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Michael Round

April 18, 2009

Five years and one day ago, I would never have questioned whether Columbus "discovering" the New World was a good thing.  Of course it was.  The discovery served as the stepping stone for the creation of the United States of America.

Five years and one day ago, I was not thinking of the idea of property rights regarding the moon, the Arctic, and "the new world". 

Five years and one day ago, I would never have imagined writing and submitting a haiku on Crazy Horse to the South Dakota Poetry Contest.

Five years and one day ago, I would never have believed Native Americans played a role in the founding documents of our country.

Five years and one day ago, Sacajawea was, to me, a paragraph of history.  I would never have believed I would be reading numerous books on the story of this fascinating woman's life, talking with authors.

Five years and one day ago, I would not have questioned the validity of Mount Rushmore.

Five years and one day ago, I would never have envisioned myself writing a short story on the life - and death - of Crazy Horse.

Five years and one day ago, I had not seen "Dances With Wolves", which has now become one of my favorite movies.

Five years and one day ago, I would not have conceived of writing a letter to the survivor of a Nazi death camp in Poland, Sobibor, about the nature of the good.

Nevertheless, I believe five years and one day ago, I was a pretty smart guy.

What happened five years ago?

Five years ago today, my kids and I were at a Native American Festival in Overland Park.  We walked up and down aisles of amazing displays of craftsmanship, beautiful things everywhere.  And then we came upon a booth with a woman sitting on a chair, a stack of books next to her.  I greeted her with a happy "What's going on here?" or some such phrase.

"I only found out about the festival recently, so I didn't have time to prepare anything.  I've written a book."  Her name was Diane Rogers.


I hadn't met many authors in my life, so this was a neat thing - for both me and the kids.  I brought the book home, determined to read it quickly so, at a minimum I could say "yes" to the kids when they expectedly asked, "Have you read the book yet, Dad?"

But something unexpected happened.

First, a bit of history on Native Americans.

Native Americans were slaughtered and murdered, and, with hundreds of treaties signed - and abandoned, were driven from their homes onto reservations, often via tortuous marches - by the white man.

I've never been interested in hearing anything more about it than that.  It's not because I'm a white man, but rather because  I had nothing to do with it!  I was not there!  Quit blaming me!

It's hard to get past that.

Until I picked started reading Ghost Dancers.  Here was a book written about me - or so I thought - so I hoped!  It's a fictional portrayal of Lt. George Hawkins, a soldier who begins to question orders, and seeks "to do the right thing".  Yes!  Finally!  The 19th century tragedy of the Native Americans - and there's a white man who is not a murderer!

It's not "White Man" anymore.  It's "SOME White Men"!  And that single word made all the difference in the world, to me.

No longer was I lumped in with those responsible.  Finally, there was a figure who did what I like to think I would have done! 

"Here is a story of one man's determination to make a difference".  That's the closing line on the back of the book.  Yes!

And in reading Ghost Dancers, I was really introduced to people and events like Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, forced marches, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Wovoka, the Ghost Dance, and many more, for the first time with a clear conscience.

It's quite a book that pulls back the curtains and allows one to peer through the window into another domain.  It's an exceptional book that has the reader kicking down doors, eager to explore this this wonderful new world!

Such was the experience I had reading this book.

But the story doesn't end there.  You may think I now condemn Columbus Day.  I don't.  I don't praise it, either.  I question it.  Yes, Native Americans were here when Columbus reached the shores of the "New World".  But does merely "being here" give one the right to all that is here?  I think of the moon and the Arctic, both reached, and wonder what "ownership" means, if anything.  I don't know the answer, but I think about the question.

It's been said American politicians misunderstood the idea of "Chief", believing a single person spoke for the many.  Why should we believe a single white man, signing a piece of paper, spoke for the many who were heading west?  I don't know the answer, but I think about the question.

How are issues like these addressed?  I don't know.  But I think about them now.  And one thing I'm certain is this: we could have worked things out.  Reasonable people do!  When I think this, I think of this dialogue from The Outlaw Josey Wales.  It's one of my favorite scenes in any movie I've ever seen.

Josey Wales: I'm just giving you life and you're giving me life. And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

Ten Bears: It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues. There is iron in your word of death for all Comanche to see. And so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron.  It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death.

It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life - or death.

It shall be life.


Ms. Rogers has finished two other books, the three combined called:


Well done, Ms. Rogers!