A Speech By Leaford Bearskin
I am Kwa‑hoo‑sha‑ha‑ki (Flying Eagle). I am an Indian. I am proud. I am an American Indian and I am both thankful and proud.
Many, many moons ago, my people hunted and fished and lived in the forests and by the steams around two great bodies of water, since named Lake Erie and Lake Huron by the white man. My people were peaceful and happy and made war on only those who trespassed or threatened. Their warriors were fierce and courageous. When the white man came they fought hard and well, but the white man was too powerful and too many. My people moved west toward the setting sun. Again, the white man came. Again, they moved – south this time. When there was no place else to move to, the white man’s Big Chief said. “Go here to this place” – so they did. He said to farm and plant gardens and build houses. These things were new and strange to my people. They were hunters and fishermen and warriors. The Great White Father spoke to my people and said. “Farm, plant, go to school, learn the white man’s ways” – so they did. Always they were poor, many times they were cold and hungry, often sickness came and the medicine men could not cure because the sickness was from the white man and Indian medicine was not good. These were proud. Our warriors became farmers and our women learned to sew, and cook, and keep house. Our children went to the white man’s school and church and learned about his ways and his God.
One time, an enemy from across the big water made war on our friends there and our Great White Father spoke again and said. “We must help our friends. Stop farming for awhile and be warriors again.” This they did. When this big war was over, my people again farmed, kept house, and learned the ways of the white man. They did this for twenty summers and winters, which was a long time. Some of our men and women learned to love the people and married them. The white man’s medicine seemed to be good. Some of our people grew big, some did not. But, all of them tried hard – and they were proud.
Again an enemy from across the big water trespassed against our good friends and our great country. Once again the Great White Father spoke and said, “We need warriors to fight for our good friends and our great country.” And, once again my people quit being farmers, quit being school teachers, quit being storekeepers, quit being ministers, and quit being statesmen. They took up the white man’s war paint and tomahawk. I, myself, fought our enemy over the great waters of the Pacific. I fought with the white man’s tools – airplanes, bombs, and machine guns. Our white man’s medicine was strong and the enemy was defeated. Many of our warriors went to this fight. Some became heroes, even in the eyes of the white man. They fought hard and they fought well. There were some who did not return. They went to the Happy Hunting Ground from Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Anzio, Normandy, and many other faraway places. Their friends and relatives were very sad – but they were also very proud.
Today there is no war – but neither is there peace – for our people or the white man.
All Indians are still proud. Some still need care, some still need food, some still need clothing, and many still need education. We do not ask for charity – only assistance, justice, and understanding.
We have pride and we have dignity.
I am Kwa‑hoo‑sha‑ha‑ki. I am an Indian. I am proud. I have spoken.
Leaford Bearskin, Lt Colonel, USAF
Member of Wyandotte Tribe, Oklahoma