I think it is fitting, considering that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, that I write a post concerning Native Americans. I am sure we are all acquainted with the somber truth of past genocide and conquest. We are well aware of how this Nation, in particular its vast rural terrain, was fashioned through broken promises, massacres, and plunder. But, many Americans often forget that the few Native Americans that remain face tremendous social and economic difficulties.
Among the inestimable sufferings endured by Native Americans is that of sex crime. The Justice Department reports that one in three Native American women is raped over her lifetime. Often these women are too frightened to report rape. Moreover, even if a Native American woman were to report rape, she would have little to no recourse in tribal and federal courts. This is because non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution in tribal courts, commit 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations. And, federal prosecutors choose not to prosecute around 70 percent of sexual abuse cases.
Because of this legal vacuum, according to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, non-Indian habitual sexual predators have flocked to tribal areas.
Many often presume that the darkest period in Native American history extended only up to the late nineteenth century. However, governmental persecution of Native Americans remained throughout the twentieth century although it took on a different form.
The federal government established Native American boarding schools in the late nineteenth century in order to “kill the Indian in the person, and save the person.” In effect, the schools were set up to completely destroy what was left of Native American culture. In its stead, the schools sought to cultivate a culture of subservience and docility.
The children were forcefully taken from their parents, made to cut their hair, given new English names, and violently compelled to speak only English. They were not taught math or grammar, but rather they were taught trades: boys learned carpentry and girls learned housekeeping.
This sort of pedagogy remained up until the 1970s. A 1960s congressional report on Native American boarding schools documented that teachers viewed their role as “civilizing” Native American children, not educating them.
It truly is stupefying, when you clear your mind and think: this nation was built upon the graves of massacred Native Americans. Millions of people, children and the elderly, were murdered by our ostensibly sacrosanct armed forces so that American industry could have a foothold in the vast expanses of untamed wilderness that was once this nation. It is extremely important to note that much of this extermination occurred at the hands of the U.S. military although Hollywood has often portrayed Native American massacre as the result of skirmishes between cowboys and Indians.
Of course, mercenaries and vigilante frontiersmen participated enthusiastically in Native American execution. However, we do a disservice to truth, if we do not realize that the U.S. government was in fact the engineer and the principle actor behind this genocide. Mercenaries and vigilante frontiersman were secondary agents incorporated within a broader schema.
The government, acting as an organ of industry, of Wall Street, as it always does, cleared the way so that railroads could be constructed, mines could be built, and vast farms could be formed. What is more, thousands of miles of picturesque plains and forest were degenerated for the sake of big business.
Adding insult to injury, all this that was truly done for the sake of profit was advertised as an expansion of democracy. And now, most Americans view this atrocity as simply a deviation in American history, as a stain upon the proverbial fabric, when in actuality this atrocity makes up the very fabric of this nation’s history and economic “success.”
The smooth, nonchalant logic and calculation of this nation’s profiteers is astounding. Ask a simple question. Why were Native Americans not simply incorporated into the economic system of this nation? Why were they not enslaved, like the Native Americans south of the border? Because it is next to impossible to enslave an egalitarian people who are entirely unacquainted with systems of hierarchy and subservience. Native Americans south of the border, particularly the Aztecs and the Incas, had already reached the historical epoch defined by class and a state. Thus, the Spanish easily incorporated and manipulated the hierarchical divisions within Aztec and Inca society. They enslaved the peasants and bought off the aristocrats.
Native Americans in this country were recalcitrant and literally physically in the way of expansion. So, not being able to exploit them, American industrialists found a simple solution: kill them. Drive them into smaller and smaller pockets of land, starve them, and massacre them. In their place, they imported masses of stolen Africans. That is why African slavery was almost nonexistent in Mexico, but ubiquitous in the U.S. West Africans, much like the Aztecs and Incas, were easy to enslave because they were part of a complex class society. That is why we hear stories of West African slave traders.
This was a centuries long process, a process that has extended, as I discussed above, to today although we may not like to see it. The few Native Americans that are still alive are compelled to endure staggering poverty and the tribulations inextricably attached to it. To argue that this is simply an ethical digression in American history would be an offense to anyone with even just a modicum of intelligence.