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Joe Medicine Crow, the Last Link to the Battle of Little Big Horn, Dies at 102 (washingtonpost.com)
253 points by protomyth on Apr 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

The quote in there from Chief Plenty Coup really resonates with me. I grew up in that part of the world, and attended high school with a member of the Crow tribe. He was the nicest, hardest working kid I knew. His parents drilled the idea into his head that he'd have to work twice as hard as the white kids to be half as successful.

Even by the 90s, when I knew Crow kids, "second class" doesn't even begin to describe the discrimination they faced. "Prairie nigger" is a term that got thrown around--and wasn't objected to by a sitting US senator.

As far as I can tell, things haven't improved. My nephews' dad is native by race, but was raised by adoptive white parents. Looking "half Indian" nets all kind of assumptions--some innocuous but cringeworthy, others pretty ugly.

I don't know what the right answer is, but the US needs to figure out how to be less shitty to its indigenous peoples. New Zealand is far from perfect, but from my observations there, engagement with Māori is miles better than anything here.

Somethings have improved (the Tribal Community College system), and some things haven't or have gotten worse (Indian Health Service). The DoD money that helped build some industry dried up with the defense cuts in the 90's and never came back. Also, it probably doesn't help that certain institutions of higher learning don't recruit from the tribal schools and then give scholarships meant for Native Americans to non-natives (proof of tribal enrollment is quite easy to get). Also, some of the federal districts will not bring charges against non-natives who commit robbery on the reservation, and at the same time will not do the due diligence in investigating native-on-native crimes.

Enforcing the rules, continued support of the expansion of tribal colleges, understanding state money rarely gets to tribes regardless of what the bill says, and actually funding the healthcare might be a nice step forward. Please note, whatever your opinion on the PPACA, it excludes tribes (yes, I read the whole bill). Also, understanding that no bank is going to loan money for housing on a reservation and doing something at the federal level might be a nice thing.

There are some amazing bright spots, but the northern plains is a bit far from them.

AFAIK, banks can't loan for reservation housing because enrolled members don't own the land, they have a long term lease.

No, the tribal members do own the land, its just unlikely that a bank could ever foreclose because of the tribes involvement and how tribal land works. Non-tribal members get leases. The federal land rules are archaic and work against the tribal members.

Have some of the wealthier tribes fixed this problem for themselves? If they can't create a tribally-funded financial arrangement that makes a bank happy, couldn't the tribe just do the lending?

Of course, not every tribe has a casino, but if those that do had innovated in this area, we'd have a better idea of the best direction for federal funding.

Even tribes with casinos aren't rich[1][2], and yes the tribes that have cash generally give enough to their members to build the houses without loans or do some short term loans. Some have their own banks / credit unions. Sadly, a lot of the plains tribes are not in that situation.

1) most tribes were sent away from cities which makes casinos problematic, but it didn't hurt on the natural resource front for some

2) I still think the tribal pact with North Dakota that you cannot directly pay members (imagine a business that couldn't pay its owner) is the purest form of evil

Prairie nigger" is a term that got thrown around--and wasn't objected to by a sitting US senator.

Which Senator? (For my notes).

This guy is a comically nasty piece of work. His wikipedia article lists a bunch of controversies ranging from racism to corruption, and including... removing criticism from wikipedia.


Fascinating. Thanks!

>New Zealand is far from perfect, but from my observations there, engagement with Māori is miles better than anything here.

There appear to be are more Maori per capita than American natives (according to Wikipedia about 14.6 percent in the latter case and less than 2 percent in the former - I'm assuming these numbers are true but in general it's probably correct if they aren't) so that's not surprising.

Australia's treatment of it's indigenous population is a bit of a contrast to NZ's. (And I think it speaks in support of your comment -- the population is far closer to 2% than 14)

Australia's treatment of its indigenous population is really shameful - something that I think really needs to be discussed more openly. Australia got away with some of the most heinous racial cleansing programs to come from the modern world .. forced sterilizations, forced adoption of indigenous children to white families 'to shake the black out of them', and so on. These were government-funded and -supported programs, and continued even up until the 80's.

And by 'got away with it', I mean, seriously got away with it. Its not like Australia is held to the same standards as Germany is today, with regards to its racial prejudice and general malaise within the white population towards the history of the indigenous people. I think thats because Germany started a war over their racial policies - Australia just quietly swept it all under the rug in the meantime ..

It always made me sad that that was the case farther North.

I grew up in what used to be Indian Territory and there wasn't any of that that I knew about. Not much you can do about individual people, but my experience is much more optomistic.

ah, another America hater!

It's pretty coarse to use the full N word, even in quotes.

I can understand where that word could be offensive even in this context. I don't feel particularly comfortable using the word in any context. I considered censoring, but in the end decided that "prairie n-word" was a bit too euphemistic compared to the actual usage. These are northerners who, in this century, understand the full context and ugliness of the term, and choose to use it anyway. Apologies to anyone offended by my quoting it.

Having given it considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that I will use words like that in academic or quotational contexts, but only if I'm with company who will understand my intentions and not be offended. Although I value clarity and the ability to have thoughtful, dispassionate discussion of sensitive topics, I do not want to be an asshole, nor do I want to give the impression that I think casual usage of these terms is acceptable. Some would say that I have no right to use these terms at all, but I don't feel this is reasonable (though I won't argue this point or attempt to use such words in front of those who hold this view). The primary reason not to use these words is to avoid inflicting pain and perpetuating intolerance, but if my wife and I are having a private discussion about, say, homophobia, and I recant a story that involves the quotation of a slur, I am hurting no one and perpetuating nothing.

I would personally have elected not to use it in this case given the wide audience, but I understand that the context was not hateful and it was being used to illuminate a real situation and promote discussion. Just my opinion, not a permission slip obviously.

One of my favorite joints as a kid: http://genius.com/A-tribe-called-quest-sucka-nigga-lyrics

I said the word non-chalantly to my girlfriend in a sentence the other day (to see what her reaction would be), and she nearly fell out of her chair. We're both white. The word is, and I think will always be, extremely powerful.

Singing along to rap whilst walking down the street remains an exercise in paying attention to who is around me. If I'm alone you can be damned sure I'm singing the whole thing. It's far from just that word which is completely inappropriate - but hell I'm having fun.

What would be the purpose of censoring it out? Everyone would know what term was being used anyway.

The point is that

> it was used just about every time a Black person was whipped, chained, beaten, insulted, spat upon, raped, lynched, or otherwise humiliated and mistreated by White folks.

Since everyone would know what term was being used anyway, why NOT censor it, given it's vile origins? Why continue to say it?

Precisely because it is vile. Why did you have to use the word "rape" in your comment? Couldn't you have just said "sexually assaulted"? Or r-ped?

I appreciate it when people don't nerf their language, personally. It's just more honest.

Honest at the what cost, though? White people continue to try and use the word with whichever excuse they can find.

There is a vast difference between the word rape and the N word.

When quoting what someone else actually says, there's no word that should be censored in my opinion. If someone is coming up with excuses to say vile shit, then call them on it. But quoting what someone else actually said isn't trying to "use the word with whichever excuse they can find".

> Honest at the what cost, though?

Good question. What is the cost that you're talking about?

Speech has intent behind it. Peatmoss' comment doesn't seem intended to hurt anyone. It seems intended to drive home the unfairness that they (peatmoss) witnessed, and to remind us that racism is still a widespread problem. I don't think that a bowdlerized version of the comment would've had the same impact.

If you're directly quoting someone, you should use the words they use.

There's a vast difference between using a racial slur yourself and calling out someone who does.

And why do you think white people look for excuses to use the word? I haven't heard a White person use it since middle school.

Life can be pretty coarse, my white friend.

Why do you think I'm white?

i second that opinion that you're a white, and raise that you are a male.

What makes you think so?

Historians call this "living memory", either direct witness of events up to 105 years ago, or had talked to a direct winess of events, up to 200 years ago. anything more indirect is oral or recorded history.

For example I am old enough to have seen the last living Civil War veterans and slaves talk about their experiences.

Ive read we tend tomonly know our ancestors up to the living history limit, an no further, unless s/he was a very notable person. We might have heard our grandparents stories about their grandparents.

Republican Rome held a living history party called The Jubilee. A new Jubilee was held when last person who remembered the previous Jubilee died. (It gradually got debased to celebration of a leader who ruled for a long time.)

Only two ladies are alive from the 1800s, but dont remember it.

Source for Jubilee? Googling it yields nothing but the christian version.

Reading stories about the life of a 102 year old man really evokes feelings of inconsequentiality. I used to get the same feelings listening to my grandfather talk about World War II (which he didn't do often, but enough that I have memories of it), but not to this extent because I was younger and didn't know what my life would hold. As more years pass, I realize how little I've done... seen... and the smallness of impact my life has had.

This could make me sad, but instead I feel somewhat inspired by the character and life course of a person like this.

You perhaps get less opportunity for heroism, but on the whole be thankful for your small impact I think.

One common thread from both dad talking of WW2 and grandfather of WW1 was a lifelong cynicism of all things political. My Uncle was in Burma and got to see the River Kwai bridge as a prisoner. He never talked of the war. I only learned of this from dad, but was asked never to mention it. I wish I had chance to talk more in my 30s and 40s when my perspective had matured.

I think I'm quite glad I never lived through events of that magnitude now I've matured past "Oooh I could have flown a Spitfire" of childhood. Despite the terrorism in the media constantly, we're in far safer times.

I am saddened to read in this thread that we seem to have still not figured out how to treat indigenous people well.

My uncle was a Marine in WW2, and I never heard him talk about those times. I can only imagine what it was like: he served on Iwo Jima, where he received a battlefield promotion from Sergeant to Major.

The Japanese theatre was hell. Iwo Jima was inch by bloody inch as virtually none surrendered. The life of the japanese' prisoners horrific. I think a lot of people out there were reluctant to talk much and PTSD wasn't understood but probably common. In my uncle's case he came back weighing nothing and broken. Took years to get back to something like normality I gather.

I'm very grateful we live in safer times, in part because people like our fathers, grandfathers, and Joe Medicine Crow participated in wars so that we (hopefully) never again have to. I think the twinges of existential crisis mostly come from the idea that I'm mostly just sitting and fiddling with bits of code, many of which will not benefit the world in any great way.

Of course, it's stories like this one and others that serve to remind me that maybe I could, or should, contribute to something more positive and beneficial.

And I fully agree with your last point too.

We don't live in safer times. Times are as dangerous as before. The difference is that there are a group of volunteers who fight the wars so that the rest can pretend the world is safer.

The world would appear less safe to you if you, or someone close to you, were required to serve and fight the wars.

Reflected in: handwritten sign in a US military facility in Ramadi, Iraq. The sign read, "America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall." from a Boston Globe article in their paid archive.

> existential crisis mostly come from the idea that I'm mostly just sitting and fiddling with bits of code

I can relate to that so much. It's the main reason I did a career change after many successful years in IT. I'm now in conservation, where I hope at least a few of the things I do outlast me.

I keep half an eye out looking for a worthwhile OS project I can use some of my coding smarts on before I forget it all. Nothing yet has really enthused me. Something that makes a difference to some lives perhaps. All I can really say is I'll know it when I see it.

If you have't had children yet, once you do you'll realize how large of an impact you will have on their lives.

First due in July... :)

Prepare to feel emotions you didn't know existed. Good luck it's awesome :)

The impact of a life is not simply a matter of the historical significance of an individual. A great many people have been hugely influential in ways that just aren't apparent or measured.

I don't disagree. It's a more personal feeling than how I might measure or respect the impact of others.

> This could make me sad, but instead I feel somewhat inspired by the character and life course of a person like this.

Good, because the point is to feel inspired. Do with what you got left what you can. With the world how it is, a life lived without causing pain to others is a damn fine legacy.

> After a moment’s tussle, he grabbed the man’s neck. “I was ready to kill him,” he said.

> And then the German yelled, “Mama.”

> “That word ‘Mama,’ opened my ears. I let him go.”

Stuff like this really gets to me, for some reason.

Hey, it worked on Batman too.

I married a woman who was raised on the Crow reservation. Her and her brother were mostly white, but they were members of the tribe. Interestingly, at the time we married, I was a Cavalry Scout with the US Army (19D secondary MOS, 11B primary). Anyways, stories still pervade that culture. Everybody knows what it takes to become a war chief. I believe there will be another in the future at some point. The circumstances get more difficult to fulfill, but I do think there will be another one day. Also interesting is the "generally known, accepted fact" of Custer having been killed while wading through the river by himself and with one other soldier (bearing the standard), apparently leading the charge into the village. He did not die on the hill. Also, it's told that he was mighty drunk when that happened.

1/4 blood quota is what most tribes require to be tribal members. If you have children, its worth the effort to make sure the kids are listed by the tribe even if they don't make the blood quota. Some schools get extra money on decedents for certain programs.

I believe for the Crow tribe, it's 1/8 blood to enroll. If I had had children with my ex-wife, our kids would have been able to enroll, and I would have enrolled them. You're absolutely right, that there are some good benefits to being enrolled in a tribe.

Interesting, the Chippewa go with the 1/4 rule, and I'm 1/8 so I got all the "fun" of the Rez and not much of the upside. Plus, it was a Dakota rez instead of home country. Sorry it didn't work out.

I will always remember the episode in the Ken Burns' documentary "The War", when he describes his service during the Second World War and how somewhat unbeknownst to himself, he became the last war Crow chief.

His retelling of the incident in which he stole 50 horses from some SS officers was especially memorable.

And if you saw it in a movie most would say how full of BS it was. I do love the world because some truths are weirder than fiction. Plus, a Crow war cry echoing in Europe makes me giggle.

I don't understand why they're calling him the last link to the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was born in 1913, well after the Battle of Little Big Horn.

He heard the stories directly from the participants in the battle and was the last Crow war chief thus breaking the line with his death. The Herman Viola quote is fitting, but probably should have something about him seeing quite clearly what was needed for his tribe in the future.

The article references hearing stories of Little Big Horn from a direct family member who had his own direct connection to Custer. That's likely why.

How can they glorify war so much without making a clear distinction of which side is right and which side is wrong? If you're on the wrong side of a war, then stealing a horse, invading someone else's territory or killing soldiers are absolutely wrong things to do and having a tradition of violence and crime doesn't somehow make it OK. We don't give ISIS soldiers that same kind of respect because we feel they're on the wrong side. How can we expect to be capable of judging every ancient Indian war and knowing that the Crow family was always on the right side? Even in WWII it wasn't clear at the time.

I finished reading "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" a few days ago. It was emotionally draining reading the history of the native Americans' extermination by the colonialism of the USA in the 19th century. It's surprising there are any left living today given how they were treated.

There are some books that I believe everybody should read, this is one of them.


The requirement of the horse in the requirement is odd: "The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, but by then Equus had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa" [1]

For a significant portion of the Native Americans existence in America, there were no horses. They were introduced back into the environment by Europeans.

Which means this rule for becoming chief hasn't always been part of the requirements. It was added sometime in more recent history, and implies that the definition is probably being followed too strictly.

This is like translating holy books literally, when they were written in completely different contexts. I'm sure the tribe could vote to change the definition to bring it up do date, yet still maintain the ideal.


You read a bit too much into an English translation of a set of rules that predates their use of English. I'm pretty sure the words for a lot of 4 legged animals are related by root word in Crow the same way they are in Dakota. There wouldn't be any vote, the tribal elders would decide, and I am guessing camels or yaks would qualify if it came up.

Fair enough. Do you know what other domestic animals would have qualified as a replacement in the language at the time?

Dog comes to mind first, stealing those would tick someone off a lot. Like the horses later, it was what you brought hunting and was a companion animal. Horse and dog are 1 word difference in Dakota: sunka (dog) vs. sunka wakan (horse). S is a sh sound, emphasis is 2nd syllable.

[edit: of course I'm not Crow, I grew up with their rivals]

Horses were re-introduced to America in 1519. That is more than enough time (3 centuries) for the Crow to have integrated the behavior of horse-stealing into their culture.

Wow, so he would have been born about a year before Einstein discovered General Relativity.

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