Charleston County Sheriff's Office via AP
This photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office shows Dylann Roof, Thursday, June 18, 2015. Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in the slayings of several people Wednesday, including the pastor, at a prayer meeting inside The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (Charleston County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Massacre at Charleston: #BlackLivesMatter for Native People Because History

Gyasi Ross

“Those who were killed were…the old men, women and children…after the firing was over, the soldiers gathered up the bedding, clothing and subsistence and piled them up with a lot of wood and set fire to the pile and burned everything up…”

Joe Kipp, US Army Guide
Testimony to the Indian Claims Commission about the Marias Massacre

“I found a young squaw hidden in the brush nursing her baby…She made signs saying, “Wait until my baby gets its fill from my breast. Then you may kill me…I ignored her, turned aside and went away.  A while later I again passed that thicket.  There I saw the dead bodies of both the mother and child.”

Tom LeForge
Armed Volunteer for the US Army

We’ve seen this before.  It’s exactly the same evil, folks.  Different times, same evil.

QUICK STORY:  There have been many incidents in this Nation’s history that showed Native people exactly how cowardly racism is.  On January 23, 1870, the Amskapipikuni people learned that lesson.  At daybreak of that day, during a particularly brutal winter in a land known for harsh winters, four companies of the 2nd US Cavalry massacred 173 Native people (many sources say up to 220 Native people), primarily women and children.  See, the men were out hunting on this particular morning; the village was already weakened from an outbreak of smallpox and US Army’s attempts to exterminate them by killing literally millions of buffalo in the previous couple of years. 

Yet, despite the senseless slaughter of their food sources and disease, these Native men still went and hunted in order to fulfill their evolutionary role—provide food for their families.  So the men were gone hunting and of course they took all the weapons.  The village was filled with unarmed and sleeping women, old people and children.

And that’s when the US Army, led by Major Eugene Baker, decided to strike.  This was known to be a friendly group of Natives—these weren’t even the ones that they had beef with if there was actually beef to be had.  I mean, if Baker really wanted to have a fight, there were Natives who were definitely ready for that.  But he didn’t want that sort of problem. 


These men just wanted to kill some Indians.  They now call this the “Marias Massacre”—they were massacred simply because they were Indian. 

The soldiers waited until it was forty below zero. They knew that the Amskapipkuni followed the buffalo south from Canada and were in their Marias River hunting grounds. After the massacre the civilian soldiers tried to steal robes and furs from the dead Indians’ camps.  There were a few young kids who escaped somehow—they saw that the US soldiers were murdering everyone, women, old men and children.  Therefore, a few young children attempted to run away and somehow, only through amazing resilience, faith and physical endurance, did anyone survive this horrible, horrible act. 


WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS?  The massacre in Charleston, South Carolina is yet another example of the cowardice of racism.  The young monster in that case, the white kid Dylann Roof who said that he wanted to start a race war, went to a place that was friendly, peace-loving, non-threatening.  He went to that place because, according to Roof, black folks “raped our women” and are “taking over the country.”  Therefore, according to this young racist,  “I have to do what I have to do."

If he did indeed have a problem with black folks, these weren’t the black people he had a problem with.  But like all racists, he was a coward.  IF black folks did him wrong, those black folks at the church certainly weren’t the ones who did it!  Importantly, they also weren’t the black folks who were packing heat—let’s keep it real, if he really wanted to set it off he could have gone to the 'hood and found some of the warriors.  But he didn’t.  Coward.  Naw, he went to the functional equivalent of the Native camp where the warriors were gone and it was the women, the old folks and the children there.  A church.  Unarmed people.  These aren’t folks thinking about fighting.

He just wanted to kill some black folks.  In the same way that Baker wanted to kill some Indians.  Those folks in Charleston were killed only because they were black. 


Native people have seen this narrative before.  Black folks are catching hell the way that Natives caught hell years ago—it is literally open season on black folks.  Now sure, things are FAR from ideal for Native people.  Assaults on our dignity are happening far too frequently and we have horrible health and economic indicators. Not only that, but Native women are far too frequently the victims of violence from both non-Natives and Natives alike. There is no doubt that we have issues that we desperately need to fix. And we will. Hell, Native people know that we deal with way too much racist violence from law enforcement, in border towns and just plain ignorant ugliness like the Rushmore Convention Center incident, where 57 Native kids were assaulted and degraded. We deal with a lot. We know this. But black folks are getting it every single day—honestly, I would HATE to be the father of a black child right now just because I would literally be worried every single time he went outside.  My primary focus is always the tribal communities that I live in and work in, and Native people generally but I can’t help but to look at what’s happening to black folks right now and say “Damn. They’re getting it right now…”

When I say it is open season on black folks, it’s a unique type of threat to the very existence of individual black folks.  Just like Native people faced a hundred and thirty years ago.  As much as we have struggles now, thank God were not getting shot and killed on a daily basis for simply being Native. 

It happened to us before—I pray that it never happens to us again.  I hug my baby boy daily and thank God that this isn’t happening to us right now

But I also know that if it can happen to black folks now, it can happen to Native people again.  So Native people have a vested interest in making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself; we were literally almost exterminated a little over a hundred years ago.  We can’t go backwards.  Native people’s history with this type of ugly, destructive and cowardly racism compels us to voice loudly that #BlackLivesMatter.  Hopefully our national organizations—NCAI, NIGA, NARF, NIEA get involved.  Even if they do not, history should compel us to find a way to support #BlackLivesMatter even while taking care of business within our own Native communities.  It’s not either/or. 

We’ve gotta stand up to this evil because we’ve seen it before.

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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Submitted by Deidre on
In no way do I mean to downplay the issues facing black people. The beliefs and actions responsible for the destruction of 9 innocent lives are disgusting. But the article parallels one group's tragedy to the genocide of another, and tries to draw a comparison between Blacks and Indians, two significantly different populations. 40 million black people, 4 million Indians. With 10 times more people, things SHOULD occur more often. And as the largest minority group (13%) they are seen as the biggest threat to the racist agenda. Indians being 1% of the population (even sometimes believed to have died off long ago) we're not seen as a threat to anything other than sports. You don't have to look too far to find similar tragedies in the Indian community: Pine Ridge Reservation, Loretta Saunders and the Missing Indigenous Women in Canada, John Trudell, Leonard Peltier... The real tragedy is having the distinction of the poorest living conditions, racial stereotypes even having to be debated... or being the only group of people who must PROVE we're Indian. At least if you were black, you wouldn't have had to submit proof of your lineage and blood quantum (a tactic the government put in place to strip as many of us as possible of our rights). As a Dee'ni' (Tolowa) Indian, I'm know what our people endured, still endure; felt the irony of seeing oneself referred to in terms of "EXTINCTION"; learned the real history of our people, what public education forgot to mention; and know that cultural genocide, religious persecution, ethnic-cleansing, and enslavement was ordered by our government, carried out by our military, celebrated as victory, and commemorated annually every mid-October. I applaud your ability to empathize, and yes I fully agree, thank "K'wan'-lee-shvm" (Creator/God) we aren't black...because I'm PROUD to be Dee-ni' (Tolowa) Indian!!

onedman's picture
Submitted by onedman on
Today is the 30th so I'm a bit late getting here, I'm kinda brand-new but I posted things here years ago. I visit other news sites and they report on the Black Lives Matter movement. On a few of those site's I also am a poster. After reading this piece I feel better but I still have the nagging question, whatever happened to All Lives Matter? I ask this on these other sites and ask what about Native Americans? Yes I'm an old (64) white guy who knows just a wee bit about life on a Rez and these are white main-stream media sites. It just really bothers me that the urban dwellers don't get it. I tell them to go and try and live at Pine Ridge. One way of looking at it, as mentioned in the piece, you are no longer up-front and center as the Blacks are now but you should be in another respect, at every turn you are robbed, it's not just the land or the water but your dignity too. This really bothers me so instead of sending money to Bernie Sanders I'm now sending what little I can to the American Indian Humanitartion(can't spell) Foundation and have asked others to do the same. I also contacted the Bernie Sanders campaien(can't spell) to visit Pine Ridge as well. We all need to be included, we all need to heal; all our shadows are the same color. Thank you for allowing me to post this and for your time...onedman