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Author Willem Koning in front of the Native American Educational and Cultural Center (private picture).

Once upon a time in Native America PART I

Dutch – Surinam author Willem Koning takes us on a personal adventure that occurred in the second half of the 90’s. In part I of this distinguished story the hardships native Americans encounter on a regular basis is evident.
Not much is told about what descendants of the original inhabitants of the America’s endure. Even to this date. Many of them still live in a reservation: an area initially designated as P.O.W. (Prisoner of War) Camp.
Indigenous peoples are often not being accepted in mainstream society but seen as a rarity.
or even a tourist attraction. Enforcing main stream laws and regulations upon native societies is still being regarded as invasive.

I had just finished working at a summer camp in Maine for two months. It was September 1978. I was visiting the United States on a three month visa in my Dutch passport.

So, after the camp had finished I called a friend – Tom – to tell him that I could come and visit him since I was in the States. He lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. First I had to go back to Washington D.C.: my temporary address and I had made a promise to my hosts to come back after camp.

From DC I took a famous Greyhound bus to Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Tom had said to call him when I was in Kadoka , South Dakota. There he would pick me up in a red pickup truck.

As the bus drove into Minneapolis I noticed a native man walking in the streets.

He wore  a lumberjack jacket and his hair was combed backward like Elvis. In DC you wouldn’t see any natives.

It was a rainy day.

At the YMCA I took a room and stored my bags.
Outside on the sidewalk people were already starting to rush because the rain was getting heavier.

I just needed to buy me a bus ticket to Kadoka.

Behind me I heard someone call me: “Hey Kola!”.  It was a native man who thought I was Lakota . He started to speak in his own language until I said I did not understand him.

It turned out he asked me for money .

It was clear that he just wanted to get something to drink. He said: Mni wazhi (I want water )

As time passed I learned to understand more of the native languages. Anyways I didn’t give him any money but offered to buy him lunch instead. He wasn’t too happy about that and left. I dashed across the street to buy my ticket at the Greyhound station.

It was raining cats and dogs.

There was a line. Inside the station there were two native men waiting by the doorway. One was the same man I saw from inside the bus. As I approached they greeted me. I asked what was the best way to get to Pine Ridge. One of them said he was from there and the other one was from Rosebud.

We started a small conversation and I introduced myself. They found it fascinating that my mother was from the Amazon. “You guys run around naked, right?”

As we were talking two police officers walked in with guns drawn pointing straight at us.
We received a call that some Indians were seen drinking at the bus station!

We showed that we weren’t drinking at all. Despite that, we were send out in the pouring rain at gun point .Later on it turned out the same man that I had bought a sandwich for got kicked out as well for drinking Lysol with Cola near the bathrooms with one of his buddies.

From that moment on I realized there was a certain prejudice attitude towards native Americans and that revolved around  consuming alcohol. Bear in mind that I was only in town for less than two hours  and already had had police pointing a gun at me.

We were hiding underneath a small roof at a street corner. I heard one of them say: “fucking rain.”

They spoke mostly in their own language. They offered me to stay in their apartment at the Hennipin Hotel to save money. That would be safer. That way we could look out after each other.

“You watch my back and I watch yours”, a military term. I thought it was a good idea since I didn’t know anyone there and had just experienced a  somewhat hostile encounter with  non – natives.

I dragged my stuff to the Hennipin and one of the guys – named Wayne – said he was on his way to Rosebud and suggested to travel together since Rosebud and Pine Ridge are relatively close to each other. I explained that I had an appointment with Tom White Horse .

They knew him.

Inside the hotel there was only one bed. I just had my sleeping bag. We sat down and cracked jokes until the rain was over . Now Wayne suggested we should go and pick up girls. I borrowed him a bright yellow shirt to wear which made him look like a x-mas tree.

Out on the street he said I could get fifteen dollars at the Indian Center.  Only thing I had to do was go in and say I am an Indian and have no place to stay.

I was hesitant but they said: “All they do is look at you and they will give you the money.” And that was exactly what happened. I was flabbergasted.

“I told you so!’ Wayne said.

We hung around for a while and I noticed how there was a street scene in Minneapolis of Native Americans. I even met the famous Floyd Red Crow Westerman who was sitting on some steps with a few young guys. He looked at me and said in a low voice: “Mind who you hang out with son.”

He looked worried.

Floyd Westerman was a Dakota Sioux musician, political activist, and actor. After establishing a career as a country music singer, later in his life he became an actor, usually depicting Native American elders in American films and television. 

A while later we went out to an all Indian (Native) Bar. Inside the bar Wayne looked around and said: “Hey ,look my old neighbor. Let’s go and say Hi.”

A tall impressive looking man with two long braids , sun glasses and a cowboy hat leaned by the bar. They greeted in their own language and Wayne introduced me as their friend from South America.

The tall man shook my hand, asked what we wanted to drink and then turned to me. “Before anything else, don’t fuck with me!” while he showed a .45 caliber handgun in his boot.

Things were starting to get increasingly tense in my opinion..

To me now it was clear that I entered an environment where people were not kidding around.

Girl in a pink tank top
There was a pool table and a few native girls walked in. One of them was very attractive. I couldn’t keep my eyes of her. She wore a pink tank top, blue jeans and cowboy boots. Everybody was wearing mostly jean jackets  those days.

My hair came down to my shoulders and I just wore a green shirt with a small black vest on top of it jeans and hiking boots. The jukebox played country ‘n western songs .

Then all of a sudden Wayne’s tall neighbor stepped up and yelled out loud: “You all wanna go to a party? Meet me around the back and we can see who can ride along!”

He had a big car. Wayne, some other boys and girls waited by the car. We all squeezed in.
The pretty girl in the pink tank top came to sit right next to me in the front seat.

We smiled at each other.

She grabbed my hand and said: “Finally. I have been watching you all the time.”

It was an amazing moment. Wayne was sitting by the window and the big man was driving. The party turned out to be somewhere at an free standing wooden house with a front porch.

The girl was with me now and her name was Shawna. She was Chippewa, who had just gotten out of school  and intended to go see relatives in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Reservation drop-outs
We slowly walked towards the house. Wayne warned us that there might be ‘reservation drop-outs’ in there. Guys who were  banned from their own reservation for bad or criminal behavior.

We greeted as we walked in. Native guys with bandannas, sunglasses and scars on their faces were eyeballing us. They pointed  to the kitchen area and said: “beer is over there.”

I felt pretty uncomfortable because some of the guys were already juiced up. “Let’s go outside,” my new girlfriend said. She was kind of frightened and whispered to me that she knew some of the guys who were ‘bad news’.

We went to stand out on the front porch. All the others had mingled and were amusing themselves it seemed like. Next to me a white man was drinking a beer and cracking lame jokes.

I scoped around me and thought to myself: If I were you I’d get the hell out of here!.
The native guys were not laughing at his jokes at all. They were just staring him down.

He seemed to piss them off but didn’t realize  it.

Shawna pulled my arm. She wanted to get away from there.

“Let’s get him,” I heard  behind me all of a sudden.

Quickly I turned around because I thought I was being jumped.

But instead four guys grabbed the white guy and dragged him by his hair into the bushes . They kicked him with full force on the head. I wanted to do something but Wayne and the girl simultaneously said: “Don’t or they will kill you.”

It was awful . We left the place and my new girlfriend was crying.

They will kill the guy! she sniffled’.

These so called drop-outs were banned from the reservation because they had committed murder. Guys who were most likely also wanted by police or skipping parole Wayne explained.

They passionately hated white people. Many of them were also traumatized war vets, often using acid. The tense and scary atmosphere was tangible.

The night was still young and we walked to an all Indian bar not far from there.

We bumped into a couple of guys who we had met earlier in the streets. They were Chippewa from Canada on their way to Rapid City. They were all acting rowdy. We didn’t know what was going on until one of them screamed: “Look, there is the guy in the yellow shirt. He stole our car keys.”

They ran towards us. Wayne quickly ran off into the streets. Shawna and me followed where he was going. I told her to wait across the street. When I turned around I saw that had Wayne pinned down on the hood of a car and were beating him up.

His bright yellow shirt was covered in blood. I jumped in between them and somehow managed to break up the fight. They apologized when they found out we had nothing to do with their stolen car keys.

Too little too late.

Wayne thought they were going to come after him and disappeared into the night. Shawna and me spent the night outside under the bushes because we were too far away from the hotel .

And that was just my first night in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Twin City.

To be continued..

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3 comments

  1. America was built on lies, swindles, theft, perversion, rape, murder and all sorts of other sick-minded profiteering from the suffering of others, and the first victims were the native populations. Not much has changed – lying and crimes continue from all parts of its rotted society and it has reached a global scale many times since WW2. Pretending to be free, brave, virtuous and democratic is all that pathetic country can keep trying to fool people with. US’A-hole’ owes the world 30+tillion dollars and a whole lot more from its mass-murdering infrastructure-destroying resource-thieving asset-plunderinh terror-abetting media-lying sovereignty-ravaging illegal invasion wars.

    • The harsh reality of living as Indigenous descendants in a world and society that not too long ago imposed state sanctioned genocide on your own people, proclaimed native peoples as enemies of the state is beyond comprehension.
      Often you hear “ Indians” should stop pretending to be trapped in a victimized social position.
      But what can you expect when people are being stripped of their homeland, language, culture and identity.
      It is a blueprint for severe sustained trauma .

  2. In the next episode i will reflect
    on mind boggling experiences connected to my own indigenous Carib or Karinja heritage from Surinam , South America. The story will begin at a small settlement were my late Grandmother still was living back in 1975 along the Coppename river.
    At age seventeen and eighteen my older brother and me spend six weeks visiting relatives in the City Paramaribo but also at native villages like Akarani and Bernarddorp.
    It was enlightening to realize that part of our heritage is linked to an ancient culture with a complete opposing value system compared to the one were accustomed to in Europe.Most remarkable is the difference in worldview to what ownership and property signifies.
    People were not as eagerly psyched as Multi – National Companies and Colonists to exploit or distort the environment just for a short lived commercial thrill .
    My grandmother called the forest her store and she had to make sure it should stay that way.

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