1972 Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan

By Ramona Bennett

Ramona Bennett

The other day someone asked me how I traveled [to Washington D.C.] . . . and I was blank. Now I remember. Lah-huh-bate-soot was teeny tiny in a cradle board. Suzette and I flew to Minneapolis and joined the caravan. We thought we were going to relax and visit around with many friends. We met with the caravan leaders. Suzette’s husband Sid Mills and Hank Adams were working writing about the issues we were coming to address. There were 20 critical points. I got to look at them. 

There’s a lot involved in moving 1,500+ miscellaneous Indians in 400 or 500 cars cross country. Our Northwest organization, Survival American Indians Association, raised support from the Episcopal church, other denominations, many individuals of all races and politics for travel, food, campsites, and medical services with help from American Indian Movement (AIM) chapters. The logistics of coordinating and activating support mostly fell on Hank, because he was genius fearless foss. They were talking about the very hard trip so far. Every morning they had eggs, every evening they had chicken. They were starting to cluck, but they were making it. 

Sid was always called the General. He announced we were sending Suzette and me ahead to lay groundwork, establish communication, case the place, and REPRESENT the caravan. Everybody said, “Good plan,” and Suzette and I were out the door. No rest, No visit. A car with a couple of warrior drivers hit the road with us, as our people at the barracks were heading to their cots. We drove through and pulled into D.C. early afternoon. 

We went to meet our D.C. contact. They said, “You’re just in time. There’s a press conference starting in a few minutes.” And away we went. Tired, grubby, probably surviving on Coke and Payday candy bars, we arrived. There was a group of Indian men in business suits: lawyers, government administrators, lobbyists. Robert Barnett or Burnett [I never can remember . . . here’s where I really miss Hank Adams]. Robert was on the mike talking  to about 60 reporters. No kidding, about 60!  Cameras, tablets, microphones. All leaning forward hanging on every word. HE IS SAYING THE CARAVAN IS TRAVELING TO ENDORSE AND SUPPORT MCGOVERN!  WHAT!!  

We just stepped up the steps and I took the mike and handed it to Suzette. The men stayed on the platform. I stepped behind Suzette to give Lah-huh-bate-soot kaboo milk. Suzette began introducing herself but the reporters were blabbing among themselves and the Indian men in suits were all around us jabbering. Suzette turned, took Lah-huh-bate-soot, handed me the mike and stepped behind me. I straightened my shirt and explained in my big voice that WE represent the caravan which would not be there to endorse candidates but to work toward protecting our tribes and people. I had seen the draft of the 20 points. I ticked some off and ended by telling them about an Assiniboine Sioux girl who was dragged into a car in front of many witnesses. Taken, raped, beat, murdered, and thrown in the dump. [Those who did this] were charged with premeditated murder. As time passed the charges came down, involuntary [manslaughter], finally littering. (Almost exactly the same as Richard Oaks killer’s case). I was done!!!!  They were all standing staring, mouths hanging open, eyes popping out. I noticed our brothers in three-piece suits had vacated the stage. Suzette and I were standing alone. 

I said, “Does anyone have any questions?” Silence . . . finally a guy behind a camera said, “Can any Indian woman nurse a baby any time?”  I turned and saw Suzette was giving Lah-huh-bate-soot kaboo. I yelled at them, “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT OUT OF EVERYTHING WE SAID HERE?”  And no, Suzette has an older baby we had to leave home. 

This was a very hard and necessary journey. We have to work to right wrongs and save lives. We got to spend time with many of the people there. After all, we were there to get support for our cause.