Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Run To The Hills" - Iron Maiden, 1982 (heavy metal)

White man came across the sea
He brought us pain and misery
He killed our tribes, he killed our creed
He took our game for his own need
We fought him hard we fought him well
Out on the plains we gave him hell
But many came too much for Cree
Oh will we ever be set free?

Riding through dustclouds and barren wastes
Galloping hard on the plains
Chasing the redskins back to their holes
Fighting them at their own game
Murder for freedom a stab in the back
Women and children and cowards attack

Run to the hills run for your lives
Run to the hills run for your lives

Soldier blue on the barren wastes
Hunting and killing their game
Raping the women and wasting the men
The only good indians are tame
Selling them whisky and taking their gold
Enslaving the young and destroying the old

Happy Thanksgiving! (or thereabouts). It's only fitting that this Thanksgiving episode of What's That Song About talk about Thanksgiving-type Indians, for that is exactly what this heavy metal ditty is all about. However, the song has nothing to do with thanks or giving, but has everything to do with taking. True to Iron Maiden form, it's actually a quite brilliant piece of historical poetry-set-to-music which describes, in retrospect, the white man's colonizing of Indian lands. Interestingly enough, there is no particular time period associated with the lyrics.

Verse One is written from the perspective of the Indians, particularly the Cree (which is stated at the end of the verse). The Cree are one of the largest group of indiginous North American peoples. Their tribes are still found across Canada and the American Northwest, especially in Minnesota and Montana. This large people group is made up of many smaller groups, for example: Moose Cree, Swamp Cree, Woods Cree, Plains Cree, etc. However, the name "Cree" is never used by these people unless they are speaking English or French. It is not their proper name, but rather a name that was given to them (as if they didn't have one already) derived from the French "Christenaux" (and other spelling variations), and thus this word is often shortened to "Cri" which then bacame "Cree" in the phonetic spelling. These people, however, do have a name for themselves. In their own language, they call themselves Nehiyaw, Nehithaw, Nehilaw, Nehinaw, which is to mean, "those who speak our nation's language", and Ininiw, Ililiw, Inyu, or Iyyu, all of which mean "person or man" who has descended from this nation historically.

The Cree were skilled buffalo hunters and horsemen who formed an alliance with the Sioux nation and the Stone Sioux (Assiniboin). Their lives were particularly peaceful and open to adaptation. They were first known to the Jesuit missionaries as early as 1640. This nation was known to be quite hospitable, though somewhat nomadic in their lifestlye, as like most hunting peoples they had to follow their food source's migration. The Cree were known to eagerly trade with the foreign white men as well as other Indian nations even if they were not allied. Since their first introduction, the Cree were open and friendly with the French and English settlers, who left the Cree comparatively undisturbed to roam their vast territory. Nevertheless, however well-intended their friendship with the foreigners was, in the long run it did not help them.

While there is very little written history about this nation, there are, however, a few mentions of quarrels and skirmishes between them and other neighboring tribes. Casualties from fighting amongst other native peoples was somewhat minimal. However, the greatest killer of this and other indiginous peoples was the white man's diseases (such as Smallpox and others, a concept which is self-explanatory)...and the colonization of native lands by foreign settlers. While the Cree numbers have recently bounced back, in 1776 the population was estimated at 15,000, but within the last century the population was estimated at a mere 2,000-3,000. It is common knowledge that not only did the intruders fight for the land they wished to settle (which spent lives on both sides), the development of hunting and grazing lands into large farmsteads eventually led to changes in the natural environment (depletion of food animals, deforestation, changes in vegetative dynamics, etc)., which meant to the near disappearance of these native people. The white man just took over and ultimately gave nothing in return...not even a "thank you".

Verse Two of our song is from the perspective of the white settlers who were out to achieve the ultimate goal in their belief in what would later be known as "Manifest Destiny" - the belief that it was obvious (manifest) and certain (destiny) that the United States would expand from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. In 1803, the United States acquired 828,800 square miles of French territory. Prior to its exploration, the U.S. had no idea how much it had actually purchased (or what the land consisted of), but, quite frankly, neither did the French. This Louisiana Purchase was explored by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark (helped, of course, by Sacajawea) and was the first official transcontinental crossing made by people who were not indigenous to the land.

Lewis and Clark had heard rumors during their journey that the Assiniboin nation was a ferocious people, but they did not encounter any of these people and were therefore unable to affirm or dispel this notion. It was based on these sorts of unexplored rumors that many white settlers advanced in the manner that they did. The white frontiersmen advanced westward, many under the assumption that all native people were savages and were to be dealt with before any harm could befall the settler, his family, or his possessions. Even if it could be said that the foreigners did know about the peaceful tribes, it was nearly impossible for the average settler to know the difference between the friend and foe. As many of us would do today, these native people naturally faught to retain their land. However, because their ways were not the white man's ways, this fight for survival was taken by the settlers to be outward and open hostility. Thus, the white man faught the Indians all the more fiercely.

Whatever the Jesuit missionaries and early settlers had learned about the many friendly nations was forgotten. The white man believed that, regardless, he was entitled to take whatever land he laid claim to. In 1823, the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Johnson vs. M'Intosh) that Indian peoples could own land, just not claim title to it, which proved to be an utterly dreadful decision for the natives. Ultimately, this expansion led to Andrew Jackson's 19th century concept of 'Indian removal' - a policy adopted by the U.S. Government to ethnically cleanse the land of Indian people so that the new frontiersmen could have it. In 1830, Congress approved and President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. Ideally, this was to move southern nations and tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River (as if they thought those lands were yet unoccupied). One such act of this Act was the infamous Trail of Tears. In time, even the relocation of natives to the western lands would prove futile as white settlers eventually moved into these lands, themselves.

Finally, Verse Three of our song is from the perspective of an outside observer looking retrospectively at the deplorable goings-on of the western frontier. Not surprisingly, this observation more closely mirrors verse one than verse two. When we study our nation's history and development, we should realize that perhaps things were not handled as delicately as they should have been. No apologies can be made for man's natural instinct to go forth and expand, for deep inside, for all men feel inside that stagnancy is not survival; it is a death sentence. However, certainly the Indians were not treated fairly, and considering the circumstances surrounding our own fledgeling nation's birth, we as a nation should have been more sympathetic or at least more accommodating to those who were here before us, just as the Jesuits and other earlier settlers had been. For sure, hindsight is always 20/20.

**It should be noted that the acts of the nation as a whole were not condoned by the nation as a whole. There were a great many citizens (particularly Christians) and politicians (including Senator Davey Crockett, Tennessee) who opposed these expansion practices and opposed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and the passage of this Act was only after bitter debate and passage by a small majority.**

"Run To The Hills" - Iron Maiden, 1982

~information gathered from all kinds of friendly sources from east to west, including these particularly interesting places I tracked down along the way:

No comments: