A few weeks ago I stopped watching the news. Nothing else was going on in the world except for the Osama Bin Laden death frenzy. Okay he’s dead, but he was going to die anyway. We’ll all die eventually. It will be news the day no one dies. The TV can stay on then.
I didn’t know anyone killed in 9/11, but remember watching the Twin Towers collapse and knowing I was witnessing death. That stuck with me. I didn’t feel anything when Bin Laden died, no revelry, no hatred, not even a mitigated satisfaction. I think it’s because so many in America have and continue to behave so badly. Those thirsting to see a dead Osama Bin Laden, will they be happy when they can feel his brains squished between their toes? Or until they can run through the streets with his eyeballs brandished on their fingers like olives? How is this thirst for blood different than Bin Laden’s? Has anything been learned from war, and loss and death?
From the native perspective, what Bin Laden did is no different than what Americans have done to us. Natives are used to terrorism. President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Policy was genocide. Now the shoe is on the other foot and the irony is appalling. Newspapers read “Never Forget” [9/11] while history books whitewash American brutality. Cries for justice rang loud while our own cries continue to be unacknowledged. “Get over it”, they say, but how can we when the very land we walk upon is named after people like Custer, and Long, and Harney? The very ones who brought terror and death to our people. Would Americans appreciate Osama Bin Laden State Park? Not even for a second, but we are forced to live with it.
As a Lakota, I feel separate. I don’t consider myself American because my ancestors were Lakota thousands of years before there was an America. So I just observe this society that surrounds me. It is good to try to always learn from things. It keeps your heart and mind open.
I do feel a sense of justice for those who died and their loved ones left behind. Their murderer is dead. If I or someone I loved was in New York City that day, we would have been in Bin Laden’s cross hairs, but we weren’t.
In an effort to understand, I have to think of the massacre and mutilation of innocents at Sand Creek in Colorado. If you were to hold the person who carried out this slaughter responsible, it would be U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington. The worst thing I could do to him wouldn’t change facts. No. All I feel is heartache and shed tears for the 163 people, mostly women and children, killed so monstrously in the early morning hours of November 29, 1864. No warning, no provocation, no mercy, no justice for them. Still, I don’t understand. I can’t revel in anyone’s death because the pain of loss and what those victims felt is too strong to conjure any sense of celebration.
The indigenous have a valuable resource that this country cannot take away or understand. We have our wisdom that has been passed down through thousands of years. According to Proverbs, that is more precious than wealth.
In our culture, killing was never glorified. It was done only out of necessity to protect the tribe from imminent threat. This to me is the epitome of strength, honor, respect, integrity, courage, and love. War and death should never be taken so lightly and callously lest we become like those we fight against.
The coup stick had only as much power as the user could wield. To touch or strike the enemy under the threat of harm or death was honorable. Now guns are desperately clung to. It is a great feat to shoot and kill the smallest and most helpless, with the loudest bang, the most force, while standing from the greatest distance. This is what passes for bravery and courage?
There is sacredness to life and death. If Chivington and I both stood before the Creator, should I presume my life was worth more than his? Maybe so, but I don’t want to be the one to decide that. Maybe that is the day the Creator will judge by a different criteria and I will come up short.
The people who died at the hands of hate and terror, from the beginnings of this country, through 9/11 to today, should not have suffered or died in vain as long as truth and wisdom are upheld. The only thing I can take from Bin Laden’s death is the reminder to leave judgment to the Creator, respect all life, resist evil in all its disguises, and love what is good.
Crystal Willcuts Cole, Mnicoujou Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and is an artist, writer, and poet currently residing in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with her husband and two children.