The River Reporter
Honoring the Minisink deadThe 210th commemoration of the "Battle of Minisink" on July 22nd -- in what we now call the Town of Highland -- raises questions not easily faced by those of us of European and other foreign descent.
Our earlier ancestors came to this land as aliens, under pretenses of peace, for a variety of reasons. Yet the cumulative effect of this new presence, if not its actual intent, was to rob the aboriginal landholders of their homes and cultures.
Over the next 500 years we inflicted what ranks among the most brutal and successful episodes of genocide in human history. Does anyone know how many Indians were killed on this continent before the conquest was complete? How does it compare with the number of Jews killed by Hitler?
The Indian victory at Minisink in 1779 was only a minor footnote in a history of genocide. Assertions otherwise are just a sad illustration of our natural inclination to whitewash history.
If we wish to commemorate the "battle" by remembering and honoring its dead, our focus should include all who died there, as well as the broader historical context of what these deaths meant.
Modern white America has never made amends for the wiping out of entire tribes and nations. Our ancestors saw to it that not one full-blooded member of the original people -- the Lenni Lenape -- remains today to tell their side of the story; or to exult in what remains of the beauty of their river valley.
The story of the taking of the Minisink is largely the story of how one Mohawk chief who wound up on the wrong side of a political struggle among whites, for independence from England.
A particularly tragic aspect of the racism which led to this murder of millions -- in the name of colonization -- is that our vision as a people is still impaired by the crimes against humanity committed by our forbears.
One explanation sometimes given for the conquest of America is that the strong will always prevail. Since European technology and firepower were more advanced than that of the primitive natives, "we won."
Hip, hip, hooray!
It is not comfortable to remember the circumstances which gave rise to the present system of land ownership on this continent. My own paternal ancestors not only killed Indians, but also owned black slaves.
While we can never expiate the wrongs committed by those who went before us, we can acknowledge them.
The tendency may be to deny or forget the mindset of those who stole America from its rightful owners and proceeded to wipe them out as a matter of national policy, but many of these prejudices are with us still.
The highest memorial or tribute we can pay to the fallen natives of this continent -- or to the invaders who died conquering them -- is not just to gather and pay homage under the U.S. flag, but to honestly and privately seek to purge our souls of any vestige of the racial prejudices and greed upon which this country was built.
-- Tom Rue, Contributing Editor
The River Reporter
Thursday, August 3, 1989
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To the Editor:
Your contributing editor, Tom Rue, has spoken for the soul of America in his piece on "Honoring the Minisink Dead" (TRR, July 27) and I wish to thank you, and him. This excellent editorial is one more instance in which your paper goes the second mile in truthful journalism. Congratulations!
It is not easy to write, and it will not be easy for some of your readers to accept, a statement like this. I hope you will not be bombarded with negative letters, but if you do the debate will be good for us. Silence is the worst enemy. Mr. Rue is right; we need to acknowledge what we have done as a nation.We need to recognize that greed and violence are in our heritage and our national soul. We did slaughter the native Americans and those who survived we robbed of their human rights. We enslaved Africans, and yes, we fought wars of aggression against Latin Americans. It is not enough to excuse ourselves simply by acting out what is inherent in the human scene (even if this were true.) We must see ourselves as we are, or as we were, for if we do not we are doomed to repeat our errors and even to make them worse. So let the debate go on.
Perhaps we will arrive at the point where we can rewrite our school books so that our children will learn all the truth -- the bad as well as the good. If we are honest with ourselves, we will be able to recognize and truly honor the greatness and the truth which are also in our heritage -- the principles of democracy and freedom in which all men, women and children, regardless of race, creed, national origin, or economic position are of infinite and equal value under whatever God there is, and should be so honored in our human relations.
G. Shubert Frye
© 1985-2006, Tom Rue. All rights reserved.