If reparations are due, start with Native Americans
By Rick Badie
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
The idea of reparations for black Americans sounds intriguing, though highly unlikely.
I don't expect Uncle Sam to cut me a check anytime soon. It'd be mighty nice, though.
Some black folk believe strongly that the U.S. Treasury Department owes them compensation for slavery.
Maybe. Maybe not.
But if you believe in reparations, there's another group of people just as deserving "” probably more so "” of the so-called "guilt money," and that's the Native American Indians.
At one point, they were great stewards of an American landscape that we're still covering with asphalt. That history lesson you had in school doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to telling their story.
But there's a 78-year-old retiree in Lilburn who'd be more than happy to enlighten you on the 10 million Indians who lived in America, and their ancestor's plight today.
As a hobby, Bill E. York has written and self-published two books on Native Americans. He gives lectures and seminars on the subject. Last year, he lived in a tepee for a month alongside the Idaho Nez Perce (pronounced Ness Purse) Indians. There, he learned how to make pemmican "” a mixture of meat and berries "” and to spear fish.
"You've probably never eaten a steelhead trout for breakfast," York said, "but when there's no Big Mac around, it's pretty good."
York has no Indian blood running through his veins. He got his first exposure to the life of Native Americans on his grandfather's farm in Hymera, Ind. Nearby woods had once been an encampment for the Miami Indians. As kids, York and his late older brother, John, played on the site, which still had several Indian mounds.
Years passed. York joined the Navy. Afterward, in 1946, he paid a visit to find the farm sold and the woods clear-cut. The mounds had been plowed under.
"That made me sad," York said, "and it made me think how many hundreds of times that identical scenario has played out across this country. So I started researching history and trying to find out what happened to the Indians."
The way York sees it, the government owes the remaining 2.5 million or so Native Americans something for the mostly decrepit circumstances they find themselves in today.
"The slave trade was bad, but what my ancestors did to the Indians was worse," he said. "I'm not one to get emotionally involved in any kind of issue, but they deserve reparations more than anyone else."
Last month, York fenagled some men's clothes from a friend who works in the retail business. He shipped the discards to 38,000 Lakota who live on the impoverished Pine Ridge reservation in southwest South Dakota.
He'd like for you to make a donation, too, and has set up an account with a local bank to accept money for the reservation. If you prefer, you can ship clothes and other nonperishables directly to the reservation.
"I have empathy for what happened to Native American Indians, as well as the plight of many of them today," York said. "It angers me. But I can't find anyone who is as incensed as I am about what my ancestors did."
"¢ Donations to the Pine Ridge Reservation can be made at the Bank of North Georgia, 5100 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084; Items also may be shipped to Red Cloud Indian School, 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge, SD 57770.