July 18, 2010

Custer re-enactor explains himself

Rick Williams, the Custer re-enactor at the veterans powwow, says he was invited by someone unknown, then tries to explain himself.

‘Custer’ responds to Veterans Administration powwow controversy

By Stephanie WoodardICT:  How have you processed the negative response?

RW:  I’ve thought long and hard. I’m sorry I had to learn about this in anger. Every year, before the re-enactment at Hardin, I stand before Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, a member of the Crow Nation, a historian and the grandson of one of the six Crow scouts who rode with Custer. He sings a song to me and to the figure that I represent. The words, translated from Crow, include, ‘I fought Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at Little Big Horn. Look at me. Remember me always.’ It’s neither a positive nor a negative, but it is the greatest honor of my life. ‘Remember’ is the important word. It reminds me that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. People have to relax a little and embrace history, which we can’t change.

ICT:  In the article on the Dayton powwow, Custer was described as a symbol of genocide. Is that something anyone can relax about?

RW:  Custer was also a soldier, and he took orders. President Grant set Indian policy and was ultimately responsible.

ICT:  Is that like Nazi concentration-camp guards saying, ‘I was just following orders?’

RW:  You have to look at where Custer was in the ladder of command. He was a tool of Grant’s policy, though he did have sympathies for Indians and jeopardized his career by testifying in Washington that officials, including Grant’s brother, were implicated in defrauding Indians on reservations. My research says he’s not an Indian-hater.

ICT:  Do his interactions with Native people support that notion?

RW:  I’m the first to say Custer made several blunders. Attacking Black Kettle’s peaceful band on the Washita River was a god-awful fiasco, not a victory. Custer promoted his own good, whomever he was fighting. There was a great deal of callousness in his personality.

ICT:  For some, Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn are ‘history’–long ago, far away and thrilling. The Big Horn Days Web site (custerslaststand.org) refers to ‘fabulous fun for the whole family.’ Others recall family members, including women and children, who died there. Is there a terrible mismatch in these re-enactments?

RW:  I’ve met people who are comfortable with the past and those who are not. I’ve never met anyone who lost family at Little Big Horn. After the Dayton powwow, I heard of this for the first time. I hope to meet them, and I hope the meeting ends with a handshake. I’m not indifferent to the sad history of the United States and the Indian nations.

ICT:  Are you returning to the Dayton powwow next year?

RW:  I’ve been invited, but I’m staying away from the Indian camp. It’s not worth the controversy. I did not intend nor did I anticipate [what happened] when I walked into that circle. I meant no disrespect to anyone.
Comment:  Good questions by ICT. For once the media gives us a hard-hitting interview.

Williams doesn't seem to understand the difference between a re-enactment and a powwow. One is about historical accuracy and the other is about respecting Indians. Getting approval for one doesn't give you approval for the other.

Williams is also downplaying Custer's crimes. I don't think Grant ordered him to kill the Indians at Washita and Little Bighorn. Custer carried out those acts on his own.

Bottom line is that Williams must be naive if he thought the Indians would welcome him to the powwow. He claims he knows history, but he doesn't seem to know it from the Native perspective. Maybe he needs to play an Indian role in one of his re-enactments.

At least he learned from the experience and won't make the same mistake twice. That's something to be grateful for.

For more on Custer, see Why No Wounded Knee Monument? and Custer Country in Montana.


Chief Diet Coke said...

First of all, in all civility, one must give the guy some credit for even coming forward. He did not have to answer questions.
Secondly, keeping in mind HE IS NOT CUSTER but proclaims some historical prowess, he cannot speak for Custer when he says, "Custer was not an Indian hater!" This is insulting.

Any soldier that physically mutilates women, children, infants and the elderly, repeatedly battle after battle is aware of their actions.

There are letters and journals preserved throughout American history, even into today from Iraq and Afghanistan of soldiers expressing horror and remorse for witnessing and taking part in atrocities inflicted on fellow human beings at the behest of ranking superiors.

Some soldiers have refrained, disobeyed or even deserted such commands, what was Custers logic in bringing corruption to light while mutilating women and children? I don't buy it, if what Williams says about Custer was true.
How much blood do we place on the hands of Presidents of the past compared to our so-called righteous and moral Christian leadership of today?

Although we can target Custer, Hitler, the religious right, this re-enactor at that pow-wow or even kill in the name of God, how much of what we do and say support the ideas and actions of those that carry out such horrors make us all resonsible?

This is why Indian mascots are dangerous, because they trample on the living, while mocking the dead.

dmarks said...

You lost me with the blast of your personal religious bigotry at the end.

Good points on Custer and mascots though.

Heavenly Bank Account said...

Of course I lost you with my personal religious bigotry DMarks; you were not raised both traditional native and Christian (as I was) to understand.

You have never experienced bigotry on a scale most natives have had to and continue to endure.

It is easy for you to be tucked away in your own private Idaho and not make issue with the zealots that really run this nation.

I'll take it a step further and say, why not tax the crap out of the churches then let's see how much we find earth as it is in heaven!

dmarks said...

Bigotry does not excuse bigotry. Putting the "religious right" on the same level as Hitler (i.e. imagining poster-boy Jerry Falwell) is a perfect example of making scorched-earth political points like the well-documented signs equating Obama with Hitler are.

"You have never experienced bigotry on a scale..."

Which has absolutely nothing with the point being discussed. In fact, it is not something I am disagreeing with or arguing about.

"....and not take issue with the zealots who run this nation".

I disagree with claims that OBama is any sort of extremist or zealot. Whether they come from tea partiers, or someone else.

"Why not tax the crap out of the churches..."

It's a worthwhile point to discuss. Unless perhaps you are putting this forward as a means to suppress religions that are different from your own. In that case, it is invalid.