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Unity, Brotherhood and Redmen'ism during Martin Luther King's Memorial Week

Native American Thoughts of Unity, Brotherhood, Redmen'ism during Martin Luther King's Week

Just west of Killingly Connecticut a youthful Martin Luther King came up from the deep south and not only worked in tobacco fields but attended mixed-race dances and ate in nice restaurants – all unmolested.

It was this singular demonstration of a colorblind America far away from the Jim-Crow-era South that inspired the 15 year old to write…"We went to church Sunday in Simsbury and we were the only Negroes there. Negroes and whites go to the same church."

It was here in Connecticut that he concluded that segregation had burned a “bitter feeling” in his soul and that the future social justice leader, “felt an inescapable urge to serve society.”

Fifty two years later this region’s discussion has again focused on issues of cultural segregation, individual rights and whether or not the community of Killingly should be peacefully allowed to propagate the double helix – consisting of unity and education – found within the DNA of the historically accurate Redmen name and philosophy whose name has graced this region for approximately 100 years - almost unmolested... until recently.  

This month, the newly elected school board had returned the school's namesake after spending a few months as "Redhawks" where the previous board had voted to change their name against the will of the community and school student body.

And if you are not familiar with the objectivity and goals America's classic Redmen via ‘Redmenism’, Dr. King’s legacy is an appropriate jumping off point to shed light on the important connections.

In the 24 years between his Simsbury epiphany and the terrible Memphis shooting King routinely paralleled the themes of unity and racial brotherhood forwarded by our Native American founding fathers.

One only need consider the last notions shared between King and the Oglala Sioux Chief known as Crazy Horse before each was assassinated to make this connection.

In 1968 King claimed, “The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Crazy Horse similarly proclaimed ninety one years earlier that “The Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again.”

While Crazy Horse suggested the resurrection of the Red Nation the healing power of “light” as the prescription of fixing a sick world, Dr. King famously added that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Crazy Horse suggested interracial commonality as a fix for the future stating, “I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole earth will become One Circle again” while Dr. King likewise focused on unity – especially with the young - as the answer, “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

Crazy Horse put a finer point on this notion saying, “In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.”

It’s important to note that King and Crazy Horse’s notions of peace and brotherhood predate both men where Native and non-Native founding fathers alike understood the conveying the lessons of the Redmen as the path to a successful multi-racial peace legacy.

A 1775 Congressional speech quoting Iroquois advice from a 1744 letter likewise emphasized the same years before either King or Crazy Horse was born. It states the “The Six Nations are a wise people, let us harken to their council and teach our children to follow it.”

It was these same Iroquoian leaders who pledged racial unity in America in Philadelphia in 1776 just ahead of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Specifically the lead Onodango sachem of the Iroquoian Confederacy pledged ‘brotherhood’ to the fledgling nation’s leaders, “as long as the sun shall shine and waters run… that we be of one people and have but one heart.”

Indeed, the notion of Iroquoian Redmen predate even the birth of the United States and extend back to the birth of Deganawida, known as the peacemaker, who provided his visions of unity and brotherhood through the following of the Great Law of Peace bylaws.

Specifically, the Great Law of Peace suggests that ANYONE who comes to live by the Great Law may be accepted into the “Red” societies which followed his guidance. Many elements of the Great Law have been identified by the 100th U.S. Congress as the cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, by this measure, all citizens who follow the U.S. Constitution have explicit connections to the Peacemaker’s Native-American-based non-race-based unifying promises which are captured on and displayed today on U.S. currency in the motto E. Pluribus Unum or ‘of from many we are one’. This motto is a lasting reminder of the power of the Great Peacemaker’s message.

This Great Law of Peace was put into practice by the Iroquois Confederacy. It was in turn given to the young U.S. nation as a gift.

At this ceremony, the Red Nation leaders both pledged brotherhood with the citizens of the new American nation and gave John Hancock, the Continental President, the sacred name “Karanduawn” or Great Tree while they were in Philadelphia in June 1776. The Great Tree, a White Pine, is the symbol of the Peacemaker’s Great Law and is also the “Great Tree of Life” Crazy Horse reference made previously.

These early notions of unity, inclusivity, brotherhood and peace influenced not only influenced Dr. King and Crazy Horse, but the Sons of Liberty who planted their own Karanduawn in Massachusetts (called the Liberty Tree) and, by virtue of great respect and gratitude of the Iroquoian Confederacy and the Great Peacemaker, changed their name to the Order of the Redmen just after the Revolutionary War.

The Redmen organization stands as the nation’s oldest Congressionally recognized fraternal organization and over the organizations lifetime helped all natives gain citizenship in 1924 as well as helping found the National Congress of the American Indian who, to this day, feature a red painted war bonnet wearing native symbol as its core identifier – similar to Killingly High School’s.

But there was one time in this nation where leaders would do away entirely with these Native American notions of peace, law and brotherhood.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the lessons of the Peacemaker and the Redmen seems to have been lost over time as elected leaders once made it illegal for white citizens to take on Native American identity or speak in an Indian language.

Likewise, just last week, the Connecticut Speaker of the House suggested he’s considering fining public schools that promote the same Redmen history or identity so elegantly heralded as positive and necessary to this nation by Dr. King and Crazy Horse.

Along these lines, the Canisteo-Greenwood Redskins name was once eradicated by ignorant and wayward elected leaders in New York but, like what happened in Killingly, it was returned by force of vote and by the will of the students and community.

Meanwhile, in Utah, the city leaders just approved a Redmen watertower to grace the top of Cedar City's Hill, the state of Pennsylvania ruled that another native themed High School can keep their Redskin identity and at least two states are routing up legislation to protect the sanctity, history and traditions of native themed schools.  Idaho's can be viewed here

But specific to Connecticut's Speaker of the House, and at least one Killingly school board member who compared the Redmen name to being called a "retard", it's important to know that Dr. King specifically warned of this type of overt cultural segregation as a social poison that suggests “the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race.”

Finally, along the lines of misinterpreting history, Crazy Horse provides the pressing answer by which many unfamiliar Killingly students have mistakenly joined in with the Redmen eradicators.

To these mistaken few, it’s worth knowing that Red Nation, Redmen or Redskins has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with a status. He said, “At my death paint my body with red paint and plunge it into fresh water to be restored back to life, otherwise my bones will be turned into stone and my joints into flint in my grave, but my spirit will rise.”

Crazy Horse demonstrated that “Red” is not a race but is specific to the use of paint for spiritual or ceremonial basis.

This key fact is further clarified in the seminal research by Dr. Stanley A. Freed, the Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, and 13 other leading PhD researchers in their book entitled America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage.

These 13 experts likewise declared that “Red”, such as in Redmen, has nothing to do with race but has everything to do with the ubiquitous use of red paints and dyes as part of much of the northeast native culture.

Finally, those opposed to the Redmen cite work done by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg where she suggests eradication is the answer to having a native “mascot”, but they dishonestly leave out the fact that Fryberg also found that her 2nd, positive, win/win solution in keeping a school’s native symbol is to actually increase and embolden its Native American educational context.

Emboldening a Native American educational approach is the course of action that scores of other public schools have taken in keeping and improving on their native legacy identity, thus ensuring the vision and goals of the Peacemaker and our nation’s Native American founding fathers.

To this notion, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”


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