Henrietta Mann, Ph.D. Cheyenne: One More Heartbreaking Road to Historical Trauma

As an elder of the Cheyenne Nation, I have cherished my long walk on this good earth.

The Cheyenne were warned by the Great Prophet Sweet Medicine that they would one day meet a light-skinned people who would number as many as the stars, who would bring their own ways, and who would hunger for and take the land and all its abundant resources that the Everywhere Spirit had placed there for the use of “the natural, ordinary people of this earth island.” He said to avoid them; however, they would be so numerous they would not be able to stand before them, and they would do what they want to do.

It happened as prophesied.

Manifest Destiny, imperialistic expansion across the continent, was the justification for taking the land. For the Cheyenne and Arapaho, land greed, the discovery of gold in Colorado Territory, and their efforts to protect their territory resulted in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s band. An estimated 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, and primarily women and children were murdered and their bodies were savagely mutilated. Four years later, this same band of Cheyenne, was again attacked at dawn at the Battle of the Washita. The number of fatalities range anywhere from 30 to 60. Their pony herd of over 800 was also slaughtered. In addition, 53 women and children were taken as prisoners of war.

Two of my great-grandmothers were in Black Kettle’s camps at Sand Creek and the Washita when they were attacked. One became a prisoner of war. Miraculously, they survived these two massacres and imprisonment, and I am their direct descendant.

I grew up in the Red Moon community in western Oklahoma. I have lived with and seen the devastating traumatic effects of two massacres conducted by the United States military. I have seen the effects of starvation when the United States government withheld or skimped on food rations called for in treaty stipulations. I have seen the effects of an assimilationist-oriented education in United States federal manual labor schools on reservations and in off reservation boarding schools were children were forcefully taken from their families for years at a time. I have witnessed the erosion of our cultures and languages, the lifeblood of our people.

Tragically, the uprooted Christian faith carried to this Turtle Island augmented the Anglo-European settler practice of colonialism and domination. Regardless of church and state separation, churches joined with the federal government and relentlessly attacked the spiritual ways of this land’s first peoples and sought to convert them to Christianity. They worked together so closely that Indian reservations were divided among the various denominations whereby they assumed responsibility for administering federal Indian policy and for educating Indian children. The government’s aggressive philosophy of Manifest Destiny, the Christian duty of church clergy, and education nearly brought about the total physical and cultural annihilation of this land’s first peoples.

The foregoing serves as background to what creates intergenerational historical trauma a syndrome experienced by colonized, massacred, dislocated peoples, whose cultures also have been attacked and eroded. One can mournfully predict that this, too, will be the result of what is happening to innocent children and babies pulled away from their parents on the southern border of this our sacred homeland. How can one dismiss the heartbreak, fear, and disbelief of the parents, as they were deported without their children?

Native peoples, too, have had to confront intermittent relocation, imposed by agents of someone referred to as “the great white father” of a government located in faraway place we called “Washingdyn.” Our beloved and cherished children, too, were forcefully taken from our families to be educated in places, sometimes thousands of miles away, where strangers expected them to not only learn new ways but to pray to a different God. Some were never seen again.

As an elder of the Cheyenne Nation, I have cherished my long walk on this good earth. As one of my great-grandmother’s said, “I [too] have seen good and harsh times,” but I never expected to live long enough to see “the great white father” institute such an ill-conceived and hard-hearted immigration directive.

How sad it is that some forget the woman called the Statue of Liberty who stands in the waters of life with her light held high to welcome immigrants to a new home. This is the home generations upon generations of my ancestors first loved and now share with the many who came seeking a new life and perhaps sanctuary, sometimes carrying only hope in their hearts. It is that hope and the great capacity we have been given to love one another and to revere each small grain of soil of this sacred landscape that makes this country good, welcoming, safe, and honorable. It is time to stop the trajectory of yet another heartbreaking road to historical trauma. I urge us all to mend our broken hearts and spirits, and to mend the circle of all-encompassing life that has been broken in inhospitable acts against inhumanity and re-institute simple but powerful love and peace.

Native American education has been the focal point of Dr. Henrietta Mann's work for more than 50 years. In 1991, Rolling Stone Magazine named her as one of the ten leading professors in the nation. In 2016 Dr. Mann became one of the first two Native American educational scholars ever to be elected to membership in the National Academy of Education.

Henrietta also is sought out as a spiritual mentor and she has prayed at ceremonies ranging from Indigenous gatherings in New Zealand to Ground Zero. At 16 she enrolled at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education degree, later earning a Master of Arts degree from Oklahoma State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of New Mexico.