Native American Elder and Wise Man Phillip Deere live from 1929 to 1985. He belonged to the Muskogee/Creek tribe and was an Elder who took part in the Native American movement and International Conferences and Forums. He was a carpenter and became internationally recognized as a spiritual leader and civil and human rights activist. He was an especially skilled oral historian and storyteller. His people were moved out of their ancient living spaces in the nineteenth century.
Whilst he didn't have a formal education, Phillip Deere was literate and had a deep intellect. He retained a strong sense and understanding of a natural earth religion and he had a huge memory of prayers and incantations for healing in the forgotten native American language of Old Muskogee. He is famed for his 1980 Longest Walk speech in which he articulated native American rights.
"The majority can be wrong"-Phillip Deere
Philip Deere, Longest Walk speech
PHILLIP DEERE (1929 - 1985)
A Muskogee/Creek Elder who was active in the Native American movement and took part in National Native Rights activities as well as International Conferences and Forums.
THE LONGEST WALK, (42:00 min.s) recorded in a public forum Mar. 20, 1980 at Boulder, Colorado.
In this speech the late Phillip Deere explains the basic reasoning for the American Indian Movement, as well his involvement in that movement.
PHILLIP DEERE MUSKOGEE CREEK ELDER
It's good to see some of my friends, people that I have known for several years. People that have been involved in different movements, and even the people that I have never seen before. I'm glad to be here, to say a few words to this group, in behalf of the Indian people.
Introduction has been made, so I don't want to waste too much time on speaking of myself, or of my past history. Because I believe that there are other things perhaps more important than myself, that we should be thinking about.
When I became involved with Indian movements and Indian struggle, I knew what I was facing. Because the problems that the Indian People were facing, I knew them when I was a boy. My elders told me of my tribes prophecies, the traditions of my people I learned from them.
When I was placed in school, boarding school, my uncles and my elder people did not care for me to go to school. So I was never encouraged to go to school, on to school. Because their thoughts was always that once I get the white mans education, I will work against the Indian people. This was some of the bad experience that my people went through.
Turning Indians against Indians has been an old tactic of the government. So, my people didn't care for me to go to school, but I went on through grade school.
They want me to know my Indian way of life. They wanted me to know and study the herbs and medicine ways of our people. Through education, they believed that I would no longer come back home as an Indian.
What I learned from them, I waited for many years, to see what was going to happen. Knowing prophecies, knowing my language, my ceremonials, my medicine ways.
Not having enough white mans education, I suffered many years because, time came that I had my own family. Seeking jobs, I was never able to find an easy job. My jobs has always been construction, hard back breaking jobs.
Standing beside the roadside, I saw my own people driving by in nice cars. Having nice homes, and i wondered, was it wrong because I didn't finish school? I'm saying this because many of you are students. I wondered, should I have went on and finished school. Did I make a mistake by coming back home?
Then one day I came down with my health. I was too proud to ask for state welfare, or ask anybody for help. But I didn't know what I was going to do because of my family.
and about this time, the Indian awareness was coming about. and this is when I began to work. Then I began to look back at the teachings of my elders. I began to think about the prophecies that I heard when I was a little boy. In my day and time, I never realized that I would live to see this fulfilled.
I look at all around, it looked like it was hopeless. To continue that way of life. When my Indian people were no longer acting like Indians and they were no longer thinking like Indians. I refused to go to any organizations within my own tribe, or any other tribe.
I refused to accept any government programs because none of their programs would bring my children home. None of them would ever make me more Indian. But it would take all the Indianess out of me. So I closed my doors and only looked after my family and my children. But time came when the young people began to knock on my doors.
According to the Muskogee prophecies, I heard the cry of the red man. I heard the voices of my people, and this is when I began to work with the young Indian people.
This is when I got acquainted with other tribes. All I knew was my own tribe and my own language and my own ways. I never knew any other tribes. It has not been no more than twenty years ago. Perhaps, not even fifteen years ago, that I began to get acquainted with other tribes.
When these young people talked to me about their problems, when they told me about the reservation life, they didn't have to tell me that day after day. I knew what they were talking about because I have went through it all. So, I got up and started working with these people, ever since then I have been on the road. Where ever I can reach my people, I want to be there to encourage them to go on, as Indian people.
The miserable life that our people have went through, was planned by a government, or was planned by a non-Indian. Our lives were controlled. We were told almost daily what to do, because we were under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and I understood this.
When I seen the courage of our young people, many of them were coming out from foster homes. Many of these young people were coming out from urban areas. A lot of them had forgotten their language, a lot of them didn't know anything about their ceremonies.
Many of them were raised up by non-Indian people, they knew nothing of their tribe, some of them did not even know what tribe they come from. But they knew that they had different color.
When I heard the cry of the young generation I looked back, and I listened again to my elders. This is when I began to stand up with these young people and to work with them. I made a commitment.
In 1972, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs was occupied, when the Native people, the original people of this country was being surrounded by Federal Marshalls. When I received an eviction papers from the government, I was more determined to work with the Indian people. And made a commitment.
That on my way home, where ever I find a young person who may be on the verge of becoming alcoholic. Who may be passed out laying on the roadside because of alcohol. If this young person wants to go home, I'm going to take him with me.
If there is any young person that wants to go back to his original way of life and needs help. He may be stoned from smoking grass, but if he really wants to go home, I'm going to grab up his hand, and take him home with me. Was my commitment.
Since that time, no matter how these people were pointed at, they may be looked at as violent groups, they may be looked at as militants. They may be ex-convicts. Something within them told them that they were the original people and they are the Indian people. They are the evidence of the western hemisphere. And they had that feeling.
This is when the Indian Awareness was coming about. So, I chose to stand with these people, and I have never given up that idea to this day.
I am misunderstood by many. I've even been told, "Why, as a medicine person, do you work with violent groups?" I've been told by people "I'm surprised to see you working with American Indian Movement."
But I have tried to give them reference to something that they already know, or that they have already read. Most everybody at one time or another has been Christianized, and most of us have been sitting in churches at times. We've heard or we've read, that the whole needs not a position, (physician?). So, the job that I have, I will always be there.
So, I've participated, I've supported many movements, if I'm not there physically I want to be there in a spiritual way. Including Wounded Knee and other movements that came about.
There were many, many organizations throughout this country. Organized according to the whitemans' organization. So, they could not bring Indianess to my children.
There were many factions in each tribe. Every tribe has their own disagreements, they have their own little fights, little arguments. That continues to go on to this day.
We had movements like Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, Pit River. Many occupations, many protests we have seen. In 1977, many of us went to Geneva, Switzerland. To make a presentation to the world.
In this country in which we have been taught, the Land of The Free, we as Native people find out, that we are not as free as we think we are.
When Treaties after Treaties were broken and were never carried out. Every Nation of Indian people made Treaties with the government. Each treaty has been broken. Time after time we talked about our treaties, but many of us began to understand that decisions on treaties cannot be made on the Supreme Courts. The Judge, in no way, can rule in our favor. The Canon of Ethics will not allow him to do that. He cannot rule in the favor of another Nation.
So when we talked about treaties, were talking about a separate nation. Therefore, we couldn't do nothing here within the states.
When we seen the Native womens being sterilized without their consent or without their knowledge. When we seen the President of the United States flying all over the world talking about Human Rights, condemning other countries who deny Human Rights to its' people.
We felt like, that somebody needed a lesson on Human Rights, right here in the United States, instead of in Russia, or any other country. Because Human Rights was denied to the Native People here.
We seen that, through our studies, in what little schooling that I had, I was told that, we live under the Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech. I looked at the word Religion, because it did say Religion. It didn't say Christianity. But it says, Freedom of Religion.
But that Religion was not free to the Native people.
Many of our Religious practice was outlawed by the acts of Congress. The Religions that we had could not be carried on because of certain laws that prohibit that type of Religion.
So, we do know that the word Freedom of Religion, has no meaning to Indian people. So, somewheres, we had to seek that Freedom. Somewheres, we had to fight for that Freedom. It does not look too good on this country, when the Native people have to go to another country seeking their rights. But we had no alternative. So, we made these presentations to the International community in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977.
To back up our complaints, not too long after that, there were several bills introduced to abrogate treaties. To do away with all the treaties that the Indian people had with the United States government. According to the paperworks, there was to be no more Indians.
And again, the Indian people had to stand up again and prove to this country, that we are the original people of this country. We are still here.
So, the Longest Walk was organized from the West Coast. People began to walk, into different states, all the way to Washington, DC.
Everywhere our people went, they found United States citizens that knew nothing about these bills. Right here in Americas, there are people here, that know nothing about the Native Peoples struggles.
Going from across this country, arriving in Washington, DC. I could see, not only the Red people, marching for their rights. But we, along the road, we found the non-Indian people who believes in Freedom. We found non-Indian supporters along the way. The white people, the Black people, the Yellow people began to support us. They began to stand behind us.
Hundreds, thousands of them marched into Washington, DC with us to show support.
During the time that we were in DC, for the first time that I know of, traditional people were able to get into the White House. We've had Tribal Council members, we've had Tribal Chairmans, we've had Principal Chiefs of different tribes, but none has ever tried to open the doors for traditional people to walk into the White House. For themselves, yes they've been there to Washington several times.
But we've never had any of our medicine people, we've never had our elders, we've never had the grassroots people to go into the White House to speak to the President, or the Vice President, Secretary of Interior.
Because of the support that the Longest Walk had, we were able to get in there and talk, to the Vice President and many other government officials.
It was these people who were determined to get Freedom for their people. People who were seeking justice in this country, made it possible. That some of our elders, go into the White House. Even if they had Interpreters to speak for them, we were able to get in there and present our grievance to the Vice President Mondale.
We've had representatives go to Washington time over and over. Years and years ago, I gave up hope on some of our representatives. Some of our tribal leaders, council members, chiefs, chairmans, made several trips to Washington. Upon arriving in Washington, receptions was prepared for them. So, they dined at the same table, wearing their suits, neckties on, having the same kind of a haircut, as the Secretary has. Dressed up like the government officials. Sitting at the same table with them, made those tribal leaders feel so good, they forgot what they went there for.
So, we couldn't find no changes coming about for the Indian people. We couldn't see nothing happening for our people. The living conditions was the same on Pine Ridge reservation and all the other reservations. The people that were in control over the money, over the fundings and programs, they had their nice cars. They had their nice homes, they were well dressed.
But the people out on the reservations in the rural areas, their living conditions was not changing. So, something had to be done to make these changes. And it took just ordinary people. Mainly coming out from this young generation, to wake up the government.
Many times we hear people talking about this group as violent groups. We still talk about Wounded Knee and what happened there. People still talk about the damages that was done in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1972. This has no meaning to me.
Every freedom loving person should stop and find out why these Indians are acting like they are. Why are they demonstrating? Why were they protesting? Why are they doing this? Check that out.
If you believe that everybody is equal, if you believe that everybody is free, find out the reasons behind Wounded Knee. Find out why the Longest Walk, and you will find the oppressed people right in your back yard. You will find the poorest people.
Once a proud Nation but brought down to where they became beggars in this country. They are right here, within United States. You will find out, who is being denied the Human Rights. So, we must stop and think, why our young people were acting as they were?
There was a time when they were proud people. But when they had to move away from the reservations and go into the urban areas, into city life, that too became a hard life for them. Because they were denied jobs, they were refused jobs, not because they were dope addicts, not because they were alcoholics, but simply because of their color, they were denied these jobs.
On the streets of Denver, on the streets of San Francisco, New York City, Indian people, young Indian people that went to school, the same as you are here, were denied these jobs. And they had to walk down these streets with their head hanging down in shame, because they were Indians.
But I am proud to say those days are over now. That they no longer have to be ashamed of being a Indian. Today, they are proud Indian people.
I'm proud to see our young Indian people taking part in these demonstrations. I was glad to see them on the Longest Walk when they arrived in Washington.
Everywhere I go, where ever I see our young Indian people, with braided hair, wearing a feather in their hats, showing their Indianess. I'm proud of them, because they no longer have to be ashamed that they are Indians.
The Indian Awareness is here, and there is no way that we going to avoid it.
The prophecy says that, we will come to that forked road that we'll have to make a decision on which road we're going to take.
We cannot walk both roads, we have to take one or the other. And we are now at that forked road, and that's why many of our young Indian people prefers to be Indians again.
There was a time when even our own people pointed at one another and laughed at one another. Calling them old timish', when they talked about ceremonies and their dances. They were ashamed to dance, they were ashamed to be at a ceremony at one time. But today, the interest has grown.
The spiritual rebirth has come about. And it was these kind of movements that made it possible for this to happen. We gained the attention of the world, the world now knows, that there are Native People here.
The world now knows that we do have a religion of our own, we do have ceremonies of our own. So, in 1980, November, once again we made another trip to Rotterdam, to the Russell Tribunal. Different Indians from different tribes, many nations of people were there to make presentations again, in this Tribunal.
We're now letting the world know where Mr.Indian stands. We now let the world know if we are indeed free people or not.
The freedom that the Native people are talking about today, is not the freedom that you may be thinking about. We're not talking about free to go into the bars. If you don't want me in Hilton Inn, I'm not going to fight you for it. Because that's not the kind of freedom that I am seeking.
The freedom that the Native people is seeking today is to be free to be who they are. They have a right to be who they are. That's why I encourage the Indian people, you can be nobody else, there is no failure in life until you tried to be somebody else. So, you have to be who you are.
Once you get back to being Indians again, no one will have to tell you how to act. You will know exactly what to do. Whatever is not a part of your culture, you will let that go.
Because we can prove that we had a government that could not fail. A government that was workable. A government that has been tested and tried for thousands and thousands of years. And that government is still workable.
We are the only people within this country that lived without jail houses, without prisons. We had no insane asylums. But life we known, right here in America, into thousands of years. And what was so wrong with that kind of a life.
There is nothing wrong with that way of life. Be who you are and you will know what to do. No one will have to tell you what to do.
In closing, I would like to say to the students, if we have any students here. Sometimes people misunderstand me. I am not against education, but I am against brainwashing.
As long as you don't forget who you are, what you come from. There is nothing wrong with education. But if you forget that you are an Indian. If you forget your own people. If you only learn one way of life, you will never be no help to me.
But if you know both ways of life, if you think that I should be condemned, you can go ahead and condemn me. But until you know both ways of life you have no right to condemn me, or my religion, or my way of life. and that has been the case with our Indian people for many years.
For years and years different organizations cried and cried, and begged the government because we didn't have no Indian employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. and one day they passed a law called Indian preference law. and so our educated Indians began to work for the BIA.
But according to the education system, they didn't know anything about their selves but they knew everything about the white mans way of life, so it didn't do no good to put the Indian behind the desk.
What we found there was a brown white man. and sometimes our Indians are, sometimes they're even more damaging than the white man, sometimes.
So we must know both ways of life. and that way no matter how much education you get, you will never forget who you are. If you don't forget who you are you will be able to help your own people.
There was a time when Grandma sent you to school, maybe to a little grade school. May be primary, first grade or whatever, Grandma dressed you, and wanted you to go to school. Because she felt handicapped without education.
She felt like that if you get this education you will help yourself and perhaps come back to the reservation and help us. So she did her best and sent you to school. Even sent you to boarding school.
But she didn't know that that school was going to individualize you. She didn't know that school was going to make you independent. Isn't that what the congressional record say? "These savages must learn to say mine, instead of ours," were the early instructions of 1800s' when education came into the Indian country. and I don't think those ideas have changed yet.
So when you go to school, you learn to be an individual person, when you leave that school, and that's why our Indian people receiving their diplomas and their degrees, they did not go back to the reservation. They went to San Francisco for a job, from San Francisco there was a better paying job in Chicago, so they went there, from Chicago they went to New York and never went back to the reservation.
Young people, Grandma is still out there on the reservation. Grandpa is still out there. Uncle and Aunt, many of them still drawing water from the creeks. Many of them still have outside toilets. They still live in those old shacks that you grew up in, is what I have reminded many students in different Universities.
But if you know, Indian way of life, you will learn how to care for other people. You will learn the laws that has been here for thousands of years.
The natural laws of love, peace and respect. No man made laws can take the place of it. and this is why the Longest Walk comes about, this is why many of our Indian people are protesting. This is why they are speaking out for their rights. These are the rights that we seek. This is the natural rights that was given to us.
There is nothing wrong with knowing your language. There is nothing wrong with being who you are. We must understand this, no matter how much education we seek, we have to know this, because it is something that was given to us by the great spirit and by the creator. It did not take the act of congress to give me my color. We are who we are and we must be proud of it.
So in our awareness week, where ever they may be, this is what I have to offer to the native people, and to the non-Indian people it is time that you study the history of this country.
When you do you will get away from the thoughts of John Wayne movies. You will get away from all the books that you have read. You will truly understand what the Native People are doing, you will understand their problems.
Not too long ago, this country celebrated 200 year birthday. In 200 years time, Indians and non-Indians, if they understood these natural laws, they should be looking at each other as brother and sisters, but this is not happening. So, there is something wrong, somewheres. We have to think about this.
We have to see the reasons behind all the actions that you have heard about, or have read about. Our people are still fighting, they are still standing up to be recognized.
As a freedom loving person, every citizen of the United States should stop and recognize these problems. How can we solve the problems in other countries if we cannot solve them here at home?
We must understand that we are all human beings, it is important to be human being, it is important to act like one. But if you can't act like one, you might as well not be one. I may be misunderstood many times but perhaps the reason is that I am talking about a human being way of life.
Because there are those that believe that they descended from apes and sometimes I believe that maybe there are some people that descended from apes, that's why they don't know what I'm talking about. Because I'm talking about a human being way of life.
Perhaps when I say Indian Way of Life, it is in error, because Indian way of life is a natural way of life, therefore it must be a human being way of life, thank you.