- Morning Star RisesPeace, Power, and Righteousness in the Face of Colonization
Morning Star was the first chief of whom I learned as a child. My mother told me that we were direct descendants of a man of considerable stature who led his people to the homeland that we lived on, the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. As a child I struggled to understand the traditional concept of a chief, since many of my perceptions of Indians were dictated by the void of Indians in American culture. I, like most children then and now, was fascinated with our people's military culture, which highlighted the feats of historic figures and modern veterans of war. I was not interested in the peace and patience demanded of true leaders, who were burdened with the difficult tasks of decision making, peace making, and uniting people to achieve common goals. I did not realize how difficult it is to lead, especially when it comes to uniting groups of people who may differ in various cultural ways. It is equally and sometimes more difficult to lead people who may share common histories, languages, and cultures. In such cases, divisions may exist based on petty differences, like opinions, agendas, and even personalities. Like most Indigenous communities, the older people typically held positions of leadership, in particular, the older and wiser men. But the true leaders, those who led without positions or validation, seemed to always be older and wiser women. One of the major challenges in Indian Country is leadership.
Currently, it seems that most American Indians still hold military [End Page 5] veterans in high regard as political leaders. Meanwhile, intellectual Indians, college-educated Indians, remain a threat to most people because they represent the oppressive establishment created by the reservation system and the assimilation policies of the U.S. government. The likelihood of this dynamic to change is inevitable and becomes more apparent as more American Indians pursue and attain college degrees, especially those who are able to confront and disrupt the oppressive reservation system. Currently, American Indians do not necessarily have a strong understanding of "good leadership" in governance because we rely on modern colonial perspectives, which define leaders as elected officials and leadership from positions or titles. Historically, we relied on traditional concepts, and Indian leaders did not acquire their positions through status, fame, or fortune. Rather, they gained their prestige by keeping the best interests of their people in mind and by their devotion to preserving their cultures, especially during unforeseen times of hardship.
My goal for this article is to reexamine the legacy of a nineteenth-century Cheyenne leader named Vóóhéhéve (Morning Star) who has been both vilified and romanticized in non-Indian scholarly and popular accounts. His story represents the struggle for American Indian legitimacy as he represents both realism and fantasy in America's history. In various eras in America's written history, Morning Star, his name, and his story have been viciously attacked, demonized, fictionalized, fabricated, and eventually praised and glamorized. Most Indian chiefs are treated the same in written history, but always by authors who knew little or nothing about these leaders or their families. We have only begun to respect the voices of American Indians.
An American Indian scholar who was familiar with the Lakota side of Morning Star's family was Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa. He described Morning Star, known as Dull Knife to the Lakota, as follows:
The life of Dull Knife, the Cheyenne, is a true hero tale. Simple, childlike yet manful, and devoid of selfish aims, or love of gain, he is a pattern for heroes of any race. Dull Knife was a chief of the old school. Among all the Indians of the plains, nothing counts save proven worth. A man's caliber is measured by his courage, unselfishness and intelligence. Many writers confuse history with fiction, but in Indian history their women and old men and even children witness the main events, and not being absorbed in daily papers and magazines, these events are rehearsed over and over with few variations. Though orally preserved, their accounts are therefore accurate. But they have...