A passionate and humble appeal to the United States of America
Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for coming to "our country" today and for giving us the opportunity to voice the goals, concerns and priorities of our people and our land with you. When people can truly speak openly of their concerns and issues, be heard, and trust that their message will be communicated to others and acted upon on their behalf by those in positions of power and authority, then we have true representation ? a democracy. Again, thank you for being here and listening.
My name is Ellsworth Chytka. I am an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe and am here representing Chairwoman Madonna Archambeau as spokesperson for the Ihanktonwan Sioux Nation. I am here today to discuss concerns of my people. I'd first like to let you know that this is very hard for me to put down oral history in written testimony. Our way, as you know, since the beginning of time has always been oral ? oral history, culture and tradition. But it is important that I do so now so that the voices of my people and our ancestors past and all those we care about that have no voice can be heard. I come here today to voice our concerns, of which there are many. I will not have time to discuss all of them; therefore, I will concentrate on our most pressing issues.
Our main concern and priority is the loss of our history, culture and our spiritual ways as guaranteed us by the government in the treaties signed, bills and acts passed, etc. Gentlemen, our spiritual way is no different from yours and nothing to be feared. When we pray, we pray to Tunkashila, God, by way of the Sacred Hoop, a hoop that represents all races. To the East it represents the yellow race, to the West represents the red race, the South represents the black race, and the North, the white race. At the center is a little green circle, representing mother earth. From the center going out in the four directions are four equal length spokes that show that we are no different than the trees, the grass, whatever, that our bodies come from mother earth. Then as we sprout from there and grow we're now allowed to reach to the heavens, and that circle is blue. So it is saying that we have one God for all divine beings; it shows the connectedness of all of us to everything. We believe through our tradition, our history and our culture that it is our duty as human beings to represent all things: the trees, the grass, the deer, the eagle, the hawk ? all these species are important for they too were created by the hands of God. In order to do this we must retain our history, our culture and our sacred sites, our burial sites.
There have been many laws created to protect these sacred sites ? the protection is no good, the laws are no good unless people enforce them. In my country, on the Yankton Sioux reservation, there is no enforcement. The laws of NAGPRA are not enforced. Oral history has been repeatedly given to state and federal government officials to let them know where there are burial grounds, sacred sites, and our history and culture. But no one heeds these warnings and they continue to dig into our history and ancient burial sites. For us, in our history and culture and spiritual ways, these are not just bones, but the remains of our ancestors past. For my grandmother told me that many of these ancestors froze to death, starved to death, and fought to preserve this way so that there would be Native American people.
I come to you asking for your help in protecting these areas. The lands that these sacred, cultural and burial sites are on have been passed down by our ancestors. These are the ones who are buried there, lived there, did ceremony there. I am here to speak for those ? those that have no voice. When I was but a young boy my grandma told me, Takosha, grandson, in your lifetime they are going to tell you one person can't make a difference, but remember this, all it takes to start a fire is a little bitty spark. And you will be one of those sparks, and in being so, you will be a voice for those that have no voice, for they are humble, they are the unshika, they are the four legged, the two legged, the winged, those that swim in water, those that crawl upon the earth, those that slither upon the earth, those that live in the womb of mother earth, for these are all sacred for they too were created by the hands of God. Preserve these for your great grandchildren and their children, for they too have a right to see mother earth in its natural beauty. So as I speak here today, I speak not only for my people but I speak for all races of children that will be coming up. They too deserve to have clean water and clean air.
They too deserve to live in a world of peace, a world of democracy and a world of justice. I ask you, where has democracy and justice been for us native people? It is not about money, it is not about programs, it is about dignity. For on my reservation, the elders can no longer take their grandchildren to the riverfront to talk of these ways and the sacredness of water ? the blood of mother earth, and to share the stories of a proud and noble people that have lived here for thousands and thousands of years since time immemorial.
I ask you, please help us. Why is it that we, the Indian people, who have given this country such riches in the land, the minerals, the oil, and all that we have given, why are we the poorest people in this nation? Why is it that when this land was turned over to the state of South Dakota, it was never thought of to return this land to the native people? With our wisdom and guidance in conjunction with your expertise in this field, we could cooperatively work together leaving the sacred sites alone and develop those lands that are not that way so that we may have rangers, biologists etc. introducing the people of the world to the true history of the Native Americans. Let us be the guides and interpreters of our history, the conservationists, environmentalists, biologists of our land and not the people who don't live it.
I am not a greedy man and I am not a selfish man, I was taught this. My grandma told me that in order to have your prayers answered, be unshika, be humble, be free of prejudice and anger. I have no anger for what has and is happening, I have hurt. For in my hurt I see the pains of the children who are now on drugs and alcohol. It is despair. It is because they have no history; therefore, they have no pride. Because even in the school system where seventy-some percent of the children are Native American, there is no native language taught, no native history or native culture taught. Yes, we can teach a lot of it at home, but it is not only our youth that have lost their history and pride and culture ? it is loss and despair that spans through generations of my people. If this is truly a democracy, why is it that other children who come from other countries are taught their language in their schools, but the native peoples who have always been here don't have this opportunity? This is a concern that weighs heavy on us.
Why is it that we don't have representation? We are supposed to deal directly with Congress. Why are we not allowed to do so? We are to be a nation within a nation as set forth in our treaties with you. Why are we not treated as such? Why is it that again we meet on these terms voicing our concerns? We have been telling the government of this great country our concerns for many, many years, but no one hears us. Its like a voice lost in the wind. I've been taught and have always said, "a country is only as great as its history." Then let us share our history with the world, the true history, and the true culture.
We believe very strongly in God. We believe that God created all things. That God is love and compassion. But where is there compassion for my people from the government of this country? Why is it, again, that the government of this country tries to ensure that treaties are enforced with other countries and they honor the treaties they make with other countries? And they want other countries, when they make a treaty with another country to honor those treaties. And they help restore lands back to peoples who have lost them for hundreds of years, for example Palestine. Trying to get the homeland back for Palestine and the homeland back for Israel when in this great country of ours, they take ours away. There is something wrong with this. We have done everything asked of us. By population, we have sent more of our young men and women into battle to protect this great country. We stop at the stop signs, we get drivers licenses, we have tribal identification cards, and we vote, we do everything that has been asked of us. Why is nothing being done for us? You can give people money, but if they have no home, they have nothing. That land, and that reservation is our home. It was promised us by the government that this would be our home for time immemorial that our children and grandchildren would be able to grow up there, they would be able to live happily and carry on their culture, their tradition and their spiritual ways. Gentlemen, that is not happening. My people are losing their history, their culture, their way, because there is no democracy for us.
Where is the Bureau of Indian Affairs trust responsibility to us? Who defends us? Only when we get enough money for an attorney are we defended. And then we run out of money because the average income in Indian country is between $5,000-$7,000 a year. Gentlemen, that is poverty. That is compared to third world countries. This is going on in your great land. It is going on in the belly of America and it is the belly of America that feeds this country. And yet my people, many of them are hungry, many of them are homeless.
Help restore the dignity of a great nation of people. You can do this by giving the laws that are created to help restore and protect and provide for us the legal teeth necessary for enforcement. Stand up for the laws that are created and have been created. Stand up with us and stand up for us. Let our voices be heard.
I, in my life, have always made my own way. My family and I grow a garden, I have been taught to be sovereign, to be self-sustaining. And I do this and I practice this and I teach my children this. But many of my people don't know this way any more because you (the government) give them crumbs. And they have gotten used to depending upon crumbs. It's time the native people received more than crumbs.
Help us restore our land base. Help us to create opportunity for ourselves to no longer be dependent on the government. Help my people stand up once again. Our land once extended from Minneapolis, Minnesota, down into Nebraska, Kansas, along the eastern shore of the Missouri up to Pierre, South Dakota into North Dakota. And then gentlemen, by treaty, of which my people didn't even understand, it was taken away and reduced to some 400,000 acres. That was supposed to be our permanent home. Never to be taken from us, to be put aside so that our children and children's children, as our population grew, would be able to live upon these lands and live so that we would always have a home for all that we had given away. Well sirs, this land has been reduced from 400,000 acres to 200,000 acres and now the courts are trying to say that we only have jurisdiction over one square mile. How can this be in a democracy? Where was there justice for us? We don't have the money to defend ourselves in court. When I talk to the elders they feel it was the government that was supposed to protect us, not to be the ones to be protected from. When I grew up as a little boy, my grandma made me a promise, she told me, Takosha, grandson, they took so much away from us, but we reserved this water and the land for you, this is your home. Gentlemen, you have made a liar out of my grandma, for you have taken this away.
I come here today, humble, because I speak for so many. I wish they could be here speaking for themselves, but they feel they no longer have a voice because that voice has been stripped from them by powers much greater than they ? the government. They are beaten down. For so many no longer know their history and culture. Many of the young look upon themselves, being Indian, as bad, because that is what has been taught them. Remember who kept the pilgrims alive when they first landed here, gentlemen. We provided them with food. They came here because of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. They took our freedom of religion away and just restored it not many years ago.
When someone speaks out now about some of the wrongdoings in my homeland, they are labeled, as I have been, radical, antigovernment, unpatriotic. Why is it that a house where an outlaw lived who killed many citizens is preserved as a historical site? Or preserve in Sioux Falls, S.D., a cemetery, which was prime real estate in the middle of Sioux Falls because it was a non-Indian cemetery, a European cemetery? So that land, that cemetery was preserved. Meanwhile in Mitchell, S.D., where there are known native burial mounds, development went ahead pushing the mounds to the side scattering the bones as they went. What's wrong with this picture? Where is human dignity? Where is there balance, equality, in how we treat our peoples?
I have never in my life asked for anything from the government or from others. I have always made my way. But I come to you today, gentlemen, I beg of you, not for myself, but for my children and grandchildren and all the children of the future, whether it be the two legged, the four legged, the winged, those that swim in water, those that crawl upon the earth, those that slither upon the earth, those that live in the womb of mother earth the great creation of God, I beg you, help us to retain our culture and our history and our spiritual ways so that we can continue to stand up for those who have no voice, to preserve for your grandchildren and mine a brighter future. A future that is no longer plagued by war and violence, but a future of dialogue and democracy and a future of togetherness. I believe that this country can do that. I know it can. But before our country can go and heal the wounds of the world, it must heal the wounds within its own country. And those wounds, gentlemen have to do with the treatment of my Native American people.
All my relatives, Mitakuyase.
Testimony to a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Rapid City, S.D. on Sept. 14, by Ellsworth Chytka, speaking for the Ihanktonwan Sioux Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe).