My Great-Grandfather never fired a shot. Nevermind that he never owned a gun or even advocated their use. The real point is that he never fired a shot.
He had many braves that he could set upon the genocidal invaders with tomahawk and arrow; but when word came of bloodshed among the Nez Perze and Chief Josephs exile to Canada, he chose life for our tribe.
He sat upon the shore of Puget Sound and swore he would not lose his people’s land. He saw the whites move the Yakima, he saw them move the Snohomish, and when word arrived that Chief Seattle had signed the white man’s paper and shared the pipe with them in order to keep the land of his forefathers, albeit a significantly smaller area, my Great-Grandfather was of a like mind.
When the whites came to him with their thundersticks, he too signed their paper and share the pipe, and he never fired a shot.
In this way he preserved a small portion of our land by the water for his son, my Grandfather, to grow up on. The whites kept their end of the treaty by aiding in “civilizing” our people. Building their churches and laying their plumbing, all the while regarding our people with disdain and misplaced resentment. In the face of their derision my Grandfather was strong, and he never fired a shot.
Under this ominous cloud of prejudice and hatred, he raised a daughter, my Mother, to whom he taught the white man’s tongue that she might be spared certain ridicule in the white schools she was now forced to attend.
A hundred years later I would learn piecemeal of the oppressions foisted upon my ancestors; but the details are hazy because my mother never missed an opportunity to completely avoid the subject. I was forced to seek out insufficient history books and documented records, or talk to family members I’ve never met and read the minutes of Tribal meetings to learn anything substantial. She was a very strong woman to have endured such hardship. And she never fired a shot.
It’s kind of funny you know, as kids my Brother and I would play Cowboys and Indians.
Sometimes we were Cowboys and other times… I’ll never forget one time my Mother stopped our play to wash for dinner. The game ended with my Brother yelling “OK, you’re dead now because I’m the cowboy” and with a strange expression on her face my Mother looked at both of us and said “you know, actually, you’re both Indians.” We weren’t sure what she meant, “aren’t’ all the Indians dead?’
She said “your Great-Grandfather was a great Chief who sacrificed much to preserve the land of our people without ever firing a shot. His blood runs in your veins and it will run in your children’s, and because of his wisdom and strength, our people will never die.”
My brother and I got rid of our toy guns and for Christmas we got play headdresses and toy bow & arrows and tomahawks. We played a new game where all the Cowboys were killed and the soldiers were forced to sign treaties and smoke the pipe and stay the hell off our land.
Pursuant to the real treaty, I began receiving per capita checks after my 18th birthday. The dollar amount keeps going up whenever the casino increases its profit. We’re slowly taking back this country one dollar at a time. I will never get rich from these shares, but I’ve inherited a wealth of heritage for which I couldn’t be prouder. You see, my very existence is a victory, and I never fired a shot.
Bret Breeze: “I am a 60 year old male of Tulalip descent grew up in southern California and have lived in the Las Vegas valley for nearly 25 years. Las Vegas Slam winner 1998. Poet of the year 1999. Former host of weekly poetry reading. Father of four and former touring musician now working in the nursing field.”