Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.
Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without a struggle, give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will cry with me, "Never! Never!" — Tecumseh of the Shawnees
This quote from the chief of the Shawnees opens the first chapter of the 1970 book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by acclaimed American writer Dee Brown.
Tecumseh's haunting words, uttered in the early 1800s to encourage creation of a confederacy of tribes to fight the invaders, serve to remind us of the brutal injustices heaped upon American Indians as the conquerors proceeded on a centuries-long quest that would later be called "manifest destiny."
We can regret parts of our history, but we can't change them.
The wholesale annihilation of many indigenous peoples, and the subjugation of the few who remained, will be and should be debated in this country for generations to come.
What is as appalling as the original sins is that even after most Indians had been relegated to reservations, and after the signing of hundreds of treaties (mostly broken), American Indians continued to have their lands pillaged by private industry and the U.S. government.
Again, we can't rewrite history, but we can most certainly stop the destruction and make some amends for the devastation.
That's why it brought some satisfaction, along with a great deal of dismay, to hear last month that a $3 billion settlement had been reached in a long-standing lawsuit by Indians claiming mismanagement of their lands by the federal government.
The government has agreed to pay $1.4 billion to be distributed among more than 300,000 Indian tribe members; allocate up to $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land broken up in previous generations; and authorize $60 million for the creation of a scholarship program, according to The Associated Press.
The frustration comes because the tribes claim that they are owed more than $47 billion for leases that the Interior Department has administered since 1887.
Still, the plaintiffs in the suit have agreed to settle both past and future claims.
The settlement, which came just weeks after President Barack Obama assured leaders of 564 tribes of better treatment from the government, must be approved by a federal judge and Congress.
After learning of this major breakthrough, I was curious whether it includes the members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of East Texas, which has been fighting for reparations for its historically raped lands.
Carlos Bullock, chairman of the tribal council, told me that the Alabama-Coushatta were not part of the settlement because they were not among the original "recognized" tribes.
In 1954, the federal government relinquished its trusteeship of the tribe's land to the state of Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta was reinstated as a federally recognized tribe in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-89.
Bullock noted that his people have their own claims against the federal government and said Obama's meeting with Indians gave him hope that they were moving closer to resolving their grievances regarding more than 100 years of trespassing, timber harvesting, and oil and natural gas production on their ancestral lands.
Seven years ago, a federal judge recommended that the tribe of about 1,000 members was owed $270.6 million for transgressions dating back to 1845.
They are still waiting for Congress to allocate those claims.
The state has prohibited this tribe and one other in Texas — both of which have suffered historically with poverty and unemployment — from operating gambling casinos. So the least we can do is urge the government to pay it what it is rightfully owed.
Otherwise we merely continue the sins of our fathers.
Tecumseh, whose name means "Shooting Star," no doubt would be even more alarmed today than in 1811 and 1812 to see how the United States continues to treat American Indians.
He might very well repeat one of his other most-quoted statements:
"We gave them forest-clad mountains and valleys full of game, and in return what did they give our warriors and our women? Rum, trinkets, and a grave."