I opened my local paper today, the Ottawa Herald and lo and behold, this is on the second page. The cultures that I hold dear, that have embraced me, showed me a pathway to a life worth living and brought my soul to life are slowly and methodically going away. This is why I fight for progressive ideals, ideas and reforms. If it can happen to my culture, please don’t be too surprised when it begins to happen to yours, because of the incessant and rampant racism and sexism that permeates our society and our world. I cried and prayed to Great Spirit that the injustices I see in life will stop, that those in power will open their hearts and minds to the Ideal, that we all must live on this planet, we must cherish and honor our Mother Earth, for without her, there will be no life worth living.
Ninety-two year old Robert H. Whitebird died Friday May 6, 2005 at a nursing home in Oklahoma. He was born on January 17, 1913, in Lincolnville Community in Oklahoma.
When I read the news, it came as a blow. It was like something or someone had taken my breath away.. I didn’t even know the man who died and yet I cried. I cried not only for his death but also for what his death means to Indians everywhere in the world.
Robert H. Whitebird was the last full blood Quapaw man in the universe.
The passing of Robert Whitebird means there will never be a full blood Quapaw man. I hope and I pray that I am wrong in what I say next. I believe the Quapaw people are on the road to extinction.
At one time, the Quapaw had an estimated population of several thousands. In the !600s small pox reduced that number down to about 700 people. The `down stream people,’ as they were known, were living in Arkansas at that time. Bit in the intervening centuries the Quapaw repopulated themselves.
The Census Bureau tells me the 2000 census showed only 914 Quapaw people. The median age is 31.6 years. Of the 914, 106 are under the age of 5 years; 184 Quapaw are in the largest age group, 25 to 34 years. The number of Quapaw older than 55 is 121. The hope and dreams of the Europeans are seemingly and finally coming true. The near extinction of a people has come during my lifetime and yours. It just doesn’t fell right. We are losing an entire culture, language, and arts of the Quapaw people. I never wanted to see this happen. The destruction of a group of people only happens in books and on television. Not in real life and certainly not in the 21st century. But I am sadly wrong.
We al remember the German attempt to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. The Germans failed. But here in the United States we just don’t seem to care if an entire tribe of Indian people are on the road to extinction. We are not the only country where entire populations of being killed. It happens all over the world. Americans are oblivious to the extinction of whole races and tribes of people.
An entire group of people can be wiped out quickly. It only takes government action or inaction along with a lack of concern about anyone except yourself. The questions we have to answer as a civilized society are: How do we prevent this from happening to another group of Indian people? Is it already to late for the Quapaw to be saved? Who is responsible for the extinction of the Quapaw?
In the distant future, this may mean there will be no more Quapaw people. However, the remaining Quapaw people will remain strong and vibrant. The Quapaw government will remain strong and will continue for years.
Ther may well be Quapaw tribal members, but not like Robert Whitebird, a full blood. Indian people, like the recently re-discovered ivory-billed woodpecker, are resilient. The ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct, but it was only hiding. It was recently rediscovered in eastern Arkansas. Arkansas was once home for the Quapaw people. I am sure ther are full-blood Quapaw members out and about possibly in Arkansas, but just refusing to let anyone know of their existence. It is far safer that way.
Tom Beaver is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He writes about issues facing Kansas.