Donald L. Vasicek, award-winning filmmaker, the award-winning documentary film, “The Sand Creek Massacre”, screening film at a University of Denver class. See modified version at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylmM2KL5D7w
Southern Cheyenne Chief Laird (Whistling Eagle) Cometsevah
“The Other Side of Racism and Hate”
Donald L. Vasicek
So, there was this hot, windy day in Oklahoma City, May 25, 2017, which was the beginning of learning a lesson about racism and hate that parallels that of the hate groups in America today. I should’ve known better before I accepted an invitation to come here to speak at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Veterans Memorial Day Service and to screen my award-winning documentary film, “The Sand Creek Massacre”. I should have known better because since I wrote, directed and produced the film, I have looked intothe eyes of racism and hate over and over and over during screenings and appearances in every major city in the U. S. It is a most chilling experience.
The Director of Cheyenne and Arapaho Veteran Services, a personable Cheyenne man with coal black, wavy hair, and smooth light brown skin with a dynamic personality, kindly drove me to each location where I was to be. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Complex in El Reno, Oklahoma was our first stop. When we walked into this massive-sized hall, he left me to myself to attend to his job responsibilities. As I scanned the huge room, I saw numerous Cheyenne and Arapaho people milling around. I did not see 1 white person. It gave me a feeling of fear.
Suddenly, several Cheyenne and Arapaho people swarmed me. They introduced themselves, said they were excited to meet me. They had made up flyers and posted them all over Oklahoma City, El Reno and Concho, Oklahoma, in anticipation of my appearance. Each person wanted something different from me. One man asked me to sign 7 different posters of me with my photo and Sand Creek Massacre film poster along with my bio on the posters. Another, Larry, a Cheyenne man wearing a fedora, sunglasses and a white patch of hair at the crease in his chin, wanted to talk with me about the Sand Creek Massacre and his ancestors who were there, and survived. A Cheyenne woman print journalist asked to interview me after I gave my speech. 3 other Cheyenne woman asked me for copies of the film. A trim and handsome Cheyenne man who is a re-known forensic face expert, introduced himself to me. He creates “faces” from dead bodies so that it helps law enforcement identify dead bodies. Meeting him was exciting because I read true crime books and watch true crime t.v. shows. He has been mentioned in some of the books and shows.
After several men and kids sitting in a circle around drums played and sang 3 songs in Cheyenne, a Cheyenne and Arapaho color guard presented its colors. There were 3 Cheyenne and Arapaho speakers, 1 of whom was the Lt. Governor of Oklahoma and a USMC member. When I spoke I commended the 6 Cheyenne and Arapaho men who told their story in “The Sand Creek Massacre” film, particularly those who served America in the military service. In an attempt to establish some common ground with the audience, possibly 1 to 200, all of whom were Cheyenne and Arapaho with the exception of a white camera person taping the service, I mentioned Trump by saying that there was a racist and bigot who lived in the White House.
When my speech was over, there were echoes of applause. I write, echoes, because they were few who applauded me. But those who did, their applause bounced off the walls of the massive-sized room. My film was turned on for everyone to watch (there were about 200 people there). While the film was playing, sitting alone, I started eating my box lunch, while a Cheyenne print journalist interviewed me for her newspaper. Then, 6 Cheyenne men came up to me. They pulled out chairs. The sat down and circled all the way around me. I ended up sitting in the middle of them, you know, like I was being attacked like Indian’s attacked whites encroaching on their lands during the 18th & 19th centuries, who circled their wagon trains to protect themselves from the attacks.
The spokesman a burly, intimidating man with an angry look on his face, whom I’ll call Mr. X, told me with no blinking of eyes that I was exploiting their people by having made this film and distributing it. He asked me who gave me permission to make the film. I told him I traveled to Clinton, Oklahoma, Lame Deer, Montana and Wind River, Wyoming Cheyenne and Arapaho reservations and appeared before Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal councils to get permission to make the film. They approved it. The angry man told me that a PBS t.v. station came down to Oklahoma to shoot footage for a Sand Creek Massacre story. He said they promised his people and him that they would pay them, which they never did.
As I looked around the circle, and met each man head on in their eyes, and stone-cold faces, I saw that their pupils were black. Like the eyes of a snake, motionless, angry, maybe fearful, they stared right through me like laser beams burning holes in my very being. Fear drove me to attack.
I told them they were insulting my integrity and professionalism. I told them that I made the film to provide a voice for their people. I said there was never any intention to make any money off of the film or to acquire fame because of it, something Cheyenne and Arapaho people on other reservations had confronted me with before. I went on to say I hadn’t made any money from sales of the film, that I was still paying for its production out of my own pocket, and that I would never make any money on the film.
We proceeded to have a stare down. I wasn’t going to blink or move. I thought, “fuck them”. They owe me an apology. Finally, Mr. X stood up. The other 5 men stood up. He offered his hand to me, as well as each of the other men. We shook hands. Each of the other men shook my hand. They smiled. They showed me respect. Mr. X thanked me and said that they no longer had a problem with me making the film. The forensic face man asked me where he could get a copy of my film so that he could show it in classrooms for appearances he makes in schools.
That evening I screened the film at the Concho, Oklahoma Community Center. There were 50 chairs, all of which were filled, with Cheyenne and Arapaho people. I was the only white person there. After my speech and the screening, 2 different people attacked me for making the film. A Cheyenne woman. An Arapaho man.
The Cheyenne woman was right in front of me, feet away. I have never, ever, faced anyone with such a hating look that she gave me. It was chilling. I really believed that she wanted to take me out. She ranted about how white people treat the Jews by building monuments for them, giving them money, helping them out with training and jobs, but they do nothing for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. She asked me, “Why is that? Why are whites helping the Jews, but not us” as though it was my fault.
I told her that I made this film as a voice for her people. I told her that other white people have helped create organizations in colleges and universities for America’s indigenous people to further their education. I told that there are companies and corporations who have and are creating jobs for America’s indigenous people. I told her that there are many groups of white people who stand up for America’s indigenous people. I told her there are television and radio programs that have their doors open to America’s indigenous people. I said that there are a multitude of white people who donate money and time to help America’s indigenous people get places to live, food to eat and transportation.
She said, “That isn’t enough.”
I was unable to take my eyes off of her eyes. Her pupils were small and black, shaped like inverted almonds. The hate that emanated from her eyes terrified me. I was stunned by it. I was thinking that she was going to pull out a knife and stab me. She showed so much hate towards me. I was about to step back from her when I was suddenly able to look through the hate in her eyes. On the other side of the hate, I saw the look of betrayal, of sadness, of a loving woman who was devastated by the trust by her ancestors that was broken by white people many years ago and continues to exist today, even to the point of genocide. It was at that point that I saw her vulnerability.
I asked her, “What is enough?” She blinked her eyes then. Tears filled them. Mine were on the brink of tears. She smiled. She reached out her hand to me. She thanked me for making the film. I wanted to open my arms up to her, to hug her, but the fear was still there even though, for the first time in my long odyssey with “The Sand Creek Massacre” film, which has taken me to nearly every state in the country for screenings, speaking appearances, questions and answer sessions on radio and television, traveling to schools, colleges, universities, organizations, corporations, film festivals, etc., I felt as though I had finally found some common ground with racism and hate.
I will always remember the little 4th grade girl who watched the film with 73 parents, faculty and students at Walnut Hills Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado. She asked me, “Why do people hate Indians?” I was speechless. Now, I could answer her question better than I did then. And what do any of us have, if we do not have love in our hearts for human beings?
Sand Creek Massacre Site Trail
There have been educators, historians, politicians, retired military, authors, writers and the like who have confronted me about my perspective on the Sand Creek Massacre (battle?). Many believe that it was a battle whereby the Indian Plains War of 1864, the Hungate murders in June of 1864 about 15 miles southeast of Denver City, racism, ignorance about the Indian culture, hate, power, skirmishes between troops and Indians and settlers and Indians, etc. triggered Colonel John M. Chivington, with over 700 1st and 3rd Colorado Cavalry in addition to New Mexico troops and four 12-pound canons (first and only time canons were used in Colorado during a battle (massacre?), to attack defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho special needs people (Cheyenne Chiefs are responsible for everyone in their tribe. Where they travel, so does everyone else. Chief Black Kettle was the Cheyenne Chief of the Council of 44 Chiefs at Sand Creek), elders, women and children at Sand Creek while the warriors were out on a hunting trip.
The Fort Wise 1861 Treaty and amended in 1864 sent the Cheyenne and Arapaho to Fort Lyon and then to Sand Creek where it is arid and the land is barren and consists primarily of sagebrush and mostly treeless. The Fort Wise Treaty stipulated that the U. S. government would provide tools and seeds and teach the Cheyenne and Arapaho to raise crops on this land in place of following the buffalo, which is how they had always survived. U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs A. B. Greenwood, the government’s negotiator, told Chief Black Kettle at the time of the negotiations that he would represent the Cheyenne and Arapaho after Chief Black Kettle raised the question about legal representation for the Indians, which was, at the least, a conflict of interest, and illegal.
This attack at Sand Creek resulted in rape, executions, murder, mutilations and burning of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were camped at Sand Creek. My perspective counters those who say that with the fear of the Cheyenne and Sioux congregating on Smoky Hill to plan an attack on Denver City resulted in the Sand Creek Massacre (battle?). Based on years of research, which has included reading numerous books, articles, websites, academic journals, interviewing educators, historians, politicians, military persons, letters by people during those times including Silas Soule, a hero of the Sand Creek Massacre because he refused to unlimber his canon on the Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were fleeing the attack authors, writers, Cheyenne and Arapaho people and the like, it is my opinion that the Sand Creek Massacre (battle?) was a massacre. Much like ISIL and Nazis, some Colorado and New Mexico troops brutalized the Cheyenne and Arapaho people in the Sand Creek camp including beheading, burning and execution.
Those who have opposed my opinion about this have used a counter argument that the Cheyenne and Arapaho people along with the Sioux were intent on wiping out all of the Caucasian people in the Colorado Territory, and thus, the reason for the massacre (battle?). The question everyone should ask themselves regarding the Sand Creek Massacre (battle?), ISIL and the Nazis is, what came first, the egg or the chicken? (so to speak). Who was on American soil before it became American soil? Who set out to create a master race by murdering everyone who did/do not fit the profile of the Nazis or ISIL’s?
Indians were on soil that became American soil before Caucasian people were on this soil. A host of religions and cultures battled and massacred by extremists to kill all unbelievers with respect to what the Prophet Mohammad intended when he wrote the “Qur’an”, but has been “misinterpreted” just like the “Bible” has been misinterpreted, has resulted in the most heinous of crimes on human beings.
The fine point of this discussion is to point out that after watching my award-winning Sand Creek Massacre documentary film, which was cataloged into the Smithsonian Institute Libraries, in addition to museums, colleges, schools, universities, libraries, and numerous venues, two fourth grade classes at Federal Heights Elementary School in Colorado, based on an assignment, sent me letters, 19 in all, each sharing with me their opinions regarding the Sand Creek Massacre (battle?) after I answered their questions in the school library after the screening of the film.
Maria: “In my opinion, the Indians were treated badly from the soldiers.”
Valeria: “…The soldiers trapped the Cheyenne, they did not know where to go.”
Aisha: “…The Native Americans were treated unfairly they had a surprise attack on them.”
Kevin: “…Indians thought the whites wanted peace, so they surrendered their weapons to get food.”
Nevaeh: “…The Native Americans put up a white flag and the calvary still attacked the Indians by
by surprise…the Native Americans were unprepared and couldn’t fight back.”
Michelle: “I am really disappointed at what the calvary did to the Indians.”
Jaquelin: “I heard there were two boys that informed all the Indians Colonel Chivington soldiers that attacked the Indians did not get punished. In addition I learned that the Indians
who went to camp at Sand Creek raised two flags and thought they would be safer
there, but they were wrong. The soldiers ignored it and attacked the Indians anyways.
I agree that the soldiers did the wrong thing.”
Perla: “…I don’t think the army should have taken the Indians property because they
wouldn’t like the Native Americans taking their property.”
Amiah: “I’ve got another question: Why did the soldiers take the parts of dead Indians they
Dominick: “..I think that the Native people were mistreated. My first reason is that they surrendered their weapons. Next, the only people at Sand Creek were women, kids and elders.
Finally, they were surprised by the attack.”
Bethany: “…I want to say they should not have been attacked because Col. John Chivington thought all Indians were bad.”
Alejandra: “…innocent people died because the soldiers wanted revenge. I think this is very sad that this happened in Colorado.”
Joservis: “…the soldiers snuck up on the Native Americans at Sand Creek. This was a bad thing to do. the Native Americans tried to make peace with the soldiers.”
Lamila: “…the cavalry thought all Indians were bad.”
Lurita: “…the Indians didn’t have their weapons, so they could not fight back.”
Edwin: “In my opinion, the Indians were right because not all the Indians attacked settlers.”
Jonathan: “…all the Indians traded their weapons for food, but instead they were attacked.”
Isaac: “…They got slaughtered because they had no weapons…they scalped the Indians and bragged about it at the fort.”
William: “…the Indians should not have been killed during the massacre or should not have been killed at all!”
The essence of this discussion centers around how all of us, individually and/or collectively, can help influence young minds to steer them away from ignorance, fear, hate and racism. We can do it by setting examples for them. We can do it by helping youth understand why people do what they do and what consequences they face when they make bad choices. When cultures and/or religions clash, it is up to us to transcend a violent reaction. In place of that, we have to strive to learn and grow as individuals in our war against tragedies like the Sand Creek Massacre, World War II and the war against ISIL, Al-Qa’ida, and over 20 other extremist groups in the world.
Step Number 1 in elevating our minds and hearts to move away from violent reactions to racism is to show respect to all. The Cheyenne people have repeatedly told me all they ever have desired is to be shown respect. And it boils down to this as far as I’m concerned, how have you felt when you haven’t been shown respect? How do you react? How have you reacted? Have you fueled the fire of ignorance by striking back? How do you deal with it? Racism can be neutralized by showing respect to all others. Sure, it is impossible to show respect to insanity like what ISIL and other extremist groups are exhibiting. However, one can show respect to Islam and Muslims by not connecting them to these groups that are wrecking havoc on the world.
Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
The Zen of Writing & Screenwriting