Archive for the ‘trail of tears’ Category

In class tonight we are going to look at how American Indians use rap music and think about the themes they discuss as well as rap as a tool of resistance. We are going to listen to a rapper known as Quese IMC. Here is a brief biography of Quese IMC:

Born in Oklahoma City, Marcus Frejo, otherwise known as “Quese IMC” is Seminole, Pawnee, and Mexican-American. He is a Hip-Hop artist now living in Los Angeles, California. His musical influence was the “old school” rappers: RUN DMC and Public Enemy. Quese was performing his own lyrics by the time he was fourteen and he has shared his energy at MC Battles in the Midwest and Oklahoma. His music is a blend of traditional stories with a Hip-Hop beat. His latest CD is entitled: QUESE IMC, the Betty Lena Project.

One of the songs we will listen to is called “I Am My Ancestors” and here are the lyrics:

Like Christianity came in and the government more or less made a deal with them to Christianize the Indian people. The government decided when they started building the schools, more or less like a prison, because there were fences around the schools and guards so that the parents wouldn’t be able to see the children or the children were kept there as hostages.

When I sit pen and pad on cedar and sage
Dropping the world a mic to turn its page
Of life being a native, but a stranger in your own land
It’s something that I just don’t understand
We were forced from our homes when our population diminished
They wanted to exterminate the Indian and make the Indian finished
We used to roam the plains freely, the mountains and the canyon
The desert, swamps, coastline to the eastern man’s landing
The Bible in one hand, a rifle in the other
Saying, “thou shall believe like we do, or die like your brother”
Forced religion, forced ways, forced out of land
But not forced without a fight every woman and man
But then women, elders, and children were massacred
Protecting each other when the soldiers ambushed
While the warriors were away talking peace with the government
But that’s how they were, they always had the broken covenant
These are the tales of fears that you don’t learn in school
I felt for years these Trails of Tears
Run parallel to my dirt road
But it hurts though
Knowing the struggle of my people carried over to this 2,000 year sequel
But it’s okay, we survived
Our clans, nations, and tribes
And together we need to stand as one
‘Cause we last through oppression
And last stands we fought too long to die by our own hands
We once moved like the wind and walked a spiritual path
And as minorities of minorities we still know how to laugh
Inside boarding schools, Third World reservations
May those who don’t know start this reconciliation
Nation. Nation. Nation. Nation. Seventh Generation.

Hey, yo, in two thousand years things haven’t changed
It sucks that sometimes you’re still native and it feels kind of strange
Represent the population, the invisible people
I can honestly say in some places we’re not treated as an equal
And it pisses me off when I get on the stage in an MC battle
And I’m winning with punch lines and the guys just babble
Making fun of my origin, my being and my blood’s racing
of my culture, telling me to go back to the reservation
Calling me a drunk savage and everything that’s degrading
Dancing around like a cartoon Indian while the crowds are raying, cheering like idiots
And I’m tired of it being okay for you to make fun of my people

When I got there I had to take my clothes off, they issued clothes. It was in a military system. Everything we do is military. Then we cannot speak our language. They punish us. Sometimes we got a whipping. It was devastating. We could not wear long hair. We could not wear moccasins. They took that away from us.

From New York to LA and in the middle–Indian Country
Oklahoma to the four directions, this is my story
When I sit and meditate and think of my ancestors
The battles, the wars, the pain and pressure
So until the day the people have recognition
And acknowledgment of the native people of this land
And how it feels to be native then they’ll understand
Until then they’ll just have lack of knowledge
For every cry I’ll try a little harder
For every tear I never feared of being a martyr
For every woman on stage I’ll be the best
So ancestors, God bless, will now rest

We had to learn English. Speak English. We cannot speak but English inside the schools. Everything we do we have to ask. So we go into the office and get a pass. A whole bunch of us, we go way out into the hills, where nobody sees us or hears us. We take lunch with us, we sit in a circle, and we talk Indian. That’s how today I’m still talking Indian. I didn’t lose it. But my brother lost it all. My brother, he lost it all.

One of the allusions in this poem is to the boarding schools that American Indians were forced to go to. Zitkala-Sa, who was Lakota, wrote about this in the early twentieth-century. Here is Zitkala-Sa describing the forced removal of her braids:

But this eating by formula was not the hardest trial in that first day. Late in the morning, my friend Judewin gave me a terrible warning. Judewin knew a few words of English, and she had overheard the paleface woman talk about cutting our long, heavy hair. Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards!

We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judewin said, “We have to submit, because they are strong,” I rebelled.

“No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!” I answered.

I watched my chance, and when no one noticed I disappeared. I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could in my squeaking shoes, — my moccasins had been exchanged for shoes. Along the hall I passed, without knowing whither I was going. Turning aside to an open door, I found a large room with three white beds in it. The windows were covered with dark green curtains, which made the room very dim. Thankful that no one was there, I directed my steps toward the corner farthest from the door. On my hands and knees I crawled under the bed, and cuddled myself in the dark corner.

From my hiding place I peered out, shuddering with fear whenever I heard footsteps near by. Though in the hall loud voices were calling my name, and I knew that even Judewin was searching for me, I did not open my mouth to answer. Then the steps were quickened and the voices became excited. The sounds came nearer and nearer. Women and girls entered the room. I held my breath, and watched them open closet doors and peep behind large trunks. Some one threw up the curtains, and the room was filled with sudden light. What caused them to stoop and look under the bed I do not know. I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.

I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a coward’s! In my anguish I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.

Another important allusion in the song is about the Trail of Tears which American Indian tribes–the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole–were massacred and forcibly removed from their lands. Some of this is related to broken treaties that the U.S. government signed with tribal leaders; click here to read those treaties. Here is a brief timeline related to the Trail of Tears:

1812 – General Andrew Jackson wanted to drive out the Indians, but they were too strong for his army. He settled on a policy of divide and conquer. He started the French and Indian War of 1812 with the help of the Cherokees, they thought that by helping Andy Jackson drive out the Creek Indians, they would be given special treatment and left alone by the whites. Chief Tecumseh, of the Shawnee, tried to unify the remaining Indian Nations in a last ditch stand to resist the white invasion. In 1813, Chief Tecumseh died in battle and his dreams of a unified Indian Nation died with him.

1815 – The US government forced or tricked many Cherokees into signing treaties to trade their lands for land in Arkansas and Oklahoma. About half of the Cherokees left for the New Territories and became known as the Old Settlers.

1828 – Andrew Jackson was elected president, and Gold was discovered in Georgia. The US government was split as to protect the Cherokees land claims, or to let Georgia drive them out. Gold fever swept the south. Miners and get rich quick scam artists invaded Cherokee Territory murdering, raping, and burning. Chief James Vann, a district judge for the Cherokees, captured, tried and hung the criminals. Georgia threatened war over the outrage of Cherokees hanging white men. The Cherokees sent lawyers and statesmen to court to argue their case. The federal government had given them treaties for the land and they should be protected from the citizens and army of Georgia. Georgia governor, George Gilmore stated, “Treaties were a means by which ignorant, intractable, and savage people were induced to yield what Civilized Peoples had a right to possess.”

1830 – The US Supreme Court decided in favor of protecting the Cherokees land rights. President Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and sent the army to Georgia to drive out the Cherokees. Jackson proclaimed, “Justice John Marshall has rendered his decision, now let him enforce it.” President Jackson signed the ‘Indian Removal Act’, which required the forced removal of all Indians east of the Mississippi River to the new ‘vacant’ land obtained in the “Louisiana Purchase, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes for as long as they shall occupy it”. Between 1830 and 1839, hundreds of Cherokee families fled the district, to Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina. Even while these cases were being argued in court, the state of Georgia organized a land lottery to divide up the Cherokee Nation into farms and gold claims.

1831 – The Choctaws were driven from their homes in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The federal government had agreed to pay to feed and clothe the Indians on their journey, but the money never came.

1836 – The Creeks were driven out at the point of a gun, put in chains and forced-marched by the US Army. Some 3,500 men women and children died of hunger and exposure along the way.

1837 – The Chickasaw loaded their belongings on wagons and headed west. The Seminoles chose to fight. After a long bloody war, the survivors were herded like cattle into any boat that would float and taken across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi.

1838 – Seven thousand federal troops, under the command of General Winfield Scott, were dispatched to the Cherokee Nation. Without warning, the troops broke down doors and drug people away to stockades. Those that moved too slowly were prodded with bayonets. In October, the Cherokees were herded into wooden stockades with no food, water, blankets, or sanitation. Most of them were barefoot and had no coats or blankets, yet they were forced to cross rivers in sub-zero weather.

They were forced-marched, with army guards, as far north as Indiana, on their way to Oklahoma. Thousands of men, women, and children froze to death, died of starvation and disease. The soldiers forced the Cherokees to abandon their dead at the side of the road. What few pitiful possessions they owned, had to be dropped at the side of the road in order to carry the sick and dying. Soldiers and settlers plundered the ancient Cherokee burial grounds for buried treasure. Family possessions left behind were plundered and burned. Of the 22,000 Cherokees who started this death-march, some 5,500 died on the way. One thousand six hundred Freedmen walked the Trail of Tears along with the rest of Cherokee.

At the plantation of Spring Place, the Georgia Guard threw a burning log onto the stairs to smoke out the people that lived there. The man who had won the house in the Georgia state lottery was there, urging the soldiers on to get ‘those people’ out of ‘his’ house. The Georgia Guard drove the missionaries out of their homes and school nearby, and turned it into a brothel for the army.

Here are some videos of Quese IMC’s music you can watch:


“Them Country Roads”:

“The Indian Wars Never Ended”:


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