Friday, August 28, 2009

White Sham/e

I've been watching this heartbreaking PBS documentary about the Native American experience called We Shall Remain. I highly recommend it, even though we all know the outcome: They Don't Remain.

The Wampanoag tribe initially made the choice to befriend and help the struggling, pathetic Pilgrims. And after watching pieces of this documentary (Bam can't even watch it--too sad, he says) it makes you wish they didn't join in that first Thanksgiving. What's the point of peace? What's a promise?

Soon, and inexorably, "puritan" settlers evicted the natives. Mostly in the name of God.

This series is worth a watch--just to see the valiant effort made to resist the invaders. Tecumseh was incredible. He and his Shawnee tribe stoically resisted the usurping of more and more land. He brought various tribes together, forging alliances, attempting to maintain and establish an Indian Nation north of the Ohio River. They even tried diplomacy but were stolen from, betrayed, and ultimately stamped out.

Can you believe the Treaty of Paris made absolutely no mention of the natives?

Today we see native cultures are often portrayed as drunk and disorderly; uneducated and poor. Would you have much ambition if they stripped you of all your dignity? Consider the Cherokee. They did everything right! There was a Cherokee Nation in the south which accepted to the "civilization" techniques the missionaries put upon the "savages". They went to school, they became literate, they had assimilated. They even had a constitution and governing body.

Still they were ordered to leave their (already shrunken by various "treaties") lands to make way for white settlers (there was a discovery of gold). The Cherokee were ordered to move west of the Mississippi; their constitution declared invalid, meetings of their leaders declared criminal. So what did the Cherokee do? They went to the Supreme Court of the USA to plead their case and won. The Supreme Court of the USA said that the states had no right to take away Cherokee Nation sovereignty!

Let me repeat: they won the right to stay in their own sovereign land!

They could not have done anything more right, yet President Andrew Jackson refused to uphold the Supreme Court decision. Jackson defied the law of the land. He went rogue! Jackson still illegally expelled the Cherokee, ordering them on a forced march to Oklahoma during the winter of 1838, killing thousands. This is now known as the Trail of Tears.

What a dismal stain upon the supposed ideals of this country. How progressive and inclusive our nation may have been! What makes me most upset is that instead of seeing a sovereign Cherokee Nation now existing in upper Georgia and into Tennessee, I see President Andrew Jackson's imperious face, glorified on the $20 bills we use every day.

7 comments:

Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

Didn't know about the PBS documentary on the Cherokee. I'm interested because when I was in college, my family moved to ASheville, NC, near the Cherokee "reservation" in the western part of the state. One of my summer jobs was as a "gofer" for an Asheville lawyer who was official counsel to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. I got to go with him to some of the tribal meetings.

As you mention, those Cherokee who refused to be removed, led by the white adopted son of the chief, re-purchased much of the land that was originally theirs and that is now the home of the Eastern Band.
Since the land, officially called "The Qualla Boundary" was purchased mostly from white people who had grabbed it, it never was Federal land, like other reservations, including the Cherokee one in Oklahoma. 20th century Federal policy and the arrival of a Harrah's Casino in Cherokee have benefitted the Eastern Band economically and in other ways. Nevertheless, US behavior towards these people in the 19th century was despicable. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
Anyone who wants to follow up can check out this website:
http://uncpress.unc.edu/nc_encyclopedia/cherokee.html

Bob Frank said...

I have some Native American ancestry on both sides of my family, no where near enough to claim to be Native American, but enough to make me proud. I always wanted to be an Indian when I played cowboys and Indians as a child. Our treatment of our Native Americans is one more example of how man's ego and selfishness gets in the way of compassion and common sense. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll never learn.
Bob

carmel said...

that's such a great post

Auntie M said...

I'm always amazed at how horribly human beings treat each other. I don't know why it continues to amaze me; groups of people have been hideous to each other forever. It's absolutely appalling.

Anonymous said...

Last month, I visited the Big Hole Battle Field national museum in Southwestern Montana. I always stop each time I pass through this amazing valley. The Nez Perce Indians who were forced from their lush ancestral lands in Oregon and Idaho were forced onto a dreary, dry reservation in Oklahoma. Chief Joseph, a brilliant "general" led his entire nation of men, women, children and old people in a daring escape from this bitter reservation. The tribe was pursued by the US Cavalry and managed to escape while fleeing in a number of skirmishes in many territories. Finally as they were hunted through the high mountains of what is now Idaho, they once again escaped over the extreme elevation of the Contintal Divide into what is now Montana. Colonel Gibbons, leader of the military unit, forced the local settlers of both Idaho and Montana to join into this unforgiving pursuit. Before dawn in 1877, this combined force swept down from the mountain upon hundreds of sleeping Nez Perce camped in the Big Hole Valley. The braves were able to move the battle into the pine trees where the war continued for several days. Many on both sides were killed. At length the natives were able to gather their wounded and dead and escape once again to be chased and finally were captured only a few miles south of the Canadian border with Montana. This time, however the Nez Perce were returned to familiar lands in the beautiful Northwest. Chief Joseph appeared before the Congress of the US many years later. His statement was "I will fight no more forever".
My great-grandfather, two great uncles and four cousins were among those civilians forced to join in this brutal folly. They are all listed in the annals of the museum library. My great uncle Campbell Mitchell was the first man to die in that battle. He was 17. Gibbonsville, Idaho got it's name from the colonel. Movienut.

Jesse Archer said...

Hi Tony,
Yes, the documentary goes into that whole thing--the leader, and the few who signed that deal with the devil (and post trail of tears they were murdered for having signed without the consent of the entire nation).

I find that there is still a lot of disrespect toward the Indians, even today they are still thought of in inferior ways and people get so upset by the fact they make money on casinos, or get some federal land back for themselves.

Movienut--wow, what a story with your family! I know well the Chief Joseph story. Having grown up in Oregon, it's one that's often repeated. "From where the sun now stands...I will fight no more forever."

The Blackout Blog said...

Learned a lot from this post (and even the comments)! I took AP US History in high school, and because there was an essay question about Native Americans the year before, my teacher glossed over that part, literally saying "And remember: the Native Americans always get screwed," throughout the year.

Of course, one of the questions on the exam was about Native Americans.

For more fun with colonial stupidity, google "stolen generation". It's an appalling story.