Aaron Huey at TED & Famous Native American Words (Updated)

Aaron Huey at TED & Famous Native American Words (Updated)

Feb 14



Aaron Huey’s effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the struggle of the native Lakota people — appalling, and largely ignored — compelled him to refocus. Five years of work later, his haunting photos intertwine with a shocking history lesson in this bold, courageous talk from TEDxDU.



Wikipedia: Native Americans in the United States
Five-Part PBS Special: ‘We Shall Remain’

National Museum of the Native American
National Archives: Native Americans
National Congress of Native Americans


Watch the complete five-part PBS series here.


From the book, Indian Oratory
Compiled by W.C. Vanderwerth
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press


They Found Friends & Not Enemies

“Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed on this island. Their numbers were small. They found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat. We took pity on them, granted their request and they sat down amongst us. We gave them corn and meat. They gave us poison (spiritous liquor) in return. The white people had now found our country. Tidings were carried back and more came amongst us. Yet we did not fear them. We took them to be friends. They called us brothers. We believed them and gave them a large seat. At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted more land. They wanted our country. Our eyes were opened, and our minds became uneasy. Wars took place. Indians were hired to fight against Indians, and many of our people were destroyed. They also brought strong liquors among us. It was strong and powerful and has slain thousands….

“Brother! Continue to listen. You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind; and if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right, and we are lost. How do you know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as for you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us; and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means to understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people? Brother! You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book? Brother! We do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down, father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we received, to love each other, and to be unified. We never quarrel about religion…. Brother! We do not wish to destroy your religion, or to take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.”

— Red Jacket (1756-1830), Seneca Chief


Farewell to Black Hawk!

“From the day when the palefaces landed upon our shores, they have been robbing us of our inheritance, and slowly, but surely, driving us back, back, back towards the setting sun, burning our villages, destroying our crops, ravishing our wives and daughters, beating our papooses with cruel sticks, and brutally murdering our people upon the most flimsy pretenses and trivial causes…. They brought their accursed fire-water to our village, making wolves of our braves and warriors, and then when we protested against the sale and destroyed their bad spirits, they came with a multitude on horseback, compelling us to flee across the Mississippi for our lives, and then they burned down our ancient village and turned their horses into our growing corn. They are now running their plows through our graveyards, turning up the bones and ashes of our sacred dead, whose spirits are calling to us from the land of dreams for vengeance on the despoilers.”

“The white men are bad schoolmasters. They carry false looks and deal in false actions. They smile in the face of the poor Indian, to cheat him; they shake him by the hand to gain his confidence, to make him drunk, and to deceive him. We told them to let us alone, and keep away from us; but they followed us, like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe; we lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars; all talkers and no workers…. The white men do not scalp the head, they do worse–they poison the heart…. Farewell, my nation! Black Hawk tried to save you, and avenge your wrongs. He drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner, and his plans are stopped. He can do no more! His end is near. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black Hawk!”

— Black Hawk (1776-1838), Sauk Chief


Tecumseh & Pushmataha

In the spring of 1811 Tecumseh, of the Shawnee, spoke with warriors from the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. After he spoke, Pushmataha, a chief of the Choctaws, spoke. Excerpts from these two powerful speeches graphically illustrate the views and conflicts nearly all native people wrestled with once the white man came to their land.


“The whites are already nearly a match for us all united, and too strong for any one tribe alone to resist; so that unless we support one another with our collective and united forces; unless every tribe unanimously combines to give check to the ambition and avarice of the whites, they will soon conquer us apart and disunited, and we will be driven away from our native country and scattered as autumn leaves before the wind….

“Where today is the Pequod? Where the Narragensetts, the Mohawks, Poncanokets, and many other once powerful tribes of our race? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white men, as snow before a summer sun. In the vain hope of alone defending their ancient possessions, they have fallen in the wars with the white men….

“Are we not being stripped day by day of the little that remains of our ancient liberty? Do they not even kick and strike us as they do their black-faces? How long will it be before they will tie us to a post and whip us, and make us work for them in their corn fields as they do them?….

“Shall we 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, without a struggle? I know you will cry with me: Never! Never! Then let us by unity of action destroy them all, which we now can do, or drive them back whence they came. War or extermination is now our only choice. Which do you choose? I know your answer. Therefore, I now call on you, brave Choctaws and Chickasaws, to assist in the just cause of liberating our race from the grasp of our faithless invaders and heartless oppressors. The white usurpation in our common country must be stopped, or we, its rightful owners, be forever destroyed and wiped out as a race of people….

“And if there be one among you mad enough to undervalue the growing power of the white race among us, let him tremble in considering the fearful woes he will bring down upon our entire race, if by his criminal indifference he assists the designs of our common enemy against our common country. Then listen to the voice of duty, of honor, of nature and of your endangered country. Let us form one body, one heart, and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”


“The great Shawnee orator has portrayed in vivid picture the wrongs inflicted on his and other tribes by the ravanges of the paleface….We sympathize with the misfortunes of his people….

“If Tecumseh’s words be true, and we doubt them not, then the Shawnee’s experience with the whites has not been the same as that of the Choctaws. These white Americans buy our skins, our corn, our cotton, our surplus game, our baskets, and other wares, and they give us in fair exchange their cloth, their guns, their tools, implements, and other things which the Choctaws need but do not make. It is true that we have befriended them, but who will deny that these acts of friendship have been abundantly reciprocated? They have given us cotton gins, which simplify the spinning and sale of our cotton; they have encouraged and helped us in the production of our crops; they have taken many of our wives into their homes to teach them useful things, and pay them for their work while learning; they teach our children to read and write from their books. You all remember the dreadful epidemic visited upon us last winter. During its darkest hours these neighbors whom we are now urged to attack, responded generously to our needs. They doctored our sick; they clothed our suffering; they fed our hungry; and where is the Choctaw or Chickasaw delegation who has ever gone to St. Stephens with a worthy cause and been sent away empty-handed? So, in marked contrast with the experiences of the Shawnees, it will be seen that the whites and Indians in this section are living on friendly and mutually beneficial terms….

“It is unnecessary for me to remind you, O Choctaws and Chickasaws, veteran braves of many fierce conflicts in the past, that war is an awful thing. If we go to war against the Americans, we must be prepared to accept its inevitable results. Not only will it foretoken deadly conflict with neighbors and death to warriors, but it will mean suffering for our women, hunger and starvation for our children, grief for our loved ones, and devastation of our beloved homes. Not withstanding these difficulties, if the cause be just, we should not hesitate to defend our rights to the last man, but before that fatal step is irrevocably taken, it is well that we fully understand and seriously consider the full portent and consequences of the act….Therefore, let me admonish you that this critical period is no time to cast aside your wits and let blind impulse sway; be not driven like dumb brutes by the frenzied harangue of this wonderful Shawnee orator; let your good judgement rule and ponder seriously before breaking bonds that have served you well…”

After Tecumseh and Pushmataha both spoke, and the warriors sided with Pushmataha, Tecumseh declared Pushmataha a coward and called the Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors squaws. Pushmataha answered Tecumseh’s remarks with the following.

“Halt, Tecumseh! Listen to me. You have come here, as you have often gone elsewhere, with a purpose to involve peaceful people in unnecessary trouble with their neighbors. Our people have no undue friction with the whites. Why? Because we have no leaders stirring up strife to serve their selfish, personal ambitions. You heard me say that our people are a peaceful people. They make their way, not by ravages upon their neighbors, but by honest toil. In that regard they have nothing in common with you. I know your history well. You are a disturber. You have ever been a trouble maker. When you have found yourself unable to pick a quarrel with the white man, you have stirred up strife between different tribes of your own race. Not only that, you are a monarch and unyielding tyrant within your own domain; every Shawnee man, woman, and child must bow in humble submission to your imperious will. The Choctaws and Chickasaws have no monarchs. Their chieftains do not undertake mastery of their people, but rather are they the people’s servants, elected to serve the will of the majority. The majority has spoken on this question and it has spoken against your contention. Their decision has therefore become the law of the Choctaws and Chickasaws and Pushmataha will see that the will of the majority so recently expressed is rigidly carried out to the letter.

“If, after this decision, any Choctaw should be so foolish as to follow your imprudent advice and enlist to fight against the Americans, thereby abandoning his own people and turning against the decision of his own council, Pushmataha will see that proper punishment is meted out to him, which is death. You have made your choice; you have elected to fight with the British. The Americans have been our friends and we shall stand by them. We will furnish you safe conduct to the boundaries of this nation as properly befits the dignity of your office. Farewell, Tecumseh. You will see Pushmataha no more until we meet on the fateful warpath.”


I Am Poor & Naked

“Look at me, I am poor and naked, but I am the Chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches, we want peace and love. The riches that we have in this world, Secretary Cox said truly, we cannot take with us to the next world. Then I wish to know why commissioners are sent out to us who do nothing but rob and get the riches of this world away from us?”

— Red Cloud (1822-1909), Sioux Chief


The Great Spirit Sees & Hears Everything

“Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers. These laws were good. They told us to treat all men as they treated us; that we should never be the first to break a bargain; that it was a disgrace to tell a lie; that we should speak only the truth; that it was a shame for one man to take from another his wife, or his property without paying for it. We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that He never forgets; that hereafter He will give every man a spirit-home according to his desserts: if he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home. This I believe, and all my people believe the same.”

— Chief Joseph (1840-1904), Nez Perces Chief


I Will Fight No More Forever!

In 1877 the Nez Perces Tribe, led by Chief Joseph, attempted to flee to Canada in order to avoid a war with a growing number of U.S. soldiers who were preparing to evict the Nez Perces from their homeland and move them to a reservation. In 11 weeks of desperate flight, the Nez Perces traveled some 1600 miles through the rugged mountainous terrain of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. While fleeing with their entire tribe, the Nez Perces engaged 10 separate United States military commands in 13 different battles and skirmishes. In almost every case, the Nez Perces, although overwhelmingly out-numbered and out-gunned, managed to beat their pursuers or fight them to a standstill. General William T. Sherman described the struggle between the Nez Perces and the United States military as “one of the most extraordinary wars of which there is any record.” Only 30 miles from the Canadian border, Chief Joseph was misled into believing that he and what was left of his broken tribe would be allowed to return, unharmed, to their homeland. Convinced the white generals would be true to their word, and deeply saddened by the horrible condition of his exhausted, wounded, and battle-ravaged people, Chief Joseph surrendered–only to watch the white man break another promise and send his once proud people to a desolate reservation. What follows are the few words he spoke on that solemn occasion.

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohollhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead…. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

— Chief Joseph (1840-1904), Nez Perces Chief




  1. Look at all the positive feedback you have for your informative article. I agree with your content and your other readers. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.