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Sinixt Chief James Bernard Speaks to Washington DC Committee
Chief Bernard Speaks
On one of his (Sinixt Chief James Bernard) trips to Washington, D.C., where he attended a senate hearing of the Colville Delegation, a senate committee-man was reported to have said, “You Indians are never satisfied. Before the white men came, you Indians were naked; you had nothing; your dwelling place was under the trees. When you prepared for bed, you crawled behind a log and covered your breech-clout with a piece of bark. You were dying off with starvation. Now you sit there big and fat; you have a house to live in; you are better off now than you were before. Now go and don’t come back.”
Bernard asked permission to ask a few questions.
Bernard: “I am an Indian and I do not speak your language well, but try your best to understand what i have to say. Did I understand you to say that the Indians were naked and slept under leaves and bark?”
Chair: “That is exactly what I said.”
Bernard: “Question number two. If it hadn’t been for the white man coming in we would have had no house and we wouldn’t be fat, and enjoying all these good things now?”
Bernard: "All right, now I’ll tell you a few things and listen closely and try to understand what I have to say. Also I want my words down for the record. A time may come when I may need them, when i come back to this house again. What I have to say is this: Before the coming of the white man, our resources on this continent, if we could sum it up had a value we could never put into figures and dollars. Our forests were full of wild game; our valleys covered with tall grass, we had camas, huckleberries, and bitter-root, and wild flowers of all kinds.
When I walked out under the stars the air was filled with the perfume of the wild flowers. In those days, the Indians were happy, and they danced day and night, enjoying the wealth created by the Almighty God for the Indians’ use as long as he lived.
It is for me to say that you white men when you came here and landed, you came on a little piece of bark and with a few sticks tied together, and a few of you on it. You found us that day day in plenty; you had nothing. You did not bring your wealth with you.
What you are saying here today is that you are giving the Indians something and he should be satisfied. You are giving us something that was rightfully ours to begin with, and which is ours today. You white men - you have never paid the Indians for what you took that day.
Now i have a tiny allotment and when I get off this little piece of land I am up to my neck in muck, and when i drink the water from a stream, if i don’t keel over dead right there, I come down with some kind of ailment. The rivers are still yellow, but not with gold.
So this is why I am here today , in search of your promises, false promises you have made to us Indians. And when I complete my work and find the evidence of false promises, then when I am ready i will come back and appear before the Committee.”
(From the December 1954 edition of Moccasin Tracks, published by the United American Indians)