You probably know February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. You probably do not know November is Native American Heritage Month. It has been so designated since 1990, but you rarely hear about it.
The federal government early this year recognized six more American Indian tribes, extending the federally recognized list to more than 250 tribes. Pennsylvania recognizes no Indian tribes, much less celebrates them.
Of the more than 5 million Indians in the United States, about 27,000 live in Pennsylvania. Just over 2,000 Indians live in Lancaster County, according to a 2013 census estimate. That’s not many people in a county of well over half a million.
One reason there are so few Indians in Lancaster County and Pennsylvania is the state does not recognize their tribes so they don’t feel welcome. Another reason is Pennsylvania and Lancaster County wiped out most of the natives centuries ago.
Enslaving Africans is often called America’s “original sin,” but the invaders’ transgressions were larger than that. European immigrants also enslaved American Indians. They killed Indians by the millions with guns and disease. They stole their land and tried to wipe out their culture.
So it is not too much to ask that once a year we pause to honor Indians — not only those who have persevered against continuing discrimination, but those whose blood our ancestors shed and on whose land our homes are built.
On Nov. 30, 1763 — 255 years ago this week — the 20 impoverished Indians living at Conestoga Indian Town in Manor Township wrote a letter to the man who governed Pennsylvania.
They petitioned John Penn to “consider our distressed situation and grant our women and children some Cloathing to cover them this winter.” They said they had always been loyal to Pennsylvania and deserved consideration.
These 20 children, women and old men had been squeezed into a few hundred acres, surrounded by farmers who had killed so many of the animals in the forest that the Indians could barely hunt and turned to trading homemade brooms and baskets for bread.
The commonwealth had pledged to protect the Conestogas as an example to hostile Indians that peaceful Indians could thrive among European settlers. The Conestogas thought that protection included providing adequate clothing in winter.
But on Dec. 14, two weeks after the Conestogas wrote their letter, the Paxton Rangers murdered six Conestogas at Indian Town. On Dec. 27, they slaughtered the last 14 Conestogas in the Lancaster Workhouse, where they had been taken for their protection.
So the last group of Lancaster County Indians was wiped out while supposedly under the protection of not only the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but the county of Lancaster.
Why does this matter today?
Because more than 2,000 Indians who live in Lancaster County still suffer from that massacre and other atrocities. If you don’t believe that, ask them.
What can anyone do about that 255 years later? Attend a meeting of one of Pennsylvania’s premier advocates for preserving Native American culture at the Circle Legacy Center.
Circle Legacy meets the second Friday of most months from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Community Mennonite Church, 328 W. Orange St., Lancaster. Programs explore native customs, history and culture. You don’t have to be an American Indian to attend.
More rain fell on Lancaster County in 1996 — 59.05 inches — than during any other year since records were first kept in 1914, according to the Millersville University Weather Center.
As of Monday evening, 56.73 inches had fallen this year, with more than a month to go in the Land of Sog.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.