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We are not dumb Indians

There is a true story that was told to me by an elder, a veteran from Cheyenne River. This took place in the 1950s not long after World War II at a time when the people were really poor. This is before the poverty programs of the 1960s and 70s. It was a time when it was hard to even find game such as deer or antelope or even rabbits. It was a time when everyone helped each other out.

Each year, the little town of Faith held a stock show and rodeo where the local ranchers could sell their livestock. Faith is a small, border town near the Cheyenne River Reservation. In the evenings, there would also be a small traditional pow-wow, not the modern competition pow-wows that are today, but the social dances that the pow-wow is supposed to be. People would come from Cheyenne River and camp, watch the rodeo and stock show during the day, and in the evening, dance and visit at the pow-wow. Of course, tourists and local town people would also attend. It was a friendly, social event.

However, during the day, the Cheyenne River people were noticing one wealthy, white tourist camped in a fancy travel trailer. He would buy little trinkets and other beadwork from the Indian people. No one said anything. Then he bought a very nice, intricate breast plate from a little boy dancer for $5. No one said anything. The breast plate belonged to the little boy so no one interfered. That is our way to let the boy learn.

The next day, everyone saw this older, very humble, quiet Native American man from Eagle Butte, who was called Jacob, walk up to the travel trailer carrying a big brown paper bag. He was invited inside the travel trailer with his brown paper bag. When he came out, he no longer had the paper bag, and almost immediately the wealthy tourist drove away.

When Jacob reached his friend’s camped nearby, after the tourist left, he pulled out a wad of bills from his pocket. Everyone looked at him and asked what he had done. Jacob smiled and said, “I just sold him some very rare porcupine eggs.” Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a cockle-bur. Everyone laughed and laughed. “We are not dumb Indians.”

My friend, who just had his 87th Birthday, wanted this story told so our people would know we are not dumb, and “there is no racial supremacy.” If our people really want to know the intelligence our people had, and still have buried in their genetic memory. but clouded by methylates on their DNA caused by extreme trauma, then there are a couple of books I would recommend reading. Yes, they are hard to read because they contain words that you have to look up in a dictionary. That is all the more reason to read them. Learning something new is always an adventure.

While attending the University of North Dakota, I was privileged to come across the book, “American Indian Medicine.” It was written in 1973 by Virgil J. Vogel, a white graduate student for his doctorate degree. This book should be required reading for every Native American in the United States and Canada to disrupt the awful forced assimilative thinking that we are dumb, as it affects so many of our people. It will open up your eyes to who we were before the ‘Invasion.’ (The ‘Invasion’ is the colonial-settlers who illegally invaded all of our territories and brought disease and starvation.) There are other books too, but this one is an excellent work of presenting facts by a white man, facts which were and still are disturbing to the powers that be.

Another book is “Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact” by Vine Deloria Jr., a major Native American writer, which came out in 1995. Again, you will need to look up some of the words. The most important point is it exposes the falseness of many ideas stated as facts from the United States’ experts about who we are and where we came from. These false “facts” are a part of the forced assimilation to degrade us into believing we are dumb. For example, the Bering Strait theory is fully exposed as only a thought, not a fact, with other studies by experts from around the world. Our origin stories and other stories are given much more credibility showing that our ancestors knew what they were handing down to us in their stories through the ages. Again, this is another book that every Native American should read no matter how hard it is. It will open your eyes and your mind to many things and show that our people did NOT make up stories for children’s entertainment only.

There are many other books written in the last decade that now debunk the idea that [American] Indians are dumb. That idea was caused by misinformation, prejudice, and especially racism and colonization. It doesn’t matter if others think we are dumb as long as we know who we are. So, my friend from Cheyenne River, I always will be glad to tell Jacob’s story as it is not only comical but wise. Thank you for letting me share this.

(Contact Charmiane Whiteface at

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