First off, a mea culpa…
In the past, whenever I have spoken about Indigenous issues—rather passionately, I might add—I can understand why I have put some people immediately on the defensive. I automatically assumed, from the pain and strife witnessed, that all whites were out to get us and, consequently, shut us down.
However, in the past few months, life in the field has taught me quite different: while yes, there are some Caucasians that are out to hurt the Native people, I have also seen many whites come together and ally themselves with us, much to the chagrin of their family and friends, helping us to reclaim the things we have so dearly lost. Maybe they’re not as militant as some of us, but the fact they are there, standing beside us and ready to fight, is clearly a win.
That being said, I was surprised by how many people were actually shocked regarding Markwayne Mullin and his archetypical Okie line of thought that the Trail of Tears was a “volunteer walk.” Mullin’s statement is a severely uneducated idea that attempts to rewrite the history of Natives, one that many of us have had to fight against everyday living in Oklahoma.
But I think the thing that makes this one sting just a little bit harder is that it’s from someone that is not only an admitted Native American—and one of the few in Congress—but a Cherokee whose family was supposedly original walkers on the Trail of Tears, forced to relocate in Westville. “Voluntarily,” of course.
But really, is this anything that we haven’t heard a million times before? When you look at Oklahoma’s long history of Indian sellouts, those that sold off their heritage to feast on the table-scraps from the higher-ups, Mullin is just another damned soul ready to throw on the pyre.
There is so much more to being Indigenous than just blood—from pride in your culture to standing up for what’s right, there’ve been times where, especially in politics, I’ve seen whites, blacks or Latinos who are perpetually more Native than the actual Indian running. Mullin is a shoddy lost cause, a Native sellout of the highest order that uses his heritage as a nice line in his biography, but then immediately scrubs it when he’s afraid it might lose him some good Republican voters.
We live in a time where Indigenous people feel like, ironic as it may seem, outsiders in our own country. We’ve been forced to either assimilate or die, so I guess you can’t be too mad at those that have assimilated a little too well. They say history is written by the victors and, let’s be honest, whites have been the victors throughout most of their time on the planet.
So, with Native populations dwindling, if they imply the Trail of Tears was a “voluntary walk,” that means it’s gotta be, right?
Thank the Creator that many Indigenous people no longer feel the pressure to bend down and suckle at the teats of anyone who can help them advance their careers and, realistically, their bank accounts. No matter the enemies it might make them, they’re doing it their own way, for everyone; in Tuesday’s election, nouveau Native warriors like Ashley Nicole McCray, for example, stood up and fought like Hell for the future of Oklahoma.
Sure, she might have not won this battle, but, as many Indians have come to learn, the war is a might bloody but it is far from over. While sellouts like Mullin might have the public’s ear now, giving up their Indigenous brothers and sisters for a place at Trump’s table, there are still plenty of Natives who proudfully reject giving up our own—and your own—waiting for a table where everyone can sit at equally.
So let Mullin and his cronies spread their outright lies about the Trail of Tears and whatever else they want to. We Natives have a saying that goes “Even Custer had his scouts.” Well, in this case, Trump has his in Markwayne Mullin and while he may get his say now, as we continue to pass on the history of not only this state but of this country to the next generation, the truth will eventually overcome their bitter falsehoods. Tikba ihiya!