Let’s remember, honor ‘first Texans’


Various Native American tribes came to Fredericksburg last weekend to Marktplatz for the Traditional American Indian Society’s “Honoring the Past” Powwow.

They gathered for the first time in four years. They chanted, danced, talked about their cultures and served food from their cultures.

As I watched, I wondered if I’d see any members of the Navajo nation. The Navajos, also known during World War II as “The Windtalkers,” are one of the biggest reasons we won the Pacific war. The Japanese, normally masterful at breaking codes Americans used, were never able to break the Navajo code the U.S. used.

As I saw the Comanches, I thought of the 1847 Meusebach-Comanche Treaty between the German settlers and members of the Penateka Comanche Tribe.

It was far from unusual for the U.S. government to break treaties made with Native Americans. I imagined that, 50 years later, the Comanches must have been beside themselves as they stared, pleasantly amazed, at the German settlers and their descendants and thought, “They’re really NOT going to break the treaty!”

All I could think as I left was, is once every four years enough? Is it feasible to make this powwow a regular event?

Even if it’s every other year, I think it would do a good job of bringing center stage what it is to be Native American.

How quickly we forget that before this was the United States, before this was Texas, there were others here first.

Consider this. Native Languages of the Americas Website lists the following tribes as indigenous to Texas: Apache, Kiowa, Wichita, Comanche, Jumano and eastern pueblos, Coahuilteco and Carrizo, Karankawa, Bidai, Tonkawa, Caddo, Tawakoni and Kitsai.

Speaking of the Caddo, we get our state’s name from the Caddo word “Taysha,” which means “friend.”

After the Europeans arrived in America, these tribes came to Texas: Alabama, Cherokee, Coushatta, Kickapoo and Tigua Pueblo.

Currently, Texas is home to three federally recognized Native American tribes: Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in Livingston; Kickapoo Traditional Tribe in Eagle Pass; Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso.

I find it interesting that Louisiana, my birth state, is home to four federally recognized tribes while Kansas, where I lived from 1974-1981, is home to two.

Not just because of historical understanding, but I’d like to encourage myself and others to learn more about the Native Americans of Texas. It’s not about political correctness, it’s about giving due respect to those who dwelt here first, long before it became known as the Lone Star State.

Maybe it’s the history enthusiast in me, but I often think we’re losing more and more of a grip on what we used to be. If we don’t learn about those before us and try to have a basic idea of history, we’ll lose knowledge.

And then, Amsterdam Vallon’s final monologue in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” comes to mind: “My father told me we was all born of blood and tribulation, and so then too was our great city. But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mightily swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again ... for the rest of time ... it would be like no one ever knew we was even here.”