Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sac Chief Black Hawk: A Native American Warrior Addresses His Captors

       Muckete (black) Meshekiahkiah (sparrow hawk), or Black Hawk, was born in 1767, and died in 1838. He succeeded his father as Chief of the Sac Nation in 1788. He acted against the Americans in the War of 1812. Because of the occupation by the whites of certain vacated lands, he began the Black Hawk War in 1831, and was defeated in two battles in 1832. He surrendered, was taken East and confined in Fortress Monroe until June, 1833.
       This speech was delivered in the late summer of 1832 to a General Street, who appears to have been a militia officer. Black Hawk, having been defeated in July and August by General Dodge and General Atkinson in battles on the Wisconsin and Bad Axe Rivers, made his surrender to Street at Prairie du Chien, August 27.
       He was placed in the charge of a young lieutenant, Jefferson Davis, afterward president of the Southern Confederacy. Robert Anderson, who commanded at Fort Sumter, and Abraham Lincoln, served in the war defending against Black Hawk. It also is of interest that Black Hawk, on being taken to the East a captive, was confined in Fortress Monroe, where, thirty-three years afterward, Jefferson Davis was confined.
       Before going to Fortress Monroe, Black Hawk was taken to Washington and presented to Andrew Jackson in the White House, where he saluted him in words which then could not have raised the smile which they raise now: “I am a man and you are another.”

You have taken me prisoner, with all my warriors. I am much grieved.  For I expected, if I did not defeat you, to hold out much longer, to give you more trouble, before I surrendered.  I tried hard to bring you into an ambush, but your last general understood Indian fighting. I determined to rush on you, and fight you face to face. I fought hard.

But your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed by our ears like the wind through the trees in winter. My warriors fell around me. It began to look dismal. I saw my evil day at hand. The sun rose dim on us in the morning, and at night it sank in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball of fire.

That was the last sun that shone on Black Hawk. His heart is dead, and no longer beats quick in his bosom. He is now a prisoner of the white men. They will do with him as they wish.

But he can stand torture, and is not afraid of death. He is no coward. Black Hawk is an Indian. He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, against white men who came, year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands.

You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. The white men despise the Indians, and drive them from their homes. They smile in the face of the poor Indian, to cheat him; they shake him by the hand, to gain his confidence, to make him drunk, and to deceive him.

We told them to let us alone, and keep away from us; but they followed on and beset our paths, and they coiled themselves among us like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger.

We looked up to the Great Spirit. We went to our father [i.e., the President of the U.S.]. We were encouraged. His great council gave us fair words and big promises.  But we got no satisfaction.  Things were growing worse. There were no deer in the forest. The opossum and beaver were fled. The springs were drying up, and our squaws and papooses were without food to keep them from starving.

We called a great council and built a large fire. The spirit of our fathers arose, and spoke to us to avenge our wrongs, or die. We set up the war-whoop, and dug up the tomahawk. Our knives were ready. The heart of Black Hawk swelled high in his bosom, when he led his warriors to battle. He is satisfied. He will go to the world of spirits contented. He has done his duty. His father will meet him there, and commend him.

Black Hawk is a true Indian, and disdains to cry like a woman. He feels for his wife, his children, and his friends. But he does not care for himself. He cares for the Nation and the Indians. They will suffer. He laments their fate.

Farewell, my Nation! Black Hawk tried to save you, and avenge your wrongs. He drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner, and his plans are crushed. He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black Hawk!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Seneca Chief Sogoyewapha: A Native American Comparison of Religions

On the Religion of the White Man and the Red

["Red Jacket"]

He was born around 1752, and he died in 1830.  He was a member of the Seneca Nation.  He was given the name “Red Jacket” due to his embroidered scarlet jacket presented to him by a British officer during the Revolution.  He served on the American side in the War of 1812. This speech was delivered at a council of chiefs of the Six Nations in the summer of 1805 after a Mr. Cram, a missionary, had spoken of the work he proposed to do among the Indian Nations.  This and other famous orations with human rights content can be found at this LINK.


It was the will of the Great Spirit that we should meet together this day. He orders all things and has given us a fine day for our council. He has taken His garment from before the sun and caused it to shine with brightness upon us. Our eyes are opened that we see clearly; our ears are unstopped that we have been able to hear distinctly the words you have spoken. For all these favors we thank the Great Spirit, and Him only.

Brother, this council fire was kindled by you. It was at your request that we came together at this time. We have listened with attention to what you have said. You requested us to speak our minds freely. This gives us great joy; for we now consider that we stand upright before you and can speak what we think. All have heard your voice and all speak to you now as one man. Our minds are agreed.

Brother, you say you want an answer to your talk before you leave this place. It is right you should have one, as you are a great distance from home and we do not wish to detain you. But first we will look back a little and tell you what our fathers have told us and what we have heard from the white people.

Brother, listen to what we say. There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the use of Indians. He had created the buffalo, the deer, and other animals for food. He had made the bear and the beaver. Their skins served us for clothing. He had scattered them over the country and taught us how to take them. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this He had done for His red children because He loved them. If we had some disputes about our hunting-ground they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood.

But an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great water and landed on this island. Their numbers were small. They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat. We took pity on them, granted their request, and they sat down among us. We gave them corn and meat; they gave us poison in return.

The white people, brother, had now found our country. Tidings were carried back and more came among us. Yet we did not fear them. We took them to be friends. They called us brothers. We believed them and gave them a larger seat. At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted more land; they wanted our country. Our eyes were opened and our minds became uneasy. War took place. Indians were hired to fight against Indians, and many of our people were destroyed. They also brought strong liquor among us. It was strong and powerful, and has slain thousands.

Brother, our seats were once large and yours were small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but are not satisfied. You want to force your religion upon us.

Brother, continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind; and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a Book. If it was intended for us, as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given to us, and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that Book, with the means of understanding it rightly. We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?

Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the Book?

Brother, we do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all, but He has made a great difference between His white and His red children. He has given us different complexions and different customs. To you He has given the arts. To these He has not opened our eyes. We know these things to be true. Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that He has given us a different religion according to our understanding? The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for His children; we are satisfied.

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Brother, you say you have not come to get our land or our money, but to enlighten our minds. I will now tell you that I have been at your meetings and saw you collect money from the meeting. I can not tell what this money was intended for, but suppose that it was for your minister; and, if we should conform to your way of thinking, perhaps you may want some from us.

Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.

Brother, you have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand, and hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey and return you safe to your friends.