To Remember and Honor

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  As National Holidays go, you cannot argue against remembering those who died while serving in the United States Armed Services.  And we should not.

However, if we are going to honor the dead due to military service, then for those of us who live within US borders, we cannot and should not stop there.

Memorial Day was first birthed as Decoration Day.  Some say Decoration Day started from folk decorating the graves of people who served in the US Civil War.  This led General John A. Logan on May 5, 1868 to call for a national day of remembrance called “Decoration Day.”  In time, the name Memorial Day came into use and one hundred years after Logan’s call for Decoration Day, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (June 28, 1968) formally calling the last Monday of May Memorial Day.  All good and well.  Except when we allow another 1868 agreement to challenge us to remember all who die due to military service.

Only six days before Logan’s call for Decoration Day, the US signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie (April 29, 1868) in Dakota Territory with the Sioux bands: Brule, Ogallala, Minneconjou, Yanctonais (Spellings are as written in the Treaty), and the Arapahoes.  Establishing the Great Sioux Reservation.  A few events prior to the signing of the Treaty:  One week prior to signing the Emancipation Proclamation (December 26, `1862) President Lincoln orders the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men in what is now Mankato, Minnesota—the largest mass execution in US history; Colonel John M. Chivington massacres more than 200 peaceful Cheyenne’s at Sand Creek, Colorado Territory.  These events come on the heels of the first Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.  The 1851 treaty was tenuous at best and by 1862 Dakota reservations and communities were starving. As an aside, Andrew Myrick, who was responsible for distributing treaty annuities and rations at the Lower Sioux Agency said, “So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry, let the eat grass or dung.”  Myrick did not live long after that.  The point being, there is a long list of US military actions against North American Indigenous people.  And those actions led to deaths of Indigenous warriors, elders, women, and children, as well as, white settlers.

To commemorate Memorial Day as a day to remember only those who died while serving in the US military is too simple a thought or action today.  I want to be sure to honor my kin who died in US military actions so my children may live good lives.  Yet, I must also acknowledge and honor those who died, both indigenous warriors and innocents (Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike) who died (slaughtered, raped, mutilated) at the hands (or the result of action(s)) of the US military.

National holidays tend to have a binary nature.  We either for it or against it.  Memorial Day, though, could become a day of remembrance which calls the people of a nation to know, acknowledge, and grieve ALL losses due US nationalism, expansionism, and colonialism.  To do so might allow us to move beyond thinking of peace as the cessation of war or conflict or that which is held in place by a strong military, to a time of wholeness and justice affirmed in the concepts of shalom and harmony.  To do so, honors the deaths of all our kin, for our memories and remembrances will have taught us to save tomorrows people from the atrocities our ancestors knew all too well.

2 Comments

  1. I am a pastor in northwestern Missouri. I have learned much of what you write about here through a rather circuitous route – but I am heartened to see these words in print within this context. I have struggled for many years during our national holidays to somehow tell a bit of this indigenous story alongside our current narrative. Thank you for the clarity and the prophetic voice to name these things.

    Like

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