Sunday, May 27, 2018

In talking about "taming the continent," Trump once again ignores Native issues

In his recent commencement speech at the United States Naval Academy, President Donald Trump attempted to encourage graduates by invoking images of patriotism and triumph. In doing so, he told the graduates that their ancestors had "tamed a continent" and that we should never apologize for America.

Trump's comments are problematic for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because of the idea that the North American continent had to be "tamed." Before the arrival of European colonists, North America was home to a litany of vibrant and diverse Native nations. My own ancestors, who lived on the coasts and in the swamps of the Carolinas and Virginia, were among the first to encounter English colonists. Upon arriving to North America, the Europeans did not treat the pre-existing Native nations as equal sovereigns but rather as lesser entities. Empowered by the "Discovery Doctrine," which Chief Justice John Marshall retroactively enshrined into U.S. law in Johnson v. M'Intosh in 1823, they assumed control of lands that had already belonged to other sovereign nations and through military force, removed them from those lands. Many tribes, including my own, lost their language through European colonization while other tribes did so when their children were forced to attend boarding schools, which sought to "Americanize" Native people by forcing them to learn English and adopt Western customs. As Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of Carlisle Indian School, said, the goal was to "kill the Indian, save the man." The intent was to eradicate tribal nations and assimilate Native people into the general American population.

This is yet another comment from President Trump that demonstrates his lack of understanding of tribal communities and their inherent sovereignty (I covered another example here). It also has troubling implications for addressing issues in Native communities, which are among the most remote and impoverished in the United States. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama called the astronomical poverty rates among Native people a "moral call to action."

As I have also covered in this space, tribes continue to encounter difficulty in exercising their sovereignty and navigating the complex web of restrictions that have been placed onto them by the United States government. Under President Obama, tribes saw incremental progress through the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act and increased recognition of their sovereignty in the Violence Against Women Act. Despite these small bits of progress, tribes however still lack the ability to exercise full criminal and civil jurisdiction over actions within their own nations. Given the relationship between the United States government and Native tribes, it is imperative all sides work together to address these issues.

It appears that the Trump Administration however has opted to ignore the moral call to action and return to the policies of yesteryear, when Native people and their cultures were actively marginalized. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 5.2 million Native people, representing 566 different sovereign nations, in the United States today. The implication that the modern day United States was "tamed" ignores the continued existence of these people and their tribal nations. It is also a troubling harkening back to the days when it was the official policy of the English and later United States governments to abolish and eradicate tribal nations. Addressing issues in rural tribal communities is going to require a President that understands Native issues, is committed to addressing them, and recognizes the important role of tribal sovereignty in the modern legal framework.

2 comments:

mandy red bluff, ca said...

Don't forget the native Califonians that were forced to speak Spanish and work as slaves in the missions.

And Spanish was not the native language in central & south America,

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