Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Battle of Tippecanoe: 200 Years Later

On my way back from a recent trip to Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago for Nuru, I had an opportunity to stop at Prophetstown State Park and the location of the Battle of Tippecanoe. I have for a long time wanted to visit this site where Tecumseh and his brother were beginning to build a confederacy of American Indian tribes to resist the encroachment of western settlers into Indian territory. Over the last several years, I have made it a point to visit historic and sacred sites for my tribe with members of my family and tribe.

It was a bit ironic to me as Jamie and I took a break from our long drive to visit this historic site. The date we visited was November 7th, 2011--exactly 200 years to the day of the original battle. It appeared there were a number of people who came out for the weekend to commemorate and remember the combatants (based on the number of re-enactors I saw dressed as militia people walking around the grounds).

So a bit about the significance of the battle for me. My family is Shawnee. Tecumseh and his brother were also Shawnee. Tecumseh is seen by many as one of the greatest orators and military leaders in history. He and his brother had begun assembling an array of people from tribes all over North America to stand as a united front against the illegal encroachments of settlers into Indian territory. Not only was Tecumseh a brilliant orator and military strategist, he was also an astute diplomat and a champion of justice. He's one of my personal historic heroes, and holds a special place in the hearts and minds of all Shawnee people.

For every good thing that Tecumseh represented, his brother Tenskwatawa was the anti-thesis. In early November 1811, while Tecumseh was speaking to tribes in the southeastern United States to encourage them to join this confederacy, his brother was making claims to great power, influence, and medicine. And a young American leader named William Henry Harrison began driving a militia group to encamp near Prophetstown, the gathering place of Tecumseh's confederacy. Tenskwatawa told the gathered people in his village that if they attacked Harrison and his men, they would become bulletproof, and the bullets in the rifle's of Harrison's men would roll out of their barrels and turn to dust.

But that's not how it happened. Tenskwatawa rallied people to fight and early in the morning, they attacked Harrison's camp. Harrison and his men were ready. They routed the poorly executed attack of the confederacy (without their leader, Tecumseh), and destroyed Tecumseh's dream of a massive confederacy. It also secured Harrison's political future and he later became president of the United States.

As I stood at the site of the battle, I was overcome with emotion. I can't quite describe it. I began bawling my eyes out when I thought about the lives lost in this place, and the possibilities of a different future for shawnee people that were shattered during this event. After spending a couple hours walking around the battle ground and memorials with Jamie, we proceeded to drive to Columbus, OH where I was able to share the whole experience with my best friend in the whole world, Willie, who is also a member of my tribe.

He had really cool insight for me as I told him about the great sadness I felt standing in that place. He said, "You know, nobody who had been there for that battle could have possibly imagined that there would be a Shawnee walking over that land two hundred years later." His comment put things in a little better perspective for me. It was a bright spot of a different sort. It was a reminder of the power of perseverance.

In my tribe, we have a song called Itcheepon. As I walked the battlefield on November 7th, 2011, I found myself singing it. I'd like to share one of the verses here.

"Now you think that we're gone.
Look around you! Hear my song!
Aren't the skies still blue? Don't the rivers run?
We're still here on Itcheepon.

And as I close this reflection, I'm encouraged in the middle of walking through such a sad place, because there are still Shawnee people walking on this earth. Things look different than could have been even imagined two-hundred years ago, but we are still here. HeYa!

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