Chief Joseph: “Let me be a free man”
The white man has no right to come here and take our country. We have never accepted any presents from the Government. Neither Lawyer nor any other chief had authority to sell this land. It has always belonged to my people. It came unclouded to them from our fathers, and we will defend this land as long as a drop of Indian blood warms the hearts of our men.
You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.
Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.
~ Chief Joseph, Nez Perce; 1879, Lincoln Hall (Washington D.C.)
Of all the atrocities committed by governments through world history, few can compare to the travesty of the treatment of Native American tribes between 1500 and 1900. Within 400 years an entire culture made up of decentralized yet highly coordinated tribes was nearly wiped off the face of the American continent. The displacement, removal, and outright extermination of Native Americans remains one of the deadliest and most vile actions perpetrated by the U.S. government.