At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 146 years ago, my ancestors defeated the US army’s Seventh Cavalry led by George Armstrong Custer, who had previously massacred Cheyenne people.
This 25 June, on the anniversary, I will make a call to end genocide to protect diversity. I do not make this call lightly. Rather, I am speaking with a great sense of urgency from lived experience.
For the Cheyenne, the genocide started with what the US army wrongfully called “the Indian wars”, when it was nothing more than the slaughter of our people, buffalo and horses to exterminate our way of life. It is this very genocidal mindset which now produces the climate crisis, further genocides, even the threat of nuclear war.
I want to share with you the story of how my people and my family survived through generations – despite many attempts to exterminate us. The fact that we survived is a lesson in resilience, and I know that we also survived for a reason: to protect and share our teachings for a time such as this.
My late father Chief Phillip Whiteman Sr was a descendant of chiefs. We are peace chiefs – we never provoke war, our main role is to steward our people and way of life.
My father’s grandmother, Quill Dress Woman, was a little girl at the battlefield and witnessed Cheyenne matriarchs push sewing awls into Custer’s ears so that next lifetime he would listen. They did this because after the Washita massacre in 1868, where Custer had attacked a peaceful Cheyenne camp resulting in the killing of many women and children, our Cheyenne chiefs still made peace with him in a sacred pipe ceremony.
They told him to rub the remaining ashes into the ground, and warned him he would end up like the ashes if he ever double-crossed the Cheyenne. Custer did not believe us, but whatever the medicine men said after ceremonies always came true.
My family holds the songs for the sacred site by our home community, where we went into ceremony before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Our relative Ma’ome (Ice) served as the sun dance instructor for Sitting Bull when it was revealed that we would persevere.
We still pray there on 25 June every year, when Cheyenne children run the 45 miles to the battlefield.
My great-grandfather Vehoc was a young man at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Vehoc means spider, trickster – a way Cheyenne refer to white people. Christian missionaries translated this to Whiteman, since his father was a US soldier. This is where our English family name comes from, a painful reminder of the abuse Indigenous women continue to suffer, with so many missing and murdered.
This historic trauma taught me that either you hate yourself or you accept and love yourself.
Vehoc’s mother, Vonha, chose the latter path. She loved her son and raised him Cheyenne.
After she perished, persecuted in the sacred Black Hills, her sister took over as his mother, only to later be massacred by the US army at Wounded Knee in 1890. She still lies buried in the mass grave.
Vehoc carried deep scars from the Sand Creek massacre in 1864 when he was three years old. There the US army slaughtered many of our people at a peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho camp, where white flags were flying. My maternal grandmother, Milky Way Road Woman, was a direct descendant of Chief White Antelope, who was castrated there. Scores of women and children were also mutilated.
After their defeat at Little Bighorn, the US army made exterminating us their number one priority.
Within two years of the battle, our ancestors were forced to Oklahoma from our homelands in the north, even though they had been promised to us under their own treaties.
Upon suffering starvation and sickness as they witnessed the genocidal mindset being implemented, our chiefs took our peoples’ lives into their hands by leading them back north.
The US army hunted us like animals. Dull Knife’s followers were caught and imprisoned at Fort Robinson. On 9 January 1879, after days without food, water and heat, they broke out. Many were slaughtered right there and then.
The few who lived, later reunited with Little Wolf’s band, ancestors on my father’s side, who had made it home and secured the survival of the Cheyenne people in the north.
For the last 26 years, through our organization Yellowbird Lifeways, we have been organizing a run where Cheyenne children follow the footsteps of their ancestors, running 400 miles through four states in harsh winter conditions.
It is amazing to see them work together and find themselves as they overcome the conditioning of their lives on the reservation. Alcohol, drugs and suicide are merely symptoms of oppression. When they run, we remind them of their spirit, resilience and sacredness. We remind them of what we survived to maintain our Cheyenne lifeways.
Over the past year, many non-Indigenous people have been shocked to hear of the unmarked graves at Indian boarding and residential schools in the US and Canada. Not us.
This system forcefully removed Indigenous children from our families with the intent of exterminating our way of life, in violation of Article 2(e) of the Genocide Convention. That mandatory school system meets the definition of this most heinous of all crimes under international law.
No need to dig up the children’s remains, you just have to go to the cemeteries on our reservations and you will see all the buried potential. So many of our people die young from the ongoing effects of genocide.
My late mother, Florence, Appears in the Morning Woman, was very little when she was put through ceremony and given her name by her grandfather, a medicine man who was shot in the leg at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
She used to say that our medicine and teachings are the reason she survived boarding school and torture at Indian hospitals. As a descendant of chiefs, she was initiated into the Elk Scraper warrior society, whose role is to protect our Cheyenne way of life, at age 12, becoming the last warrior woman among the Northern Cheyenne.
Despite the prohibition on practicing our ceremonies and on speaking our language at the schools, my parents and grandparents raised me in both, and I inherited and earned the responsibility to maintain our lifeways.
The fact that we have survived this genocidal onslaught with our language, ceremonies and teachings is nothing short of a miracle. We were not supposed to survive, still we did.
Have you ever asked why? We know. We survived because these teachings, passed on from generation to generation, connect us to the land and the universe. They are the best counter-remedy to the intergenerational effects of genocide.
One of my teachings is that the Creator shows her love for diversity in her creation. Without the understanding of diversity there is no unity, and without unity there is no oneness with Creator.
The Creator wants us to love each other; that is what the loving Creator is all about.
Looking at the wars, mass shootings and genocides happening around the world right now, and reading about what has been done to my people above, you might ask: how can people do this to each other?
The answer is simple: what we do to each other has already been done to us. European peoples were engaging in wars and suffering the effects of genocide long before they came here, and unfortunately it is still happening now. Today, humanity faces unprecedented extinctions due to what we have done to Mother Earth.
What you call natural disasters are Mother Earth’s way of healing herself.
If western thinking could have solved these life and diversity-threatening conflicts, it would have been done by now. In 1946, Albert Einstein made a call to “let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels”. Cheyenne teachings elevate our thinking, whereas western genocidal and exploitative thinking has brought us all to the brink of extinction. I call it a mind virus: it is oppressive and does not value diversity.
We will never end war and genocide unless we change the mindset that created it. War cannot defeat war, only love can stop war.
My love and my forgiveness do not depend on you. I want to forgive you for what you have done to my people, the genocide and the eradication process. This might be our last chance to put an end to this genocidal and suicidal mindset.
I love you, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chief Phillip is the co-founder of Yellowbird Lifeways, Nurturing the Breath of Life, an organization working to pass on Indigenous teachings to facilitate this important shift in consciousness. Their community empowerment projects focus on food sovereignty and horse medicine
Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more
UNITED NATIONS — Donors pledged about $160 million for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.
“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”
UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.
Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.
In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.
“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”
Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.
Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3% of the agency’s income.
Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.
“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.
Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s U.N. Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of U.N. values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with U.N. policies.”
Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano
MEXICO CITY — A woman mountain climber in Mexico died and a climbing companion was injured when they scaled the highly active, off-limits peak of the Popocatepetl volcano.
Mexico’s volunteer Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade confirmed Friday that the climbers fell into a gully about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the volcano’s crater, suggesting they had reached the crater or near it.
The crater of the 17,797-foot (5,426-meter) tall volcano has been belching toxic fumes, ash, and lumps of incandescent rock persistently for almost 30 years.
Civil defense authorities have strictly prohibited climbers from going within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of the peak since it began erupting again in 1994.
Valentín Martínez Castillo, the mayor of the nearby town of Ozumba, identified the dead woman as a 22-year-old resident of the town.
Martínez Castillo wrote in his social media accounts that the climbers fell about 150 feet (50 meters) down a gully, and that the woman’s body and the surviving climbers had been successfully removed from the peak.
The Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade posted a notice on their social media Friday reading: “She shouldn’t have died. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. The Popocatepetl volcano is closed.”
The country’s National Disaster Prevention Center said it “calls on people not to go near the volcano, especially the crater, due to the risk of falling ballistic fragments.”
Popocatepetl is located 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, and occasionally showers ash on surrounding towns and some parts of the capital.
Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’
Former President Clinton is slamming the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying it contributes to putting “democracy at risk” and calling the high court “radical” and “activist.”
“This decision puts partisanship ahead of precedent, ideology ahead of evidence, and the power of a small minority ahead of the clear will of the people,” Clinton said in a statement on Friday.
“This jarring removal of rights that had long been guaranteed, along with decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act and abolishing any judicial remedy for admittedly unconstitutional gerrymandering by state legislatures and abuses of power by federal authorities, has put our democracy at risk in the hands of a radical, activist Court,” he added.
He said said voters should be electing people “who will defend, not deny, our cherished rights and liberties” in addition to confirming judges who put the importance of the Constitution over partisanship.
His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a step backward for women’s rights and human rights.”
The development comes as the high court ruled on Friday to eliminate federal-level abortion protections, which many anticipated after a leaked draft ruling last month.
Several states, including Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky, have now effectively banned abortion. More are expected to follow.
Roe v. Wade
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