having harassed French traders and for aiding the English: "All the time that Monsieur de la Barre spoke, Garangula kept his eyes fixed on the end of his pipe; as soon as the governor had done speaking, he rose up, and having walked five or six times round the circle, he returned to his place, where he spoke standing, while Monsieur de la Barre kept his elbow chair." After Garangula's speech had been interpreted, de la Barre was furious, and "retreated to his tent." ("Yonnondio" was the name the Iroquois used for governors of Canada.)
Yonnondio, I honor you, and the warriors that are with me all likewise honor you. Your interpreter has finished your speech; I now begin mine. My words make haste to reach your ears, hearken to them.
Yonnondio, you must have believed when you left Quebec that the sun had burnt up all the forests which render our country inaccessible to the French, or that the lakes had so far overflown their banks that they had surrounded our castles, and that it was impossible for us to get out of them. Yes, Yonnondio, surely you must have dreamt so, and the curiosity of seeing so great a wonder has brought you so far. Now you are undeceived, since that I and the warriors here present are come to assure you that the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks are yet alive. I thank you, in their name, for bringing back into their country the calumet, which your predecessor received from their hands. It was happy for you that you left underground that murdering hatchet that has been so often dyed in the blood of the French. Hear, Yonnondio, I do not sleep, I have my eyes open, and the sun, which enlightens me, discovers to me a great captain at the head of a company of soldiers, who speaks as if he were dreaming. He says, that he only came to the lake to smoke on the great calumet with the Onondagas. But Garangula says that he sees the contrary, that it was to knock them on the head, if sickness had not weakened the arms of the French.
Excerpted from Great Speeches by Native Americans by Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Meet the Author
Bob Blaisdell is professor of English at the City University of New York's Kingsborough Community College and the editor of twenty-two Dover literature and poetry collections.
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