Only love can stop war: a call to the world from a Northern Cheyenne chief | Native Americans

At the Battle of Little Bighorn 146 years ago, my ancestors defeated the Seventh Cavalry of the United States Army led by George Armstrong Custer, who had previously slaughtered the Cheyenne.

This June 25, anniversary day, I will launch an appeal to end the genocide to protect diversity. I do not make this call lightly. On the contrary, I speak with a great sense of urgency from lived experience.

For the Cheyenne, the genocide began with what the US military mistakenly called “the Indian Wars”, when it was only the slaughter of our people, buffaloes and horses to exterminate our way of life. . It is this very genocidal mindset that today produces the climate crisis, other genocides, even the threat of nuclear war..

Vehoc, Chief Phillip's great-grandfather.
Vehoc, Chief Phillip’s great-grandfather. Photo: Whiteman family records.

I want to share with you the story of how my people and my family have survived through the generations – despite numerous attempts to exterminate us. The fact that we survived is a lesson in resilience, and I know we also survived for a reason: to protect and share our teachings during a time like this.


My late father, Chef Phillip Whiteman Sr, was a descendant of chefs. We are leaders of peace – we never cause war, our main role is to protect our people and our way of life.

My father’s grandmother, Quill Dress Woman, was a little girl on the battlefield and saw the Cheyenne matriarchs shove stitching punches into Custer’s ears for the next life he would listen to. They did this because after the Washita Massacre of 1868, where Custer attacked a peaceful Cheyenne camp resulting in the deaths of many women and children, our Cheyenne leaders again made peace with him in a sacred ceremony. from the pipe.

They told him to scrub the remaining ashes into the ground and warned him that he would end up as the ashes if he ever crossed the Cheyenne. Custer didn’t believe us, but everything the healers said after the ceremonies always came true.


Mhe family holds the songs for the sacred site of our home community, where we went for the ceremony before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Our relative Ma’ome (Ice) served as the Sun Dance instructor for Sitting Bull when it was revealed that we would persevere.

We still pray there on June 25 each year, when the Cheyenne children run the 45 miles to the battlefield.

My great-grandfather Vehoc was a young man at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Vehoc means spider, trickster – a way Cheyenne refers to white people. Christian missionaries translated this to Whiteman, since his father was an American soldier. This is where our English surname comes from, a painful reminder of the abuse Indigenous women continue to suffer, with so many disappearances and murders.

This historical trauma has taught me that you either hate yourself or you accept and love yourself.

Vehoc’s mother, Vonha, chose the latter route. She loved her son and raised him Cheyenne.

After his death, persecuted in the sacred Black Hills, his sister succeeded his mother, only to be massacred by the American army at Wounded Knee in 1890. She is still buried in the mass grave.

Vehoc bore deep scars from the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 when he was three years old. There, the American army massacred many of our fellow citizens in a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho, where white flags flew.. My maternal grandmother, Milky Way Road Woman, was a direct descendant of Chief White Antelope, who was castrated there. Dozens of women and children were also mutilated.

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. Photography: Benjamin Rasmussen/The Guardian

After their defeat at Little Bighorn, the US military made our extermination their number one priority.

Within two years of the battle, our ancestors were forced to leave our northern homelands for Oklahoma, even though they were promised to us under their own treaties.

After suffering starvation and disease as they witnessed the genocidal mentality being implemented, our leaders took the lives of our people into their own hands by bringing them back to the north.

The American army hunted us like animals. Dull Knife supporters were captured and imprisoned at Fort Robinson. On January 9, 1879, after days without food, water and heating, they burst. Many were massacred on the spot.

The few survivors then reunited with the band of Little Wolf, ancestors on my father’s side, who had returned home and ensured the survival of the Cheyenne people up north.


FFor 26 years, through our organization Yellowbird Lifeways, we have hosted a race where Cheyenne children follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, traveling 400 miles through four states in harsh winter conditions.

The Cheyenne Children's Race, held annually.
The Cheyenne Children’s Race, held annually. Photography: Yellowbird Lifeways

It’s amazing to watch them work together and find each other as they overcome the conditioning of their lives on the reservation. Alcohol, drugs and suicide are only symptoms of oppression. When they run, we remind them of their spirit, their resilience and their sacredness. We remind them of what we survived to maintain our Cheyenne way of life.

Over the past year, many non-Natives have been shocked to learn of the existence of unmarked graves at boarding and residential schools across the United States and Canada. Not us.

This system has forcibly removed indigenous children from our families in an effort to exterminate our way of life, in violation of Article 2(e) of the Genocide Convention. This compulsory school system meets the definition of this most heinous of all crimes under international law.

No need to dig up the remains of the children, just go to the cemeteries of our reserves and you will see all the buried potential. So many of our fellow citizens are dying young because of the ongoing effects of genocide.


Mhe late mother Florence, who appears in Woman of the Morning, was very small when she was ceremonially subjected and given her name by her grandfather, a healer who was shot in the leg in battle of Little Bighorn.

She used to say that our medicine and teachings are the reason she survived boarding school and torture in Indian hospitals. As a descendant of Chiefs, she was initiated into the Elk Scraper warrior society, whose role is to protect our Cheyenne way of life, at the age of 12, becoming the last female warrior among the Northern Cheyenne.

Elder Jenny Parker with the children participating in the Cheyenne race.
Elders Clinton Birdhat carrying the baton and Jenny Parker, whose father survived the Fort Robinson Massacre in 1879, carrying the flag at the end of the Memorial Run, working with Cheyenne youth. Photography: Yellowbird Lifeways

Despite being banned from performing our ceremonies and speaking our language in schools, my parents and grandparents raised me in both, and I inherited and earned responsibility for maintaining our ways of life.

The fact that we survived this genocidal onslaught with our language, our ceremonies and our teachings is nothing less than a miracle. We weren’t meant to survive, yet we did.

Have you ever wondered why? We know. We have survived because these teachings, passed down from generation to generation, connect us to the earth and to the universe. They are the best counter-remedy to the intergenerational effects of genocide.


One of my teachings is that the Creator shows his love for diversity in his creation. Without the understanding of diversity there is no unity, and without unity there is no unity with the Creator.

The Creator wants us to love each other; that is what the loving Creator is.

Looking at the wars, mass shootings and genocides taking place in the world right now, and reading what has been done to my people above, you might ask yourself: how can people to each other?

The answer is simple: what we do to each other has already been done to us. The peoples of Europe were waging wars and suffering the effects of genocide long before they came here, and sadly it still happens today. Today humanity is facing unprecedented extinctions due to what we have done to Mother Earth.

What you call natural disasters are how Mother Earth heals herself.

If Western thought could have resolved these life-threatening and diversity-threatening conflicts, it would have already been done. In 1946, Albert Einstein made a call to “let people know that a new kind of thinking is essential if humanity is to survive and move on to higher levels.” The teachings of Cheyenne elevate our thinking, while Western genocidal and exploitative thinking has driven us all to the brink of extinction. I call it a mind virus: it’s oppressive and doesn’t value diversity.

We will never end war and genocide unless we change the mindset that created them. War cannot defeat war, only love can stop war.

My love and my forgiveness do not depend on you. I want I forgive you for what you have done to my people, the genocide and the eradication process. This may be our last chance to end this genocidal and suicidal mindset.

I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Chief Phillip is the co-founder of Yellowbird Lifeways, Nurturing the Breath of Life, an organization that works to transmit Indigenous teachings to facilitate a shift in consciousness. Their community empowerment projects focus on food sovereignty and equine medicine